‘The eternal city’, ‘all roads lead to Rome’, ‘when in Rome’… you’ve heard all the cliches.
Aside from the places of prominence in Angels & Demons, Rome remains a hidden gem to many people. I mean, who knew that Rome has seven traditional hills which legend has it Romulus united the settlers? It will not surprise you one bit to hear that there are numerous places listed on the stereotypical tourist trail, which you must of course visit. However, this TOP 10 list is about the non-obvious things to do in this physical history lesson, so this article is a Colosseum and Vatican-free zone.
1. Get Lost – Yes, you’ve probably heard this tip before in countless lists. But if there’s one city to throw away your map and wonder aimlessly down narrow side-streets, it’s Rome.
The architecture is simply breathtaking, and you’ll doubtless find a casual church squashed in between a restaurant and a Spar. Which brings me on to…
2. Go inside as many churches as possible – When I first visited Rome I was taken aback by the elegance and beauty of the first church I went into, and only after I explored more of the city I realised that it was one of the smallest and plainest churches in the city. Of course, the granddaddy of churches is undoubtedly the Pantheon, a structure of nearly 2,000 years, and it simply has to be seen to be believed.
3. Visit the Capitoline Museums – Widely accepted to be the oldest museum in the world, the history of the Capitoline museums can be traced back to 1471; therefore there has been plenty of time to accumulate a varied array of interesting old things. The three museums, all designed by Michelangelo, are arranged around a piazza, with a fancy underground tunnel linking them all together. A word of warning though, the museums are on top of one of the seven hills of Rome, so it’s a lot of ghastly uphill walking to get there. Whilst you have to pay to get into these museums, as with most museums in Rome it is certainly worth it. Also, student discount!
4. Largo Argentina – Probably one of the most famous murder locations in the world. 2,059 years ago, Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of senators and the spot where he was murdered can be seen in the Largo Argentina. Even without this aside, the whole complex is stunning, with remains of various temples and a theatre. Now the Largo Argentina is a sanctuary for Rome’s many homeless cats, who roam around the ancient monuments, which is rather cute.
5. Go to as many restaurants as possible – This may sound obvious, but if there’s one thing that Italy does right, it’s the food. Frankly, the food is ridiculous in its quality, for a great price also. What is interesting is that many restaurants have their own traditions in the cooking of food, so, for example, if you order a pizza from two different restaurants they will turn out completely different! Undoubtedly though, anything with seafood in it is a must-eat.
6. Piazzas – Every few metres or so you will walk into a piazza. From the grand opulent Piazza Navona to the small piazzas tucked away, piazzas are simply wonderful places to meet up and relax next to one of Rome’s many fountains. Also, if you get lost (which you will do), some of the bigger piazzas are fantastic reference points to get you back on track!
FUN FACT: Piazza Navona used to be a stadium where Rome’s version of the Ancient Greek Olympics was held. If you look on Google Maps, you can still see the outline of the stadium.
7. Gelato – No, not the pathetic excuse for gelato you get in the UK. If you want authentic gelato, you have to go to Italy, and Rome is possibly the best place to sample the world’s finest gelato. It’s made fresh everyday, Roman gelato is quite simply the best thing you could possibly have in your mouth – regardless of the flavour. The Frigidarium is considered the best place to go in Rome for gelato by many experts*, so you should definitely add it to your list of things to do in the Eternal City.
*well, my friend Greg – who’s been to Rome. A lot.
8. Imperial Fora – Essentially, this place is a collection of a load of ruins, right? Technically that’s true, however, you can feel the history as you walk in and around these fora. Many emperors, including Julius Caesar (although he wasn’t technically an emperor), Augustus and Trajan built forums for things such as commerce. You can only imagine the scale of these places as you walk through them, and there’s the notable
photo opportunity local landmark, the statue of Augustus, nearby.
9. Castel Sant’Angelo – The Castle of the Holy Angel was originally built as a mausoleum to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (you know, the one who built the wall), but was converted into a military fortress in 401. When transformed to a castle by the then-ruling Pope, it was connected to St Peter’s Basilica. The Castel was also used as the Pope’s official residence as well as a prison/execution place of the Vatican state. Now, it is predictably a museum; but a museum with a very interesting history.
10. Go to Mood – the closest thing Rome gets to Jesters. – The centre of Rome is a classy place, so you won’t be surprised to hear that there isn’t really a Jesters equivalent within the city. However, Mood is one of the most popular nightclubs for travellers in the whole city, where a wide variety of people can be found. Entirely underground and slightly cramped, there are just enough similarities to Portswood’s most popular nighttime establishment to make you feel right at home.
Honourable mentions – Just about any other piece of stunning architecture in the old city, which is virtually everything. But the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps (even if they are just a fancy set of stairs, and who wants to walk up stairs?) are certainly items that should be on your sightseeing list.
Also, there’s a building that looks like a wedding cake, and a former chariot stadium – the Circus Maximus – which is now a park and also a concert venue.
Oh, most importantly, I nearly forgot to mention the wine. I’m no expert, but it is fantastic in Rome (and fantastically cheap, too!). It is so good in fact, that the Romans even have their own God of Wine, called Bacchus.