"Omnes viae Romam ducunt" is an old Latin proverb from the glorious imperial times meaning "All roads lead to Rome” when every important route within the Roman Empire had to end in Rome - the eternal city or the centre of the world as it was known then. With today's Italian road network, every road does indeed lead to Rome - and around Rome, with one catch: you definitely need a car. This is where Autoclick comes into play. Pick up your favourite vehicle, at the lowest possible price, always with free GPS and Wi-Fi connection, and start driving with or without a formal travel plan. To help you further, we have compiled a road map of some of the most interesting places you may wish to see in Rome. To see all of them, you would probably need a lifetime, with Rome and the surrounding area looking like a true open-air museum.
You can wander freely around the historic centre and you will arguably find something interesting every few metres or so. Although that could be a great idea, you should at least make a list of essential sights you really want to visit. Then, try to think outside the box, escaping crowds for a little while and explore the area around Rome, bearing in mind you are just a stone’s throw away from beaches in the west and mountains in the east, all at less than one hour’s drive.
A city full of fountains
Apart of the world-renowned Fontana di Trevi, there are hundreds of such works of art, maybe not as famous but definitely worth a quick glance. Piazza Farnese, Piazza di Spagna at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, Piazza Barberini, Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, they all shelter beautiful fountains, and there are many more. Fontana di Piazza Colonna is located in the Piazza with the same name, in front of Palazzo Chigi, which was built in 1575 by architect Rocco Rossi following the sketches of Giacomo della Porta. As with many other fountains in Rome, its role was to supply water to the citizens, away from River Tiber's polluted waters. Fontana del Pantheon can be found in Piazza della Rotonda, executed in marble by Leonardo Sormani, depicting four dolphins encased by sea snakes. The Fontane di Piazza San Pietro are the twin fountains in the piazza with the same name, Vatican City’s main Piazza, one of them older and created by none other than Michelangelo, the other mirrored by Bernini to offer a bit more symmetry.
Relatively new, if we compare it to other attractions of this type, Fontana delle Naiadi sits in the middle of Piazza de la Repubblica, at the fore of the Terme di Diocleziano (the Baths of Diocletian), an artistic personification of the four Naiads - or water nymphs. Another famous fountain is Fontana della Barcaccia, embellishing the base of the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spania, looking like a sinking boat, partially flooded by water. Piazza del Popolo offers no less than three fountains - Fontana del Nettuno, Fontana della Dea di Roma and Fontana dell' Obelisco, with the central one, at the base of the obelisk, representing four Egyptian pyramids flanked by lions and placed here in 1814. You would probably need a couple of weeks to see all of Rome’s fountains, but we can not end this guide without mentioning Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini, the Quattro Fontane in Via delle Quattro Fontane, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona - one of the most stunning of them all, and Fontana del Moro, also in Piazza Navona.
Other attractions of Rome
Some of the most pleasant memories are taken in Rome from above. Whether on Aventino (the Aventine Hill), one of the Seven Hills on which ancient Rome was built, and surrounded by orange trees, or enjoying a delightful cappuccino on the terrace in front of Castel Sant'Angelo, or breathing the cool air on top of Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter's Basilica), here are a few places from which you can admire Rome from above:
Basilica Papale di San Pietro - a true adventure if you want to climb up to the dome. You can reach the top in two possible ways, either taking the elevator to the base of the dome then walking up the rest of the steps, or completely renouncing the elevator and opting for the long climb upwards, if you have the necessary strength. The stairs are steep, with parts of the walls leaning inwards; if you are tall you might need to watch your head. Reaching the top is nevertheless rewarding - a gorgeous panorama and a beautiful experience you will not easily forget.
Giardino degli Aranci - or the Orange Garden in Parco Savello on top of the Aventino Hill.
The Monumento a Giuseppe Garibaldi in Piazza Garibaldi is our recommendation as it is void of tourists most of the time; it is located on Colle del Gianicolo or Janiculum, easy to access if you drive from Trastevere.
The Altare della Patria, also known as the Monumento nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, is perfect if you want to see Piazza Venezia, the Foro Romano and Via dei Fori Imperiale from above.
Castel Sant'Angelo - not as comprehensive as the panorama from St. Peter, but there is a coffee shop if you want to admire the Tiber in a more leisurely fashion.
For Castel Sant'Angelo you need to take your time. After crossing the river over the famous bridge with the same name, Ponte S. Angelo, you will see the Castel in all its splendour. Built as a mausoleum for emperor Hadrian, it was transformed into a fortress to defend the Vatican and used as a papal refuge for more than a thousand years. Another iconic building is the Pantheon, an impressive structure erected over 2,000 years ago in such a manner that it was supposed to mimic the shapes of the sky and the globe. The circular structure, covered by a dome, only allows the light to come in through a round crevice on top. This was the worship place for Venus, Neptune, Mercury or Jupiter; this is the altar where the ancient priests used to sacrifice animals to please their gods.
From roughly the same period, a little further to the south, and approximately a 10 to 15 minutes drive by car, are the Foro Romano (Roman Forum) and Foro di Traiano (Trajan’s Forum). In imperial times, these were busy places, sheltering grandiose buildings, temples, triumphal arches and columns to describe Roman victories. Today, Arco di Costantino (Arch of Constantine) seems to be in the best condition, but then again, it was built as recently as 315 A.D. After Trajan’s Forum you will see the Colonna Traiana (Trajan’s Column), built to honour the victory of emperor Trajan in the Dacian Wars (101-102 and 105-106).
A slightly newer attraction, Villa Borghese, a former vineyard designed on the orders of Cardinal Borghese, is now a public park, Rome’s third largest. The area is huge, with beautiful gardens, alleyways and statues, pavilions and three museums, Villa Giulia, Galleria Nazionale d’arte Moderna and Galleria Borghese, the last being the most important of the three, hosting works of world renowned artists like Tizziano, Caravaggio, Raphael, Bernini and Canova. Other parks worth mentioning in Rome are Villa Celimontana, as an example of Romanesque architecture on Caelian Hill, Roseto Comunale (or the Rose Garden) for its romantic atmosphere, Villa Torlonia, Parco Torro del Fiscale, Parco della Caffarella, Villa Ada, Parco degli Acquedotti or Villa Doria Pamphili with what is today the largest landscaped public park in Rome.
Before we conclude this short tour of the most important attractions in Rome, we would like to recommend some places off the beaten track, other than the touristy sites Rome provides and promotes:
- Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, a small Neo-Gothic church found on the banks of the Tiber, not far from the Castel Sant'Angelo.
- Piramide di Caio Cestio (Pyramid of Cestius), built of bricks dressed in marble, strongly contrasting with one of the gates from the southern Aurelian walls - Porta San Paolo.
- Largo di Torre Argentina, a square housing the ruins of four of the oldest temples of the Roman Republic and also the remains of Teatro di Pompeo (Pompey's Theatre).
- Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, truly a surprise for anyone fascinated by churches, this one is absolutely gorgeous, really unique, with no icons and nothing painted, just granite and marble columns.
Things to do around Rome by car
Here is just a short list of interesting attractions near the Italian capital, useful if you wish to escape the crowds and see the area in a different manner. Note the distances, driving time, and choose wisely according to your preferences.
Lago di Bracciano
50 km / 1h 15min
Recommended for: nature, landscape, watersports, beaches
The road to Lake Bracciano is pretty straight forward, following the Strada Statale 493 in a northerly direction, towards Viterbo. Spread out on a hill going down to the lake, a superb Italian-style small town, Bracciano combines lush vegetation and a fascinating 1,000-year history. It is the perfect place for water related sports and also, a relaxing oasis far from Rome's vigorous way of life. Its history is linked with the Roman families Orsini and Odeschalchi, dukes of Bracciano, evidence of which can be seen at Castello Orsini Odeschalchi, built in a pure Romanesque style. Aside from touring around the lake and admiring the view, you can take your time and visit the area around San Liberato church, with its beautiful gardens, built on top of the ancient Forum Clodii citadel. An alternative is a visit to Aquae Apollinari, an old settlement developed around local thermal springs.
Sperlonga - often called "Borgo più bello d'Italia” – the most beautiful village in Italy
128 km / 2h
Recommended for: beach, history, picturesque landscape
We are convinced that most of the people visiting Rome don't know about the very existence of this place. A town with a fabulous Blue Flagged beach, Sperlonga can be reached by going south from the capital on Strada Statale Pontina 148 along the coast. Sperlonga is somewhat Greek in aspect, offering a lovely architecture, white houses, an intricate web of pretty narrow streets, perfect for an excursion by car outside Rome. Aside from the beach and the medieval town, you can visit the Villa di Tiberio (Tiberius Villa), with countless caverns and paintings, or the National Museum, both open every day, from morning to evening.
32 km / 41 min
Recommended for: nature, gardens, castles, history
Villa Adriana was the temple of emperor Hadrian, who built an amusement park, here, reproducing the ancient world wonders. Today this is just a mix of Roman ruins in the middle of nature, where ‘light and sound’ shows take place every other Friday in July and August. Villa d'Este, on the other hand, is the most beautiful manor in Tivoli and one of the most appreciated in Italy, thanks to the wonderful gardens sheltering over 80 fountains of all shapes and styles, to create a magical space, vertically assembled on a steep hill. It is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Both villas are open from 9 AM till sunset, Tuesday to Sunday. Get in the car and drive 40 minutes to Tivoli along the E80; it is well worth the effort.
Ostia Antica - Rome’s ancient main port
31 km / 48 min
Recommended for: history, archaeology
Today's Ostia is a huge archaeological site at under one hour’s drive towards the south-western coast. If you are planning to get there by car, you just have to follow Via del Mare all the way to Ostia. You will need a whole day if you want to examine everything of importance, a full tableau depicting the Roman Empire's way of life and activities. There are a few things you should not miss: Terme di Nettuno, Piazza delle Corporazioni, Thermopolium, the Domus di Amore e Psiche (the House of Cupid and Psyche), the ancient theatre and the splendid mosaic floors. Ostia Antica is a very interesting site of great archaeological splendour, worth seeing at a relaxed pace.
21 km / 46 min
Recommended for: wine tasting, castles, villas, gardens
Scattered on the Alban Hills, southeast of Rome, in an area known as Castelli Romani, you can discover approximately 15 historic villages, known for their wineries, castles and gardens. Frascati is one of the villages definitely to be recommended, a place renowned for the white wine with the same name, but also for its exquisite manors. After driving for around 45 minutes, following Via Tuscolana, you will see a few examples of great architecture, like Villa Torlonia or Villa Aldobrandini with its Teatro delle Acque ("Water Theater", created by Carlo Maderno).
We have left the Vatican, officially known as the Vatican City State, till the end of our "Car hire Rome" report because we wanted to give it the prominence it is due, being a state inside another state. It is actually the smallest internationally recognized independent state on earth by both area and population. It has a border, guards (ok, only symbolic) and a flag. Passing from Rome to the Vatican, you cross a white line on the pavement in front of Piazza San Pietro. After purchasing your tickets, which we recommend you do online before your trip, you will enter the residence of the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church. Aside from receiving an incredible number of tourists, St. Peter's square is where Catholics gather to celebrate special occasions. The Pope uses the famous balcony to proclaim "urbi et orbi", transmitting a multi-language message to everyone. In the middle of the square you can observe the huge Obelisk and the two fountains, works of Michelangelo and Bernini, respectively. Also here are the 5.5 m tall statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, erected in 1847.
The most important attraction of the Vatican is, without any doubt, the Basilica di San Pietro, the largest and the most important Christian edifice in the world, being regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. Here you can admire a multitude of priceless artworks, by Michelangelo, Raphael or Caravaggio as well as perhaps Michelangelo’s most important artistic achievement, the Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel). Other important works of art can be admired inside the Vatican Museum, where the considerable collection built up by the Popes over the centuries is displayed.
Glorious past, tolerable development and great roads
Hopefully, you now realize that Rome means a lot more than a conglomeration of monuments, obelisks, fountains, churches and archaeological artefacts. Rome has a special, almost miraculous atmosphere, quite unique in the world and best felt when enjoying a cappuccino in front of the Colosseo, grabbing an ice cream, watching the street artists in Piazza Navona or admiring a sunset from the top of one of the seven hills. However, Rome also needs to protect its incredible share of vestiges, restoring and conserving them. And that is sometimes done at the expense of modern development. After so many wars and natural disasters, it is an amazing achievement that we can still find so many legacies of ancient Rome.
You do not need to worry because the roads all around the city are in a perfect state and if you know how to avoid the traffic, you will be just fine. Renting a car in Rome from Autoclick brings you a free GPS device. Use it wisely to see and do everything you consider important and you will be sure to enjoy your visit.