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The Rome Guide

For all its mythic history—about 2,800-years’ worth—the Eternal City has a way of making all who visit it feel like they’ve discovered something entirely their own, be it a local trattoria with out-of-this-world cacio e pepe or a famous Caravaggio in a seemingly average church (rule of thumb: walk into every church you come across, you never know what can be found inside). And while so many culture-rich European cities require rigorous touring, Rome’s distinct neighborhoods are best explored by simply strolling around (navigating the cramped cobblestone streets by car is more trouble than it’s worth), as so many of its key sites sneak up on you in easily accessible piazzas. For especially meaty landmarks—the Vatican and the Colosseum in particular—a private guide guarantees you get to see as much or as little as you wish: Your hotel will help with booking or you can DIY by using a touring outfit—we like this one, which employs many local art history students as guides.

Then there’s the food. From teeny mom-and-pops to trendy newcomers to slick hotel-backed cafés—arguably some of the best spots to stop for aperitivo with a view—a good meal is easy to come by in this part of the world, though there are some standouts, many of which are covered in this guide. Note: Though Naples gets all the pizza glory, Roman-style pies are crispier, more varied in terms of toppings, and just as exceptional, so feel free to sample with abandon.

Auditorium Parco della Musica

Via Pietro de Coubertin, 30, Parioli | +39.068.02411

While a decidedly modernist building may seem out of place on a Roman itinerary, this Renzo Piano-designed (The Whitney in NYC, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris) performing arts venue is well worth a visit. Situated away from the city center, the cluster of three concert halls, including an open-air amphitheater, is built on lush park grounds a stone's throw from the Olympic village erected for the 1960 games. Come here to experience everything from opera to chamber music to film in a beautiful space that’s frequented predominantly by locals.

Basilica San Clemente

Via Quattro Novembre, 94, Monti

Named after Pope St. Clement, the basilica is a layer cake of Roman history and architecture—a private home turned Christian church in the second century, which morphed into a Mithras temple in the third century, and its current incarnation as a Medieval temple after that. While it may not look like much on the outside, inside it’s done in breathtaking twelfth-century mosaics with multiple chapels and fascinating little nooks making up a sort of architectural treasure hunt.

Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola

Via del Caravita, 8a, Colonna | +39.066.794.406

While opulent churches are plentiful here, and you should definitely take the opportunity to pop into any you come by, Sant’Ignazio deserves a designated visit. Built in the 1650’s, this Baroque church’s elaborate trompe l’oeil frescos took painter Andrea Pozzo years to complete—most labor intensive of all being the faux dome, which looks incredibly real from the right angle, and the beautifully restored vaulted ceilings.

Colosseum

Piazza del Colosseo, 1, Monti | +39.063.996.7700

Inarguably one of the world’s most impressive archeological wonders and the site of so many of Imperial Rome’s goings on, the Colosseum (one word: Gladiators!), Roman Forum (the apex of ancient Roman life, teaming with incredibly well-preserved structures from as far back as the sixth century BC), and Palantine Hill (the most frequented of Rome’s seven hills, plus killer views of the city and former chariot racing venue, Circus Maximus) trinity is essential. The Colosseum is breathtaking year-round, while the neighboring forum and Palentine Hill are especially stunning in spring and summer when the native wildflowers are in full bloom. You can certainly walk around on your own, though we recommend hiring a knowledgeable tour guide to lend some historical context and to help navigate, as you can easily take a wrong turn and miss out on some of the really good stuff.

Fattoria di Fiorano

Via Fioranello 34, Fiorano | +39.340.808.8211

Discovering a winery—much less an organic one—in a bustling city such as Rome feels a lot like stumbling on a hidden treasure, and this family-owned spot truly is a gem. The ancient land surrounding the winery is perfect for walking or biking (the preferred way to get to the winery); take a tour of the grounds and hear all about the land’s fascinating history. And it’s not all wines either: The farm also produces olives, cheeses (from the resident goats), fruit, and herbs—all of which is worked into delicious homemade meals at the on-site restaurant.

Keats-Shelley House

Piazza di Spagna, 26, Campo Marzio | +39.066.784.235

Taking up the top floor of a townhouse at the foot of the Spanish Steps, this teeny museum and its vast collection of artifacts and books is a love letter to English Romanticism. The main draw here is the room where poet John Keats lived until his untimely death at 25, which has been kept virtually unchanged save for the furniture that had to be burned to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. It may all sound a little creepy at first, but it's well-worth the entrance fee and makes for a nice stop while exploring the Piazza do Spagna.

Maxxi: Museo Nazionale

Via Guido Reni, 4, Flaminio | +39.063.201.954

Another unexpectedly contemporary structure for such an ancient city, Rome’s ambitious 21st-century art museum was designed by Zaha Hadid (she’s the woman behind the Guangzhou Opera House in China among many other impressive projects), with the curvy, hyper-modern space taking an entire decade to construct. The permanent collection galleries house works by Kara Walker, Ed Ruscha, Anish Kapoor, and so many more; meanwhile, the exhibit calendar is just as impressive. Plan your visit in conjunction with the Auditorium Parco Della Musica—they’re both located in the Flamino area and make for a nice change of pace from ancient architecture.

Musei Capitolini

Piazza del Campidoglio 1, Ancient City | +39.060.608

In a sea of Italian museums, there are few that can't be missed. Case in point: Musei Captiolini. One of the world's oldest public museums, it boasts a huge collection of Roman art that covers the ages. It's comprised of two buildings on either side of the Piazza del Campidoglio (linked by a passageway that runs through the historical records office of ancient Rome), supporting the popular sentiment that the buildings are as amazing–and mystical–as the art. Bonus: The museum's restauraunt is a solid choice for lunch–and offers a great view of the city.

Musei Vaticani Roma

00120 Vatican City, Vatican City | +39.066.988.4676

A religious pilgrimage for some, an architecture/art-history mecca for others, the Vatican museum—the beating heart of Vatican City and all of Rome, really—is at the tippy top of the must-see list. The museum is a catch-all for the Sistine Chapel (famously covered in works by Michelangelo and Botticelli among others), St. Peters Basilica, the Vatican gardens, and so much more—meaning that once you take wait-times into account, a visit can easily turn into an all-day situation, so plan accordingly. Avoiding weekends, hiring a private guide, or booking an off-hours tour are all good ways to go.

Orto Botanico

Largo Cristina di Svezia, 24, Trastevere | +39.06.4991.7107

Situated next to the Palazzo Riario-Corsini, Orto Botanico is exactly what you'd image a nearly secret botanical garden in an ancient city to be: lush and emerald green, straight out of a fairytale. Covering approximately thirty acres, these gardens are quieter and less touristy than the Villa Borghese Gardens and offer some of the most beautiful flowers in all the city (or Europe, for that matter). Spend an afternoon exploring the Japanese garden and rose garden, gelato in hand. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as it's worth taking a steady trek up the hill to see the beautiful view of the city.

Palazzo Barberini

Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13, Trevi | +39.064.814.591

A light-filled, 17th-century baroque palace museum that provides the most gorgeous backdrop for the art it houses. Seriously, you can spend hours here reveling in the building's details–and gardens–even before you start to pore over the National Gallery of Ancient Art collection. The giant ceiling of clouds and swirling figures by Italian painter-architect Pietro da Cortona are epic. Just around the corner from the Quattro Fontane, its central location makes it easy to get to.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Via del Corso, 305, Centro Storico | +39.066.797.323

Works by Caravaggio, Raffael, and Titian are just a few notables in the private collection of the Doria Pamphilj family, which still owns and resides in the 16th-century palazzo on via del Corso. The open-to-the-public museum portion of the sprawling building is spread out within four wings on the ground floor. It includes galleries, a chapel, extravagantly furnished royal apartments, and a stunning courtyard. Pro tip: Do a little research on the history of the palace and the families that have occupied it over the years, it will add some extra color to the experience.

Pantheon

Piazza della Rotonda, Centro Storico | +39.066.830.0230

What’s so fascinating about the Pantheon, other than the fact it’s so well preserved for an ancient building, and still very much in use as a church, is that unlike so many historical structures, it’s very accessible: Keep an eye out while walking up to the Piazza della Rotonda, the close to two-thousand-year-old domed structure (its exact age is an architectural mystery) blends in so perfectly with the neighborhood that you can almost miss it. Inside, the Panini-painted interiors, breathtaking oculus, and the tomb of famed Renaissance painter Raphael are a thrill to explore whether you’re an art-history buff or not.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona, Centro Storico

If there's one tourist-filled, street performer-crazed, artist-saturated epic spot in the Eternal City that exudes its craziness–and baroque beauty–in all its glory, it's the Piazza Novana. Created in the 17th century on the site of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, Pope Innocent X turned the space into a spectacle, striving to leave a visual legacy for his family. You'll find the some of the most breathtaking and ornate architecture in Rome, including Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. To say this open piazza is lively is an understatement. Come prepared for an overwhelming experience (comfortable shoes and a secure bag are musts) and leave with a newfound appreciation for the city's infinite energy.

San Pietro in Vincoli

Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli, 4/a, Monti | +39.069.784.4952

Famous for hosting Michelangelo’s Moses, San Pietro in Vincoli is one of ancient Rome's most prestigious churches and basilicas. Built in the 5th century, it also houses other famed artifacts, including the statues of Leah and Rachel. History states it was constructed to hold Saint Peter captive (hence the name) during his time in Rome and Jerusalem. In equally fascinating and macabre fashion you can take a look at the ancient chains he wore.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Piazza di Santa Maria, Trastevere

To see this in person, from its mosaics to its ancient basilica plan, is to witness one of the oldest (and most majestic) churches in the world (it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary). Its original structure dates as far back as the third century, but a major renovation in the twelfth century resulted in the addition of its many ornate details, including the facade and bell tower. The surrounding area is always bustling–and by far one of our favorite places in the city to people watch and take a long stroll before dinner.

Villa Borghese Gardens

00197 Rome, Parioli | +39.06.0608

Often compared to New York City's Central Park, this lush expanse stretches on for more than 225 acres, from Piazza del Poppolo to the top of Via Veneto. Undoubtedly the best place in the city for a picnic or bike ride, we love to spend an afternoon walking along Via Condotti (a shopping stretch comparable to the Upper East Side) through the gardens and ending at the Galleria Borghese to pore over the Baroque art (just be sure to grab tickets ahead of time online). If you have littles in tow, they'll love the Bioparco, one of the oldest zoological gardens in Europe where you'll find a wild mix of exotic animals from lions and lynxes to leopards and elephants.