Tips on making the most of a trip to Rome

View from the Vatican

View from the Vatican

Rome: the capital of Italy and the power centre of the Roman Empire with a history spanning two thousand years. Also, a great place to eat, shop and catch that thing called the sun which we occasionally see in the UK. Look out for some cheap flights to Rome and you might bag yourself a bargain and could be jetting off to explore the city pronto.

Rome is famous for having possibly the fanciest fountain in the world, the Trevi Fountain, a magnificent piece of Baroque sculpture which was, after all, about showing off. Tritons (sea gods) can be seen with the tough job of trying to tame winged hippocamps (a sort of half horse/half fish creature) which are pulling along Oceanus’ shell chariot. The legend holds that visitors who throw a coin into the Fountain will return again one day, and an astonishing 3,000 euros are estimated to be thrown into the Fountain every day – money which now goes to the Red Cross.

We can’t really talk about things to do in Rome without mentioning that great Roman Imperial symbol: the Colosseum. This ancient entertainment arena, dating back to 32 AD, could seat 50,000 people looking to enjoy a good gladiatorial combat or blood sport. Although partially ruined, it is difficult not to be impressed by the sheer scale and architectural achievement of it. Photos with the men dressed as gladiators outside are definitely not compulsory and worth avoiding unless you’re in the mood to be hassled.

For a break from the big sights, head south of the Vatican City towards the neighbourhood of Trastevere. Here the maze of medieval houses and narrow cobbled streets make it feel more like an Italian town than part of the bustling capital city. Visit during the day for lunch before tourists numbers increase in the evening, and take a look inside the beautiful Basilica di Santa Maria, one of the oldest churches in Rome.

A lesser-known attraction which also lies west of the Tiber River in a small room in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Prati is the Museum of Purgatory. The museum documents the supposed evidence showing souls trapped in purgatory communicating with the living. Catholicism teaches that these souls will not be able to reach heaven until they have atoned for their sins, but the prayers of their loved ones on earth can hasten the process. The small collection shows the souls’ handprints burnt onto books, clothing and sheets to encourage their friends and relatives to pray harder.

Head to Campo dei Fiori (meaning ‘Field of Flowers’) on any morning except Sunday to find a lively market selling more varieties of tomatoes than you ever knew existed. Fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, clothes and jewellery are all up for grabs, and if you’re travelling on a budget it’s a great place to buy some ingredients to take back to your hotel for a cheap dinner.

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