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.
Rome and Environs Planner
Don’t Miss the Metro
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).
Making the Most of Your Time
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.
When to Go
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