Rome - My Top Ten

I love lists. They help me get and remain organised in my busy career and manage my household of two teenage sons and pet bird. However, what I really love are travel lists - they always intrigue me and I usually find something useful or somewhere special to bookmark and add to the ever-growing list of what to do on the next trip.

Lists are subjective - they are someone's opinion and therefore on the Trip Advisor forums they're often dismissed for that reason. However I take the view that someone may have discovered a place I know nothing about, a different way of doing something (like a new route to walk to a site) or a gelato store I've yet to try, so I will always take the click-bait and check out someone's lists. Hey, even Lonely Planet start their guide books with a list of 'Top Tens'.

So having spent a fair bit of time in Rome lately, I have compiled my own. These are the places, sights and treats in Rome that entice me back again and again. I hope you find something you'll be tempted to try.

1. Centro Storico - the Historic Centre at sunrise

Rome is a big, busy city but if you get up early - just on sunrise - you'll see no one but council workers sweeping and pigeons fluttering. Even the traffic is calm at this hour. Pop into the cafe near your hotel for a shot of espresso with the locals on their way to work. 80 cents is all it will cost you, then head off and enjoy Rome's stillness.

St. Peter's Basilica - before the crowds arrive
 Ponte Sant Angelo - usually packed with tourists and trinket sellers but at sunrise - no one around

Piazza Navona
 Piazza della Rotunda and the Pantheon 

 Locals on their way to work

Trevi at dawn - one person and a couple of pigeons (note - this photo taken October 2013, Trevi Fountain has since been restored and is back to its sparking best)

Piazza Navona

2. Rome's churches

Of course there is St. Peter's Basilica which defies belief, but I love to visit any of Rome's churches - usually nondescript and even graffiti splashed from the outside - but take the time to drop in and you'll find baroque masterpieces that overwhelm and astonish. Some you may wander past and not realise their fame - Sant'Andrea della Valle is one. It's on Corso Vittorio Emmanuele - a very busy street - and you could rush past it on your way somewhere and not realise it's the setting for Puccini's opera 'Tosca'. I was one of those who have rushed past not realising but finally saw it on my 2015 visit to Rome and it was truly astonishing. The traffic was rushing past but inside was this whisper quiet masterpiece of architecture and sumptuous art adorning every wall.

Another under-the-radar flyer is Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. It shares space with The Pantheon which hogs its limelight but walk to the rear of the Pantheon just to the left and you'll find Santa Maria - Rome's only Gothic church, home of the resting place of St. Catherine of Siena and a very unusual sculpture by Michelangelo. Oh - and Bernini's little elephant statue supporting an Egyptian obelisk in the outside piazza (see my previous blog post 'Rome in One Day'). You'll probably also have it all to yourself while crowds jostle inside the always-crowded Pantheon.

 The magnificent Gothic interior of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

 Michelangelo's Christo della Minerva with modesty loincloth added some 200 years later
Santa Maria AraCoeli

Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli - very nondescript and 124 stairs to get there (it's located on top of Capitoline Hill) but absolutely worth the climb.

 The stairs up to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli - it's worth the walk

Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli (above and below)

Santa Maria del Popolo - which contains masterpieces by Caravaggio (below)

Caravaggio's Conversion of St. Paul (above) and Crucifixion of St. Peter (below)

Rome's churches are usually open in the mornings so duck in, just sit quietly and enjoy the stillness and peace.

3. The Doria Pamphilj Gallery

One of Rome's best kept secrets and right on Via del Corso as you walk toward Piazza Venezia. Thousands of tourists walk by unknowingly - not realising the treasures that are inside. As no photography is allowed, here is a link to their website.

I love this gallery as it is blissfully uncrowded, has my favourite Caravaggio of all time (Rest on the Flight to Egypt) and its audio guide is narrated by one of the family who own the palazzo - so it feels like you're on a personal tour. Add it to your list!

4. Cacio e Pepe

Roman food is good. REALLY good. This is one of my favourite dishes and I look forward to it on every visit. Of course I try and do it myself at home but it just doesn't taste the same. It's simply pasta with cheese and pepper. That is all. Katie Parla is one of my favourite Rome food writers and she does it justice here:

I just want to dig my fork in and enjoy! I rarely take food photos so I have none of my own to share but I love to eat my cacio e pepe here:

5. Via dei Fori Imperiali

When I first took Sam (my younger son) to Rome, we crossed through the busy Piazza Venezia, and took the street to the left - Via dei Fori Imperiali. It was our first day in Rome - we'd just flown 20 hours from Sydney the night before and were strolling along, chatting about the day ahead. Unbeknownst to Sam, a vision was about to unfold

There is nothing quite like seeing the Colosseum for the very first time. Its presence, and sheer scale, juxtaposed with the busy city life going on around never fails to silence me. Sam stopped and said ''s the Colosseum'. Well - what else CAN you say? 

Via dei Fori Imperiali is a wide boulevard constructed by Mussolini from 1924-1932. Its construction was - and still is highly controversial as it sliced the Forum area in two and involved the demolition of whole neighbourhoods, churches and houses, however it created one of the most scenic streets in the world - one I always make the time to walk along and enjoy Rome's ancient treasures.

View along Via dei Fori Imperiali from the third tier of the Colosseum.
Note: There is now major construction work going on to the left of this photo in the form of extensions to Rome's metro however it is not intrusive and the hoardings contain some great information on the history of the area.

6. The Sistine Chapel

I've been inside the Sistine Chapel four times. The first three times I was squashed against everyone else, trying (and failing) to appreciate Michelangelo's extraordinary achievement. Photos are forbidden. I took this photo in December 2012 unaware this was not allowed as the signs saying 'no photography' were hidden by the crush and I was soon reminded by security to put my phone away. 

My fourth visit in October 2013 was different. I booked an early entry tour with Walks of Italy and got to enjoy the Sistine Chapel in peace. Sam, myself and about 30 other people. We could even sit on the benches. The Chapel is one of the most enthralling works of art in the world - try and see it without the crowds - and don't take photos!

7. The rooftop terrace of Castel Sant'Angelo

I unashamedly admit that I am a huge fan of the Julia Roberts movie Eat Pray Love. I watch it over and over -because it showcases Rome's beauty and takes me back there when it's a long time between visits and the day to day is wearing me down. Specifically, it takes me back to the rooftop terrace of Castel Sant'Angelo which is where the opening sequence of the movie was filmed. Julia Roberts' character, Liz Gilbert, walks up some stairs (the exit stairs in real life) and this enchanting vista of Rome unfolds. It's my favourite view of Rome - especially at sunset.

8. Ponte Umberto

This is a bridge - not even a famous one - but stand in a certain spot at a certain time, have your camera ready and snap away. 

9. The Spanish Steps

Made famous by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn and dismissed by some as overcrowded and overhyped but I love Piazza de Spagna - particularly these gorgeous steps. They remind me of a grand wedding cake - satin-smooth white tiers stacked gracefully up to the Trinita dei Monti church at the top and Bernini's little boat fountain nestled at its feet. It's a great place to sit and just 'be in Rome'.

Photo taken October 2014 and there is Sam - bottom right of the fountain

The Fontana della Barcaccia - 'fountain of the ugly boat'. Legend has it that during one particularly bad flood in 1598, the Tiber washed a boat all the way up here. Pope Urban VIII commissioned Bernini to build the fountain in 1627. Impossible to believe this little fountain is THAT old.

10. The Pantheon

When I first went inside The Pantheon I cried. I couldn't believe I cried and as the tears rolled down, I was so surprised. Why was it having this effect on me? Many people I've spoken to since said the same thing. Maybe it's the fact that it is 2000 years old? Maybe its the perfect dimensions of the concrete dome? It could be the who's-who of history buried inside. I still can't explain it but the Pantheon inspires awe. It has grace and presence. Look at the sky through the oculus and you'll see what I mean.

So there it is - my top ten. Now it's your turn. Head off and create your own.
Buon viaggio!
Kathy, April 2015


  1. Oh my goodness Kathy - we could be soul mates! I totally agree with your top 10. The Spanish Steps is our 'go to' on our first night in Rome, usually with something fizzy with which to celebrate. The Sistine Chapel - had exactly the same feelings until we too took the early morning tour. I am so going to enjoy reading through your blog posts

    1. Thanks so much Anne! If it wasn't a Top Ten I would have squeezed in Via Margutta as well - that street is straight from the Rome of everyone's imagination. And yes, totally agree about the Spanish Steps - I saw a free opera performance there in December 2012 and it was unforgettable. I love to sit at the fountain and watch everyone pass by and then pop in to a cafe nearby and have a glass of fizz too! Cheers!

    2. Fabulous blog love every on my 'list' ! Thank you


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