Rome, also known as the Eternal City and the cradle of Western civilisation, is the ultimate travel destination for history and art - and an absolute thrill for the senses. With over 3000 years of continuous historical heritage, from the founding of the city in ancient times to the fascinating ritual of the papal conclave in the present day, Rome is awash with more historical monuments than it knows what to do with. Home to the world's most famous landmarks - the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter's Basilica, to name a few - Rome is legendary, astonishing, inspiring and breathtaking. With an unassuming masterpiece or an ancient column on every streetcorner, the city is like an open history book and its streets are like an outdoor museum. Discover all the pages of its incredible story with our luxury traveler's guide to the Eternal City.
Where to Stay
Hotel de Russie
Via del Babuino 9, Rome 00187
Image courtesy of Hotel de Russie.
Nothing evokes luxury like a stay at this classic, romantic hotel from the Rocco Forte Knights collection. In its choice location on the via del Babuino, just a few steps from the elegant Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps, the feel at this 5-star hotel is classy, elegant, and timeless. Enjoy modern interiors set against a deliciously historical backdrop, in the heart of Rome's most exclusive, historic neighbourhood. Stroll through the streets past the elegant Renaissance façades, take time out for a shopping spree on the via Condotti, or enjoy a cocktail at the timeless and serene inner terrace and garden. An oasis of luxury and comfort in the very heart of the Eternal City.
Rome Cavalieri - Waldorf Astoria
Via Alberto Cadlolo 101, Rome 00136
Image courtesy of Rome Cavalieri.
The Rome Cavalieri is a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and although off the beaten path and slightly removed from the historic centre, a venture out in this direction is definitely worth your time. Nestled in a green oasis in the city's most exclusive residential area, just north of the Vatican City, the Rome Cavalieri boasts its own extensive park grounds, as well as comprehensive spa facilities and an impressively large outdoor pool. A peaceful place to relax and unwind after a hectic day of sightseeing or corporate events, far from the hustle and bustle of the Eternal City, albeit with breathtaking views, from a distance, of the same.
Bio Hotel Raphael
Largo Febo 2, Rome 00186
Image courtesy of Bio Hotel Raphael.
Enjoy a plunge right into Roman history at The Bio Hotel Raphael, a member of the Relais & Châteaux network of boutique hotels, heritage homes, and castles. Located just a stone's throw from the spectacular Piazza Navona, this hotel is right in the heart of Rome's historic centre. In this neighbourhood, pretty much everything dates back to the 16th or 17th century at least, including the Renaissance cloister by Bramante and Bernini's Four River Fountain in the piazza nearby. The hotel, although ensconced in the midst of so much history, is surprisingly modern, redesigned by architect Richard Meier, and the roof terrace offers unequivocally gorgeous views of Rome's ancient rooftops.
What to See
There is so much to see in Rome that one could likely spend years visiting one attraction every day, and still not manage to see absolutely everything. They do say, after all, that Rome wasn't built in a day - and it's not quite possible to see it all in a day, either. Although it definitely is worth a visit even if this is all the time that you have. Here is a look at the main sights to visit, whether you plan on spending a few weeks, a few days, or even just a few hours in the endless Eternal City.
The Vatican City
Saint Peter's Basilica and Colonnade. Photo by Simone Savoldi.
Technically, the Vatican City is not even in Rome - or Italy, for that matter - as it is its own city state and has extraterritorial rights. Nonetheless, it is still at the top of the list of sights to see while in the area and, historically-speaking, is one of the world's most significant attractions. The Vatican City is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, headed by the Pope, and encompasses three main historical sights : the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Estate and Gardens, and Saint Peter's Basilica and Square.
To enter the Vatican Museums, you will need to skirt the Vatican City walls, which were built by Pope Pius IV in 1560 to house the papal palaces and other buildings for the church administration. The Vatican Museums holds one of the richest collections of Italian Renaissance artwork in the world, and is a treasure of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Once inside the museums, you will see some of the world's most famous ancient Roman sculptures, such as the Apollo Belvedere, the Laocoon Group, and the Belvedere Torso, and an astonishing series of masterpieces in the Gallery of the Maps, the Gallery of the Candelabra, and the Gallery of the Tapestries. The main attractions in the museum, though, are the breathtaking Renaissance frescoes by Raphael in the Raphael Rooms and the unequalled frescoes by his rival Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.
Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo. Photo by Calvin Craig.
From inside the museums, you will also be able to catch a glimpse of the lush grounds of the Vatican Gardens, home to the headquarters of various governing and administrative institutions native to the Vatican City. Once outside the Vatican Museums, you can head back around the walls for a visit to Saint Peter's Basilica and Square, the impressive and historic headquarters to the Roman Catholic Church still today. The church, dedicated to Rome's first pope Saint Peter, took so long to complete - more than 150 years - that none of the architects hired for the task managed to live long enough to see through to its completion - including the great Renaissance architects Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Saint Peter's square was designed by Bernini - named the Michelangelo of the 17th century - and is shaped like a keyhole, in honour of its namesake Saint Peter and his token symbols : the keys to the kingdoms of heaven and earth. Inside the church, admire Michelangelo's early masterpiece of the Pietà or climb to the top of the dome and take in the view from the city's highest viewpoint (it is illegal to build any other structure in Rome taller than Saint Peter's cupola!).
Just across from the Vatican City is the Tiber river, which runs through Rome just like the Seine does in Paris, and offers enchantingly romantic spots for photos at every step of the way. Not far is the Parione neighbourhood, one of the most picturesque parts of the city, full of old Renaissance homes, narrowly winding streets and antique shops. Here you'll find the Piazza Navona, an ancient Greek games arena now home to Bernini's spectacularly baroque Four River Fountain, and the famous via Coronari lined with ages-old antique shops.
Four River Fountain in Piazza Navona. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino.
Not far from here, in the Pigna neighbourhood, we find the Church of San Luigi dei francesi, where Raphael's painting series dedicated to Saint Mathew is displayed, and the Church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, a bizarre but precious architectural gem by tortured Baroque architect Borromini. Nearby, we will also find the timeless Pantheon, a treasure of ancient architecture and one of the world's best-preserved ancient monuments. Originally built as a temple by Roman emperor Hadrian, in the 2nd century AD, it was transformed into a church during the Middle Ages, and is still a church today. The dome, pierced through the center by its oculus just like an eye onto the sky, is one of the marvels of the ancient and modern world.
Continuing on into the city centre, we come across the Via del Corso and the magnificent Piazza Venezia, showcasing the very white, slightly over-the-top Vittorio Emanuele Monument. Nicknamed the "Typewriter" and the "Wedding Cake" by foreign visitors over the years, the views from the top of the monument are thrilling. From above, you'll see the via del Corso right in the centre, slicing through the shopping district to the Piazza del Popolo at the end. If we continue along in this direction and turn off to the right, we will stumble upon the Trevi Fountain - which is hidden among the stately Rococo mansions and winding streets, and was originally intended to be a delightful surprise to the unexpecting meanderer. The effect is not quite the same today, with the crowds of visitors longing to get a chance at throwing their coin into the fountain or - heaven forbid - dip their hands in, just as a certain actress did in a certain Italian movie.
Moving along from the Trevi Fountain, we continue through a tiny side street past the arches of the Acqua Marcia - one of ancient Rome's aqueducts, still functioning today and feeding the running water system in the neighbourhood. From there, it is just a short walk to the emblematic Spanish Steps or Piazza di Spagna, in the heart of the high-end shopping district. The Piazza di Spagna, which was a popular hangout among foreigners even 300 years ago, is now a prized location for events related to Fashion Week and home to the best-known high-end boutiques of Italian fashion.
Trevi Fountain. Photo by Michele Bitetto.
After a meander down the streets, including the world-famous Via Condotti, lined with designer shops and centuries-old buildings, we'll head back towards the Piazza Venezia and into a different era of Roman history : antiquity. Just behind the Wedding Cake is a whole world full of ancient monuments, sculptures, mosaics and artefacts dating to the times of the ancient Roman kings, consuls, and emperors.
First off is the Capitoline Hill, one of the original seven hills of Rome, offering a spectacular view over the Roman Forum, the beating heart of ancient Rome and its legal and administrative centre. This very same view is said to have inspired Edward Gibbon to write his extraordinarily thorough, six-volume essay on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1764. The Roman Forum is now in ruins, but is no less inspirational and evocative of the remarkable civilisation it once represented : the Arch of Titus and the Via Sacra, where the Roman soldiers would celebrate their military victories and parade the spoils of battle to the pride of their citizens; the Temple of Vesta, where the Vestal Virgins used to worhsip the goddess of the hearth and protect the Eternal Flame ; the Curia Julia, the headquarters of the Roman senate ; and the Tomb of Julius Caesar, the final resting place of the infamous Roman dictator.
Overlooking the Roman Forum is the Palatine Hill, where the Roman Emperors built their sumptuously decadent palace, and just beyond is the Coliseum, still standing tenuously after suffering through centuries of pillage, destruction, and even an earthquake in 1349. The Coliseum, newly deemed one of the seven wonders of the world, was built by Emperor Domitian in 80 AD as a venue for gladiator games and executions - one of the largest and most famous of its kind in the ancient Roman Empire. The southern half of the outer shell fell during the earthquake in the middle ages, and later on the marble facing was stripped off by popes and used to construct churches, including Saint Peter's. But one might almost argue that this adds to the monument's charm - and certainly to its authenticity. Inside the Coliseum, you can still see the underground chambers where animals where kept, and the benches where citizens would be seated according to social class.
Roman Forum and Coliseum. Photo by David Edkins.
Not far from the Capitoline hill is a beautiful neighbourhood - or rione - called Trastevere. Trastevere in latin literally means "across the Tiber", and although it is indeed on the other side of the Tiber, it is authentically characteristic and rivals the Rione Monti (home to the Coliseum) for the title of oldest neighbourhood in Rome. In Trastevere, you'll find narrow winding streets, cobblestoned paving, Medieval churches complete with original mosaics and frescoes, and restaurants - so many restaurants. If you want to sample Roman cuisine in an authentic setting, this is a very good place to come. Go in the evening, if you can, when it takes on a romantic almost other-worldly atmosphere and wander the streets without a care in this mostly-pedestrian area.
From Trastevere, crossing the charming 16th-century Ponte Sisto will take you right into yet another characteristically historic area surrounding the Via Giulia and the Campo de' Fiori. The Via Giulia, built by Pope Julius II in 1508, is one of Rome's prettiest streets, lined with elegant Renaissance façades and stately private mansions. The Palazzo Farnese, built by the powerful Farnese family and today home to the French Embassy, is one such mansion and was built in part by Michelangelo, several decades after the completion of the Sistine Chapel. Just a few steps away, the open square in the Campo de' Fiori now houses an open market ; just behind it are the remains of the Theatre of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and allegedly uttered the famous words "Et tu Brute?".
Off the Beaten Path
Aventine Hill - The Keyhole
To discover a different side to Rome, we can head to the top of the Aventine Hill, another of the legendary seven hills of Rome, to see the headquarters and Priory of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Through a keyhole at the entrance of this 18th-century villa, we can see the cupola of Saint Peter`s Basilica framed perfectly within the box hedges in the garden. Although not quite the secret it once was, it is a wonderful hidden gem to discover.
The Keyhole, Priory of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Photo by Gianluca Pilia.
San Pietro in Montorio - Janiculum Hill
On yet another hill in Rome, called the Janiculum, we will find one of the smallest treasures of High Renaissance architecture : the Tempietto. Built by Bramante inside the courtyard of Church San Pietro in Montorio, the Tempietto is a tiny chapel built in perfect Renaissance proportions and is so small, it feels a bit like a dollhouse. On the other side of the church, you'll see the monumental Acqua Paola fountain, built in 1612 by Pope Paul V to celebrate the restauration of the ancient Roman aqueduct of the same name and further along, you'll pass by remains of the ancient city walls. At the top of the hill, from the Piazza Garibaldi, you'll see a glorious panoramic view of the city at its most romantic and picturesque.
The Palazzo Barberini was built in the 17th-century by Pope Urban VIII and today houses a gallery called the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, dedicated to the Old Masters. The Gallery houses some of the most important masterpieces by Italian Old Masters, such as Raphael's La Fornarina and Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio, not to mention the Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi. The villa itself is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture by both Borromini and Bernini, working together over a period of a decade, as is the luscious Italian garden created on the villa grounds.
The Appian Way
The Appian Way is one of Rome's oldest and longest roads, built over 2000 years ago as part of an intricate network connecting the capital to every corner of the sprawling empire. Along the via Appia antica, as it is called in latin, you'll find the ruins of the Circus of Maxentius, the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian (where countless Christians were buried during the Roman persecutions), and the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, where Saint Peter himself allegedly met a vision of Jesus on his way out of the city. Nearby, in one of the city's greenest areas, you'll find the astonishing Parco degli acquedotti, featuring the remains of two of Rome's oldest aqueducts, the Aqua Claudia and the Aqua Marcia.
Rome offers a wealth of historical monuments, churches, museums and galleries to discover, but the neighbouring areas beyond its city walls also have their share of historic and artistic treasures not to be missed. Venture into the Roman countryside to discover these exquisite sights just outside the Eternal City.
Hadrian's Villa - Tivoli
Hadrian's Villa. Photo by Mollie Moran.
In 120 AD, Emperor Hadrian created the largest, most lavish country retreat the Roman Empire had ever seen. Not far from the ancient village of Tivoli and less than an hour from Rome, Hadrian's Villa was once an opulent oasis combining ancient architecture and luscious garden landscapes, over an area larger than the entire city of Pompeii. According to literary accounts from the time, the villa was like a dream, and gathered an unprecedented collection of masterpieces of painting, mosaic, sculpture, and architecture. Most of the original artwork is now housed in museums, but the ruins are still there and provide a glorious backdrop for discovering the opulent and sometimes decadent lifestyle of the ancient Roman emperors. See the emblematic colonnade of the "Maritime Theatre", where Hadrian himself used to spend hours pondering the landscape in search of inspiration for his memoirs, and which served as inspiration centuries later to many a European monarch building their own sumptuous palaces and garden grounds.
Villa d'Este - Tivoli
If we fastforward a whole millenia from ancient times, skipping over the entirety of the Middle Ages, we arrive at the one of the most spectacular Renaissance villas in the Roman countryside, also near the village of Tivoli : the Villa d'Este. Taking inspiration directly from Hadrian's villa, Hippolito d'Este built this incredible mansion in 1550, incorporating luscious gardens and fountains to match, in pure Mannerist style. Inside the mansion, you'll find the walls adorned tastefully with gorgeous frescoes and stuccoed sculptures in a playful trompe l'oeil or trick-of-the-eye effect, each room more lavishly decorated than the next. n the gardens, you'll discover lush green alleyways, natural sculptures made of stone and brush, picturesque fountains, and the unbelievable Fountain of the Organ, which during its time would play music solely through the pressure of the waterjets inside.
If it's ancient ruins you are after and you can't quite make it to Pompeii, the ancient city of Ostia Antica is a spectacular alternative. Originally a port city connected to Rome along the Tiber river, Ostia was once a bustling, commercial metropolis. The Ostia Antica archeological park and its ruins are almost twice the size as Pompeii, and are incredibly intact thanks to conservation efforts over the last decades. Here you'll see the ancient ruins first-hand and assemble all of the pieces of the puzzle to understanding everyday life as the ancient Romans used to live it : the forum, the theatre, the temple of the Capitoline Triad, the streets and their original cobblestones, the bathhouse, the washing stalls, the restaurants and fastfood venues, and even an original, fully-intact latrine - a dive into the fascinating, authentic, if sometimes somewhat unhygienic, world of Roman antiquity.
The Bomarzo Gardens were built around the same time as the Villa d'Este by an important aristocratic family, the Orsini. Built on the estate of the family mansion near Viterbo, the gardens were most likely designed by Pirro Ligorio - who also designed the gardens at Villa d'Este - and were designed to astonish and amaze, in true Mannerist fashion. In the gardens, also known as the "Parco dei mostri" or Park of the Monsters, are several dozen giant sculptures of ancient Gods, animals and mythical creatures, including Venus, Neptune, Hercules quartering the giant Cacus, and the Three Graces. Iinside the park you'll also find the famous Ogre's Gate, or Gates of Hell, and the giant head of Proteus, emerging from the ground bearing the Orsini family coat of arms.
The Pantheon. Photo by Gloria Cretu.
Planning a luxury European get-away?
We can help curate every aspect of your European escapade to make it the luxurious holiday you deserve, including hotel bookings, personalized itineraries, private tours, designated concierge and chauffeur services, and customized VIP cultural experiences. Contact us for more information on our custom itinerary planning and tour services.
Explore History · Art · Culture