Rome the Eternal is 25 centuries old and constantly reinventing itself. The
glories of Ancient Rome, the pomp of the Renaissance Papacy, and the futuristic
architecture of the 20th and 21st centuries all blend miraculously into a
harmonious whole. You can get Wi-Fi in the shadow of 2,000-year-old ruins. It’s
this fusion of old and new and the casual way that Romans live with their
weighty history that make this city unique.
It's not the Roma your mother knew.
No, in many ways it’s better! Much of the historic center has been pedestrianized or has had its access limited to residents, public transport, and taxis, so you can now stroll around areas like the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps without having to dodge a constant stream of traffic. A radical change for Italy is that smoking is now banned in all public places, including restaurants and pubs. And central areas such as Monti, Testaccio, and San Lorenzo have become gentrified or arty-chic, so you can extend your sightseeing range to spots your mother wouldn’t have dreamed of visiting.
Spend a day in Rome's Esquilino neighborhood and you'll see just how cosmopolitan the Eternal City is becoming. Once famous for its fruit and vegetable market at Piazza Vittorio, the area has fast become a multiethnic stomping ground, with a vast choice of Chinese, Indian, African, and Middle Eastern restaurants. The now world-famous Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio, made up of 16 musicians from North Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Italy, got its start in this ramshackle district just steps away from Rome's Termini station and now performs at festivals around the world. It's worth noting, too, that Rome, the stronghold of Roman Catholicism is also home to Europe’s largest Islamic mosque. Near the elegant Parioli district, north of the city, it opened its doors in 1995 and welcomes visitors of all faiths.
A new metro line
Romans are anxiously awaiting the completion of the new Metro C subway line, which will cut through the city center at Piazza Venezia and link with both the A and the B lines at Ottaviano for St. Peter’s and the Colosseum, respectively. Expected to considerably ease on-surface traffic congestion, the new line progresses slowly because every time a shaft is sunk in Roman ground, some important archaeological site comes to light and all work halts while it is investigated. The planned station at Piazza Torre Argentina, in fact, had to be canceled due to the wealth of material uncovered.
Rome also has a new bridge.
The grandiose new “Ponte della Musica” bridge by Tiber River has now “bridged
the gap” between the worlds of sports and music and arts: it connects the Foro
Italico area (home to Rome’s stunning Stadio Olimpico and Stadio dei Marmi) with
the Flaminio district (where the Parco della Musica and the MAXXI museum are
located). Designed by British star-engineer Buro Happold, the eco-friendly ponte
can be used by pedestrians, cyclists, and electric buses.
Italo, Italy’s first private railway, now gives rail travelers an alternative to the state-run Trenitalia. Italo leaves from the newly restructured Tiburtino station (not from Termini) and connects most of Italy’s major cities. Its technological gem is the high-speed Frecciarossa 1000 (Red Arrow 1000), which can reach a top speed of 225 mph. For shorter journeys, you’ll have to settle for the regional rail network.
In Rome, the Eternal(ly culinarily conservative) City, simple yet traditional cuisine reigns supreme. Most chefs prefer to follow the mantra of freshness over fuss, and simplicity of flavor and preparation over complex cooking methods.
Rome has been known since ancient times for its grand feasts and banquets, and though the days of Saturnalia feasts are long past, dining out is still a favorite Roman pastime. But even the city's buongustaii (gourmands) will be the first to tell you Rome is distinguished more by its good attitude toward eating out than by a multitude of world-class restaurants. Romans like Roman food, and that’s what you’ll find in the majority of the city’s trattorias and osterie (wine bars). For the most part, today’s chefs cling to the traditional and excel at what has taken hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years to perfect. This is why the basic trattoria menu is more or less the same wherever you go. And it's why even the top Roman chefs feature their versions of simple trattoria classics like pasta all'amatriciana with a tomato, Roman bacon, chili pepper, and pecorino cheese sauce—sometimes with onion, although for some that's an issue of debate. To a great extent, Rome is still a town where the Italian equivalent of "what are you in the mood to eat?" translates to "pizza or pasta?"
Nevertheless, Rome is the capital of Italy, and because people move here from every corner of the Italian peninsula, there are more variations on the Italian theme in Rome than you'd find elsewhere in Italy: Sicilian, Tuscan, Pugliese, Bolognese, Marchegiano, Sardinian, and northern Italian regional cuisines are all represented. And reflecting the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of the city, you'll find a growing number of good-quality international food here as well—particularly Japanese, Indian, and Ethiopian.
Oddly enough, though, for a nation that prides itself on la bella figura ("looking good"), most Romans don't care about background music, other people's personal space, the lighting, or the fanfare of decor. But who needs interior design when so much of Roman life takes place outdoors, and dining alfresco in Rome can take place in the middle of a glorious ancient site or centuries-old palazzo?
It's the click of your heels on inlaid marble, the whisper of 600-thread count Frette sheets, the murmured buongiorno of a coat-tailed porter bowing low as you pass. It's a rustic attic room with wood-beamed ceilings, a white umbrella on a roof terrace, a 400-year-old palazzo. Maybe it's the birdsong warbling into your room as you swing open French windows to a sun-kissed view of the Colosseum, a timeworn piazza, a flower-filled marketplace.
When it comes to accommodations, Rome offers a wide selection of high-end hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, designer boutique hotels, and quiet options that run the gamut from whimsical to luxurious. Whether you want a simple place to rest your head or a complete cache of exclusive amenities, you have plenty to choose from.
Luxury hotels like the Eden, the Hassler, and the Hotel de Russie are justly renowned for sybaritic comfort: postcard views over Roman rooftops, white linen and silver at a groaning-table breakfast buffet, and the fluffiest towels. But in other categories, especially moderate and inexpensive, standards vary considerably. That's a nice way of saying that very often, Rome's budget hotels are not up to the standards of space, comfort, quiet, and service that are taken for granted in the United States: you’ll still find places with tiny rooms, lumpy beds, and anemic air-conditioning. Happily, the good news is that if you're flexible there are happy mediums aplenty.
One thing to figure out before you arrive is which neighborhood you want to stay in There are obvious advantages to staying in a hotel within easy walking distance of the main sights. If a picturesque location is your main concern, stay in one of the small hotels around Piazza Navona or Campo de' Fiori. If luxury is a high priority, head for Piazza di Spagna or beyond the city center, where price-to-quality ratios are higher and some hotels have swimming pools. Most of Rome's good budget hotels are concentrated around Termini station, but here accommodations can vary widely, from fine to seedy, and you'll have to use public transportation to get to the historic part of town.
Rome has always been Italy’s go-to city for epic evening adventures. Whether it’s a romantic rooftop drink, dinner in a boisterous restaurant, or dancing into the wee hours, Roman nightlife has always been a scene set for a movie.
Director Federico Fellini immortalized nocturnal Rome in his many films about life in the Eternal City. Satyricon showcased Lucullan all-night banquets (and some more naughty entertainments) of the days of the emperors, while La Dolce Vita flaunted nightclubs and paparazzi of the city's Hollywood-on-the-Tiber era. And as the director lovingly showed in Fellini's Roma, the city’s streets and piazzas offered the best place for parties and alfresco dinners. Many visitors would agree with Fellini: Rome, the city, is entertainment enough. The city's piazzas, fountains, and delicately colored palazzos make impressive backdrops for Rome's living theater. And Rome is a flirt, taking advantage of its spectacular cityscape, transforming ancient, Renaissance, and contemporary monuments into settings for the performing arts, whether outdoors in summer or in splendid palaces and churches in winter. Held at locations such as Villa Celimontana, Teatro dell’Opera, the Baths of Caracalla, or the church of Sant'Ignazio, the venue often steals the show.
Of all the performing arts, music is what Rome does best to entertain people, whether it’s opera, jazz, or disco. The cinema is also a big draw, particularly for Italian-language speakers, and there's a fantastic array of other options. Toast the sunset with prosecco while overlooking a 1st-century temple. Enjoy an evening reading in the Roman Forum or a live performance of Shakespeare in the Globe theater in Villa Borghese park. Top off the night in your choice of Rome's many bars and dance clubs. When all else fails, there's always late-night café-sitting, watching the colorful crowds parade by on a gorgeous piazza—it's great fun, even if you don't speak the language. Little wonder Rome inspired Fellini to make people-watching into an art form in his famous films.
Handmade leather goods are among the best things to splurge on in Rome—excellent workmanship and attention to detail are the norm, and you’ll find beautifully constructed jackets, shoes, gloves, handbags, and more. You can even have items made to order at artisan workshops.