It’s called the Eternal City for a reason, and the former center of the universe shows no signs of slowing down. Having been able to strike a healthy balance between the ancient and the modern, the capital of Italy entertains people with interests as diverse as its own history. With enough dining options to make even Nero blush, there’s no excuse to spend your Roman holiday hungry, and even less excuse to spend it looking for something to do. It would take years to fully unearth all Rome has to offer, but we figure you have to start somewhere. Alea iacta est– let’s go!
Album: Nirvana – Live at the Palaghiaccio, 2/22/94
Book: Ars Amatoria – Ovid
Movie: The Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini
Via IV Novembre 119/A
This subterranean tour relies on visualization technology to recreate the grandeur of an ancient Roman Senator’s home, complete with his private baths and kitchen. Working off a totally revolutionary concept, we think this type of museum is what lies ahead for many of Rome’s other ancient attractions. As if the house tour weren’t enough, the adventure culminates with a unique view of Trajan’s Column. Available in several languages, be sure to book the right ticket.
Campo de’ Fiori
Via del Pellegrino 53
What if we told you we knew a place downtown that offers home-made limoncello and grappa with their dessert menu? Of course, this menu is only presented upon proof that you enjoyed the main course– an empty plate and a smile. At Lucifero, it seems that you order a core dish, only for it to be surrounded by other little surprise dishes– the chef/owner’s choice. Decisions are made somewhat easier with the complimentary glass of Prosecco that greets you when you take your table. Super friendly owner and staff, very impressive wine selection.
Via della Croce, 8
Four euros. That’s all you’ll be asked to pay for an entire lunch or dinner’s worth of some of the freshest pasta you’ve ever tasted. The day’s two pasta choices are selected at random and hardly ever repeat themselves in the same week. No seating area, but if it isn’t too busy you’ll be able to find some counter space with complimentary bottled (ahem) tap water. Maybe the best part though is that Via della Croce is just off Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps). It’s hard to believe you don’t have to brave a back alley to find this place. Just be mindful of the afternoon siesta break between lunch and dinner.
Largo Chigi (under Via del Corso)
An underground bookshop in the heart of modern Rome, named after one of the old Republic’s greatest thinkers. Found right below the main shopping street that links the Imperial Fora and main excavation sites to the more developed end of the city, you could spend hours down here. Beyond the huge book selection, Cicero offers antique magazines and journals, many dating all the way back to Italian Unification. Cicero can double as a hassle-free souvenir shop too, if you’re in need of a memento to take home.
Via della Domus Aurea, 1
Nero’s Golden Palace would have been quite a spectacle. Thanks to the efforts of numerous excavation and virtual imaging projects, the design of much of the extant interior can now be ‘recreated.’ Situated near the Palatine Hill, the megalomaniacal building project was only made possible following the great fire of 64AD. The ruins lie under the Baths of Trajan and, according to Renaissance legend, were found completely by accident. Visits are open to the public, but thanks to slow-moving restorations, tickets must now be booked in advance, and are only available for weekend tours.
The statues belonging to the Vatican Museum will render you speechless– The ceilings and trip through its Sistine Chapel will leave you giddy. The classical busts and sculptures amount to a whirlwind tour across much of classical mythology, and the Renaissance paintings are equally thought-provoking. We heartily recommend booking your ticket in advance, in order to avoid the always lengthy queue. While on the website, consider booking breakfast and a tour through the Vatican Gardens, too– You won’t be disappointed by this privileged access.
Keats-Shelley Memorial House
Piazza di Spagna, 26
Every new visitor to Rome wants to see the Spanish Steps (as they well should). But how many people recognize the significance of the big, warmly-colored house they walk right by while admiring ‘God’s staircase.’ In 1820, the dying John Keats was advised by doctors to relocate to Rome, hoping the more pleasant climate would make the end easier on the young poet. He didn’t last a single year, but was able, with the help of close friends, to finish his masterpiece ‘Bright Star.’ The house at the end of the Spanish Steps is where Keats died and was subsequently immortalized by his dear friend Percy Shelley in his ‘Adonais.’
Santa Maria in Trastevere
Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere
One of Rome’s many ‘under the radar’ churches, this building feels like pure magic. Its aisle is defined by random columns and pillars found during post-antiquarian construction projects around the city. Even cooler, are the ancient plaques plastered onto the church’s front walls and their classical Latin inscriptions. Many appear to be old grave markers or memorials, dedicated to wives, slaves or children. We recommend attending an open mass, regardless of your relationship with the Catholic Church.
Viale del Foro Italico
It blows our mind that this still exists. Built between 1928-38, and formerly known as Foro Mussolini, Il Duce himself commissioned the creation of this gaudy, classically-inflected entryway to an even gaudier Olympic stadium, known as Stadio dei Marmi. Two lanes of mosaics, each at least a hundred yards long, depict the fascist-idealized, disproportionate human forms of athletes, each Olympic event split by scenes intended to reflect Mussolini’s prescribed concept of romaníta or ‘romanness.’ The fascist revolution in Italy sought to instigate an Italian return to “Imperial Roman glory,” an idea with disastrous consequences for everybody but these tiled athletes, it seems. The massive obelisk that marks the forum’s entrance is the largest piece of stone ever quarried.