City Life: Piazza people-watching
It's true: Rome wasn't built in a day - and almost every moment of its lengthy and splendid history is still visible in some form.
Parts of the city are perfectly mediaeval; Renaissance and Baroque buildings soar skyward, and breathtaking sculpture sits on every corner. With the Vatican in town, Easter and Christmas are highlights on Rome's calendar, but pilgrims of an artistic persuasion flock to the tiny city state all year to adore Raphael and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes. Rome is also about the art of life - food, fashion and fun are enjoyed with religious zeal in this most sensual of capitals. Live la dolce vita as the locals do: colonise a café in the Campo de' Fiori; linger longer over rustic pasta in a traditional trattoria; let your feet wander and your eyes roam.
Driving in Rome is not for the nervous, and unless you want to venture further, a car will be more of a pain than a pleasure. You can park in blue zones for €1 an hour; the daily rate for carparks is around €25. Cars with foreign plates are not allowed in the historical centre.
Rome is served by two airports: Fiumicino and Ciampino (www.adr.it). A cab from Fiumicino into the city will set you back €60 (it should be less on the way back from Rome, though). From Ciampino, the 15km taxi ride to the city centre costs €30; a public bus departs for Anagnina metro station at least once an hour (30 minutes from central Rome) for a couple of euro.
Stazione Termini is the main station, providing express connections (www.trenitalia.it) to other Italian cities, including Florence. The Leonardo Express to Fiumicino airport departs every half an hour and takes 35 minutes and costs around €10.
Country code for Italy: +39. Rome: 06 (don't forget to retain the initial '0' of the area code when dialling from outside Italy).
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon; Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley is set mostly in Rome; Anthony Capella's The Food of Love; Open City: Seven Writers in Postwar Rome, edited by William Weaver.
Do go / Don't Go
In summer, the city gets sweaty; you may prefer spring or autumn, but winter is the quietest. Any time of year, one of the pleasures of a visit to the Eternal City is to simply dive off the busy tourist routes and explore its countless lesser-known treasures at random. Rome's museums are often surprisingly uncrowded.
The foundation of Roman food is cucina povera (rustic cooking); much of it focuses on offal and working-class staples, such as trippa all Romana (tripe with tomato ragù) and baccalà (fried salt cod), but there are plenty of less challenging delicacies, such as saltimbocca (veal rolls with sage) and rigatoni all'amatriciana (pasta with tomato and pancetta sauce). Thursday is gnocchi day, when dumplings are a special on many menus.
You can hail them everywhere, and taxi ranks display numbers to call. Avoid the many unofficial and unlicensed taxis, especially for airport rides - if in doubt, ask your hotel to arrange transport.
15 per cent is usually added in restaurants, but anything extra does not always go to staff; leave your small change for drinks.
Rosary beads; a pick and shovel to unearth the ancient artefacts lurking beneath the streets (the reason Rome's metro system has never been completed); flat shoes; plenty of blister-soothing plasters.
Wherever you wander, Rome's importance to Western civilisation is inscribed in stone: the Colosseum, the Forum, St Peter's, the Sistine Chapel, and the Pantheon are all worth eyeballing. Visiting the Vatican? Plan carefully: queues can be horrific and it will eat up your whole day. Galleria Doria Pamphilj (www.doriapamphilj.it) is a palazzo groaning with C15th-C18th treasures; Villa Borghese boasts spectacular grounds and a magnificent art collection (www.galleriaborghese.it); and Rome's cake-layers of history are visible near the Colosseum at Basilica di San Clemente.
The Pantheon is the most perfectly preserved ancient building in the city. The enormous columns in the entrance were transported all the way from Egypt, and the dramatic interior is richly decorated in marbles beneath the massive masonry ceiling.
Via Condotti, starting at the foot of the Spanish Steps, is Rome's most prominent shopping street; Via Frattina runs parallel, along the same lines. Via del Corso focuses on younger styles. If you prefer edgy and unusual, poke about near Piazza del Popolo; Via Sistina is good for small, stylish outlets. On Via Nazionale, you'll find leather stores and a handful of boutiques. The open-air Porta Portese fleamarket in Trastevere is the largest in Europe, held every Sunday from 5am until around 2pm.
Piazza del Campidoglio by night, for panoramas over the Forum and the Palatine, or the top of the Spanish Steps, for a view over the Centro Storico to St Peter's - one Shelley and Keats doubtless swooned over.
An audience with the Pope is free (www.vatican.va). Or test the world's oldest lie detector in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where you can play at being Hepburn and Peck in Roman Holiday. No fibbing, though: if you lie while your hand is in the carved-marble Bocca della Verità ('mouth of truth'), it will be bitten off.
March/April Good Friday: the Via Crucis, a torch-lit procession from the Colosseum up the Monte Palatino reenacting the 14 stations of the cross. On Easter Sunday, the Pope gives his blessing from the balcony of St Peter's (www.vatican.va). May Primo Maggio, the annual May Day festival in Piazza San Giovanni, welcomes spring with a big free stage gig (www.primomaggio.com). June-July Around Sound, a month of nightly jazz at La Palma Club (www.lapalmaclub.it). 29 June The feast day of Rome's patron saints Peter and Paul shuts the city down. September Photography festival FotoGrafia (www.fotografiafestival.it). La Notte Bianca keeps you up all night with music, drama and dance - perfect for 24-hour party people (www.lanottebianca.it). RomaEuropa Festival: big-hitting culture (www.romaeuropa.net). October Celluloid is celebrated at the Rome Film Fest (www.romacinemafest.org). November The annual Roma Jazz Festival brings bebop, swing and all things snazzy to the Eternal City (www.romajazzfestival.it). 25 December The pope's Christmas blessing is delivered at noon.