In Rome you cannot avoid comparing the past and the present. In the past, the bathhouses were the focal point, nowadays it’s the cafés. The inhabitants of Rome feel very strongly about spending leisure time and life outdoors, just as they do about good food and beverages.
This is also one of the most important elements that caused the Roman Empire to flourish. After work comes time for pleasure, something that was available in all sorts of different forms then. There are the world famous games with gladiators and wild animals, organised regularly. There were chariot races and performances in various amphitheatres every day. Also, sometimes there was just peace and quiet. In those days, the bathhouse was a place for social gatherings.
The bathhouses have now been exchanged for modern cafés. In fact, the old Romans also had their drinking taverns, just as they had their gambling establishments. Walking through Rome you will notice the lively, modern town intertwine with the ancient city, sometimes flowing, sometimes outright ugly. On a clear day you can still see that Rome was built on seven hills, still carrying the authentic Roman names: Capitoline, Quirinal, Palatine, Aventine, Viminal, Esquiline and Caelian.
It is not completely clear how the city developed through the ages. The mythical version of how Rome was founded is well-known. Caesar Augustus (a grand nephew to Julius Caesar) ordered the historians Publius Vergilius Maro and Titius Livius to document how Rome was created. The story was recorded in the Ab Urbe Condita. The history of Rome contained in these 142 books emphasizes its divine origin.
Only a small portion of the work has been preserved and it states that the city was founded by twin brothers Romulus and Remus on the Palatine hill on 21 April in 753 B.C. This date is also used as the beginning of Roman time. Romulus and Remus are believed to be the descendants of Aeneas, a Trojan hero and son of the goddess Aphrodite.
Over the past decades the real history of Rome has become known bit by bit. According to archaeologists, the first inhabitants were the Latins (or Latini), who spoke the Latin language, just like the Romans did. Around the 10th century B.C. they settled on the Palatine and Esquiline hills. New settlements were added gradually. In the 6th century B.C. the Etruscans invaded, uniting the settlements to form one city, among other things by building a city wall. Not much else is known about the Etruscans, except for that it is certain that after various wars, they were absorbed into the Roman Empire.
There is one fact that stands out: Rome was once the centre, not only of the already enormous Roman Empire, but actually of all of Europe. Not just for a while, but for many centuries and with a very high standard, both strategically as well as culturally. It is therefore the first real metropolis, a city where artists like Michelangelo and Caravaggio were given the opportunity to develop.
It’s a city that continued to grow, despite various wars, shortages of drinking water, earthquakes, epidemics and fires. If you walk around the city now, you will have some understanding of what it must have looked like during the various periods. It was as early as in the 1st century when Lucian referred to Rome as ‘caput mundi’, or centre of the world, a metropolis. This is a term used often nowadays, but in this case it is really appropriate.
Rome is popular for a city trip. It offers modern conveniences, but above all, you can get a look at th Roman past. In fact you can see this anywhere you look. If you dig deeper you will even encounter its Greek history. The list of items of interest is extremely long and those who visit Rome have a hard time dividing their attention between Roman, Christian, but also Baroque monuments. And the bars and restaurants with their fine Italian foods.
Watch the sun set over Rome
In Rome, you can choose whatever building you want to see as the sun sets over the city. Besides the Colosseum and the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Piazza del Campidoglio is certainly worth a look. The square, designed by Michelangelo, can be reached by staircase. Once you reach the top, you will have a view of a large part of the city.
Get a cooking class in Italian cuisine
If you like to cook Italian cuisine, you are at the right place. There are many opportunities to go taste wines or snacks, but also to stand behind the stove yourself. There are plenty of options and much depends on the amount of time you have.
You can learn how to prepare gnocchi, or a nice pasta, or various small and warm snacks. It is also nice to experience how you can determine the taste if you have at least ten ingredients. Take your time to learn, because this highly developed cuisine is not one you will master easily.
Feel the romance at the Ponte Sant’ Angelo in the evening
This is a popular location for people in love in Rome. The angels on the Ponte Sant’ Angelo (the Bridge of Angels) will lead you to the Castel Sant’ Angelo, or Castle of Angels. It’s a historical place as this was Hadrian’s tomb. It is an ideal place to parade around and in the evening it’s worth taking photographs of the illuminated bridge.
Watch millions of starlings dance through the sky
Everybody knows the starling, they are a common sight and not likely to surprise anyone. However, this bird is capable of a magnificent artistic performance, considered by bird enthusiasts as a great spectacle of nature.
The unique shows can be witnessed anywhere, but in Rome you are almost guaranteed to witness how some five million starlings gather at sunset, upon return from their search for food in the city’s surroundings. They sleep by the Tiber river, near the Bridge of Angels. Right before they stop their flight in order to rest, they will fly around in flocks and create the most incredible formations.
Find the best shopping in Rome
In Rome, there are plenty of possibilities to go shopping. All the expensive brands, like Gucci and Prada are in the area by the Spanish Steps, but there also are many self-willed little shops. Look for shops, for instance specialized in walking canes, gloves or some of the many local delicacies.
Other famous shopping streeets are: Via del Corso, Viale Marconi and Porta Portese, Piazza Vittorio and also the Trastevere district. Besides this, you have designer outlets, which are often just outside the city. Here you can purchase clothing from well-known brands against low prices. However, not everything is cheaper.
Discover Ancient Rome in Trastevere
If you want to go back in time, you should walk through the Trastevere district. The narrow streets and many squares date back to the Middle Ages. The district became famous for the large villas and gardens that were built here in the age of Caesar. Go and hang out there at the end of a day. There’s a lot going on here in the evening, with the sidewalk cafes and many small restaurants.
You can also walk from Trastevere, through the Passeggiata del Gianicolo to Vatican City. A road going through the green hills, offering a different view of the city around every bend. Look at the Fontana dell’ Acqua Paola, a fountain you will bump into by the side of the road.
This is a walk you can take early in the morning, but also when evening falls. The evening will provide for some serene views, the last rays of the sun fade away as the city lights slowly come on.
Take a movie scenes tour on a Vespa
Scooters are a typically Italian way to travel. The Vespa (and to a lesser extent the Lambretta) forms part of the street scene of Rome. In a city like this, it is excellent for moving from one place to another. Scooters can be rented in various places and they are not difficult to operate.
You can also take a tour on a Vespa, for instance to visit the locations of the famous motion picture Roman Holiday (starring Gregory Peck and a Vespa). If you find all this a bit too much for your taste, you can rent bikes all over the city as well.
Hop on a bike at night
In Rome, many buildings are illuminated at night. Not only in the smaller streets, but also monuments, like the Colosseum. Most of these monuments are in or near the city centre. Therefore, a bicycle is an excellent way to view the city and its culture. You can rent one yourself, but in summer you can also book a guided tour by bike. The guide will answer all the questions you may have.
Learn all about Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons
Rome has a leading role in the famous books of Dan Brown. This was obvious in the bestseller The Da Vinci Code, but Angels & Demons is also largely set in the Italian capital. You can go on a special tour where the true history and the books of Dan Brown take centre stage. This is not just for hardcore fans of the author.
Sip a cappuccino on a piazza
Rome has many piazzas. Among the most famous of these small squares is the Piazza di Spagna, where English poet John Keats once lived. He died in a room with a view of the square, which is now a museum.
In the middle of the square is the Fontana della Barcaccia (the Fountain of the Old Boat).
This is a great place to sit down for a cup of coffee and just look at the people passing by. Another nice spot is the Piazza Navona, where you will also see many statues. This is Rome at its best. If you prefer to avoid the tourists, you can opt for many other squares.
Profile a criminal mind in Museo Criminologico
If you would like to crawl into the mind of a criminal, you should pay a visit to one of the lesser known museums of Rome. The Museo Criminologico on Via del Gonfalone 29 is, rather appropriately, located in a former papal prison.
The museum has an extraordinary, bizarre collection. You may think here of torture devices, all sorts of weapons, equipment for espionage, but also tools for burglaries. In some cases it is not hard to imagine what the intentions of the perpetrators were…
Explore the Mausoleums of Hadrian and Augustus
The Mausoleum of Hadrian, or Castle of the Holy Angle, is much better-known than Augustus’s. However, the Mausoleum of Augustus is still standing, while Hadrian’s is not. The construction was the same: a cylindrical tomb, covered with dirt and cypresses, a style adopted from the Etruscans.
The tomb measures 44 meters in height and inside, the remains of Augustus, his wife Livia, his sister Octavia and his son-in-law Agrippa were kept. The mausoleum has fallen to decay, some parts have been restored. It is open regularly, so you do have an opportunity to look inside. Inquire after the opening hours at local tourist agencies.
Visit Diocletian thermal springs in a church
This is an architectural masterpiece in Rome, that Michelangelo himself was involved in. In 1561, he had the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri church built on top of the remains of the Thermal Baths of Diocletian.
He did so with an eye for detail and an extraordinary symbiosis and today, the thermal springs are the best kept secret in Rome. Look at the arched ceilings of the original cold water baths, which now form the nave of the church.
Learn from Caravaggio in museums and churches
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is one of the most prominent of the Old Masters. His work is unique for the dramatic light effects. He grew up in Milan at the end of the 16th century. He painted most of his works in Rome.
His works are on display in churches like the Santa Maria del Popolo on the Piazza del Popolo, or in museums like the Galleria Borghese, Sant’ Agostino, San Luigi dei Francesi and Galleria Doria Pamphilj. If you go with a guide, you will get extensive information about the man behind all these paintings. Caravaggio was a rather eccentric individual.
Enjoy concerts and operas between the ruins
In Rome, many historical buildings are still used for stage performances, like concerts and operas. In summer, the Baths of Caracalla are the scene of Italian operas in the open air. There are shows at the Theatre of Marcellus as well. The tourist agencies have all the current information about the various performances.
Find the history of the Jewish Ghetto
The Jewish Ghetto is a dark page in the history books of Rome. During the Roman Empire, Jews were held in high regard, because of their knowledge of finances and medicine. By orders from Pope Paul IV, all Jews were sent to live in a compound enclosed by walls.
Just three hectares for 7,000 people was never sufficient, but those who stayed here were allowed to leave the area during the day. At night, the gates were closed again and soldiers would stand guard. Nowadays, all that is left are ruins. The compound is in the Jewish district where you also find many small shops and good restaurants.
Walk through the Golden House of Nero
It is one of the few palaces that are underground. Nero had the Domus Aurea erected in 64, on the foot of the Celius, which was a hill in the middle of the city. It was excavated in the past decades and is now open to the public. You may only enter with a guide.
Celebrate the Estate Romana in Rome
Estate Romana is the biggest summer festival of the city. It runs for approximately three months and there are many shows by musicians and variety entertainers, but there also are special movies, theatre shows and sports events; all perfect to enjoy when the weather is nice.
See the archeologists at work
Rome is still an enormous challenge for scientists. So in many places, like at the Forum Romanum, you can see them at work. Watch how they excavate the ground and try to place objects found with other objects, or how they restore existing monuments.
See if you come across them when you walk through the city, chances are you will (on a working day). They will mostly be accompanied by students who are learning the tricks of the trade and they will always be prepared to explain to you what they are looking for or what they have already found.
You can visit Rome throughout the year. The summer months (from July to mid-September) are extremely busy and the waiting lines at the many attractions of the city will be very long. This may also be the case in spring, especially on the weekends.
If you want to visit many sites and see lots of attractions, it is best to travel to Rome in October or in March/April. It is recommended to visit the most popular attractions early in the morning. Try to explore the less popular sites in the afternoon. Except for the popular Vatican museums, where it is more quiet in the afternoon. Make sure to take your time to explore all the works of art in the museums.
In summer, the sun may burn relentlessly in Rome. Particularly when visiting the Colosseum, where you may spend a couple of hours, for example. Wear a hat and be sure to apply enough suntan lotion.
In the past couple of years, Rome has become notorious for its crime rate. Termini Station is one place where pickpockets and purse-snatchers are known to operate. Be alert at all times and keep a close eye on your possessions.
How do I get there?
Rome has two international airports. The largest one is Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino, at about 26 kilometers south-west of the city center. You can travel by train directly to the large Termini train station in the middle of the city.
Ciampino airport lies at about 15 kilometers south-east of the center of the city and there are good bus lines.
There are continuous flights to both airports from all over the world, carried out by countless different airlines, including various so-called price-fighters.
Once in Rome, a good way to move around is by public transport: buses, subways, trams and trains are available. Especially the subways are very handy and they have stops in the proximity of many tourist attractions and sites.