The city built on the Seven Hills, which are Quirinale, Campidoglio (or Capitolino), Viminale, Esquilino, Celio, Aventino and Palatino, with the Tiber circling it, is still in many senses the ‘Caput mundi’ (capital of the world).
It is the city in the first, original and fundamental sense of the word, the ‘urbs’, the centre of the empire, as opposed to the provinces and the periphery.
The Colosseum, which until recently had hidden parts which could not be visited by the public, is for the first time since antiquity now entirely open to everybody in all its glory (and gory). Its extreme points, the highest (the terrace, also called “third ring” or third storey) and the lowest (the subterranean areas) can now be seen as part of the tour. The latter are especially bound to attract even more interest to the Coliseum which is already one of the world’s most visited archaeological sites, disclosing the underground pits where both gladiators and wild animals waited before being thrown onto the arena often to their death. Since the underground labyrinths, the hypogeum, were totally buried as long ago as the V century AD and therefore have not been touched by humans since then, they remain perfectly preserved in their ancient, original form and are all the more fascinating for that reason. But the top third level is not to be overlooked either, with its stunning views over the city.
But don’t think only of the glorious monuments and magnificent buildings for which Rome is justly famous. Solitary villas by cypress trees, the silent suavity of orchards and vegetable gardens on the Aventino and Celio hills, the tragic solemnity of ruins and ancient roads like the Appia, the clear waters of the river Tiber: all this is Rome too.
Rome’s main international airport is Leonardo da Vinci Airport, commonly known as Fiumicino, considered as the best European airport and among the first in the world for the quality offered to passengers.
This has been attested by the Airport Council International (ACI), the international association that independently measures in over 300 airports worldwide, through interviews with travellers, the quality they perceive.
The ACI has given the Leonardo da Vinci the “Airport Service Quality Award” for the last two consecutive years, as it is Europe’s airport most appreciated by passengers, surpassing all other major European airports and even medium-sized airports, and ACI has permanently put it in the list of the best airports awarded worldwide.
American Airlines has also awarded the Aeroporti di Roma company the Customer Cup in recognition of the high level of services offered at Fiumicino.
Fiumicino Airport is the busiest in Italy and is a hub for flights connecting Europe to North America, South America, South Africa, the Middle East and the Far East.
Just after the large Fiumicino Airport opened in 1960, a new motorway was built to link it to central Rome through the Magliana area. Large hotels for business travellers and convention visitors have sprung up nearby.
Fiumicino is about 30 miles southwest of the centre of Rome. Getting to and from it is easy by public transport. Taxis are plentiful, or you can take the Airport Shuttle buses or vans. Italian taxi drivers tend to help you with your luggage.
There is a railway service between Roma Termini Station and Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport, the Leonardo Express, which, without intermediate stops, covers the 31 kilometres of the route in 32 minutes.
Ciampino Airport (named after Giovanni Battista Pastine, a good thing to know in case you encounter this name) is Rome’s second international airport, and is used mostly for low-cost flights. It is located 20 miles southeast of the city centre, and is more difficult than Fiumicino to transfer from/to by public transport because city buses are not frequent, stop early and do not connect well with the underground trains.
Airport Shuttle buses have a door to door service from both Fiumicino and Ciampino airports to Rome hotels or private residences.
Getting Around in Rome
The underground system (subway if you’re American) is the fastest mode of public transport within the city, operating daily from 5.30am to 11.30pm (until 1.30am on Fridays and Saturdays). It is called ‘metropolitana’ or ‘metro’ for short; hence the big red M indicating the entrance to the subway. Trains run approximately every 7-10 minutes. It has two lines, Linea A (red) and Linea B (blue). They intersect at Termini station, so you have to go through Termini when you need to change line.
If you buy a BIT, Biglietto Integrato a Tempo, public transport tickets cost 1.50 euros and are valid for 100 minutes on a bus from the first stamping; in the subway they are valid for a single journey, even on several lines, without leaving the turnstiles. They can be bought at tobacco shops (‘Tabacchi’ in Italian, recognizable by a white T on a dark background sign), bars, news stands (‘chioschi’ or ‘edicole’), travel agencies, stationer’s shops, and vending machines in metro stations, city bus termini, on buses and trams; the machines sometimes don’t work, so it’s probably a good idea to purchase tickets in advance from the shops. Some hotels sell bus tickets. The driver does not sell tickets. Be careful because there are many inspectors and, if you are caught without a ticket, you’ll be fined. Booklets of tickets are available at tobacconists and in some terminals.
You can also buy passes for 1, 2 or 3 days, and weekly, monthly or yearly passes. Some of these may be used on Rome underground trains, buses, trams, trolley buses, and on some regional railway trains.
Building an underground system for Rome has been difficult, because whenever workers start digging, they discover archaeological treasures hidden underneath the city’s surface, and heavy earth-moving has to stop for some time.
To limit car traffic in the historical centre of Rome, like in many other Italian towns and cities a Limited Traffic Zone (ZTL, Zona a Traffico Limitato) has been introduced, where access is not allowed to unauthorised cars and only holders of a special permit can drive.
Tthere are numerous other Limited Traffic Zones in Europe, but Rome’s is one of the largest in the continent. Most of the historic centre is closed to normal traffic, with traffic wardens or electronic gates controlling the entrance points to the centre. You are not allowed to drive to the ZTL of the historic centre from 6.30am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday and from 2pm to 6pm on Saturdays, unless you are a resident or have a special permit. If you wish to drive to your hotel in this area, in order to avoid a fine contact the hotel management who will fax your number plate to the authorities.
Bikes, scooters and motorbikes have unrestricted access.
If you travel by car, therefore, in the city centre you should park your car outside the limited traffic area, and look for one of the authorised parking areas marked with blue lines where you can park for 1 euro per hour. After 8 pm (in some cases after 11 pm) you can park for free until 8 am. Tickets must be displayed in windscreens and they can be bought at the vending machines on the pavement (coins only) or at tobacconists and newsagents. Beware that yellow lines mean you can’t park there.
Like in other cities such as London, Washington DC, Paris, Denver, Boston, Melbourne, Minneapolis, in Rome the local authority has established a bike-sharing scheme, with several docking stations around central Rome where you can hire a bike for short journeys.
Five Practical Tips for When You’re in Rome
- To avoid long queues at monuments and museums entrance, it may be worth joining a tour being formed. It doesn’t cost very much, but saves you from waiting in line as well as providing information.
- To see Rome, especially given the car traffic restrictions (see “When You’re in Rome…” tab), one of the best way is to rent a scooter. Here are some firms. Barberini Scooters for Rent, Via della Purificazione 84, between Quirinale and Piazza Barberini, [email protected], tel. +39 06 4885485 (40-80 euros per day depending on the type of scooter). There is also Eco Move Rent, Via Varese 48/50, 00185 Roma, near Roma Termini Station, Tel: +39 06.44704518, which also organizes tours of Rome on mythical Vespas. You can rent both scooters and bikes from them. The scooter prices vary from 30 euros for 4 hours for a Vespa up to 95 euros a day for the most powerful scooters.
- Most government museums are closed on mondays. It’s a good idea to save money and time on museum entrance costs to get a pass. A card issued by Rome Council (Comune di Roma) itself is Roma Pass, costing € 28 for 2 days and € 38.50 for 3 days giving free or discounted access not only to artistic and cultural sites but also to Rome transport.
- In Rome you can sometimes find shops selling designer clothes at discounted rates or second hand. And don’t forget the ultra famous flea market of Porta Portese, in Via Portuense, Trastevere, for real bargains not just in clothing, but also antiques, household items, cosmetics, books, records, even parts for cars, scooters and bikes.
- Some self-service laundromats in the central and tourist areas are the following. Near Termini Station: Bolle Blu, Via Principe Amedeo 116, Via Palestro 59/61, and Via Montebello 11, and OndaBlu, Via Principe Amedeo 70/B. Near the Vatican and Quartiere Aurelio (West Rome): Floren Wash, Via di Valle Aurelia 106/B. In the Trastevere quarter: Il Mastello, Via di San Francesco a Ripa 62. In the Quartiere Tiburtino area: Beautiful Laundrette, Via dei Marsi 58. The chain OndaBlu has over 30 launderettes all over Rome. Their opening hours are generally every day from 8 or 8.30 until the evening at 8pm or 10pm.
Free Things in Rome
Several of the major and most beautiful sites in Rome are open to the public for free.
These are free at all times:
- Roman Forum
- Capitoline Hill
- Trevi Fountain
- Spanish Steps
- Colosseum (exterior)
- Castel Sant’Angelo (exterior)
- Mouth of Truth
- Piazza Navona
- St. Peter’s Basilica
Best Known Vegetarian Restaurants in Rome
* Il Margutta Vegetarian Food & Art Address: Via Margutta 118, 00187 Rome. Tel: +39 06 32650577. Fax: +39 06 3218457. E-mail: [email protected]. Open: every day, all year round, from 8.30am to 11.30pm. English is spoken. Fine vegetarian Italian cuisine, with vegan menu as well. At weekends and on festive days it also serves brunches with all-you-can-eat buffet for 25 euros, with live music on Sundays. Very famous, established since 1979, it is considered by some to be one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Europe and one of the best of all restaurants in Rome. Elegant and upmarket. It is in the historical centre, in the Via Margutta, called the “street of artists”, rich in history and art connections, full of ancient craft shops. Area: very central, near Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) and Piazza del Popolo.
* Le Bistrot Address: Via delle Sette Chiese 160, 00145 Rome. Tel: +39 06 5128991. Mobile: : +39 338 2686540. Open: every day 8pm-11pm, closed Sundays and holidays. Lunches only by reservation. Both vegetarian and vegan restaurant with free WiFi. Another long-established restaurant, opened in 1987. You can bring your dog. Warm and inviting like a drawing room, refined and elegant but with very affordable prices: the highest price for a dish is € 12, and that dish has truffles – a food renowned for being expensive – as one main ingredient. You’ll be tempted by almond and olive lasagne. Pleasant background music. It is in the Garbatella, a charming neighbourhood with many trees, lovely courtyards and terraces full of flowers, in the Ostiense quarter of Rome, lying on a hill adjacent to the majestic Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls whose construction started in the 300s AD.