There are so many “top spots”, this column couldn’t even begin to identify all of them. If you visit Rome, it’s best to read some guidebooks or watch travel videos and then identify a few priorities. Don’t forget, treasures can be found in obscure places. We rented an apartment in a quiet area of the city, with its own butcher, green grocer, baker, wine and cheese shops, and neighborhood church. Nondescript from the outside, inside that church was one of the most beautiful statues I have ever seen, Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.”
Four days seem to be a minimum to enjoy the best of Rome. Take one day to explore ancient Rome, one for Christian Rome, and the other two days to explore some of the neighborhoods, galleries, and museums. Don’t forget to take time to just sit and drink in the atmosphere; Campo di Fiori and Piazza Navona are great locales.
Although there is a metro in Rome, the best way to negotiate the city is via bus. Buses 87, 64, and 40 can take you within a 5 minute walk of many of the major sites. There are small electric buses, 116 and 117, that serve the inner core of the old city and are good for visiting places like the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Villa Borghese. These are circular routes; if you get to the end of the circle, you have to get off and then get on the same number bus at the head of the line.
If you want a taxi,be sure to select one only from an official taxi stand. Beware of “pirate” taxis; authorized city taxis are white and identified by an emblem and “Comune di Roma” on the body and “Taxi” on the roof. There should also be a telephone number on the vehicle.
There are 1, 3, and 7 day transportation passes, good for unlimited travel on the metro, buses, trams, and local trains. They are available at tobacco shops, bars, and vending machines at metro and train stations and major bus stops. Passes must be validated the first time they are used; stamping machines are located on the buses.
Combination passes are offered for various sites. The Roma Pass provides unlimited 3 day transportation and free admission to two of more than 40 museums or sites; after the two free admissions are used, reduced entry is given at the other sites. Other passes include the Archeologia Card, Appia Antica Card, and Four Museum Combination Tickets. They can all be researched online. Tickets for the Colosseum also provide entry to Palatine Hill and the Forum. The ticket line at the Colosseum can be very long; an alternative is to purchase yours either beforehand online or at the entrance to Palatine Hill.
Speaking of alternatives, thanks to Rick Steeves, I found a shortcut to the Victor Emmanuel Monument that eliminated climbing all the stairs. In one corner of Capitol Hill Square (near the she- wolf statue), go up the wide steps and through the iron gates. It may look like you aren’t allowed to do this, but you are. Go through door #13 on the right; it takes you to the top of the monument, past the cafe.
Rome’s major sites are well known and covered comprehensively in guidebooks. Two lesser known places we really enjoyed were the macabre ossuary Capuchin crypt and the well preserved remains at Ostia Antica. Located below the Church of Santa Maria della Immacolata Concezione on Via Veneto, just off Piazza Barberini, the crypt contains more than 4,000 skeletal remains, some arranged in decorative patterns or used as chandeliers. Ostia Antica served as the port town for ancient Rome; many of the shops, apartments, andmosaics have survived. The best way to get there is to take the metro to Piramide stop and then follow the signs to the Roma-Lido train. Rome transportation passes are good on the train; it takes about 45 minutes for the entire journey.
If you plan to visit the Vatican, remember no shorts or bare shoulders are allowed. Consider mailing your postcards from the Vatican post office; the service tends to be better than the Italian postal system. You must purchase special Vatican stamps, but they cost the same as Italian postage. In addition to regular tours of the Vatican, there is a special tour of the Vatican Scavi, the underground necropolis where St. Peter was buried. This tour is by advance reservation only.
Unfortunately, Rome is notorious for pickpockets, particularly in heavy tourist areas or buses. Be on your guard, don’t carry valuables, use a security pouch/money belt, and remember pickpockets are not always shady looking characters. Often they are well dressed.
Coffee and gelato (ice cream) are art forms in Rome. If you order un caffé, you will get an espresso. Caffé Americano is a watered down version, usually served in a bigger cup. Decaf coffee is caffé hag, while caffé macchiato adds milk to the espresso. Caffé Corretto has a shot of alcohol. Romans drink cappuccino for breakfast; not as an after dinner drink. Cioccolato is very thick, fudge like hot chocolate; milk is stirred in to thin it out. Caffé shakerato is a frothy ice coffee; Granite di caffé is frozen coffee, usually served with cream.
Everyone has his/her favorite ice cream shop in Rome. Giolitti’s, Via Uffici del Vicario 40 in the Tridente section near the Pantheon tops many lists. Blue Ice is a popular chain. Liliana McGuire tells me one of her favorites is La Palma, Via Della Maddaleno 27 just off the Pantheon, and a new discovery is a chocolate/ice cream shop on Via del Gambero, 6, just off Piazza San Silvestro. She suggests that “as you partake in the splendor of gelato, think of Nero’s tutor, Seneca, scolding wealthy Roman women for their addiction to the luxury of ‘drinking snow’ in both summer and winter.”
Rome is yours to enjoy!