1. Give a thumbs up to the Colosseum
To mark the opening of the ancient world’s foremost sports arena back in AD80, emperor Titus held 100 days of games which reputedly involved the slaughter of thousands of wild animals in front of 50,000 baying punters. That’s per sitting. In retrospect it was all a bit much, but the Colosseum is still a mightily impressive structure two millennia later, and packed with secrets – not least the fake floor, under which cowering animals, slaves, Christians and luckless stagehands worked their magic behind the scenes in hidden labyrinths, hoping to win favour with the tyrannical crowd. Are you not entertained?
1 Piazza del Colosseo, Celio
General entry €16
2. Get things in proportion at the Pantheon
Rome’s best-preserved ancient temple was originally dedicated to all the gods (‘pan’ means ‘all’, ‘theon’ means ‘gods’, since you ask) but was converted to a Christian church in about 609AD – which probably explains why it was largely spared by later generations of civic-minded remodellers. Its most striking feature – apart from those 16 giant columns on the portico, each weighing 60 tonnes, each transported in one piece from Egypt – is the phenomenal 142ft-diameter hemispherical ceiling. It’s still the largest unsupported dome in the world, with that famous round eye, or oculus, right at the apex. Truly divine.
Piazza della Rotonda, Municipio I
3. Scoff the ultimate artichokes
Arguably the city’s favourite dish, carciofo alla Giudia – which literally means ‘artichokes Jewish-style’ – harks back to the now happily abolished Jewish Ghetto, where these crispy-fried and lightly salted edible flowers would be served to mark the end of Yom Kippur. For a top quality artichoke experience book in at Piperno (at 9 Via Monte dè Cenci) just around the corner from the synagogue. For a more chilled, but still trad, hole-in-the-well vibe it’s Sora Margherita (at 30 Piazza delle Cinque Scole), or for herby-marinaded artichokes served hipster-style on torn sourdough make tracks for Marigold Roma (at 37 Via Giovanni da Empoli).
4. Let it all wash over you at the Trevi
There’s been a fountain on or about this site since an ancient aqueduct was completed in 19BC, designed to carry water into the city at the junction of three roads (‘tre’ - three, ‘vi’ - road, geddit?). The current, utterly bonkers fountain – 85 feet tall and almost 65 feet wide, spilling near-on three million cubic feet of water every day – was designed in the 18th century by Baroque fanatic Nicola Salvi and funded by a public lottery. In recent years it was starting to look a bit tired, so fashion house Fendi ponied up €2.2 million on restoration. See it for yourself – you’ll be glad they splashed out.
Piazza di Trevi, Municipio I
5. See the future at MAXXI
Set in a mind-blowing modernist spaceship designed by Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the MAXXI – the Museum of Art of the 21st century, XXI being 21 in Roman numerals – is all sinuous curves, gushes of natural light and gravity-defying staircases. The art’s not bad either, constantly refreshed and updated with the cream of local talent; and there’s a very respectable snack bar and even physical bits and bobs like dance workshops to keep the kids entertained. Well worth a long, thoughtful look.
4a Via Guido Reni, Quartiere I Flaminio
General entry €12
6. Take a Romantic stroll in Cimitero Acattolico
This verdant oasis in the middle of the city is popularly referred to as the ‘Protestant cemetery’ – although ‘non-Catholic cemetery’ would really be more accurate, as the ground is fairly teeming with Buddhists, atheists, Russian Orthodox and other assorted stiffs. Among the big draws are the heartbreaking and oft-imitated Angelo del Dolore (or 'Angel of Grief') statue erected by William Wetmore Story for his dear departed wife, and the final resting places of Romantic poet John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose heart, some say, survived his cremation intact.
6 Via Caio Cestio, Testaccio
7. Refresh your soul at Santa Maria in Via
Back in the 13th century – 26 September 1256, to be precise – a well that stood in the grounds of a humble stable started overflowing and freaking out the horses. Witnesses claimed a picture of the Virgin Mary was seen floating in the swollen waters – and one Cardinal Pietro Capocci was so convinced divinity was at work he lobbied the then Pope to approve a church on the site of this miracle. Today Santa Maria in Via is known as the ‘Lourdes of Rome’ and the faithful queue up to sip its blessed waters nearly 800 years later. So that went well.
24 Via del Mortaro, Municipio I
8. Set your sights high at the Sistine Chapel
Scholars now tend to agree that Michelangelo only accepted his most famous gig – painting the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel – reluctantly, and even then only because the Pope asked and he thought it was probably wise to keep on God’s good side. The white-bearded representation of the Big G pointing at Adam is obviously striking, and even more so when you consider God hadn’t really been represented that way in art until this point. Elsewhere other renaissance bigwigs – Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Luca Signorelli – also pitched in. But it’s Michelangelo’s ceiling that draws millions every year. Talk about high art.
General entry €16
9. Feel the power of history at Centrale
In 1997, a bright spark had the idea of temporarily sticking some classical statues which needed re-homing during the renovation of the famous Capitoline Museum in a disused power station in the Ostiense neighbourhood, by the river Tiber. It was such a surprise hit with visitors that the Centrale Montemartini (as the plant is now known) became a Capitoline outpost, where many remain to this day – the impeccably chiselled marble torsos and eye-catching busts standing in contrast to the vast industrial machinery of the power station.
106 Via Ostiense, Ostiense
General entry €7.50
10. Drink in the vibes at Salotto 42
A trip to Rome isn’t just about enjoying the beautiful ancient stuff. It’s also about revelling in the beautiful new stuff. Salotto 42 is a chic cocktail spot run by Damiano Mazzarella and his wife, Swedish supermodel Malin Persson. Inside it’s all arty furniture, glossy mags and carefully chosen books, with a super cool soundtrack and signature drinks like the eponymous Salotto 42 of grape, lime and sake over ice. And if you simply must gawp at an old ruin, Hadrian’s Temple is conveniently situated right across the road.
42 Piazza di Pietra, Municipio I