I used to say that I was ambivalent about Rome. On the one hand, I adore its fountains and beautiful squares; on the other hand, I think that central city architecture is spotty, with too much of less than delightful edifices surrounding the true gems. On the one hand, I appreciate centuries of history in this Eternal City; on the other hand, most of the monuments dating to the Ancient Rome demand a lot from your imagination, being largely in ruins.

However, with time, Rome ascended to probably being my most favorite large city in the world. It is the volume and breadth of the highlights that does it for me, the feeling of anticipation of discovering something amazing – a pretty square, an imposing church, a lovely perspective – around every corner.

It cannot be debated, in any case, that Rome is one of the greatest cities of the Western world and a must-see destination in one’s lifetime.

Fontana di Trevi

Rome’s squares – some adorned with obelisks, some with fountains, many with both – are a true delight. Among the places that you have to find yourself on your wanderings about the city are: Dramatically Baroque Piazza Navona ♥♥♥ with its three fountains, the central of which, Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, is utterly resplendent; sometimes excessively busy Piazza di Spagna ♥♥♥, with its famous eponymous stairway leading up to the French church above (with the recent emphasis of not allowing people to sit on the steps – there are always a few local police whistling anyone attempting to do that – the area gets remarkably less crowded in the evening); a bit too open to the motor traffic Piazza Barberini ♥, whose Triton Fountain is one of the loveliest; grand Piazza del Popolo ♥♥; lively Campo de’ Fiori ♥, with cafés surrounding the spot where Giordano Bruno was burned at stake. You won’t miss the expansive Piazza Venezia ♥, of course, with its humongous Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, called with derision alternatively either a “typewriter” or a “wedding cake”. Piazza del Quirinale ♥, Piazza Colonna ♥, Piazza Mattei ♥, Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere ♥, Piazza della Madonna dei Monti ♥,  Piazza Farnese ♥, the list can go on and on…

The famous Fontana di Trevi ♥♥♥ attracts so many visitors that the small square on which it sits is often bursting at the seams with crowds. In my opinion, it’s all worth it: The fountain is an exquisite piece of sculpture and architecture.

Pantheon ♥♥♥, fantastically preserved after two thousand years of standing, sits on noisy Piazza della Rotonda ♥ and is a most extraordinary monument both on the outside and inside, a vast cylindrical dome equal in radius and height. Its only source of light used to be the circular opening in the roof, and the floor is tilted in a way to properly manage the rain that enters through that oculus (watching the rain fall down inside Pantheon is an interesting sight). The tomb of Raphael and sarcophagi of Italian monarchs line the perimeter of the magnificent building.

Most of the other attractions from the Ancient Roman times are situated in the southern part of the city core. Colosseum ♥♥♥ does not require much introduction, of course, and it’s an awesome sight to behold. Touring it is a fascinating experience, although this is one place where you need to start using your imagination to form a picture of how things were millennia ago. You’ll have to rely on your imagination even more on your visit to the Roman Forum ♥♥ – there are a number of columns, even a couple of porticoes, still standing here or there, and the well-preserved arches of Titus and Septimius Severus, but a person not highly attuned to the subject of ancient history will mostly see just a field strewn with blocks of stonework.

What we liked most about the forum is how it looks at night, with lighting. The best viewpoint to take it in is off Piazza del Campidoglio ♥, itself a beautiful square, flanked by buildings of Capitoline Museums that should be worth considering seeing as well.

The Arch of Constantine ♥ is another well-preserved artifact of the Empire, and there are a few more worthwhile attractions of that era nearby: the Palatine Hill ♥, with its ruins of the patrician palaces; the Trajan’s Forum, with its majestic column and the market complex; and the vast Baths of Caracalla ♥ complex, with fragments of original floors and mosaics on display.

Rome, as behooves the capital of Catholicism, has literally dozens of beautiful churches, many of which contain important works of art. Among the unmissable ones: Santa Maria in Aracoeli ♥♥♥, hiding behind a plain façade at the top of the 124-steps staircase next to Campidoglio, and Santa Maria in Trastevere ♥♥♥, with breathtaking mosaics and frescoes. Worth visiting are Santa Maria sopra Minerva ♥♥, with brilliant blue ceilings, fronted by one of the cutest obelisks in Rome, Bernini’s elephant; small and pristine San Carlo alla Quattro Fontane ♥; and many many others (there are over 900 churches in the city of Rome in total).

Santa Maria Maggiore ♥ deserves an altogether separate mention. It is a blend of several architectural styles – as in, the lavish ceiling is Renaissance, the façades and domes are Baroque, – and is also famous for its mosaics. Another separate mention belongs to San Giovanni in Laterano ♥♥, an opulent basilica built on the site of the first Catholic church in history (it is located slightly outside of the city core, but is definitely worth a detour).

Then, of course, there is the Vatican. The enormous Piazza San Pietro ♥♥♥ is one of the most spectacular public spaces that you’ll ever see in your life, with its semi-encircling colonnade, fountains, obelisks, and statues. The incomparable St Peter’s Cathedral ♥♥♥ cannot be adequately described in words so I’m not even going to try. The view from its top terrace is worth the effort of climbing 491 steps (be warned: some parts of the climb are very tight and feel quite claustrophobic).

If you want to send a postcard from the Vatican, there are three main locations to do that. The post office on the right of the square (if you face the cathedral) is the least crowded of the three. The one on the left of the square is subject to a lot of pedestrian traffic from the cathedral’s exit and, therefore, is much more crowded. The main post office is inside the Vatican’s walls and, reputably, is a nice building in itself.

The colorfully dressed Vatican guards allow themselves to be photographed with children. They are positioned to the left of the cathedral.

Vatican Museums ♥♥♥ hold one of the most important art collections in the world, headlined by Raphael. You may have to endure the longest waits during the busy season if you do not buy tickets in advance. On the last Sunday of every month, entry to museums is free, and it pays to arrive an hour and a half before the opening; by the time the doors open, the line stretches for several kilometers. Sistine Chapel ♥♥♥ can only be reached through the museum – whether you love religious art or hate it, you’ll have to admit that Michelangelo’s frescoes are masterpieces of unrivaled proportions.

A majestic and massive fortress, Castel Sant’Angelo ♥♥♥ is home to several exhibitions highlighting its history. There are a number of magnificent rooms with vivid frescoes, and the view of Rome from the top-level terrace is one of the best in the city.

Other attractions that should be considered while in Rome include Palazzo Barberini, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, and the Roman Catacombs.

For a respite from the bustling city, Villa Borghese ♥ is a large pleasant park, where hiring a pedal-powered carriage for cruising around is a popular activity. Make sure you get one with a motorized boost; otherwise, the ratio of hard work versus enjoyment will tilt against you.

The Borghese Museum and Gallery ♥ sit on the park’s grounds. The ground floor consists of nine splendid rooms full of superb sculptures, while the upper level contains an outstanding collection of paintings. Entry is timed and a limited number of people are allowed in for each two-hour interval; advance ticket purchase is essential.

The area of Trastevere ♥♥ around the church of Santa Maria is a hip and happening cluster of streets and squares lined with bars, cafés, and shops, one of my favorite rioni of the city.

Ghetto ♥, conversely, does not appear to be a particularly hip area, but it gets quite lively with respect to its food scene. We walked by Rome’s central synagogue without going on a tour that it offers. Nearby Portico d’Ottavia is a rare free-entry Roman ruins site. At the other end of Via Portico d’Ottavia, the main street of the Ghetto, there is a well-known pastry shop Il Boccione, where stern-looking all-female staff dispenses freshly-baked treats. We tried their specialty, torte di ricotta e visciole – those with a sweet tooth will love it!

Among the many delights that await you on various walking routes around town, is the amazing “keyhole” view ♥ through the locked gates of the church of Santa Maria del Priorato on Piazza Cavalieri di Malta on Aventine Hill. Off the beaten track, for sure, but worth the effort you put into getting there and finding it. Another semi-hidden delight is Arco degli Acetari ♥, a picturesque inner courtyard a few steps off Campo de’ Fiori.

Sitting down for an aperitivo ♥♥♥ in the afternoon is not a solely Roman pursuit, but it is a must in Rome. You will always pay a premium if you do that on a famous square, but I happen to believe that a few extra euros are worth the experience.

Renting a motor scooter to move around the city on your own is probably too dangerous a pursuit for the uninitiated, but you can instead get a guided tour on the back of a scooter ♥♥ through a number of vendors, such as OnMoto.


Rome is a very walkable city and deceptively not too big, so you can get on foot practically everywhere in the city core. There is the metro that is only marginally useful in the center but has been in the process of renovation and extension in recent years, so will probably become more helpful for points at a larger distance. The bus network is very extensive. Taxis are relatively inexpensive and useful in many instances.

As in many other large cities, the central areas are served by shared-scooter schemes; somewhat annoyingly for the visitor, there are half a dozen of different vendors and no single platform for managing your rides that way – each vendor has its own app, so you either need multiple apps or have to search for scooters that belong to a particular vendor. But the main problem with this mode of transportation is actually not that – the cobblestone streets of central Rome will likely make the ride too bumpy to be comfortable for a long time.


Accommodation-wise, any location in Centro Storico will put you within 10 minutes of walking to most of the points of interest. Staying in Trastevere is also a good option. Transport options make staying somewhere further out largely workable as well.

In the “memorable stays” category, Terrazze Navona (link) is a few blocks away from the eponymous square, on the top floor with an elevator, with the killer feature of the daytime view over the rooftops (the church domes are unfortunately not the major ones and therefore not lit at night, so the nighttime view is less impressive). The rooms are actually not too big and the bathroom may feel quite small, but the table and two chairs on the balcony and that view definitely compensate.


As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Rome. I personally prefer local vibes in less touristy areas, but sometimes sitting down in an eatery on a crowded square can have its rewards.

Worthy of specific recommendations are: Cuoco & Camicia (on Via di Monte Polacco near metro Cavour), chic and impressive; Alfredo e Ada (on Via dei Banchi Nuovi not far from Ponte Sant’Angelo), a small family-run traditional eatery; Giggetto (on Via Portico d’Ottavia in Ghetto), widely known in Rome and beyond, serving a mix of Jewish-Italian cuisines; or Ad Hoc (on Via Ripetta), very impressive and for a time rated as the top restaurant in the city.

Coffee gourmands may appreciate Caffe Sant’Eustachio, on the eponymous square. It is quite famous for the specialty coffee that it serves, not necessarily something I care for while in Rome but a note for those who might enjoy it.

Beyond Rome

Tivoli, the erstwhile resort of the ancient Romans, still contains a number of temples in different stages of preservation or ruin. It is also home to two distinct UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Villa d’Este ♥♥♥ is the sumptuous residence of a 16th-century cardinal that is all about its terraced gardens full of spectacular fountains. Some of the fountains show their age, but the overall impression is quite remarkable.

Hadrian’s Villa, the remains of the Roman emperor’s retreat, is the other key sight in Tivoli.

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