On your own
In the recent years, the visit of the Colosseum has been enriched of a new area, i.e. the underground layer and the third tier. Unfortunately the people interested in this kind of visit are more numerous than the available spots and the way these tickets are put on sale is not exactly transparent nor “user friendly”! We have tried in the last years to assist our guests in securing these tickets, but every year it gets more difficult and deceitful. We understand the fascination of the dungeons and the attraction of exclusiveness, but there are few things you should be aware of:
- you can see the whole structure of the Colosseum even without this special access, from the ground level or second tier which are open to everybody with a standard ticket. It is mainly a matter of perspective.
- private slots are almost impossible to get and even a shared access is becoming more and more hard to buy: few tickets are on sale and they are only released once a month in one specific day of the month before (and this selling day changes every month)
- There are several big companies which invest a lot of time and money (hiring staff only for this selling day and keeping them online and over the phones all day long) to buy the largest amount of tickets they can. They will resell these tickets at high price in conjunction with their tours. Of course this practice results into a lack of availability after few hours of the opening of sales. Last month (march 2017) finding one access was as hard as buying a ticket for the U2 concert!!!
- you can decide a standard tour of the Colosseum is enough, you will learn everything about the Colosseum in any case and we can combine the standard visit to an “Underground Rome” tour, including other sites nearby in order to understand the stratification of Rome.
- you can check the official website of the company managing the tickets of the Colosseum here: www.coopculture.it. And you can try to secure the tickets on your own. They sell the simple access (in this case, if you wish to have a private guide with you, buy a 2 euro reservation with no ticket for your guide as well) or you can buy the internal guided tour of the Colosseum (approx 75’) . If you are interested in a visit of the Forum/Palatine area (these sites are included in the ticket you buy for the Colosseum) we can meet you the same or following day outside the Colosseum and tour these areas with you.
- This internal company (Coopculture) has several guides at disposal, we know some of them, most are archaeologists and well prepared tour guides. It has to be said they reiterate this tour more than once a day and some days in a row. They know their stuff, but sometimes they lose freshness and enthusiasm. Some other companies offering group tours at the Colosseum’s underground do not suffer the same problem and we are pleased to recommend “Mind the Guide” because we personally know the founder and the guides working there and we can grant you will be satisfied with the tour. Follow this link to check their calendar (only few days before the month of your visit is planned) and book your tour online or send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Be informed and chose what’s best for you!
And if you want to keep up with the locals, remember to order fritti as a starter – from supplì (the roman rice ball snack) to fillets of baccalà (salt cod) to fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers stuffed with an anchovy and mozzarella) . And no wine with pizza, but beer, or even a coke. Or gas water….Here is a non-exhaustive list of my favorite pizza places:
- Bir and Fud: in Trastevere and not just for pizza. Craft beer, unusual pizzas, mouth watering antipasti and dessert. Better to reserve a table, as it gets full immediately!
- Alle Carrette: when I’m next to the Colosseum I go there, a little alley, few tables outside and a lot of space inside, but still you’ll have to wait. Because pizza is really good!
- Emma : my last discovery near Campo dei Fiori/Piazza Navona. And not only for pizza! Great ingredients, polite service (which is not always the case for “pizzeria”) and not to be missed desserts.
- La Focaccia: soft pizza, if you prefer the “Naples style”. Near Piazza Navona.
- La Montecarlo: informal, noisy, genuine, cheap pizzeria near Piazza Navona.
- Nuovo Mondo: the’s how a pizzeria looked like in Rome until 30 years ago, with paper thin pizza, simple fast services, few good items in the menu that the waiter can tell, cheap price and a noisy “true Roan” atmosphere just next to your elbow! Located in Testaccio, a district to explore if you wish to feel like a local….
- Dar Poeta: we will never state one as “the best pizzeria in Rome” , but this is a damn good one! There’s usually a bit to wait before being seated, but it’s worthwhile. Try the delicious “calzone” with ricotta cheese and nutella to end dinner! And afterwards, a walk in Trastevere, of course!
- La Pratolina: not far from the Vatican, this is a pizzeria where you will be surrounded by more locals than tourist, which is becoming rare in the centre of Rome. Pizza is really good, so it’s always full: remember to reserve your table in advance.
- Li Rioni: traditional warm atmosphere not far from the Colosseum.
- Al Tettarello: in Monti, a good trattoria, but also remarkable for pizza.
Any great discovery you wish to add? Let us know by mail to email@example.com . And if you wish to lear the difference between Roman pizza and Neapolitan pizza, watch this video!
The problem is that you do not have enough time to visit them all and they all contain incredible treasures, from a fascinating crypt to a masterpiece of a great artist just hanging there in a side chapel! Rome churches come in all shapes and sizes, from the IV to the XXI century, they are all free and generally a calm place to sit down far from crowd and heat, so do not hesitate to sneak in when you see one open in front of you (they usually close at lunchtime between noon and 3 p.m.), just remember to wear an appropriate dress code (covered shoulders and knees) and behaviour (do not eat and drink indoor, check if you are allowed to take pictures, respect the silence).
All that said, our job as tour guides is exactly to help you maximise your time in Rome and suggest the best visits, according to your interest and taste. I checked with several of my expert colleagues to make a “top 10 list”, but it was impossible to cut the story so short. So I ended up with a list of 10 types of churches and my advice is to touch base with one of each category. Let’s start!
- St Peter’s basilica: ok, I know, you might have said this by yourself, but in fact this is a MUST. The biggest and most incredible church in the entire world… of course you cannot miss that while you are here. BUT (there is a but!) crowd is becoming hard to cope with, security check are making lines very long so best advice is to go early in the morning (from 7.00 a.m.) or late in the afternoon (after 5 p.m.) or visit it during our Vatican tour of the museums with the special shortcut of the guided visits. Also check with us if there are special events going on at the Vatican during your stay, as the church will be off limits for special celebrations (sometimes with no pre-notice, e.g. for a Cardinal’s funeral….). In case you cannot visit St Peter’s for any reason see point 2.
- Another Papal Basilica: yes, we have other 3 major basilicas in Rome, i.e. St. Paul, St. John and S.Mary Major. They are all rich in history, relics and masterpieces. St. John is in fact the cathedral of Rome and the oldest official church of the Christian history, St. Paul was redone after a huge fire (1823) and – despite being the newest – it is the most preserved (it was reconstructed exactly as it was in the IV century), St. Mary Major has dazzling ancient mosaics… So, even if you had the chance to visit St. Peter’s I think you should include one of these three in your itinerary.
- a paleo-Christian church: hidden charming simple churches preserving the atmosphere of the first centuries of the Christian faith. They are my favorite and I recommend Santo Stefano Rotondo on the Coelian Hill (10′ away from the Colosseo), Santa Sabina on the Aventino, San Giorgio al Velabro (just at the back of the Forum but amazingly quiet), San Saba (you will be surely alone in there!) or – a bit farer from the centre – San Lorenzo outside the walls (a good opportunity to go off-the-beaten-path)
- If you are into mosaics, you will be embarrassed: San Clemente (also famous for its 3 layers explaining the whole history of Rome in one block!), Santi Cosma e Damiano, Santa Prassede, Santa Pudenziana, S.Maria Maggiore, S.Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia…. And a bit farer from the centre the hidden jewel of Santa Costanza’s mausoleum!
- Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a stone’s throw from the Pantheon (which, BTW, is a church but I do not consider it in this list as – to me – this is first of all the best preserved monument of Ancient Rome… another spot you cannot miss!) is considered the only gothic church in Rome: in fact it has a dark interior with unusual stained glass windows, but above all is an art museum for free! To enjoy a bit of the medieval atmosphere which is often lost in Rome, I also suggest you a visit to the Abbey of the “Tre Fontane”: the proof will be in the pudding !
- For those of you who are fond of Renaissance architecture and are missing Florence so bad… well, we have pretty nice stuff here too: Santa Maria degli Angeli, Santa Maria della Pace, San Pietro in Montorio and its perfect Temple of Bramante nearby, Santa Maria del Popolo and Sant’Agostino so, if you become a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings in there, go and visit also San Luigi dei Francesi…ohi ohi, the list is getting longer and longer!
- And now the period which is mostly representative of Rome, the Baroque. So many churches in this category, but I would say you can’t miss the jesuit Chiesa del Gesù or Sant’Ignazio (interesting “special effects” in the paintings on both churches), Sant’Agnese in Agone on Piazza Navona, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (if you like Bernini) or San Carlino (if you prefer Borromini)….
- Something unusual is a neo-gothic church built in the XIX century district of Prati: it is called Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, but also known as “the small Milan duomo”… you enter the nave and you forget you are in Rome!
- After so many historical churches, you can understand how hard it can be for a contemporary architect to plan something new in the field, and still worth seeing (and worth a long trip to the suburbs!), but I think the Church Dives in Misericordia by Richard Meier reached the goal.
- Last but not least, remember in Rome there are places of worship for everybody, from non -catholic christian churches (like the interesting St. Paul within the Walls) to the Jewish Synagogue (with an interesting museum) and a Great Mosque.
No tele-transporting invented yet… bugger! And I am not talking about webcams here (but there are very good ones if you wish to jump immediately into Rome’s atmosphere)
I just suggest you to start planning your trip some weeks ahead your departure to get into the right mood and have the time to read something about your destination: it could be an essay, but also a novel set in the cities you are going to visit ….
And if you have a short time at disposal, a movie can be enough: here you find a list of great movies set in Rome!
On Youtube you also find endless short videos about the history, the art, the food, the magic of Rome: this is also a good way to prepare your trip and receive inspiration on what you really wish for your holiday. You might find great ideas just surfing on the web: to help you in this search, we have now a Youtube channel with playlists of selected videos such as amazing reconstructions of the ancient sites, drone explorations, short tutorial or reportages about everyday life…. As usual, we welcome your own videos and suggestions: after your trip, you might be a great advisor for future travellers and we will be pleased to support your “movies”!
We believe the guidance of a local expert will make a big difference in your Roman Holiday, of course!
But we also believe you need your “own” time to explore the city, to wander and wonder, to feel lost and find your way….
Moreover there are some sites where you will have an internal guide or audioguide service included in your admission ticket and we are here also to help you save some money and rather have an extra bottle of wine for dinner!
Here is the list of some palaces, museums and attractions where you do not need us and the link to reserve a visit or receive informations:
- Domus di Palazzo Valentini: highly recommended, it’s a virtual reconstruction of two ancient Roman houses now buried by a Renaissance palace. The tour is suitable at all ages, children and teens love it! You are given an audioguide. Reservation is mandatory. This visit can be combined with an orientation in the city centre or with an Ancient Rome tour.
- Villa Medici is a gorgeous Renaissance Villa now housing the Academy of Fine Arts for France in Italy. You will mainly visit the gorgeous garden, enjoying an incredible panorama over Rome (the page is in Italian and French but they also offer visits in English). Great combination with a tour of the city centre, a bike tour in the Borghese park or our “Grand Tour” walk.
- Palazzo Farnese: the seat of the French Embassy (formerly a Cardinal residence, boasting some of the most precious frescoes in Rome) is open to visitors over the age of 10 three days per week. You can combine this tour to a walking orientation in the centre or a Food Tour around the market of Campo de’ Fiori.
- Catacombs generally arrange internal group tours for security reasons. If you are interested in a deeper tour along the Appian Way, to St.Agnes’ complex or to the “Underground Rome”, we will include the catacombs in those visits. If you are just curious to see the catacombs’ tunnels you can go on own to San Callisto, San Sebastiano, Catacombe di Domitilla, Sant’Agnese, Catacombe di Priscilla. We can reserve private access to the Jewish Catacombs of Rome.
- Jewish Museum: the interesting museum of the Jewish Community of Rome is located under the Roman Synagogue and your ticket includes the visit of the Synagogue as well. You can combine it with a tour of the Ghetto and Trastevere or with our Food Tour near Campo de’ Fiori market.
- Domus Aurea is the latin name of the Golden Palace of Nero, an incredible archaeological site currently under restoration and only accessible with internal guides during weekends. This visit can be combined with the Ancient Rome tour or with the Archaeological Museum of Rome.
- Palazzo Pamphilj is an historical building overlook the famous Piazza Navona, and it is now property of the Brazilian Embassy. Visits are possible on few days of each month, led by the staff of the Embassy, the only obstacle is that visits are only in Italian and Portuguese, but you can appreciate the beauty of the frescos and architecture anyway.
- In case you are interested in the seats of the Italian Institutions, they follow these rules : Palazzo Madama, our Senate House, opens on the first Saturday of each month. Palazzo Chigi is the seat of the Government and it is accessible upon reservation on Saturday morning. Palazzo di Montecitorio, the Italian Parliament, is open on the first Sunday of each month. The Quirinale Palace, where our President lives and works, can be visited every day but only with internal tours.
- Vatican: several areas of the Vatican are forbidden to external guides (the Gardens and the Excavations for example), but you can join a group tour. You can find more information in a special blog post dedicated to pre-booking (bear in mind the necropolis under St. Peter’s requires to be booked several months in advance). In this post you also find details about the Papal Audience and the Papal Mass: here you do not need a guide, some companies ask you to pay for these events but they are for free!
- Open Bus: we do not recommend this experience in Rome, as most of the “must sees” are in pedestrian areas and you do not see a lot from the bus. Moreover, traffic is really bad in Rome and you lose time in traffic jams or waiting for the next bus. So, just avoid the hop-on hop-off kind of day (better and cheaper to use metro or local buses) and consider this tour only if you need a general overview sitting on the bus for approx 1,5 hr taking some picture and resting a bit. Several companies offer the same tour, the price is more or less the same, we just linked one of them.
- Segway tours: we openly declared here we do not like segways in Rome, but if you really like this tour or you have promised your children … well, you can contact Rome by Segway
Enjoy Rome, with your Friend in Rome and on your own!
Apartments are a great solution for families with kids, parties of several people and in general when you spend more than a couple of days in town and you really want to experience the local life. This way you can even save a bit (especially if you waive a very central location) or bargain the best value for your money renting a flat (we all live in flats in Rome, forget that wonderful private villa you booked once in Tuscany!) in an historical building overlooking a charming narrow street of the Renaissance district.
There are many good companies specializing in the short-let business, we just recommend the “locally based”, as they have the chance to help you out in case of need and they test the apartments on a regular basis. We personally know the founders of the B&B Association of Rome (specialising in both BB and apartments) and RomePower.
But we also have some friends renting their own property without intermediation of a company. This option lets you less chances of finding the flat available on the chosen date, but better deals if you are lucky. Here they are:
- Mok’house Apartments: located in the Monti neighborhood, 15 minutes away from Colosseum and well connected by metro and buses to everywhere, these two apartments are fully equipped as you can check by visiting their detailed website. But their strength is a great welcoming service provided by dedicated professional staff and the opportunity to rent the whole building for large parties. Be aware there is no elevator and the apartments are located at the 1st and 2nd floor.
- Simon’s Suite: a 40 sq. mt. apartment suitable for 2 persons. If necessary, an additional bed is also available in a mezzanine. Recently renovated, it includes a fully equipped kitchen, independent heating and air conditioning, DSL connection. Location is in the city center, close to Termini railway station where you can easily find public transport and airport connection.
- Cecco’s Inn is a 2 bedroom apartment with air-conditioning, available for up to 4 guests. It is a bright apartment not far from the A line metro stop Re di Roma and Tuscolana train station (connecting to Fiumicino airport and the Vatican city). It is a great value-for-money solution!
- Crescenzio Suites is composed of two elegant independent suites which can also be rented for its full capacity (up to 7 guests). It is located in the area of the Vatican City and walking distance from all major attractions. A mini-kitchen is at your complete disposal in each suite, which is also provided with free WI-FI service and air conditioning.
- La Cupola Sottosopra: 100 sq.mt. apartment where your windows frame the dome of St. Peter’s, from where you might occasionally spot the Pope himself leaving the Vatican city! Elegant refurbishment, air-conditioned, supplied with WI-FI and modern comfort in the 3 sleeping rooms (2 bathrooms). It is located at the first floor of a building with no elevator.
- Elizabeth House: on the second floor of a charming building dating back to the year 1900, in the Esquilino area (Piazza Vittorio) where a metro station is located. The apartment has 2 large and bright bedrooms, a living, with sofa bed and a fully equipped kitchen is at your disposal.
- Casa dell’Arco: lovely apartment located in the very city center of Rome, at a few steps from Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and Campo de Fiori.The apartment has his own independent entrance (24 steps from the street level), and it is composed by a bright and large living room plus the air conditioned master bedroom
- Casa di Tilla: located in a residential, elegant, quite and safe neighborhood. It’s a 10′ walk from the metro station (Lepanto, Line A) and walking distance from the Vatican Museums, Auditorium for the best music events in town, and the Maxxi Museum of contemporary art. The apartment is composed of 2 bedrooms, 1,5 bathrooms, a large living room with a sofa bed and a fully equipped kitchen.
- Al Cinque: 5-minute walk from Rome’s Cavour Metro Station and the Colosseum is a 15-minute walk away while Termini Train and Metro Station is a 10-minute walk away. This a fully equipped apartment with air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi and in the kitchen you’ll find a microwave, dishwasher and the washing machine. Great service provided by your two hosts Claudia and Daniela who had lived in the apartment for years, still live around the corner and know the area as their pockets!
Go back to “Sleeping in Rome” section.
Under the concept of “Bed and Breakfast” you can expect many different experiences, from the original idea of sharing your time and space with a local family (this does not happen often in Rome) to a sort of small hotel where you will be checked in, provided for keys and be free to move about until your departure.
The number of authorised B&B is growing every next day, here you have a few suggestions:
- Bed & Breakfast Association of Rome: this is a network of B&Bs and apartments, just focusing on Rome’s accommodation, which ensure you they have a dirct control and recurrent quality check on the listed partners. Booking through a network would save you a lot of time, especially in high season, because they will be able to offer alternative solutions if your selected property is fully booked.
- Mok’house B&B: Great location in cozy Monti area, walking distance to main train/metro/bus terminal, restaurants and pubs, independent shops and only 15′ away from the Colosseum. Two welcoming hosts, Marco and Claudia, will be at your disposal with a level of professionalism you usually cannot find in a B&B, and this will make a great difference, trust us. Be aware there is no elevator (rooms are located at the 4th floor of an historical charming apartment, therefore you’ll feel entitled to eat all pasta and gelato you wish!). And what a pleasant terrace!
- Angelina’s Home: five romantic rooms located in Piazza Cavour, mid way between the Vatican and Piazza del Popolo, close to Lepanto metro station. Intimate atmosphere, stylish decor and all modern comforts. And if you prefer the trendy district of Testaccio and a self-catering apartment, ask for their “La Corte”.
- Day by Day B&B: perfect location a few steps from the Vatican, Piazza del Popolo and two metro stops. But above all, a warm welcome from Tiziana who will pamper you during your stay!
- Guest House Arco dei Tolomei: nestled in the heart of medieval Trastevere, the guest house has been lovely restored preserving the charme of the bygone days. Breakfast is served in an elegant dining room with fresh specialties every day.
- Buonanotte Garibaldi: luxurious guest house in the fascinating district of Trastevere, with a charming patio, an elegant living room and dining room at your disposal, refined bedrooms in a oasis of peace.
- Nicolas Inn: a stone’s throw from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Four elegant rooms and two apartment suites with all facilities and WI FI service
- Best B&B Pantheon: bright spacious rooms right in the hearth of Rome, few metres from the Pantheon and Piazza Venezia. All rooms are tastefully decorated and have the ensuite bathroom. Breakfast is served in your room.
- Casale Altavilla: a quiet villa 4 km away from St. Peter’s basilica, enjoying a pleasant garden with private pool! If you reach Rome by car, this is perfect for you: free parking and a cheap corner of paradise.
Go back to “Sleeping in Rome” section.
Hotels in Rome range from humble “pensione” (a simple boarding house) to top-end properties in historical buildings and rates vary a lot accordingly. Rates usually lower significantly during the winter months (from November to March). Always check for special promotions and look for the facilities you really need (for instance a car park or the air-conditioning) and the kindness of the staff (which is what makes the difference when you are in a foreign country and you might need assistance. In fact this is the main reason to chose an hotel instead of an alternative accommodation: a reliable 24 hr service at your disposal!)
- Hotel Lancelot : a great location (few steps from the Colosseum) and a real “family-run hotel” atmosphere.
- Hotel Santa Maria: in the charming frame of the picturesque neighbourhood called Trastevere, this small hotel offers a cozy quiet atmosphere. Free wifi and bikes for guests. And breakfast is served in a pleasant orange tree garden!
- Residenza Canali : the charme of an historical building just around the corner of the notorious Piazza Navona. Only 10 rooms on four floors (be careful, there is no elevator!)
- Albergo Cesàri: overlooking one of our favorite squares, Piazza di Pietra, and boasting a great terrace where breakfast is served.
- Internazionale Domus: prestigious suites (and also some apartments) overlooking the Spanish Steps, boasting frescoed ceilings and antique furniture, next to all modern services.
- Hotel Ponte Sisto: a former convent still preserving its enchanting patio, completely refurbished with all the modern facilities. A few steps from Campo de’ Fiori, Trastevere and the romantic Via Giulia.
- Villa Spalletti Trivelli: gorgeous atmosphere in this “palazzo” still refurbished with genuine antiques. Just twelve elegant rooms, a silent garden, an exclusive wellness centre … perfect for an unforgettable stay!
Go back to “Sleeping in Rome” section
Rome’s skyline is unique and magic, you cannot miss a general overview of the city from the top of a famous monument or terrace. And you have plenty of options here! We recommend to take a stroll in one of these “belvedere” in a sunny day and possibly at the end of your Roman holiday…you will be able to identify several attractions that you have visited during your holiday.
Let’s start with a short list of free-of-charge panoramic locations: the Garden on top of the Aventino (Giardino degli Aranci), the promenade of the Janiculum hill or the Pincio Garden offer nice terraces from where you can take unforgettable pictures, especially at sunset!
Just investing few euros you can climb the dome of St. Peter’s (the tallest building in town): there is a lift but just to half way, then you have to climb 300 steps! Less steps to go for the terrace of Castel S.Angelo, and you will enjoy St.Peter’s dome itself from there.
If you are not ready for the steps, chose the terrace of the Vittoriano, the big white monument overlooking Piazza Venezia. The lift will take you to the top in few seconds and Rome will embrace you!
Finally, if you can afford a deluxe meal in one of the 5 star hotels in town, you will enjoy a holystic experience pampering all your senses from a roof top restaurant. Among the best terraces we suggest the GH De la Minerve, the Bernini Bristol and the Pergola at Waldorf Astoria Cavalieri, especially by night.
View over the Tiber from Castel S.Angelo and a video (click) with 360° view from the Vittoriano
- Trains: fast trains connect easily the main cities of Italy. You can compare the companies i.e. Trenitalia and Italo. You usually get better deals buying tickets in advance.
- Bus/Metro in Rome is provided by a public company called ATAC. Here you’ll find the map of the lines in the city centre. We know, it’s not easy! There are 1-day, 3-day and 1-week-passes on sale at newsstands, metro stations and tobacco shops.
- Transfers by private car: on arrival we recommend the Fiumicino Airport based company called Concora.
- Bags: if you need to transport heavy luggage in town or to store your bags after check-out, Bon Bags , Rome Left Luggage or “Stow your bags” can provide a useful service (the only bag storage in Rome is at Termini train station).
- Public toilets: finding public toilets in Rome is not easy. Here is a map. Our suggestion is to use restrooms when visiting museums, before leaving a restaurant, or any time you stop by a coffee-bar. Near the Vatican (and they plan to open in other areas too) you can find the clean restrooms of City Toilet
- Baby equipment rental (strollers, car seats, travel cots…)
- Rome Free Lounge is a space next to Piazza Venezia where you can relax and enjoy wifi and air conditioning for free. They offer paying services such as clean toilets, bag storage, booking service.
- Do not forget to check our page of links if you travel to other destinations in Italy.