What to do in Rome when its really cold?
January 30, 2012 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm doing a last minute long weekend for my wife's birthday in Rome in a couple of days. I've got some good feedback on dining ideas, but I'd love any suggestions for other tourist stuff to do in the dead of winter. We've done most of the big sights, but special exhibits at the galleries or off the beaten trail suggestions very welcome.
posted by Lame_username to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What kinds of things do you usually enjoy? TimeOut Rome usually has good suggestions on shows and concerts, although one of the best things is to keep an eye out for church concerts or choral performances, which are often free or inexpensive and held in beautiful spaces you might not have considered. (If you're into that!) There are often shows in the old Temple to the Deified Hadrian, near the Pantheon; I've seen crazy modern jewelry displays along with other random exhibits.

The panoramic view from the Gianicolo hill, which is above Trastevere and the Vatican, is one of the best in the city, and is especially nice quite early or just at sunset. There are little plaques that identify some of the most common landmarks as well, and while the walk up is steep, it's in an area with a number of foreign embassy residences and parks, as well as parts of the old Aurelian walls. (Bonus: the facade of the house where Michelangelo lived!) There are several buses that should take you up the hill, or a cab could certainly be hired. If you like museums (and haven't been them before) the Capitoline Museums can easily take up many hours, but the view out over the Forum is incredible. Less well-known (or at least visited) are the much smaller Barracco, close to the Campo de' Fiori, and the large Museo Nazionale Romano delle Terme (several buildings) by the Baths of Diocletian, close to Termini. The Villa Giulia is farther out, but worth a trip to see the incredible jewelry and art of the Etruscans, whose style is often quite different than what most people think of in the Greco-Roman world. Also has a nice temple reconstruction.

If it's nice out, there's a whole string of churches on the Caelian that are interesting to pop into-- St. Stefano Rotondo dates to the 5th century and has an um, interesting set of freschi, along with mosaics and other details. Closer in, the Basilica di San Clemente manages to cram an immense amount of history in a small church, and the mosaics of Santa Pudenziana are really incredible.

(Okay, I'm hugely biased in terms of museums, but even if you're not a huge archaeology buff, there are some awesome remnants around you may not have seen before-- bits of the original Piazza Navona, parts of theatres built into restaurants, the "Monte Testaccio" made of shattered amphorae, the temples in the Largo Argentina... If you can pick up a Blue Guide in the next few days, I highly recommend it. It will have basic floor plans of the museums, along with highlights of the collection, food recommendations, and information about the streets and stones around you that you never might have considered. You can sort of make your own tour of Caravaggio's Rome, for example, or retrace some of the old pilgrim routes in and out of the city. Very readable and not at all like a normal tour book.)

And although you said you're set on food, if you're a fan of wine or cheese, I can't recommend Volpetti more. You can taste, buy wine or vacuum-sealed cheese, or just picnic supplies. Several of the bars (well, coffee shops/restaurants/bars) in Trastevere offer music, book readings, and art shows at a variety of intensities so it might be worth your time to poke around a little bit. Also if you're early risers, there is nothing better than seeing the sunrise really climb up over Rome, getting a quick caffe' standing up at a bar, and watching fresh loaves of bread come out of vast ovens. (I hate mornings, but I honestly thought the tradeoff was worth it.)

Uh sorry this is getting ridiculous so if I can clarify anything just let me know...
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:03 PM on January 30, 2012

The view from the rooftop cafe at Splendide Royal is amazing- you can see all the way out to the Vatican over the river. The hotel is above the Spanish steps and a few blocks away (across from the gardens). Expensive to stay at but you can head up to the rooftop for the view, its polite to buy a coffee when up there of course.

I know you said you are set on food but really really please consider both Ristorante il Gabriello (order the Extravaganza for 45e and be amazed at the custom chef;s menu -Via Vittoria 51, Rome, Italy) and Trattoria Der Pallaro (no menu, you eat what the chef has prepared, see my review here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187791-d1086875-r117830071-Trattoria_Der_Pallaro-Rome_Lazio.html)
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:25 PM on January 30, 2012

Not ridiculous at all! I loved the answer. We're normally pretty big on museums and architecture, so your list was right on time. We've done the Vatican and the Borghese, but I actually rushed through the Capitoline and feel like I gave short shrift to it, so I'd enjoy another shot at it. I've been geeking out on Peter Heather's amazing The Fall of the Roman Empire : A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, so I have a renewed interest in imperial Rome.

Volpetti looks amazing! Unfortunately, it will be cold and rainy the entire time we're there, so walking about might be a bit problematic.
posted by Lame_username at 5:28 PM on January 30, 2012

Based on the feedback thus far, I withdraw my assertion that I'm covered for food. I'll happily accept any and all suggestions for everything!
posted by Lame_username at 5:41 PM on January 30, 2012

Seconding jetlagaddict's recommendation for the Blue Guide; it is crammed with information no other guidebook has. Don't miss San Clemente.

For something highly memorable and creepy, consider the Capuchin catacombs on Via Veneto? . For something less creepy but still atmospheric, swing by and hear the nuns singing the service at Santa Cecilia on the way to dinner in Trastevere.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:51 PM on January 30, 2012

There used to be a wonderful bus (the 75?) that looped around from the Colosseum, past the Baths of Caracalla, the Pyramid of Cestius/Wall Museum, and Volpetti's...and then continued through Trastevere and up the hill to the Gianicolo. I didn't want to mention it before because it's been a couple of years since the last time I was in Rome, but if there is a similar route it was the cheapest tour bus I've ever seen and very handy to get around!

If you're okay with cabs and like relatively cozy wine bars, there's Trimani Wine Bar, which is a few blocks away from Termini. Ahh let's just say I felt the cab was a good investment with four pleasantly tipsy lady friends-- not necessarily unsafe at night, but a great way to end a day tromping around. There's also Cavour 313, though I haven't been, not that Rome lacks cozy wine bars. (There is one with good food quite close to the corso Vittorio Emmanuale and I just can't remember what it's called, sorry!)

And if you're up for something quite different, Antico Arco is on top of the Gianicolo near the walls (and the road to the scenic vista point.) Very modern, very incredible food. Also there is a good Sicilian place, Lumie di Sicilia, half a mile or so into Monteverde Vecchio, that neighborhood. Much cheaper, can be very fun. Not necessarily something to trek/take a bus (oh, the 75! I miss you!) to, but if you're up in that area it's really good. My parents have insisted we go back three or four times.

Oh god oh god oh god the Capuchin catacombs is, like, the creepiest thing I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of dead things. Admittedly I was eleven. But still, cherubs made of scapulae and skulls-- I think either you love it or you hate it. And yes, Santa Cecilia! If you are Catholic, seeing mass is an excellent way to see the spaces; we did midnight mass on Christmas Eve in the Pantheon, and it was incredible. Also, sometimes the lights are actually on (Santa Maria Maggiore!)

Oh and hey if you want to really see Imperial Rome (and who doesn't?!) Amanda Claridge's second edition of Rome is out! I have the older one, which has survived since my junior year of high school. Great, great detailed and concise descriptions of the archaeological remains, including the very obscure. It's much more...nerdy? than the Blue Guides, but it's really a great book. Also has brief museum highlights, little maps, and literature references.

(PS, I'll be in Paris in three days...here's hoping for better weather! But seriously, aside from longer walks and the bigger sites-- the Palatine, the Baths of Caracalla, Ostia-- most of this is pretty doable in wetter weather. If nothing else it's a great excuse for a second -fourth- macchiato!)
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:08 PM on January 30, 2012

If you want to drive out of Rome, you might enjoy the Terme di Papi near Viterbo. It's basically a large spa centre, built upon naturally hot, sulphurous springs. There's a large, warm open air pool, naturally hot sauna cave, massages etc. I'm not a fan of being pampered and found it all a tad too clinical but it is great to be able to able to swim outside on a cold day in a bath temperature pool. (I wouldn't go again but if, unlike me, you like spas then it's probably worth a trip.) Looks like there's even a shuttle bus--no idea what's it's like, and you'd have to cab or tram to Piazza Mancini which is out on the way to the football stadium.

Saturnia is better, but another hour away. There's also a field closer to Rome with baths simply dug out of the clay... but can't remember where it was now!

You could also visit the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, although if you're coming from London you're likely not starved of art.

In the evening you could visit the opera house, Teatro dell'Opera. It's great to get one of the little boxes in the balcony and sip some prosecco.
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:39 PM on January 30, 2012

You guys missed the main activity we actually did, which was "Watch the entire city go into a mass freak out about the first snow in 26 years." For about 30 hours we couldn't really get away from our hilltop hotel -- no taxi would approach and one route was blocked by fallen trees and the other was blocked by cars strewn up and down the hillside. So we spent far more time in the hotel than we would have otherwise, but sometimes that is pretty much fun too!

We did San Clemente, which was fascinating as well as Volpetti for a few import supplies. I also had completely spaced out on the fact that we somehow missed out on the Borghese Museum because on our first trip it was closed and on our second we failed to secure a reservation because their draconian pre-reservation policy was very difficult to fit into our flexible schedule. We rectified that gap on this trip and, of course, loved it to death. Its actually now one of my favorite museums of all time. The combination of being just the right size and having so much fascinating period setting as well as art made it special. We even got to be literally the only ones in the room for many of the iconic pieces.
posted by Lame_username at 11:48 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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