Coliseum and Roman Forum
Famous for its sorted past of hosting bloody gladiator games, the Coliseum is easily one of the most impressive remaining structures from the ancient world. Located in the same complex is the Roman Forum, which was home to the seat of government, commerce, and city life. Towering above the Forum is the Palatine Hill, where ancient well-to-do Roman’s such as Julius’s successor Augustus lived, before the area was absorbed into the imperial palace by later megalomaniac emperors. One ticket gets you into all three spots, and every inch is worth it.
Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica
Regardless of religious affiliation, when you come to Rome you simply must visit the Vatican, since within this tiny independent country is some of the most magnificent art ever produced by humanity–certainly in the Western hemisphere. Though the lines are deep and the in summer the heat can be oppressive, it’s worth every moment to gaze at Michelangelo’s breathtaking frescos in the Sistine Chapel, the incredible collection of ancient art, and the sheer size and overindulgence of gold inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Make life easy on yourself and take a tour, you’ll skip the lines and actually have a clue as to what you’re looking at.
Vatican Museums: Open M-Saturday: entrance is 9:00-4:00 with museums closing at 6:00. St. Peter’s Basilica: April-September open 7:00-7:00, October-March 7:00-6:00. Note that Sunday’s and Wednesday’s the Pope hosts his Papal audience in St. Peter’s square at 10/10:30 and entrance to the church is suspended until it ends at approximately noon. Check holiday schedule in advance.
It’s hard to miss the massive Vittorio Emanuele monument that presides over the Piazza Venezia. Built just after Italy’s unification in 1871 to commemorate the young nation’s first King, the locals refer to this mass of marble as either the typewriter or the wedding cake for it’s remarkable similarity to both objects. Today it is home to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and has found particular popularity with tourists who ride the glass elevators up to catch a glimpse of the exceptional city views.
Open daily 9:30-4:30 and until 5:30 during the summer months. Note that last entrance is ½ hour before closing time.
You’ll likely stumble onto this bustling piazza on your own since it seems to possess a cosmic attraction that pulls locals and tourists alike. Piazza Navona is unique for its sheer size and its elongated oval shape gives away its history; it was built on top of an ancient sporting arena and ruins can still be spotted under the buildings on the North side (Stadium of Domitian). At its center the Saint Agnes in Agone Church, a masterpiece of Bormini, and in front of it a fantastic and fantastical Fountain of The Four Rivers - Danube, Nile, Gang and Rio De Plata, designed by the brilliant Bernini, which gracefully supports an Egyptian obelisk. By far the best advice is to let the space pull you in, and linger over a spritz at one the cafés as you watch the theater of life unfold.
Campo de’ Fiori
This cozy piazza’s name translates to ‘field of flowers’ and is home to one of Rome’s central outdoor markets where vendors sell fresh fruit and vegetables along with small trinkets and gifts. Standing in the center is the hooded statue of Giordano Bruno, a philosopher who was burned alive in 1600 for his scientific beliefs. In modern times Romans favor this piazza in day time for its market and in the evening for meeting with friends over cocktails or taking an evening stroll.
Bars and restaurants open M-Sunday until 2:00am.
It’s nearly impossible to get your brain around the fact that the Pantheon was built in the 2nd century, not only is it still in excellent condition, but its very construction is baffling. Originally built as a temple, its perfect dome has a large oculus at its center that allows rain to pour through onto her marble floors, and the portico is made up of monolithic granite columns harvested from Egypt, each one weighing over 60 tons. So hug a column, feel her energy, and ponder what the ancients did inside those walls.
The Pantheon was converted into a Roman Catholic Church and is free to visit. Open M–Saturday 9:00-7:30 and Sunday 9:00-6:00
The Trevi Fountain serves as a backdrop to the drama of life in the streets that unfolds in all directions at high volume and in bright colors. Dominating the entire wall of an otherwise average building, this baroque fountain indeed looks like a theater set, and will stop you in your tracks as soon as you lay eyes on it, but that’s why it’s magical. The fountain depicts Oceanus, personification of the ocean, flanked by allegories of Abundance and Health, though tourists who throw coins into the pool ask fate to bring them back to Rome. Just make sure you examine that Euro coin before you toss it, the big ones can get expensive.
Okay so yes, they are just steps, but they are darn good-looking steps that connect the church of the Trinità dei Monti with the Piazza below. At nearly any hour they are covered with tourists taking selfies, locals eating lunch, and young people hanging out. At the foot of the steps is a small and somewhat odd fountain depicting a sinking ship called the Fontana della Barcaccia, or ugly boat, though it’s really quite pretty.
Castel St. Angelo
Though originally built as a mausoleum by the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, the Castle St. Angelo is a complex amalgamation of construction and architectural elements from different centuries. During the Middle Ages it served as a military fortress, where legend has it that in the 6th century the Archangel Michael appeared over the structure to deliver Rome from plague. Renaissance Popes transformed the castle into a princely refuge, connecting it directly to the Vatican palace should the Pope have to escape to safety in a hurry. Now a military museum, it’s a wondrous building that promises surprises at every turn. Both Kid and adult friendly.
Tuesday–Sunday 9:00-7:30, ticket box closes at 6:30.
When you visit New York you simply must stroll through the West Village, and when you come to Rome it is essential that you walk the charming streets of the Trastevere neighborhood. Located just south of the Vatican but on the opposite side of the Tiber River from the ancient city center, Trastevere literally means trans-Tiber and was the original home of Rome’s large Jewish population. Visit the pretty church in the main Piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere, have a drink or aperitivo at one of the lovely cafés, and slow your pace to Roman time. If you can, enjoy the street performers on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Rome Spotter tip: Remember to throw the coin to the Fontana di Trevi and make a wish to come back to Rome!