A city that makes you stop in awe on every corner
City breaks to Rome transport you to a place that has been at the centre of civilisation for over 2,000 years. From the Romans to the Renaissance, as the prime focal point of such monumental periods in history it’s understandable that the city should have amassed such a fine collection of ancient sites, important museums and artistic masterpieces. And yet that consideration will still not prepare you for the breathtaking spectacle of seeing the attractions in person.
Just glancing at the endless undulating tiers of the Colosseum is an ageless document to the might of the Roman Empire. And just as the Colosseum impresses in its size, the perfection of the marble-adorned Pantheon impresses in its beauty. The freedom allowed to you in roaming the Roman Forum can also not be understated – you really are walking in the footsteps of famous figures such as Julius Caesar, Nero and Augustus, and seeing the same magnolia coloured columns they once saw.
But as Rome was also the epicentre of the groundbreaking Renaissance, you’re just as likely to be awed by the myriad artworks by geniuses such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Bernini. This is especially the case in the Vatican City, where the marble stonework in St. Peter’s Basilica is a master class in proportions and perspective.
But Rome’s delights unfold even further the more you peel away from the centre of the city. As a fully functioning capital (the Italian government is also still based here), Rome’s roads are rather hectic, so use the excellent metro system to reach the undiscovered parts of the city. On the southern edges of Rome, the quaint character of the narrow streets in Trastevere and the open squares of Testaccio belie vibrant areas of authentic eateries and Bohemian bars. So whilst the Rome sunlight shines on the historic grandeur of great temples , its streetlights shine on boutique-lined boulevards that ooze with effortless style.
“Find some time to walk up the Aventine hill to escape the crowds and admire the view of St Peter's.”
Awe-inspiring art and architecture
With its array of impressive ancient ruins and masterful Renaissance artworks, it’s not an exaggeration to claim that Rome has some of the best sights in the entire world. You’ll instantly grasp the gravitas of the city’s attractions when you visit the Roman Forum. Here towering columns and grand arches stand as an enduring emblem of an imperialist power that lasted for over 700 years. Even a nondescript slab of wall is revealed to be the burial ground of Julius Caesar – that’s how rich with history the forum is. Of the surviving structures, the most interesting include the bold, smooth columns of the Temple of Saturn, the incredibly detailed Arch of Septimus Severus (you can still see battle scenes etched into its stone), and the remarkably intact Curia Julia senate house. Be sure to look out for the Basilica of Maxentius too, as whilst just a single northern aisle remains, these huge crumbled arches will give you an idea of the immense scale of the Roman Forum’s largest structure.
Continue west to the huge Arch of Constantine. Composed of the of older monuments in 315AD, the carved stone figures and reliefs convey various triumphs of the Emperor Constantine and commemorate his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge during the Roman civil war.
Conveniently, Rome’s most impressive attraction of all, the Colosseum, is just footsteps away from the arch. This huge oval amphitheatre dominates its surroundings, with three layers of arched walls making a spectacular sight even from a distance. Up close, you can still see Roman numerals etched onto the walls, whilst inside its size becomes even more awing. Gazing across the balconies just as countless emperors did since 80AD, it’s amazing to think that over 50,000 people watched gladiators, slaves, wild animals and prisoners fight to the death in the central arena.
And the majestic ancient attractions do not stop at the Forum and Colosseum. In particular, Rome has one more wonder in store for you - the Pantheon. The Pantheon is the most perfectly preserved Roman building in the world, and it shows a stunning level of expertise and artistry in its architecture. Enter and you step back 2,000 years in time, as the walls and floor are adorned with cool marble decorated in shades of red, black and gold. Above, the oculus, a circular opening in the centre of the roof, casts a brilliant yellow sphere of sunlight onto the walls and allows a single strip of rain or snowdrops to shower upon the floor.
After seeing such wondrous beauty you may think that your city break in Rome is complete, but then you’d be missing out on the Renaissance masterworks of the Vatican City. As soon as you enter St. Peter’s Square, you’ll feel the huge circular colonnades engulf your surroundings like two wide arms wrapping around you. The interior of St.Peter’s Basilica is lavished with gleaming green marble and gilded engravings. You should also take time to admire the shimmering bronze and beige stone statues by artists as renowned as Bernini and Michelangelo.
But whilst Michelangelo’s basilica dome and Pietá statue are both masterpieces, incredibly they are not his most famous works in the Vatican City. That honour goes to his paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Gazing upwards at his frescoes on the ceiling, you can actually see his artistry improve from the over-detailed earlier works to the simplicity of his most iconic image, that of God stretching his fingertips to give life to Adam in The Creation.
Despite the dominance of Roman and Renaissance works in Rome, it’s still possible to see other designs simply as you stroll around the city. For instance, the Baroque statues and horses sitting above cascading emerald water at Trevi Fountain were built in 1729 and immortalised in the famous 1960 film La Dolce Vita. A walk up the famous Spanish Steps will take you to the green gardens of fresh firs, cypresses and pines at Villa Borghese, landscaped in a classic Victorian English style. Art is never too far away in Rome, and the Galleria Borghese inside the gardens houses works by Bernini Carvaggio and Titian.
“A guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum is a must.”
Traditional delicacies complemented by beautiful surroundings
Rome is a huge sprawling city, but thankfully the various districts make it much easier to pick out restaurants to your tastes. For instance, if the thought of dining on crisp wood-fired pizzas whilst overlooking the Colosseum lit up in brilliant white light sounds appealing to you, head to the Colosseo area. Whilst it’s true the cuisine here is very much adapted to tourists, there’s no denying that the view from your table will be one of the best in Rome.
For a more authentic flavour of the city, wander into the adjoining Old Rome district. The atmospheric square of Campo de Fiori is found here, where you can enjoy an espresso at lunchtime admiring the prettiness of the weathered yellow townhouses and black cobbled road. Piazza Novana is also great for evening meals – as a peaceful, pedestrianised square it’s perfect for eating creamy spaghetti carbonara ‘al fresco’ at a rustic wooden table.
The Modern Centre should also be easily accessible wherever you choose to have city breaks in Rome. As a tourist-focused area, the elegant shopping streets of Via Nazionale and Via Veneto are lined with fashion boutiques and classy designer shops, but Via Veneto also has a fine selection of restaurants too. You should have no trouble finding classic dishes such as bruschetta (bread rubbed with garlic and topped with fresh sliced tomatoes) and succulent lamb chops soaked in vinegar and rosemary.
Finally, venturing across the River Tiber into the Trastevere will reveal another, more traditional side to Rome. Stroll along narrow cobbled streets and see restaurants overflowing with green vines, welcoming you in with promise of crisp white wine and herb-infused tomato pasta.
Distinctly different drinking in each district
Nights in Rome are best divided by the city’s districts, as the atmosphere can fluctuate from full-on partying to sophisticated socialising or an artistic, Bohemian vibe.
For an action-packed night out, it’s often best to head away from the touristic centre, towards the outskirts of the city. To the south-east, Testaccio is the liveliest district in all of Rome. The clubs packed one by one in a horseshoe-shaped square here generally do not get started until 12am! Both the bars and clubs in Testaccio are usually spread across two or three floors, providing plenty of space for dancing. Plus, every musical taste is catered for, from 60s pop to reggae, dance and R ‘n’ B.
Neighbouring Trastevere is also an excellent choice for drinking when the sun goes down. The open square at Piazza Santa Maria is lit up beautifully and night and the bars here have a vibrant character. Perhaps it’s because there are two American universities in the district, so you’ll see trendy students of all nationalities on their nights out. Drinks are also slightly cheaper here than they are in the centre of Rome.
The students in the east of Rome continue this laid-back approach to nightlife in San Lorenzo. Off of the usual tourist-track, this area is home to one of the largest university campuses in Rome. But even if you aren’t a student, you’ll still be just as welcome in the several colourfully quirky bars that give character to the nightlife in this district.
In direct contrast, the bars in the more affluent North Centre area look out upon elegant sights such as the Spanish Steps and art noveau styling of Quartiere Coppede. A visit to the Piazza del Popolo is also a must if you’re spending your evenings in this district, as this open space of Egyptian obelisks and pearly statues is often voted the most beautiful square in Europe.
However, if you feel you must have the backdrop of ancient ruins accompanying your evening drinks, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to sample the crisp white wines of Lazio in a bar at the Colosseo. And a pint of Guinness at the Irish theme pub here will be all the better for the view of the elegant arches of the Colosseum in the distance.
When should you have your city breaks in Rome?
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