No matter how grand it might be, the Eternal City always seems welcoming and homey. Maybe it's the inviting food markets or the winding sidestreets that lure you off the main boulevards. Or maybe it's just the warmth of the folks you meet--from the vendors in the Campo dei Fiore to the guy behind the counter at Volpetti's. Get away from the touristy parts of Rome and it feels like it could almost be like coming back to the Italian family you never had.
There's obviously more to see and do in Roma than one person could ever hope to catalog, but here are some favorite places and links.
From my blog:
In Rome, we rented a vacation apartment that we located through a service called SleepinItaly.com. I can't recommend this idea highly enough, because Rome is pretty pricey, but you can find great food in markets all over the city. Then do like we did, save money and sample the local product by cooking at home rather than eating out in restaurants.
Know of other hotels or vacation rental services? Feel free to email me with your favorites!
Volpetti's- via della Scrofa 31/32, 06-683-00-334. There's another location on via Marmorata, but when we stumbled across Volpetti's on via Scrofa, we couldn't help wandering in. The guy behind the counter spoke about as much English as we did Italian, but even so, we had a great conversation and ultimately left there with some bacon and salumi to boot.
Forno Campo dei Fiore- Campo dei
Fiore 22. On our first day in Rome, we arrived too late in the day to hit
the open-air market in the Campo, but we did visit several shops on the
square to get food for our dinner. We were so excited to be shopping in
Rome, that we enthusiastically pointed all over the place.
Caffe Farnese-on the Piazza Farnese 106/107. Recommended as a pleasant stop after the vagaries of market shopping, Caffe Farnese does indeed make a lovely little spot to sit and soak up a little sunlight in the mornings. Add in a newspaper from the newstand in the nearby Campo dei Fiore and you have a relaxing few hours away from the hustle and bustle.
Cafe Sant'Eustachio- Piazza Sant'Eustachio 8. When you're talking about the real deal, the best coffee in all of Rome--maybe all of Italy-- in my humble opinion, you must be talking about Sant'Eustachio. Is it the baking powder? The pimped up machinery? The sweat of the crowds at the bar? Who knows? But their coffee is most definitely unlike any other we had on our entire trip -- smooth, rich, fragrant, and utterly beautiful.
Scalini-Piazza Navona. At
Tre Scalini, you're paying for the fact of sitting at Tre Scalini. Still,
sitting and watching the show that is the Piazza Navona go by is a
tradition for a reason-- it's fabulous fun.
Gusto's- Piazza Augusto Imperatore 28. It's a food store, it's a wine bar. It's a cafe, it's a ristorante. It's a pizzeria AND a drive-thru cheese store. And it's all crammed into one narrow Mussolini-era building that faces the old Mausoleum of Augustus and the new monstrosity by Richard Meier. Gusto's has quickly become THE foodie destination in Rome, and though we had a seriously adverse reaction to the high-handed dismissiveness of the sommelier (who basically foisted a wine upon us with very little effort to find out what we wanted to drink) the food was very good, and the cooking tool store was quite charming.
Colosseum: A must see and worth an entire morning or afternoon. As a time saving measure, know that you can buy a ticket for both the Colosseum and Palatine hill at Palatine (near the Arch of Titus in the Forum). The lines there are usually shorter, and then you can bypass the long ticket queue at the Colosseum. You'll still have to wait in the security line outside, but you'll avoid the second line inside. Pick up a guide to the Colosseum beforehand and be sure it has a map of the interior.
Forum/ Column of Trajan: Starting in 2008 there is a fee to enter the Roman Forum for the first time. It's worth the time, but be ready for a bone crushing shuffle hemmed in by myriad tour groups on all sides!
Vatican: There is so much to do at the Vatican that you might as well just resign at least three days to do it properly. Seeing the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel will sap you of all your strength for one day. (Take cash -- for some reason when we went, credit cards were not being taken.) Then come back when you've recovered and see the grandeur that is St. Peter's Basilica. When planning, definitely book ahead as early as possible to go on the Scavi or Excavations tour, which will take you through the dirt-lined streets of the ancient Roman necropolis that lies directly underneath the basilica. Emerge blinking into the light and then climb up into the dome to go from the lowest to the highest place in the Vatican. Only 15 people are permitted on the tour at a time and there are only a few English language tours, so book ahead. Possibly the coolest thing you'll do on your visit to Rome, it's well worth the trouble.
Galleria Borghese- A wonderful collection of Italian Art, the Borshese is now one of those sites that is mobbed by tourists in the summers. Be sure to reserve a place by phone or on the web.
The new MACRO or Contemporary Art Museum (Via Reggio Emilia 54), is free. Located in the Testaccio district on the site of a former slaughterhouse, now a lively area for cultural displays and artistic events. MACRO in the slaughterhouse is situated in Testaccio, an area not far from the banks of the Tiber, in a perfect place for cultural experimentation.
Off the Beaten Path and other Tips
View of Rome: Take time to go up the Janiculum hill for an impressive view. According to De Brosses, an 18th century French diarist, it was sufficient in its own right to justify the journey to Italy. The most striking feature is the forest of domes and monuments filling the skyline, silhouetted against the Alban Hills (Castelli Romani).
Terrazze del Vittoriano- Via San Pietro in Carcere - Roma, www.quirinale.it, Info 011 39 06 6780664. For 7 Euros, new glass and steel panoramic elevators scoot you up to the Quadriga Terrace, on the tallest point of the Vittoriano monument. Supposedly, visitors can access to the terraces for free by climbing the 196 steps or by elevator although we couldn't find them.
Under Ristorant Ulpia is Trajanís famous Basilica, which extended almost to the Victor Emmanuel Monument. The basement of the Fendi building shows a giant column. Part of a larger complex of forum, the courthouse, offices -- it was a nerve center for the Roman Empire and a gathering place for the public. Discovered in 2004, modern engineers built columns on the old foundations to support the exhibition space.
Piazza Navona: You can visit the ancient Roman monuments beneath the Piazza Navona and Campo Marzio area. The entrance in Piazza Tor Sanguigna 13 (behind the palazzi of the northern part of Piazza Navona). Exit the Piazza on the north side and turn left. There are guided tours in English on Saturday and Sunday between 10 AM until 1 PM, and on Tuesday and Saturday between 9 PM and 11 PM. Information and reservation: tel. 062412352 and 062413287.
Excubitorium - Another piece of Underground Rome, this ancient Roman firehouse is on the via della Settima Corte. Arrange to visit it 10 days in advance.
Crypta Balbi, Via delle Botteghe Oscure between the Piazza Venezia and Torre Argentina, Piazza Venezia. A recently opened museum and excavation of an entire city block from ancient Roman to medieval to modern times, the Crypta Balbi offers a fascinating display of city life through the ages and a great introduction to new methods of excavating vertically through layers of history. Daily tours of the subterranean excavations are led by museum guides.
Torre Argentina - Area Sacra Dellí Argentina, near Piazza Venezia. What would be just another uncovered ruin is now run as a cat shelter playing home to thousands of felines in the ancient temple area where Julius Caesar was assassinated. Watch them slink and gambol about the stone steps or just sun themselves lazily on the columns.
Basilica of San Clemente, via Labicana 95. We had a hot tip to visit the Basilica of San Clemente, where you can walk through a twelfth century church with fabulous mosaics, then descend into its 4th century predecessor to see what early Christian churches looked like, and then continue downward into the original 2nd century Mithraic temple that lies beneath it all. It's one of the strangest eeriest experiences you'll have.
Galleria Doria Pamphilj: www.doriapamphilj.it, 06 6797323, Piazza del Collegio Romano 2, Piazza Venezia. Pietro. Housed in an impressive palazzo still inhabited by the Doria Pamphilj family this historic collection of Raphaels, Caravaggios and Velazquezes is open to the public with a guided tour on the tape given by the Prince himself to bring the old halls to life.
To see Berniniís fabulous gem of a marble sculpture, The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa, visit the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria (Via XX Settembre) before noon-- the church closes at noon.
There is a free
concert every Sunday in the Quirinale Palace and free concerts are
also held at the Parco della Musica,
designed by Renzo Piano.