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Rome travel guide, tours & things to do

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, food, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Camha Pham checks in from Rome...
9 Jun, 2020
Rome travel guide
Rome travel guide: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Piazza Navona. Image: Bigstock

A global city steeped in history and instantly recognisable by its ornate landmarks and rich culture, it’s no wonder that Rome has long drawn travellers from all walks of life.

The Eternal City is pure spectacle. It’s constantly awash with the sounds of beeping vespas and the spirited conversations of locals set against the most theatrical of backdrops. And while there’s no denying that Rome faces a unique set of challenges as it grapples with maintaining its ancient monuments and Renaissance-era streetscapes in the 21st century, the enduring magic of this destination cannot be denied.

Enjoy this Rome travel guide.

Rome travel guide
Rome travel guide: St. Peter’s Basilica. Image: Bigstock

Rome for history lovers

The founding of Rome in 753 BC is a story of mythological proportions.

It set the stage for centuries of political drama and intrigue — involving invasions, revolts, assassinations and secret plots. From the turbulent reign of Julius Caesar to the humanist revolution of the Renaissance, you’ll need to dedicate plenty of time to even skim the surface of this city’s notable history.

Visit the mighty Colosseum amphitheatre and envision the epic gladiatorial battles that took place here. Then wander around the remains of the Roman Forum — once the hub of public life in the city. The many ruined buildings can start to blur into one, so consider booking a walking tour with a knowledgeable local guide. They’ll keep you focussed and provide details about the key structures.

Rome travel guide
Rome travel guide: See the city’s myriad historic landmarks, including the Colosseum.

In the heart of town, the architecturally magnificent Pantheon of Agrippa is another historic must-see. It’s one of the best preserved buildings of Ancient Rome (remember to look up!).

For dedicated history buffs with limited time in the region, it’s possible to tick off a visit to infamous Mount Vesuvius and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins of the city of Pompeii on a day tour from Rome. You’ll look down into the volcano’s crater and walk the cobbled streets of Pompeii — which was frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius wreaked havoc in AD 79. Be warned — at 2.5-hours’ drive each way, it’s a big day. But needs must!

Rome travel guide
Explore the ruins of Pompeii on a day tour from Rome. Image: Bigstock

Top cultural experiences in Rome

La dolce vita is alive and well in Rome.

Visitors are encouraged to do as the Romans do: slow down, soak in all of the wonderful art and culture, and indulge in the ‘sweet life’ that Italy is so renowned for.

There are countless museums and galleries for culture vultures to explore, but make time to marvel at the works of Titian and Caravaggio in the Borghese Gallery. It houses an impressive collection of artwork and sculptures as well as being surrounded by the beautiful Villa Borghese gardens. Be sure to book your skip-the-line tickets in advance.

Technically its own city-state, the enigmatic walled Vatican City attracts up to 20,000 visitors a day. People from all religious backgrounds line up to view the awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel. The queues are always long, but the opulence and grandeur that you’ll encounter on your Vatican tour is worth the wait.

Book a skip-the-line tour of the the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica

Rome travel guide
Rome travel guide: Sistine Chapel. Image: Bigstock

Great places to eat in Rome

Your culinary expectations will undoubtedly be surpassed in this epicurean city — and don’t be surprised if you quickly become attached to the Italian pastime of having an aperitivo before your evening meal.

In Rome, pasta takes on superlative qualities, the produce seems fresher and the overall taste is sharper, richer and abundantly more satisfying.

Settle in at a cosy trattoria such as family run La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali or the more contemporary Antico Arco. Alternatively, amble over to gritty Testaccio — the birthplace of traditional cucina Romana — and dine at the frequently lauded Flavio al Velavevodetto.

Rome travel guide
Rome travel guide: Campo Dè Fiori is one of the city’s dining hubs. Image: Bigstock

For dessert, treat yourself to a mouth-watering gelato at Rome’s original gourmet gelateria, Il Gelato di San Crispino, or try Gelateria del Teatro for unique flavour combinations.

Romans are serious about their coffee consumption. Be sure to drink espresso to keep you going throughout the day and remember that cappuccinos are only served during breakfast. It’s usually cheaper to get your caffeine fix standing at the bar than taking up a table.

Listen to a podcast of our tips for top things to see and do in Rome:

Where to shop in Rome

Swanky shopping strip Via Condotti is located just a stone’s throw from the famous Spanish Steps.

If you have the cash to splash, you can pick up some genuine Italian luxury leather goods or peruse the wares of various designer fashion brands.

Nearby Via del Corso houses a more affordable mix of high-end chainstores and smaller designer boutiques. Check out the elegant Galleria Alberto Sordi — a shopping arcade set in a striking Art Nouveau-style building.

Rome travel guide
Rome travel guide: Shop up a storm along Via Condotti.

The Porta Portese Flea Market in Trastevere is a massive market held every Sunday morning. Here you will find all kinds of treasures and a whole lot of trash — old and new, authentic and fake — among the endless rows of stalls. Brush up on your haggling skills and bag yourself a bargain. Just be wary of pickpockets!

Ways to relax in Rome

Although you could spend your entire time in Rome flitting between famous landmarks, the true Roman experience lies in the quaint neighbourhoods that are tucked away off the well-beaten tourist track.

Even if your visit doesn’t coincide with the market, do take some time to venture across the Tiber River to picturesque Trastevere (which literally means ‘beyond the Tiber’) and get lost in the labyrinth of ochre-coloured buildings in this lively neighbourhood. The always-busy Freni e Frizioni serves a great aperitivo and is popular with locals and travellers alike.

Rome travel guide
Rome travel guide: Get off the beaten tourist track in Trastevere.

Monti is located just down the road from the Colosseum but somehow manages to remain relatively free from the hoards of snap-happy tourists. Home to a large community of creatives and bohemians, this clandestine enclave boasts a myriad of cafes, bookstores and wine bars to whet the appetite.

For something more alternative, the aforementioned Testaccio is a working-class neighbourhood known for its eclectic eateries and pulsating nightlife. It’s an authentic slice of Roman life without all of the fancy packaging.

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Do you have any tips to add to our Rome travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

About the writer

Camha Pham is a freelance writer who has recently swapped the cosmopolitan laneways of Melbourne for the sunny beaches of Perth. Struck with the wanderlust bug from an early age, she has travelled extensively through Asia, Europe and parts of North America. When she isn’t travelling, Camha is planning her next adventure and loves nothing more than the thrill of exploring new destinations and learning about other cultures. Travel highlights to date include chasing waterfalls in enchanting Iceland, hot-air ballooning over the lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia, and accepting a surprise marriage proposal from her now fiancé at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto!


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