Well, we love nearly everything about Rome, really – except the museums. OK, go see the Caravaggios and the Berninis and (perhaps most of all) Sodoma’s Pieta, at the Galleria Borghese, but as far as we’re concerned, nearly all other museums in Rome (exceptions listed below) can be skipped in their entirety, including the Vatican Museum
There are areas of Rome that we love, especially those in the true historic center. These areas, as far as we are concerned, should now be avoided except before 10 or 11am when they can still be delightful. (This is precisely how we feel, for example, about Greenwich Village.) After those hours, especially from Easter to late October, they are crowded and can actually be unpleasant. We mean Piazza Navona and its surroundings; the Pantheon and its surroundings; Campo dei Fiori (dominated in the late evening by Italian teens revving motorscooters and by young drunken Americans); Piazza di Spagna and its surroundings. Again, the delights of these areas, in particular the Campo dei Fiori market, are best appreciated out of season (November to 10 days before Easter) or indeed any day of the year before 1030am.
As far as we are concerned, St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums should be avoided at all times; if you must go, our advice is to go (to the museum) about 90 minutes before closing and see it in pieces.
The Protestant Cemetery, the most beautiful in the world, where you’ll find the graves of Keats, Shelley, Gramsci, Gadda, Richard Henry Dana, Bruno Pontecorvo, Luce d’Eramo, Amalia Rosselli, Dario Bellezza, Gregory Corso. You’ll also find the grave of the love of my life, Thomas Lalor, gone from me forever without warning after dinner on the evening of October 28, 2001.
The Museo Barracco
The Museo Barracco – a delightful small museum of ancient art
The Museo Mario Praz
The Museo Mario Praz, an unexpected jewel; a rare-for-Italy house-museum once inhabited by an art historian-connoisseur who collected everything he could get his hands on from the late 18th and early 19th century, especially some neat wax portraits, an art form about which, before visiting this place, we were entirely ignorant. The whole place is interesting, from ceilings to furnishings to all of the decorative arts. Tours in Italian on the hour. Free.
The Schwarz collection
The Schwarz collection at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Arte Moderna – a delightful and totally unlikely grouplet of surrealist objects which the museum insists on keeping hidden away in the remotest corner of this huge building despite the fact that they’re by far the best things in the entire place: photos by Man Ray; classic objects by Duchamp; a pair of Cornell boxes; a Calder mobile, sculptures by Arp, Ernst, and Giacometti; paintings by Magritte, Leonora Carrington, Kandinsky, Miro, Dora Maar, and others including Italians working at the same time. Often closed altogether; most likely visible on weekends. Also, the outdoor café in the gallery is a perfectly delightful place to have lunch in fine weather.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele
The food market at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where real Romans go, together with tons of African, Asian, and South American immigrants, making for Rome’s most intense multiethnic experience
The Palazzo Massimo
The Palazzo Massimo, very close to Rome’s main train station, a magnificent museum of ancient sculpture and more, beautifully arranged.
The Aventine Hill
The Aventine Hill, for the churches of Santa Sabina (neat cloister – if you can talk your way into seeing it) and San Saba, for the rose garden, for the Parco degli Aranci, for the views, and for the peace and quiet
The walk on the Celian Hill from Santa Maria in Domnica (“La Navicella”) through Villa Celimontana past Santi Giovanni e Paolo and San Gregorio Magno to the Circus Maximus and the Palatine
The walk from the Colosseum to San Clemente and Santi Quattro Coronati and finally to San Giovanni in Laterano for the incredibly theatrical facade and lovely cloister
A Wonderfully Varied Miscellany
Any big political demonstration of the left.
The cloister of San Giovanni Battista dei Genovesi – in Trastevere, open only 2 afternoons a week, in a totally different style from other cloisters.
We are not fans of Richard Meier, but we happen to like very much both his new Ara Pacis enclosure, using simply beautiful stone, and the church of Dio Padre Misericordioso, out in the Roman periferia, worth the effort.
The walk from the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine through the Forum all the way to the Campidoglio – yes it’s not empty, but it’s truly spectacular
The artisan quarter around Santa Cecilia in Trastevere and Piazza dei Mercanti (by day)
The Orto Botanico (botanical garden) and the nearby Farnesina
The Villa Torlonia and the Casina delle Civette, unexpected Art Nouveau in Rome
We aren’t fans of the Baroque, but we are always blown away by the interior of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Bernini’s Ecstasy of Santa Teresa and the theater-balcony-like effect of the sculptures on either side
San Giorgio in Velabro, the Arch of Janus, and Santa Maria in Cosmedin
San Giovanni a Porta Latina, an absolutely charming church; see if you can see into the adjacent garden of the residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Italy
Via Giulia just before sunset
Santa Prassede for the mosaics but, even more, for the newly opened old arched entranceway leading from Via San Martino ai Monti
Santa Maria in Trastevere and its environs
Rome’s new Auditorium, designed by Renzo Piano, home of the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia and many visiting groups, and not just for classical music
The city’s wonderful new museums of contemporary art, unexpectedly sophisticated and interesting, MAXXI, MACRO, and MACRO Testaccio.