Once the capital of the known world, Rome may now be merely the capital of Italy but its influence, grandeur and aura have barely diminished since its heydey as the beating heart of the Roman empire.
As a result, tourists still flock religiously to the world’s biggest archeological playground, with only London and Paris attracting more annual visitors in Europe, which means that Rome is served by two airports; the older Ciampino airport, just 12km from the historic centre of the city, and the newer Fiumicino airport a little further out at around 35km from the city centre.
Throw the itinerary out the window. One of Rome’s greatest pleasures is the ability to aimlessly wander its ancient, winding streets and grand piazzas and find archaeological marvels with every step. In fact, it’s quite possible to stumble on some of Rome’s most renowned marvels accidentally; the Trevi fountain appears as if from nowhere, nestled amongst a maze of narrow cobbled streets.
One sight you’re unlikely to happen upon is the Colosseum. The largest amphitheatre ever built in ancient Rome, the Colosseum still stands proudly in the heart of the city along with the Forum. She may be crumbling slightly after almost 2000 years, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site demands a visit - even if the gruesome gladiatorial battles of ancient times lend the spectacle a chilling air.
Just west of the Colosseum is the Roman Forum - the administrative heart of ancient Rome. Home to glorious military processions and the centre of public life in for Romans, the Forum is now a mix of crumbling ruins and archeological digs but an important site for anyone wishing to understand the evolution of the city.
More than the Forum, Colosseum or the Parthenon, the Vatican has defined Rome for centuries. Spread over more than one hundred acres on the east of the river Tiber, Vatican City is a city-state in its own right - complete with its own police, newspaper and postal service - and remains a site of pilgrimage for millions of Roman Catholics across the globe, eager for a glimpse of the home of the Pope.
Whether drawn to the Vatican for religious reasons or not, the site remains a must visit for anyone visiting Rome. Its museum complex houses one of the world’s most impressive collections of art and historical artefacts and is visited by 5 million people each year. While the museums are home to some of the Italy’s finest artist - such as Leonardo da Vinci, Carvaggio and Giotto - visitors will also be drawn in by a chance to see the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.
If the summer heat gets too much - temperatures regularly exceed 30 degrees in July and August - then a trip to one of Rome’s many other museums to cool down may be in order. The Capitoline museums, designed by Michelangelo and housed on Rome’s famous Capitoline hill, are worth a visit for their exceptional collection of sculptures and statues.
As well as official museums, it’s worth popping into almost any church or basilica you happen upon, as the likelihood of finding magnificent frescoes and paintings is high. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi is perhaps the most popular, as several of Caravaggio’s masterpieces hang upon its intimately decorated walls.
A little further away, just over 5km from the historic centre of Rome, is the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. One of Rome’s ancient basilicas - work began in the 4th century AD - St. Paul Outside the Walls’ ornately decorated interior may have been reconstructed in the 19th century after a fire in 1823 but it remains a wonderful testament to the prayers of the ancient Romans.
There are plenty of less glamorous things to do and see in Rome, if historic grandeur isn’t quite your thing. The city is buzzing with cafés, bars, restaurants and nightclubs to cater for every taste. Each of the city’s Baroque piazzas - Piazza Navona and the Campo de’ Fiori being amongst the most popular - is surrounded by an abundance of life, with bustling markets catering to locals and tourists alike.
Whether you are visiting for a meander around historic sites, or a vibrant city-break, there is one thing that unites all visitor to Rome. Food. Like everywhere in Italy, the Romans pride themselves on their grub, and there is no shortage of restaurants, cafés and bistros to test out their gastronomic gloats.
Whether seeking wood-fired pizza, pasta carbonara, or, one of the local favourites, salted cod, it’s generally best to avoid the restaurants catering to tourists when looking for a more authentic dining experience. Trastavere, in the south-east of the city around a 45 minute walk from the centre, retains an almost small town charm and is host to some of the city’s best dining experiences.
While the glory of the Roman empire may long have faded, modern Rome still captivates and enthralls its visitors; although nowadays they come on holiday to Rome willingly.
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