The Eternal City; Caput Mundi: Capital of the World
Although it is already several times I visit this city, it’s also good time to finally create a proper travel guide for it. I know that a weekend as I have just been is extremely short time not permitting me to see even a quarter of what the city has to offer, but in combination with the previous trips to this awesome capital, it makes a good background of thoroughly sightseeing everything when combining them all. I’m happy to be able to provide you with this very complete guide, easy and ready for anyone to use. And to myself, looking forward to the next time I return which for sure it won’t be that long.
Although we all have a first thing in mind, the Romans and one of the greatest civilization the earth have known in antiquity, the city goes back much more in time to around 14000 years BC as many archaeological finds have proven. In any case, the worldwide importance of the city resides in having been the capital of the Roman Empire, the birthplace of the western civilization.
With such countless richness in architecture and arts it is no wonder that it is the 3rd most visited city in Europe and the 11th in the world (at the time of writing this guide). Of course the 1st by excellence in Italy, therefore expect the hordes of tourists everywhere at any time of the year, being most acute during high season months. Prices for everything, specially accommodation, are of course based on such demand and therefore much higher than anywhere else in Italy.
An unique fact in Rome that is not repeated anywhere else in the world is having within the city boundaries, the micro state of the Vatican. Rome is therefore described as being capital city of 2 states, although this is not in 100% true because the Vatican as a country also has its own government, but for anything in politics, Rome acts as the overall capital.
So moving on to the subject that almost any visitor to the city is looking for: The Rome of the Romans. That’s right that thankfully the world can still enjoy a vast collection of the former capital of such a vast empire of one of the greatest ancient civilizations the world has ever seen. There is no need for me to give a lesson of history here about the Romans, something that it’s easily available over the internet, for which I will only concentrate in key points.
Rome was the centrepiece, the most opulent and powerful city. A showcase to the empire of the latest engineering, construction, arts and politics. Where the bigger the better was considered as the rule, and the best examples are to be found in the Coliseum, the largest ever built; the Roman Forum showcasing the best buildings in Rome, the luxurious and enormous facilities of the Caracalla Therms; the Forum of Augustus or the Pantheon, symbol of power, just to name a few. Proper listing and description on each will be later explained below in the next section.
Over the centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire the city felt into decay but was never abandoned, recovering to become once again a powerful city and seat of the Catholic Church. Today the incredible amount of different architectural styles, of special mention Italian Renaissance, can be seen on every neighbourhood with many masterpieces at the countless churches and awe collection of works of art and monuments spread in the many squares, museums and galleries. No wonder it is one of the largest historic centres together with the Vatican to be listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Like in any city in Italy you might be, Rome is no different and has a vibrant day and night life. You won’t need to go far to find nice places to go out and where to enjoy a drink on the hundreds of terraces specially during summer months. An Aperol Spritz maybe at one of the many lively squares seeing the people pass by? It is for myself, to be honest, one of the most enjoyable moments specially to rest in between an overloaded sightseeing program.
Needless to say as well how easy to find food is. Although in here I would mind more in searching the place. “Tourists traps” are widely everywhere, and let’s face it, in Rome it is difficult to find that really traditional local restaurant with great food and reasonable prices. The historical centre is so big that traditional places almost do not exist on behalf of the thousands of tourists orientated places. You will need to go farther to the outskirts for this. Still, be wise and check few restaurants prior to make your final decision. Prices can vary so much between places for pretty much the same that you won’t regret spending a little bit of time in researching for the right place, it will pay off.
For more information about Rome check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Rome
- Colosseum District Needless to say this is the greatest asset the city has to offer. The ancient capital of the Roman Empire is scattered all across the city, and while what you see today is already a huge amount of buildings, monuments and constructions, what lies beneath is as least the the other half than what is excavated and exposed. I won’t go too much in detail on the ones I list below since proper description is plentiful over the internet, but the list is a great guideline for what you really must see.
-Colosseum One of the most known and studied monuments from antiquity, was the the largest amphitheatre ever built in the Romans, between 70–80 AD. The metro stop with the same name is conveniently located. The access to the Roman Forum is just next door. Tickets cost 12 Euros and gives also admission to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
-Via Sacra Was the main road in the city of Rome linking the Coliseum with the top of the Capitoline Hill passing through the Forum.
-Clivus Capitolinus Is another of the most important roads linking the Forum with the Capitol. Today you can see perfect sections by the Temple of Saturn.
-Roman Forum The heart of the vast civilisation. Centre for government, politics, religious, social and arts. Among the many constructions you will find:
-Arch of Septimius Severus and Arch of Titus Mark the entrances through the main streets of the Forum.
-Arch of Constantine Located between the Coliseum and the Palatine Hill, at one end of the Forum.
-Temples of Saturn (one of the oldest in the complex from 501 BC where only the front portico survives), Castor and Pollux (where only 3 columns and base survives), Venus and Roma (right at the entrance of the Forum opposite the Coliseum with it’s impressive well preserved apse), Romulus (which survives almost in full as it was transformed into a church in the 6th century), Vesta (with its famous curved shape in Greek style although just few columns remain today), Caesar, Vespasian and Titus, Antoninus and Faustina (which has survived almost intact thanks that it was turned into a church in the 7th century).
-Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine Is the only one basilica to have survived with the most visible remains, noticeable the northern aisle. Other basilicas were in the forum though merely few columns are visible today.
-Curia Julia Was the Senate House, built in 44 BC. The current bronze doors are replicas from 1660 as the originals were moved to the Basilica of Saint John Lutheran.
-Tabularium Was the official records office of ancient Rome. Currently accessible from the Capitoline Museum.
-Atrium Vestae Was the residence of Vestal Virgins, a very luxurious and large palace where today you see only the pools and gardens with statues.
-Miliarium Aureum Although just a small piece or marble with its inscription remains, its importance is to be the marker point where all road distances across the empire were taken.
-Umbilicus Urbi With the very same functionality as the Miliarium Aureum, this monument would translate as the Navel of the City of Rome.
-Column of Phocas Was the last monument addition ever built in the Forum.
-Domus Aurea Located on the slopes of the Palatine Hill near the Forum was a large luxurious villa built by Emperor Nero. Today just a small portion has been excavated with frequent closures to the public due to safety concern and continuous refurbishments. Such extravagant was the house that the main dinning room had a rotating system mechanism. A man make lake, trees of all kinds and vast extension.
-Trajan’s Forum Was the last of the Imperial Forums ever built in Rome in 112 AD. Pretty much across the Via dei Fori Imperiale Road where in the other side is the Roman Forum. Unfortunately since the construction of this road in 1933, many columns and remains are now lying under the arches, others reconstructed. You will see the huge amount of pieces like a Lego set.
-Trajan’s Column Inaugurated in 113 AD. Is the centrepiece of this forum, with perfect depiction of everyday’s Rome life and battles all around the column.
-Trajan’s Market With a great shape nowadays after almost 2000 years since it’s construction with the characteristic curved shape. It’s one of the best pictures you will get out of the forum.
- Old Rome District Just adjacent to the north and west of Colosseum district, it also forms part of the original ancient Rome city.
-Pantheon Built between 27 and 14 AD, and later rebuilt in 126 AD upon orders of Emperor Hadrian, it is perhaps the best preserved building to have survived from antiquity. It still holds the title as having the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome, with an opened oculus at its centre where light can pass through.
-Largo di Torre Argentina Is composed of 4 different temples (where just few columns remain) a theatre and a public toilet. More lies beneath the modern city.
-Temple of Hadrianus Which remains were incorporated to what is now the Stock Exchange building.
-Piazza della Minerva Located just behind the Pantheon is this small square where the highlight is a statue of an elephant with an ancient Egyptian obelisk on its back, created by Bernini.
-Santa Maria sopra Minerva Almost side to side with the Pantheon is the only Gothic church in the city.
-Campo de Fiori One of the most traditional and oldest squares in the city (of course after Rome).
-Piazza Navona The masterpiece of all Baroque squares created in the 15th century following the shape of an ancient Roman stadium. Everything you see now is absolutely un-spoilt for over 500 years, being the highlight the fountains.
-Fountain of the Four Rivers Is the key element in the square, designed by Bernini it incorporates an Egyptian obelisk and symbolises four of the world’s great rivers (Ganges, Nile, Danube and Rio de la Plata), representing the four continents known at the time.
-Fountain of the Moor Also originally designed by Bernini although the statues are from other authors. Located at one end of the square.
-Fountain of Neptune Designed in the 19th century to balance with the Fountain of the Moor, located at the opposite end of this.
-Santa Maria della Pace Although not in the square itself it’s just few meters behind. Built by order of Pope Sixtus VI della Rovere. The campanile was erected in 1504 by Bramaante. Inside you can see frescoes by Raphael.
-Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza Church Also just steps away from the square it’s importance is to be Borromini’s masterpiece.
-Piazza Colonna Named after the original Roman column found in the middle of the square. The Italian Senate building is at one of the sides.
-Palazzos Many incredibly beautiful palaces are spread all over the streets, most of them housing great museums of all kinds. Among the most notorious are Madama, Taverna, Sapienza, Farnese or Spada to name a few.
- Trastevere District Further to the west from Old Rome, just across the Tiber river, is one of the most trendiest areas to go out with thriving nightlife and rich culture.
-Ponte Sisto Built between 1471 and 1481 replacing an older Roman bridge upon orders of Pope Sixtus IV, who also ordered the Sistine Chapel and the Opsedale di Santo Spirito.
-Piazza Santa Maria Is the main square in the district surrounded by old buildings at all sides with the church of the same name at one of them.
-Santa Maria Church One of the oldest churches in the city although what yo see today dates from the 12th century upon orders of Pope Innocence III. There is an impressive collection of gold mosaics in its interior, some of them dating back to 1140. The nave is composed of columns brought from the ancient Baths of Caracalla.
-Church of San Francesco a Ripa Where you can find one of Bernini’s masterpieces, the statue of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni.
- Aventino Testaccio District West of Colosseo and south of Trastevere districts lies another of the famous and historical areas in the city.
-Piazza Bocca della Verità Is with difference the main and largest square in the area where many of the sights can be found.
-Santa Maria in Cosmedin Dating from the 6th century is a Medieval church home to the “Mouth of Truth”.
-Mouth of Truth or Bocca della Verità Though to be a be a manhole cover dating from the 1st Century. Nowadays legend says that if you put your hand and tell a lie it will be cut off (surely not happening, though the queues to make a wish can get rather long).
-Temple of Vesta Right opposite Santa Maria Church is a temple dedicated to Hercules Invictus, surviving almost in full after almost 2000 years.
-Fortuna Virilis Is a rectangular small temple next to the temple of Vesta, surviving also in full and in great state.
-Circus Maximus It was the first and largest stadium ever built across the Roman Empire. Although nowadays pretty much the whole shape of it is what remains, you can get a full picture of the size it was. Located right on the slope of the Palatine Hill, and not far from the Coliseum.
-Terme di Caracalla South from Circus Maximus was the largest therms built in the city, able to accommodate 1600 bathers at a time. What remains today is still well preserved.
-Pyramid of Cestius Originally built as a tomb for Gaius Cestius between 18 and 12 BC is an unusual construction, one of the best preserved from ancient Rome thanks to have been incorporated into the Aurelian Walls. It’s not possible to visit the inside chamber as a tourist, but the outside is what is much worth it.
- Modern Centre District It’s the largest commercial and entertainment area in the city, major transport hubs and where most of the large hotels and business are also located.
-Aurelian Walls Scattered around are one of the Roman walls protecting and encircling the city.
-Baths of Diocletian Next to Termini train station. The museum occupies the former Roman baths and houses an enormous collection of statues.
-Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli Built also on the former remains of the Diocletian Baths.
-Quirinal Palace Located atop Quirinal, the highest of the famous Roman hills, is home of the President of the Italian Republic, originally built as a papal summer residence in 1583.
-Porta Pia Designed by Michelangelo was built between 1561 and 1565.
-Palazzo Barberini Designed partly by Bernini, houses the National Gallery of Ancient Art, including some famous paintings by Lippo Lippi, Caravaggio as well as Raphael’s famous La Fornarina.
-Repubblica Square Designed as a large roundabout if entirely surrounded by beautiful buildings all in symmetrical design.
-Fontana di Trevi Designed in 1762 is the Baroque fountain by excellence in the city, one of the most known landmarks in the world. Features the mythological sculptures of Neptune flanked by two Triton symbolising the dual nature of the world’s oceans. It is built right at the terminus of the ancient Aqua Virgo aqueduct which was completed in 19 BC in order to supply the Baths of Agrippa. Legend says that one who throws a coin in the fountain shall one day return to Rome. I believe this works, this is my 3rd time in the city!.
- North District To the north west of Termini and Repubblica, by metro Spagna.
-Mausoleum of Augustus Built by Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC in Campus Martius, not far from the current location of the Ara Pacis although it’s closed to the tourists.
-Ara Pacis The Altar of the Peace was discovered first in 1568, with the latest excavations that brought every peace together in 1938. The altar is now housed under a purpose built museum that protects it from the weather and pollution. it is considered one of the masterpieces to have survived from antiquity for its true proportions and depicting actually real life famous persons rather than random sculptures.
-Castel Sant’Angelo Which real name is Mausoleum of Hadrian was built as the family tomb of Emperor Hadrian between 130 and 139 AD. It survived to our days in great shape thanks that was converted in 401 AD to be used as fortress and castle for the Popes. It is entirely under Vatican land and right in front of it is the Pons Aelius over the Tiber river, also built upon orders of Hadrian forming a grand approach.
-Catacombs While in the city of Rome there are dozens of catacombs, it is in the northern district where you can find some of the largest and best preserved. Those were from their conception cemeteries built underground due to the lack of space overground.
-Piazza di Spagna One of the major landmarks in the city and most picturesque filled with cafes and restaurants.
-Fountain of the Old Boat Is the centrepiece fountain in the square.
-Spanish Steps The world famous monumental steps linking the square below where the Spanish Embassy to the Holy Sea is with the Bourbon French church at the top.
-Villa Medici At the top of the Spanish Steps was built in 1544 and it’s the French Academy. You can visit the glorious palace and gardens, 8 Euros.
-Piazza del Popolo Considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, in oval shape is the largest square in the city.
-Twin Churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (from 1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (from 1679).
-Obelisk Originally stood in the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, Emperor Augustus brought it and placed in in Circus Maximus where it was re-discovered in 1587 broken into pieces and set up once again in this square.
-Villa Borghese Hosted in this beautiful palace is one of the best art galleries in the city for paintings, many of world masters.
- The Vatican It is itself a separate country, the only such exception to be found in the world where a micro state is within the boundaries of a city; the smallest country in the world. The metro station on Line A Ottaviano-S.Pietro-Musei Vaticani and Lepanto are within the Vatican boundaries, Cipro station outside, all three serving the city just minutes away from Saint Peter’s Square. For more in depth information about the Vatican City check the travel guide here.
-Swiss Guards The army of Swiss guards is the smallest and oldest in the world founded by Pope Julius II in 1506, same Pope who ordered the construction of the “new” Saint Peter’s Basilica and asked Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. You will see them all over.
-Saint Peter’s Square Designed as an ellipse is the centrepiece of the Vatican, with its characteristic colonnade all around and the imposing facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the middle. Expect hordes of people coping it every time there is a mass given by the Pope outdoors.
-Saint Peter’s Basilica The heart of the Roman Catholic Church. Imposing, opulent and large at all proportions. The dome was designed by Michelangelo and you can go all the way up to the top but be aware of the hundreds of steps even there is a lift for the first section.
-Obelisk Located in the middle of the square was transported from Egypt to Rome in 37 AD, and it’s the second largest Egyptian obelisk in the world.
-Vatican Museums Closed on every Christian holiday so please bear this in mind, also Sundays except the last of each month which is also free admission. Other days open until 16.00pm which is the last admission and costs 15 Euros. Do never miss this if you are a first time visitor in Rome. It’s one of the greatest museums in the world, and even considering it’s monster size, it’s great organised in the sense that you have only to follow a one way direction. Full information in the travel guide for the Vatican here.
Rome is served with 2 large airports connecting it to everywhere across the world. Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino is the larger serving most intercontinental routes while the smaller Ciampino is mostly used by low cost carriers. Connecting both airports with the city, the best, cheapest and most frequent option is by the Terravision Bus, which from Leonardo-Fiumicino costs 4 Euros per way if you book it in advance over the website, otherwise 6 Euros if bought on the bus (or 11 return); and from Ciampino 6 for single, 12 Euros return, both routes connecting with Termini Station. Just follow signs to buses from the arrival terminals and you will find those buses easy.
The city is served with 2 metro lines, 6 tram lines and countless bus routes. Light rail and commuter trains do also cover a great network. You will never be far from any transport as it covers absolutely every corner of the city and all sights, although you will need to get used to move mostly by bus since the other transport methods are barely found within the city centre but rather serving the outer neighbourhoods.
There is a great choice of tickets available to suit any of your needs. For instance, a single ticket costs €1.50 and is valid for 100 minutes allowing you the interchange between different modalities (bus to metro to tram or however you combine them). Only if you are likely to be taking more often than 4 times the transport, it will be advisable if you get a day travel card which costs €6 and it’s valid until midnight. Much better if your stay is at least 3 days, for €16.50 you can get a 3 day travel card and €24 for 7 days.
Should you get a Rome Pass then apart from the transportation, it also includes the entrance to 2 museums/archaeological sites (excluding the Vatican Museums). This will set you at €24 for a 48 hour or €36 for a 3 days pass.
Hop-on/hop-off buses costs between €18 and 20 depending on the company and tickets can be purchased on any stop or on-board. Most of the routes start/end at Termini station.
The cost for hotels in Rome has definitely nothing to compare with the rest of Italy (except Capri or Garda as an example and other destinations same as important among the rich and famous). Finding a good deal for a good hotel is hard to pretty much impossible. Either you get a low rated hotel, or anything decent starting from 3* will already set your costs higher than what you would expect compared to pretty much everywhere else in Europe (expect anywhere in Switzerland, Paris and London I would say). Of course you can find nice and cheaper hotels but on the outskirts of the city which I would totally avoid.
Try to be somewhere near the city centre, let’s say around Trastevere, Termini, Repubblica or Vatican are some of the best as you are always walking distance to most of the sights, something that you would appreciate specially at night and therefore not depending on any public transportation to return to your hotel. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
For the most recent trip we were at the Hotel Repubblica, as name suggests, next door to Repubblica Square which is an important transport node in the city and also extremely well located as you are walking distance to many of the main tourist attractions. A very basic and simple 3* hotel they claim, though not even 2* elsewhere in other city in Europe. The building both outside and inside were pretty run down and in need of serious repair, but room was clean and with all facilities needed. Just for one night was OK but I won’t consider if for longer than a weekend.
Previously we stayed at the Hotel Center 1, 2, 3; on Via Giovanni Giolitti 433. Minutes away from Termini train station on a rather side and lone street, was good enough for what we needed as we were only 1 night. Bearing the dirty state of the street and overall weird feeling when walking at night, was nothing to worry about at the end. Hotel was comfortable, clean, nice rooms and nice service, and of course one of the good points is that you don’t need any public transportation to start your sightseeing around the area.
My very first time in Rome was on a school trip, and the hotel was way outside the city centre but great if you are on a tour across Italy with a car. Either by car or public buses it is a short commute altogether to the city centre. And not to mention if you are a golf player, then this will be the ideal place, the Marco Simone Golf Resort.
Album of the city of Rome
Album of the Vatican City