The first settlers came here more than 14,000 years ago. But since Rome was founded — as legend will have it on 21 April 753 B.C. by the brothers Romulus and Remus who had been drinking from a she-wolf as children — the site has been continuously occupied, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. The World’s Eternal City.
This post is not to give you a run-down of all the sights to see in Rome. Your hotel/hostel is almost guaranteed to have maps of at least the central area available. If not, the official tourist information center is located on Via dei Fori Imperiali, about halfway between the Colosseum and the colossal Vittorio Emanuele Monument. Beware of any other place labeled ‘Tourist Information’. Those are invariably tour operators and/or souvenir shops.
A quick look at any tourist map will give you an idea of the wealth of things to do in the center of town alone. Therefore I will keep this list short and just share some tips and tricks you might not come across otherwise.
To explore central Rome I would always stay in the Termini area. The Giovanni Giolitti side with its Chinese and Afro import shops might seem at times a bit adventurous but I found people to be friendly to uninterested. A little more touristy, with plenty of restaurants and bars is the area between Piazza Indipendenza and Via di Castro Pretorio. If you like it a little quieter look to the North-West at the area around Piazza della Repubblica.
Whether you are staying in a rental apartment or simply don’t want to go out for every meal: there are three reasonably sized supermarkets in and around Termini: a Coop in the station on the Via Marsala side, and a Tuodi and a Simply market on either sides across the street from Santa Maria Maggiore.
Rome based Venere is a great source for all Italy accommodation needs. For Rome alone there are more than 2,300 properties on offer, from mobile home on a campsite to B&B, hotel and rental apartment. The no-frills platform lets you filter by location (city area), budget, type of accommodation and of course star rating. So, if your destination is Rome you can perfectly search the most suitable place to stay at the Venere website.
What to see (and not to see)
A visit to Rome does not have to cost you an arm and a leg. The major sights are free to visit, at least from the outside, and within walking distance from each other.
If you do want to book one of the hop-on/off busses (before you make a decision see below on public transport), first consult your hotel/hostel concierge on deals they offer, then check with the numerous touts around the major sights (Colosseum, Vatican etc.).
Other tours on offer virtually on every corner are Vatican and Colosseum & Palantine. Both have the advantage of allowing you to skip the line. This might make sense for the Vatican (or rather St Peter’s Basilica). A roughly 150 meter queue took me an hour to get through which might be too long if you’re only visiting for the weekend. To bypass the Colosseum line simply check the Palantine entrance to the Forum Romanum (on Via D.S. Gregorio, about 50 meters from Constantine’s Arch). The line there is usually short to non-existent, and tickets are valid for the Colosseum as well. BTW: No need to rush, the ticket is valid for two days.
Now, while entrance to St Peter’s is free (it is after all a church), there are two sights in the Vatican that are worth shelling out some euros:
- St Peter’s dome: 5 euros (or 7 euros if you want to half the number of steps with the help of an elevator) get you onto the roof of St Peter’s and into the large dome. This offers fantastic views of the city, the mosaics in the dome and into the cathedral’s nave.
- Sistine Chapel: The Pope’s chapel, famous for its Renaissance frescos lies hidden behind the vast Vatican Museums. Again, you can jump the queue by buying a tour. It is also possible to buy a ticket for a specific time period online. For those on a budget and with the will to get up very early: Every month on the last Sunday morning entrance to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel is free.
Truthfully disappointing: The Bocca della Verita is overrated. It’s located in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin church but has been gated. There are always busloads of tourists to take the obligatory snap. If you must go do yourself a favour and also go inside the church for its marble altar and marble mosaic floor.
Alternative Roman theatre: I personally was more impressed by the exterior of the Theatro di Marcello next to the old Jewish Ghetto than the Colosseum. Built by Julius Cesar and Augustus it has served many purposes over the years but never completely lost its original theatre structure. These days there is housing on the top floor.
Must-do tourist moment: In the late afternoon walk over to the Spanish Steps (Italians call them Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti as they lead from the Piazza di Spagna up to the Trinita dei Monti church). On the way stop at the Cioccogelateria Venchi in Via della Croce and get yourself the best ice cream I’ve had so far in Italy (believe me, I research a lot on that matter). Then join the crowds, watch people and the sun set into Via dei Condoti.
Click here for the official Rome Tourism website which offers not only basic information on sights in Rome but also links to book your tickets online.
There are two international airports in the vicinity of Rome: Ciampino and Fiumicino. The former is turning 100 years old in 2016. Today it is used by Ryanair and a few other smaller airlines. The most cost-effective option of getting into the city is to use one of the shuttle busses (e.g. Terravision).
Rome’s main airport, Leonardo da Vinci in Fiumicino, was opened in time for the 1960 Olympic Summer Games. It is about an hour by the bus (half in a fancy train) from Termini, Rome’s main train station.
National busses leave from Tiburtina (best reached via metro on linea B).
Most sights in central Rome are within easy walking distance of each other. However, if you choose not to walk there are plenty of public transport options available. The standard ticket can be bought at any tabaccheria, metro stop or on the square outside Termini station. It allows you to use as many different busses, metros and trams you can fit into 100 minutes. Day tickets are also available. Best ask your hotel concierge for current prices.
Most busses leave from the square outside Termini station. Plan some extra minutes to find your bus. The system is typically Italian: even though busses have their designated stops, finding the stop for your number bus means some legwork (or finding a friendly and knowledgable local).
The metro lines A and B meet in Termini and service the subs.
For sightseeing in central Rome the busses are an excellent option. Though they can be crowded sometimes, they stop at all the major attractions and day tickets are considerably cheaper than the hop-on/off busses.