The famed city of the Roman Empire – with its chaos, history and charm – knows how to woo. With an historic centre listed as a World Heritage site, this is also a city of fashion and frescos, romance and pride. Rome rewards the curious traveller. The Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Colosseum all have their reputations with good reason, but the real gems are found along forgotten alleyways and in the middle of unanticipated conversations. The great squares, piazze, are the heart of the city; where people meet, talk, eat, observe. Come and find your own Roman Holiday.
Once the centre of a gargantuan empire, Rome has a smaller dominion these days but the greater metropolitan area is the bustling home to more than 5 million, so this isn't a city to see in a weekend. If you only have a short time, see the gladiatorial heart of ancient Rome at the Colosseum; cross the road to the Roman Forum; go to Emperor Hadrian's Roman Pantheon, built in 118 AD; and regardless of your faith, the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum is a highlight. Don't worry too much if you don't get to all the sites you want – you could spend years here to do so. Just being in the city is rewarding.
There are some excellent fine dining restaurants in Rome, along with family-run trattorias but note eateries can be a tourist trap – always look out for places packed with locals. Traditional Roman fare is based on vegetables, particularly artichoke, and less expensive cuts of meat. Olive oil, garlic, chilli and mint feature often in seasoning and of course there's the ubiquitous pasta. Pizza is more a southern specialty so you might be disappointed if you come with high expectations on that front. Note it's not the done thing to order a cappuccino after 11am and coffee is usually consumed, quickly, while standing. For something harder than caffeine, top bars in Rome include Bar San Calisto, Cul de Sac and Bar del Fico.
Where to Stay
As it has a fine history of accommodating luxury, top hotels in Rome continue to cater to the well-heeled. There are international chains in grand historical buildings and fusions of the upmarket and informal in boutique hotels. There's no shortage of guesthouses, pensione, bed and breakfasts or mid-range properties either. Most visitors traditionally stay near the Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, the Vatican and Trastevere. There's a concentration of cheap accommodation around Termini station but this can get a bit seedy at night, so take care.
The Eternal City is eternally a shopper's dream. If you fancy taking home a marble bust (or the more portable marble fruit, vases and candle holders) Maurizio Grossi, on Via Margutta, is for you. On the same street you'll find classic leather artisans at Saddlers Union – making bags, belts, wallets and briefcases. Designers, artists, jewellers and milliners sell their wares in the delightful studio tucked off Via del Babuino, at My Cup of Tea. Bring an extra suitcase for a haul from Society if you love fine fabrics for your home – here you'll find linens woven from fine cotton, silk, wool and ramie; it's on Piazza di Pasquino.
Rome like a Local
The locals may drive, but this doesn't mean it's wise for the first time visitor. The ideal way to see the centre of Rome is on foot and if you're travelling further afield, grab a bus. Note that buses will also be subject to the traffic chaos too but there are frequent departures (about every 10 minutes) on popular routes. Romans aren't likely to get their photo taken with a costumed gladiator at the Colosseum but if you do, know you'll be expected to pay for the privilege. Many locals shut up shop (literally) for a couple of weeks in August to take their annual leave, so Rome won't be entirely open for business if you come during this time.