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Rick Steves Rome
By Rick Steves
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Now more than ever, you can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when traveling in Rome. Explore ancient ruins and view Renaissance masterpieces in this truly modern Eternal City. Inside Rick Steves Rome you'll find:
- Fully updated, comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Rome
- Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel to corner trattorias, cozy wine bars, and the perfect scoop of gelato
- How to connect with local culture: Indulge in the Italian happy hour tradition of aperitivo, savor a plate of cacio e pepe, or chat with fans about the latest soccer match
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and experience la dolce far niente
- Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and sights like the Roman Forum, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Vatican Museums
- Detailed neighborhood maps and a fold-out city map for exploring on the go
- Useful resources including a packing list, Italian phrase book, a historical overview, and recommended reading
- Coverage of Central Rome, Vatican City, Trastevere, and more, plus day trips to Ostia Antica, Tivoli, Naples, and Pompeii
- Covid-related travel info and resources for a smooth trip
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Rome.
Spending just a few days in the city? Try Rick Steves Pocket Rome.
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
Written with my talented co-author, Gene Openshaw, this book offers you a balanced mix of Rome’s brutal but bella sightseeing: breathtaking ancient and religious sights, world-class museums, and lively people zones. It’s selective: Rather than listing all of Rome’s many sights, we recommend only the best. And it’s in-depth: Our self-guided museum tours and city walks provide insight into Rome’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.
We advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Rome to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging by the positive feedback we receive from our readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.
Buon viaggio! Happy travels!
Map: Rome by Neighborhood
Planning and Budgeting
PLANNING YOUR TIME
PLANNING YOUR BUDGET
BEFORE YOU GO
Rome is magnificent and overwhelming at the same time. It’s a showcase of Western civilization, with astonishingly ancient sights and a modern vibrancy.
Two thousand years ago the word “Rome” meant civilization itself. Everything was either civilized (part of the Roman world) or barbarian. Today, Rome is Italy’s political capital, the spiritual capital of a billion Roman Catholics, and an open-air museum of the evocative remains of the capital of what was the greatest empire in the history of humanity.
As you peel through Rome’s fascinating and jumbled layers, you’ll find the marble ruins of ancient times, tangled streets of the medieval world, early Christian churches, grand Renaissance buildings and statues, Baroque fountains and church facades, 19th-century apartments, 21st-century traffic, and nearly three million people. And then, of course, there are Rome’s stupendous sights.
Visit St. Peter’s, the greatest church on earth, and scale Michelangelo’s 448-foot-tall dome. Learn something about eternity at the huge Vatican Museums, where the story of creation is as bright as when Michelangelo first painted it in the restored Sistine Chapel. Ramble among the rabble and rubble, doing the “Caesar Shuffle” through ancient Rome’s Colosseum and Forum, mentally resurrecting those tumble-down stones. Peer into the eyes of Roman busts at the National Museum of Rome, and savor Bernini’s lifelike sculptures at the sumptuous Borghese Gallery. Wander through the surrounding Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome’s biggest public park. Take a spin on the ancient Appian Way and clamber through the catacombs.
Marveling at St. Peter’s Basilica, savory saltimbocca alla romana (veal wrapped with proscuitto)
To experience the intimacy of Rome, buy a picnic at a farmers market, attend a church service, cheer at a soccer match, or find a little square peppered with pizzerias.
When the museums close and the crowds thin, Rome relaxes. The city, so monumental by day, becomes intimate and approachable. Its neighborhoods feel more like villages, and its famous squares become places to simply hang out.
Do as the Romans do. Early in the evening, join the promenade—called the passeggiata—up and down the main streets. After a sociable stroll, take a break for an aperitivo—a before-dinner drink.
Dine well at least once, though even a modest dinner can easily become the evening’s entertainment. Settle into a seat at a rickety sidewalk table on an atmospheric piazza with the rust-colored facade of Rome as your backdrop. The table is yours for the night. You’ll have a front-row view of Rome unwinding as you enjoy your meal.
Roman cuisine, strongly flavored and unpretentious, features meats, fish, some fried foods, and fresh vegetables. Roman specialties are spaghetti alla carbonara (the egg-and-bacon sauce was created here) and saltimbocca alla romana (“jump in the mouth” veal).
Skip your restaurant’s dessert in Rome—instead, wander the medieval back lanes, find a gelato shop, and jostle with kids to get a scoop. Walking down a cobbled street, gently illuminated as if by torchlight, it’s easy to imagine you’re rubbing shoulders with the past. In the squares, youngsters kick soccer balls until midnight and splashing fountains are bathed in velvety lighting. Sit so close to a bubbling fountain that traffic noise evaporates. Marvel at the ramshackle elegance that softens this brutal city for those who were born here—and can’t imagine living anywhere else. These are the flavors of Rome, best enjoyed after dark.
Throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain, sun shining on a peaceful piazza
Rome can be romantic...but hard on the unprepared. If you’re careless, you could get pickpocketed. And if you have the wrong attitude, you’ll be frustrated by the kind of chaos that only an Italian can understand. On a recent visit, my cabbie struggled with the traffic and said, “Roma chaos.” I responded, “Bella chaos.” He agreed.
Make it easy on yourself. If you choose a comfortable hotel for a refuge, pace yourself, enjoy a siesta during midday heat, organize your sightseeing, and take sensible precautions to protect your valuables, you’ll love Rome. Soon you’ll be the one at the Trevi Fountain throwing in a coin to ensure your return.
Rome by Neighborhood
Rome is a sprawling city—it takes an hour to walk from Termini Station to the Vatican—but its major sights cluster in convenient zones. You’ll save lots of time if you thoughtfully group your sightseeing, walks, and dining. Think of Rome as a collection of neighborhoods, huddling around major landmarks, and it becomes manageable.
In ancient times, this was home to the grandest buildings of a city of a million people. Today, the best of the classical sights stand in a line from the Colosseum (huge stadium) to the ruined Roman Forum (main square and marketplace) over Capitoline Hill to the Pantheon (Roman temple turned into a church).
Luckily, it’s possible to knock off these top symbols of Rome’s magnificence in one great day of sightseeing. Just link the biggies together in what I call the “Caesar Shuffle.” With extra time, visit the Capitoline Museums’ ancient art.
Just north of this area, between Via Nazionale and Via Cavour, is the atmospheric and trendy Monti district.
The Pantheon anchors the neighborhood I like to call the “Heart of Rome,” which includes the atmospheric squares of Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, the dramatic Trevi Fountain, and several historic churches. My “Heart of Rome Walk” ties these sights together. The walk is worthwhile doing day and night, for the different but always lively ambience.
Located west of the Tiber River, this is a compact world of its own, with two great, massive sights: St. Peter’s Basilica, the finest church on earth, has Michelangelo’s Pietà and huge dome, which you can climb for sky-high views. And the Vatican Museums, a showcase for the best art of Western civilization, host Michelangelo’s glorious Sistine Chapel.
Opposite: Pantheon’s dome
This page: The Roman Forum, She-Wolf (Capitoline Museums), bridge over the Tiber, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel
The popular Spanish Steps in better times (sitting no longer allowed), seeing eye to eye at the National Museum of Rome, a café break, exploring the Ancient Appian Way
This modern, classy area hosts the celebrated Spanish Steps, an elegant grid of trendy shopping streets (between the main drag—Via del Corso—and the Spanish Steps), and the Borghese Gallery (gorgeous Bernini sculptures) set within the fun-on-a-sunny-day Villa Borghese Gardens. My “Dolce Vita Stroll” starts in the vast square called Piazza del Popolo.
This neighborhood around Termini Station boasts the stunning National Museum of Rome (ancient Roman sculpture) and includes Piazza della Repubblica, many recommended hotels, and convenient public-transportation connections. Just to the south and east is the area I call “Pilgrim’s Rome,” with several prominent churches.
Trastevere is the colorful, wrong-side-of-the-river neighborhood with a village feel. Its red pastel buildings are draped with green ivy, Vespas rule the streets, and locals frequent mom-and-pop cafés. Trastevere is the city at its crustiest...and perhaps most “Roman.” It’s short on sights, but long on atmosphere and worth a wander.
Anchoring the city to the south is the funky Testaccio neighborhood (with a Roman pyramid, fun market, foodie restaurants, and lively nightlife). Farther south is the 1930s suburb of E.U.R. (Mussolini’s planned district) and the Ancient Appian Way, home of Rome’s underground catacombs.
When you’re ready to explore beyond Rome, here are three good day-trip options:
Ostia Antica is an ancient, excavated seaport, similar to Pompeii but much closer—only 30 minutes from Rome.
The town of Tivoli offers two sights: the sprawling Hadrian’s Villa (built by Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD) and the 16th-century Villa d’Este, with a lush garden awash with pools, waterfalls, and fountains.
For a long but unforgettable day trip, visit the lively, gritty city of Naples and ancient ruins of Pompeii.
Planning and Budgeting
The best trips start with good planning. Here are ideas to help you decide when to go, design a smart itinerary, set a travel budget, and prepare for your trip. For my best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
As you read this book and learn about your options...
Decide when to go.
Rome’s best travel months (also its busiest and most expensive) are April, May, June, September, October, and early November. These months combine the convenience of peak season with pleasant weather.
The most grueling thing about travel in Rome is the summer heat in July and August, when temperatures can soar to the high 90s and pricier hotels discount their rooms. Fortunately, air-conditioning is the norm in all but the cheapest hotels (though it’s generally available only from June through September).
Spring and fall can be cool, and many hotels do not turn on their heat. Rome is fine in winter—cool and crisp with temperatures in the 40s and 50s (see the climate chart in the appendix). Street life stays in full swing all year, as restaurants set up heaters to warm outdoor tables, and nativity scenes grace churches through January. Off-season has none of the sweat and stress of the tourist season, but sights may have shorter hours, lunchtime breaks, and fewer activities. Confirm your sightseeing plans locally, especially when traveling off-season.
Work out a day-by-day itinerary.
The following day-plans offer suggestions for how to maximize your sightseeing, depending on how many days you have. You can adapt these itineraries to fit your own interests. To find out what days sights are open, check the “Daily Reminder” in the Orientation chapter.
Rome in a Day
Some people actually “do” Rome in a day. Crazy as that sounds, if all you have is a day, it’s one of the most exciting days Europe has to offer. Start at 8:30 at the Colosseum. Then explore the Forum (skip the Palatine Hill), hike over Capitoline Hill, and cap your “Caesar Shuffle” with a Pantheon visit. After a quick lunch, taxi to the Vatican Museums, then head to St. Peter’s Basilica (open until 19:00 April-Sept). Taxi to Campo de’ Fiori for dinner, then finish your day lacing together the famous floodlit spots (following my “Heart of Rome Walk”).
Note: This busy plan is possible only if you reserve entry times for the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum in advance.
Make time for people-watching and sightseeing (Capitoline Museums).
Piazza Navona, atmospheric Campo de’ Fiori, Baths of Diocletian, Mount Vesuvius looming over Pompeii
Rome in Two to Three Days
On the first day, do the “Caesar Shuffle” from the Colosseum (book ahead) to the Roman Forum, then over Capitoline Hill (visiting the Capitoline Museums), and on to the Pantheon. After a siesta, add some sightseeing to suit your interest. In the evening enjoy a sound-and-light show at the Imperial Forum and/or a colorful stroll in Trastevere or the Monti district. On the second day, see Vatican City (St. Peter’s, dome climb, Vatican Museums—book ahead). Have dinner near the atmospheric Campo de’ Fiori, and then walk to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps (following my “Heart of Rome Walk”). With a third day, add the Borghese Gallery (reservations required) and more sights.
Rome in Seven Days
Rome is a great one-week getaway. Its sights can keep even the most fidgety traveler well entertained for a week.
Day 1: Do the “Caesar Shuffle” from the Colosseum to the Forum, Capitoline Museums, Victor Emmanuel Monument viewpoint, and Pantheon. Spend the late afternoon doing the “Heart of Rome Walk.”
Day 2: In the morning, visit the National Museum of Rome and the nearby Baths of Diocletian. In the afternoon do my Jewish Ghetto Walk followed immediately by my Trastevere Walk. Enjoy dinner in Trastevere.
Day 3: At Vatican City, visit St. Peter’s Basilica, climb the dome, and tour Vatican Museums. Spend the early evening shopping and enjoying the local passeggiata by doing the “Dolce Vita Stroll.”
Day 4: Side-trip to Ostia Antica (closed Mon). In the evening, you could repeat my “Heart of Rome Walk” to enjoy the after-dark scene.
Day 5: Visit the Borghese Gallery (reservation required) and the churches I call “Pilgrim’s Rome”: San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Clemente.
Day 6: Day-trip to Naples and Pompeii.
Day 7: You choose—Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli, Appian Way with catacombs, E.U.R., Testaccio sights, a food tour, shopping, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Castel Sant’Angelo, or more time at the Vatican.
PLANNING YOUR BUDGET
Run a reality check on your dream trip. You’ll have major transportation costs in addition to daily expenses.
Flight: A round-trip flight from the US to Rome costs about $900-1,500, depending on where you fly from and when.
Public Transportation: For a one-week visit, allow $60-100 for taxis (can be shared by up to 4 people); if you opt for buses and the Metro, figure about $30 per person. Day-trip destinations range from a few dollars to get to Tivoli or Ostia Antica to about $90 for second-class train tickets to Naples and Pompeii (book a month in advance for deals). For a one-way trip between Rome’s main airport and the city center, allow $15 per person by train or about $55 by taxi.
Budget Tips: To cut your daily expenses, take advantage of the deals you’ll find throughout Rome and mentioned in this book.
Daily Expenses Per Person
Use Rome’s public transportation, and visit sights by neighborhood for efficiency. Enjoy Rome’s free sights and experiences (people-watching counts).
Some businesses—especially hotels and walking-tour companies—offer discounts to my readers (look for the RS% symbol in the listings in this book).
Book your rooms directly with the hotel. Some hotels offer a discount if you pay in cash and/or stay three or more nights (check online or ask). Rooms cost less outside of peak season (roughly Nov-March). And even seniors can sleep cheap in hostels (some have double rooms) for about $30 per person. Or check Airbnb-type sites for deals.
It’s no hardship to eat cheap in Rome. You can get tasty, inexpensive meals at delis, bars, takeout pizza shops, ethnic eateries, and at Italian restaurants, too. Cultivate the art of picnicking (but avoid major sights).
When you splurge, choose an experience you’ll always remember, such as a food-tasting tour or sound-and-light show. Minimize souvenir shopping—how will you get it all home? Focus instead on collecting wonderful memories.
BEFORE YOU GO
You’ll have a smoother trip if you tackle a few things ahead of time. For more information on these topics, see the Practicalities chapter and RickSteves.com, which has helpful travel tips and talks.
Make sure your travel documents are valid. If your passport is due to expire within six months of your ticketed date of return, you need to renew it. Allow up to six weeks to renew or get a passport (www.travel.state.gov). You may also need to register with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).
Arrange your transportation. Book your international flights. Overall, Kayak.com is the best place to start searching for flights. If you’re traveling beyond Rome, figure out your transportation options. You can buy train tickets as you go, get a rail pass, rent a car, or book a cheap flight. (You can wing it in Europe, but it may cost more.) Drivers: Consider bringing an International Driving Permit (sold at AAA offices in the US, www.aaa.com) along with your license.
Book rooms well in advance, especially if your trip falls during peak season or any major holidays or festivals.
Reserve ahead for key sights. While Rome has plenty of crowds, only a few sights merit booking in advance: the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Roman Forum, and Borghese Gallery. Only the Borghese Gallery actually requires advance booking, but reservations are absolutely essential for all of them. It’s easy, and if you don’t do it, you’ll be frustrated by long and time-consuming lines any time of year. Clear instructions are in this guidebook. For all other sights, you can simply show up, pay, and enjoy.
Consider travel insurance. Compare the cost of the insurance to the cost of your potential loss. Check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas.
Call your bank. Alert your bank that you’ll be using your debit and credit cards in Europe. Ask about transaction fees, and get the PIN number for your credit card. You don’t need to bring euros along; you can withdraw euros from cash machines in Europe.
Use your smartphone smartly. Sign up for an international service plan to reduce your costs, or rely on Wi-Fi in Europe instead. Download any apps you’ll want on the road, such as maps, translators, and Rick Steves Audio Europe (see sidebar).
Pack light. You’ll walk with your luggage more than you think. I travel for weeks with a single carry-on bag and a day pack. Use the packing checklist in the appendix as a guide.
Guard at Vatican City
If you have a positive attitude, equip yourself with good information (this book), and expect to travel smart, you will.
Read—and reread—this book. To have an “A” trip, be an “A” student. Note opening hours of sights, closed days, crowd-beating tips, and whether reservations are required or advisable. Check out the latest at www.ricksteves.com/update.
Be your own tour guide. As you travel, get up-to-date info on sights, reserve tickets and tours, reconfirm your hotel, and check any transit connections. Visit the local tourist information office (TI).
Outsmart thieves. Pickpockets abound in crowded places where tourists congregate. Treat commotions as smokescreens for theft. Keep your cash, credit cards, and passport secure in a money belt tucked under your clothes; carry only a day’s spending money in your front pocket. Don’t set valuable items down on counters or café tabletops, where they can be quickly stolen or easily forgotten.
Minimize potential loss. Keep expensive gear to a minimum. Bring photocopies or take photos of your important documents (passport and cards) to aid in replacement if they’re lost or stolen. Back up photos and files frequently.
Beat the summer heat. If you wilt easily, choose a hotel with air-conditioning. Start your day early, take a midday siesta at your hotel, and resume your sightseeing later. Churches offer a cool haven to recharge (though dress modestly—no bare shoulders or shorts). Take frequent gelato breaks. Join the passeggiata, when locals stroll in the cool of the evening.
Guard your time and energy.
- "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
- "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
- “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
- "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
- "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
- "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
- "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
- "Steves is a walking, talking European encyclopedia who yearns to inspire Americans to venture 'beyond Orlando.'"—Forbes
- “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
- "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
- "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
- "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News
- On Sale
- Sep 6, 2022
- Page Count
- 604 pages
- Rick Steves