Ah Roma; where all roads lead. Land of flushed cheeks, wine enthusiasts, the Popemobile and where leather boots flourish. Let’s not forget the sublime gelato and out-of-this-world pasta. There might be some small drawcards like Vatican City, the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel, but these are minor details compared to the gelato.
I have had the pleasure of visiting the Italian capital a couple of times and as such, have learned a few tricks to making the most of your visit there. Here are my top 10 Rome travel tips.
1. Make Rome your first European stop
Why? Because airport taxes are cheaper in Rome than London or Paris. It is also closer to Australia so that means less time in the air. Be airfare savvy and take advantage of cheaper pricing.
2. Get a Roma Pass
Rome has a lot of monuments, museums and magical places. So see them with the Roma Pass. The Roma Pass will also give you unlimited travel on all public transport (including the buses, you daredevil you), free entrance into two of the five major tourist attractions and discounted entry and rates for literally hundreds of attractions. It is a bargain.
3. Put the Vatican City on your itinerary
The Vatican City. Smallest country in the world. Tick that one off for bragging rights alone. The Vatican City is home to some of the most prized art collections in the world, including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. There are several points to know about the Vatican City:
- Make sure you are covered from the neck down to the knees - this is not the place for hot pants or mesh singlets.
- The Roma Pass allows you to fast-track and skip the queues. No big deal, you say? Wrong. The queues into the Vatican and St Peter's Basilica snake their way around St Peter's Square and can be four to six hours of waiting time. Even the Pope would be tested. While entry into the Basilica is free if you queue, for the love of God, literally, get the Roma Pass.
- You will have the option to do a walking tour in the Vatican Museums or wander around by yourself. The tour costs around €25. I have been inside with and without the tour, and it is far more enjoyable with the tour. You can only look at statues and paintings for so long without knowing the historical relevance or the story behind them. You also get the rundown on the Sistine Chapel and get to check out the Pope carriages over the ages – and do they have style or what?
- You cannot take photos in the Sistine Chapel. It is forbidden and is a big no-no.
4. Skip the queue for St Peter's Basilica
St Peter’s Basilica. There are no words except: breathtaking. You do not have to be religious to appreciate the grandeur and sheer ‘whoa’ power of this structure. Lighting within the Basilica is not fantastic unless you know your way around a camera; so appreciate it while you are there. It must also be noted; if you do the Vatican tour, you get to skip the queue going into the Basilica as there is a walkway for tour groups that joins the two. If you do not go on the tour, tack on the end of a tour group leaving the Sistine Chapel (which is the end point for all Vatican City tours) as they take the walkway through to the Basilica. You’ll save yourself literally hours. You never heard that one from me, though.
5. The best gelato is...
Away from some of the big drawcards to something very near and dear to my heart: gelato. All I will say is that there is a gelateria right near the Pantheon that has 150 different gelato flavours. It is called Gelateria Della Palma. If you do not go, you will not have experienced Rome. Or Italy. Or ice-cream.
6. Closed for maintenance? Research before you go
Rome is old. Really, very old. So if there is a specific site you are looking forward to seeing and snapping a selfie in front of, check that it will not be under maintenance before you go. For example, the Trevi Fountain has been under repair for several years and while you can still admire the fountain from afar, its charm is slightly lost behind construction fencing and tarpaulins.
7. Where to go for nightlife
Rome is all architectural, cultural brilliance by day and a wine-pumping, club-jumping good time by night. Not sure where to go or travelling solo? Head to the Spanish Steps to find out all about the bar crawls on offer throughout the city. They are usually around €30 and will include the first hour of drinking and shooters along the way - you're practically making money!
8. Do a day trip to the country
You’ve seen the city? So hit the country. There are Vespa day tours to the country to really make you embrace the Italian way. Get the ultimate adrenaline rush by taking on the small country roads, discover quaint little towns and work on those enthusiastic hand gestures.
9. Don't miss the Catacombs
Get your Tom Hanks on and feel the Angels and Demons vibe by checking out the Catacombs of Rome below the city. Gawp at the Capuchin Crypt (decorated entirely with human bones) or the Church of San Clemente, which is 14 metres below the city streets. It is Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown.
10. Book a cooking lesson
What could be more quintessentially Italian than a cooking lesson in the countryside? There are numerous tour operators that will take you into the Roman hills and help you fill your belly with the staple goodies of Italian cuisine. Hopefully you learn some culinary skills along the way too!
My beloved Rome; it has everything. No wonder Caesar stepped on a few toes for it. He obviously tasted the gelato.
Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Rome.