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Day 1 - Vatican

Several of Rome’s attractions limit admissions and require reservations. So if you’d like to visit the Galleria Borghese or have an audience with the pope during your stay, make reservations and then arrange your sightseeing around your designated tour time.

Porta Portese, the city’s sprawling flea market, is open on Sunday mornings. The city’s food market, Campo de Fiori, is open every day but Sunday. And many of the city’s museums close on Mondays and midday on Sundays. So plan accordingly.

If you have no reservations for the day, plan to spend the morning seeing the treasures of the Vatican. Dress modestly, as the dress code here is strictly enforced.

You’ll need a good map to find your way around Rome, so make sure you’re so armed.

If you’re an early riser -- and it’s not Sunday -- start your day at Campo de Fiori, Rome’s colorful food market. In addition to fruits and vegetables, there’s cheese, meat, olives, and flowers.

If it is Sunday, consider renting a bike and exploring the city while the Romans are sleeping in and traffic is manageable.

From Piazza Campo de Fiori walk toward the Tiber past Piazza Farnese until you come to Via Guilia. The street, which was laid out by Bramante in the 16th century, is lined with 16th- to 18th-century palaces and churches.

Cross the Tiber via the Ponte Pr. Amedeo.

When you cross the river, you’ll come to Piazza delle Rovere. You’ll see the Porta Santo Spirito, which was once the southern gate of the defensive walls built by Pope Leo IV in 846. The church of Santo Spirito in Sassia is worth popping into to see the pretty frescoes.

Michelangelo’s magnificent dome towers above the quarter. Walk along Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s. As you enter the Piazza Pio XII, you’ll see the Obelisk at the center of Piazza San Pietro. The Piazza, which was laid out by Bernini, is bounded by a pair of elliptical colonnades. It is here where crowds gather to receive the Pope’s blessings.

The Prefecture of Pontifical Household on the north side of the piazza can give you information about appearances by the Pope.

Built between 1656 and 1667, the colannade is crowned with statues of 140 saints. In the portico, there’s a mosaic by Giotto dating from 1298.

The church was originally a shrine on the site of St. Peter’s tomb dating from the 2nd century AD. Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, had a basilica constructed on the site in 349AD. It soon became the most important church in Christendom. But by the 14th century, the church was collapsing under its own weight.

Pope Julius II commissioned the architect Bramante to begin work on the present structure in 1506. Raphael took the reigns following Bramante’s death in 1514. Michelangelo managed the project -- and figured out the infrastructure of the spectacular dome -- from 1547 until his death in 1564.

Work on the church continued until it was finally consecrated in 1626, 1,300 years after the consecration of the first basilica. Today, it’s one of the most impressive structures in the world. Its sheer enormity is overwhelming.

Inside St. Peter’s, look for Bernini’s Baldacchino, the gilded-bronze canopy above the Papal Altar. The keys to the kingdom of heaven are on the coat of arms at the base of the columns.

The statue of St. Peter at the end of the nave is a highlight for many a pilgrim. His toe is worn from the kisses of the faithful. Michelangelo’s Pieta is in one of the side chapels to the right. And you can also tour the grottoes where many of the Popes are buried.

If you’re in good shape and not claustrophobic, take the elevator outside the church to the roof of the nave. There’s a balcony at the base of the dome that provides wonderful views of the interior. The top of the dome, the largest in the world, is reached by climbing 300 narrow steps. The view from up there is unsurpassed. And the climb entitles you to another serving of tiramisu.

The Vatican Museums are about a ten-minute walk from St. Peter’s. Over the centuries, many of the Popes have been connoiseurs and patrons, so the collections here are among the most important in the world. There’s no way to appreciate them all in a single visit. Choose three or four to give your attention.

Outstanding collections include the Egyptian Museum, the Etruscan Museum, the Pinacoteca (picture gallery), and the Pio-Clementino Museum where Laocoon and other priceless Greek statuary are displayed. Pace yourself, because off season the museums close at 1:45PM.

There are two sections of the Vatican Museums no visitor should miss: the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to decorate four rooms of his private apartments in 1508. He began with the Stanza della Segnatura (the study). This room contains Raphael’s frescoes of The School of Athens and The Dispute over the Holy Sacrament.

The Stanza di Eliodor (waiting room) features The Expulsion of Heliodoros. The Stanza dell'Incendio (dining room) features The Fire in the Borgo. And the Sala di Constantino (reception room) features frescoes completed after Raphael’s death by his students.

The restored Sistine Chapel is one of the world’s great treasures. The walls contain frescoes by Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, and Signorelli, in addition to Michelangelo’s stunning ceiling.

The overall effect is indescribable. Those who don’t feel genuine awe should have their pulse taken. Look for the Creation of Adam, the Expulsion from the Garden, the Delphic Sybyl, and Isaiah. Opera glasses will greatly enhance your experience.

For lunch, try San Luigi on Via Mocenigo, Ristorante Il Matriciano on Via dei Graacchi, or Tre Pupazzi. Go ahead and have a glass or two of wine because after lunch, there’s nothing to do but head back to your hotel for a little nap.

Many of Rome’s shops and attraction close for lunch and reopen again from 3:30PM to 7PM or so. Don’t fight it. Go with the flow and you’ll have plenty of energy this evening. After all, when in Rome...


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Day 1 - Afternoon

After your siesta, head for the Piazza Navona. The distinctive oval shape of the piazza reveals the original Roman racetrack on whose foundations the present Baroque structures were built. The piazza is graced with three lovely fountains, two by Bernini. The Fontana dei Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in the center of the Piazza is one of the most beautiful in Rome.

People watching here is first-rate, so treat yourself to tartufo at Tre Scalini and enjoy the show. The cafe -- at No. 30 -- is known around the world for its chocolate covered ice cream ball.

When you’re ready, leave the Piazza via Corsia Agonale. Do a dog-leg onto Via del Salvatore, then follow the signs to the Pantheon. The best preserved Roman building, the Pantheon was a temple dedicated to all the gods. Built in 27BC and remodeled by Hadrian around 120AD, the temple has become an enduring symbol of the city. It is stunning in its simplicity.

Crowned with a 140-ft. by 140-ft. dome, the interior is lit only by the 30-ft. oculus or open skylight at the top. Raphael is buried here, as is Victor Emmanuel II, Italy’s first king.

Behind the Pantheon in Piazza della Minerva, you’ll see an ancient Egyptian obelisk atop a marble elephant. Conceived by Bernini, it was originally intended for Palazzo Barberini. Next to the obelisk, Santa Maria sopra Minerva is one of the few Gothic churches in Rome. The church contains art from the 13th, 15th, and 16th centuries and a fresco by Fillipino Lippi. Fra Angelico and St. Catherine of Siena are buried here, although her head is still in Siena.

Sant Ignazio di Loyola on Piazza di Sant Ignazio off Via del Seminario features a beautiful baroque ceiling painting by Andrea Pozzo. When a lack of funds precluded building the planned dome, the Jesuits had a trompe l’oeil cupola painted on the ceiling.

From Piazza di Sant Ignazio, take Vicolo de Burro to Via di Pietra. This turns into Via d. Muratte and will take you right to the Trevi Fountain. Completed in 1762, the fountain features Neptune and two Tritons. Tossing a coin in the Trevi ensures that you’ll return to Rome again.

Leave Piazza di Trevi and take Via D. Stamperia to Via D. Nazareno. Take V.S. Andrea D. Fratte to Via D. Propaganda which will take you to the Spanish Steps. Long the meeting place of Romans, the steps were built in the 1720s when Trinita dei Monti -- the church at the top of the steps -- wanted to provide access from the Piazza di Spagna.

There’s no more glorious place in Rome at sunset, and no better place to enjoy Rome’s lovely spirit.

There are lots of good restaurants in the neighborhood. Alla Rampa on nearby Piazza Mignanelli has a wonderful antipasto buffet, in addition to a full menu. Otello alla Concordia has a lovely courtyard and serves classic Roman cooking.

For the most part, nightlife in Rome consists of a late supper and a stroll past the city’s illuminated monuments. If you’re interested in something more stimulating, the concierge at your hotel can fill you in on the lastest hot spots.


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Day 2 - Ancient Rome

Spend the morning exploring the grandeur of ancient Rome, starting with the Colosseum.

A word to the wise: keep an eye on your purse or wallet here. Ancient Rome is as popular with pickpockets as it is with tourists.

Built in 72AD by Vespasian, the Colosseum seated 50,000 spectators. In remarkably good shape considering it was used as a marble quarry for Renaissance construction, the stadium contains 80 arched entrances. From the top, you can see the underground passageways through which lions entered the arena.

You’ll need to use your imagination to appreciate the Forum, although a decent map and the little red guide book called "Rome, Past and Present" are helpful. Ours dates from the 1970s.

You should be able to enter the Forum across from the Colosseum. But if that entrance is closed -- sometimes it’s only an exit -- take Via dei Fori Imperiali to Via Salara Vecchia.

If you enter from the Colosseum, you’ll see the Temple of Venus and Rome directly ahead of you. A quick left, followed by a quick right will put you on Via Sacra, ancient Rome’s main drag. You’ll see the Arch of Titus before you and Santa Francesca Romana on your right.

To climb the Palatine Hill, which will reward you with wonderful views of the Circus Maximus, the Capitoline Hill, the Forum, and the Colosseum, take a left at the Arch of Titus.

Take a right and you’ll see the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius. Follow Via Sacra as it bears left and the Temple of Romulus will be on your right and the House of the Vestal Virgins and Temple of Vesta on your left. Continue along Via Sacra to the west end of the Forum where you’ll see the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Arch of Septimus Severus.

As you wander through the ruins, try to imagine how magnificent the thriving ancient capital must have been.

Leave the Forum and walk to the Piazza del Campidoglio. Designed by Michelangelo, but not completed until the 17th century, the square at night is one of the most magical places in Rome.

If time permits, visit the Capitoline Museums before lunch. There are two separate museums on either side of the piazza but both are included in the same admission ticket. When you face Michelangelo’s magnificent staircase, the Palazzo Nuovo is on your right and the Palazzo dei Conservatori is on your right. Both contain some of the finest ancient sculpture in the world.

The heart of the Palazzo Nuovo collection was given to the city in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV. Here, you’ll see the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius -- the one on the square is a copy -- the Hall of the Philosophers featuring Roman copies of Greek originals, and the magnificent "Dying Gaul."

The Palazzo Conservatori contains a colossal head of Constantine II, the Etruscan bronze of the she-wolf, and paintings by Caravaggio, Veronese, and Titian.

When you’re ready for lunch, walk toward the Tiber to the old Jewish Ghetto. Vecchia Roma, and Piperno are charming places for lunch. And Sora Lella on Isola Tiberina, the small island in the river, is especially appealing.

An alternative is to pick up supplies at Campo de Fiori and picnic on Isola Tiberina.

After lunch, return to your hotel for a siesta. On the way, go by Piazza Mattei to see one of Rome’s most delightful fountains. The Fontana delle Tartarughe depicts four youths with their feet resting on the heads of four dolphins. The turtles may or may not have been added by Bernini.

In the late afternoon, head for the Gallerie Borghese in the Villa Borghese. You should have already made reservations. To conserve your strength, consider taking a cab.

Built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1605, the Villa and its park provide a wonderful escape from the city’s noise and exhaust fumes. It’s a pleasant place for a stroll, or you can rent a bike.

The Villa, which now houses the Gallerie Borghese, closed in 1984 for restoration and didn’t reopen until 1997. Today, it provides the opportunity to see some of Rome’s incomparable art treasures, including Bernini’s "Apollo and Daphne" and "Rape of Prosperpine," Titian’s "Sacred and Profane Love," and paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael.

Also on the Villa Borghese grounds, Villa Guilia houses the National Museum of Etruscan Art. The beautiful Renaissance villa contains a magnificent sarcophagus of a husband and wife dating from the 6th century BC, and a reconstructed Etruscan temple.

Between the Villa Borghese Park and the Piazza del Popolo, the Pincio Gardens provide one of Rome’s best sunset overlooks. The romantic appeal is undeniable and the views of the city at dusk are unbeatable.

Walk down to Piazza del Popolo, one of Rome’s most unified squares. There’s an Egyptian obelisk dating from the 13th century BC on the piazza. The early Renaissance church is Santa Maria del Popolo. It’s worth looking inside to see the two Caravaggios, the frescoes by Pinturicchio, and the Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael.

The early evening stroll from Piazza del Popolo along Via del Corso is one of Rome’s most popular. Enjoy watching stylish Romans taking their passegiata.

For dinner, try L’Eau Vive near the Piazza delle Rotunda. Run by an order of Belgian nuns, the 17th-century palazzo is decorated with beautiful frescoes. The food is French, the setting is lovely, and all combine to create a memorable experience.

After dinner, if you have any energy left, consider walking to Piazza Campidoglio. The views from here of the illuminated Forum and Colosseum are truly special.


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Day 3 - Ostia Antica or Tivoli

Despite Rome’s considerable charms, the heat and noise of the city can be tiring. So today, we recommend that you get out of town for the day.

If you’re not going to Pompei this visit, or even if you are, consider a day trip to Ostia Antica, the well-preserved ancient port city 20 miles from Rome. For those interested in ancient history, it’s a fascinating excursion, easily reached by public transportation.

To get there, take the B Metro from Termini station toward L’Eur Fermi. Disembark at Magliana, get on the Lido subway line, and get off at Ostia Antica. From there, it’s a short walk to the complex. Just follow the signs.

Since Romans could not be buried within the city walls, you’ll see some tombs before you enter the ruins. And a statue depicting winged victory.

The city was built around the 4th century BC as a military outpost guarding the mouth of the Tiber. The city -- which was once home to 100,000 Romans -- was abandoned after the harbor silted up and a malaria epidemic decimated the population.

The city was covered by sand for centuries, which helped to preserve it. Although the site is huge -- covering 10,000 acres -- the main street, Decumanus Maximus, runs for a little over a mile.

The first thing you’ll see after entering the gate is the Baths of Neptune which houses a beautiful mosaic of the sea god in a chariot. There’s a cafe nearby, where you can buy a guide to help you make the most of your visit.

The adjacent amphitheater dates from 12BC and seated 3,500 spectators. Throughout the site, you’ll see the remains of shops, cafes, apartment buildings, baths, offices, and temples. There are many mosaics in wonderful condition. And it’s easy to grasp the layout of the city and imagine the early inhibitants going about their daily routines.

When you get hungry, there’s a tratorria right next to the entrance to the ruins. Or you can walk across the bridge to the modern village of Ostia Antica. There are a few restaurants there. You’ll see the 15th-century castle of Pope Julius II, who became Bishop of Ostia in 1483. There’s a historical museum inside that documents Ostia during the middle ages.

If gardens are your weakness, another alternative, particularly is to travel to Tivoli to visit Villa d’Este. You can get to Tivoli by train, suburban bus, or you can take a tour from Rome.

The son of Lucrezia Borgia and the grandson of Pope Alexander II, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este built Villa d’Este in the 1550s when he was, for all intents and purposes, exiled to Tivoli by Julius III who appointed him governor.

The Renaissance Villa is unremarkable and the gardens are not as well-kept as they could be. But the marvelous grottoes and fountains are still very appealing. The product of a brilliant landscaper and two hydraulic engineers, they are as much science as art. The first fountain -- the Rometta -- was created to remind the homesick Cardinal of his beloved Rome. The Pantheon, the Colosseum, and structures from the Forum are carved from volcanic tufa.

Walk down the Road of 100 Fountains, which take the shape of ships, Egyptian obelisks, or the d’Este coat of arms. The Fontana del’Ovato is an egg-shaped waterfall which can be entered by a narrow footbridge. Bernini’s Great Chalice fountain and the Fountain of the Dragons follow.

The Fontana dell’Organo was once an organ in which water coursing through the pipes created different musical tones. Unfortunately, it no longer plays music.

Although it’s a little run down, Villa d’Este’s cooling fountains and grottoes are still enjoyable on a hot day.

Also in Tivoli, Villa Gregoriana was created by Pope Gregory XVI. Not one to think small, the Pope diverted the flow of the local river in 1831. The resulting waterfall cascades into a 180-ft deep gorge. There’s a circular walk looking out over the falls -- actually there are two -- and a path that leads down into the canyon. It’s a gorgeous hike, but the return trip to the Temple of Vesta on the other side is very steep. If you plan to undertake it, wear sturdy, waterproof shoes.

For many, the highlight of a trip to Tivoli is Hadrian’s Villa. Built as the Emperor’s retirement home in the second century AD, it is arguably the most luxurious Roman villa ever built. An avid traveler, Hadrian incorporated many of the wonders he’d seen during his travels into the design of the villa.

The 300-acres grounds are very pleasant, covered with olive trees and cypress. So consider bringing a picnic. There’s a pleasant trattoria outside the gate if you prefer not to picnic.

Highlights of Hadrian’s Villa include the Maritime Theater, which features a large pool with an island in the middle where the Emperor had private conversations; the Greek and Latin libraries; the beautiful reflecting pool; and his recreation of the Egyptian Canopus, for which a 130-yard canal lined with caryatids was built.

When you return to Rome, relax a while before heading to Trastevere for dinner. The name means "across the Tevere," which is the Latin name for the Tiber. Many frequent visitors to Rome consider Trastevere the most authentic part of the city. The narrow, winding streets are among the most picturesque in the city. And the cafes radiating from the piazza are charming.

Go before 7PM and you’ll be able to tour Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome’s first Christian church. Dating from the 4th century and updated in the 12th, the church contains many beautiful mosaics by Pietro Cavallini.

There are several restaurants in Trastevere that cater to tourists with strolling musicians and period costumes. There are also several outstanding restaurants in the area. But we recommend that you simply wander the neighborhood until you find someplace that strikes your fancy. You can hardly go wrong here. And ambience is as much a part of dining here as the food itself.


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Day 4 - Rome

Today is yours to do as you please. There are still many wonderful things to see and do in Rome. So plan the day according to your interests and enjoy.

Noted for its sweeping views of the city, the Janiculum Hill is especially appealing in the early morning. And there are several attractions in addition to the views.

You can hike up the hill or save your strength and take a taxi to Villa Farnesina. Built in 1508 for a Sienese banker, the early Renaissance villa has been recently restored. It contains frescoes by the architect Peruzzi, Raphael, and his students.

Across from the Villa, the Palazzo Corsini contains the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. The Palazzo has an interesting history, having hosted Michelangelo, Bramante, and Erasmus. In fact, Queen Christina of Sweden died here in 1689.

The gallery displays the work of Rubens, Caravaggio, Van Dyck and numerous Italian painters. Rome’s Botanical Gardens are behind the Palazzo. They’re a pleasant place for a stroll.

On your way down the hill, stop at Villa Lante, a Renaissance summer retreat that has lovely views of the whole city.

If it’s Sunday when many stores are closed, shoppers can get a fix at Porta Portese flea market. Known to the locals as Mercato delle Pulci, the market is near the Porta Sublicio in Trastevere. With 4,000 stalls, it’s the largest in Italy and the array of goods is staggering.

Castel Sant Angelo, on the west side of the Tiber in front of Ponte Sant’Angelo, was begun in 139AD as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian. During the Middle Ages, the fortress became a place of refuge for the Popes. It was linked to the Vatican by a series of underground passageways.

Those interested in history will find much to appreciate here from the glorious Renaissance Apartments to the ancient prison cells beneath the castle. There’s a display of ancient arms and armor and great views from the terrace.

Rome’s magnificent churches provide a vividly illustrated history of art and architecture. San Clemente, not far from the Colosseum, is effectively a time machine, transporting visitors from the 12th-century church at street level, to the 4th-century church beneath it, to the 1st-century Roman apartment under that. You can explore the subterranean grottoes and walk to a public building dating from the 1st century AD on your own.

Not far from San Clemente, the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is the Cathedral for the diocese of Rome. The Pope celebrates mass here several times a year. Built in 314 by Constantine -- the first Christian Emperor -- the church has been rebuilt many times and today it is distinguished by a Baroque interior designed by Borromini in the 17th century.

The cloisters here were built in 1220 and they are lovely. The attached Chapel of San Venanzio is decorated with 7th-century mosaics. And the adjoining palace was the home of the Popes until the 13th century.

Rome’s two other exceptional churches are on the neighboring Esquiline Hill. San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) contains the chains used to confine St. Peter and Michelangelo’s Moses, which was created as part of the unfinished Tomb of Pope Julius II.

Santa Maria Maggiore is a composite of architectural elements from the 5th through the 13th centuries. Highlights here include the Gothic tomb of Cardinal Rodriguez, the 16th-century Cappella Sistina, the Coronation of the Virgin mosaic, and the beautiful coffered ceiling.

Lovers of the decorative arts should visit the Palazzo Venezia across from the Victor Emmanuel Monument (the big, ugly white thing dominating Piazza Venezia). Built in the 15th century for the Venetian Cardinal who became Pope Paul II, the Palazzo became Mussolini’s headquarters during the Fascist era. He addressed the crowds from the balcony in the center.

The museum contains a double portrait by Giorgione, Renaissance paintings and wood panels, a fantastic zodiac ceiling, a large collection of ceramics and porcelain, and terra cotta prototypes of Bernini’s Fontana del Tritone. The adjoining Church of San Marco contains a wonderful 9th-century mosaic in the apse.

Whatever you do in the morning, be sure to leave time for afternoon shopping. Most shops reopen after lunch around 3:30PM and close about 7:30PM. Leather, jewelry, housewares, art and antiques are all top quality.

The streets around the Spanish Steps -- Via Condotti, Via Frattina, and Via Borgognona -- are lined with some of Italy’s poshest fashion houses and designers. You’ll find Bulgari, Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Gucci, and Givenchy here.

Via Corso near the Piazza del Popolo offers some less expensive alternatives.

At the top of the Spanish Steps, there are many stylish boutiques along Via Sistina all the way to Piazza Barberini. Take a left after Bernini’s Fontana del Tritone onto Via Veneto. Despite having lost some of its 1960s glamor, Via Veneto still has much to offer shoppers. While you’re there, duck into legendary Harry’s Bar for a cocktail.

Food lovers should visit Castroni near the Vatican. La Rinascente and Standa are the city’s major department stores.

For your last night in Rome, splurge with dinner at La Terrazza in the Hotel Eden at the top of the Spanish Steps or at Relais Le Jardin in the Hotel Lord Byron at the edge of the Villa Borghese gardens.

If energy permits, enjoy one last stroll after dinner through the Eternal City.