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Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city,' renowned writer and literary critic Anatole Broyard once wrote, and as far as Rome travelogues go, this one’s pretty hard to beat. No place in the world stirs up emotions quite like the Eternal City. Stand in awe in front of the divine beauty of the Pietà in St Peter's Basilica, a celebration of both Michelangelo’s genius and the Italian High Renaissance. Give in to the joy of la dolce vita while you idly wander the streets of bohemian Trastevere with a gelato, as if you were on a never-ending Roman holiday. Admire the sweeping views over the bustle of Rome from the top of Gianicolo Hill and watch as the setting sun slowly turns the city golden. Imagine the rush gladiators felt when they stepped into the arena ready to meet their death in the robust Colosseum. And fall in love with a city that never stops, never changes and, as you’ll see, never lets you go.
For a former capital of an empire whose armies and ambitions once ruled over most of the western civilised world, Rome’s beginnings were quite humble. And for some, unfortunate: legend has it that twins-cum-demigods Romulus and Remus founded the city together in 753 BC but got into a fight over who should rule it. The former won, the latter got killed, and the rest is history. By 117 AD, the minor city-state turned into the mighty Roman Empire, which at its pinnacle stretched from the Scottish Highlands in the northwest to the Sahara Desert in the southeast. The empire eventually fell and yet, the might of Rome has never really dimmed. It has retained its hard-earned Caput Mundi (Capital of the World) status for centuries to come, having emerged as the spiritual and physical seat of the Roman Catholic Church, the birthplace of Italian Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassicism, and following the unification of Italy, the country’s capital in 1870.
If there’s one piece of advice we can give you before your Rome city break, let it be this: book ahead to skip the lines. Snatch a combo ticket online for the triumvirate of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The most iconic shape of Rome’s cityscape, the Colosseum was a gift from Emperor Vespasian to the Roman people, where 50,000 of them could watch the carnage of gladiator fights from the comfort of their seats. Climb up the Palatino (Palatine Hill) to walk around atmospheric ruins and look down to take in the Roman Forum in all its glory. Descend to where it all began: the Forum Romanum saw Romulus’s victory and the birth of an empire, and was the beating heart of Ancient Rome’s spiritual, political and social life. The world’s smallest country, Vatican City (population: 825), is home to some truly grandiose sights, such as St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums. The latter is a vast, sumptuous collection of 20,000 masterpieces, from Roman sculpture to Renaissance art. Prepare to get utterly floored but while you’re at it, take a good look at the ceiling. The Sistine Chapel’s frescoes by Michelangelo and Raphael’s frescoes in Stanze di Raffaello are the epitome of High Renaissance painting. Throw your own change among the €1.5 million worth of coins in the Trevi Fountain, the majestic Baroque fountain that co-starred alongside Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Unwind after a culture-packed day at Piazza Navona, a buzzing medley of tourists, locals, street artists and more Baroque marvels.
Meet the spaghetti alla carbonara of your dreams. Much debate surrounds Rome’s simple-looking flagship pasta dish. Some say its origins go back to post-WW2 times when American soldiers first whisked up this egg-and-pancetta goodness. Others insist that it came to be as a hearty meal for Italian coal miners – the carbonari – as early as the 14th century. One thing’s for sure, though: family-run Trattoria Da Enzo al 29 on Via dei Vascellari is a prime spot for giving it a try. Or pull up a chair at bare-bricked Trattoria Da Danilo on Via Petrarca, or at Via Velletri’s Marzapane to taste Spanish chef Alba Esteve Ruiz’s take on the Italian classic. Then there’s bucatini all'amatriciana, of course. Another pasta dish, this time of the tomato-drenched variety, gets its bite from black pepper, dried chillies and guanciale. Give it a go at warm and unpretentious Osteria degli Amici on Via Nicola Zabaglia. Time for a snack? Supplì it is, then. Find these steaming hot fried balls of creamy risotto and gooey mozzarella at any Roman deli. Don’t even think of skipping gelato, or even better, gelato artigianale (homemade gelato). Drop by Fatamorgana on Via Roma Libera and browse their eclectic ice cream selection of old favourites and promising newcomers, such as chocolate with tobacco or basil with walnuts and honey.
Rome shopping is what you want it to be. Via Condotti, shopaholics’ best friend and a sworn enemy of wallets, is brimming with big-hitting labels and price tags to match. Rome’s answer to Milan's Via Montenapoleone is also home to Antico Caffè Greco, Rome’s oldest bar, where Stendhal, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Byron, Liszt, Keats, Ibsen, Wagner and even Casanova were often seen sipping their espresso. High-street labels flank Via del Corso, a roomy boulevard running between Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Popolo. Looking for brands with an edge? Hit Via Urbana or Via del Boschetto for carefully curated goodies and vintage finds. Done with shopping? Swing your bags and watch locals perfect the art of la passeggiata, aka the tradition of taking a slow evening stroll to see and be seen. Dinnertime for Romans is around 8 p.m. so don’t expect any real after-dark action before 11. Kick off your nightscapade with a proper aperitivo, Rome’s pre-dinner ritual that involves a well-mixed cocktail, usually on the bitter side, and salty nibbles. Try Freni e Frizioni in Trastevere, with savvy staff, a lavish buffet and fun-loving crowds. Want a tinge of mystery with your craft cocktail? Voted among the world’s 50 best bars for five years in a row, Jerry Thomas Speakeasy is a new-ish cult favourite with a genuine passion for mixology and an evocative Prohibition-era feel. Check the website for the daily password to get in. Ready to hit the clubs? Head to Shari Vari on Via di Torre Argentina. A cosy bistro by day and throbbing club by night, it’s a perfect spot for pulling an all-nighter in style.
Want to see the green side of La Città Eterna? Start green-spotting in heart-shaped Villa Borghese in the very centre of Rome. It was Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Bernini’s patron, who in 1605 began transforming this former vineyard into the lushest of gardens and a celebration of his love for all things art. Today it stands as a breathtaking garden complex, complete with Galleria Borghese and a sizeable chunk of the Borgheses’ collection of Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian art. Continue your greensploration at Rome’s largest public park, Villa Doria Pamphili and marvel at its manicured gardens and 17th-century Casino del Bel Respiro, or the second largest one, Villa Ada, carpeted with stone pines, holm oaks and laurels. And let’s not forget that Rome has beaches, too! Take a train to soak up some sun and splash around in the aquamarine waters at local favourite Santa Marinella.
Rome Fiumicino Airport or Leonardo da Vinci Airport is Rome’s main and busiest international airport, located 25 kilometres southwest of the city. It has three terminals and spoils you for choice, be it buying last-minute gifts or grabbing a bite before boarding your flight. Trenitalia-operated Leonardo Express train leaves every 15 minutes to reach Termini Station in just half an hour. Alternatively, car hire and taxi services are also available.
Overall, Rome is blessed with a gentle Mediterranean climate with rare continental mood swings. Winters are mild and wet with chilly nights, while summers bring plenty of sunshine, interrupted by the occasional afternoon thunderstorm. Bear in mind that Roman holidays involve quite a bit of walking so late summer temperatures are not exactly prime weather for an action-packed city break. Time your trip between mid-April and mid-June or September and early October instead.