Constructed to honor all pagan gods, this best preserved temple of ancient Rome was rebuilt in the 2nd century AD by Emperor Hadrian, and to him much of the credit is due for the perfect dimensions: 141 feet high by 141 feet wide, with a vast dome that was the largest ever designed until the 20th century.
Though its population numbers only in the few hundreds, the Vatican—home base for the Catholic Church and the pope—makes up for them with the millions who visit each year. Embraced by the arms of the colonnades of St. Peter's Square, they attend Papal Mass, marvel at St. Peter's Basilica, and savor Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling.
Legend has it that as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand; and when Rome falls, so will the world. One of the seven wonders of the world, the mammoth amphitheater was begun by Emperor Vespasian and inaugurated by Titus in the year 80. For "the grandeur that was Rome," this obstinate oval can't be topped.
You couldn't concoct a more Roman street scene: caffè and crowded tables at street level, coral- and rust-color houses above, most lined with wrought-iron balconies, street performers and artists and, at the center of this urban "living room," Bernini's spectacular Fountain of the Four Rivers and Borromini's super-theatrical Sant'Agnese.
This fabled labyrinth of ruins variously served as a political playground, a commerce mart, and a place where justice was dispensed during the days of the emperors (500 BC to 400 AD). Today, the Forum is a silent ruin—sic transit gloria mundi (so passes away the glory of the world).
Catch a bird's-eye view of the Roman Forum from Michelangelo's piazza, atop one of the 77highest spots in Rome, the Capitoline Hill. Here you'll find the Capitoline Museums and beloved Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
One of the few fountains in Rome that's actually more absorbing than the people crowding around it, the Fontana di Trevi was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732. Immortalized in Three Coins in the Fountain and La Dolce Vita, this granddaddy of all fountains may be your ticket back to Rome—that is, if you throw a coin into it.
The Spanish Steps
Byron, Shelley, and Keats all drew inspiration from this magnificent "Scalinata," constructed in 1723. Connecting the ritzy shops at the bottom with the ritzy hotels at the top, this is the place for prime people-watching. The steps face west, so sunsets offer great photo-ops.
Originally constructed as a mausoleum for Roman emperor Hadrian, this cylindrical fortress, which towers over the city's skyline, has great views and opulent Renaissance-era salons.
Located just across the Tiber River, this time-stained, charming neighborhood is a maze of jumbled alleyways, traditional Roman trattorie, cobblestone streets, and medieval houses. The area also boasts the oldest church of Rome—Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Whether you're looking for love or hoping to rekindle the romance, there's no better place to do so than the Eternal City. Ah yes, it certainly seems that love lurks behind every street corner, park bench, and monument. And if you don't find the abundance of public displays of affection off-putting, you'll be sure to find scores of places to steal both that first and ultimo bacio.
The hopeless romantics should start their rendezvous through Rome with a horse-drawn carriage ride that begins at the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) and continues through the streets of the centro storico. Make a stop for some aphrodisiacal treats, such as the decadent, mouthwatering chocolates made by Moriondo e Gariglio (Via Piè di Marmo 21), off the central Corso near Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.
When you're through, ask the driver to drop you off at the famous Villa Borghese park. Whether it's a picnic in the park, a cruise on the lake, or just a hand-in-hand stroll up to the Pincio—the park's terrace that boasts the city's most breathtaking views—you will find amore everywhere.
If the hopelessly romantic can spare the time, a trip up to Tivoli's Villa D'Este (a half hour outside Rome via bus) is definitely worth it. Its seductive garden and endless array of fountains (about 500 of them) is the perfect setting to put you in the mood for love and it won't be long before you hear Frank Sinatra warble "Three Coins in the Fountain" in your head. For extra brownie points, during the summer months, take her or him to the Villa D'Este at night for a spectacular candle-lit setting.
That's your cue to return to Rome and make a beeline for the luminous Trevi Fountain, even more enchanting at night than in the daytime. Make sure you and that special someone throw a coin into the fountain, for good luck. For your wish to come true, you must toss the coin over your shoulder with your back to the fountain, left hand over right shoulder (or vice versa). Legend has it that those who do so are guaranteed a return trip back to Rome.
A great way to lift the curtain on a night of romance is a serenaded dinner cruise along the Tiber, where dessert includes views of some of Rome's jewels by night: Castel Sant'Angelo, St. Peter's, and the Janiculum (Gianicolo) hill. See www.battellidiroma.it for more details.
If you prefer to stay on terra firma, at sundown head to the Hotel Hassler and its rooftop garden-restaurant, Imàgo, perched just over the Spanish Steps, for unforgettable views of the city's greatest landmarks, best viewed through a glass of prosecco. Dinner here will set you back a pretty euro-cent, but you may get to rub shoulders with celebs and VIPs at this exclusive locale, whose past visitors included Princess Diana and Hollywood diva Audrey Hepburn.
For an after-dinner stroll, head to north Rome and wander over to the illuminated Ponte Milvio bridge, known as "Lovers Lane" in Roman circles. Inspired by a scene in the recent hit Italian movie, Ho Voglia Di Te (I Really Want You), prove your eternal love to your inammorata by padlocking him or her to one of the bridge's chains—the city specifically erected 24 columns with chains here so that lovers can do just that. Remember that part of the charm is throwing the key into the river!
In Rome, wonderfully simple, traditional cuisine reigns. Most chefs prefer to follow the mantra of freshness over fuss, simplicity of flavor and preparation over complex cooking methods. So when Romans keep on ordering the old standbys, it's easy to understand why.
And we're talking about some very old standbys: some restaurants re-create dishes that come from ancient recipes of Apicius, probably the first "celebrity chef" (to Emperor Tiberius) and cookbook author of the Western world. Today, Rome's cooks excel at what has taken hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years to perfect. This is why the basic trattoria menu is similar wherever you go.
Still, if you're hunting for newer-than-now developments, things are slowly changing. Talented young chefs are exploring new culinary frontiers, with results that tickle the taste buds: potato gnocchi with sea urchin sauce, artichoke strudel, and oysters with red onion foam are just a few recent examples. Of course, there's grumbling about the number of chefs who, in a clumsy effort to be nuovo, end up with collision rather than fusion. That noted, Rome is the capital city, and the influx of residents from other regions of the country allows for many variations on the Italian theme. Sicilian, Tuscan, Pugliese, Bolognese, Sardinian, and other Italian regional cuisines from the Alps to the northern reaches of Africa, are all represented. You'll also find a number of good-quality foreign food outposts here, particularly Japanese, Indian, and Ethiopian restaurants.
Most Romans don't care about the fanfare of decor in a city where you can sit outside on a glorious piazza and dine in a virtual baroque painting. Still, Rome has its fair share of both slick interiors, which are slowly starting to catch on, and historic settings that offer amazing views or gorgeous settings. In any case, if you can look beyond the trappings, as Romans do, you can eat like an emperor—or at least a well-fed member of the Roman working class—for very little money.