The ‘Eternal City’ has a history which in fact spans just two and a half thousand years – but the capital of the Roman Empire has left an indelible mark on the world. For seven centuries the Romans were the dominant power in Europe, and influenced the world’s language, literature, legal codes, government, architecture, engineering, medicine, sports and arts. The city’s profound effect on the world is so deeply embedded that we barely notice our debt to ancient Rome.
During the city’s early history it spawned some of the world’s finest architects, and as a result Rome’s historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The streets are lined with monuments and sculptures, and its palaces and museums play host to intricate paintings and ornate frescoes which attract more than four million tourists each year.
Modern-day Rome has 2.7 million residents and its rich heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere makes it one of the world's most visited, famous, influential and beautiful capitals.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so the idiom says; hence when planning a sightseeing tour make sure you factor in enough time to see its many highlights.
Rome is a large metropolis but many of its ‘pockets’ of sights can be walked between, making for a charming city tour at street level. Start your trip at the Coliseum, just two Metro stops from Termini. In the heart of Ancient Rome, this towering amphitheatre once held 60,000 spectators. Nearby are the Arch of Constantine, Palatine Hill and the chariot racing stadium of Circus Maximus, which could accommodate a quarter of a million people – but is now a public park.
One kilometre northwest of the Coliseum is the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, an ornate building nicknamed ‘The Typewriter’ due to its boxy lines. Continue in the same direction for another kilometre and you’ll find the Pantheon, a portico-fronted temple with an opening or ‘oculus’ in its dome.
Finally, allow plenty of time to visit the world’s smallest country, Vatican City. This land-locked sovereign city state is ruled by the Pope and has a population of just 800 people. Walk through St. Peter’s Square and enter the impressive Basilica, a late Renaissance cathedral with the largest Christian church in the world. Take a trip to the top of the dome – an elevator goes part of the way but the final steps are steep, narrow and not for the fainthearted. However, the view at the top is well worth the effort. Once back on terra firma it’s just a short walk to the Apostolic Palace, home to both the Pope and the world-famous Sistine Chapel. Marvel at the 1,100m² ceiling fresco which Michelangelo took four years to complete.
Ancient Rome was famed for its love of feasting and little has changed: Rome is still a wonderful place to eat out. Most areas of Rome feature numerous good restaurants although it pays to avoid tourist destinations unless you are partial to overpriced frozen pizza.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do and enjoy aperitivi, a traditional custom of pre-dinner drinks accompanied by small hors d'oeuvres, or antipasti. This popular ritual lasts until around 9pm, when people move on to dinner. Good places to partake include the area around Piazza delle Coppelle, Piazza di Pietra or the narrow streets behind the Pantheon.
Nightlife is also worth experiencing. Testaccio and the vibrant San Lorenzo district are the places to party during winter weekends, while the action tends to move to the seaside towns of Ostia and Fregene in the summer. Closer to Rome is the island in the Tiber where temporary outside bars are built for the warmer weather.
Naples is 90 minutes away from Rome via a high speed train and from Naples, thanks to a dedicated and quick train service, it is possible to reach the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pompeii. Engulfed by six metres of ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, the city of Pompeii was instantaneously preserved in minute detail providing a fascinating snapshot of daily life two thousand years ago. From Naples furthermore it’s only a short hydrofoil trip to the scenic island of Capri, a celebrated beauty spot and holiday resort. Take a swim in the famous Blue Grotto or hike the island’s many nature trails.