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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Italy.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Italy.
Coming off the Autostrada at Roma Nord or Roma Sud, you know by the convergence of heavily trafficked routes that you’re entering a grand nexus: All roads lead to Rome.
And then the interminable suburbs, the railroad crossings, the intersections—no wonder they call it the Eternal City. As you forge on, features that match your expectations begin to appear: a bridge with heroic statues along its parapets; a towering slab of marble decorated with allegorical figures in extravagant poses; a piazza and an obelisk under an umbrella of pine trees. Then you spot what looks like a multistory parking lot. With a gasp, you realize it’s the Colosseum.
You’ve arrived. You’re in the city’s heart. You step down from your excursion bus onto the broad girdle of tarmac that encircles the great stone arena of the Roman emperors, and scurry out of the way of the passing Fiats—the motorists behind the wheels seem to display the panache of so many Ben-Hurs. The excitement of arriving here jolts the senses and sharpens expectations.
The timeless city to which all roads lead, Mamma Roma, enthralls visitors today as she has since time immemorial. More than Florence, more than Venice, this is Italy’s treasure storehouse. Here the ancient Romans made us heirs-in-law to what we call Western Civilization; where centuries later Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel;
where Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Baroque nymphs and naiads still dance in their marble fountains; and where, at Cinecittà Studios, Fellini filmed La Dolce Vita and 8½. Today the city remains a veritable Grand Canyon of culture. Ancient Rome rubs shoulders with the medieval, the modern runs into the Renaissance, and the result is like nothing so much as an open-air museum.
But always remember: Quando a Roma vai, fai come vedrai (“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”). Don’t feel intimidated by the press of art and culture. Instead, contemplate the grandeur from a table at a sun-drenched café on Piazza della Rotonda; let Rome’s colorful life flow around you without feeling guilty because you haven’t seen everything. It can’t be done, anyway. There’s just so much here that you’ll have to come back again, so be sure to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain.
Most everyone begins by discovering the grandeur that was Rome: the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Pantheon. Then many move on to the Vatican, the closest thing to heaven on Earth for some.
The historical pageant continues with the 1,001 splendors of the Baroque era: glittering palaces, jewel-studded churches, and Caravaggio masterpieces. Arrive refreshed—with the help of a shot of espresso—at the foot of the Spanish Steps, where the picturesque world of the classic Grand Tour (peopled by such spirits as John Keats and Tosca) awaits you.
Thankfully, Rome provides delightful ways to catch your historic breath along the way: a walk through the cobblestone valleys of Trastevere or an hour stolen alongside a splashing Bernini fountain.
Keep in mind that an uncharted ramble through the heart of the old city can be just as satisfying as the contemplation of a chapel or a trek through marbled museum corridors. No matter which aspect of Rome you end up enjoying the most, a visit to the Eternal City will live up to its name in memory.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even locals themselves will tell you that it takes a lifetime to discover all the treasures the Eternal City has to offer. Jam-packed with monuments, museums, fountains, galleries, and picturesque neighborhoods, Mamma Roma makes it hard for visitors to decide which to tackle first during their adventurous Roman holiday. As Romans like to say, this one-day itinerary basta e avanza (“is more than enough”) to get you started!
So you want to taste Rome, gaze at its beauty, and inhale its special flair, all in one breathtaking (literally) day? Think Rome 101, and get ready for a spectacular sunrise-to-sunset span. Begin at 9 by exploring Rome’s most beautiful neighborhood—“Vecchia Roma” (the area around Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, and the Pantheon)—starting out on the Corso (the big avenue that runs into Piazza Venezia, the traffic hub of the historic center).
A block away from each other are two opulently over-the-top monuments that show off Rome at its Baroque best: the church of Sant’Ignazio and the princely Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj, aglitter with great Old Master paintings.
By 10:30, head west a few blocks to find the granddaddy of monuments, the fabled Pantheon, still looking like Emperor Hadrian might arrive at any minute. A few blocks northwest is San Luigi dei Francesi, home to the greatest Caravaggio paintings in Rome. At 11:30 saunter a block or so westward into beyond-beautiful Piazza Navona, studded with Bernini fountains. Then take Via Cucagna (at the piazza’s south end) and continue several blocks toward Campo de’ Fiori’s open-air food market for some lunch-on-the-run fixings. Two more blocks toward the Tiber brings you to fashionable Via Giulia, laid out by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century.
Walk past 10 blocks of Renaissance palaces and antiques shops to take a bus (from the stop near the Tiber) over to the Vatican. Arrive around 1 to gape at St. Peter’s Basilica, then hit the treasure-filled Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel) around 1:30—during lunch, the crowds diminish considerably. After two hours, head for the Ottaviano stop near the museum and Metro your way to the Colosseo stop.
Around 4 (earlier in winter, when last entrance to the archaeological zone is at 3:30), climb up into the Colosseum and picture it full of screaming toga-clad citizens enjoying the spectacle of gladiators in mortal combat. Striding past the massive Arch of Constantine, enter the Palatine Hill entrance at around 4:45, following signs for the Roman Forum. Photograph yourself giving a “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” oration (complete with upraised hand) among the marble fragments.
March down the Forum’s Via Sacra toward the looming Vittorio Emanuele Monument (Il Vittoriano) and exit onto the Campidoglio.
Here, on the Capitoline Hill, tour the great ancient Roman art treasures of the Musei Capitolini (which are open most nights until 8, last entrance at 7), and snap the view from the terrace over the spotlighted Forum. After dinner, hail a cab—or take a long passeggiata (stroll) down dolce vita memory lane—to the Trevi Fountain, a gorgeously lit sight at night. Needless to say, toss that coi in to ensure your return trip back to the Mother of Us All.
In Rome traditional cuisine reigns supreme. Most chefs follow the mantra of freshness over fuss, and simplicity of flavor and preparation over complex cooking methods.
So when Romans continue ordering the standbys, it’s easy to understand why. And we’re talking about very old standbys: some restaurants re-create dishes that come from ancient recipes of Apicius, probably the first celebrity chef (to Emperor Tiberius) and cookbook author of the Western world. Today Rome’s cooks excel at what has taken hundreds, or thousands, of years to perfect.
Still, if you’re hunting for newer-than-now developments, things are slowly changing. Talented young chefs are exploring new culinary frontiers, with results that tingle the taste buds: fresh pasta filled with carbonara sauce, cod “tiramisu,” and mozzarella gelato with basil sorbet and semisweet tomatoes are just a few recent examples. Of course, there’s grumbling about the number of chefs who, in a clumsy effort to be nuovo, end up with collision rather than fusion. That noted, Rome is the capital city, and the influx of residents from other regions of the country allows for many variations on the Italian theme.
Via Cola di Rienzo is home to two of Rome’s best specialty shops: Franchi (Via Cola di Rienzo 200, Prati | 06/6874651), is a gastroshop that sells high-quality cured meats, Italian cheeses, wines, pastas, and fresh truffles. Next door, Castroni (Via Cola di Rienzo 196/198, Prati | 06/6874383) is well known among expats for its imported foreign foods from the United States, Great Britain, Japan, India, and Mexico, as well as its impressive selection of candies, preserves, olive oils, and balsamic vinegars. Castroni is a great place to stop in for caffè (coffee) and a cornetto (an Italian croissant).
If there’s one vegetable Rome is known for, it’s the artichoke, or carciofo. The classic Roman preparation, carciofo alla romana, is a large, globe-shape artichoke stripped of its outer leaves, stuffed with wild mint and garlic, then braised. It’s available at restaurants throughout the city from February to May, when local artichokes are in season. For the excellent Roman-Jewish version, carciofo alla giudia— artichoke deep-fried until crisp and brown—head to any restaurant in the Ghetto.
What may appear to the naked eye as spaghetti with red sauce is actually bucatini all’amatriciana—a spicy, rich, and complex dish that owes its flavor to an important ingredient: guanciale, or cured pork jowl. Once you taste a meaty, guanciale-flavor dish, you’ll understand why Romans swear by it. Along with guanciale, the simple sauce features crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes. It’s served over bucatini, a hollow, spaghetti-like pasta, and topped with grated pecorino Romano cheese.
Rome’s largest slaughterhouse in the 1800s was housed in the Testaccio neighborhood. That’s where you’ll find dishes like coda alla vaccinara, or “oxtail in the style of the cattle butcher.” This dish is made from ox or veal tails stewed with tomatoes, carrots, celery, and wine, and seasoned with cinnamon, pancetta, and myriad other flavorings. The stew cooks for hours then is finished with the sweet-and-sour element—often raisins and pine nuts or bittersweet chocolate.
For many travelers, the first taste of gelato is one of the most memorable moments of their Italian trip. With a consistency that’s a cross between regular American ice cream and soft-serve, gelato’s texture is dense but softer than hard ice cream because it’s kept at a higher temperature. The best gelato is extremely flavorful, and made daily. In Rome a few common flavors are caffè, pistacchio (pistachio), nocciola (hazelnut), fragola (strawberry), and cioccolato fondant (dark chocolate).
Roman pizza comes in two types: pizza al taglio (by the slice) and pizza tonda (round pizza). The former has a thicker focaccia-like crust and is cut into squares. These slices are sold by weight and available all day. In Rome, the typical pizza tonda has a very thin crust. It’s cooked in wood-burning ovens that reach extremely high temperatures. Since they’re so hot, the ovens are usually fired up in the evening, which is why Roman pizzerias are only open for dinner.
Taking a photo with one of those ersatz gladiators in front of Rome’s ancient sights will win some smiles—but maybe some frowns, too. Many of them (who are actually costumed as centurions, not gladiators, at all) pounce on tourists who simply aim a camera at them and then proceed to shake them down for a “photo fee.” Others have a craftier approach: before you know it, one may envelop your eight-year-old in his red cape and say “Formaggio.” Indeed, this may turn out to be the greatest souvenir back home in fourth-grade class, so if interested, step right up, shake hands, and exchange some euros. But pick your Spartacus very carefully: some sloppy guys wear a helmet and cloak but have sweatsuits or sneakers on. Rome has cracked down on these “gladiators,” but with limited success—expect to see them near the Forum, Colosseum, and along Via dei Fori Imperiali.
From opulent villas to Mithraic temples, an entire ancient world lies beneath ground-level Rome. No, it’s not because ancient Romans had a penchant for the subterranean. It’s because, two millennia ago, the ground level stood 30 to 40 feet lower than it does today.
As a result, every time someone goes to dig a hole in Rome, they get a surprise. That’s been a source of both pride and frustration, as most recently seen with the ongoing project for Linea C. Rome’s third metro line is supposed to go through the heart of the centro storico—but several subway stops have had to be scrapped when workers hit (surprise!) ancient ruins. Most famously, a desired stop at Piazza Venezia had to come to a halt when workers discovered ruins of an ancient auditorium built by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.
For a great glimpse of how modern Rome sits atop the ancient, book a tour at Palazzo Valentini, just around the corner from that doomed Piazza Venezia stop. In 2007, excavations beneath the 16th-century Palazzo Valentini—today the seat of the Province of Rome—turned up ruins of two 2nd- and 3rd-century villas. On an automated tour experience beneath the Renaissance palazzo, visitors are brought through the opulent rooms and, with light shows, shown how they once would have looked … all without ever emerging aboveground (provincia.roma.it).
Head to the Aventine hill, just across the Circus Maximus from the Palatine, for a quirky surprise. The Order of the Knights of Malta, the only private entity to also be a sovereign state, has their headquarters here. Although their building is closed to the public unless you’re on a prebooked tour, its most charming facet is open to anyone: the keyhole. Peek through for a perfectly framed view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica—and the chance to see three countries (Vatican City, Italy, and the Order of the Knights of Malta) in one glance.
The Festival Internazionale del Film di Roma (Rome International Film Festival; | www.romacinemafest.it), entering its sixth year, has hosted the likes of Martin Scorcese, Robert De Niro, and Meryl Streep. Though Rome is far from reclaiming its film prominence, lost decades ago, the festival draws important players in the world of film and sees its share of world premieres. The festival is held at the Auditorium Parco della Musica during a full week in the fall.
Rome has always been in love with amore. But romance is certainly nowhere more contagious than around its famous fountains. If a besotted couple can spare the time, a trip up to Tivoli’s Villa D’Este (an hour outside Rome via bus) is nirvana. Its seductive garden and endless array of fountains (about 500 of them) is the perfect setting to put anyone in the mood for love.
That’s your cue to return to Rome and make a beeline for the luminous Trevi Fountain, even more enchanting at night than in the daytime. Make sure you and that special someone throw your coins into the fountain for good luck. Legend has it that those who do so are guaranteed a return trip back to Rome.
Borrowed from i Milanesi, the trend of l’aperitivo has become moda in Rome. Not to be confused with happy hour, l’aperitivo is not about discounts or heavy drinking, but rather a time to meet up with friends and colleagues after work or on weekends—definitely an event in which to see and be seen. Aperitivo hours are usually from 7 to 9 pm.
Depending on where you go, the price of a drink often includes an all-you-can-eat appetizer buffet of finger foods, sandwiches, and pasta salads. Some aperitivo hot spots on the trendissimo list are Enoteca Palatium (Via Frattina) near the Piazza di Spagna; L’Angolo Divino (Via del Balestrari) near the Campo de’ Fiori; Freni e Frizioni (Via del Politeama) in Trastevere; and the 5th Floor Terrace at Il Palazzetto, set on a magical balcony right over the Spanish Steps.
Despite the encroachment of chain stores and big brands, many of Rome’s finest artisans are still hanging on— barely. But locals hope they’ll be able to withstand globalization’s assault, because they still produce some of the finest (and best-value!) handmade clothes, shoes, leather goods, and more in the city. Top-notch artisans can be found in neighborhoods like Trastevere and Campo dei Fiori, as well as scattered in areas like the Spanish Steps. For a glimpse of how tradition and trend can combine, wander through Monti, a neighborhood chock-a-block with young jewelers, fashion designers, and artists, many of whom use traditional artisanal techniques (and often handcraft their products right in the store)—but with an eye toward contemporary style.
Rome was made for wandering, with relentlessly picturesque streets and alleyways, leading you past monuments, down narrow vicoli, through ancient Roman arches, and into hidden piazzas. A stroll is the best way to become attuned to the city’s rhythm and, no matter how aimlessly you wander, chances are you’ll end up somewhere magical.
The best walking tours in Rome are given by Context (www.contexttravel.com). Also getting raves from the public and media are the truly wonderful walking tours offered by Through Eternity (www.througheternity.com).
Reputedly constructed to honor all pagan gods, this best-preserved building of ancient Rome was rebuilt in the 2nd century AD by Emperor Hadrian. The vast dome of perfect dimensions—142 feet high by 142 feet wide—was the largest freestanding dome until the 20th century.
Though its population numbers are just shy of a thousand, the Vatican—home base for the Catholic Church and the pope—has millions of visitors each year. Savor Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling, attend Papal Mass, and marvel at St. Peter’s Basilica, embraced by the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square.
Legend has it that as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand; and when Rome falls, so will the world. One of the “new” seven wonders of the world, the mammoth amphitheater was begun by Emperor Vespasian and inaugurated by the next emperor, his son Titus, in year AD 80. For “the grandeur that was Rome,” this yardstick of eternity can’t be topped.
You couldn’t concoct a more Roman street scene: cafés and crowded tables at street level, coral- and rust-color houses above, most lined with wrought-iron balconies, and, at the center of this urban “living room” Bernini’s spectacular Fountain of the Four Rivers and Borromini’s supertheatrical Sant’Agnese.
Set between the Capitoline and Palatine hills, this fabled labyrinth of ruins variously served as a political playground, a commerce mart, and a place where justice was dispensed during the days of the Republic and Empire (509 BC to AD 476). Once adorned with stately buildings, triumphal arches, and impressive temples, the Forum today is a silent ruin—sic transit gloria mundi (“so passes away the glory of the world”).
Catch an emperor’s-eye view of the Roman Forum from beside Michelangelo’s Palazzo Senatorio, situated atop one of the highest spots in Rome, the Capitoline Hill. Next door you’ll find the Vittoriano, the Capitoline Museums, and beloved Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
One of the few fountains in Rome that’s actually more absorbing than the people crowding around it, the Fontana di Trevi was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732. Immortalized in Three Coins in a Fountain and La Dolce Vita, this fountain may be your ticket back to Rome—that is, if you throw a coin into it.
Byron, Shelley, and Keats all drew inspiration from this magnificent “Scalinata,” constructed in 1723. Connecting the shops at the bottom with the hotels at the top, this is the place for prime people-watching. The steps face beautiful sunsets.
Only the best could satisfy the aesthetic taste of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and that means famed Bernini sculptures, great paintings by Titian and Raphael, and the most spectacular 17th-century palace in Rome.
Just across the Tiber River, this charming neighborhood is a maze of jumbled alleyways, cobblestone streets, and medieval houses. The area also boasts one of the oldest churches of Rome—Santa Maria in Trastevere.
With, more than 100 towers shooting up from its narrow streets, Bologna was a medieval Manhattan Today, the skyline’s more York than New York, but a few towers still stand, including the Medieval Torre Prendiparte. Once the stronghold of a noble family, now anyone can set up fort in the tower – all 60 metres and 12 storeys of it – for a far-from-princely sum.
Guests have the run of a three-floor suite and are welcomed with a guided tour. Climbing up via former prison cells inscribed with messages, they emerge onto the panoramic terrace for a drink overlooking the terracotta city. Morning means heading back down to earth to explore Bologna, under your own steam or on one of the tower’s weekend packages, such as the Art and Cuisine tour of its historic riches and culinary specialities.
France – In Epernay built on champagne – quite literally. Some 70 miles of cellars, filled with 200 million bottles, hide under this self-proclaimed capital of bubbly. On the town’s outskirts lies France’s official champagne school, where future masters learn their craft. A full course here takes two years, but members of the public can get a crash course on one of the day workshops.
Under expert guidance, study how champagne is made, discover the secrets of terroir and different grape varieties, and learn how to use sight, smell and taste while sampling 10 different cuvees. Back in town, explore Avenue du Champagne, a boulevard of Neoclassical villas built by the big producing families, and dine at restaurants such as La Cavek Champagne, where typically champenois dishes, including snails and veal in mustard sauce, can be paired with flights of the region’s finest vintages.
Italy – Blending Mediterranean and North African food, Sicilian is among the most distinctive of Italy’s regional cuisines, and the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School offers total immersion in the island’s culinary culture. Hosted in a 19th-century stone farmhouse, part of the aristocratic family’s wine estate, the Food and Culture itineraries include classes on how to cook ingredients harvested from the kitchen garden, plus visits to local producers. Depending on the season, guests might visit pizzerias, ricotta cheesemakers and more, but all can expect fantastic meals featuring flavor some local produce.
Spain – Acorn-fed Iberico pigs make Spanish ham the best in the world, and a leg from one of these premium porkers becomes a legitimate souvenir option after completing A Taste of Spain’s Ibarico ham carving course. Under the tutelage of an English-speaking master carver at ham shop Gondiaz, knife-wielding novices learn about the product while whittling off their own slices. Then it’s next door to Restaurante La Mi Venta for tapas dishes including Ibarico cooked over charcoal. Extend your culinary journey with visits to Madrid’s food markets – San Miguel and San Anton have good charcuterie stalls – and to the Museo del Jamon, with its array of ceiling-hung hams.
Ancient Rome. Backstopped by the most stupendous monument of ancient Rome—the Colosseum—the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were once the hub of western civilization.
The Vatican. The Vatican draws millions of pilgrims and art lovers to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel.
Navona and Campo. The cuore—heart—of the centro storico (historic quarter), this district revolves around the ancient Pantheon, bustling Campo de’ Fiori, and spectacular Piazza Navona.
Corso. Rome’s “Broadway” begins at Piazza Venezia and neatly divides the city center in two—an area graced by historic landmarks like the 17th-century Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj (famed for its Old Master collection) and the Column of Marcus Aurelius.
Spagna. Travel back to the days of the Grand Tour in this glamorous area. After some people-watching on Piazza di Spagna, shop like a true VIP along Via dei Condotti, then be sure to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain.
Repubblica and Quirinale. A largely 19th-century district, Repubblica lets art lovers go for Baroque with a bevy of Bernini works, including his Ecstasy of St. Theresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria. To the south looms the Palazzo Quirinale, Italy’s presidential palace.
Villa Borghese and Piazza del Popolo. Rome’s most famous park is home to playful fountains, sculptured gardens, and the treasure-packed Galleria Borghese. Piazza del Popolo—a beautiful place to watch the world go by—lies south.
Trastevere. Rome’s left bank has kept its authentic roots thanks to mom-and-pop trattorias, medieval alleyways, and Santa Maria in Trastevere, stunningly spotlighted at night.
The Ghetto and Isola Tiberina. Once a Jewish quarter, the gentrified Ghetto still preserves the flavor of Old Rome. Alongside is moored Tiber Island, so picturesque it will click your camera for you.
The Catacombs and Appian Way. Follow in the footsteps of St. Peter to this district, home to the spirit-warm catacombs and the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.
Fortunately for tourists, many of Rome’s main attractions are concentrated in the centro storico (historic center) and can be covered on foot. Some sights that lie nearer the border of this quarter can be reached via the Metro Line A, nicknamed the linea rossa (red line) and include: the Spanish Steps (Spagna stop), the Trevi Fountain (Barberini stop), St. Peter’s Square (Ottaviano stop), and the Vatican Museums (Ottaviano or Cipro-Musei Vaticani stop), to name a few.
Tickets for the bus, tram, and Metro can be purchased at any tabacchi (tobacco shop), at some newsstands, and from machines inside Metro stations. These tickets are good for approximately 75 minutes for a single Metro ride and unlimited buses and trams. Day passes can be purchased for €4, and weekly passes, which allow unlimited use of buses, trams, and the Metro, for €16.
For a fuller explanation of Metro routes, pick up a free map from a tourist information booth or log on to the website of Rome’s public transportation system, the ATAC (www.atac.roma.it).
Roma, non basta una vita (“Rome, a lifetime is not enough”). This famous saying should be stamped on the passport of every first-time visitor to the Eternal City. On the one hand, it’s a warning: Rome is so packed with sights that it’s impossible to take them all in; it’s easy to run yourself ragged trying to check off the items on your “bucket list.” On the other hand, the saying is a celebration of the city’s abundance. There’s so much here, you’re bound to make discoveries you hadn’t anticipated. To conquer Rome, strike a balance between visits to major sights and leisurely neighborhood strolls.
In the first category, the Vatican and the remains of ancient Rome loom the largest. Both require at least half a day; a good strategy is to devote your first morning to one and your second to the other.
Leave the afternoons for exploring the neighborhoods that comprise “Baroque Rome” and the shopping district around the Spanish Steps and Via Condotti. If you have more days at your disposal, continue with the same approach. Among the sights, Galleria Borghese and the multilayered church of San Clemente are particularly worthwhile, and the neighborhoods of Trastevere and the Ghetto make for great roaming.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in Rome, so it’s wise to plan your busy sightseeing schedule with possible savings in mind. Purchasing the Roma Pass (www.romapass.it) can allow you to do just that, depending on your plans. The three-day pass costs €30 and is good for unlimited use of buses, trams, and the metro (like the three-day public transportation pass). It adds in, however, free admission to two of more than 40 participating museums or archaeological sites, including the Colosseum (and it bumps you to the head of the long line there), plus discounted tickets to many other museums. As they’re not Rome museums, it’s worth noting that the Vatican museums are not included. The Roma Pass can be purchased at tourist information booths across the city, at Termini Station, at Fiumicino Airport, or online at the Roma Pass website.
Not surprisingly, spring and fall are the best times to visit, with mild temperatures and many sunny days; the famous Roman sunsets are also at their best. Summers are often sweltering. In July and August, learn to do as the Romans do—get up and out early, seek refuge from the afternoon heat, resume activities in early evening, and stay up late to enjoy the nighttime breeze. Come August, many shops and restaurants close as locals head out for vacation. Remember that air-conditioning, though increasingly available, is still not ubiquitous in this city. Roman winters are relatively mild, with persistent rainy spells.
Rome has its own “hop-on, hop-off” sightseeing buses. The Trambus 110 Open leaves every 15 minutes from Viale Einaudi (near Termini), with a two-hour loop including the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, St. Peter’s, and the Trevi Fountain. Day-long tickets, valid for 24 hours, cost €15; two-day tickets cost €20. The Archeobus departs every 30 minutes from Viale Einaudi and heads to the Via Appia Antica, with stops at the Colosseum, Baths of Caracalla, and the catacombs. Tickets, valid for 48 hours, cost €12. A cumulative ticket covering both buses costs €25 and is valid for 72 hours. The website for both is www.trambusopen.com.
Much of the city shuts down on Sunday, although museums and many restaurants are closed Monday. Most stores in the centro storico area, the part of town that caters to tourists, remain open. Shop hours generally run from 10 am to 1 pm, then reopen around 3 pm until 7 or 7:30 pm. Unless advertised as having orario continuato (open all day), most businesses close from 1 to 3. On Monday, shops usually don’t open until around 3 or 4 pm. Pharmacies tend to have the same hours of operation as stores unless they advertise orario notturno (night hours); two can be found on Corso Rinascimento and Piazza dei Cinquecento (near Termini Station). As for churches, most open at 8 or 9 in the morning, close from 12:30 to 3 or 4, then reopen until 6:30 or 7. St. Peter’s, however, is open 7 am to 7 pm (6:30 pm October to March).
Rome’s main Tourist Information Office is at Via Leopardi 24 (06/0608 | www.romaturismo.it), near Piazza Vittorio.
Green information kiosks with multilingual personnel are located near the most important sights and squares, as well as at Termini Station and Leonardo da Vinci Airport. These kiosks, called Tourist Information Sites (Punti Informativi Turistici, or PIT) can be found at:
PIT Castel S. Angelo, Piazza Pia; open 9:30–7
PIT Navona, Piazza delle Cinque Lune (north end of Piazza Navona); open 9:30–7
PIT Fiumicino, Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci, Arrivi Internazionali Terminal C; open 9–7:30
PIT Ciampino, Aeroporto Ciampino, Arrivi Internazionali Baggage Claim; open 9–6:30
PIT Minghetti, Via Marco Minghetti (corner of Via del Corso); open 9:30–7
PIT Nazionale, Via Nazionale (Palazzo delle Esposizioni); open 9:30–7
PIT Santa Maria Maggiore, at Via dell’Olmata; open 9:30–7
PIT Termini, Stazione Termini, at Via Giovanni Giolitti 34; open 8–8
PIT Trastevere, on Piazza Sidney Sonnino; open 9:30–7
This itinerary is designed for maximum impact. Think of it as rough draft for you to revise according to your own interests and time constraints.
Arrive in Venice’s Marco Polo Airport (there are direct flights from the United States), hop on the bus into the main bus station in Venice, then check into your hotel, get out, and get lost in the back canals for a couple of hours before dinner. If you enjoy fish, you should indulge yourself at a traditional Venetian restaurant. There’s no better place for sweet, delicate Adriatic seafood.
Logistics: At the airport, avoid the Alilaguna boat into Venice on arrival. It’s expensive, slow, and singularly unromantic. The bus is quick and cheap—save the romance for later. When you get to the main station, transfer to the most delightful main-street “bus” in the world: the vaporetto ferry. Enjoy your first ride up the Grand Canal, and make sure you’re paying attention to the fermata (or stop) you need to get off at. As for water taxis from the airport to the city, they’re very expensive, although they’ll take you directly to your hotel.
Begin by skipping the coffee at your hotel and have a real Italian coffee at a real Italian coffee shop. Spend the day at Venice’s top sights, including the Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, and Galleria dell’Accademia; don’t forget Piazza San Marco, which is probably the most intense concentration of major artistic and cultural monuments in the world. The intense anticipation as you near the giant square through a maze of tiny shop-lined alleys and streets climaxes in the stunning vista of the Piazza (return at 7 am the next morning to see it “senza popolo” (without people) and it’ll look like a Canaletto painting come alive. Stop for lunch, perhaps sampling Venice’s traditional specialty, sarde in saor (grilled sardines in a mouthwatering sweet-and-sour preparation that includes onions and raisins), and be sure to check out the fish market at the foot of the Rialto Bridge, and sunset at the Zattere before dinner. Later, stop at one of the pubs around the Campo San Luca or Campo Santa Margarita, where you can toast to freedom from automobiles.
Logistics: Venice is best seen by wandering. The day’s activities can be done on foot, with the occasional vaporetto ride if you feel the urge to be on the water.
Get an early start and leave Venice on a Bologna-bound train. The ride to Ferrara—your first stop in Emilia-Romagna—is about an hour and a half. Visit the Castello Estense and Duomo before lunch; a panino and a beer at one of Ferrara’s cafés should fit the bill. Wander Ferrara’s cobblestone streets before hopping on the train to Bologna (a ride of less than an hour). In Bologna, check into your hotel and walk around Piazza Maggiore before dinner. Later you can check out some of northern Italy’s best nightlife.
Logistics: In Ferrara, the train station lies a bit outside the city center, so you may want to take a taxi into town (though the distance is easily walkable, too). Here and elsewhere in Italy, you may leave your bags at the station for a small fee. Going out, there’s a taxi stand near the back of the castle, toward Corso Ercole I d’Este. In Bologna the walk into town from the station is more manageable, particularly if you’re staying along Via dell’Indipendenza.
After breakfast, check out some of Bologna’s churches and piazzas, including a climb up the leaning Torre degli Asinelli for a red rooftop–studded panorama. After lunch, head back to the train station and take the short ride to Florence. You’ll arrive in time for an afternoon siesta and an evening passeggiata.
Logistics: Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station is within easy access to some hotels, and farther from others. Florence’s traffic is legendary, but taxis at the station are plentiful; make sure you get into a licensed, clearly marked car; the taxi stand is just outside the station.
Although the Lido is Venice’s beach, it is also much more. An island, a town with its own history and a nature reserve, it is also a jet-setters’ paradise, with luxury hotels and exclusive villas. In September, it becomes the world capital of cinema.
The Lido (meaning beach in Italian) is a separate island from Venice. Measuring less than 200 metres in depth in certain areas, it is a 12km stretch of sand, strategically positioned between the Lagoon and the open sea, only connected to the city and dry land by ‘vaporetti’ or ferry boats.
The clear difference between the Lido and Venice is that the Lido has real streets, which means you get around by car. In mid-November, Rolls Royce’s, Cadillac’s and Bentleys abound at the entrances of grand hotels. However, today, it is considered chicer to access the Lido by boat or explore it on foot or by bicycle.
The nature reserve and wild sand dunes of the Alberoni, recognized and protected by the WWF since 1997, are the perfect place for a quick swim. The area comprises 160 hectares of land, including two kilometers of golden sand dunes that extend from Murazzi to the Alberoni dam, and a beautiful pine forest. For a natural beach experience, the Lido also offers several free beaches, like the sandy dunes of San Nicole, the rocky outcrops of the Murazzi, or the beach known to the Venetians as ‘Bluemoon’.
Among other attractions, the area is home to an exclusive golf club set against a stunning backdrop of umbrella pines and poplars. Founder of the famous automotive house and an avid fan of Venice, Henry Ford commissioned the course in 1926, when he discovered to his disappointment that there was nowhere else where he could play golf, a sport widely practiced in America, but not in Italy at that time.
Moving to the other end of the island, we find Malamocco, a small, ancient town that offers visitors a mini experience of Venice with its canals, ‘campielli’ and ancient buildings. Also dating back to olden times, in a more northerly direction, is the settlement of San Nicolo, featuring a Benedictine complex built in the 11th century.
Don’t miss a walk, or even better, a bike ride along the Murazzi, the remains of ancient fortresses which are now used as a race track. Bicycles are provided by several of the island’s hotels. If you happen to be there at the right time, you will be treated to a breathtaking sunset. What’s more, you’ll also get a glimpse of a wilder, more untamed side of Venice, amidst the boats and fishermen searching for clams.
One of the island’s rituals, that you should not miss is having a ‘spritz’: the Venetian cocktail or aperitivo par excellence. You won’t have any trouble finding one at any bar on the Gran Viale, the Lido’s promenade. If you’re not pressed for time you can catch a boat from the Gran Viale to Pallestrina (where you can eat fabulously fresh fish, or a sandwich with fried sardines), or travel to Chioggia, a second, smaller Venice that abounds in fabulous small restaurants.