Rome’s life has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, with the Eternal City seeming almost deserted without its usual hordes of tourists.
Ahead of hopeful signs on the vaccine front and hopes for a return to international travel in 2021, we look at some of the many things that make Rome unique to remind those of you who can’t wait to return and tempt those who have yet to be enchanted by a city whose charm is eternal.
1 – Museums in Rome
Museums and Rome go hand in hand, with many of the world’s greatest treasures housed in the Italian capital. Sadly the city’s museums are currently closed until 15 January 2021 at the earliest. There are, of course, the obvious venues such as the Capitoline Museums, Galleria Borghese, and the Vatican Museums (also closed until 15 January). However, the city is full of other gems slightly off the tourist trail, such as Palazzo Altemps and Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Those of you who prefer modern art should check out the national modern art gallery, known as GNAM, or visit the cutting-edge MAXXI, Italy’s museum of 21st-century art. The Chiostro del Bramante, a stunning venue hidden away near Piazza Navona, hosts hugely popular exhibitions, while the city is also full of contemporary art galleries that remain open.
2 – Restaurants and bars
Rome’s hospitality sector has taken a heavy hit from the covid-19 crisis, with the city’s bars and restaurants currently only permitted to stay open until 18.00. Social distancing is paramount, which obviously favors larger establishments, and there is an emphasis on outdoor dining for those lucky enough to have space outdoors. What better city to dine al fresco, take your espresso in a sunlit piazza, or enjoy a glass of wine. Rome offers a full spectrum of cuisine, from traditional Roman to international, as well as rooftop terraces, pubs, wine bars, and cocktail bars. Not to mention pizza and gelato!
3 – Roman palaces
Currently closed to the public, Roman palaces stand proudly around the city center, with many of their residents today direct descendants of the powerful aristocratic families who shaped the course of history, both in Italy and the Vatican. Over the centuries, these old noble families amassed stellar art collections, some of which are on public display. Chief among these are Palazzo Colonna and Galleria Doria Pamphilj, both located in the heart of Rome.
4 – Seven hills of Rome
Discover Rome’s seven hills: Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, Viminal. According to legend Romulus and Remus founded Rome on the Palatine Hill on 21 April 753 BC, a birthday marked with celebration each year. Rome’s city came into being like the small settlements of the seven hills began to interact, eventually acting as a group, draining the marshy valleys between them and turning them into markets. In the early fourth century BC, the Servian Walls were constructed to protect these seven hills. Each of the seven hills has its own landmarks. Let’s look at some of them. Near the Circus Maximus, the Aventine has an air of mystery about it, with its quiet leafy streets, its Orange Garden, and secret keyhole. The Caelian is in the S. Giovanni area and is best known for its churches, including the Basilica of S. Giovanni, S. Clemente and the Scala Santa, and the nearby Colosseum and Baths of Caracalla. The central Capitoline is home to the Capitoline Museums’ breathtaking collection and hosting the offices of the mayor and city hall. The Esquiline is today a multicultural district and contains the Domus Aurea and the Baths of Trajan. The Palatine, one of the most ancient areas of the city, is home to the ruins of imperial palaces and can be visited as part of the Colosseum Archaeological Park (currently closed until 15 January at the earliest). The Quirinal is home to the presidential Palazzo Quirinale, the Quattro Fontane, and the Trevi Fountain. Lastly, the Viminal hosts the city’s opera house, Teatro dell Opera, and the central Termini train station.
5 – Vatican City
Despite being the world’s tiniest sovereign state, Vatican City contains some of the planet’s most breathtaking art and architecture. Best known for being the seat of the Pope and the Catholic Church, the Vatican is home to St Peter’s Basilica, which needs little introduction, and the Vatican Museums (currently closed) with its unparalleled collection of art, including the Sistine Chapel. Nearby is the majestic Castel S. Angelo (currently closed), historically a refuge for the popes but today, a museum reached by a bridge of angels.
6 – Rome’s historic center
Rome’s historic center contains some of the city’s greatest monuments, from the Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps to the Pantheon (currently closed). The area is home to a magical network of cobbled streets and squares and diverse museums such as the Ara Pacis and the Keats-Shelley House. Some of the best-known streets include the central thoroughfare Via del Corso, the exclusive shopping street Via dei Condotti with Rome’s oldest coffee house, and the idyllic but hard-to-find Via Margutta, street of the artists.
7 – Rome’s churches
Rome is synonymous with the Catholic Church, and it comes as no surprise that the number of churches in the city is estimated at around 900. Churches remain open. This is particularly evident in the city center, where powerful noble families vied with each other to create the most beautiful and most impressive houses of worship, commissioning the greatest architects and artists of the day. It is impossible to narrow down a selection of churches to see (St Peter’s being the obvious one). Still, we suggest that you never pass a church door without looking in – particularly in the heart of the city center – you might even stumble upon a Caravaggio!
8 – Art, opera, theatre, and music
Rome is steeped in the history of art, and over the centuries, it has hosted some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen. Their paintings and sculptures can be seen today in the city’s museums, palaces, churches, and squares. It is possible to take walking tours to see the artists’ works, following the trail of masters such as Bernini, Borromini, Caravaggio, Gentileschi, and Raphael, whose 500th anniversary is currently being celebrated in Rome. The city’s opera house, Teatro dell Opera, offers a sumptuous opera program (currently online), attracting some of the world’s greatest directors and artists, while the Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia hosts a rich program of classical music (also online). Each autumn, the Romaeuropa Festival organizes a cutting-edge international program of avant-garde theatre, dance, art, and music.
9 – Rome’s fountains
Rome would not be Rome without its spectacular fountains. These majestic landmarks are museum-pieces in their own right, many of them created by the world’s greatest artistic geniuses. Rich in history and fables, they provide a focal point to the city’s squares, offering freshness and a splash of sound, particularly during the summer heat. But be warned not to dip your feet into them! In addition to the Trevi Fountain, some of Rome’s most beautiful fountains can be found in Piazza Navona.
10 – Rome’s parks and gardens
Tourists often overlook Rome’s parks; however, they absolutely merit a visit. The most popular one is Villa Borghese, which in addition to its beautiful green spaces, is home to museums, the zoo, and a Shakespearean theatre. The city’s parks have inspired artists and writers down through the centuries and provide a wonderful escape from the city’s bustle. The Botanic Garden in Trastevere offers a peaceful voyage worldwide through its international collection of plants and trees. See our park guide for full details.
We look forward to seeing you soon.