This quintessential Roman monument is the Coliseum. Construction began in 72 AD and, incredibly, we can still walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans who filled the amphitheater by the tens of thousands. Next to the Coliseum is the Roman Forum. These ruins lie in the heart of ancient Rome. Walking in the Roman Forum under a bright blue sky and warm Italian sun, while looking at the tall umbrella trees on Palatine Hill can make you physically feel the grandeur of the city that had once been considered the center of world.
In Vatican City, Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are packed with a dizzying amount of art “gathered” by the Roman Empire. After the artistic overload of the Vatican museums, you will be happy to observe the required “silencio” as you gaze upon Michelangelo’s intricate work in the Sistine Chapel. If you want to see the Pope avoid going in July - he’s not home, but every Wednesday morning he makes his way through the crowd in Saint Peter’s Square before officiating Mass to the masses.
Amazing sculpture is everywhere in Rome, on the facades of private homes, government buildings and bridges over the Tiber River. A visit to Nicola Salvi’s Baroque masterpiece, Trevi Fountain, is required because legend has it that those who throw a coin into the fountain are destined to return to Rome. Just don’t throw yourself in a la Fellini’s famous La Dolce Vita character.
Roman piazza’s are all about cafes, and a much-needed site-seeing break. The Spanish steps at the Piazza di Spagna is a perfect place to stop and have a gelato after strolling one of the world’s most expensive streets - Via Condotti. On via Condotti you’ll find Yves St. Laurent, Louis Vuitton ,Valentino, Giorgio Armani and a perhaps a few baubles to take home. Piazza Navona is large and filled with artists, performers, and yet another beautiful Bernini creation, The “Fountain of the Four Rivers.” It has almost too many restaurants with outdoor tables from which to watch the action in the square. Campo di Fiore is nearby and in the morning food and flower vendors squeeze tightly into the square. You’ll find great antique and clothing shops on the streets leading to the square as well.
There are many beautiful must-see Roman monuments I haven’t included (like the Pantheon, The Appian Way and Castel Sant'Angelo), but there are less visited sites worth mentioning. On Via Venuto, behind the Spanish Steps, you can visit the church of Santa Maria della Concezione die Cappuccini where the Capuchin museum self-tour includes the skeletal remains of more than 3,700 monks. The artistic arrangement of bones - which include light fixtures, crosses and altars - is amazing. The feel of the museum is less macabre and more reverential after listing to a moving introduction recorded by a friar who speaks to the meaning of life. The Galleria Borghese houses the works of Rome’s sculpting genius Bernini including David and the Apollo and Daphne. Bernini’s work is all over the city, but the works in the gallery are so beautiful they nearly brought me to tears. Buy tickets before leaving home and save yourself a wait in line. The Villa Borghese gardens and lake offer a refreshing green space where you can buy food from a vendor, rent a rowboat or bike and find a quiet spot to picnic.
The medieval Trastevere neighborhood is a perfect place to hop off the beaten tourist path. Laundry hangs on lines between faded centuries-old apartment buildings on narrow cobblestone streets. A weary traveler can enjoy a reflective moment in Basilica Santa Maria di Cecilia, which anchors the intimate Piazza di Santa Cecilia. Have lunch or enjoy a cappuccino or vino at an outdoor coffee bar and enjoy the plethora of flora decorating windows in this warm and inviting Roman neighborhood. If you are having a coffee or snack, it is much cheaper to enjoy your refreshment at the bar or in a nearby piazza. However, it is worth the splurge to leisurely sit at the outdoor tables. Stay as long as you like. In Italy, it is expected for patrons to enjoy their food slowly.
If shopping on via Condotti is too rich for your blood and you don’t want imported wares from the many aggressive legal and illegal vendors, then go to the Porta Portese Flea Market. It is humongous and open Sundays from 7 am to 1 pm. Bypass the cheap imported souvenir stalls and find the artists and vintage tables for truly unique gifts.
Finally, during all of this historic, shopping, eating and treasure-hunting fun you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll only need one water bottle to make it through the day. Rome has water spigots everywhere. In tourist areas and neighborhood streets, you’ll find water running from artistic and not so artistic faucets. The water is potable and very good. I drank it on three trips without ill effect. So save your money for wine!
My favorite attraction in Italy has to be its people. I enjoy the public bickering, laughing, gesturing and displays of passion found in every nook and cranny of the Italian landscape. Who wouldn’t enjoy sitting in a small café eating lunch while and old man in a white apron swears in Italian as he is swatting flies. I am so looking forward to my next visit.