When to go
Roman summers are known to be particularly overbearing as far as temperatures are concerned; while the locals tend to take longer siestas inside under fans, the city continues to entice crowds of domestic and international tourists, resulting in busy streets and long, long queues for the key cultural attractions.
If you’re planning on taking in the city’s many sights and landmarks, you should look at visiting during the shoulder seasons of early summer or late autumn when the weather is a little more bearable and it’s less crowded. Don’t be put off by a winter visit either, when the temperatures remain relatively mild and the tourist numbers are much lower. Rome is saturated with visitors on all major holidays, especially religious ones and the city all but shuts in July and August when it’s too hot to move, leaving the streets crowd-free. It also means that many of the luxury boutique hotels in Rome are more affordable than other times of the year.
What to do
Considering the city has been at the centre of European culture, politics and religion for over two millennia, it’s no surprise that there really is something for everyone in Rome. The city’s spectacular ancient heritage will impress anyone with even the slightest interest in history, while art lovers will find themselves swooning over the breathtaking works of Renaissance art and sculpture dotted around the city’s many churches and museums. If you’re travelling with families, many of the key attractions hold special workshops and activities for younger visitors.
From the timeworn remains of the Colosseum to the spectacular Medieval grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica, there’s plenty in Rome to thrill those with a penchant for the past. We’ve covered all the city’s most recognisable landmarks in our brilliant three-day itinerary, perfect for first-time visitors who want to see the essentials, but there are plenty of other spots off-the-beaten-track that bring the city’s rich history into sharp focus.
One of our favourites is the church of San Clemente, just a short walk from the Colosseum. Dating back to the 12th-century, you’ll find some rather stunning mosaics, but it’s beneath the ground that the real treasures lie. Descend one level and you’ll see the remains of a church dating back to the 4th-century; keep going to the very bottom and you’ll find yourself in a 1st-century Roman home, converted into a Mithraeum, a place of worship for a mysterious ancient cult. It’s one of the most powerful reminders of the city’s complex, multilayered history.
Another church with a hidden history is Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, built into a fragment of the ancient Baths of Diocletian. The largest in ancient Rome, the Baths have all but vanished, swallowed up by streets, buildings and piazzas. Designed by Michelangelo in the 16th-century, the church gives you a real idea of the scale of the baths. If you’re lucky, you may even catch choirs practising in the nave.
Rome’s long history also makes it a must-visit for anyone with even a passing interest in culture, with a wealth of galleries and museums showcasing stunning works of art. While the Capitoline and Vatican Museums draw their share of visitors, for a truly unique experience head to the Centrale Montemartini in off-beat Testaccio. Within this former thermoelectric power-station, classical statues and Roman mosaics sit beside the long-dormant hulks of industrial machinery. The result is a little unsettling, and certainly thought-provoking.
If you’re after the Old Masters, be sure to visit the Borghese Gallery. The gallery itself is home to a wonderful collection including Bernini, Titian and Caravaggio and the surrounding gardens – one of the largest urban parks in Europe – are a wonderful example of landscaping, with picturesque paths threaded between faux-Greek temples and replica Shakespearian theatres.
If the thought of Renaissance artworks leaves you cold, don’t despair – Rome has another gallery hidden inside an old factory that’s perfect for lovers of contemporary artwork. The Pastificio Cerere is an early 20th-century pasta factory that was transformed into a multifunctional artist space in the 1970s. It’s now home to artist and design studios, ateliers, galleries and a photography school, and frequently holds exhibitions.
If you’re willing to explore the backstreets of Rome, you’ll find that there’s still plenty in this city that surprises and intrigues. One of Rome’s quirkiest spots is tucked away behind the Borghese Gardens. Leave the gardens via the Bioparco exit, then take the tram to Piazza Buenos Aires. From here it’s just a short stroll to the mysterious Quartiere Coppedè, a small neighbourhood designed by architect Gino Coppedè in the early years of the 20th-century. The buildings, with their mixture of Art Nouveau, medieval, Baroque and classical styles are like something out of a fantasy film, and well worth a visit. If you’re looking for an authentic, lesser-visited Roman neighbourhood, look no further than Testaccio.
While the Monti district has been drawing visitors in recent years for its stylish Boho charms, Testaccio is the real deal, a working-class neighbourhood of street art, student bars and regular Romans going about their daily business. The district is home to the outstanding Centrale Montemartini Museum, but there’s much more to see, like a perfectly-preserved pyramid that’s a century older than the Colosseum, the graves of Percy Shelley and John Keats, and a hill made of broken Roman amphorae. The beating heart of Testaccio is its central market, the perfect place to enjoy authentic Roman street food while watching market traders haggle with weatherbeaten nonnas over bursting tomatoes and colourful courgette flowers.
September and October – Roma Europa Art Festival
October/November – Festa del Cinema
What to eat
Roman cuisine is the food of trattorias and street-food stalls, with an emphasis on no-frills, working-class dishes that pack a real flavour punch. Pecorino, a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, is ubiquitous and appears in the city’s most famous pasta recipes, often paired with guanciale, a cured pork jowl. Be sure to try a real bowl of carbonara; made with egg, guanciale, pecorino and black pepper, this flavourful sauce clings silkily to strands of spaghetti. Fried food is another staple of Roman dining, and is particularly popular as a snack with early evening drinks.
From December to April, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for fried artichokes, a Roman speciality inspired by the city’s Jewish population. Pair it with a plate of delicate fried courgette flowers, stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, or suppli al telefono, rice-balls flavoured with tomato and stuffed with cheese, for a fritto feast. Some of the hotels in Rome, especially the larger luxury hotels, have great restaurants and coffee spots.
Where to eat
The rather old-fashioned atmosphere of La Campana is understandable – the place has been serving ultra-traditional Roman dishes for over 500 years. Come for their delicious vignarola, a spring-vegetable stew, and make sure you leave room for their legendary tiramisù.
If you’re looking for a particularly special meal, then be sure to book a table at La Pergola, one of Rome’s finest contemporary restaurants and the city’s only establishment to hold three Michelin stars. From pared-back classics to intricate show-stoppers, dining here is a true gourmet experience, with every dish tasting just as good as it looks.
If you want to see and be seen and aren’t that bothered about whether the food is great or average then Dal Bolognese on Piazza del Popolo, fits the bill. It’s Rome’s most famous restaurant and where politicians, footballers, actors, fashionistas and the city’s high-flyers come to dine. Booking is essential.
Off the beaten track on Via Casaletto, cheerful and great value is Cesare al Casaletto, serving some of the best fritti misti in the city. Or family-run Nonna Betta in the old Jewish ghetto is particularly well-known for its artichokes.
A great choice for classic pasta dishes is Dal Cavalier Gino, tucked away on Vicolo Rosini. It’s kitschy décor, reasonable prices and excellent food has made it popular with many locals, including politicians from the Italian Parliament. Or aptly-named La Carbonara on Via Panisperna, serves some of the best pasta and homemade cakes in town.
A trip to Rome or any Italian city for that matter isn’t complete without having Italian ice cream (gelato).
Punto Gelato in Via dei Pettinari is impossible to resist. The milk is microfiltered and organic and gourmet ingredients such as buffalo milk from Lazio are combined with sweet and savoury flours to create intense and unusually flavoured ice cream; ricotta with strawberry and balsamic vinegar and Madagascan pink pepper and buffalo milk are some of the favourites. Traditionalists won’t be disappointed either as there are plenty of normal flavours available.
Gelateria Artigianale Corona is a tiny gelateria near Largo Argentina which has the usual favourites including pistachio and crema. What you come here for though is the herb and spice infused ice cream – turmeric, lemon and honey is one of the favourites. Flavours change depending on the best ingredients available so be sure to visit on a regular basis.
What to buy
From big-name fashion houses and trendy boutiques to characterful antiques and food markets, Rome is one of the best cities in the world for shoppers. You’ll find the majority of the big names on or around the streets of Via Condotti and Via del Corso, not far from the Spanish Steps, where haute couture brands jostle for attention on the beautiful Renaissance-era streets. While perusing these prestigious brands is a must for serious shoppers, be sure to visit some of Rome’s lesser-known spots for some rather unique souvenirs. Any good hotel in Rome will have a great concierge who will share their insider tips on where to go and what to buy.
CoRo Jewels, sells beautifully sophisticated jewellery pieces, combining the historical lost wax technique with cutting-edge 3D printing techniques to create architecturally-inspired delights from gold, sterling, silver, bronze and ruthenium. Alternatively, if you’ve been tempted to recreate some Roman delicacies at home, make sure you’re well equipped by stopping off at c.u.c.i.n.a, a temple to stylish and practical Italian kitchen accessories.
Get out of the city
The Appian Way is the perfect day-trip if you’re looking to escape the traffic-clogged, tourist-filled streets of Rome. The original road to Rome, this ancient highway once stretched from the gates of Rome to the town of Brindisi, 300 miles away. The Appian Way is steeped in history; Julius Caesar and St. Peter would have used it, and it’s also the site of Spartacus’ crucifixion.
The first 10 miles of the Appian Way is preserved as part of a regional park, and the natural beauty of the Italian countryside and fascinating historical sites makes it a great place to spend a sunny day. We recommend you expore the Appian Way on a Sunday when the road is closed to cars and when many services and restaurants are closed in the city.
Where to sleep
As you’d expect Rome is full of budget boutique hotels, large luxury hotels and small boutique hotels. There really is something for everyone. We prefer an independent boutique hotel where you’re treated as an individual and not a room number, here are a few of our favourite boutique hotels in Rome.
With just 3 charming bedrooms, this peaceful small boutique hotel in the heart of Trastevere is filled with original artworks by owner Luisa Longo. We love the lush garden courtyard, a real oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the city.
Just a stone’s throw from the Porta del Popolo, Casa Montani occupies the third floor of a luxurious 20th-century palazzo that has been in owner Giuseppe’s family since 1916. The five bedrooms at this boutique hotel in Rome each have sophisticated interiors, with antique family heirlooms lending a touch of character and personality.
You can’t beat Relais Rione Ponte for value for money. Under the artistic direction of Emmeotto (a contemporary art gallery housed in Palazzo Taverna), the owners of this budget luxury hotel in Rome have carefully selected Italian and international artists, whose works make the atmosphere of Relais Rione Ponte, unlike any other small boutique hotel in Rome. Rates start at under £100 per night making it an excellent choice if you’re looking for a boutique hotel in Rome on a budget. And when we say budget boutique hotel we don’t mean it’s lacking in luxury, it’s simply that it is amazing value and a fantastic option when looking to explore Rome.
This boutique hotel in Rome is for real art aficionados and design enthusiasts. Once upon a time, the building was a boarding school. In a fantastic location on Rome’s Via Margutta famous for its art galleries and antique shops, it’s perfect if you’re not a traditionalist and looking for a modern art hotel.
The hall, which was once an ancient chapel, is now a minimalist space featuring silk-screen prints and bronze busts and leads to the hotel’s designer courtyard. Everywhere you look the walls are adorned with contemporary art.
Modern interiors continue through to the wellness space and fitness area which is cosy and welcoming.
You can fly to Rome and land at one of two major airports: Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (Fiumicino) and Rome Ciampino Airport. Leonardo da Vinci International is linked directly with a railway line from Rome, which takes you to the central station. Ciampino is served mainly by budget airlines, and there is a bus that takes you to the city centre.
Once you’re in Rome, it’s best to avoid driving and stick to public transport, the Carabinieri are like bees to honey with hire cars and badly parked foreign cars. The city has a 24hr bus network, as well as two metro lines and some trams.
- Taxi fares from the Fiumicino airport is a set fare of €48 (40mins)
- Taxi fares from the Ciampino airport is a set fare of €30 (35 mins)
There’s a useful public transport planner at www.atac.roma.it.