Handpicked Rome: The best of the Eternal City for first timers

Rome needs very little introduction, however, if you've never been before it can be daunting trying to decide where to start in a place so full of life, past and present. It seems to a cast a spell over all who visit; people love its rich and colourful history, iconic sights, impressive attractions and all round charm.

Part of the Via dei Fori Imperiali © Kirsten Henton

Check out our guide to handpicked Rome showcasing some of the best places to visit, eat, drink and sleep in the Eternal City...

Getting around

True of most cities, Rome is best seen by foot and public transport. Taxis can be expensive, and given its compact nature, getting lost among the narrow, cobbled streets is far more rewarding.

A Roman tram © DaniloRusso - Fotolia.com

You'll discover hidden piazzas, quaint boutiques and secluded cafes offering chilled Peroni in isolated sun traps - it's a great way to get a feel for the city.

Top sights for first timers

Rome is bursting with things to see and do, and the following don't even scratch the surface, but they're good places to start if you haven't visited the city before.

Interior of the Colosseum © Kirsten Henton

The Colosseum and The Forum

It's an obvious choice - but for good reason. Whether or not you've a particular interest in the details, the Colosseum and its neighbouring Roman ruins at The Forum, are well worth visiting in terms of scene setting and providing some context. Wander round at your own pace and be prepared to wait for the best photo opps.

Tip: avoid the queue at the Colosseum by purchasing your combined entry ticket at the entrance to the Forum, allowing you to explore the ruins before walking straight into the Colosseum. Depending how long you're in Rome for and what you want to see, consider the Roma Pass, which, among other things, also gives you queue jump at the Colosseum.

View from Altare della Patria © Kirsten Henton

Altare della Patria (aka Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II)

A relative newbie having been completed in the early 20th century, this monument celebrates the unification of Italy and is a fantastic place to take in the city. Whether you walk up the steps to the terrace or pay the 7 Euros to access the rooftop platform, you'll enjoy a view from the distant Alban Hills to St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and far beyond.

The Villa Borghese © Goran Bogicevic - Fotolia.com

Villa Borghese

The third largest park in Rome, Villa Borghese's a welcome oasis, home to various museums and landscaped gardens. Some areas could use a little TLC, but it's definitely worth a visit on a warm and sunny day. Hire yourself some wheels - you'll find everything from pedal cars to electric golf buggies - and don't miss the view over the River Tiber towards the Vatican City from the terrace above Piazza del Popolo.

Eat and drink

Rome is mobbed with delicious places to eat and drink, and a real foodie's paradise. The following three blend old and new, giving a taste of what to expect.

Eat: La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

Listed in the book 1,000 Place To See Before You Die, La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali is a Roman institution. It's delightfully Italian and, although it's welcomed everyone from Al Pacino to Dustin Hoffman, the prices remain affordable, the food is authentic, and the waiter won't hesitate in telling you that no, parmesan is not an acceptable accompaniment to octopus rigatoni (true story). Go for the pasta, and don't miss the enormous caprese salad.

Pigneto Quarantuno © David Busi - Restaurant 41 Pigneto

Eat: Pigneto Quarantuno

Cited as a trendy area to the southeast of the city, Pigneto is an easy tram ride from Termini Station. Catch the number 14 and jump off at Prenestina, before crossing Via Prenestina and heading down towards Via del Pigneto where you'll find a collection of chilled out bars, cafes and restaurants.

Pigneto Quarantuno is clearly loved by locals as it's consistently busy with Italians, so if you're thinking of going, book. The food is full of flavour and reasonably priced, while the atmosphere is really relaxed - so much so that it's perhaps not a place to go if you're in a hurry. Opt for the generous bruschetta, which comes with various toppings, from traditional tomato to pate.

Shari Vari Play House - photo courtesy of www.sharivari.it

Drink: Shari Vari

A favourite with Italians after a good night out, Shari Vari's a stylish restaurant that turns into a buzzing club after 11pm, close to the historic Pantheon. There's nothing quite like it nearby, with more sedate cafes and wine bars the main competition. Each room has a chic identity of its own, and the mix of DJs and live bands will ensure you stay to dance the night away. Go glam.

Tip: you pay for your drink before ordering it here, so head straight for the cashier who will give you a receipt which you then hand to a barman/woman.

Best Bed & Breakfast Pantheon - photo courtesy of www.bestbb.it

Sleep: Best Bed & Breakfast - Pantheon

This dinky B&B is a comfortable and stylish home-from-home. Operating more like a serviced apartment, it's a good concept and formality-free. Fill out a card each night stating what you'd like for breakfast and when, and it will appear at your requested time the next morning. Great value, modern and perfectly located for seeing the sights on foot.

Tip: if you're arriving after 1pm, let the hotel know as they'll need to arrange for someone to meet you and let you in.

The Eternal City offers so much to see, do and experience. Hopefully our handpicked Rome selection gives you some ideas about where to start to make the most of your time in the Italian capital.

Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Friday 7th March 2014 in: City Culture Europe Food & drink

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