Rome: Roman Holiday

Apr 1, 2007
2007 / April 2007

It’s difficult to imagine a European city more storied, complex and fascinating than bella Roma, the capital of Italy and the country’s largest commune, with nearly 3 million residents. You can barely walk three steps along the Eternal City’s cobblestone streets without encountering an awe-inspiring piece of art or prized relic; indeed, the expansion of Rome’s subway system has been continually thwarted by the fact that crews keep discovering new treasures buried far beneath the city streets.

It could easily take months, if not years, to truly experience all that this incomparable city has to offer. The good news is that many of Rome’s most celebrated sights are located relatively close to one another, making it an ideal spot for a family getaway even if you have only a couple of days.


Begin with a visit to Vatican City, the smallest independent nation in the world and home to the Vatican Museum. The labyrinth of galleries is constantly packed (try to avoid visiting on weekends), but it’s worth fighting the myriad tour groups to see the Sistine Chapel and jaw-dropping works by Raphael, Botticelli and Michelangelo. There is arguably no greater museum on Earth. Stroll through the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica after you visit the museum, stop by the Vatican post office to send postcards to friends back home. Vatican City issues its own postage stamps and currency, so these staples of everyday life are, in fact, interesting souvenirs.

On your stroll back toward the Tiber River, head to the Castel Sant’ Angelo, a visually arresting cylindrical fortress that was commissioned by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family, erected during the years 135 to 139. Pope Nicholas III built a fortified corridor between the castle and St. Peter’s Basilica in the 14th century to help protect the Pope and his minions from pesky sieges; it proved invaluable during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Today it’s a preserved as a national museum.

After storming the castle, stroll across the Ponte Sant’Angelo, better known as the Bridge of Angels, as the Bernini-designed beatific beings gaze down serenely upon you. From there, make your way to the nearby Piazza Navona by way of the Via dei Coronari, one of the city’s loveliest streets, lined with distinctive antique shops. Take in Bernini’s captivating Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), the centerpiece of the square, and Borromini’s church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. Have a hankering to get a self-portrait or caricature done in the Eternal City? This is the place to do it – street artists’ easels line the square vying for tourist business. It’s also a perfect place to grab a seat at one of the number of outdoor cafes and enjoy a drink or snack.

From there, saunter over to the nearby Pantheon, the most well-preserved of ancient Rome’s buildings, and marvel at its exquisite craftsmanship and the striking oculus through which both sun and rain stream into the dome. Grab the city’s best gelato at Giolitti (Via Uffici del Vicario 40), just a few minutes’ walk away; the luscious flavors, such as chocolate-hazelnut baci (Italian for “kisses”) and homemade panna (whipped cream) will delight kids of all ages. Then head back toward the Piazza di Spagna by way of the Via Condotti and do some prime window-shopping (or real shopping, if you’re lucky). It’s Rome’s most exclusive and elegant shopping street, home to such boutiques as Prada, Bulgari and Ferragamo.

Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain is especially dazzling at night, so wait until well after dark to visit. After you toss a coin in the fountain for good luck, hop in a cab and zip over to Trastevere (Italian for “across the Tiber”), a wonderfully bohemian neighborhood that’s home to a host of Roman literati, artists and students. The Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere is a great starting point. Wander through a maze of narrow alleys to Dar Poeta (Vicolo del Bologna 45, tel 39 06 588 0516), a jam-packed, friendly pizzeria that’s widely regarded as the best in Rome.

Get a well-deserved, good night’s sleep and then rally the troops for a morning foray to the Colosseum, site of the notorious gladiator contests and other ancient Roman public spectacles, such as executions and mock sea battles. Wander around inside and get a sense of its awesome size and presence. Both guided and self-guided audio tours are regularly available. For a few euros, have a photo snapped with the modern-day costumed gladiators who linger around the periphery and then head for the Roman Forum, the commercial center After a morning investigating ancient Rome, in the afternoon, visit the exquisite Galleria Borghese (tel 39 06 328 10,, located in the sprawling Villa Borghese. The museum’s collection of Bernini sculptures is awe-inspiring, especially the hauntingly beautiful “Apollo and Daphne.” The works of Caravaggio and Titian are also captivating. (Note: The museum requires reservations, so book your tickets a few days in advance.)



Named for its location at the top of the Spanish Steps, this tiny hotel across the street from the famous Hassler is charming and comfortable, with modern bathrooms and singular touches like silk fabric lining the walls. The exceptional service and warm vibe of this special hotel will make you feel as though you’re a guest in an elegant Roman home and a delicious breakfast included in the room rate is served each morning in a sunny rooftop atrium (or on the rooftop terrace in summer). Book early — there are only 16 rooms, but junior and family suites are available and other rooms can accommodate extra beds. $$$
Piazza Trinita dei Monti 17
tel 39 06 699 40896, fax 39 06 699 40598


This luxurious yet tastefully understated hotel features guestrooms that are lushly furnished in soothing pastel hues, and outfitted with satellite TV, broadband connectivity and marble baths. Special perks for kids include pint-size bathroom amenities (including bathrobes) and a welcome gift upon check-in. Don’t miss the hotel’s gorgeous terraced gardens, home to a unique butterfly reserve, or its state-of-the-art spa, featuring a sauna and Turkish steam room and offering an array of wellness and beauty treatments. $$$$
Via del Babuino 9
tel 39 06 328 88830, fax 39 06 328 88884

This well-appointed hotel with its spacious rooms and attentive service is great for families. The courtyard is lovely and perfect for sunny springtime meals.
Via Sistina 67/69
tel 39 06 67331, fax 39 06 6784213



This tranquil, high-ceilinged tavern, nestled in a quiet piazza is a local favorite and a wonderful escape from the throngs swarming the Pantheon, located just steps away. Its walls are lined with a vast range of wines from around the world, while the menu is filled with delicious, reasonably priced selections. The thin-crust pizzas are particularly scrumptious — don’t miss the potato and rosemary or the gorgonzola with fresh arugula. $$
Via in Aquiro 104
tel 39 06 66 99 40 992

Literally “the rich salad,” this chain of boisterous Roman eateries is a favorite of tourists and locals alike — and deservedly so. The outpost on Largo dei Chiavari, between Piazza Navona and Campo dei Fiori, features outdoor seating and provides great people-watching opportunities. Serving everything from antipasti and bruschetta to pastas and the giant salads for which it’s famous, it’s the perfect place to grab a bite — and a break — with the family during a long day of sightseeing. Be sure to try the mini gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and the cheese and pear salad. The house wine, served in rustic ceramic pitchers, is cheap and goes down smooth as Italian silk. $$
Largo dei Chiavari 85/86
tel 39 06 688 03656


This wood-paneled Roman restaurant, a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps, is where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes held the rehearsal dinner for their much-ballyhooed wedding — but this is no fleeting celebrity hotspot. One of Rome’s most respected dining establishments, Nino offers delicious, perfectly executed meals served by smiling waiters in elegant white jackets. Fried artichokes and cheese is a house specialty, as is the penne with spicy tomato sauce and Italian bacon.The tortellini with cream sauce will bring tears of joy to your eyes. $$$$
Via Borgognona 11
tel 39 06 679 5676


Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO) is about 20 miles outside of the historic center of Rome. The shuttle train to Rome’s Termini station, a 30-minute ride, is your best bet for getting into town quickly and cheaply (about $15); taxis also are readily available. Walking is the best way to get around central Rome. The city’s metro system is limited, but stops at several major sites — including the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps — and costs about $1.50.


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