Your Finnair Guide: Endless experiences in the Eternal City, Rome
Rome, the eternal city, has over 2,700 years of history, over 900 churches, and some of the most beautiful art to offer—not to mention the coffee and gelato breaks in between sightseeing. The best views of Rome can be seen from Gianicolo Hill, not far from the Vatican. Follow in the footsteps of our cabin crew member Beata and you’ll be sure to find the best-kept secrets of the eternal city.
Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire, vestiges of which can still be seen in the magnificent Colosseum and other ancient ruins. The city is also the capital of the Catholic Church, with the richest variety of pilgrimage sites on offer, ranging from the tombs of saints Peter and Paul to the catacombs and the relics of the Holy Cross discovered by St. Helena (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme).
Rome is also home to some of the world’s most stunning European art, especially the works of Michelangelo, Bernini, Rafael, and Caravaggio. Some of them are on display in the churches they were originally created for, free of charge and without queueing.
Experience the exciting underground Rome
Start off the beaten path by taking a bus to Via Appia Antica, an old Roman road leading into the capital whose population already reached one million two thousand years ago. Catacombs, for example, those of St. Sebastian and St. Callixtus, were created as underground cemeteries to bury the growing number of the deceased, and Christians also famously used these places for their worship. A guided underground tour of any of the catacombs costs only ten euros.
Closer to the centre, the Colosseum has recently opened an underground level, where the beasts were kept waiting for their turn before the show. Close to the Colosseum, a less-crowded but equally exciting place is San Clemente, a mediaeval church under which there are two more levels, a fourth-century basilica discovered in archaeological excavations, and a first-century level including a temple to Mithra, a Persian deity popular among ancient Roman soldiers.
Not far from the Colosseum, on a Roman street from the 1st century, you can visit well-preserved ancient Roman homes (Case Romane at Clivo di Scauro). For the creepiest experience, head to the Capuchin crypt on Via Vittorio Veneto, where you will find several rooms full of skulls, bones, and skeletons, mostly belonging to deceased friars.
Let world-famous art enchant you
The most famous art destination in Rome is the Vatican Museums, with several corridors full of ancient Roman statues, Renaissance frescoes, Raphael masterpieces, and finally Michelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel, where the pope is elected. On the last Sunday of the month, you can enter it free of charge, however, the lines are long.
Less known but more easily accessible is the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, located on the main street of Rome, Via del Corso. It is an amazing private collection of world-class art without long queues or mandatory pre-reservation. The house of the influential Doria Pamphilj family is worth seeing in its own right.
Other lesser-known art galleries include Villa Farnesina, with its frescoes by Raphael, and Palazzo Corsini, where Queen Christina of Sweden (and Finland), who abdicated the throne and moved to Rome, spent the last days of her life.
Few know that some of Caravaggio’s most impressive works are actually displayed in little-known churches that can be visited for free. On the beautiful Piazza del Popolo, there is the small church of Santa Maria del Popolo that features Caravaggio’s masterpieces on the Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter. The Chigi Chapel in the same church is known not only for its art but also for its adventurous role in the Da Vinci Code.
Speaking of Da Vinci, you can visit a Leonardo museum right next door to learn more about this world-famous genius. Feast your eyes on more Caravaggio by heading to San Luigi dei Francesi, the national church of the French, not far from one of Rome’s most famous sights, the Pantheon.
Enjoy the moment with gelato, caffè, and the views
The Pantheon, the temple of all gods in ancient Rome, is now dedicated to St. Mary and Christian martyrs, but it is also the resting place of the painter Raphael, King Vittorio Emanuele II, and Queen Margherita, the one who gave her name to the iconic Neapolitan pizza. Near the Pantheon, you can also enjoy some of the best Italian ice cream, gelato, and coffee, which in Italy is—as one Roman put it—“not a drink but a moment”.
After a caffeine energy boost, you will have the strength to climb up to see some of Rome’s best views. One option is the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica — the ever-narrowing staircase is an exciting climb and the views are definitely worth the effort! If you’re looking for a free option, go for a stroll up the Gianicolo Hill not far from the Vatican.
On top of it, you will discover Villa Lante, a gorgeous Renaissance villa belonging to Finland and housing a cultural institute as well as the office of Finland’s embassy to the Holy See. Unfortunately, the villa is currently not open for visitations due to renovations, which are expected to last until 2025. After admiring the breath-taking views from the Belvedere del Gianicolo, you can descend to the atmospheric streets of Trastevere for a traditional Italian lunch.
A special recommendation goes to Trattoria de Gli Amici (Piazza S. Egidio 6), where it is as much about food as it is about charity. For a traditional Roman restaurant with Finnish sympathies (spot a blue-and-white flag inside), head to Trattoria Da Valentino in Monti (Via Cavour, 293).
Finally, watch the award-winning movie Roman Holiday (1953) starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck and take a romantic stroll following in their steps through the classic places of the eternal city. They will guide you to such places as the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where the alleged remains of St. Valentine are also on display), Castel Sant’Angelo, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia, Piazza di Spagna, and the Forum Romanum, the heart of ancient Rome.
Your Finnair Guide series showcases different Finnair destinations through the eyes of finnairians. Join us to discover unique and not-so-obvious areas, places, sights and experiences that are worth a visit – those that locals also enjoy.