We’ve been to Rome several times and we keep coming back. What makes Rome so special? It’s hard to put into words, but I’ll give it a try.
Everyone knows that Rome has plenty of famous ruins such as the Forum and the Colloseum. But what I love about the Eternal City are the unexpected ruins one finds around every corner. On my most recent trip, I discovered a new neighborhood for me, The Ghetto, the old Jewish quarter not far from the Pantheon. Besides a vibrant neighborhood with fun eateries, this area is home to Portico di Ottavia, a lovely portico built by Augustus in 27 BC. From the Portico, one can take a nice walk and visit the nearby Theatre of Marcellus. Just a few blocks north you can find the Largo di Argentina with four beautiful temples and the famous Roman cats.
Southeast of the Forum, on the Via Sacra, you can view the Arch of Titus and some other impressive ruins for free. There’s also the Arch of Constantine right next to the colloseum. Wandering around the city, there are many less famous ruins that you might stumble upon. Just keep your eyes open!
The Churches of Rome
Unlike some Italian cities and towns, the churches of Rome do not charge an entrance fee—even St. Peter’s Basilica. The long line for St. Peter’s is due to their added security check. In my helpful hints I mention that some famous churches open quite early. So, if you want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, get there early and avoid the crowds. Check the website for opening times.
What I love about Rome is the fact that you can walk into almost any church and find amazing artistic treasures by the masters. Although it may be darker than most museums, look for a small box to insert a one euro coin for some light on the more famous works of art.
One of our favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio, known for his dramatic paintings and mastery of light, can be found in several churches. Don’t miss San Luigi dei Francesi, near Piazza Navona to see two of his best works. Also, there is another painting in nearby Sant’Agostino Church and two in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. If you visit the church of St. Peter in Chains, you will find Michelangelo’s Moses, a dramatic marble sculpture. Another famous masterpiece, The Ecstacy of St. Theresa by Bernini can be found in Santa Maria della Vittorio, closer to the Termini train station. If you have a chance to visit the Trastevere neighborhood, visit their main church, Santa Maria in Trastevere to admire the amazing mosaics inside.
Street Food & Gelato
Avoid the venues close to the most popular tourist sights to find great food in Rome. Often we just observe the locals eating street food on a piazza and ask for advice. Sometimes we just catch the aroma of great food.
When searching out gelato, look for the stainless steel containers, even with lids. This usually indicates the gelato is made inhouse and has the freshest ingredients. If you see a puffy mound with unreal colors, walk back out. Check out my list in the Restaurant Category for some great Artisan Gelato Shops & Street Food.
A Vibrant City
If you venture out even a few blocks away from the main tourist sights, it’s easy to find the real Rome. It’s a vibrant city with beautiful parks, an abundance of minor, peaceful piazzas and fun shops and farmer’s markets. To see more of the city, it’s easy to use the city busses. Buy your ticket at any Tabach shop or ask about it at the local Tourist Information center. There’s also a city subway system that comes in handy for certain locations.
There is something about the locals that has always endeared me to Rome. From the first visit when I spoke no Italian at all, to my most current visit, I have found the Roman people to be kind, helpful and fun. Even at the popular cafe, Ritorno al Passato, near the Pantheon, the service was friendly and hospitable. I wanted to sit for quite awhile to do a plein air sketch and I asked permission from the waiter. For the price of one cappuccino, he happily let me have the best view seat on the Pantheon’s piazza—and he never pressured me to leave.
Another time I needed help navigating the bus system. Another local kindly gave me the information I needed and even walked me a few blocks to show me the second bus I needed.
Despite the potholes in the roads, the crowds of tourists that might clog the sidewalks and narrow alleys, the Roman beauracracy and an occasional strike, I would venture to Rome almost any time—well, maybe not in August. I hope to get back there soon.