Rome is one of my favorite cities ever, and while there are so many places I have not yet visited I feel like I am home when I am here. When I book a trip to Rome, I feel joy bubbling up inside of me like a fresh glass of champagne. As I descend by plane, arrive by car, train, or ship – the feeling is the same just an overall sense of happiness and that all is right with the world. I can’t say if it’s the hidden beauty in unexpected places, the historic significance, friendly people, excellent food, great wine, the best cappuccino, or maybe the gelato – all I know for sure is this is one city that I never grow tired of and always experience something new.
Getting There: The main airport is Fiumicino (FCO) for flights from United States. I recommend a taxi or hiring a car to your hotel. You will find many car service companies as you arrive, for safety reasons I recommend hiring a car ahead of time or getting a City of Rome Taxi, cost is about the same around $50 Euros to most hotels in the city (about 45 minute drive). Make sure you get an official City of Rome taxi, it will have SPQR painted on the door.
If you arriving by cruise ship in Civitavecchia you are about an hour from the city by car. There is a reliable train, but I recommend a car if you are only in town for the day or have luggage, as the train is much slower and it can be difficult to navigate the old streets with luggage. I have used Manilo at www.limousineserviceinrome.com a few times now and highly recommend him for simple airport or cruise terminal transfer or as a driver/guide for a day in Rome. He is a little expensive, but if you have one day to see Rome and need a reliable and knowledgeable driver he is excellent and can also help to book tickets and set up private guide for the Vatican.
Where to Stay: There are so many great options and areas to visit in Rome, I would suggest for a first time visitor to stay in the historic center near, this puts you walking distance to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona and it just has such great character with the many small and winding streets to wander. I have stayed near the Vatican as well, but I really prefer the historic area more and you can walk across the river to Trastevere where all the best restaurants are located as well. There are several boutique hotel options and I have found most of the staff to be very helpful and accommodating. My last overnight visit we stayed at Hotel Campo de’ Fiori, a small boutique hotel. The staff was very helpful, great location, and excellent breakfast was included.
Getting Around: Walking or hiring a driver are the best options. There is a metro with some limited stops, but it is typically overcrowded and stations don’t feel as safe, lots of pick pockets – although I have never personally had an issue it’s not as convenient as other big cities like Barcelona, London, and Paris. There are three stations that are relatively close to major attractions: Line A with stops at Vatican Museums, St Peter’s and also Spanish Steps and then Line B with stops at Colosseum and Roman Forum. I don’t recommend taxi’s in Rome, they are very difficult to flag down and will overcharge you and inflate meter rates. I would recommend just asking your hotel to arrange a driver for any destinations beyond walking. I do not recommend the bus at all, it can be very slow in traffic, lots of pick pockets, and they can suspend service at any given time leaving you a bit stranded if you don’t know another bus location to go to.
Where to Go: There really is something for everyone in Rome. There are a few areas to explore, I will order these based on what I think you MUST see.
Historic Center: A visit to Pantheon is a must, this building is around 2000 years old and probably one of the best preserved Roman building. It was consecrated as a church around 609 which is why it is so well maintained, and the famous Italian painter Raphael is also buried in the church. A walk around the shops of Piazza Navona is also nearby and has many cafes and street artists, just beware of pick pockets. From the Pantheon you can take a quick 8-10 minute walk over to the Trevi Fountain as well. One of the largest and most famous fountains in Rome, most know that legend requires you to throw a coin over your shoulder with your back to the fountain to ensure a return trip to Rome.
Vatican City: I have visited with and without a tour guide and I highly recommend a guide if possible, I did not realize on my first visit that the Vatican museums are one of the largest in the world. It can take several days to see everything, but a guide can make sure you get the most of your visit and expedite you to the view of Sistine Chapel. Talking is limited in the chapel and no photos or video is allowed so it’s good to get an idea of the history and painted scenes before entering. After exiting the Vatican Museums you can enter St. Peter’s Basilica one of the largest churches in the world, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Along with all the magnificent sculptures is the Pieta by Michelangelo and the beautiful bronze canopy over the altar by Bernini.
On the way out of the church be sure to look for colorful the Swiss Guard the official protectors and guards of the Pope.
Ancient Rome: This area includes the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum. I highly recommend a guide or tour for these areas to avoid long lines and to get a better understanding of the ruins. On my first self guided visit I really did not get a good sense of the ruins and what I was looking at and ran out of time before I was able to visit inside the Colosseum. If you want to do mostly self guided walking but tours for specific sites, the www.rometoolkit.com or eyesofrome.com are both good options as well.