Dramatic ruins stud the green belt of world-famous archaeological sites south of the Capitoline hill. To the east, the Esquiline hill climbs past medieval Monti, ending at the seedy Termini area.
SEE Case Romane del Celio
Clivo di Scauro (Piazza S. Giovanni e Paolo), 011-39/06-7045-4544, caseromane.it
Just south of the Colosseum and removed from the tourist chaos, the Celio hill is home to sunbaked brick walls, unkempt greenery, and several rustic churches. Lying beneath the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo are the Case Romane, a group of third-century a.d. Roman homes with well-preserved wall frescoes. Fortunately, this site is open to the public. It's a rare opportunity to visit one of the few surviving examples of ancient domestic architecture. Closed Tues. and Wed. $7.50.
Capitoline Museums, Piazza del Campidoglio 1, 011-39/06-8205-9127, museicapitolini.org
Presiding over the northern end of the Roman Forum valley like a custom-built viewing gallery, the vaulted arcades of the Tabularium, or Roman records hall, date back to 78 b.c. but have only been open to the public since 2000. The building is a potent demonstration of the structural strength of arches and vaults, and its ponderous red tufa blocks, made from soft volcanic stone, have served as the foundation of the Palazzo Senatorio (city hall) since the 11th century. Closed Mon. $7.75.
EAT Hostaria Isidoro
Via S. Giovanni in Laterano 59A, 011-39/06-700-8266
Revel in the glory of pasta at this cozy hostaria, where the specialty is the assaggini misti (pasta tasting menu). Partitioned cafeteria-style plates are heaped with steaming gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce, tagliolini with artichokes, or penne with walnut-cream sauce--to name a few dishes. Prices are based on how many rounds you last. Closed for lunch Sat.
SPLURGE Crostaceria Ipanema
Via dei Capocci 26, 011-39/06-482-4758
A candlelit bamboo-walled dining room that's a memorable setting for a seafood feast. Whether raw or cooked, the lobster, mussels, clams, crabs, crayfish, shrimp, and scallops dazzle the taste buds with their freshness and subtle seasonings. The house torre dei frutti di mare (tower of raw and steamed shellfish and crustaceans, from $38) is a showstopper, presented with theatrical flair by skilled and friendly staff. Closed Sun. Dinner only.
DRINK Al Vino Al Vino
Via dei Serpenti 19, 011-39/06-485-803
A small, convivial enoteca (wine bar) with a quiet back room and a louder, more sociable front room. Wines by the bottle or glass, from all price ranges, include old favorites like Brunello di Montalcino, an exquisite full-bodied red from Tuscany, and harder-to-find regional varietals such as Colli Lanuvini, an inexpensive white made on the volcanic hills of south Rome. You can also order plates heaped with olives, bread, and cured meats and cheeses.
Via F. Turati 171, 011-39/06-444-841, rome.radissonsas.com
With cocktail tables set up on the swimming-pool deck of the four-year-old Radisson SAS hotel, this rooftop bar is a minimalist oasis in the seedy district south of Termini station. It's especially popular in summer, when organized nighttime poolside parties are the norm. The hypnotic view from the pool deck, over the 1930s travertine arches of the train station, could have inspired a de Chirico painting.
SHOP Capitoline Museums bookshop
Piazza del Campidoglio 1, 011-39/06-678-2913, museicapitolini.org
Great for souvenirs. The functional or frivolous curios are inspired by classical antiquity. Wonderful children's books about ancient life and all manner of prints of local landmarks are also for sale. Closed Mon.
Piazza degli Zingari 11, 011-39/06-481-4160
A clever mix of retail and gallery space, this boutique in newly trendy Monti sells edgy apparel and accessories by up-and-coming designers, while simultaneously exhibiting artwork by young European painters and photographers. A pleasant surprise after the mass-market threads on nearby Via Nazionale. Closed Sun.
Via dei Cercenii 15, 011-39/06-780-1214
Take a horseback tour of the Appian Way, and commune with the spirits of Roman legionnaires. A mile south of the Catacombs, this no-frills stable offers one-hour rides along the 2,300-year-old basalt flagstones of the "Queen of Roads" and through the countryside,which is strewn with ruins of tombs and imperial retreats. You'll also see to-die-for residences of modern-day rich-and-famous Romans, as well as working farms. Moonlight rides offered June--Sept. Have your hotel call and reserve; the stable owners are friendly but don't speak much English. Closed Mon. $32 per hour with wine and snack. Cash only.