Italy

Around the region

Famously built on seven hills, Rome sits on either side of the Tevere – the river Tiber – with the main city centre on the east bank, Trastevere and San Pietro to the west.

Rome was founded on the Capitoline and Palatine Hills: these, together with the Roman Forum between them, make up the heart of the city’s ancient remains. To the north and west is the centro storico, the heart of modern Rome, partly enclosed in a bend of the river. To the north and east, the Tridente, so-called because of the three main roads that stretch out from piazza del Popolo, includes many of the city’s shopping hotspots, and down to it slopes the centre’s biggest park, the gardens of the Villa Borghese. Across the river to the west, St Peter’s Basilica is the focal point of the Vatican, home of the Pope and the huge Vatican museums. Still on the west bank of the river, to the south, Trastevere is a pretty area of cobbled streets filled with bars and restaurants. To the east of the historic centre, in the Quirinale, Monti and Esquilino, the sights are slightly less densely packed, but it’s easier to escape from the crowds and there are plenty of local shops and restaurants as well as some spectacular churches. To the south, the Aventino is a smart residential hill, whereas Testaccio, beyond, is a grittier area, being slowly gentrified, with some great eateries.

Forum & around

Rome’s ancient core was the centre of the empire, where its emperors lived and erected their great buildings of state, temples and monuments. Bounded by the Colosseum to the east, the Circus Maximus to the south and the Imperial Fora to the north, the area is also home to the huge marble 19th- and 20th-century national monument, the Vittoriano, towering over the traffic chaos in piazza Venezia.

Michelangelo designed the piazza Campidoglio, also on the Capitoline Hill, where the wonderful Capitoline Museums hold some of the best finds from the Roman Forum. The Forum itself is a feast of triumphal arches, temples and basilicas, where the important business of empire was once carried out. Beyond is the Palatine Hill, where rich and powerful Romans built extravagant villas. The extraordinary Colosseum is at the bottom of Mussolini’s busy via dei Fori Imperiali, connecting it to piazza Venezia. Celio, just to the east of the Colosseum, is a newly hip area, with good cafés and wine bars as well as some ancient churches.

Aventine, Testaccio & Ostiense

Smart and surprisingly peaceful, the Aventine Hill rises just to the south of the Circus Maximus, with large houses and gardens, some notable churches and a famous view through the keyhole of the Priorato di Malta. In contrast, Testaccio, to the south, has a younger feel, with bars and restaurants dug into Monte Testaccio, a giant Roman rubbish tip, or set up in the city’s ex-slaughterhouse. To the east, the enormous Baths of Caracalla continue to crumble slowly, while further south, beyond the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, working-class Ostiense has the fascinating juxtaposition of ancient statuary displayed in a disused power station.

Centro Storico

Since Roman times the focus of the city has moved north, and the area between via del Corso and the river is tightly packed with many of the city’s essential sights. But there are further reminders of antiquity here: the Pantheon is a breathtaking well- preserved ancient Roman building. The smart Baroque Rome of piazza Navona is here too, complete with elaborately cascading fountains. Nearer the river, Campo di Fiori is a more earthy, vibrant space, with a market in the mornings and bars and cafés that spill out into the piazza in the evening. West of here, narrow streets are packed with small boutiques; to the south, the Ghetto area retains some of its Jewish roots. To the east are the parliament buildings and the via del Corso, the main shopping street, running north to south.

Vatican City & Prati

Across the river, the Vatican City is a separate state within the city. Dominated by the vast hulk of St Peter’s, it has its own elaborately uniformed guards, postal service and huge museums, which incorporate two of the great works of Western culture: the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo, and the Raphael Rooms. Nearby are two landmarks on the river: the Castle of Sant’Angelo and the Palazzo di Giustizia.

Trastevere & around

Once Rome’s bohemian district, gentrification and high property prices have taken away some of Trastevere’s edginess, but it remains wonderfully picturesque, with greenery growing across the cobbled streets, washing hanging out to dry, and cafés, bars and restaurants opening up on pretty piazzas that buzz with life late into the night. There are churches and a couple of museums to explore, botanical gardens, and, from the Gianicolo Hill, great views across the city.

In the middle of the river, Isola Tiberina is one of the reasons that Rome was founded here, as it made the crossing of the Tiber relatively easy. It has some of the oldest surviving Roman bridges and good views up and down the river.

Villa Borghese & around

From piazza del Popolo, running south, via di Ripetta, via del Corso and via Babuino make up the shopping area of the Error! Bookmark not defined.Tridente. Across them are smaller streets such as via Condotti, packed with arresting window displays and designer-label retail opportunities. To the east, the Spanish Steps are a favourite of wedding photographers and leg-weary tourists. Beyond, via Vittorio Veneto was once the centre of la dolce vita and is still home to expensive hotels. North of here rises the park of the Villa Borghese, with winding paths through the greenery and an excellent gallery.

Trevi, Quirinale, Monti & Esquilino

Once the home of popes, the area to the east of the city centre houses the Palazzo Quirinale, the palace of the president, and Palazzo delle Esposizione and the Scuderie del Quirinale. There are more grand buildings on the Esquiline Hill, as well as Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the city’s most important churches. Between the two hills, increasingly fashionable Monti is an attractive area of cobbled streets with plenty of low-key bars and restaurants. The startling extravagance of the Trevi Fountain is almost always surrounded by crowds of visitors.

Day trips from Rome

Outside the city centre, via Appia Antica, the ancient Appian Way, was once Rome’s most important road. It still has a plethora of ruins, tombs and catacombs along its route south, out into the countryside. EUR, a suburb built by Mussolini, has stark architectural attractions of a more modern kind, as well as a good museum of Roman civilization.

Near Rome, Ostia Antica, the ancient port, is a beautiful and remarkably well-preserved Roman city, bearing comparison with Pompeii. Nearby are the beaches of Rome’s rather ugly modern coastline.

Roman emperors went to Tivoli for their holidays, and the enormous, sprawling complex of the Villa Adriano – the villa of Hadrian – can be visited just outside the town. In Tivoli itself are other ancient remains and the extraordinary fountain-soaked gardens of the Renaissance Villa d’Este. The wine towns of the Castelli Romani, in the nearby hills, make cool escapes from the city. Further afield is Viterbo, one of Lazio’s most attractive towns, with some good Etruscan sites close by.

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