I remember a friend telling me about his city break in Rome: He went to a restaurant near his hotel but they wouldn’t give him a menu and just waived away his protestations and then when the bill arrived at the end of the meal – oh dear!
Even a short city break in Rome can be a pricey affair but here are some tips for enjoying the fun, food and culture of Rome on a budget.
Free museums and art in Rome
In many ways all of Rome is a museum and an art gallery but there are a few free venues that are worth a visit, mostly small galleries and spaces exhibiting contemporary art. Check out Valentina Bonomo (in a former monastery), Monitor (near the Vatican) and the library of Incontri Internazionali d’Arte (actually open on a Monday).
Rome is the birthplace of the Christian church and its holy buildings have long been home to some of the finest art in the world, which is free to view.
The ceiling and dome of Sant’ Ignazio will leave you speechless. It looks like the roof has been blown off so you can look right up into heaven. Times art critic Waldemar Januszczac even admitted this is one of his favourite places in Rome (Piazza Sant’ Ignazio, open daily 07:30-12:30, 15:00-19:15).
My own favourite church in Rome is San Luigi dei Francesci for its precious Caravaggios. The Contarelli Chapel contains the stunning Calling of St Matthew. Caravaggio’s wrinkled realism is a welcome change from the stylised perfection of his contemporary’s religious art. (Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi, open daily except Thursday afternoon 08:30-12:30pm, 15:30-19:00).
If you need a free Michelangelo fix visit San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains) up the stairs off Via Cavour. His sculpture of Moses was created for the tomb of Pope Julius II but the great man cancelled the order, to Michelangelo’s enormous frustration.
Near the Colosseum, the Basilica of San Clemente provides a chance to see the many layers of Rome’s history – from the fire of Nero, through various temples to the Christian church that stands today. Figures of animals and birds embellish marble and tile mosaics from the 12th-century and eight centuries of frescoes represent the evolution of art.
Eating and drinking in Rome
One of the cheapest yet most delightful pleasures in Rome is sitting in the sun on some historic set of steps eating gelato. Traditional flavours like straciatella, cioccolato or limone are my favourites.
Just north of the Pantheon is Rome gelato heaven. Via Pantheon is home to no less than four of the best gelateria in Rome. Perhaps you could do a “gelato crawl” as many gelateria are open into the small hours.
Fiocco di Neve – “snowflake or sweet snow” – is famous for zabaione and ice creams made with rice (51 via Pantheon, closed on Mondays). The Gelateria della Palma is quite modern, with so many flavours it can be difficult to decide.
Next door is Bar Viola, which has some unusual flavours along with the standard varieties – carrot or zucchini gelato anyone? (16 via della Maddalena, closed Sunday).
At the end of Maddalena turn right to find one of the oldest gelateria in Rome – Giolitti (via degli Uffici del Vicario, closed Monday). Their sundaes are particularly good!
Italian food is magnificent and that of Rome is no exception but there are so many tourist trap restaurants in Rome you can end up spending a fortune. So here are a few recommendations…
Da Tonino on via del Governo Vecchio (behind Chiesa Nuova) is in an unpretentious setting but the fare is excellent. Around lunchtime it is crowded with urbane Romans.
For a good plate of antipasto and a cold beer near the Spanish Steps try L’Enoteca Antica just off via delle Carrozze.
Recommended bars include L’Angolo Divino in the San Angelo district (via dei Balestrari) and Bar del Fico in the Ponte district (via di Monte Giordano).
Relaxing in Rome
When you need a break from pounding the pavements during your trip to Rome, head for the public park below the grounds of the Villa Borghese to join the young Romans lying about on the grass or kicking a football about.
The market in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (near the Termini train station) is another great place to escape the tourists and relax while browsing among the piles of bulbous cheeses, antiques and bric a brac beneath the arches of a long loggia.
Enjoy your city break in Rome!
By Natasha von Geldern
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