It’s clear why Rome wasn’t built in a day – there’s just too much damn stuff crammed in. As if wandering the world’s greatest open-air museum wasn’t enough, dodging zippy Vespas, taking on stomach-stretching piles of pasta, and flirting with stylish espresso-sluggers will leave you breathless.
The world-renowned Colosseum is the Italian capital’s most iconic landmark. The amphitheatre was completed in 80AD and seated about 50,000 spectators, who came to see the blood and gore flow in gladiatorial contests. Missing this would be like skipping out on the Eiffel Tower.
Best of the rest
Other iconic Roman sites include the Pantheon, an ancient temple built to honour the gods of Rome in AD126; the baroque Trevi Fountain (toss in two coins and legend has it you’ll fall in love with an Italian); and the Spanish Steps, the widest and longest staircase in Europe with a knee-knackering 138 steps.
Dare to be square
No other Italian city does public squares, known as piazzas, like Rome. Don’t miss the incredible Piazza Navona. It’s home to the masterpiece Fountain of the Four Rivers, featuring an Egyptian obelisk and renderings of river gods.
Pizza in Rome is delightfully thin and crunchy; try the potato and rosemary pizza, a Roman specialty. Grab a slice from Forno di Campo de’ Fiori (Campo de’ Fiori 22). Pasta fans should also take note that Thursday in the Eternal City is gnocchi day. Make sure you wash it all down with frascati, the Roman white wine.
Romans also love their gelato: Italian ice-cream with – hurrah! – a lower fat content. Get your fill at La Fonte della Salute in the Trastevere neighbourhood (Via Cardinal Marmaggi); or Gellateria della Palma (Via della Maddalena, around the corner from the Pantheon).
Travel back in time and take in the ruins – some built as far back as 7BC – at the Roman Forum, the heart of Ancient Rome. Don’t miss the stone where Julius Caesar was laid after his fatal stab to the back.
In the green
Spend some time, or a whole day, in Rome’s green lung, the Villa Borghese, one of the most elegant gardens in all of Europe. It’s the perfect place for a picnic on a lazy summer day, and it’s also home to a couple of excellent museums, including the Galleria Borghese, a collection of sculptures and mosaics from the 15th to 18th centuries.
Rome by Vespa
See the city like a local and hire a scooter from Bici & Baci (bicibaci.com). Parking for scooters is free, so you can whizz past crowds of tourists to reach the city’s sights quicker, and leave your wheels outside at no extra cost.
Out of town
You’ll need a full day to explore Vatican City, from the mighty St Peter’s Basilica and Square to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Get there early as the crowds will be sizeable, and ladies: cover your shoulders, otherwise you’ll be turned away. Take a peek up at the Pope’s bedroom window from the main piazza, or attend his weekly blessing ceremony on a Wednesday.
The main airport is Leonardo da Vinci. Jump on the Leonardo Express for €14 (about £12) to the city centre. Note that Ciampino airport is used by some budget carriers.
When to go: Rome is a year-round destination, but July and August can be unpleasantly hot and sticky.
Currency: £1 = €1.16
Accomodation: Dorm beds from about £11; private rooms from about £17.
Getting around: Buses, trams, the metro and trains use the same tickets. These must be bought at nearby shops before boarding and then validated. Only use official yellow or white taxis.