Visiting the Real Rome

09/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When a traveler steps out into Rome's streets, there is no doubt they will carry a checklist of  must-see places. And with good reason, as every person visiting should experience its grandeur and ponder the historical significance of the great Roman monuments. But there is so much more to discover than the sites trampled by every travel writer ever assigned to the Eternal City.

Rome is in fact a vibrant city not only meant to hold tourist attractions. It is brimming with artists, craftsmen, and quirkiness just waiting to be seen by the curious traveler who dares to wander off the beaten path.

Of course there are the money belt-wearing visitors who prefer to ride in an overly air-conditioned tour bus until it's time to spill out into Rome's streets on a shopping spree for cheesy souvenirs manufactured in Asia.
Our latest episode is probably not for them.

(If you've got a fast connection, be sure to watch it in super high-def over at

Beyond the Monuments

Undoubtedly any guidebook you buy will give information on the must-see major sites like the Colosseum, the Forum, Vatican City, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. You don't need me to tell you about their splendor.

During our visit we wanted to also show a more nuanced version of Rome, in addition to the amazing well-known places. So we sought the help of Context Travel, which provides in-depth walking tours led by scholars, in groups no larger than six people. I highly recommend them for any visitors considering or planning a trip to Rome.

Art-lovers will find the book Michelangelo's Rome to be a handy companion, with its maps and detailed descriptions of the artlist's life and work throughout the city.

Take some time to stroll the streets at night. Stand in line for gelato
that will change your view of frozen desserts forever. We visited Giolitti which is frequented by visitors who love its charm and deliciousness. However, many may miss the fact that it's also one of the oldest gelaterias in Rome, and first opened its doors in 1900. It has remained family-owned ever since.

Be sure to sip a morning
espresso while standing up at a coffee bar like the locals. Our favorite is the tiny but incredible
Sant'Eustachio in Piazza Sant' Eustachio, just down the street and around the corner from the Pantheon.

Rome: A Shopping Mecca

It's beyond me why anyone would go shopping for shot glasses or t-shirts to mark the occassion of a visit to Rome, as you could probably just order those things online. So if you're looking for something truly unique try a flea market, an antique shop, or a purse-maker like  Sirni Pelletteria on Via della Stelletta.

There are also wonderful sights to be seen, and snacks to be had at any of Rome's food markets. We showed the Vittorio Markets in Piazza Vittorio because they are lesser known than some others, yet no less bustling with activity. If you visit a food market, be sure and study up on local customs, as they may not be what you expect.

Above all, be open to discovering more about Rome than your guidebook tells you about and you'll have the trip of a lifetime.