Rick Steves Rome 2016 - Rick Steves, Gene Openshaw (2015)
ORIENTATION TO ROME
Sprawling Rome actually feels manageable once you get to know it. The old core, with most of the tourist sights, sits in a diamond formed by Termini train station (in the east), the Vatican (west), Villa Borghese Gardens (north), and the Colosseum (south). The Tiber River runs through the diamond from north to south. In the center of the diamond sits Piazza Venezia, a busy square and traffic hub. It takes about an hour to walk from Termini Station to the Vatican.
ROME: A VERBAL MAP
(See “Rome’s Neighborhoods” map, here.)
Think of Rome as a series of neighborhoods, huddling around major landmarks.
Ancient Rome: In ancient times, this was home to the grandest buildings of a city of a million people. Today, the best of the classical sights stand in a line from the Colosseum to the Forum to the Pantheon. Just north of this area, between Via Nazionale and Via Cavour, is the atmospheric and trendy Monti district.
Pantheon Neighborhood: The Pantheon anchors the neighborhood I like to call the “Heart of Rome.” It stretches eastward from the Tiber River through Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, past the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain. Between the river and the Pantheon area is the Jewish Ghetto.
Vatican City: Located west of the Tiber, it’s a compact world of its own, with two great, huge sights: St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums.
North Rome: With the Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese Gardens, and trendy shopping streets (Via Veneto and the “shopping triangle”—the area along Via del Corso and between the Spanish Steps, Piazza Venezia, and Piazza del Popolo), this is a more modern, classy area.
East Rome: This includes the area around Termini Station and Piazza della Repubblica, with many recommended hotels and public-transportation connections. Just to the south and east is the neighborhood I call “Pilgrim’s Rome,” with several prominent churches.
South Rome: South of Vatican City is Trastevere, the colorful, wrong-side-of-the-river neighborhood that provides a look at village Rome. It’s the city at its crustiest—and perhaps most “Roman.” Farther south are the gritty/colorful Testaccio neighborhood, the 1930s suburb of E.U.R., and the Appian Way, home of the catacombs.
Within each of these neighborhoods, you’ll find elements from the many layers of Rome’s 2,500-year story: the marble ruins of ancient times; tangled streets of the medieval world; early Christian churches; grand Renaissance buildings and statues; Baroque fountains and church facades; 19th-century apartments; and 20th-century boulevards choked with traffic.
Since no one is allowed to build taller than St. Peter’s dome, and virtually no buildings have been constructed in the city center since Mussolini got distracted in 1938, central Rome has no modern skyline. The Tiber River is basically ignored—after Italy unified (1870) and Rome became the capital, the banks were built up very high to guard against the frequent floods, and Rome turned its back on its naughty river.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
After considering Rome’s major tourist sights, I’ve covered just my favorites. You won’t be able to see all of these, so don’t try—you’ll keep coming back to Rome. After several dozen visits, I still have a healthy list of excuses to return.
Rome in a Day
Some people actually try to “do” Rome in a day. Crazy as that sounds, if all you have is a day, it’s one of the most exciting days Europe has to offer. Start at 8:30 at the Colosseum. Then explore the Forum, hike over Capitoline Hill, and cap your “Caesar Shuffle” with a visit to the Pantheon. After a quick lunch, taxi to the Vatican Museums (the lines usually die down midafternoon, or you can reserve a visit online in advance). See the Vatican Museums, then St. Peter’s Basilica (open until 19:00 April-Sept). Taxi back to Campo de’ Fiori to find dinner. Finish your day lacing together all the famous floodlit spots (see my Heart of Rome Walk chapter). Note: This busy plan is possible only if you ace the line-avoidance tricks.
Rome in Two to Three Days
On the first day, do the “Caesar Shuffle” from the Colosseum to the Forum, then over Capitoline Hill to the Pantheon. After a siesta, join the locals strolling from Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish Steps (see the “Dolce Vita Stroll” in the Nightlife in Rome chapter). On the second day, see Vatican City (St. Peter’s, climb the dome, tour the Vatican Museums). Have dinner near the atmospheric Campo de’ Fiori, and then walk to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps (following my Heart of Rome Walk). With a third day, add the Borghese Gallery (reservations required) and the Capitoline Museums.
Rome in Seven Days
Rome is a great one-week getaway. Its sights can keep even the most fidgety traveler well entertained for a week.
Do the “Caesar Shuffle” from the Colosseum to the Forum, Capitoline Museums, Victor Emmanuel Monument viewpoint, and Pantheon. Spend the late afternoon doing the Heart of Rome Walk. While it’s an exhausting day, you now have your bearings and have seen the essential Rome.
Morning—National Museum of Rome and the nearby Baths of Diocletian. In the afternoon do my Jewish Ghetto Walk followed immediately by the Trastevere Walk. Enjoy dinner in Trastevere.
Vatican City—St. Peter’s Basilica, dome climb, and Vatican Museums. Spend the early evening shopping and enjoying the local passeggiata by doing the “Dolce Vita Stroll.”
Side-trip to Ostia Antica (closed Mon). In the evening, you could repeat my Heart of Rome Walk from Campo de’ Fiori to the Spanish Steps to enjoy the after-dark scene.
Borghese Gallery (reservation required) and Pilgrim’s Rome: the churches of San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Clemente (see Pilgrim’s Rome Tour chapter).
Side-trip to Naples and Pompeii.
You choose—Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli, Appian Way with catacombs, E.U.R., Testaccio sights, a food tour, shopping, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Castel Sant’Angelo, or more time at the Vatican.
Rome has two main tourist information offices and several TI kiosks. The TI offices are at the airport (Terminal 3, daily 8:00-19:30) and Termini train station (daily 8:00-19:30, 100 yards down track 24). Little kiosks (generally open daily 9:30-19:00) are near the Roman Forum (on Piazza del Tempio della Pace), on Via Nazionale (at Palazzo delle Esposizioni), between the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon (at the corner of Via del Corso and Via Minghetti), near Piazza Navona (at Piazza delle Cinque Lune), and near Castel Sant’Angelo (at Piazza Pia). Additionally, an information center is directly across from the Forum entrance, on Via dei Fori Imperiali (see here). The TI’s website is www.turismoroma.it, but most practical information is found at www.060608.it. That’s also the number for Rome’s call center—the best source of up-to-date tourist information, with English speakers on staff (answered daily 9:00-21:00, just dial 06-0608, and press 2 for English).
At any TI, ask for a free city map (or pay for a better one). Your hotel will have a freebie map and may also have a booklet with up-to-date listings of the city’s sights and hours. The best map I found is published by Rough Guide (€9 in bookstores).
Several English-oriented websites provide insight into events and daily life in the city: www.inromenow.com (light tourist info on lots of topics), www.wantedinrome.com (events and accommodations), and www.rome.angloinfo.com (on living in and moving to Rome).
ARRIVAL IN ROME
For a rundown of Rome’s train stations and airports, see the Rome Connections chapter.
Sightseeing Tips: Avid sightseers can save money by buying the Roma Pass (see here), available at TIs and participating sights—buy one before visiting the Colosseum or Forum, and you can skip the long lines there. Another way to bypass lines at the Colosseum and Forum is to buy a ticket online in advance (see here). If you want to see the Borghese Gallery, remember to reserve ahead (see here). To sidestep the long Vatican Museums line, reserve an entry time online (see here for details).
Internet Access: Most hotels have Wi-Fi, but if yours doesn’t, your hotelier can point you to the nearest Internet café.
Bookstores: The following stores sell travel guidebooks, including mine (all open daily except Anglo American and Open Door closed Sun). The first two are chains, while the others have a more personal touch. Borri Books is at Termini Station, and Feltrinelli has two branches (at Largo Argentina 11 near the ancient ruins, with a limited English section, and the larger Feltrinelli International, just off Piazza della Repubblica at Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando 86—see map on here, tel. 06-487-0171). Anglo American Bookshop has great art and history sections (closed all day Sun and Mon morning, a few blocks south of Spanish Steps at Via della Vite 102—see map on here, tel. 06-679-5222). In Trastevere, the Almost Corner Bookshop stocks an extensive Italian-interest section (Via del Moro 45—see map on here, tel. 06-583-6942), and the Open Door Bookshop carries the only used books in English in town (closed Sun, Via della Lungaretta 23—see map on here, tel. 06-589-6478).
Laundry: Your hotelier can direct you to the nearest launderette. The Ondablu chain usually comes with pay Internet access; one of their more central locations is near Termini Station (about €8 to wash and dry a 15-pound load, usually open daily 8:00-22:00, Via Principe Amedeo 70b—see map on here, tel. 06-474-4647).
Travel Agencies: You can get train tickets and rail-pass-related reservations and supplements at travel agencies (at little or no additional cost), avoiding a trip to a train station. Your hotelier will know of a convenient agency nearby.
Useful App: For free audio versions of some of the self-guided tours in this book (the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere walks, and tours of the Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, and Ostia Antica), get the Rick Steves Audio Europe app (for details, see here).
Updates to This Book: For the latest, see www.ricksteves.com/update.
Sunday: These sights are closed: the Vatican Museums (except for last Sun of the month, when it’s free and even more crowded), Villa Farnesina (except for second Sun of the month), Catacombs of San Sebastiano, and Testaccio Market. In the morning, the Porta Portese flea market hops, and the old center is delightfully quiet. Much of the Appian Way is closed to traffic and fun to stroll. The following sights are free (and very crowded) on the first Sunday of each month, and no reservations are available: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Borghese Gallery, National Museum of Rome, Castel Sant’Angelo, Etruscan Museum, and Baths of Caracalla.
Monday: Many sights are closed, including the National Museum of Rome, Borghese Gallery, Catacombs of Priscilla, Castel Sant’Angelo, Montemartini Museum, Etruscan Museum, Museum of the Liberation of Rome, MAXXI, some Appian Way sights (Tomb of Cecilia Metella and the Circus and Villa of Maxentius), Ostia Antica, and Villa d’Este (at Tivoli).
Major sights that are open include the Colosseum, Forum, Vatican Museums, Capitoline Museum, Ara Pacis, and the Museum of the Imperial Forums (includes Trajan’s Market and Trajan’s Forum), among others. Churches are open as usual. The Baths of Caracalla close early in the afternoon.
Tuesday: All sights are open in Rome. This isn’t a good day to side-trip to Naples because its Archaeological Museum is closed.
Wednesday: All sights are open, except the Catacombs of San Callisto. St. Peter’s Basilica is typically closed in the morning for a papal audience.
Thursday/Friday: All sights are open.
Saturday: Most sights are open in Rome, except for the Synagogue and Jewish Museum.
DEALING WITH (AND AVOIDING) PROBLEMS
Theft Alert: While violent crime is rare in the city center, petty theft is rampant. With sweet-talking con artists meeting you at the station, well-dressed pickpockets on buses, and thieving gangs of children at the ancient sites, Rome is a gauntlet of rip-offs. Pickpockets don’t want to hurt you—they usually just want your money—but green or sloppy tourists will be scammed. Thieves strike when you’re distracted. Don’t trust kind strangers. Keep nothing important in your pockets. If you must carry a backpack never leave it unattended and try to keep it attached to your body in some way (e.g., when you’re seated for a meal). Wear it in front when riding public transportation and whenever you’re in a thick crowd. Always use your money belt.
Be particularly on guard wherever there’s a crowd (like at the Trevi Fountain or in front of a famous painting in a church). And be vigilant when boarding and leaving buses and subways. Thieves crowd the door, then stop and turn while others crowd and push from behind. You’ll find less crowding and commotion—and less risk—waiting for the end cars of a subway rather than the middle cars. The sneakiest thieves pretend to be well-dressed businessmen (generally with something in their hands) or tourists wearing fanny packs and toting cameras. Lately a lot of youths and even pregnant mothers are working as pickpockets. Thieves are particularly thick on the Metro and the crowded and made-for-tourists buses #40 and #64.
If you know what to look out for, fast-fingered moms with babies and gangs of children picking the pockets and handbags of naive tourists are not a threat, but an interesting, albeit sad, spectacle. Pickpockets troll through the tourist crowds around the Colosseum, Forum, Vatican, train and Metro stations. Watch them target tourists who are overloaded with bags or distracted with a camera. The kids look like beggars and hold up newspapers or cardboard signs to confuse their victims. They scram like stray cats if you’re on to them.
Scams abound: Always be clear about what paper money you’re giving someone, demand clear and itemized bills, and count your change. Don’t give your wallet to self-proclaimed “police” who stop you on the street, warn you about counterfeit (or drug) money, and ask to see your cash. If a bank machine eats your ATM card, see if there’s a thin plastic insert with a tongue hanging out that thieves use to extract it.
Beggars: Throughout Rome, you’ll often encounter downtrodden-looking people asking for money. Many of those you see hunched over are actually able-bodied foreigners from poorer parts of Europe, preying on people’s sympathy. You may see them at churches trying to collect money, sometimes for opening church doors. But they are not affiliated, and are lining their own pockets. Know that social services are available to them, so give at your own discretion.
Reporting Losses: To report lost or stolen items, file a police report (at Termini Station, with polizia at track 11 or with Carabinieri at track 20; offices are also at Piazza Venezia and at the corner of Via Nazionale and Via Genova). You’ll need the report to file an insurance claim for lost gear, and it can help with replacing your passport—first file the police report, then call your embassy to make an appointment (US embassy: tel. 06-46741, italy.usembassy.gov, Via Vittorio Veneto 121). For information on how to report lost or stolen credit cards, see here.
Emergency Numbers: Police—tel. 113. Ambulance—tel. 118.
Pedestrian Safety: Your main safety concern in Rome is crossing streets without incident. Use extreme caution. Some streets have pedestrian-crossing signals (red means stop—or jaywalk carefully; green means go...also carefully; and yellow means go...extremely carefully, as cars may be whipping around the corner). But just as often, multilane streets have crosswalks with no signals at all. And even when there are traffic lights, they are provisional: Scooters don’t need to stop at red lights, and even cars exercise what drivers call the “logical option” of not stopping if they see no oncoming traffic. Each year, as noisy gasoline-powered scooters are replaced by electric ones, the streets get quieter (hooray) but more dangerous for pedestrians.
Follow locals like a shadow when you cross a street (or spend a good part of your visit stranded on curbs). When you do cross alone, don’t be a deer in the headlights. Find a gap in the traffic and walk with confidence while making eye contact with approaching drivers—they won’t hit you if they can tell where you intend to go.
Staying/Getting Healthy: The siesta is a key to survival in summertime Rome. Lie down and contemplate the extraordinary power of gravity in the Eternal City. I drink lots of cold, refreshing water from Rome’s many drinking fountains (the Forum has three).
Every neighborhood has a pharmacy (marked by a green cross). Pharmacies stay open late in Termini Station (daily 7:30-22:00), at Piazza dei Cinquecento 51 (Mon-Fri 7:00-23:30, Sat-Sun 8:00-23:00, next to Termini Station on the corner of Via Cavour—see map on here, tel. 06-488-0019), and in the Pantheon neighborhood (Farmacia Senato, between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, Mon-Fri 7:30-24:30, Sat 8:30-24:30, Sun 12:00-23:00, Corso del Rinascimento 50—see map on here). A 24-hour pharmacy is several blocks down from Piazza della Repubblica at Via Nazionale 228 (tel. 06-488-4437).
Embassies and hotels can recommend English-speaking doctors. Consider MEDline, a 24-hour home-medical service; doctors speak English and make calls at hotels for €150 (tel. 06-808-0995). Anyone is entitled to free emergency treatment at public hospitals. The hospital closest to Termini Station is Policlinico Umberto 1 (entrance for emergency treatment on Via Lancisi, translators available, Metro: Policlinico). Readers report that the staff at Santa Susanna Church, home of the American Catholic Church in Rome, offers useful advice and medical referrals (see here).
GETTING AROUND ROME
(See “Rome’s Public Transportation” map, here.)
Sightsee on foot, by city bus, by Metro, or by taxi. I’ve grouped your sightseeing into walkable neighborhoods. Make it a point to visit sights in a logical order. Needless backtracking wastes precious time.
The public transportation system, which is cheap and efficient, consists primarily of buses, a few trams, and the two main subway (Metro) lines. Consider it part of your Roman experience.
Rome Walks has produced an orientation video to Rome’s transportation system; find it on YouTube by searching for “Understanding Rome’s Public Transport.”
For information, visit www.atac.roma.it, which has a useful route planner in English, or call 06-57003. If you have a smartphone and an international data plan, consider downloading the free app “Roma Bus” by Movenda, which also has a route planner and real-time updates on the bus schedule. The ATAC mobile website has similar info (www.muovi.roma.it).
All public transportation uses the same ticket. It costs €1.50 and is valid for one Metro ride—including transfers underground—plus unlimited city buses and trams during a 100-minute period. Passes good on buses and the Metro are sold in increments of 24 hours (€7), 48 hours (€12.50), 72 hours (€18), one week (€24, about the cost of three taxi rides), and one month (€35, plus €3 for the rechargeable card, valid for a calendar month).
You can purchase tickets and passes at some newsstands, tobacco shops (tabacchi, marked by a black-and-white T sign), and major Metro stations and bus stops, but not on board. It’s smart to stock up on tickets early, or to buy a pass or a Roma Pass (which includes public transportation—see here). That way, you don’t have to run around searching for an open tobacco shop when you spot your bus approaching. Metro stations rarely have human ticket sellers, and the machines are unreliable (it helps to insert your smallest coin first).
Validate your ticket by sticking it in the Metro turnstile (magnetic-strip-side up, arrow-side first) or in the machine when you board the bus (magnetic-strip-side down, arrow-side first)—watch others and imitate. It’ll return your ticket with your expiration time printed. To get through a Metro turnstile with a transit pass or Roma Pass, use it just like a ticket; on buses and trams, however, you need to validate your pass only if that’s your first time using it.
The Roman subway system (Metropolitana, or “Metro”) is simple, with two clean, cheap, fast lines—A and B—that intersect at Termini Station. The Metro runs from 5:30 to 23:30 (Fri-Sat until 1:30 in the morning). Remember, the subway’s first and last compartments are generally the least crowded, and the least likely to harbor pickpockets.
A section of a new Metro line—line C—opened in late 2014 and serves Rome’s suburbs (and is currently of little use to tourists). You’ll notice lots of big holes in the city while line C is being extended to run across town, including through the historic heart. It will likely not be completed until 2020.
While much of Rome is not served by its skimpy subway, the following stops are helpful:
Termini (intersection of lines A and B): Termini Station, shuttle train to airport, National Museum of Rome, and recommended hotels
Repubblica (line A): Baths of Diocletian, Via Nazionale, and recommended hotels
Barberini (line A): Capuchin Crypt, Trevi Fountain, and Villa Borghese
Spagna (line A): Spanish Steps and classy shopping area
Flaminio (line A): Piazza del Popolo, start of my “Dolce Vita Stroll” down Via del Corso, easy buses to the Borghese Gallery
Ottaviano (line A): St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums, and recommended hotels
Tiburtina (line B): Tiburtina train and bus station (direction: Rebibbia; trains going in the direction of Conca d’Oro/Jonio do not stop at Tiburtina)
Colosseo (line B): Colosseum, Roman Forum, bike rental, and recommended hotels
San Giovanni (line B): Church of San Giovanni in Laterano
Piramide (line B): Protestant Cemetery, Testaccio, and trains to Ostia Antica
San Paolo (line B): Church of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls
E.U.R. (line B, three different stops depending on your destination): Mussolini’s futuristic suburb
The Metro is handy, but it won’t get you everywhere—take the bus (or tram). Bus routes are clearly listed at the stops. TIs usually don’t have bus maps, but with some knowledge of major stops, you won’t necessarily need one.
Buses—especially the touristy #40 and #64—are havens for thieves and pickpockets. These two lines in particular can be nose-to-armpit crowded during peak times...and while you’re sniffing that guy’s pit, his other hand could be busily rifling through your pockets. Assume any commotion is a thief-created distraction. If one bus is packed, there’s likely a second one on its tail with far fewer crowds and thieves. Or read the signs posted at stops to see if a different, less crowded bus route can get you to or near your destination.
The tram lines are of limited use for most tourists, but a few lines can save some walking. For all intents and purposes, trams function identically to buses. Once you know the bus/tram system, you’ll find it’s easier than searching for a cab.
Tickets have a barcode and must be stamped on the bus in the yellow box with the digital readout (be sure to retrieve your ticket). Validate your ticket as you board (magnetic-strip-side down, arrow-side first), otherwise you’re cheating. Inspectors fine even innocent-looking tourists €50. You don’t need to validate a transit pass or Roma Pass on the bus, unless your pass is new and hasn’t yet been stamped elsewhere in the transit system. Bus etiquette (not always followed) is to board at the front or rear doors and exit at the middle.
Regular bus lines start running at about 5:30, and during the day major routes run every 10-15 minutes. After 23:30 (and sometimes earlier) and on Sundays, buses are less frequent. Night buses are marked with an N and an owl symbol on the bus-stop signs. Frustratingly, the exact frequency of various bus routes is difficult to predict (and not printed at bus stops). At major stops, an electronic board shows the number of minutes until the next buses arrive, but at most stops you’ll never know how long you have to wait. If your phone has Internet access, you can try checking the schedule with the route planner at www.muovi.roma.it.
These are the major bus routes:
Bus #64: This bus cuts across the city, linking Termini Station with the Vatican, stopping at Piazza della Repubblica (sights), Via Nazionale (recommended hotels), Piazza Venezia (near Forum), Largo Argentina (near Pantheon and Campo de’ Fiori), St. Peter’s Basilica (get off just past the tunnel), and San Pietro Station. Ride it for a city overview and to watch pickpockets in action. The #64 can get horribly crowded.
Bus #40: This express bus, which mostly follows the #64 route (but ends near the Castel Sant’Angelo on the Vatican side of the river), is especially helpful—fewer stops and (somewhat) fewer crowds.
The following routes conveniently connect Trastevere with other parts of Rome:
Bus #H: This express bus, linking Termini Station and Trastevere, makes a stop near Piazza Repubblica and at the bottom of Via Nazionale (for Trastevere, get off at Piazza Belli/Sonnino, just after crossing the Tiber River).
Tram #2: Leaving from near the Flaminio Metro stop, this route gives easy access to the Etruscan Museum and MAXXI, Rome’s contemporary art museum.
Tram #8: This tram connects Piazza Venezia and Largo Argentina with Trastevere (get off at Piazza Belli, just over the river).
Buses #23 and #280: These link the Vatican with Trastevere and Testaccio, stopping at the Vatican Museums (nearest stop is Via Leone IV), Castel Sant’Angelo, Trastevere (Piazza Belli), Porta Portese (Sunday flea market), and Piramide (Metro and gateway to Testaccio).
Other useful routes include:
Bus #16: Termini Station, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Giovanni in Laterano.
Bus #49: Piazza Cavour/Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza Risorgimento (Vatican), and Vatican Museums.
Bus #62: Largo Argentina to near St. Peter’s Square and Castel Sant’Angelo.
Bus #81: San Giovanni in Laterano, Largo Argentina, and Piazza Risorgimento (Vatican).
Buses #85 and #87: Piazza Navona (#87 only), Pantheon, Via del Corso (#85 only), Piazza Venezia, Forum, Colosseum, San Clemente, and San Giovanni in Laterano.
Bus #492: Travels east-west across the city, connecting Tiburtina (train and bus stations), Largo Santa Susanna (near Piazza della Repubblica), Piazza Barberini, Piazza Venezia, Largo Argentina (near Pantheon and Campo de’ Fiori), Piazza Cavour (Castel Sant’Angelo), and Piazza Risorgimento (St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican).
Bus #714: Termini Station, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, Terme di Caracalla (Baths of Caracalla), and on to E.U.R.
Tram #3: Zips from the Colosseum to San Giovanni in Laterano in one direction, and to Piramide (Testaccio) in the other.
Zip around Rome like a local by using the following tips to read bus signs.
The sign in the photo shows the three buses (#40, #60, and #64) that stop at the “Nazionale” stop. If you’re asking yourself the following questions, it’s got answers.
Where am I? You’re at the bus stop (fermata) called Nazionale (at the cross-street Torino; the cross-street differentiates this Nazionale stop from others nearby).
Which buses stop here? Three do: #40, #60, and #64. Notice the arrow—it shows which direction the bus is headed.
Where is the bus going? Bus #64, for example, starts its journey at “Termini” (Termini Station), goes to Repubblica, and then arrives at Nazionale—this stop. (Find “Nazionale,” with the box around it.) From here, the #64 continues to “Pza Venezia” (Piazza Venezia), “Argentina” (Largo Argentina), makes several more stops, and ends its journey at “Pza Stz S. Pietro” (Piazza Stazione San Pietro). Easy.
Scan the list to see if any of these buses stop at your destination. If you don’t see a particular street or piazza, look for a major landmark where you can transfer—such as Largo Argentina, Piazza Venezia, or Termini Station. Note that if your destination is listed above your current bus stop, you need to cross the street to catch the bus going in the other direction.
When will my bus come? The bottom of the sign lists the first and last departure times from the beginning of the route. “Lun./ven.” means it runs on weekdays, “sab.” means Saturday, and “fest.” means Sundays and holidays.
Buses #660, #118, and #218: These run to/from the Appian Way.
Elettrico Minibuses: Two cute elettrico minibuses that wind through the narrow streets of old and interesting neighborhoods are great for transport or simple joyriding (although they’re so small it can be hard to find a seat). Elettrico #116 runs through the medieval core of Rome: Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II (near Castel Sant’Angelo) to Campo de’ Fiori, near Pantheon and Piazza Navona, Piazza Barberini, and the southern edge of the scenic Villa Borghese Gardens. Elettrico #117 connects San Giovanni in Laterano, Colosseo, Via dei Serpenti, Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, and Piazza del Popolo—and vice versa. Where Via del Corso hits Piazza del Popolo, a #117 is usually parked and ready to go. Riding it from here to the end of the line, San Giovanni in Laterano, makes for a fine joyride that leaves you, conveniently, at a great sight.
I use taxis in Rome more often than in other cities. They’re reasonable and useful for efficient sightseeing in this big, hot metropolis. Taxis start at €3, then charge about €1.50 per kilometer (surcharges: €1.50 on Sun, €3.50 for nighttime hours of 22:00-7:00, one regular suitcase or bag rides free, tip by rounding up—€1 or so). Sample fares: Termini area to Vatican-€11; Termini area to Colosseum-€7; Termini area to the Borghese Gallery-€8; Colosseum to Trastevere-€8 (or look up your route at www.worldtaximeter.com). Three or four companions with more money than time should taxi almost everywhere.
You can wave a taxi down, but an available one (with the sign on top illuminated) can be tough to find, especially at night. Find the nearest taxi stand (many are marked on this book’s maps) or ask a passerby or a clerk in a shop, “Dov’è una fermata dei taxi?” (doh-VEH OO-nah fehr-MAH-tah DEH-ee TAHK-see). Easiest of all, have your hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you. (It’s routine for Romans to ask the restaurant to call a taxi when they’re ready to go.) The meter starts when the call is received. To call a cab on your own, dial 06-3570, 06-4994, or 06-6645, or use the official city taxi line, 06-0609; they’ll likely ask you for an Italian phone number (give them your mobile number or your hotel’s).
Beware of corrupt taxis. First, only use official Rome taxis. They’re white, with a taxi sign on the roof and a maroon logo on the door that reads Roma Capitale. When you get in, make sure the meter (tassametro) is turned on (you’ll see the meter either on the dashboard or up by the rearview mirror). If the meter isn’t on, get out and hail another cab. Check that the meter is reset to the basic drop charge (should be around €3, or around €5 if you phoned for the taxi). Some meters show both the fare and the time elapsed during the ride, and some tourists—mistaking the time for the fare—end up paying more than the fair meter rate. Also, keep an eye on the fare on the meter as you near your destination; some cabbies turn the meter off instantly when they stop and tell you a higher price.
By law, every cab must display a multilingual official price chart—usually on the back of the seat in front of you. If the fare doesn’t seem right, point to the chart and ask the cabbie to explain it. When you pay the cabbie, have your wits about you. A common cabbie scam is to take your €20 note, drop it, and pick up a €5 note (similar color), claiming that’s what you gave him. To avoid this scam, pay in small bills; if you only have a large bill, show it to the cabbie as you state its face value.
At the train station or airport, avoid hustlers conning naive visitors into unmarked, rip-off “express taxis” (for tips on taking a taxi from the airport, including how not to get scammed, see here). If you encounter any problems with a taxi, making a show of writing down the taxi number (to file a complaint) can motivate a driver to quickly settle the matter.
Riding a bicycle in Rome’s traffic is best suited to serious urban bikers—use caution and never assume you have the right of way. The best rides are on small streets in the city center, at the Villa Borghese Gardens, and along the Appian Way. Also, a bike path along the banks of the Tiber River makes a good 20-minute ride (easily accessed from the ramps at Porta Portese and Ponte Regina Margherita near Piazza del Popolo).
Top Bike Rental and Tours is professionally run by Roman bike enthusiasts who want to show off their city. Your rental comes with a helmet, a lock, and a handy map that suggests a route and indicates less-trafficked streets. They also offer English-only guided tours around the city (4 hours) and the Appian Way (6 hours); check their website for itineraries and schedules (rental: €15/day, €25/day for electric bike, 10 percent discount with this book, best to reserve in advance via email, bring ID for deposit; bike tours start at €45, reservations required; daily 10:00-19:00, Via Labicana 49, Metro: Colosseo—exit left and pass the Colosseum, tel. 06-488-2893, www.topbikerental.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Cool Rent is cheaper but less helpful and has more basic bikes (€4/hour, €10/day, daily April-Oct 9:30-20:00, Nov-March 9:30-18:00, driver’s license or other ID for deposit, 10 yards to the right as you exit the Colosseo Metro stop). A second outlet is just off Via del Corso (on Largo di Lombardi, near corner of Via del Corso and Via della Croce, mobile 328-277-3993).
You can also rent a bike at the Appian Way (see Ancient Appian Way Tour chapter) and in the Villa Borghese Gardens (see here).
Tours in Rome
Local guides are good but pricey. Tour companies are cheaper, but quality and organization are unreliable. If you do hire a private Italian guide—and it’s tough on your budget, consider inviting others from your hotel to join you and split the cost (around €180 for a three-hour tour); this ends up costing about the same per person as going on a scheduled tour from one of the walking-tour companies listed below—and you’ll likely get a better guide.
To sightsee on your own, download my free audio tours that illuminate some of Rome’s top sights and neighborhoods, including the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere walks, and tours of the Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, and Ostia Antica (see sidebar on here for details).
I’ve worked with and enjoyed each of these licensed independent local guides. They’re native Italians, speak excellent English, and enjoy tailoring tours to your interests. Their prices (roughly €60/hour) flex with the day, season, and demand. Arrange your date and price by email. Carla Zaia (email@example.com); Cristina Giannicchi (mobile 338-111-4573, www.crisromanguide.com, firstname.lastname@example.org); Sara Magister (email@example.com); Giovanna Terzulli (firstname.lastname@example.org); Alessandra Mazzoccoli (www.romeandabout.com, email@example.com); and Massimiliano Canneto (a Catholic guide with forte on the Vatican but does all of Rome, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Francesca Caruso, who works almost full time with my tours when in Rome, has contributed generously to this book (www.francescacaruso.com, email@example.com). Popular with my readers, Francesca understandably books up quickly; if she’s busy, she’ll recommend one of her colleagues. At her website you can listen to the many interviews I’ve enjoyed with Francesca on my public radio program.
Rome has many highly competitive tour companies, each offering a series of themed walks through various slices of Rome. Three-hour guided walks generally cost €25-30 per person. Guides are usually native English speakers, often American expats. Tours are limited to small groups, geared to American tourists, and given in English only. Before your trip, spend some time on these companies’ websites to get to know your options, as each company has a particular teaching and guiding personality. Some are highbrow and more expensive. Others are less scholarly. It’s sometimes required, and always smart, to book a spot in advance (easy online). Readers report that advertising can be misleading, and scheduling mishaps are common. Make sure you know what you are booking and when.
Is the Pope Catholic?
Rome’s tour guides, who introduce tourists to the city’s great art and Christian history, field a lot of interesting questions and comments from their groups. Here are a few of their favorites:
✵ Oh, to be here in Rome ... where our Lord Jesus walked.
✵ Is this where Christ fought the lions?
✵ Who’s the guy on the cross?
✵ This guy who made so many nice things, Rene Sance, who is he?
✵ Was John Paul II the son of John Paul I?
✵ What’s the Sistine Chapel worth in US dollars?
✵ How did Michelangelo get Moses to pose for him?
✵ What’s Michelangelo doing now?
✵ (Upon seeing the arrow-pierced St. Sebastian) Oh, you Italians had problems with the Indians, too.
These companies are each well-established, creative, and competitive with their various tours explained on their websites. Each offers a 10 percent discount with online bookings for Rick Steves travelers:
Enjoy Rome (tel. 06-445-1843, www.enjoyrome.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rome Walks (mobile 347-795-5175, www.romewalks.com, email@example.com, Annie).
Europe Odyssey (tel. 06-8854-2416, mobile 328-912-3720, www.europeodyssey.com, Rahul).
Through Eternity (for discount look for “Group Tours Rome” and enter “RICKSTEVES,” tel. 06-700-9336, mobile 347-336-5298, www.througheternity.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Rob).
Walks of Italy (for discount enter “10ricksteves,” US tel. 888/683-8670, Italian mobile 334-974-4274, tel. 06-9558-3331, www.walksofitaly.com, Jason Spiehler).
The Roman Guy (enter “ricksteves” for discount, www.theromanguy.com, Sean Finelli).
Context Rome’s walking tours are more intellectual than most, designed for travelers with longer-than-average attention spans. They are more expensive than others (no discounts) and are led by “docents” rather than guides (tel. 06-9672-7371, US tel. 800-691-6036, www.contexttravel.com).
Sketching Rome Tours, offered by American expat Kelly Medford, draw on your creative side with fun, three-hour sketching tours geared to (aspiring) artists of any skill level ($125, www.sketchingrometours.com).
While some of the above also offer food-oriented walking tours, I’d favor the food-tour companies listed on here.
Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours
Several different agencies run hop-on, hop-off tours around Rome. These tours are constantly evolving and offer varying combinations of sights. You can grab one (and pay as you board; usually around €20) at any stop; Termini Station and Piazza Venezia are handy hubs. Although the city is perfectly walkable and traffic jams can make the bus dreadfully slow, these open-top bus tours remain popular.
Car and Minibus Tours
Autoservizi Monti Concezio, run by gentle, capable, and English-speaking Ezio (pronounced Etz-io), offers private cars or minibuses with driver/guides (car-€40/hour, minibus-€45/hour, 3-hour minimum for city sightseeing, transfers between cities are more expensive, mobile 335-636-5907 or 349-674-5643, www.tourservicemonti.it, email@example.com).
Miles & Miles Private Tours, a family-run company, offers a number of tours, all with good English-speaking driver/guides (descriptions and pricing on their website, mention Rick Steves when booking direct then show the book on the day of service to get a discount, mobile 331-466-4900, www.milesandmiles.net, firstname.lastname@example.org, Italian driver/guides and an American-run office). They also provide walking tours, shore excursions (from Civitavecchia, Livorno, Naples, Venice, and other ports), and unguided long-distance transportation; if traveling with a small group or a family from Rome to Florence, the Amalfi Coast, or elsewhere, consider paying extra to turn the trip into a memorable day tour with door-to-door service.
TOUR PACKAGES FOR STUDENTS
Andy Steves (Rick’s son) runs Weekend Student Adventures (WSA Europe), offering three-day and longer guided and unguided packages—including accommodations, sightseeing, and unique local experiences—for student travelers in 12 top European cities, including Rome (guided trips from €199, see www.wsaeurope.com for details).