Rome: city guide. Everything you need to know about eating, drinking and sightseeing in the Eternal City

Why go

The Eternal City is an enchanting and fascinating destination. From the breathtaking ruins of the Colosseum to the buzzing social scene of the Spanish Steps, it is a bucket-list destination for good reason.

This frenetic, kaleidoscope of a city has a cosmpolitan café culture, buzzing shopping districts, and some of the best art and architecture on the planet. Wash it all down with fine Italian wines and glorious cuisine.

Rome. Trevi Fountain at night. Wikimedia Commons
Drop a coin in to Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain

Be prepared for the crowds and a level of crazy car driving you won’t have witnessed anywhere else, but if you can cope with that Rome will capture your imagination like nowhere else on earth.

What to do

Rome. Altare della Patria. Unsplash Joshua Newton
A view over the rooftops of this beautiful, historic city

Top of the list is the awe-inspiring Colosseum. Go early and don’t be deterred by tackily dressed gladiators outside charging €20 and upwards for a photo. Once inside, its history is fascinating to explore (the audio tour is highly recommended).

The nearby ruins of the Forum are also not to be missed, as is the spectacular, doomed Pantheon, set among cobbled backstreets in the city centre. Head to the Piazza Spagna (Spanish Steps) for an ice cream or long drink. This cascade of stunning stone steps is where locals and tourists alike hang out, and at night it is a central meeting point.

The Vatican – a micro state with its own postal system and stamp – is a fascinating place. Witness too the grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica.

Rome. Dome interior. Unsplash Jan Tielens
The grand interior of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

Finish the day with a visit to the enchanting Piazza Navona, where artists ply their wares on this beautiful, echoing piazza beneath the Fontana dei Quattri Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). The Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) made famous in La Dolce Vita is the place to toss in a euro and make a wish. It gets very crowded here – watch out for the selfie sticks.

Where to stay

Rome. Albergo Santa Chiara Hotel
The three-star Albergo Santa Chiara Hotel has comfy rooms and overlooks The Pantheon

Rome is universally pricey but there is a huge variety of hotels. For five-star opulence treat yourself at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel, with its rooftop terrace with a panorama over the city.

Or try one of the many family-run pensioni, such as the bijou three-star Albergo Santa Chiara, which has great, comfy rooms overlooking The Pantheon. For a unique and affordable stay, opt for one of the convents dotted around the city. The Vatican-recommended Fraterna Domus on Via del Monte Brianza is located between the Tiber and Piazza Navona.

Where to eat

You can eat like an emperor in Rome. In fact, the choice can be rather overwhelming. Head to Sforno, on Via Statilio Ottato 110-116, said to offer Rome’s best pizza.

Or try Pizzarium on Via della Meloria, owned by Rome’s most famed pizzaiolo, Gabriele Bonci. Its seasonally changing toppings are more like works of art (think rabbit, raisins and fennel pasta). For a Roman trattoria experience head to Armando al Pantheon at Salita dei Crescenzi 31, next to the Pantheon. For coffee lovers, Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè is famed for its home-roast beans.

Getting around

The savvy visitor buys a Rome Pass discount card, currently priced at €36 (three days) or €28 (two days) and available online or from tourist information offices. It gives free entry to two museums and discounts for many others, plus unrestricted use of public transport.

When to go

Peak times are summer and Christmas, and at Easter when the Pope gives his annual audience in the magnificent St Peter’s Square. Between mid-January and early March ou’ll get the best hotel rates, too, but pack a jumper as it will be chilly. For a beautiful city break with long warm sunny days, head to Rome in April, May and autumn.

Rome. Street market. Italy Tourism
Getting lost in the maze of streets can be the best way to discover Rome off the beaten track

Three things we like

  1. That perfect, aromatic morning espresso at Café Sant’ Eustachio, near Piazza Navona.
  2. An evening walk along the tree-lined, historic Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island).
  3. Getting lost – the secret to exploring Rome. Meander around the charming medieval architecture and alleys of the Trastervere area and the hidden streets and secluded piazzette (small piazzas) that snake away from the major tourist sites.

Something we don’t like

Rome is generally safe but pickpockets operate on the streets, buses and trains. Put all your valuables in a body pouch under your clothes. Highly populated tourist areas (particularly the 40 and 64 bus to the Vatican) are known crime routes. Some thieves dress as tourists and target places you’d least expect such as churches.

Rome. Fiats in street. Flickr
Driving in Rome can be crazy: a travel pass is a better option for visitors

Don’t miss

Via del Corso. Well known as one of Rome’s best shopping streets and the Roman answer to Bond Street.

The Campo di Fiori. Serving as a food and flower market by day it transforms into a vibrant piazza with cafés and bars by evening.

Travelling with family

The Romans adore ‘bambini’ so children are welcome everywhere, and of course they are almost guaranteed to love the pizza, pasta and gelatos. But take extra care on Rome’s street crossings: Roman drivers are infamous for their chariot-like mentality and crossing a road can be very hazardous.

High 50 insider tips

  • Don’t forget that many churches in Rome operate a dress code. Take a pashmina or sarong to cover shoulders or lengthen a skirt if requested.
  • Watch out that you are not ripped off at ice cream parlours at major tourist hotspots such as the Spanish Steps. Tourists are regularly charged up to £15 a cone at some parlours.
  • Should you tip? In Italy, five per cent is sufficient, or just round the bill up to the nearest five or ten euros. Watch out for hidden costs, as many cafés and bars will triple their prices if you sit down.

Need to know

  • Flight time from London is a little under two and a half hours.
  • Italy’s currency is the Euro.
  • International dialling codes are 0039 06 to call Rome numbers from abroad and 00 to get an international line.
  • Rome is one hour ahead of GMT/BST (GMT +1).