Doug Pearson  /  © JAI/Corbis
Via Condotti, Rome, Italy
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 3/27/2007 6:23:07 PM ET 2007-03-27T22:23:07

Rome has had three millennia to dominate the Western World, fall to ruins, and rise again, in the process creating some of the greatest works of art and architecture mankind has ever known. And you have just one day to see it all? Good luck. The following itinerary merely scrapes the surface of the city. To really get to know Rome you’ll have to return with shoes comfortable enough to tread the cobble stone streets gladiators, popes, Caesars and slaves once strode, carefully working your way through the frescoed churches, glorious ruins, lively piazzas, world class museums, and superb restaurants that give Rome its enduring grace and power.

7 a.m. - noon: No time for breakfast. In order to see the VaticanMuseums , you’re going to have to grab a roll and coffee and join the line with the hundreds of other art lovers, pilgrims and bewildered-looking tourists who flood from the tour buses, urged by their guides to run, run, run into line (sometimes a difference of five minutes getting into the queue can mean an extra half-hour wait to enter the museum itself, as several tour buses can disgorge their loads in that time). Leave large bags and backpacks at your hotel in order to get through the airport-level security quicker. And get used to being jostled on you tour, as you’ll be surrounded by a parade’s worth of people at all times. Try not to let all of the crowd management destroy your ability to enjoy the wonders here — the recently restored Sistine Chapel, its colors now as bright as a rose garden in full sunlight; the splendid Borgia apartments, all gilt and marble, its chapel frescoed by Fra Angelico (the popes really knew their bling bling back then!); the achingly beautiful Raphael rooms; the writhing struggle of the Laocoon; and more and more and more. Try not to fall prey to “Sistine Chapel” fever which causes tourists to run straight towards the chapel without noticing all the wonders on the way. You may want to consider devoting almost the entire day to just the Vatican, touring it with the erudite and entertaining Through Eternity Tours, which offers a first-rate, five hour tour (with a stop for lunch), led by its staff of local art historians, art restorers, and archaeologists (they moonlight as tour guides to pick up extra cash.)

Morning Alternative
Reserve a place about a week in advance for the Galleria Borghese , a grand mansion, the beauty of which is matched only by the treasures inside. Since crowds are limited here (hence the need for advance reservations), touring it is far more pleasant than the Vatican, and since it’s much smaller, you can linger in front of Caravaggio’s Jerome, Bernini’s Appollo and Daphne, Titian’s rendering of Sacred and Profane Love, or one of the other great works,taking the time you need to soak it all in. After you’ve had your fill of art, wander into the surrounding Borghese Gardens, an elegant greenbelt with a circumference of 3.5 miles, a small zoo, lovely fountains and several grassy vistas, perfect for a short nap in the sun.

12:30 p.m - 2 p.m.: Grab a quick lunch at the down-home, friendly pizzeria Dino & Tony’s , near the Vatican. A tiny, family-owned place, it’s where the locals go to escape the tourist hordes. You’ll want to rest your eyes after the art overload of the Vatican, and here, you don’t even have to look at a menu. There isn’t one — the waiter simply rattles off a few choices of what’s best that day. Expect piping hot, super fresh pizza and pasta dishes, tasty and simply prepared.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Move from Catholic Rome into Imperial Rome with an afternoon at the Roman Forum and Colosseum . It’s not a bad idea to join one of the guided tours that regularly form on the plaza between the two sites, so that you can learn all about the fights staged for amusement in the Colosseum (bear vs. lion, man vs. bear), including naval battles in which the central circle was flooded so that actual boats could sail around, the sailors battling to the death. You’ll also see the famous sights of the Forum, from arches commemorating military victories, to the huge market that once filled parts of the Forum, where grains, wines and mice (a delicacy back then), among many other goods, were sold. Or do it on your own, with the help of a good guidebook; the stark beauty of these ruins cuts through the centuries.

Afternoon Alternative
Piazza hop. Rome is a walking city (partially because the public transportation is so spotty), and simply getting lost on its winding streets is one of the chief delights of visiting. You may want to plan a walk that winds past the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Colonna and the Piazza di Montecitorio, but truthfully, whatever route you choose will have its merits. I can’t think of any area of Rome not worth a stroll.

5:30-8:30: Watch the sun set over Rome from the roof of the Hotel Raphael , and sit simply enjoying the darkening domes, spires and rooftops of the cityscape as you sip a campari and soda or a glass of good Italian wine.

8:30-10:30: Splurge on dinner at Agata e Romeo’s .Owned by a husband and wife team, Romeo Caraccio keeps the atmosphere friendly in the dining room while chef and popular cookbook author Agata Parisella does her magic in the kitchen, transforming rustic Lazio favorites into such gourmet delights as risotto with quail egg and prosciutto, and eel with pine nuts and raisins.

10:30 on: Cross the Tiber to Trastevere, Rome’s happening nightlife neighborhood, where the streets buzz until 2 or 3 in the morning. Hop from friendly bar to bar, stopping to watch street musicians (when the weather is temperate) and the chic, young crowd as it flits this way and that.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

The Vatican Museumis in Vatican City, its entrance on Viale Vaticano, phone 06-69884341; www.vatican.va. It’s open from 8:45 to 3:20 in high season (mid-March to mid-October) and from 8:45 to 12:20 the rest of the year (and on Saturdays and the last Sunday of each month). Admission is 12 euros, though the on the last Sunday of each month, admissions charges are waived.

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Galleria Borghese, Piazza Scipione Borghese 5, off Via Pinciano, phone 06-8417645 in advance for reservations; www.galleriaborghese.it/. Admission is 8.50 euros, open Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Dino & Tony’s, Via Leoni IV 60, phone 06-39733284. Closed Sundays.

Roman Forum, Via dei Fori Imperiali, phone 06-39967600. Admission to the Forum is free but if you add in the Palatine Hill, you’ll pay 8 euros (if you go to the Colosseum, though, you won’t have to pay anything extra for the Palatine). From April to September it’s open daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the rest of the year open from 9am to 4:30. The last admission is an hour before closing.

Colosseum, Piazale del Colosseo, Via dei Fori Imperiale, phone 06-39967600. Admission is 10 euros, with guided tours for an extra 3.50 euros (this admissions ticket covers both the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill).

Hotel Raphael, Largo Febo 2, phone 06-682031.

Agata e Romeo, Via Carlo Alberto 45, phone 06-4466115. Reservations recommended. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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