It is hard to describe Rome in a few words. Rome is a city so vast and rich in art, historic ruins, monuments and exquisite views, that words can hardly do it justice. Rome's deep history mixes with its cosmopolitan surface on every corner. This former capital of the Roman Empire has preserved its charm and independence throughout the centuries.
Rome's history can be read in every monument and palazzo; in fact, each and every stone bears witness to the periods of splendor, decay, wars, and numerous architectural styles. The city could be described as a gigantic open-air museum, visited each year by millions of tourists, scholars and pilgrims from all over the world. Just as Rome was not built in a day, the many fascinating destinations within the city walls mean that all of Rome cannot be seen in a day either.
It is hard to believe that Roman civilization began with a small settlement of shepherds and farmers near the Tiber River on Palatino, (one of the seven hills on which Rome was built and where many of the Roman archaeological treasures were found). It is said that this is where Romulus founded the city and where Augustus, the first Emperor, built his home, which is now widely (and incorrectly) known as the house of Livia, his wife. The city extended over six other hills: Quirinale, Viminale, Esquilino, Celio, Aventino and Capitolino.
Quirinale is the highest of the seven hills. Atop its summit is Piazza Quirinale, with its colossal statues of the horse tamers, Castor and Pollux and the Palazzo del Quirinale , where the president of the Italian Republic lives. Across from the Palazzo are the Scuderie, former horse stables that are open to the public thanks to the renovations of architect Gae Aulenti, who created a functional exhibition space inside the building.
The Viminale sits next to Quirinale. It is smaller in size, split into two by Via Nazionale, and dominated by the huge Palazzo delle Esposizioni building (designed by Pio Piacentini) on Piazza della Repubblica , near Rome's principal railway station, Stazione Termini . Piazza della Repubblica is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome. The restored Fontana delle Naiadi is proudly on display in the center of the piazza.
Esquilino was the home of the great poets Virgil and Orazio. It has three peaks, one of which is Monte Oppio, where you can find the ruins of Domus Aurea , finally opened to the public after years of restoration. Initially, Esquilino was a suburb of Rome, which is the reason for the nickname exquilini (non-tenants) given to its inhabitants, and maybe the origin of the hill's name.
Celio & Aventino
The former has a long promontory, called Monte delle Querce, as it was once home to many oak trees (querce). It is possibly the greenest and most charming of the seven hills and is home to Parco del Celio and Villa Celimontana . There are many beautiful buildings here, especially along the magnificent Appia Antica . Almost all are places of worship. Both Aventino and Celio have few inhabitants. Aventino is rich in important medieval monuments such as the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin , where the famous Bocca della Verità, or mouth of truth, is housed.
Situated between Palatino and Quirinale, this used to be the religious and political center of the city during the Roman Era. It is dominated by the Michelangelo styled Piazza del Campidoglio , perfectly proportioned, with a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback in the center. The Capitoline Museums are located here and have some of the most precious art collections in the world.
The seven hilltops offer a number of beautiful views, but the most breathtaking panoramas can be seen from the dome of San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica) , the Gianicolo and Pincio , (part of Parco Villa Borghese that overlooks the Piazza del Popolo).
The Trastevere is undoubtedly one of the most charming areas of the city, and one of the most crowded areas too - especially on summer evenings. Many people (foreigners and Romans alike) want to live in this highly desirable district, home of historic churches such as the Santa Maria in Trastevere and hot night spots like Trastè. Finally, Eur, one of Rome's most modern neighborhoods, is home to some fascinating Fascist-style architecture, as evidenced by the many offices and administration centers in and around the Piazzale delle Nazioni .
There is a wide, varied selection as far as gastronomy is concerned in Rome; choices range from exclusive high-level cuisine, developed by some of the most famous chefs on the international scene to traditional, hearty Romanesca fare in all its manifold variations. There's also Jewish cuisine, testaccina recipes, specialties of Lazio and ethnic dishes, which can be sampled in the plethora of restaurants that offer delights from all over the world.
The only way to really understand the heart and soul of Rome is by tasting its culinary splendors. Romans, like all Italians, love to eat, and so when in Rome, you should do as the Romans do and sit yourself down in a popular trattoria or osteria. This allows you to s teep yourself in Roman culture while you discover the tastes and flavors of traditional cooking through the ages.
Delicious Roman cuisine stems from a time when people were unable to afford a meal made with meat, and therefore had to use offal (entrails), which at that time was considered less "prestigious" but definitely more affordable. Over the centuries, traditional dishes like coda alla vaccinara (oxtail cooked with wine, tomatoes and peppers), la pajata, (veal's offal cooked in a tomato sauce), l'abbacchio alla scottadito (lamb) and la trippa alla romana (tripe), have come to be considered as delicacies.
Centro Storico (Historic Center)
If in search of high-class food, Rome offers a great choice of quality restaurants. There are elegant places in the more exclusive hot els, such as La Pergola dell'Hotel Hilton , the Terrazza dell'Hotel Eden or La Veranda dell'Hotel Majestic . You can also try the delights of creative gourmet cuisine at restaurants such as Quinzi & Gabrieli , Alberto Ciarla , and Le Sans Souci . Tucked away down a small alley, the exclusive Il Convivio Troiani can be hard to fine, but if you are looking for Italian alta cucina this is your place. Agata e Romeo have offered family-run fine-dining for thr ee generations. Romeo is an expert sommelier and the restaurant has over 1500 labels in its cellar. Romolo nel Giardino della Fornarina in Trastevere is the perfect setting for a romantic evening; dine outside in the low-lit courtyard where Raphael is said to have courted his lady La Fornarina. Nino is a cozy option, offering classic Roman and Tuscan cuisine in a warm environment. Or, if you are looking for pizza in the center, try Da Baffetto , which has been serving up some of best pizza pies around since the 1960s.
Inspired by the popular film Babette's Feast, Ristorante Babette has the feel of a 1920s French bistro. Gusto 28 also has a chic early 20th-century feel, and is especially known for its seafood dishes and variety of vegetarian plates. Ancient meets modern at L'Acino Brillo , where creative cuisine and contemporary decor blend delightfully in this hip restaurant and wine bar.
Rosati is also in the center and offers great views with their coffee. A celebrity hot spot during the 1960s and 1970s, they also have a dining room if your espresso leaves you wanting more.
A relaxing way to enjoy a snack or evening coffee is at one of Rome's many cafes, usually serving coffee, gelato, panini and snacks. The elegant Ciampini is located atop the Spanish Steps, and offers amazing views of the city. The famed Antico Caffè Greco is one of Rome's oldest (open since the 1760), and is definitely one of its most exclusive.
Pizzerias and trattorie are definitely the most popular places to dine in Rome, being informal, economical and fast. Roman pizzerias are home to pizza alla romana, pizzas with a thin crust and a crispy edge, as opposed to the soft raised crusts of the Neapolitan pizza. However, if you are craving a taste of bella Napoli, you can't do any better than Da Vittorio . You will find pizzerias in every corner of the city, but Trastevere offers an especially wide choice of pizza restaurants with wood burning ovens, which give the pizza a more intense flavor. Panattoni , Ivo , Dar Poeta , Roma Sparita , Arco di San Calisto , are just some of the high quality pizza parlors. Remo , in the heart of Testaccio, offers outdoor seating and a hip younger crowd. In addition to pizza, don't miss other delicious Roman offerings found at pizzerie and trattorie, such as Supplì al telefono, fried rice balls filled with mozzarella, potato croquettes, fried cod fillets, fried pumpkin flowers, and bruschette, (slices of toasted bread with tomato or oil and garlic).
Est! Est!! Est!!! has been around since the early 1900s, and serves thick-crusted pan pizzas as opposed to traditional Roman thin-crusted pies. This is a great option if you are in the center of the city and don't feel like heading over to the many pizzerie over in the Trastevere.
For gelato, Gelateria Pellacchia in the historical center offers some of Rome's best, as well as coffees and panini. Or, if your belly is rumbling after enduring the lines and crowds at the Sistine Chapel, head over to Osteria dell'Angelo for delicious and traditional cuisine.