There's no escaping it: Rome means history. There's layers of the stuff - Etruscan tombs, Republican meeting rooms, Imperial temples, early Christian churches, medieval bell towers, Renaissance palaces and baroque basilicas. In this city a phenomenal concentration of history, legend and monuments coexists with an equally phenomenal concentration of people busily going about their everyday life. It's hard to say what you'll find most breathtaking about the eternal city - the arrogant opulence of the Vatican, the timelessness of the Forum, the top speed of a Fiat Bambino or the bill for your caffŔ latte.
Population: 2.7 million
Time: GMT/UTC plus one hour (plus two hours in summer)
Telephone area code: 06
Rome is halfway down Italy's western coast, about 20km (12mi) inland. It's a vast city, but the historic centre is quite small. Most of the major sights are within a reasonable distance of the central railway station, Stazione Termini. It is, for instance, possible to walk from the Colosseum, through the Forum, up to Piazza di Spagna and across to the Vatican in one day, but you wouldn't really want to. All the major monuments are west of the train station, but make sure you use a map. While it can be enjoyable to get off the beaten track in Rome, it can also be very frustrating and time-consuming.
The Palatine Hill and the Forum are the centre of ancient Rome. Via del Corso runs north from the Forum to Piazza del Popolo, with the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain just to its east. The Vatican is northwest of the Forum, across the River Tiber.
Most of the budget places to stay are clustered around Stazione Termini; this area is rife with pickpockets and gangs of thieving children, so beware - do your best to look like you know where you're going (pretend you're John Travolta strutting along to 'Staying Alive'). It is only slightly more expensive and definitely more enjoyable to stay closer to the city centre. Good-quality, reasonably priced meals can be found in the trattorie around Piazza Navona and in Trastevere.
Fiumicino airport is about 26km (16mi) southwest of the city. Stazione Termini is just northeast of the Palatine Hill and the Forum. The main bus station is just outside Termini.