Rome is one of Europe’s biggest cities, sprawling out from its majestic centre for miles in all directions. Rather like the city of ancient times, it’s still a place that inspires wonder and awe for all who visit. Rome is a city that is great to visit at any time of year, but my personal favourite is Rome in April– when the weather is warm but not too hot and it isn't too crowded.
Though the Italian economy might be going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment, the country has done an enormous amount to make sure that the city’s heritage is preserved for generations to come, not to mention maintain tourist revenues. Rome is visited by more than twenty million people a year, making it one of the most visited places on Earth.
The interesting thing about Rome is that it is one of the world’s only examples of a city within a city. Not only is there the old centre, dominated by the Colosseum, but there’s also the Vatican, centre of the Catholic church for well over a millennium, with its own sovereignty and laws.
When visiting Rome, there are some big time sites that everybody has to visit. But with so many incredible places to explore in the city, how does one prioritise? Here’s a list of some of the places you MUST visit if you want to truly experience the city in all its glory.
Check Out The Pantheon
The Pantheon is one of the most striking buildings in the whole of the city surviving from ancient times. The great thing about the Pantheon is that the years haven’t aged it beyond recognition. Unlike the Forum, which has seen better days, the Pantheon appears much as it would have done more than 2,000 years ago. Part of this has to do with the way that the building has been treated. Rather than being abandoned or neglected, the Pantheon has been in active use for almost all of its life. The marble floors tell a story of the millions of feet that have walked over them, causing the to become smoothed in the process.
The most striking feature of the Pantheon is the open air Oculus, the small opening at the top of the dome. Roman architects didn’t have the ability to make such a large dome that closed and the centre, and so they left a small gap at the top to reduce weight and add strength. And yes, that means that rain sometimes comes through and falls on unsuspecting visitors.
Get A Feel For The Vatican
When you step into the Vatican, you’re no longer in Italy, despite the fact that you can see Italy all around you. Instead, you’re walking on hallowed ground, ruled by the Pope and a small cadre of Cardinals. The Vatican has its share of mysteries – a place of both splendour and intrigue.
Though the Vatican is small, it’s also full of exciting surprises. Throughout the city are many museums, each of which tells part of the story of this place and help explain the context of why it came to be the way it is today. There are also interesting tours which take visitors through all the many tunnels and back routes between the buildings as well as provide visitors with a rundown on how new Popes are chosen. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Catholic or not. Visiting St Peter’s Basilica and standing in the arena outside is well worth the experience. If nothing else, it’s a fabulous piece of architecture.
Take A Peek In The Capuchin Crypt
The Capuchin Crypt is a bit of a scary place. It’s a kind of love it or hate it affair, and might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Having said that, it’s interesting. It’s essentially a group of small chapels clustered together, all of which are decorated with the bones of the Capuchin monks who used to worship there. In total, the bones of more than 4,000 monks are on display, giving the crypt maximum points on the creepiness scale.
Thanks to its bizarre past, the Capuchin Crypt is now a regular stop-off on most tourist itineraries. If you’re into quirky things, then this is the place for you.
Eat Something Quintessentially Roman
If there’s one thing that the Italians are proud of, it’s their cooking. During the harvest season, local ingredients from the surrounding countryside are brought to the city for use by restaurateurs. As a result, it matters a lot what time of year you go. The best time is the spring, since this is the only time when you can get carciofi. If you can’t do the spring, don’t worry: there are plenty of opportunities to grab an authentic Italian meal at one of the city’s many restaurants. As you might imagine, there are plenty of pasta dishes on offer. One of the most popular is cacio e pepe – a pasta dish with lots of parmesan cheese and black pepper.
Take A Trip To The Colosseum
The Colosseum was the biggest amphitheatre in the Roman world. It was here that gladiators did battle to the death with each other and beasts, all for the entertainment of the Roman crowds. It’s a stark reminder just how far Western civilisation has come over the centuries. The best way to see the ancient monument is part of a Colosseum tour. Here you’ll learn all about its history and how the monument has been used since ancient time. If you think that it looks a little torn up inside, that’s because it is. Over the centuries, builders stole the rocks from the deserted monument, using them in other projects throughout Rome. Though the Colosseum is now a World Heritage site and no longer a quarry, it doesn’t look like it would have done in antiquity. For that, you’ll have to use your imagination.
Take A Break From The City
Because it’s such a bustling commercial hub, staying in Rome can be overwhelming sometimes. That’s why it’s nice to take a walk along the Trastevere Streets, a beautiful peaceful neighbourhood with cobbled streets, perfect for anybody in need of a retreat. Here you’ll find Rome at its most authentic, without all the tourist hullabaloo.