by Lee Marshall and Destination Expert from The Telegraph, December 10, 2018
Three millennia of history worn as lightly as summer linen
Rome has been around for almost three thosuand years and yet carries all that weight of history with a dolce vita lightness of heart. It’s a city that combines the intimacy and human scale of a village with the cultural draws of a historic, art-laden European metropolis. Classical ruins and early Christian places of worship stand next to – or sometimes lie beneath – Renaissance palazzos and Baroque fountains. But there are also great neighbourhood trattorias, quirky shops and a buzzing aperitivo scene. The golden rule for visitors? Don’t try to cram too much in. Rome moves at a slower pace than many northern cities, and to enjoy it you should take time out in pavement cafés as well as ticking off all the big cultural draws.
Hot right now . . .
Lee Marshall, our resident expert, offers his top tips on the hottest places to eat, drink and stay this season.
Sample the city's finest craft beer at trendy new gastropub and microbrewery Birra del Borgo, a short walk from the Vatican.
Via Silla 26; 00 39 06 8376 2316
A longtime draw in Rome’s Flaminio neighbourhood, with arguably the best gelato in the city, Neve di Latte has opened a new branch near Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican.
Via Federico Cesi, 1; 00 39 063 225 744.
Done out in a tastefully modern spin on Art Deco by Italian set designer Paolo Bonfini, the Vilòn, which has been pulling in the cool crowd since its opening earlier this year, is a delicously cool 18-room refuge.
Via dell'Arancio, 69; 00 39 06 87 81 87
48 hours in . . . Rome
Head up the steps of the Capitoline to admire two and a half millennia of history in harmonious Piazza del Campidoglio, laid out by Michelangelo in the 1530s on a site that once bristled with Roman temples. In the centre, emperor Marcus Aurelius still greets you proudly from his saddle, though today’s equestrian statue is a replica of the second-century-AD bronze original conserved just across the square in the Musei Capitolini (00 39 060 608).
Dodge around the back of Palazzo dei Senatori for a panoramic view of the Forum. Then head across Piazza Venezia to the Antica Birreria Peroni (Via San Marcello 19; 00 39 06 67 95 310), a vintage Roman-style bierkeller, where crowds of appreciative locals and tourists pack in to dine on filling carb and meat fare, washed down with draught Peroni. If you're in a hurry, you can join the local office workers who eat standing up at the bar in the entrance.
Brave the crowds again and head for the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine complex. Half circus, half sports arena, Rome’s most famous classical ruin is unmissable – especially now that they have extended the visitor route to the underfloor passageways through which gladiators and wild beasts made their entrances. Walk from the Colosseum though the Forum to the pretty Palatine Hill, where Romulus legendarily founded Rome, and where emperors such as Augustus built their palaces.
If the throng proves too daunting, head to nearby San Clemente (Via Labicana 95), one of Rome’s most worthwhile but least publicised sightseeing treats. This historical layer-cake descends from a street-level medieval and early-Renaissance church, with frescoes by Masolino, via a fourth-century early Christian church to the basement remains of a second-century insula (apartment block), complete with shrine to Mithras.
Head into Monti, the chic boho district of cobbled lanes and alternative fashion and vintage shops between Via Nazionale and Via Cavour. Best hunting ground for funky togs, shoes and jewellery is Via del Boschetto, where you’ll find good-value restaurant L'Asino d’Oro (Via del Boschetto 73; 00 39 06 4891 3832) serving up gourmet dishes (lamb innards in vin santo with melon and goat’s cheese, anyone?) at affordable prices.
For an aperitivo or after-dinner drink under an ivy-draped door, old-school wine bar Ai Tre Scalini offers a glimpse of pre-hipster Monti (Via Panisperna 251, 00 39 06 4890 7495).
If you're determined to include the Vatican in your brief Roman holiday, brace for queues at St Peter's, and pre-book your slot at the Vatican Museums (00 39 06 6988 4676) online to avoid an even longer wait there.
Otherwise, start your day with a Roman breakfast of cappuccino and cornetto (croissant) at elegant Bar Rosati (Piazza del Popolo 5a; 00 39 06 322 5859), which at this morning hour still has a relaxed vibe. Then cross the square to the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (Piazza del Popolo 12), an artistic treasure trove in which two strikingly dramatic canvases by Caravaggio stand out.
Head for the Ara Pacis (Lungotevere in Augusta; 00 39 060 608), where Richard Meier’s boxy museum-container houses a graceful marble altar that honoured Emperor Augustus’s pacification of the Roman provinces. It’s a short stroll to the churches of Sant’Agostino and San Luigi dei Francesi in the piazzas of the same names, with more splendid Caravaggios.
Armando al Pantheon (Salita dei Crescenzi 31; 00 39 06 6880 3034) is a charming throwback to the days when the centro storico was full of family-run trattorias serving hearty old-fashioned home cooking. And its location right opposite the Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda), Rome's most satisfyingly intact ancient temple, means you can fit in culture and pasta in a single lunch break.
It’s a short stroll from here to the Galleria Doria Pamphilj (Via del Corso 305; 0039 06 679 7323), which houses more Caravaggios plus works by Breughels, Titian, Raphael and Velasquez, in an austerely aristocratic setting. You're well placed, afterwards, for a shopping spree, either in the chic (and costly) boutiques of Via dei Condotti and around, or along cheap-and-cheerful Via dei Giubbonari.
Dine at one of Rome’s new breed of creative trattorias. In boho Trastevere, La Gensola (Piazza della Gensola 15; 00 39 06 581 6312) offers a mix of tasty Roman specialities and Sicilian-style seafood dishes in an informal setting. Alternatively, head for Testaccio and grab a pizza at Remo (Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice 44; closed Sundays) or an aperitivo at the Enoteca Palombi (Piazza Testaccio 41), where, between 7pm and 9pm, €10 (£9) buys you a drink and a heaving plate of food from the buffet.
Where to stay . . .
A bright new star in the Roman hotel firmament, the Vilòn is a secluded but central boutique gem with the cachet of a view, from many rooms, of the private courtyard of Palazzo Borghese. Clubbishly intimate, and good value within its luxe category, it’s aimed squarely at cultured, independent globetrotters.
Double rooms from €462 (£411); 00 39 06 8781 8799
The Fifteen Keys, a charming, full-service towhouse hotel, has finally given the villagey Monti district the classy accommodation option it was waiting for. Grown-up colour schemes, 1950s-style armchairs and vintage light fittings set the tone of a cool insider address for plugged-in independent travellers.
Double rooms from €150 (£119); 00 39 06 48913446
Hotel San Anselmo is a welcome haven from the bustle of central Rome. This fin de siècle villa in the city’s genteel Aventine Hill neighbourhood has an elegantly restrained air from the outside that belies the “Thousand and One Nights” opulence within. Ideal for a romantic getaway.
Double rooms from €71 (£63); 00 39 06 570 057
What to bring home . . .
If you're looking for an original gift, the Bottega del Marmoraro (Via Margutta 53; 00 39 06 320 7660; closed Sundays) does a nice line of small marble plaques with humorous mottoes in Latin, Italian and Roman dialect.
Foodie tourists can head to C.U.C.I.N.A. (Via Mario de' Fiori 65, 00 39 06 679 1275; closed Sundays) for niche Italian items such as parmesan knives and panna cotta moulds.
When to go . . .
There’s no real off-season in the Eternal City. Spring and autumn are the busiest tourist seasons, with a peak at Easter as Vatican pilgrims swell visitor numbers. Winter – especially from mid-January into the first week of March – can be a great time to come if you’re lucky with the weather. Hotel rates are lower and restaurants are blissfully uncrowded. If you can take the heat, August (when most Romans head for the beach) is another good month to find offers on hotel rooms. The most perfect months, weatherwise, are probably April, May and October – and it’s also at this time of year that you’ll generally find the most pleasant temperature differential between balmy Rome and the cold north.
Know before you go . . .
British embassy: Via 20 Settembre, 80a, 00187 Roma; 0039 06 4220 0001; gov.uk
Tourist office & information: There are Tourist Information Points all over the city. As well as the two airports, you'll find useful ones at Termini Station (platform 24, open daily 8am-7.30pm), Castel Sant'Angelo, near the Vatican (daily 9.30am-7pm) and Piazza delle Cinque Lune, near Piazza Navona (daily 9.30am-7pm). For English tourist info ring 0039 06 0608 (daily 9am-9pm, charged at local call rate) or go to 060608.it .
Local laws & etiquette
Drinking alcohol in the street (unless it's the spillover area of a bar or pub) and going bare-chested are no-nos.
Dress code in churches is: shoulders and midriffs covered and 'modest' dress or skirt length for women, while for men vests and really short shorts are frowned on - though these rules are only rigorously enforced in major basilicas like St Peter's. Italians always say hello and goodbye in social situations – including when entering or leaving shops, bars etc.
A simple ‘buon giorno’ in the morning or ‘buona sera’ in the afternoon or evening goes a long way. ‘Ciao’ is for friends, family or young people. If somebody thanks you by saying ‘grazie’, it’s polite to say ‘prego’ (you’re welcome) in return.
Currency: Euro. Most cashpoint machines work with international cards, via the Cirrus circuit
International dialing codes:
003906 for Rome numbers from abroad
06 from inside Italy
00 to get an international line
Local time: UTC + 1 hour
Tipping: Italians tip very little; 5% is ample, and it’s often enough just to round the bill up to the nearest 5 or 10 euros
Emergency services: 112 (Carabinieri and general emergency switchboard); 113 (State Police); 118 (Ambulance Service)
Lee Marshall's perfect day in Rome: Tiber walk, culture fix, watch AS Roma beat Juve, aperitivo with friends in Monti, pizza in Testaccio. Lee may now live in the Italian countryside but he still needs a regular dose of the eternal city, where he lived for 24 years.
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