Essential guide to Rome

Shaney Hudson offers her tips on how to fully enjoy a visit to the Eternal City.

STAY

Budget

Perfect for families, the Hotel Oxford (Via Boncompagni 89, 420 3601, www.hoteloxford.com) near the Spanish Steps, has reasonably priced, comfortable rooms, from €85, with great deals available online. The Oxford also offers compact but comfortable apartments (Via Piave 15, 420 3601) sleeping three to six people in a quiet residential building, starting from €80. Opposite the Pantheon, the Hotel Abruzzi (Piazza della Rotonda 69, 6978 8076, www.hotelabruzzirome.com) has simple rooms from €69, including breakfast. In a quiet cobblestone street in the Trastevere region, the Hotel Domus Tiberina (Via in Piscinula 37, 580 3033, www.hoteldomustiberina.it) has tiny rooms with excellent breakfast in bed priced from €70.

Mid-range

On the Via Del Corso in the Centro Historico, the family owned and operated Hotel Regno (Via del Corso 330, 697 6361, www.hotelregno.com) offers comfortable rooms in a brilliant location halfway between the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain (from €130). Book early if you want to nab a room at the friendly Hotel Romae (Via Palestro 49, 446 3554, www.hotelromae.com) near the main railway station, where minimalist, recently renovated rooms start at €104. Located just near St Peter's in a 19th-century former palace, the oddly named A Peace of Rome (Via Fabio Massimo 60, 323 5955, www.bbapeaceofrome.it) gets rave reviews and offers free Wi-Fi, from €106-€146 a night for a double.

Luxe

Overlooking the Villa Borghese, Rome's stunning garden, the Sofitel Villa Borghese (Via Lombardia 47, 478 021, www.sofitel.com) offers 111 rooms and has a rooftop terrace overlooking the city, from €190. In the same area, the Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel & Spa (Via G. Frescobaldi 5, 854 421, www.preferredhotels.com) has deluxe double rooms with marble bathrooms and balcony from €264. A subtle white entry gives way to a stunning lobby filled with eccentric bold colours at Hotel Art by Piazza di Spagna (Via Margutta 56, 328 711, www.hotelart.it). Rooms in the designer hotel are a little bright but functional, starting from €220.

Lash out

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Set in a 20th-century private villa and filled with antiques and art, Villa Spalletti Trivelli (Via Piacenza 4, 4890 7934, www.villaspalletti.it) has 12 rooms, for those after an intimate and exclusive stay. Prestige rooms start at €470 and include rooms with a view, marble bath and walk-in wardrobe in a location minutes from the Trevi Fountain. For those after stylish digs with self-contained facilities, Portrait Suites (Via Bocca di Leone 23, 6938 0742, www.lungarnohotels.com) is owned by the Salvatore Ferragamo fashion family and is located above their store. Pick of the 14 suites is the penthouse with a terrace view of the Spanish Steps, over-sized bath, gym and stunning design features, from €1760.

SHOP + PLAY

To market

The outdoor market at Testaccio (Piazza Testaccio, 6am-1.30pm, closed Sundays) is known as the belly of Rome where locals shop for fresh groceries. Held each Sunday morning, the Porta Portese market (Via Portuense) is the biggest flea market in Rome, though some find it a little overcrowded and charmless. Expensive but central, the Campo de' Fiori (pictured) morning produce market (Piazza Campo de' Fiori, closed Sundays) near the Centro Historico is worth a look for its high-quality, picture-perfect produce. On the Via delle Muratte near the Trevi fountain, there is a cluster of souvenir stalls selling old prints of movie posters and snow globes.

Go shop

From the base of the Spanish Steps, Via Condotti is lined with high-end Italian and international designers. The window-shop alone is worth the walk. If your budget doesn't stretch that far, head to Il Discount dell'Alta Moda (Via di Gesu e Maria 16A, 361 3796), where you can pick up high-end designer labels at big discounts. For that special something to sneak into the suitcase, Roman designer Laura Biagiotti (Via Mario de' Fiori 26, 679 1205, www.laurabiagiotti.com) is renowned for her elegant, understated clothing designs, while Modigliani (Via Frattina 56, 679 0258, www.modigliani.it) has a range of beautiful handcrafted ceramics and homewares.

Live music

Alexanderplatz is the best-known jazz joint in town (Via Ostia 9, 3974 2171, www.alexanderplatz.it) but book ahead if you want to score a table with the mostly local crowd. Tiny in size, the venue Big Mama, in the Trastevere (Vicolo di San Francesco a Ripa 18, 581 2551, www.bigmama.it), offers blues seven nights a week until the early hours. If you want a more underground vibe, Il Circolo Degli Artisti (Via Casilina Vecchia 42, 7030 5684, www.circoloartisti.it) has an eclectic mix of performance artists and rock in a diverse venue with a beer garden. Held in June and July, Rock in Roma (www.rockinroma.com ) is a series of rock concerts held in the Ippodromo delle Campanelle, which attracts some of the big international names.

Nightclubs

A stalwart of the social scene, Brancaleone (Via Levanna 11, 8200 4382, www.brancaleone.it) is a multipurpose space that has great clubbing on weekends. La Maison (Vicolo dei Granari 4, 683 3312, www.lamaisonroma.it) is so popular it has both a summer residence on the river and a winter residence near the Piazza Navona. For dancing and a laugh with other tourists, a young and inebriated crowd can be found at the notorious Drunken Ship (Piazza Campo de' Fiori 20-21, 6830 0535, www.drunkenship.com). Alien opens late, thumps until dawn, overcharges for entry and is considered one of the slickest places to be seen in the Eternal City. (Via Velletri Nuovo Salario 13, 841 2212).

SEE + DO

Icons

Still standing after 2000 years, the Colosseum is one of Rome's most iconic structures (Piazza del Colosseo, 3996 7700, entry €12, daily from 8.30am, closing times vary) where gladiators fought both man and beast for the amusement of thousands. Elbow through the crowds at the Pantheon (daily, Piazza Della Rotonda) to view the most precise Roman building of its kind, its diameter equalling its height and featuring the tomb of Raphael. Throw a coin into the Trevi fountain (Piazza de Trevi) to ensure your return to the Eternal City but try not to recreate the fountain scene from La Dolce Vita, or you'll find yourself becoming acquainted with the local police department.

Culture

Book well in advance to discover the treasures of the Galleria Borghese (Piazza del Museo Borghese 5, 841 3979, www.galleriaborghese.it), considered one of the world's greatest art collections, and housed in a stunning centuries-old villa (€8.50; closed Mondays). You could take several days to explore the Vatican museums; not to be missed is St Peter's (mind the strict dress code) and the Sistine Chapel but remember to book far in advance to gain entry (closed Sunday, €15 entry, www.vatican.va). Just for fun, bask in the sunshine on the Spanish Steps in the Tridente and if you're feeling energetic, head all the way to the top for a fantastic view of the city.

On Foot

Start your day exploring the wonders of the Colosseum before the crowds hit, then head towards the Roman Forum, (entry to the Colosseum includes entry to the Forum), spending a few hours strolling among the ruins. Directly next to the forum is the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, a glaring white marble structure that offers a great view over Rome. Afterwards, head across the Piazza Venezia and up crowded Via del Corso until you hit Via del Muratte. Turn right and you'll reach the magnificent Trevi fountain, turn left and you'll reach the Pantheon. Here you've reached the old city centre and the best way to discover it is to lose yourself in the old, tiny streets. Other great areas to explore on foot include the Villa Borghese and the Trastevere.

Follow the Leader

Kids (and big kids) will love the opportunity to dress up and learn hand-to-hand combat at Gladiator School (pictured, two-hour sessions cost €55, www.viator.com). Context Tours run four-hour in-depth tours of the Vatican museums and St Peter's Basilica, with no more than six participants, covering the social and historical significance of the Vatican, from €85, plus entry (9762 5204, www.contexttravel.com). Those keen on photography can shoot the city with a professional photographer, with four-hour tours for up to four participants costing from €400 (4551 5380, www.imaging-in-italy.com). For tailor-made private tours, contact Agnes Crawford at Understanding Rome (338 198 4375, www.understandingrome.com).

EAT + DRINK

Snack attack

Try the splendid all-natural gelato at Il Gelato di San Crispino (Via della Panetteria 42, 679 3924, www.ilgelatodisancrispino.it), just a short walk from the Trevi Fountain. The best pizza in Rome can be found at Montecarlo (Via Alessandria 106, 4424 9600, www.lamontecarlo.it) near the Piazza Navona, where it is served on aluminium plates. One of the cheapest ways to eat in Rome is to raid the bakeries for focaccia, panini and sweet treats. One of the best is Forno di Campo de' Fiori (Campo de' Fiori 22, 6880 6662, www.fornocampodefiori.com) in the historic centre. Though not as popular as in the north of Italy, a number of bars offer an aperitivo of free bar snacks in the early evening.

Cafe culture

Located in the historic centre, the Ristorante Al Piccolo Arancio (Vicolo Scanderbeg 112, 678 6139) serves fantastic deep-fried baby artichokes and stuffed zucchini flowers. For a taste of traditional Roman cuisine, don't be swayed by the pizza; instead try the traditional Roman dish Cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita (Piazza Santa Cecilia, 580 0757, www.romasparita.com) in the working-class Trastevere district. In a quiet street in the same neighbourhood, Antica Trattoria da Carlone's reputation is built on its outstanding carbonara, another regional speciality (Via della Luce 5, 580 0039, www.dacarlone.it).

Top of the town

Michelin-starred Mirabelle (14 Via di Porta Pinciana, 4216 8838) overlooks the Villa Borghese from its seventh-floor position and is well known for its VIP private dining room. Dine alfresco at restaurant Baby (Via Ullise Aldrovandi 15, 321 6126), which focuses on a seasonal menu of ingredients partly sourced from the chef's own farm. Restaurant il Pagliaccio (Via Banchi Vecchi 129a, 6880 9595, www.ristoranteilpagliaccio.com) is a tinyplace set in the Centro Historico offering a 12-course tasting menu. Book ahead, as there are only 11 tables.

By the glass

Antica Enoteca (Via della Croce 76b, 679 0896, www.anticaenoteca.com) is a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps and it's strictly standing room only at the curved bar, where a mixed crowd sip some of Italy's best wine. One of the oldest wine bars in Rome, La Vineria Reggio (Campo de Fiori 15, 6880 3268) has cheap drinks and is open until 2am. The crowded square is filled with other bars worth trying. If it's a sunny day, grab a table on the fourth-floor terrace of Il Palazzetto Wine Bar (Vicolo del Bottino 8, 6920 255), which overlooks the Spanish Steps and across Rome. Also, don't forget that Rome is dotted with potable water fountains where you can refill your bottle.

Hot tip

The Roma Pass is valid for three days and includes free entry to the first two visited museums and/or archaeological sites of your choice, reduced ticket prices to other sites, free use of public transport and a map. The pass costs €25. www.romapass.it.

Getting there

Qantas flies daily from Sydney to Rome via London, priced from $1791. 13 13 13, www.qantas.com.

Visa and currency

The currency is the euro (€1=$1.38). A 90-day visa is available on arrival.

Calling Rome

Italy's country code is +39 and +06 for Rome. To call Rome from abroad, add +3906 to the numbers listed.

Further information

www.romaturismo.it; www.italiantourism.com.au.

The writer travelled as a guest of the Italian Government Tourist Office.

- Sun-Herald

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