The elegant, crowded area from Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish Steps is retail heaven. To the east, Villa Borghese is a green escape. Below, Via Vittorio Veneto's hotels and cafés draw seekers of la dolce vita.
SEE Ara Pacis Museum
Lungotevere in Augusta near Ponte Cavour, 011-39/06-8205-9127
In 1996, American architect Richard Meier was commissioned to design a new exhibition space for a celebratory altar from 9 b.c., one of the finest surviving examples of Roman sculpture. Meier's contemporary-looking pavilion, which has been criticized for its resemblance to a "Texas gas station," is the first new building erected in the historic center of Rome since Mussolini's reign. Closed Mon. $8.25.
SEE Crypt of the Capuchin Monks
Under Santa Maria Immacolata Concezione, Via Veneto 27, 011-39/06-487-1185, cappucciniviaveneto.it
From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the skeletons of thousands of Capuchin monks were dismantled and meticulously arranged, according to bone type, in six chapels. Ribs and finger bones form delicate floral motifs, and femurs are stacked like firewood under dioramas of still-clothed skeletons said to be waiting for the Second Coming. Some visitors are freaked out by the "corrupt" use of human remains, but most are too fascinated to care. Closed Thurs. A small donation of a euro or two is expected.
EAT Osteria della Frezza
Via della Frezza 16, 011-39/06-3211-1482, gusto.it
A '30s-style osteria, where small plates (cicchetti) are paired with great wines. Choose from cheeses, olives, and charcuterie, as well as tapas-sized helpings of dishes like roasted lamb. In a back room, you can enjoy traditional meals. But the front salon, with its black-and-white tiles and dark wood and leather, is where the action is.
EAT San Marco
Via Sardegna 38G, 011-39/06-4201-2620
Take your pick from the countless pastas, meats, and pizzas served in differently styled dining rooms, including a modern New York--style bar area in front and a cozy, library-ish back room. Professionals from the offices around Via Veneto have made this their go-to happy hour and casual dinner joint. It's big and efficient enough, though, that you'll never wait for a table.
DRINK Caffè delle Arti
Via A. Gramsci 73 (next to the Villa Borghese park), 011-39/06-3265-1236
On a terrace attached to the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna and shaded by the trees of the Villa Borghese, this is a great spot for a midday glass of wine or beer. From May to September, the bar stays open well into the evening, with balmy weather drawing an attractive crowd into the depths of the park. Closes at 6 p.m. Mon.
Via Mario de' Fiori 65, 011-39/06-679-1275, cucinastore.com
Outfit your kitchen at the emporium of wooden, earthenware, and stainless-steel cooking tools, in basic shapes that have served Italian housewives for centuries. Primitive, inexpensive machines (food mills for homemade tomato sauce, Bialetti stove-top espresso makers) may look unfamiliar, but they're the staples of the Italian kitchen. Closed Mon. morning and Sun.
Via del Babuino 173, 011-39/06-3260-0361, fabrianoboutique.com
One of Italy's most renowned stationers, home to upscale art and writing papers, as well as beautiful blank journals and address books, some bound with reproductions of old maps of Rome and Venice. Closed Sun.
PLAY Villa Borghese rowboats
Laghetto di Villa Borghese
A man-made lake, complete with fake Roman temple, in the heart of the city's most famous public park. The barche a remi (boats) aren't the swiftest vessels, but they're a giddy way to break out of the sightseeing grind. 10 a.m.--7 p.m. daily, weather permitting. $6.25 per hour, cash only.
Once you've paid homage to Bernini's talents at St. Peter's Square, ogled Michelangelo's handiwork at the Sistine Chapel, and wandered through the numerous smaller museums at the Vatican, consider taking in the gardens to the north and west. Once filled with vineyards and orchards, the space is now laced with winding paths, flowers, groves, and fountains--a true oasis in the middle of Rome. There are also medieval structures built by popes past, including the prominent Villa Pia. Two-hour garden tours usually depart Tues., Thurs., and Sat. at 10 a.m. Reserve at least four days in advance by calling 011-39/06-6988-4676, or e-mailing email@example.com. $15, cash only. For more info, contact the Vatican Tourism Office (011-39/06-698-81662, vatican.va).