What to do
Obviously the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill attract the most visitors along with the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (our next door neighbours and another sovereign state inside Italy’s capital, in case you didn’t know). The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona are among the most photographed areas of the center, along with the Spanish Steps and Castel Sant’Angelo, the Appian Way or the Baths of Caracalla.
Churches are accessible freely, apart from a couple of notable exceptions. Even if you’re not religious, don’t overlook them, because for centuries they have acted as museums and some of Italy’s masterpieces are still there (Michelangelo’s Moses or some of Caravaggio’s best known paintings, for instance, are in churches that you can visit while in Rome). Plus, most churches house catacombs or Roman remains, which is a really cool way to discover what lies beneath the city.
If you’re overwhelmed with ancient art, Rome is home to a thriving contemporary art scene, thanks to a brilliant network of private art galleries, among them Gagosian Rome, plus the Macro Museum and the MAXXI Museum, designed by the late Zaha Hadid.
Between one visit and another, Rome is known for its traditional food. Carbonara, cacio e pepe, saltimbocca alla romana, filetto di baccalà, abbacchio alla scottadito or carciofo alla giudìa are among the city’s most well known recipes. Don’t forget about the street food here – it includes favourites like supplì, pizza al taglio or the newest addition, the Trapizzino. You can go on the hunt for local beers – a new-ish trend in the food and drinks scene.
What is unique to Rome
Rome is an open-air museum with monuments that have been around for millennia and are still used to this day. More landmarks and must-sees date back to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or the Baroque eras, up to the 20th and 21st centuries. What is really unique to Rome is the layers of history and art that surround you as you walk around, so you can literally bump into an Egyptian statue while walking towards a 1700s church which has been built over a Roman temple.
This has an effect on the architecture, on the way Romans talk (some expressions go back to the Latin vocabulary), or how they prepare their food (ask a Roman about quinto quarto). Speaking of which: traditional food in Rome includes world-famous pasta dishes such as gricia, carbonara, amatriciana or cacio e pepe or meat-based dishes like lamb chops, Saltimbocca alla Romana(veal with ham and sage leaves) or oxtail stew. Rome is also well-known for the variety of its street food, which doesn’t come in food trucks but is served in many small joints throughout the city. Among the offerings are “pizza al taglio”, a type of pizza served by the slice, supplì, filetto di baccalà, fiore di zucca.
Because of the Jewish community’s continued presence in the city for more than 2000 years, Rome’s traditional dishes are strongly influenced by their Kasherut, so much so that some well-known Roman recipes are actually Jewish ones (case in point: carciofi alla giudìa). You can eat some unique types of Roman-Jewish dishes in select parts of the city, among these in the Jewish Ghetto.
Food markets? Yes please! Rome is known for its food markets, and chances are you saw pictures of atmospheric piazzas filled with stalls and think that it’s the kind of scene you’re going to see from outside your Roman window. Well… yes and no.
Food markets tend to be indoors nowadays, for obvious sanitary reasons (think pollution). A couple of them still resist outdoors, and do so mainly because tourists visit them. That should be indication enough of just how inauthentic the renowned Campo de’ Fiori market is. You’re still welcome to visit that, while keeping in mind that the best food markets are on piazza San Cosimato (Trastevere district), Campagna Amica at via di San Teodoro (by the Circus Maximus); Mercato Trionfale on via Tunisi/via Andrea Doria (huge building looking like a mall, can’t miss it – by the Vatican Museums); Mercato Testaccio on via Beniamino Franklin (Testaccio District, look for a white modern building by the old abattoir); Mercato Garbatella on via Francesco Passino. What with the move to more modern buildings, often you can find street food sellers or small cafés with fantastic choices for a quick lunch or snacks side by side with sellers of fresh produce, cheesemakers, bakers or fishmongers.
Apps you can use while in Rome
Maps.me for offline navigation; ItTaxi and MyTaxi for booking a white cab; Moovit for planning a trip using public transportation; MyCicero for paying for parking spots and buying virtual tickets for said public transportation.