Rome can get under your skin

They call Rome the Eternal City.  It’s my favourite city and it cast a spell over me the first time I visited.  I tossed my coin into the Trevi Fountain on that first visit and have been back time and again.

When I was asked for some tips and things to do, Rome presents a conundrum.  There is so much to do, but what are the real highlights?

As with any city in Italy, a good guidebook will cover all the major sights and attractions.  These ramblings cover the things we have picked up on successive visits.  The things we do in Rome when we get the chance.

A Casual Walk

The wonderful thing about Rome is that in one day it is possible to visit many of the places that make the city famous.

We stay in a hotel within sight of Piazza Barberini at the bottom of the Via Veneto – a district known for fine restaurants and great food.  From here it is possible to walk west to the Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon and Piazza Navona within 30 minutes.  From Piazza Navona continuing east it is only a short walk to the Tiber River with the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo on the other side.

Head south and you arrive at the Colosseum, the Forum and the impressive but strangely out of place Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, together with the usual collection of dodgy modern day gladiators who arrive each morning in Fiats and who spend the day hassling tourists.

A stroll up Via Corso and you pass by a church called San Carlo al Corso, a secret gem of Rome and worth going inside for the sheer beauty of the building.  Further up Via Corso you will enter Piazza Popolo with it’s Egyptian obelisk taking pride of place.  And after your walk it’s time for an (expensive) drink.

Walk from here back towards Piazza Barberini and you pass the bottom of the Spanish Steps and Rome’s equivalent of Rodeo Drive with wall to wall designer shops.

Dinner out

Rome is full of restaurants from humble street side cafés to some of the best fine dining restaurants in Europe.  The choice is immense but after sampling, if not hundreds, then certainly tens of restaurants, we have a favourite.  It is mentioned elsewhere on the site, it is Ristorante Quirino.  The food is superb – particularly the Spaghetti Carbonara – the service by Andrea (pronounced “Andre – a”) and the team is prompt, friendly and personal and it is easy to find.  Just walk from the Trevi Fountain towards the Pantheon on Muratte Via Delle and you can’t miss it.  It’s on the right, just look for the sign.

One thing that we do every time we visit is to sit in a bar called La Baita on the corner of Via Veneto and Piazza Barberini and watch the world go by.  It has tables on the pavement, drinks that cost a fortune, but an evening spent sitting there “people watching” is priceless.

 The Vatican

You can’t go to Rome without visiting the Pope.  The Vatican, as we all know, is a state in its own right planted squarely in the middle of Rome.  The focal point is St Peters Basilica whose Duomo towers over Rome.

In fact no building in Rome is allowed to be higher than the top of the Duomo.  This explains why Rome has never become a high rise city.

Getting to see inside St Peters is a must but unless you arrive early in the morning, it can be a long wait in the queue and in the summer heat the wait can be exhausting.  But there is a smarter way to get in.

If you stand around long enough – about 2 minutes on average – a friendly local will approach you offering a guided tour.  Ask about a tour of the Vatican Museum, it will cost around 30 Euro but as part of a group you get preferential entry.  The Vatican Museum is a remarkable place and includes the Sistine Chapel – arguably Michelangelo’s finest work.  The best part is that the tour ends in the main entrance to St Peters so you miss the wait, get to see one of the best museums in Europe, and then have as much time as you want to admire the grandure of the Basilica.

One warning, the museum is quite warm in summer so take water.  You’ll need it.

 Shopping

If you make a triangle with the corners being Piazza Popolo, Piazza Barberini and The Pantheon, you capture some of the best shopping in Europe.  Jean says it’s great and her arrival back at our hotel with armfuls of shopping bags is testament to that.  There is everything from designer shops through to fashionable boutiques and prices range from bargains to prices that only the truly rich could afford.

Service is the shops can be surly (I think it’s part of the training) but try your Italian and you will find people helpful and accommodating.

Other stuff to do?

Spend a day or two in and around the Colosseum  and the Roman Forum.  Visit the Spanish Steps – but watch your wallet.  Spend some time in the Villa Borghese gardens and simply relax.

However long you stay, there will always be more to see.  Which is a great reason to return.

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