A First-Timer’s Guide to Rome
With its cobbled backstreets, iconic history and more delicious pasta than you can shake a stick at; Rome is what Italian city breaks are all about. Hear the blaring of honking horns, catch the scent of freshly-prepared dough mixed with aromatic tomatoes and feel the cool blasts of air coming from the abundant ice-cream parlours – a welcome reprieve from the heat. Your first time in Rome will be full of anticipation, and you won’t be disappointed. If, like me, you follow these things to do, your visit will be something extra special:
What to do:
When combined with the majesty of the Roman Forum and the regal beauty of Palatine Hill, spending a day in and around Rome’s world-famous Colosseum is an absolute must-do. Here you’ll learn all about this Flavian amphitheatre – the largest ever built – and how gladiators and beasts once fought to the death for an audience of up to 80,000 bloodthirsty spectators. It sounds a bit morbid, but it’s actually fascinating, and you’ll be stunned by this fantastic feat of human engineering too. Be sure to book tickets in advance though; the queues can get out of control.
This city-state is not just home to the Pope, his cardinals and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, it’s also where some of the most majestic paintings, sculptures and architecture on our planet are kept. From the Vatican Museums to St Peter’s Basilica to the world-famous Sistine Chapel, prepare to step into a realm where art – not just religion – reigns.
In the heart of the city’s Quirinale district, the Trevi Fountain has featured in many a Hollywood blockbuster, lauded for its beauty and supposed wish-granting abilities. But whether you’re planning to throw a Euro in and guarantee your return to the Eternal City, or not, this Rome highlight cannot be missed. An extraordinary piece of Baroque art, take the time to admire its mighty statues, made up of tridents, horses and oceanic gods.
In May this 138-step stairway is adorned with pink azaleas; there really is no better time to see it. But why is a set of steps so special, we hear you ask? Simply, it is the perfect place to pause and soak up the atmosphere of this lively city. Locals and tourists flock here, imbuing the area with energy, round the clock. If you need something more to convince you, then how about the fact it’s been a cultural hub for poets and artists alike since the 18th century? The house of English poet John Keats sits alongside the steps, proving how instrumental it was, and still is, in inspiring travellers.
The Pantheon was once described by Michelangelo as being the ‘work of angels’, not humans. Dedicated to the gods of pagan Rome, this columned building is truly ancient – having been built sometime between 118 and 125 AD. And you can feel the history the moment you step inside, not to mention the love and hard work that went into creating the structure – particularly its dome. A series of arches intersect each other on the inside of the cupola, coming together to reveal its sunlight-attracting oculus.
Villa Borghese gardens
If you’re looking for a brief reprieve from the freneticism of Rome’s streets, this is where you’ll find it. This slice of verdant landscape is the city’s biggest park, perfect for ambling, cycling or seeking a peaceful picnic spot. For a dose of culture, it’s also home to the Borghese Gallery, a collection of mosaics, paintings and sculptures dating back to the 15th century.
Taste the food
Whether it’s a scoop of gelato or a slice of wood-fired pizza, it’d be rude to come to Rome and not eat Italian cuisine until you burst. I sampled the best gnocchi to ever have graced my lips in a small family-run restaurant near Termini, called La Taverna Del Re. To make sure you get the best dishes (for a less-than exorbitant price), don’t dine in the restaurants that surround the icons I’ve listed above. Instead, head down the side streets and look for something a bit more authentic. If the menu is listed in Italian and not six other languages, that’s usually a good sign.
How to do it:
To make the most of Rome, stay somewhere central and be prepared to navigate on foot; just be sure to wear comfy shoes so your precious tootsies aren’t destroyed by the cobblestones. For getting to the Vatican City, you’ll most likely need to use the Metro – you can take the A line to Ottaviano - S. Pietro - Musei Vaticani. If you’re time-poor, buy a hop-on hop-off bus ticket; this is a quick, easy and foot-saving way to see all the key landmarks. Tickets can be arranged through your Flight Centre Travel Expert in advance, or from one of the many kiosks around Termini station.
When to go:
Rome is best enjoyed in the shoulder seasons: spring and autumn. Winter carries quite a chill and summer is so unbearably hot, that even the locals opt for a mass exodus – take it from someone who first went in August. On my second visit I opted for April, and we were blessed with cooler (but still T-shirt-worthy) weather and fewer crowds – which is crucial when you’re jostling for space around tourist hubs like the Colosseum and the Vatican.