Rick Steves Rome 2016 - Rick Steves, Gene Openshaw (2015)
Rome is magnificent and brutal at the same time. It’s a showcase of Western civilization, with astonishingly ancient sights and a modern vibrancy. But if you’re careless, you’ll be run down or pickpocketed. And with the wrong attitude, you’ll be frustrated by the kind of chaos that only an Italian can understand. On my last visit, a cabbie struggling with the traffic said, “Roma chaos.” I responded, “Bella chaos.” He agreed.
Rome is a magnificent tangled urban forest. If your hotel provides a comfortable refuge; if you pace yourself; if you accept—and even partake in—the siesta plan; if you’re well-organized for sightseeing; and if you protect yourself and your valuables with extra caution and discretion, you’ll love it. (And Rome is much easier to live with if you can avoid the midsummer heat.)
Over two thousand years ago the word “Rome” meant civilization itself. Everything was either civilized (part of the Roman Empire, Latin- or Greek-speaking) or barbarian. Today, Rome is Italy’s political capital, the capital of Catholicism, and the center of its ancient empire, littered with evocative remains. As you peel through its fascinating and jumbled layers, you’ll find Rome’s buildings, cats, laundry, traffic, and 2.7 million people endlessly entertaining. And then, of course, there are its stupendous sights.
Visit St. Peter’s, the greatest church on earth, and scale Michelangelo’s 448-foot-tall dome. Learn something about eternity by touring the huge Vatican Museums. You’ll find the story of creation—bright as the day it was painted—in the restored Sistine Chapel. Do the “Caesar Shuffle” through ancient Rome’s Forum and Colosseum. Savor Europe’s most sumptuous building, the Borghese Gallery, and take an early evening Dolce Vita Stroll down Via del Corso with Rome’s beautiful people. Enjoy an after-dark walk from Campo de’ Fiori to the Spanish Steps, lacing together Rome’s Baroque and bubbly nightspots. Dine well at least once. Pope Francis has declared 2016 as an “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy” Holy Year, with special events planned (and larger crowds expected) here in the Eternal City.
Use this legend to help you navigate the maps in this book.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Rick Steves Rome 2016 is a personal tour guide in your pocket. Better yet, it’s actually two tour guides in your pocket: The co-author of this book is Gene Openshaw. Since our first “Europe through the gutter” trip together as high school buddies in the 1970s, Gene and I have been exploring the wonders of the Old World. An inquisitive historian and lover of European culture, Gene wrote most of this book’s self-guided museum tours and neighborhood walks. Together, Gene and I keep this book current (though for simplicity, from this point “we” will shed our respective egos and become “I”).
In this book, you’ll find the following chapters:
Orientation to Rome has specifics on public transportation, helpful hints, local tour options, easy-to-read maps, and tourist information. The “Planning Your Time” section suggests a schedule for how to best use your limited time.
Sights in Rome describes the top attractions and includes their cost and hours.
The Self-Guided Walks and Tours lead you through the heart of Rome, connecting the great monuments and atmospheric squares. You’ll tour the Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and Capitoline Museums. You’ll visit the pilgrimage churches, including the grandest of all—St. Peter’s. You’ll see the Vatican Museums, Borghese Gallery, National Museum of Rome, and St. Peter-in-Chains Church. You’ll explore Trastevere, the heart of the crusty, colorful neighborhood across the river; learn about the Jewish Ghetto, the city’s medieval Jewish quarter; and take a spin on the ancient Appian Way.
Key to This Book
This book is updated every year—but once you pin down Italy, it wiggles. For the latest, visit www.ricksteves.com/update.
Abbreviations and Times
I use the following symbols and abbreviations in this book:
Sights are rated:
Try hard to see
Worthwhile if you can make it
Worth knowing about
Tourist information offices are abbreviated as TI, and bathrooms are WCs. To categorize accommodations, I use a Sleep Code (described on here).
Like Europe, this book uses the 24-hour clock. It’s the same through 12:00 noon, then keeps going: 13:00, 14:00, and so on. For anything over 12, subtract 12 and add p.m. (14:00 is 2:00 p.m.).
When giving opening times, I include both peak season and off-season hours if they differ. So, if a museum is listed as “May-Oct daily 9:00-16:00,” it should be open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. from the first day of May until the last day of October (but expect exceptions).
If you see a symbol near a sight listing, it means that sight is described in far greater detail elsewhere—either with its own self-guided tour, or as part of a self-guided walk. A symbol indicates that a free, downloadable self-guided audio tour is available.
For transit or tour departures, I first list the frequency, then the duration. So, a train connection listed as “2/hour, 1.5 hours” departs twice each hour and the journey lasts an hour and a half.
Sleeping in Rome describes my favorite hotels, from good-value deals to cushy splurges, in several convenient (and for Rome, relatively quiet) neighborhoods near the sights.
Eating in Rome serves up a buffet of options, from inexpensive cafés to fancy restaurants.
Rome with Children includes my top recommendations for keeping your kids (and you) happy.
Shopping in Rome gives you tips for shopping painlessly and enjoyably, without letting it overwhelm your vacation or ruin your budget.
Nightlife in Rome is your guide to fun, including concerts, nightclubs, and my Dolce Vita Stroll.
Rome Connections lays the groundwork for your smooth arrival and departure, covering transportation by train, plane, bus, car, and cruise ship, with detailed information on Rome’s two airports (Fiumicino and Ciampino) and its two train stations (the main Termini Station and smaller Tiburtina).
Day Trips cover nearby sights: Ostia Antica, Tivoli, Naples, and Pompeii.
The Roman History chapter takes you on a whirlwind tour through the ages, covering three millennia from ancient Rome to the city today.
Practicalities is a traveler’s tool kit, with our best advice about money, sightseeing, sleeping, eating, staying connected, and transportation.
The appendix has the nuts-and-bolts: useful phone numbers and websites, a holiday and festival list, recommended books and films, a climate chart, a handy packing checklist, and Italian survival phrases.
Browse through this book and select your favorite sights. Then have a great trip! Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar. As you visit places I know and love, I’m happy that you’ll be meeting my favorite Romans.
This section will help you get started planning your trip—with advice on trip costs, when to go, and what you should know before you take off.
Many people travel through Italy thinking it’s a chaotic mess. They feel that any attempt at efficient travel is futile. This is dead wrong—and expensive. Rome, which seems as orderly as spilled spaghetti, actually functions quite well. Only those who understand this and travel smart can enjoy Rome on a budget.
This book can save you lots of time and money. But to have an “A” trip, you need to be an “A” student. Read it all before your trip, noting holidays, specific advice on sights, and days when sights are closed. For instance, to see the Borghese Gallery, you must reserve ahead. If you go to the Vatican Museums on a Sunday, you’ll run smack into closed doors, or—if it’s the last Sunday of the month—huge crowds. You can wait an hour to buy a ticket at the Colosseum, or save time by buying your ticket online or at the nearby Palatine Hill. Day-tripping to Ostia Antica on Monday is bad news. Designing a smart trip is a puzzle—a fun, doable, and worthwhile challenge.
Make your itinerary a mix of intense and relaxed stretches. Every trip—and every traveler—needs slack time (laundry, picnics, people-watching, and so on). Pace yourself. Assume you will return.
Even with the best-planned itinerary, you’ll need to be flexible. Update your plans as you travel. Get online or call ahead to double-check tourist information, learn the latest on sights (special events, tour schedules, and so on), book tickets and tours, make reservations, reconfirm hotels, and research transportation connections.
Enjoy the friendliness of the Roman people. Connect with the culture. Set up your own quest for the best piazza, church facade, or gelato. Slow down and be open to unexpected experiences. Ask questions—most locals are eager to point you in their idea of the right direction. Keep a notepad in your pocket for noting directions, organizing your thoughts, and confirming prices. Wear your money belt, learn the currency, and figure out how to estimate prices in dollars. Those who expect to travel smart, do.
Six components make up your trip costs: airfare, surface transportation, room and board, sightseeing and entertainment, shopping/miscellany, and gelato.
Airfare: A basic round-trip flight from the US to Rome can cost, on average, about $1,000-2,000 total, depending on where you fly from and when (cheaper in winter). If Rome is part of a longer trip, consider saving time and money in Europe by flying into one city and out of another; for instance, into Rome and out of Paris. Overall, Kayak.com is the best place to start searching for flights on a combination of mainstream and budget carriers.
Surface Transportation: For a typical one-week visit, allow $60-100 for taxis (which can be shared by up to four people); if you opt for buses and the Metro, figure about $25 per person. The cost of round-trip transportation to day-trip destinations ranges from minimal (a few dollars to get to Tivoli or Ostia Antica) to pricey ($90 for second-class train tickets for a day trip to Naples and Pompeii—book a month in advance for deals). For a one-way trip between Rome’s main airport and the city center, allow $15 per person by train or about $50 by taxi (can be shared by up to 4 people). For more on trains and flights, see “Transportation” in the Practicalities chapter.
Room and Board: You can manage comfortably in Rome in 2016 on $125 a day per person for room and board. This allows $15 for lunch, $30 for dinner, and $80 for lodging (based on two people splitting the cost of a $160 double room). Students and tightwads can enjoy Rome for as little as $65 a day ($35 for a hostel bed, $30 for meals and snacks).
Population: Approximately 2.7 million people
Currency: Euro (€)
Nickname: The Eternal City
City Layout: Rome, the capital of Italy, is divided into 22 rioni (districts). Of the famous seven hills of Rome, you’re most likely to see Palatine Hill (birthplace of the legendary founders of the city, Romulus and Remus), Capitoline Hill (topped by museums and a Michelangelo-designed square), and the Quirinale, one of the highest of the hills and the site of many of my recommended hotels.
Best Viewpoints: From the rooftop of the Victor Emmanuel Monument (you can take the Rome from the Sky elevator to the top); from the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica; and from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo. The best view of the Roman Forum is from Capitoline Hill—particularly the Tabularium (underground galleries) that are part of the Capitoline Museums.
Best Strolls: Two major thoroughfares are open to pedestrians and closed to traffic: the northern part of Via del Corso (best for strolling Mon-Sat around 17:00-19:00, earlier afternoon on Sun) and the southern part of Via dei Fori Imperiali (open to buses/taxis Mon-Sat, closed to all vehicles Sun). My two favorite walks in Rome take me through Trastevere, and through the heart of the city at night. The Monti area (near the Roman Forum) is another enjoyable area to wander.
Tourist Tracks: The Colosseum attracts about 4 million visitors every year. About €3,000 is collected from the Trevi Fountain daily.
Culture Count: The vast majority of Romans are indigenous Italians; only about 10 percent of the city’s residents are immigrants, mostly from Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and Albania. Rome’s population is largely Roman Catholic (90 percent).
Average Roman: The average Roman is 44 years old, has 1.4 children, and will live until the age of 82.
Sightseeing and Entertainment: Figure about $15-20 per major sight (Colosseum, Vatican Museums), $2 for minor ones (lights to illuminate art in churches), and $30 for splurge experiences (such as concerts). An overall average of $20 per day works for most people. Don’t skimp here. After all, this category is the driving force behind your trip—you came to sightsee, enjoy, and experience Rome.
Shopping and Miscellany: Figure $2 per postcard and $3 per coffee, soft drink, and gelato. Shopping can vary in cost from nearly nothing to a small fortune. Good budget travelers find that this category has little to do with assembling a trip full of lifelong memories.
WHEN TO GO
Rome’s best travel months (also busiest and most expensive) are April, May, June, September, October, and early November. These months combine the convenience of peak season with pleasant weather.
The most grueling thing about travel in Rome is the summer heat in July and August, when temperatures can soar to the high 90s and pricier hotels discount their rooms. Fortunately air-conditioning is the norm in all but the cheapest hotels (though it’s generally available only from June through September).
Spring and fall can be cool, and many hotels do not turn on their heat. Rome is fine in winter—cold and crisp with temperatures in the 40s and 50s (for more information, see the climate chart in the appendix). Off-season has none of the sweat and stress of the tourist season, but sights may have shorter hours, lunchtime breaks, and fewer activities. Confirm your sightseeing plans locally, especially when traveling off-season.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Check this list of things to arrange while you’re still at home.
You need a passport—but no visa or shots—to travel in Italy. You may be denied entry into certain European countries if your passport is due to expire within three months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you’ll be cutting it close. It can take up to six weeks to get or renew a passport (for more on passports, see www.travel.state.gov). Pack a photocopy of your passport in your luggage in case the original is lost or stolen.
Book rooms well in advance if you’ll be traveling during the peak of summer season and any major holidays (see here).
Call your debit- and credit-card companies to let them know the countries you’ll be visiting, to ask about fees, to request your PIN code (it will be mailed to you), and more. See here for details.
Do your homework if you want to buy travel insurance. Compare the cost of the insurance to the likelihood of your using it and your potential loss if something goes wrong. Also, check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas. For more information, see www.ricksteves.com/insurance.
If you’re taking an overnight train (especially between Rome and Vienna or Munich), and need a couchette (cuccetta) or sleeper—and you must leave on a certain day—consider booking it in advance through a US agent (such as www.ricksteves.com/rail), even though it may cost more than buying it in Italy. Other Italian trains, like the high-speed ES trains, require a seat reservation, but it’s usually possible to make arrangements in Italy just a few days ahead. (For more on train travel, see Practicalities.)
Rick Steves Audio Europe
My free Rick Steves Audio Europe app is a great tool for enjoying Europe. This app makes it easy to download my audio tours of top attractions, plus hours of travel interviews, all organized into destination-specific playlists.
My self-guided audio tours of major sights and neighborhoods are free, user-friendly, fun, and informative. Among the sights in this book, these audio tours include the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, Roman Forum, Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, Trastevere Walk, Jewish Ghetto Walk, Ostia Antica, and Pompeii. Sights covered by my audio tours are marked with this symbol: . You can choose whether to follow the written tour in this book, or pop in your headphones and listen to essentially the same information—freeing up your eyes to appreciate the sights. These audio tours are hard to beat: Nobody will stand you up, the quality is reliable, you can take the tour exactly when you like, and the price is right.
The Rick Steves Audio Europe app also offers a far-reaching library of insightful travel interviews from my public radio show with experts from around the globe—including many of the places in this book.
This app and all of its content are entirely free. You can download Rick Steves Audio Europe via Apple’s App Store, Google Play, or the Amazon Appstore. For more information, see www.ricksteves.com/audioeurope.
While plenty of the city’s sights can be nearly empty, the famous ones come with very long lines. These lines are entirely avoidable if you follow the directions in this book to get tickets or make reservations in advance (for the Colosseum, the Forum, the Borghese Gallery—where reservations are required—and the Vatican Museums).
If you plan to hire a local guide, reserve ahead by email. Popular guides can get booked up.
If you’re bringing a mobile device, consider signing up for an international plan for cheaper calls, texts, and data (see here). Download any apps you might want to use on the road, such as translators, maps, transit schedules, and Rick Steves Audio Europe (see above).
Check the Rick Steves guidebook updates page for any recent changes to this book (www.ricksteves.com/update).
How Was Your Trip?
Were your travels fun, smooth, and meaningful? If you’d like to share your tips, concerns, and discoveries, please fill out the survey at www.ricksteves.com/feedback. To check out readers’ hotel and restaurant reviews—or leave one yourself—visit my travel forum at www.ricksteves.com/travel-forum. I value your feedback. Thanks in advance.
Because airline carry-on restrictions are always changing, visit the Transportation Security Administration’s website (www.tsa.gov) for an up-to-date list of what you can bring on the plane with you...and what you must check.
Traveling as a Temporary Local
We travel all the way to Italy to enjoy differences—to become temporary locals. You’ll experience frustrations. Certain truths that we find “God-given” or “self-evident,” such as cold beer, ice in drinks, bottomless cups of coffee, “the customer is king,” and bigger being better, are suddenly not so true. One of the benefits of travel is the eye-opening realization that there are logical, civil, and even better alternatives. A willingness to go local ensures that you’ll enjoy a full dose of Italian hospitality.
Europeans generally like Americans. But if there is a negative aspect to Italians’ image of Americans, it’s that we are loud, wasteful, ethnocentric, too informal (which can seem disrespectful), and a bit naive. Think about the rationale behind “crazy” Italian decisions. For instance, many hoteliers turn off the heat in spring and can’t turn on air-conditioning until summer. The point is to conserve energy, and it’s mandated by the Italian government. You could complain about being cold or hot...or bring a sweater in winter, and in summer, be prepared to sweat a little like everyone else.
While Italians, flabbergasted by our Yankee excesses, say in disbelief, “Mi sono cadute le braccia!” (“I throw my arms down!”), they nearly always afford us individual travelers all the warmth we deserve.
Judging from all the happy feedback I receive from travelers who have used this book, it’s safe to assume you’ll enjoy a great, affordable vacation—with the finesse of an independent, experienced traveler.
Thanks, and buon viaggio!
Back Door Travel Philosophy
From Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
Experiencing the real Europe requires catching it by surprise, going casual...“through the Back Door.”
Affording travel is a matter of priorities. (Make do with the old car.) You can eat and sleep—simply, safely, and enjoyably—anywhere in Europe for $100 a day plus transportation costs. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see. Europe is a cultural carnival, and time after time, you’ll find that its best acts are free and the best seats are the cheap ones.
A tight budget forces you to travel close to the ground, meeting and communicating with the people. Never sacrifice sleep, nutrition, safety, or cleanliness to save money. Simply enjoy the local-style alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants.
Connecting with people carbonates your experience. Extroverts have more fun. If your trip is low on magic moments, kick yourself and make things happen. If you don’t enjoy a place, maybe you don’t know enough about it. Seek the truth. Recognize tourist traps. Give a culture the benefit of your open mind. See things as different, but not better or worse. Any culture has plenty to share. When an opportunity presents itself, make it a habit to say “yes.”
Of course, travel, like the world, is a series of hills and valleys. Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something’s not to your liking, change your liking.
Travel can make you a happier American, as well as a citizen of the world. Our Earth is home to seven billion equally precious people. It’s humbling to travel and find that other people don’t have the “American Dream”—they have their own dreams. Europeans like us, but with all due respect, they wouldn’t trade passports.
Thoughtful travel engages us with the world. It reminds us what is truly important. By broadening perspectives, travel teaches new ways to measure quality of life.
Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity, helping us understand and appreciate other cultures. Rather than fear the diversity on this planet, celebrate it. Among your most prized souvenirs will be the strands of different cultures you choose to knit into your own character. The world is a cultural yarn shop, and Back Door travelers are weaving the ultimate tapestry. Join in!