Here’s our advice: Spend your first three days getting The Big Stuff out of the way. Just so you can say you’ve done it. Afterward: Concentrate on neighborhoods, walking, intimacy. The big difference between Paris and Rome is precisely this last: intimacy. Rome has major monuments, yes, but what really counts is the smaller streets, the characteristic neighborhoods, the charming piazzas, the smiling people. We have never gotten over it after 40-plus years.
Museums? Again, in terms of Major Museums, we would forget them. The only Major Museum we advise is the Palazzo Massimo very close to the main rail station. It contains many of the most famous masterpieces of ancient sculpture, beautifully arranged. Otherwise, yes, there are smaller museums we like, but if this is your very first trip to Rome, we might counsel one or two of them, but not if it means missing out on Roman street life.
One final word on museums: We do strongly recommend one of Rome’s new museums of contemporary art: the MAXXI, located at the end of the number 2 tramline, a 15-minute ride from Piazza del Popolo; or one of the two sites of the MACRO, one in Testaccio, the other in the old Peroni beer factory a short bus ride from the Stazione Termini. All of these are really interesting and unusual.
Arrive and get settled; check on neighborhood food stores, coffee bars, laundries, and rosticcerie.
Morning: Start at the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. Walk from there through the Forum to the Campdoglio. This is an entire half-day, at the very least. Lunch in the immediately adjacent Jewish Quarter. Afternoon: tour the ghetto itself, perhaps with a tour of the Synagogue.
Evening in the Ghetto, with dinner at a restaurant in one of the charming squares.
OK, how could we dare to skip it?: the Vatican. Our honest advice is to make it no more than a half-day in the afternoon. 12-2 in the basilica itself, leave an additional hour at the beginning if you want to torture yourself climbing up the cupola. 2-230 snack. 300-500 the Vatican Museum, proceeding rapidly to the Sistine Chapel, then back to see some stuff on the way out. For the Vatican Museum, make a reservation on-line in advance. That way, you don’t have to wait in the truly interminable line, just the slightly less interminable line for those with tickets!
Evening in Prati, near Piazza Cola di Rienzo, an authentically Roman neighbhorhood.
Start at Piazza Farnese with breakfast at the coffee bar across from the palace. Then, Campo dei Fiori for the morning market, followed by Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. So that’s over with. But you don’t need to limit yourself to those three objectives. You can intersperse them with some delightful, less visited places along the way. For example, the area WEST of Piazza Navona, between it and the Tiber, is quite charming. Nearer Piazza Navona, visit the churches of Sant’Ivo and Santa Maria della Pace. Nearer the Pantheon, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and Sant’Ignazio. And right in Piazza di Spagna, try to visit the Casa-Museo Di Chirico, home of the father of surrealism.
Evening in the Piazza di Spagna area.
OK, you can go home now saying you’ve done The Big Stuff. Rome at its worst! You can dedicate the rest of your time to seeing the Eternal City at its best.
Start again at the Colosseum, but today in the other direction. In the morning – start at 9 or earlier, please, as the churches close for lunch — explore the tri-level Basilica of San Clemente, fascinating. Then walk along Via Santi Quattro to the church of the same name, being sure to ring the two bells: one inside the church to the left, to gain entrance into the exquisite cloister; the other outside the church, to the left with your back to the facade, for the cloistered nun to open the little chapel with the frescos. Then continue walking on Via Santi Quattro up to the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano where you should see the theatrical façade, the immense interior, and another charming cloister. Lunch at a simple neighborhood trattoria. After lunch, the Domus Aurea with coffee/ice cream at Da Nunzia, the little kiosk in the park run by an ancient woman.
Evening in the Celio, at one of the inexpensive trattorie followed (and/or preceded) by a wine bar or pub
Hop on the train at the Pyramid to Ostia Antica. So many of our clients staying in Rome want to take a daytrip to Pompeii. It’s such a waste of time! Ostia Antica is so much closer and in many ways much nicer to visit. Same idea. Then, continue on to Ostia Lido for a truly authentic Roman experience: a day at the beach, with thousands of other Romans!
Evening back in the city at one of the restaurants on the Tiber.
A full day’s walk, starting at the Piazza Bocca della Verita’, visiting, first the delightful churches of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and San Giorgio in Velabro. Then, past the Circus Maximus up through the rose garden (definitely worth a stop if it’s May or June) to Santa Sabina, our favorite church in Rome. There is a beautiful park adjacent with good views over the city and St. Peter’s. Bring a picnic. Look through the keyhole in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. (Try your best to get to see the cloister at Santa Sabina, not always open. You might also try your luck at getting into the grounds of the Order of Malta, now open more or less regularly on Saturday mornings.) Late lunch at a trattoria in the formerly working-class neighborhood of Testaccio. Finally, the Protestant Cemetery, the most beautiful cemetery in the world. Evening in fashionable, trendy Testaccio.
Explore Trastevere, especially the part around Santa Cecilia and the Piazza dei Mercanti. If it’s a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, ring the bell to gain access to one of Rome’s most delightful unknown corners: the cloister of San Giovanni Evangelista dei Genovesi. Quite different from a medieval cloister.
Evening in Trastevere, perhaps at a restaurant specializing in fish (but bring your credit card!)
Explore the area called suburra, oldest in Rome, now generally called Monti, which centers on Via Madonna dei Monti and includes such charming streets as Via degli Zingari. Also San Pietro in Vincoli for Michelangelo’s Moses; Santa Maria Maggiore, where you should pay tribute to Bernini at his final resting place; and especially the Byzantine chapel in Santa Prassede for the incredible mosaics. Lunch or dinner at Tattoria Monti or, if you’re splurging, at Agata e Romeo. Monti is a happening neighborhood in the evening.
A day on the Via Appia Antica by foot and/or bus. If at all possible, you should do this on Sunday.
Evening, stay home and watch TV!
Again, start at the Colosseum. Walk up Via Claudia to the churches of Santo Stefano Rotondo and Santa Maria in Domnica. Then through the Parco Celimontana (where on summer evenings there are excellent jazz concerts) to the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo and San Gregorio Magno (headquarters of Mother Teresa’s order of nuns in Rome). This will bring you to the Circus Maximus, and from there you should spend the rest of the day on the Palatine Hill.
Evening in the area of the Pantheon.
An unusual, untouristy excursion: the Villa Torlonia on Via Nomentana, a gorgeous park where you’ll find the Museo della Casina delle Civette, a delightful Art Nouveau building housing a little museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco glass. From here continue on by bus up the Via Nomentana to the Sant’Agnese/Santa Costanza catacombs, far better than the more famous catacombs out on the Via Appia Antica.
A museum day: First the Palazzo Massimo near the Stazione Termini, followed by the Aula Ottagona just across the street. In those two places, some of the most famous ancient sculptures are beautifully displayed. Have lunch near the station. Then, later on, choose an unusual small museum to visit, plus a park. Among our favorites: the Museo Mario Praz; the home of the surrealist artist, Giorgio di Chirico, right in the Piazza di Spagna; the Museo Hendrik Cristian Andersen, for way over-the-top kitsch; the Schwarz Collection in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Villa Borghese; the Farnesina near the Orto Botanico; the Museo Barracco, a wonderful place; or the Centro Montemartini, ancient sculpture displayed in a restored factory full of big industrial machinery. Among the parks, obviously there is the Villa Borghese, but we absolutely love the Orto Botanico and the Protestant Cemetery, too.
Evening in the area of Piazza Barberini, perhaps dinner at the Colline Emiliane.
A final day meandering through a favorite neighborhood.
And what we’ve left out!!!! The Galleria Borghese. The Caravaggios in San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria del Popolo, and Sant’Agostino. The Palazzo Spada. All the big museums: what a scandal! – but Rome is not a museum city in our opinion. The Baroque Excess of Santa Maria della Vittoria and the Bernini within; the cloister of the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura; the Ara Pacis and the church of Dio Padre Misericordioso, both by Richard Meier.