Churches you cannot miss in Rome !

Posted on Apr 13, 2016 in Arts and History, On your own | No Comments

208781723_f4a659df12_bCan you guess how many churches are there in Rome? Nobody really knows, but rumours say more than 900 (and nobody has seen them all, despite what they say!)

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!

  1. 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.
  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.
  3.  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)
  4. 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!
  5. 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 !
  6. 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!
  7. 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)….
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Start your trip from your couch !

Posted on Mar 16, 2016 in On your own, Planning Your Trip | No Comments

online-video-marketingNo 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”!

Rome on own

Posted on Feb 1, 2016 in On your own, Planning Your Trip | No Comments

orientarsi-a-rom

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.
  • 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!

 

Street Food in Rome

Posted on Dec 22, 2015 in Foodies & Shopaholics | No Comments

Suppli-a-romaIt’s the trend of the moment, already appreciated in the most important cities of the world and becoming the new gastronomic hit even in Rome. During your sightseeing walks or just for a quick lunch break, this new habit is giving you the chance to try a kind of food you might not easily find in traditional restaurants. Be aware, these shops usually do not have seats for you and it is not easy to find an empty bench in Rome…. But… there is a special place called “Il Vinaietto” (Via del Monte della Farina, 38 – near Campo dei Fiori. Tel 066806989) where you can simply order a glass of wine and take your own food with you, exactly like the Romans used to do in the past in the “osterie”.

  • aTrestaurant: in the cozy Piazza di Pietra (near the Pantheon), you have a lively space at your disposal. They serve smoothies, juices, yogurt and fruit, but also salads, soups, quiches…. For an healthy meal!
  • Bacio di Puglia: directly form “the heel of the boot”, Apulia region, to the Vatican area: you can taste hot panzerotti, baked pasta, eggplants parmigiana…..
  • Fries: just french fries, but delicious, with 20 different sauces to dip them in! Very close to Saint Peter’s basilica…. it might be a very good way to end your Vatican tour!
  • Pastasciutta: if you like pasta as we do, you cannot miss this place! Around the Vatican (Via delle Grazie, 5)  you can have a dish of home made pasta cooked in front of your eyes for 5 euros!
  • La Piadineria: there are several shops selling the “piadina”, typical snack of the Romagna region filled with everything you can think about. The shop in Via del Boschetto 98 is close to the Colosseum/Forum area  and gives you the chance to explore the Rione Monti as well.
  • Pianostrada: in Trastevere, three ladies serve fresh food every day following the seasons.
  • Pinsa’m po’! : good stop after a Vatican tour, traditional recipe for a sort of take away pizza and good “supplì”, always just made. Local beer is served too!
  • Pizzarium: next to the Vatican and to the metro stop “Cipro”, this is not just another “take away pizza” shop, because quality is a must and creativity does not lack either ….
  • Queen’s Chips: Dutch potatoes imported exclusively and always fresh cut, perfectly fried. Few steps away from Piazza Venezia and the Quirinale Palace.
  • Supplizio: as the name states, the main “course” is the suppli, but not just the traditional fried tomato and meat ragout rice ball… impossible to describe exactly what they cook, the list is on a board and changes every day. Stop by and enjoy!
  • Trapizzino: in Testaccio and now also in Ponte Milvio, ancient recipes of the local tradition saved from the oblivion and served with two slices of pizza bread….

Help us with your own tips: write to info@afriendinrome.it !

 

Apartments

Posted on Dec 9, 2015 in On your own | No Comments

g01Apartments 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.

Bed and Breakfast

Posted on Dec 9, 2015 in On your own | No Comments

3Under 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

Posted on Dec 9, 2015 in On your own | No Comments

hotel-ponte-sisto-rome-garden-03Hotels 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

Why we do NOT offer segway tours?

Posted on Sep 22, 2015 in Time out to reflect | No Comments

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We decided to offer you authentic local experiences  only and you will never see a Roman on a Segway in Rome! We offer bike and scooter tours as we regularly go on bikes and scooters ourselves.
Moreover in Rome there are steps, holes, cobbled stones and crazy traffic jams, therefore a Segway can be hard to ride and dangerous. When in Rome, do as the Romans do !

A city is not a theme park

Posted on Sep 4, 2015 in Time out to reflect | No Comments

11949454_10153305683708999_2894139435485574639_nOn Tripadvisor for each city you have a list of “attractions” (988 in Rome, for instance). We are now used to those “lists of things to do ”, but I recently realised (while travelling to a foreign city) that when it comes to a CITY this approach has no meaning. Is the Pantheon more “important” or  “interesting” than (for example) the three columns of Apollo Sosiano’s temple? They have exactly the same value as witnesses of the past, witnesses of an ended era which is still reflected every single day in our life, in our way of thinking, in our paths.

When you visit a city like Rome, so rich in history and transformations, you cannot understand it just by exploring single elements, without walking or biking/riding/driving yourself…. at least you have to be well focused when you are driven from one place to another and look well what is there in between two “attractions”, and ask many questions and put everything on a timeline in your mind…. That’s the only way to appreciate a city like Rome, always putting in relationship “before” and “after”, always wondering WHY that road has that name and is bending like that and the wall is painted in that colour….
Living and working as a tour guide in a city like Rome, I decided several years ago that the only way to really enjoy it would have been in small or private parties, with a guide at your disposal maximising your (always too) short time and moving around: no big groups, no set itineraries with long transfers from one side to another of the city, no “attractions” just as a background for a good picture. A city is not a “theme park” where each element is a “line to skip – picture to take – tick on a must-see list….”
A city is a place to live and you need a mentor to understand it once you get here: only after a first introduction, a short orientation, you can decide to wander on your own, enter churches, museums, galleries, shops, just sit at a café in a piazza, eat local specialities, go to the beach or to the mountains around, spend a night at a concert… Best tip:travel slow, with a local… and come back!

P.S. Do not forget to travel in a sustainable way

Best views over Rome

Posted on Aug 25, 2015 in On your own | No Comments

giardino degli aranciRome’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 from Castel S.Angelo

View over the Tiber from Castel S.Angelo and a video  (click) with 360° view from the Vittoriano