The Eternal City will be on the bucket list of any history buff or art expert, but for those looking to get a flavour of this incredible city in a short period of time, we have found the absolute highlights. If you're setting sail on one of our last minute cruises and want to know what is unmissable in the Italian capital, look no further.
There are the seven famous hills of Rome, and though The Capitoline Hill is the smallest, it is home to one of the most important museums in the city. The Musei Capitolini houses the bronze She-Wolf which dates back to the 5th century BC and has long been the symbol of the city that relates to the Romulus and Remus myth, the brothers that founded the city. The piazza is constructed to a plan that was conceived by Michelangelo back in the 16th century.
One of the most stunning galleries in the museum holds portions of the Colossus of Constantine that once stood near the Roman Forum. From the size of portions, it is believed the Colossus would have been about 12 metres high and though the Colossus is no longer whole, the size of the hands is awe-inspiring.
The Roman Forum
This sprawling mass of ruins may seem confusing, however the Roman Forum was once the hub of the city’s public spaces. First developed in the 7th century BC, this political and commercial centre grew until it eventually included landmark sites like Arco di Settimo and Casa delle Vestali.
If you have the time, you can spend several hours taking a tour and earning about the history of all the separate constructions, however if you want to just soak up the atmosphere, an hour walking through these majestic buildings will help you understand the scale of this ancient city. If you are ready to stop for a coffee or a spot of lunch, head to the Roof Garden Restaurant. With panoramic views and a wonderful local menu, it is a great place to rest tired legs and refuel before you head back out.
The intersection of Via del Corso (one of the main shopping streets), The Roman Forum and the roads heading out to the Vatican is a busy square. This Piazza may have a lot of traffic, but it is one of the main sites of the modern city and is where the Christmas tree is erected every year. Piazza Venezia is dominated by the imposing Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). This is also known as The Wedding Cake and has divided the city since it was completed in 1925. The Wedding Cake is home to Rome’s eternal flame that remains alight at all times and you can scale the building for impressive views of the city which should take about half an hour.
Palazzo Venezia is adjacent to The Wedding Cake and is an imposing red brick building which was originally a medieval residence of cardinals before it became a Papal residence, the seat of the Austria Ambassador and the office of Mussolini. Now it houses the Museo Nazionale dei Palazzo di Venezia which is filled with artistic work from Italian Masters and an incredible sculpture collection.
Built on Rome’s first venue for competitive athletics, this oval piazza is an incredibly vibrant part of the city. The main appeal is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (the fountain of the four rivers) by Bernini which is in the centre of the piazza and is a masterpiece of Baroque sculpture. This incredible fountain stands in front of Sant’Agnese in Agone, a Baroque church dedicated to the early Christian saint Agnes and also holds her skull.
Within spitting distance from Piazza Navona is one of the city’s best gelaterias, Frigidarium. Choose from a wide variety of seasonal flavours that are all sourced from the finest Italian produce and beautifully crafted to create the ultimate gelato experience. Topped with molten chocolate (choice of white milk or dark) that hardens to form the crowning glory of the experience. Frigidarium is a very small shop with a reputation to match its popularity, so you may find yourself queueing outside on Via di Parione.
This incredible piece of architecture is a feat of engineering and one of the largest free-standing domes in the world. It has been a religious site since 27 BC though originally it was a place of worship to all Gods. Now it is a catholic church and the burial place for two Italian kings as well as famous artists like Rapheal and Annibale Carracci and composers like Arcangelo Correlli. The occulus is the circular hole in the centre of the ceiling that has helped make the pantheon famous. Recently is was a setting for Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons.
Piazza della Rotunda is a busy square in front of The Pantheon and is a great place to stop for a coffee or lunch. Head to Tazza D’oro for some of the best coffee in the city.
The Trevi is the fountain Rome is the most famous for. The largest Baroque fountain in the city, it is nearly 50 metres wide and over 25 metres high. It also appeared in the famous scene in La Dolce Vita, highlighting the beauty and romance of the fountain. There is a tradition surrounding the fountain, everyone must throw coins into the fountain over their right shoulder using their left hand. Those who fail to complete their ritual will not return to the city.
Piazza Di Spagna
The Spanish steps and the piazza before them are another iconic site of Rome that links Piazza di Spagna below with Pinician Hill and the Trinita dei Monti church at the summit. To one side of the steps is the house that the British poet John Keats died in and has since become a museum to both Keats and his contemporary writer, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Piazza di Spagna is usually busy as it connects to via dei condotti, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the city. However, if you have time to sit and enjoy the atmosphere, some of the best Tiramisu can be found nearby. Head to Pompi and enjoy the traditional Italian dessert sitting on the famous staircase.
Piazza del Popolo
The piazza stands just inside the Northern gates of the Aurelian walls and is named as ‘the square of the people’. Linked to Via Flaminia, an important roadway to the rest of Italy, it was often the first site people saw when entering Rome. Once the site of public executions, Piazza del Popolo is now an elegant square that leads to Pincio Park and Villa Borghese gardens.
The obelisk at the centre of the square is one of the tallest in Rome and was brought to the city in 10 BC. The two churches that separate Via del babuino, Via del Corso and via de Ripetta, may look identical but they are not mirror images and are the work of Bernini and Carlo Fontana. For those interested in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, the museum dedicated to him and is the most comprehensive museum in his honour. Take a couple of hours to fully enjoy this small museum.
The fortified mausoleum has a chequered history as everything from the burial place of emperors to the symbol of hope in a time of plague, to the site of the Vatican’s less savoury past times. What was once the mausoleum for Hadrian was destroyed by various sackings of the city. During 590 AD a terrible plague rocked Rome and legend holds that archangel Michael was seen sheathing his sword atop the mound as a sign of the end of the plague.
A castle was erected and a passage that links Castel Sant Angelo to the Vatican was constructed. Over the years the castle was used as both a prison and a fortress and now it is a museum where people can learn about its history. Take a few hours to fully enjoy the six levels of this incredible fortification.
The Vatican City
The Vatican needs no introduction, but as the seat of the catholic faith it is unmissable. Unfortunately, there are often long queues to see St Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel so if you wish to visit, make sure you factor in enough time. If you wish to see St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums properly, you can easily spend three days exploring the entire collection, however if that time is not available, we have summed up what you shouldn’t miss.
The cupola - Head to the roof of St Peter’s Basilica for incredible views of the city. This is not for the faint of heart as it involves a lot of stairs.
The Gallery of Maps – Within the Vatican Museums you will pass through this hallway lined with maps and with a beautifully decorated ceiling. Less famous than the Sistine Chapel, it is often less crowded.
The Sistine Chapel – Michelangelo’s famous ceiling is the highlight to any trip, though be aware that you cannot take any photos and on busy days there is a limited time each visitor can spend there.
The centre to any image of Rome, The Colosseum was a symbol of the Empire’s power. The engineering feat behind the construction of the building allowed it to be safely evacuated, covered in times of rain and it is thought that at certain points is could be flooded to hold marine battles.
Holding between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, it was the hub of entertainment in the city and helped keep the masses appeased. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and is currently undergoing restoration to see it to its former glory. The queue can be quite long during peak times and to thoroughly enjoy the experience you need to dedicate a couple of hours to the experience.
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