"Of Rome in short, this is my opinion, or rather
indeed my most assured knowledge, that her
delights on earth are sweet, and her judgements
in heaven heavy."
According to legends, Rome was built on seven hills, which were actually low level mountain ranges. These "seven hills" are only 44 feet above sea level. The history of Ancient Rome has had an overwhelming effect on the modern cities of today. What a magnificent place to visit!!
There are two major airports that service the city of Rome. Almost all flights arriving from an international destination will land at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, popularly known as Fiumicino which is located approximately 18 1/2 miles from the center of town. Most charter and domestic flights land at Ciampino airport. For all intents and purposes since most tourists will fly in from another country we will talk about Fiumicino airport.
Upon arriving at Fiumicino Airport, you will encounter the usual customs and security and then you can be on your way to your destination. The first thing we discovered at the airport is that the signs (that are not in English) are very difficult to read. What you will find is that the Italians are quite friendly and you should be able to find someone that speaks English. First, unless you are traveling outside of Rome, do not rent a car. Rome proper is quite small and the downtown area is very easily explored by foot. Besides you should see the way they drive!!!
Prior to arrival, check with your hotel to see if yours offers shuttle service. We stayed near the Vatican at the Holiday Inn which provided free shuttle service to and from the airport. Other public transporation includes train service which departs from the terminal in front of the airport and takes you to Ostiense, a surburban rail station. From here you can connect on the lower level with Metropolitana Line B, Piramide station of the subway system, which will take you to Stazione Termini in the center of Rome. The cost is $3.60 USD and trains depart every 30 minutes. I wouldn't attempt this on my first visit. We missed our shuttle service so we took a cab to our hotel. It was quite expensive, approximately $30 USD, but our taxi driver was very informative and we definitely skipped the hassle of dragging our bags on the train.
Rome abounds with hotel accomodations for every budget, although we found that even the recognizeable hotel chains tended to be on the expensive side. You may pay approximately $75-80 for the US equivilent of a bed and breakfast (normally someone's private home with little or no hotel type amenities) to upwards of $400 for a hotel such as the Le Grand Hotel, located near Stazione Termini. Considered one of the great hotels of Europe, The Grand Hotel is host to many of the world's most famous citizens. Founded in 1894, its tradition of grandeur lives on today.
If you looking for a nice hotel a little more within a tourist's budget, try the Holiday Inn located near St. Peter's Basilica. Our room rate was $160 USD per night which seems a little steep, however it was offered clean rooms, room service, a very nice outdoor pool and attractive grounds, and a complimentary shuttle to the heart of Old Rome, and to the vatican. In addition, when heading home, the hotel offered complimentary bus transportation to the airport. In addition, the staff all spoke fluent English, and were very knowledgeable about what to see and especially where to eat.
On our final two nights in Rome, our Holiday Inn was full so we ended up at the Holiday Inn back at the Fiumicino airport. We thought we would be disappointed being so far away from the center of Rome, but were we ever surprised. If you don't mind being in the heart of Rome then this is the place to stay. The rooms were $130 USD per night and were as nice as any fine hotel. The hotel and grounds were absolutely beautiful and the staff was exceptional. In addition the hotel also provided complimentary transportation on large tour buses to several locations in the heart of Old Rome. Not only would I recommend either of these two hotels, but I would definitely consider staying the Holiday Inn near the airport again.
What can I say about the food in Rome except that it was just delicious! Once you shell out the money for your hotel, you will be pleasantly surprised at the relatively inexpensive price of a good Italian meal. There are a few things to consider. Whenever one is available, order a fixed-price meal in which everything including tax, service, and cover charge is included. In many instances, house wine also comes complimentary with the meal. You can find many small restaurants that serve pasta, pizza, or risotto (a rice dish) for around $10 USD per person. These exceptional deals often include a carafe of house wine as well. We ate several authentic meals in small cafes near Piazza Navona. The weather was warm so we ate our meals outside, where we were able to people watch along with enjoying authentic Italian cuisine.
Be sure and save at least one meal for the fixed-price meal as I mentioned previously. We had ours at one of the many small restaurants located near the Pantheon. We were served everything from soup to nuts and our bill was only $50 USD for three people, tax and tip included. Our meal started with our choice of a pasta dish. We chose Lasagna and were brought a heaping portion - more than enough for a meal of its own. Following the pasta and wonderfully crust Italian bread, we were served our meat dish. I chose veal and what a masterpiece. I didnt think I could eat anything else, but in true Italian fashion, a large crisp green salad was next. After partaking of all we could eat, and drinking a reasonably good local white wine, we asked for the check, knowing we had no room for dessert. Our host refused to bring our bill until we had our dessert. Moaning, we accepted and were treated to a wonderful homemade blueberry tart confection.
The meals in Rome were just incredible. If you enjoy Italian food you will be glad you came to Rome!
There is so much to do and see in Rome that you could spend weeks enjoying the sites and not see everything. However, if you are like most tourists and have limited time, there are some sites you absolutely must see.
This magnificient cathedral should not be missed. Standing in the middle of St. Peter's Square it is not hard to imagine 300,000 people listening to a sermon from the Pope. At the center of the square there is an Egyptian obelisk, brought to Rome from the ancient city of Heliopolis on the Nile Delta and used to adorn Nero's Circus. Today the obelisk is flanked by two 17th century fountains.
Upon entering the cathedral to the right is Michelangelo's carving of the Pieta. It is encased in protective glass due to a vicious attack of vandelism, but is still easy to admire. You can explore all the nooks and crannies of St. Peter's. Some of the highlights are an underground visit to the Vatican grottoes, with their tombs, both ancient and modern, and a climb or elevator ride to Michelangelo's dome. At the top there is an incredible view of the city, in addition to a very nice gift shop. Cost - to enter the catherdral is free, the elevator ride costs only $3.60 USD, a guided tour of the tombs is $6.00 USD.
Something very important to know about touring St. Peter's, there is a strict dress code, even in the summer. No shorts or sleeveless tops for either gender are allowed. In addition, women's skirts/dresses need to be a respectable length - no exceptions.
The Vatican is a state unto its own. From the swiss guards, to the fabulous gateways and grounds, it is a sight that must not be missed. There are four itineraries that visitors may follow to see the Vatican, A, B, C, D. You may pick the itinerary that suits your tastes and your time element. Keep in mind that you'll never be able to see everything in 20 trips let alone 1, so pick a letter and enjoy to your heart's content.
There are galleries with works by Raphael, and Etruscan-Gregorian Musuem, Vatican Library, a collection of modern religious art, and of course The Sistine Chapel. Works of Michelangelo abound and one could gaze at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel all day! Tours of the Vatican Gardens are also available. Cost - Vatican Museums $7.80 USD, tours of the gardens $9.60. One final thought, it will be very crowded. We waited in line for almost two hours but the Vatican Museums should not be missed.
The Roman Forum was the center of Roman life in the days of the republic. From sacrifcing victims, to purchasing goods, to cremating Caesar, the Roman Forum was where the action was. Today there are only ruins left, but each ruin tells a different story of the great Roman empire. Be sure and wear sturdy shoes and explore at your heart's content. There is the spot where Caesar was cremated, columns from the Roman senate, and two very important Arches - the Arch of Septimius and the Arch of Titus. Even today many jewish people will not cross under the Arch of Titus which symbolizes the Roman conquest of Jerusalem as depicted by the carvings that abound on the Arch.
Within the grounds of the forum is the walk that leads to Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. The Palatine was the spot where the first settlers built their huts under the direction of Romulus. Cost - $6.00USD which includes all Forum and Palatine grounds. For an additional fee of $4.00 USD per person you can rent a taped guided tour of the grounds, done with a cassete tape and headsets. We did this and found it to be especially helpful.
An incredible piece of ancient architecture that is very well preserved, The Colosseum at its peak could seat 50,000 spectators. With such unheard of conveniences such as ancient toilet facilities, The Colosseum was a masterpiece in its own right. Although just a shell today, it is well worth the exploration. Cost - street level is free, upper levels $3.60 USD.
Just next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. The Arch was constructed in honor of Constantine's defeat of the pagan Maxentius in the year A.D. 306. It is a beautiful landmark that is intricately carved and very well preserved. Historically, the arch marks a period of great change in the history of not only Rome but of the world. Rome who had always been pagan now had a Christian emperor, Constantine. Converted by a vision on the battlefield he lead his troops to victory and officially ended the centuries-long persecution of the Christians. The arch was erected by the Senate as a tribute to Constantine in A.D. 315.
In keeping with the theme of Constantine, you might want to visit this very unusual church. This might not be listed on the most popular of tourist sites, but this unique church is a stop you might want to make. Church services are still held at the church, but what you want to see is what is beneath the main church sanctuary.
Prior to Constantine becoming emperor, Christians that died had to be buried in secret in Catacombs located on the outskirts of the city. Once Constantine was in power, he not only allowed Christians to be buried in the city, but for remains of Christians to be returned to the city. The church of the Immaculate Conception actually has catacombs located beneath the church. The site is run by monks who will not speak (I believe they have taken a vow of silence) but for only $1.00 USD you can view "art" that is make up of human remains. This is not for the faint of heart, but so very interesting. Keep in mind that no photographs are allowed to be taken, but you can purchase postcards with some of the art on them - very unusual - a must see on your tour of Rome.
This great building of ancient Rome, built in 27 B.C. by Marcus Agrippa, and later reconstructed by Emperor Hadrian in the first part of the 2nd century A.D. remains intact today. This building is considered one of the architectural wonders of the world because of its dome and concept of space. The Pantheon has an opening at the top that is 27 feet in diameter. It is 142 feet wide, and 142 feet wide. The walls are 25 feet thick, and the bronze doors leading into the building weigh 20 tons each. In the 1860's, the tomb of Raphael was discovered in the Pantheon, where fans still bring him flowers today. Founded as an ancient temple, the Pantheon was converted to a church in the early 7th century. Cost - free.
Located at piazza di Trevi, this fountain was erected in the 1600's by Pope Urban VIII. Tradition dictates that you throw a coin in the fountain to ensure your return trip to Rome one day. To do this properly, you must hold your coin in your right hand, turn your back to the fountain, and toss the coin over your shoulder into the fountain. The Trevi Fountain is a great place to stop and contemplate, especially on a warm summer day, where a breeze will spray water over the large crowds. There are street vendors, and sidewalk cafes there to people watch. In fact, my husband was purchasing a small trinket from a vendor who refused to sell it to him unless he gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug! Don't miss this wonderful fountain.
As I said previously, this list could go on and on. Rome is a marvel to behold, and these sightseeing spots, among many others should not be missed on your Roman Holiday!