Italy

Highlights

Colosseum & Roman Forum

The structure that for many is the icon of the whole of ancient Roman history is an extraordinary building, remarkably intact and strikingly large. A model for all modern stadiums, a new museum adds to its allure. In the nearby Forum are the evocative ruins of the ancient city centre.

Capitoline Museums

On one of the hills on which ancient Rome was founded, some of its best relics are preserved in a brace of museums, set either side of a stunning piazza designed by Michelangelo (see page 72). A much-photographed head, hand and foot, probably belonging to a huge statue of Constantine, are among the highlights.  

San Clemente

The church of St Clement is not the grandest of the city’s many religious buildings, but it may be the most fascinating. It’s an exceptional archaeological microcosm of Rome’s history: on two levels below the beautiful medieval church is a much earlier fourth-century church, and, further down, two ancient Roman buildings.

Pantheon

Marvelled at for 2,000 years, and almost completely unaffected by the passing of time, the Pantheon is awe-inspiring. Its design – complexity masked by simplicity – still staggers modern architects and sightseers alike.

Jewish Ghetto

In the heart of the city, the Ghetto area retains some of its Jewish businesses and atmosphere. It’s also notably unspoilt, with narrow cobbled streets of artisan workshops and bookshops as well as some excellent restaurants.
 
A concert at Auditorium

Among Rome’s few contemporary buildings, this is a great spot to listen to classical music in one of the armadillo-like concert halls. Around Christmas there is the added attraction of an ice-skating rink in the middle of Renzo Piano’s iconic space.
 
Through the keyhole

One of Rome’s most famous views is through a small hole in the door of the Villa Malta, home to the Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta, on the Aventine Hill. Designed to line up perfectly along the garden, giving a perfect view of St Peter’s at the end of an avenue of trees, it is one of the city’s unexpected pleasures.

Pyramid of Cestius

In the traffic-heavy and rather unlikely setting of piazzale Ostiense, one of ancient Rome’s most unusual structures is also one of the best preserved. The 36-m marble-clad pyramid, the tomb of Caius Cestius, sits at the corner of the Non-Catholic Cemetery, home to numerous cats and the bodily remains of Keats and Shelley.

Football match at the Olympic stadium

The rivalry between Rome’s two teams, AS Roma and Lazio, is intense, and both play at the city’s Stadio Olimpico. Nothing beats the high tension and drama of a derby between the two, but the ground sharing means that there is a home game here every weekend through the season. The Italian national team sometimes plays here too. While you’re here, have a look around the Fascist-era statues of the Foro Italico.

Basilica di San Pietro

Centre of the Catholic Church, St Peter’s is a grand statement in the country-within-the-city of the Vatican. Visit on a Wednesday to see the Pope give a weekly public address in the colonnaded piazza outside.
 
Sistine Chapel & Raphael Rooms

Michelangelo supposedly lay on his back here for four years to paint his astonishing Creation on the ceiling. Goethe put it well when he said, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” The frescoes in the four Raphael Rooms are only slightly less astounding.

A Roman pizza

Neapolitans will tell you that they’re not the genuine article, but Romans are very proud of their wafer-thin, burnt-at-the-edge pizzas. The best ones come with a noisy, chaotic atmosphere thrown in at one of the city’s traditional pizzerias

Aperitivi & a meal in Trastevere

The cobbled streets of the right bank of the Tiber have long been some of Rome’s most sociable places, and though these days the area is hardly undiscovered, there are still plenty of spots to drink and eat among the city’s young and fashionable. Bars spill out into the open air under washing hung across the streets around via della Scala and piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, while the narrow back streets have some great traditional eateries and literary cafés.
 
Shopping trip in the Tridente

Whether you’re window shopping or splashing the cash, the smart shops of the Tridente are the place to be. Via Condotti and the surrounding streets are packed full of Italian fashion and smart homewares. Afterwards you may feel the need for a rest on the nearby Spanish Steps.

Ara Pacis

One of Ancient Rome’s most famous and beautiful monuments, the quality of the stone carving on Emperor Augustus’s Altar of Peace is startling. And, though many in the city would not agree, Richard Meier’s light and airy modern structure, which now houses it, provides both a counterpoint and a suitably striking setting.

Galleria Borghese

One of the city’s best museums and galleries, the Borghese has an excellent collection of Baroque and Renaissance art, including paintings by Titian and Caravaggio, plus the added advantage of being at the edge of the Villa Borghese, central Rome’s best green space, with winding paths, bikes, boats and lovers.
 
An ice cream from one of Rome’s top gelaterias

Nobody should leave the Eternal City without having experienced a gelato Romano – some of the world’s best ice cream. Even in winter the gelaterias do a good trade, but once the sun comes out in spring it’s practically de rigueur to be seen with one. Fior di Luna in Trastevere and Gelato di San Crispino is the best: so precious about the purity of it’s flavours that they don’t do cones.

Santa Maria Maggiore

Built on the Esquiline Hill in the fifth century, the most impressive of Rome’s four papal basilicas has the tallest campanile in the city and a wealth of artistic and religious treasures, from 1500-year-old mosaics to the tombs of several popes.

Trevi Fountain

An exaggerated Baroque cliché it may be, but the Trevi Fountain, despite the overbearing security guards and permanent crowds, is required viewing. Of all Rome’s fountains (and there are many), nothing quite matches this for enormous, dramatic exuberance, or cinematic heritage.

Ostia Antica

Though not half as famous as Pompeii, the ancient remains of Rome’s one-time port are just as impressive. The huge site, protected for hundreds of years by the silt of the Tiber, includes a 3000-seater stadium, frescoes and countless mosaics and temples.

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