The eternal city of Rome is one of the most visited cities in Europe. With over 3,000 years of history, there is a great deal to see and do. Rome was the nerve-centre of an ancient civilisation, the cradle of Christianity in the west and became the centre of artistic heritage. The city itself is a living museum which would take a lifetime to explore so there is no shortage of things to see and do.
Rome has something for everyone, whether you are a history buff, a religious pilgrim or an art enthusiast:
If you are interested in all things ancient Roman, there are numerous archaeological sites to explore. The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine hill are top on the list of course. You can visit Rome’s first luxury shopping centre Trajan’s markets which was nestled into the hillside, or visit one of Rome’s largest public bath houses, the baths of Caracalla. Ostia Antica, a short train ride away gives the most complete view of Roman life. It is a Roman town like Pompeii in excellent condition. See how the other half lived at Nero’s Domus Aurea and not far away, a hidden gem of a Roman apartment - Case Romane del Celio with beautiful fresco decoration. For something a little spookier and cooler in temperature, the catacombs are a popular attraction for the miles of underground tunnels dug-out by hand to bury the dead.
If churches are your thing, then you have absolutely come to the right place with over 963 to choose from! St Peter’s Basilica is the largest and most famous, but not the most important church in Rome. The papal basilicas (St Peter’s, San Giovanni in Laterano (the Cathedral of Rome), Santa Maria Maggiore and St Paul outside the walls) are important for religious visitors, as are many of Rome's churches as they hold important relics of saints inside which have been visited by pilgrims over the millennia. Apart from being houses of God for prayer and reflection, the churches in Rome are also filled with masterpieces from many great artists, from the chapels themselves to the paintings and sculptures inside them. Sant Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo is famous for its artwork by Caravaggio and Bernini as is St Luigi in Francese. At St Maria della Vittoria above Piazza Barberini your breath will be taken away by Bernini’s statue of St Theresa in Ecstasy.
Many of the grand palaces of Rome also house art galleries today, these are the private art collections of the noble families of Rome. Owning and collecting art and ancient sculpture was a hobby for the rich and famous of Rome’s past and the more prestigious your collection the more important and powerful you were. Hence why the Vatican houses some of the finest artistic heritage. If you are an art aficionado, or want to learn more about Renaissance and Baroque artists and their work, the Borghese Gallery is a must as it is crammed full of masterpieces and hosts the largest single collection of Caravaggio and Bernini alongside other greats. For fans of Raphael and renaissance frivolity, the erotic frescoes and decoration in the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere should not be missed. If your tastes are more modern then the GNAM or the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art above Villa Borghese is for you.
Visitors who like parks and gardens are in luck as Rome is an incredibly green city and has a number of green spaces in the centre as well as enormous parks. Rome’s botanical gardens is in Trastevere, nestled under the Gianicolo hill, it is an oasis of calm amongst flora and fauna – you will forget you are in the city. There are many large public parks, (parco or villa). Many of which were once owned by aristocratic families - the most central is Villa Borghese situated on a hill. Strolling through the different paths is a favourite pastime for Romans on a Sunday. There is a lake with a boathouse, numerous sculptures, and a globe theatre! You can hire Segway or pedal cars to explore the area. Make sure you see the Pincio viewpoint with a great view over the city!
The Rose Garden on the Aventine hill boasts many different rare flowers and is wonder in April in May when it is blooming. Above this you will find the Orange garden which has stunning views. Further out you will find Villa Pamphili near the Vatican area and to the north of the city Villa Ada. Many of the city’s archaeological sites are also surrounded in greenery like the Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, Baths of Caracalla and Ostia Antica, a short train ride away. The Appia Antica Park to the south east of the city stretches for 13 kilometres. You can walk or cycle (bikes are available for rent) along the first Roman highway which is lined with trees, tombs and the remains of aqueducts.
Rome was fought over by noble families for almost a millennium and many of the grand palaces of these families are art galleries and museums today. These aristocratic houses are packed with ancient sculpture, artistic masterpieces, frescoed ceilings and luxurious furnishings. The Vatican is the ultimate palace in Rome, but there are many others to see including the most visited:
Palazzo del Quirinale is a historic palace as well as the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic. It is a masterpiece of regal interior design built by Pope Gregory XIII who commissioned Italy’s finest architects and artists to construct his summer home: Domenico Fontana (the facade), Carlo Maderno (the chapel) and Guido Reni was responsible for the frescoes inside. The palace includes 10 acres of gardens arranged in 17th century style.
Palazzo Doria Pamphili is in the centre of Rome’s central shopping street Via del Corso. Owned by one of the most illustrious families of Rome still around today; this wonderful palazzo is the finest Rococo palace housing magnificent pieces of artwork, sculptures and décor (from Caravaggio to Bernini, from Velàzquez to Tiziano, from Raffaello to Memling and many others). Tours of the state rooms often include concerts of Baroque and Renaissance music, paying tribute to the setting and the masterpieces it contains.
Palazzo Barberini was home to the Barberini family who reshaped Rome, under pope Urban VIII with help from his friend Bernini. It is a classic example of a massive, regal, Roman palace with architectural elements by Bernini alongside the delightful oval staircase by Borromini. It also houses the National Gallery of Ancient Art, alongside artwork by Raphael, Caravaggio and Holbein. The enormous frescoed ceiling by Pietro di Cortona – ‘The Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini power’ is astonishing.
Palazzo Colonna is one of the oldest and largest private houses in Rome dating back to the 14th century. Famous for its luxurious furnishings that rival Versailles and gallery of masterpieces by famous Italian artists: Pinturicchio Cosmè Tura, Carracci, Guido Reni, Tintoretto, Salvator Rosa, Bronzino, Guercino, Veronese and Vanvitelli. Visit the apartments of Princess Isabella, where she received Queen Elizabeth I and marvel at a cannonball embedded in the staircase since the 19th century.