Headed to La Bella Italia? Here’s a few things you should do in Rome.
Get a Seat in the Sistine Chapel
As befits the headquarters of a wealthy and ancient global institution, the Vatican museum is full of good stuff, from Ancient Egyptian sculpture through to contemporary art. And the Sistine Chapel is one of the things everyone should do in Rome. How to enjoy it? Grab a seat on one of the marble benches along the wall, so you can contemplate in comfort as group tours shuffle through. During high season, go late in the day, when most group tours are finishing up: outside high season, first thing in the morning is also a great bet.
Eat Amazing Gelato
My pick for the best artisan gelato in Rome (and the pick of a bunch of Italian journos, who know rather more than I)? FataMorgana. Organic, contemporary gelatos come in a welter of intense, creative flavours – including specific chocolate varietals, paired with ingredients as unlikely as tobacco. If eating ice cream on the Spanish Steps is on your wishlist, head for their Via Laurina location, just off Via del Corso. My son loved it.
Explore the Capuchin Crypt
Not one for the more sensitive child, or adult, for that matter, the crypt of the Capuchins on Via Veneto is a macabre artwork, crafted from the skeletons of Capuchin monks who lived and died here, as a reflection on mortality. One of a few bone chapels in Europe, it feels half outsider art, half horror movie set-up – and yet, it does also make you contemplate your own mortality. As the cheery slogan reminds you, “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”
Eat a Proper, Four Course Roman Meal
Another thing you should do in Rome? Eat like a Roman. We absolutely loved Osteria dell’Angelo, a traditional trattoria run and staffed (bizarrely) by former rugby players. Why? The prezzso fisso menu, at 25 euros for four courses – antipasti, primi, secondi (with contorni) and biccies, including house wine and dessert wine – is absolutely classic, unfussy, earthy Roman cuisine, packed with big flavours. Or try homefood.it, where you pay to dine at home with an Italian family, often in considerable style.
Check off the Coliseum
You can’t NOT see the Coliseum, where gladiators fought and died, and Christians were martyred. Although the martyrdom thing has led to a series of vandalistic rebuilds by various different Popes, it’s splendid, enormous and iconic. Depending on your level of ruin fatigue, eschew queuing up to explore the inside – the ruins of the Forum, round the corner, are more worth a look, if you are not entertained (sorry).
Talk to a Nun
As a former convent schoolgirl (insert your own joke here), nuns are quite intimidating figures for me. But if you’re jumping on a bus headed Vaticanwards, especially with a child in tow, you’ll likely meet a nun or two. One of the highlights of Rome, for me, was a long chat with a bubbly and politically engaged Filipina nun about how pleased she was with her new pope.
Play Spot the Cinquecento
The Cinquecento (Fiat 500) is an Italian design classic – born in Turin, of course, not Rome – and its myriad iterations make the Mini look, frankly, unimaginative. Italians often keep their cars going for decades, so it’s not uncommon to see models from the 50s and even earlier on the streets.
Catch an Open Air Movie
Open air cinema is popular all over Italy during the summer, and it’s a fab way to enjoy a warm, dark Roman night. Isola del Cinema has screenings on an island in the Tiber over high summer.
Binge on Artichokes
I’m a sucker for artichokes, especially served alla Romana. I’m also a sucker for a cheap lunch buffet. So La Fontanella Sistina, a fairly touristy spot whose 10-euro-plus-cover lunch buffet featured mountains of artichokes, as well as some other stuff, did me perfectly. For budget picnics, Coop supermarkets have a mean deli offer; for more upscale shopping experience, try Eataly or Volpetti; or try Testaccio Market or the touristy Campo dei Fiori.
Wander the Centro Storico
Central Rome is surprisingly compact, which means you don’t need to duck in and out of the metro all of the time. Exploring on foot, taking the time to duck down side-streets, is a great way to get a feel for normal, contemporary Roman life in all its diversity. Want a mission to structure it? Head out to buy something normal, not souveniry – flip-flops, underwear or a notebook.
Looking for places to stay in Rome? Check Agoda for late deals.
Image credits: Capuchin Crypt 1897 by Robert Benner Sr., Time Stands Still by Jon Rawlinson, Artichokes at the Market by Tim Sackton and Cinquecento by neekoh.fi all Creative Commons on Flickr.