Some come for history and art, some for romance, some for food, and some for all of the above; and with more than 900 churches, 300+ museums and galleries, a gelateria or cinematic spot for a stolen kiss on every corner, none are disappointed. Whatever drew you to Rome, here are the highlights

Sights and attractions

Sights and attractions in Rome

Rome’s historic centre is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site, with incredible monuments and amazing sights at every step. Ancient history buffs will want to start at the very beginning – the Capitoline Hill overlooking the Roman Forum – and then head to the Coliseum, the world’s greatest amphitheatre. Next, combine ancient and contemporary Rome at the Terrazzo delle Quadrighe atop the Altare della Patria, the large, white “typewriter” monument in Piazza Vittorio, which shows off a sweeping panoramic view. Stand on Ponte Sant’Angelo for a postcard shot of the Vatican and then climb to the top of Castel Sant’Angelo, Hadrian’s Tomb and papal stronghold. Finally, don’t miss a walk into the Pantheon, everyone’s favourite temple.

Art and culture

Art and culture in Rome

This is Rome, which means there is art and culture everywhere and for everyone. The city is proud to be home to the Capitoline Museum, a collection of antiquities and Renaissance and Baroque art. Gallerias Borghese, Barberini, Doria Pamphilj and Colonna are beautiful palazzi showcasing Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces, while the Neoclassical National Gallery of Modern Art (GNAM) is home to Italy’s premier collection of Italian art from post-unification to the present. For blockbuster exhibits, Scuderie del Quirinale is the go to. Elsewhere, contemporary architects have added new monuments to the cityscape, including Zaha Hadid’s award-winning MAXXI, a wave-like temple to contemporary Italian art and architecture; Richard Meier’s minimalist Ara Pacis Museum (housing the first-century Temple of Peace); and Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica, the auditorium complex. Not to be missed are the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, practically synonymous with a visit to Rome.

Food and drink

Food and drink in Rome

If you haven’t come to Rome for the culture, you’ve almost certainly come for the food. Several of the city’s piazzas double as locavore markets, like Campo de’ Fiori and Testaccio. Street food has always been a dining staple here – try pizza al taglio (traditional tray-baked pizza by the slice) at Forno Campo de’ Fiori or Antico Forno Roscioli; supplì (rice balls) from Supplizio; or trapizzini (a joyful pizza/calzone/sandwich hybrid) from Trapizzino, where they were invented. Though there are only 17 Michelin stars in Rome’s galaxy, what you really want are the nondescript osterie and trattorie serving up plates of Roman favourites like carbonara, caciopepe and amatriciana, and pizzerias serving paper-thin Roman pizza – you’ll notice these all over the city for their simple, un-flashy exteriors. Rome with a view is key in the warm months and several hotels have beautiful terrace bars, but the master mixologists are on terra firma at Pierluigi, the Stravinskiy Bar (Hotel De Russie) and the Jerry Thomas Project, ranked as one of the world’s 50 best bars.

Shopping

Shopping in Rome

For a bit of bling and luxury labels, start from Piazza di Spagna and meander through surrounding streets Via dei Condotti, Via Frattina, Via Borgognona and Via del Babuino. The narrow and artsy Via Margutta is lined with gorgeous home design boutiques. For less expensive shopping, the busy Via del Corso has familiar chains and some local shops, while Monti is the go-to for indie shops. Romans love a Saturday browse along Via Cola di Rienzo (Prati neighbourhood) for its mix of international chains, Italian department store giant Coin and local favourites like Gente, a luxury concept store. Antiquers will want to head to Via dei Banchi Vecchi for vintage finds.

Unique to Rome

Unique to Rome in Rome

Along with being a walkable, open-air museum, Rome is really about its underground sites. Churches like San Clemente, San Nicola in Carcere and even St. Peter’s sit atop 2,000-year-old domus, temples, circuses and cult worship sites, while the city itself is surrounded by a seemingly never-ending network of catacombs, hundreds of kms of underground burials like Priscilla, Domitilla and Callisto. Some sites even add a little flair like the Case Romane (three levels of ancient domus) and its evening performances, Palazzo Valentini (an ancient site with 3D projections) and Vicus Capricus, a repertoire cinema with first-century home and cistern. Additionally, Rome is home to Vatican City, the smallest sovereign state in the world, and just 13kms from the centre is EUR, a Fascist-era “new” Rome, complete with 20th-century monuments.

In an hour…

In an hour in Rome

North, south, east and west, Rome has the compass covered with easy day-trips. Hop a local train (or drive) west toward Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port city that rivals Pompeii, and then head over to the beach – Ostia, Fregene or Maccarese – for spaghetti con vongole. Less than an hour drive north and you’ll find yourself at Lago Bracciano, a large volcanic lake with sailboats and grill outs, and the early Renaissance Odescalchi Castle. Head due east (by car) to Tivoli to walk the gorgeous grounds of Villa d’Este, a Renaissance villa with beautiful gardens and singing fountains, and then step back into the past at Villa Adriana, Emperor Hadrian’s sumptuous villa. Due south is Castelli Romani, Lazio’s wine country, a picturesque green area of villas, lakes (Nemi and Albano) and top spot for a proper porchetta sandwich.

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