It’s the city that birthed an empire, where history and culture intertwine along every street – which makes it perfect for exploring on a cruise, says Oliver Hughes

From the breathtaking Renaissance architecture of St Peter’s Basilica to the enchanting gardens of the Villa Borghese, Rome is quite simply one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Roman mythology dates the foundation of Rome at 753 BC, but the sites of the ‘seven hills’ which form the geographical heart of the city have been occupied for much longer, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in Europe. Today it offers a heady mix of culture, history and chaos. If it’s your first visit to the Eternal City then the good news is that it’s possible to see all the major sights in a day – just make sure you throw three coins in the water of the Fontana di Trevi and you’re guaranteed to return to experience more of la dolce vita.

Must-sees
It’s remarkably easy to walk around Rome (just be careful when you’re crossing the roundabout in front of the Vittorio Emanuele II). Start at St Peter’s Square in Vatican City and make your way to the Colosseum. If you get there early the queues won’t be too bad and it’s well worth paying the entry fee for a look at the ancient gladiatorial tunnels. Roman ruins are everywhere. Visit the Forum, observe the ancient designs on Trajan’s Column, head to the Flavian Amphitheatre, site of gladiatorial combat and the centrepiece of Roman architecture, and take a trip around the Circus Maximus – the 150,000-seat chariot racing stadium, one of the largest capacity stadia in history. There are also three triumphal arches. The Pantheon, completed by Hadrian and dating back to AD 126 is perfectly preserved, with a spectacular dome and occulus giving a view straight up to the sky. Nearby you’ll find the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps) – climb to the top and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view. If you want to see the Pope, arrive at St Peter’s Square on a Sunday morning at 11am, ready for the personal appearance by ‘Papa’ at midday. Sports fans should try and catch a home game of Lazio or AS Roma – both play in the Olympic stadium (the derby between the two, the Derby della Capitale, is one of the most heated in world football).

Where to eat
Pizzerias are of course dotted around everywhere (just like cafés – Italians do love their coffee). Roman pizzas are thin and crispy, but you will also find Neapolitan style eateries with the chewier dough. Sforno is one of the best of this style, while Da Remo serves the classic Roman style, alongside craft beer or wine. The Piazza Navona is always a good place to stop for a bite to eat and soak up the atmosphere while the Antico Forno Roscioli is a historic bakery that offers light snacks or a hearty lunch, prepared by one of Rome’s oldest families. Roman food can be quite salty but it’s absolutely delicious – for real authentic Italian food, head across the Tiber river to Trastevere – this is where the Romans go.

Shopping
Just in front of the Spanish Steps lies perhaps the most famous shopping street in Rome, the Via dei Condotti. Every designer can be found here – Prada, Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana. The area around the Spanish Steps also features local art dealers and some lovely artisan souvenir shops. The Via dei Corso offers more mass market shops but the Galleria Alberto Sordi has stylish boutiques and is a great place to enjoy a coffee. In Prati, just north of the Vatican, the Via Cola di Rienzo has a collection of more reasonably priced shops and local specialists.

Where to stay
Loved by tennis legend Roger Federer, the elegant Jumeirah Grand Hotel Via Veneto is an art deco masterpiece close to the Villa Borghese gardens. Rooms are contemporary and stylish, and the bathrooms are particularly luxurious, with Bulgari toiletries. The spa is absolutely beautiful, offering a range of Sisley treatments, Vichy showers and a Vitality pool. Breakfast is served in the open air courtyard, and there’s also a gorgeous rooftop bar where you can enjoy an aperetifo or two before heading out into the night. Superior rooms start at 236 Euros a night.

Getting there
Cruise ships dock at Civitavecchia, which is just over an hour outside Rome by road. You can take the train into the city, or cruise lines will often provide a shuttle bus to the city.