Shermans Travel » Italy » Rome » Things to Do
Things to do in Rome
Ara Pacis Museum
The Ara Pacis Museum is an aggressive modern structure housing the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) consecrated by the Roman Senate on January 30 in 9 BC. The 2006 museum, designed by American architect Richard Meier, was not well received in Italy or abroad, and Meier eventually agreed to modify it. His hallmark columns and expanses of glass are untouched, however, as is the richly-detailed altar they exult.
Auditorium Parco della Musica
The dynamic Renzo Piano-designed Auditorium Parco della Musica, a large performing arts complex, has shaken up the cultural scene with a diverse program of classical, rock, and experimental music, as well as exhibits and screenings. Built on the site of the 1960 Olympics and completed in 2002, it generates the biggest buzz in October with its film festival, which was introduced in 2006 (www.romacinemafest.it). Several good restaurants on-site accommodate the million-plus annual visitors.
Basilica of San Clemente
Near the Colosseum, the Basilica of San Clemente offers a breathtaking display of history, starting with 1st-century ruins, a 4th-century basilica, and a 12th-century basilica, one juxtaposed with the other. The history lesson spanning imperial Roman, early Christendom, and medieval Italy is enlivened with frescos, mosaics, and marble inlays.
Basilica of St. Peter’s in Chains
The Basilica of St. Peter's in Chains, near the Colosseum, is worth seeing for Michelangelo's imposing Moses statue. But the original raison d’etre for the structure was to house the relic of Saint Peter’s chains. These chains are a fusion of two sets of shackles that are said to have been used to bind Saint Peter: The first from when he was imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in Rome and the second when he was held prisoner in Jerusalem. Legend has it that when Pope Leo I held the relics of these two separate chains, they miraculously fused together. The chains can be seen in a reliquary under the main altar in the basilica.
Castel Sant' Angelo
This round tower-like building began as the emperor Hadrian’s tomb, then became a castle under papal rule, then a fortress and later a prison. The name comes from the story that the Archangel Michael appeared atop the structure in 590 BC, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague. Climb to the top to appreciate superb views of Rome.
Postwar Italy marked the golden age of Italian cinema, and Cinecitta was the quintessential expression of this period. Today you can visit Cinecitta (when no filming is scheduled) and browse the National Film Archives, among the most important in Europe. There is a photo gallery, regular screenings, and a film school.
Città dell’ Altra Economia
The Città dell' Altra Economia, meaning "the city of the other economy," opened in late 2007 and has become a gourmet mecca with a market, shops, and café devoted to organic and fair-trade goods.
Doria Pamphilj Gallery
Less well-known and an insider favorite is the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, a museum housed in a 16th-century palazzo still owned by the same noble family who built it and filled the ornate rooms with their treasures. The painting collection includes seminal works by Velázquez and Titian.
In late 2007, the arrival of Gagosian Gallery amounted to a major coup for the city as host to Larry Gagosian's first outpost in continental Europe. Right by the Spanish Steps, the superstar art dealer's airy space showcases the work of artists like Cy Twombly (a Rome resident since the late '50s) as well as visiting stars like Anselm Kiefer, and hosts some of the most impressive openings in town.
Galleria Alessandra Bonomo
Insiders always stop at the galleries of the Bonomo sisters, a duo of powerhouse Roman curators who run two respected exhibition spaces in the city. Alessandra Bonomo represents cult artists such as Marc Quinn and Richard Tuttle in a gallery on Via del Gesù.
Galleria Lorcan O’Neill Roma
One of the best places to get a sense of the energy is at Galleria Lorcan O'Neill Roma, started by a gallerist formerly based in London who represents Francesco Clemente, Rachel Whiteread, and Tracey Emin. The young staff will not only walk guests through the latest exhibit, they will also advise visitors on what's going on around town, from the most intriguing shows to the best spots for aperitivi. The gallery has a small secondary space just down the street as a platform for talented artists who choose to debut here instead of in cities like New York or London.
Rome’s Jewish Museum first opened in 1960 next to the city’s Great and Spanish Synagogues. It showcases the traditions, religion, and history of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world through displays, objets d’art, films, and special exhibitions. After extensive refurbishing, it reopened in 2005 with active programs for research and education.
Testaccio, the former meatpacking district on the southern end of the city, is one of the edgiest of Rome's reinvented areas, home to new arrivals like the MACRO, a comprehensive collection of Italian art from the 1960s on, which opened in 2003. Its newer wing, MACRO Testaccio, opened in 2007 in an adjacent former slaughterhouse.
Located on the northern outskirts of the historic city center behind an old factory complex, Maxxi has given Rome a showstopping national venue for contemporary art. The building opened in the spring of 2010, but had become a major critical success before its official debut. Architectural critics praised Zaha Hadid’s project, a decade in the making, for its sweeping modern lines, a cantilevered, glass-fronted box at the entrance, and a series of glass-topped tunnels letting natural light into the exhibition spaces.
Museo Nazionale delle Paste Alimentari
Supposedly the only museum of its kind in the world, this museum about everything pasta could not be more logically located than in Italy. It attempts to cover eight centuries of history through stories, anecdotes, and recipes. If your visit is well timed, you might be able to attend a seminar on pasta discussed by experts. Do check before going, as the museum underwent renovations in early 2011.
Piazza di Spagna
The streets just off the Piazza are where you’ll find the main showrooms for big names like Armani, Prada, Valentino, and so on. Start off on Via dei Condotti and then keep wandering.
You’ll discover art galleries and antique shops in the streets surrounding this piazza; there’s also a great toy shop called Al Sogno, where Pinocchio fans can get their fill.
Rome’s best flea market offers great bargains on antiques, clothes, housewares, and just about anything else you can imagine. Just keep your hand on your wallet at all times.
Santa Maria del Popolo
Santa Maria del Popolo, right in Piazza del Popolo, is built on a site that was originally the grave of the infamous emperor Nero. The story is that locals were unhappy with this association and asked Pope Paschal II to remove the body. He did so in 1099 and the people financed a chapel to be built on the spot. The basilica is home to two Caravaggios: The Crucifixion of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul.
Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the city's oldest places of worship, has baroque statues and 12th-century medieval mosaics, interwoven with pagan inscriptions and 9th-century sculpture. A church of this artistic and historic importance needs a tomb and a legend: The tomb here is of Pope Innocent II and the legend is that a natural oil spring appeared on this site some years before the Nativity.
St. Peter's/Vatican Museums
There are so many things to see here that it’s best to study the Vatican website and decide what you want to visit in the time you have. Are you interested in art, faith, music, or a combination? There are special tours for the deaf, blind, and children. Temporary exhibits ensure a constantly changing offer, so even locals need not tire of the venue. You can buy your tickets on the Vatican website to avoid standing in line on the day (http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va). The approximately $21 fee includes a reservation fee of $6. See the museums first, then the Sistine Chapel (without your camera, as photos are not allowed), and then go into the church (to which Michelangelo contributed).
The Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery in the Villa Borghese is an absolute must-see, with one of the world's most beautiful statuary collections, including the Bernini masterpieces Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Proserpina. It's hard to find better examples of a true genius creating a sense of movement in unwieldy marble. You must reserve your ticket ahead of time as visitors plan tours months in advance.
Tour Rome's Top Attractions
Where to start in a city so brimming with history and culture? With a paid guide! The Glory of Rome seems much more glorious when narrated by someone who can resurrect the city from the scattered ruins with their informed descriptions. If you go it alone, keep in mind that the Forum is free, but you need a ticket for the Colosseum.
Valentina Bonomo Roma
In 2002, Valentina Bonomo remade a 15th-century convent in the former Jewish Ghetto into a salon for international artists like Sol LeWitt and rising stars such as Charlotte Dumas. Some have realized projects specifically for the unconventional gallery space. Valentina Bonomo also develops projects ad hoc for museums in Italy and abroad.
Our Experts save you money with travel deals and advice
See if your airline allows for extended layovers so that you can include an additional destination in your trip without booking separate flights.
Laura Motta Director, Deals Publishing
Sign up for the Top 25 Newsletter
to get exclusive weekly deals