A center for the Renaissance, the papacy, and the birthplace of Western civilization.
A gorgeous, sprawling metropolis that will veni vidi vici your heart with its art, history, Vespas, and gelato. Crazy amounts of gelato. So bid farewell to the wine-dark sea and gather up those household gods. No need to wait for oracles—the Eternal City calls. People come to this city for many reasons. For fresh mozzarella and tomato pizza, breathtaking views of the Sistine Chapel, the chance to romp by the Colosseum at 3am, or all of the above, all on the same day (#wheninrome). It’s where you can wander down streets too tiny to be mapped, eat more pasta than you’ll ever admit, admire the art of Bernini by day and the art of twerkology by night, and dodge Vespas with two slices of pizza and a bottle of wine in hand. It’s a place that’s easy to fall in love with, although it’s not an easy city to conquer (the Carthaginians tried and failed).But fortune favors the brave, so sail up the Tiber. Let’s leave those elephants at home, semper ubi sub ubi, and fasten up those togas—let’s go to Rome.
Rome has been planned, built, re-planned, rebuilt, and revitalized continuously for over 2770 years, so it’s no wonder that old and new meld together throughout the city. While other major cities possess a grid layout or distinct districts, in Rome many of the neighborhoods flow together in a mix of marble, terracotta, tight streets, and churches. Though it’s hard to get too disoriented, it can be difficult to discern where one neighborhood ends and another one begins, especially in the old-city area between Termini Station and the Tiber. To complicate matters, the official districts of Rome (riones), first delineated by Augustus and revised every couple centuries thereafter, don’t correspond perfectly to common names for different sections of town. Technically, Rome has twenty-two riones, each with their own coat of arms. Knowing them makes for impressive trivia but, as a tourist, you’re better off remembering the unofficial, colloquial terms for different areas, which usually refer to famous landmarks nearby or their geographic locations.
If Rome were the four-quadrant graph from sixth grade math, the Foro Romano (Roman Forum) would mark the origin point, which is fitting, since the Foro Romano was the heart of the ancient city. The area surrounding the Forum, known colloquially as the Ancient City, contains, unsurprisingly, the headliners of Imperial Rome: the Capitoline Hill and its world-class museum on the Forum’s western edge, the Palatine Hill and its former palaces to the south, the Circus Maximus behind the Palatine, and the Colosseum to the east. Directly west of the Ancient City is the old historic center of Rome, known as Centro Storico, around which the Tiber River bends westward like an elbow. Centro Storico is Rome at its most classic and picturesque—cobblestone streets, buildings that glow in evening sunlight, apartment buildings and ristorantes that bump up against Baroque fountains and medieval churches. This area, about fourteen square kilometers in total, breaks down further into neighborhoods focused on certain monuments: to the northwest, Navona, near the elliptical Piazza Navona and the Pantheon; to the south, the narrow streets and squares of Campo de’Fiori; to the southeast, the old Jewish Ghetto; and to the north, the luxury shops and crowds of Spagna.
Heading west across the Tiber on the Vittorio Emanuele II bridge, you reach the walled Vatican City, which is technically its own country (with its own post office!). To the north of the Vatican sprawls Prati, known for its cheaper accommodations and restaurants. To the south rests Trastevere, the former artisanal/working-class neighborhood that is now a top tourist destination due to the area’s quaint restaurants, centuries-old buildings, and ivy-lined streets. Starting again from the Forum and heading south along the east bank of the Tiber, you reach the Aventine Hill, sight of beautiful sweeping views of the city, expensive homes, and not much to eat. Further south lies the neighborhood of Testaccio, known for its energy and collection of fine restaurants. Just north of the Forum lies Monti, a combination of the Esquiline, Quirinale, and Virinale hills that buzzes with hip cafés, popular aperitivo bars, and boutique shops. Continuing north from Monti is the Borghese area, near the Borghese gardens and several notable churches. Termini Station, Rome’s main transportation hub, resides northeast of Monti and the Ancient City. Most of the city’s hostels surround Termini and its nearby streets, as do cheap tourist shops, international chain restaurants, and mini-markets. The area in and around Termini marks a gritty break from the other districts of Rome (and is a frequent complaint of unprepared tourists). The streets heading northeast from Termini go toward the blocks with the most popular hostels. Heading southeast, you reach San Lorenzo, home to Rome’s Sapienza University, bars with attitude, and affordable housing. The list of areas may sound daunting, but don’t worry—you will develop confidence in your navigational skills as your trip goes on. Rome was designed to be explored by foot (or Vespa, but that requires technique we cannot assume you possess), so strap on those €15 gladiator sandals and get walking. You’re bound to find a Baroque piazza, narrow street, or enticing café that moves you.
From Leonardo da Vinci Airport/Fiumicino (FCO, www.adr.it, +39 0665951): Known commonly as Fiumicino, Rome’s main airport resides on the coast, 19mi. southwest of the city. The Leonardo Express train runs between the airport and track 25 at Termini, Rome’s main train station; the ride takes 30min. and costs €11. Another train, the FM1, stops in Trastevere.
From Ciampino Airport (CIA, +39 06794941, www.adr.it): Rome’s other airport lies 9mi. south of the city center and mainly draws budget airlines. There are no direct train links from Ciampino to the city, but express buses leave every half hour or so and run directly to Termini. Tickets cost €4.90 and can be purchased at the information desk to the right as you’re walking out of the terminal. The ride takes approximately 50min., depending on traffic.
By rail: State-owned Trenitalia (+39 892 2021 in Italy, +39 06 68475475 from abroad, www.trenitalia.it) operates trains out of Termini, Tiburtina, Ostiense, and Trastevere stations. Termini is open 4:30am-1:30am and its bus stop at Piazza del Cinquecento connects with most bus lines in the city. For those arriving in the wee morning hours, the night bus #175 runs from Tiburtina and Ostiense to Termini.
Rome is a relatively compact city, and the best way to explore its cluster of monuments, churches, and narrow streets is by foot. There are various options for public transportation, however, all operated through ATAC. One ticket costs €1.50 and is valid for 75min. on any combination of vehicles.
By metro: Though not comprehensive for the entire city, the most efficient way to travel to the most popular sights in Rome is by the metro. Rome has two metro lines that intersect at Termini Station. Line A, the “tourist line,” runs from Battistini to Anagnina and passes through Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican Museums (Ottaviano). Line B runs from Laurentina to Rebibbia, and passes through the Colosseum, Ostiense station, and the Testaccio District. Stations are indicated by the red letter “M” on a pole. Tickets can be purchased inside; a single ride costs €1.50 (valid for 60 min.) and a day pass costs €7 (€18 for a 3-day pass and €24 for a week). The metro operates 5:30am-11:30pm and is open until 1:30am on Sa night.
By bus: Buses cover more of Rome than the metro, but are less straightforward to use. ATAC operates city buses 5:30am-midnight, plus a network of night buses (notturno). Check routes and schedules at www.atac.roma.it (on the site, look for the Italian flag in the upper right corner to change the language to English). Tickets, valid for 75 minutes, cost €1.50 and can be purchased at tabaccherias, kiosks, and storefronts but NOT on the bus itself. Enter from the rear of the bus, immediately validate your ticket in the yellow machine, and proceed towards the middle.
By tram: The trams, also operated by ATAC, make more frequent stops than buses and can be useful getting to and from Trastevere. As on the buses, tickets cost €1.50 and must be purchased ahead of time (consider buying several to have on you, in case a ticket station is hard to find in a pinch). Useful lines include: #3 (Trastevere, Aventine, Piazza San Giovanni, Borghese Gallery), #8 (Trastevere to Largo Argentina), #9 (Piazza Venezia, Trastevere), and #19 (Ottaviano, Villa Borghese, San Lorenzo).
By taxi: Taxis should be reserved for emergencies or pressing situations. It is technically against the law to hail cabs on the street, but they may still stop if you flag them down. They also wait at stands and can be reached by phone (+39 066645, 063570, 064994, 065551, 064157). Only enter cabs with the marking “Servizio Pubblico” next to the license plate. Be sure to ask for your receipt (ricevuta) to confirm the price.
By bike: ATAC operates bike-sharing. Purchase a rechargeable card from any ATAC station in the city. The initial charge is €5, with a €0.50 charge for every additional 30min. Bikes can be parked at stations around the city. Alternatively, companies such as Bici & Baci (+39 01683230567, www.bicibaci.com) loan bikes and mopeds and have stations by the major metro stops (Colosseo, Repubblica, Spagna).
By scooter: The honking, buzzing Vespa is ubiquitous in Rome, as are the daring yet helmeted people who ride them. You can join in on the fun (and chaos) by renting a two-wheeler, provided you show a valid driver’s license and can handle the stress of Rainbow Road on MarioKart. Rates vary by the company, but start at around €30 for 4-8hr.
Tourist Offices: Comune di Roma is Rome’s official source for tourist information. Green PIT information booths, located near most major sights, have English-speaking staff and sell bus and metro maps and the Roma pass (V. Giovanni Giolitti 34; 060608; www.turismoroma.it; open daily 8am-8:30pm).
Post Offices: Poste Italiane are located throughout the city (800160000; www.poste.it), but the main office is located at Piazza San Silvestro 19 (0669737216; open M-F 8:20am-7pm, Sa 8:20am-12:35pm).
Luggage Storage: Termini Luggage Deposit (Termini Station, below Track 24 in the Ala Termini wing; 064744777; www.romatermini.com; open daily 6am-11pm; bags max. 22kg; max. 5 days; 5hr €6, €0.90 per hr for hrs 6-12, €0.40 per hr thereafter).
Emergency Number: 112, 118 (medical emergencies).
- Police Headquarters (V. di San Vitale 15; 0646861).
- Carabinieri have offices at V. Mentana 6 (near Termini; 0644741900) and at P. Venezia 6 (0667582800).
- City police (P. del Collegio Romano 3; 06468).
- Policlinico Umberto I. (Vle. del Policlinico 155; 0649971; www.policlinicoumberto1.it; open 24hr; emergency treatment free).
- International Medical Center (V. Firenze 47; 064882371, 060862441111; www.imc84.com; call ahead for appointments).
Pharmacies: The following pharmacies are open 24hr.
- Farmacia Internazionale (P. Barberini 49; 064871195).
- Farmacia Risogimento (P. del Risorgimento 44; 0639738166).