Rome is one of the world’s most recognisable cities, but that doesn’t mean it won’t surprise and overwhelm you from the moment you arrive. You may think you’ve seen it all in the movies and in your high school history class. But nothing can quite replicate the feeling of awe you’ll have standing at the foot of an ancient Roman monument that you never thought you’d see in real life.
1. Watch the sunset from the Spanish Steps
There are few better places in Rome to take in a perfect urban sunset than atop the Spanish Steps. Find a spot somewhere close to the top and get ready for an evening of people watching. Tourists, hawkers, buskers, and locals will go about their evening activities, often oblivious to the spectacular skies above them.
Insider tip: Dress warm and stay the distance. Even if it gets cold and dark, there’s something unique about enjoying the transition of Rome from day into night from this dramatic location.
2. Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain recently received a complete restoration, and it’s looking more spectacular than ever. Visit it during the day and night for two unique experiences. It’s the finest Baroque fountain in the city, and possibly the world. There’s a certain magic about stumbling round a corner to discover this truly impressive structure, and definitely a must on your “things to do in Rome” list.
Insider tip: If you’re the superstitious type, bring a few coins to toss over your shoulder into the fountain – legend has it that this will ensure a return trip to Rome.
3. Dine out on pizza and pasta
Rome may just be the pizza and pasta capital of the world, but you might have to work a bit to find the ultimate dish at a reasonable price. As in any big city, tourist traps abound, but in Rome, there are gems hidden around every corner. Even the city’s touristic center has a few world-class establishments. The best way to find a top meal is to ask a local, or to do some extensive research online, away from the traditional restaurant apps and websites.
Insider tip: These three restaurants are worth tracking down: Betto e Mary (Via dei Savorgnan 99) in Pigneto for their carbonara; Da Enzo (Via dei Vascellari 29) in Trastevere for a reasonably priced homely meal; and La Montecarlo (Vicolo Dei Savelli 13) in the center of Rome for one of the city’s best pizzas.
4. Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill
While the Colosseum may be more attractive outside than in, it’s still an essential place to visit when in Rome. It’s difficult not to feel a pull from the profound and macabre history that defines this ancient structure. You’ll take an instant trip back in time to one of history’s more brutal eras. Combine it with a trip to the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which feel almost surreal in their grandeur, and you’ll have the perfect Rome starter pack under your belt.
Insider tip: For the best deal, purchase a combination ticket online to skip the queues, and be sure to hang onto it. It will give you access to all three attractions.
5. Walk the Roman Ghetto
The Roman Ghetto was a Jewish ghetto established in the mid-1500s, and for many years life there was one of enforced poverty. Today, it offers a small but fascinating glimpse into another era via a series of alleyways and public squares. They are worth exploring either on your own or on a guided tour.
Insider tip: Visit the Jewish Museum of Rome to learn about the neighbourhood’s tragic history of prejudice and oppression, and to gain insight into its present-day residents.
6. Vatican City
Regardless of your religious affiliations, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City will stun you and leave you in awe of these remarkable human achievements. St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most lavish churches in the world. Don’t skip over the nearby Sistine Chapel – what it lacks in size, it makes up for in artistic beauty. It is, after all, the home of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam – a work of art you may have seen reproduced countless times before, which is simply exhilarating to see in person.
Insider tip: Prepare to queue for both attractions, and be sure to dress appropriately. Security often enforces a strict dress code of no shorts, bare shoulders, or mini-skirts.
7. Find peace and quiet in a garden
Rome has several public spaces dotted throughout the city. When the often chaotic streets become too overwhelming, a retreat to one of these can offer a rejuvenating reprieve. Villa Borghese is one of the largest parks in Rome – it has ample space to stretch your legs or relax on the grass, and also has stunning views over the city. The Orange Garden on the Aventine Hill offers a totally new perspective on this magical city.
Insider tip: A trip to one of Rome’s famous parks is a great way to reflect on your time in the city, and perfect for filling a gap you may have before departing on your last morning.
A trip to Rome is a fully immersive experience. Just a few days here will leave you yearning for more and planning a return visit. Don’t let the gravity of one of Europe’s most famous capitals intimidate you – the history and culture will capture your heart and imagination.
Originally published on Eurail.com