Tourist Information for Rome

Rome is a great place to be a tourist. I’m not a tourist, but I get asked a lot of questions… so here is the info, all in one place. Even more info on the official site for Rome. I start with the most “must-do” places and what is nearby. First, COVID rules are on this site. As you can see from the map below, most of Rome is within a two-mile/three-kilometer radius, but you may end up walking ten miles/14 kilometers criss crossing it! Or 28,000 steps, for those counting steps.

Most of the green dots are tourist attractions. From tiramisu to gelato is about 3 miles/5 kilometers.

Vatican City: For the museums (the entrance is on the side of the Vatican) including the Sistine Chapel, buy tickets online. For St. Peter’s Basilica (and to climb up the dome), get in line inside the plaza at the Vatican. Open most days except Wednesday when they are only open for one hour.

Castel Sant’Angelo: It’s a museum, mausoleum, has those angels on the bridge, and you can walk to the Vatican from here.

Coliseum and forum (they are combined as an open-air museum). Buy tickets here on the official site, although there are many tour companies that sell tickets. Most people are okay with the two-hour tour (which can run on, but you can leave). Open 9 am to 7:15 pm every day, with last entry one hour before closing. Times change during the winter. While over here, check out the neighborhood of Monti. It’s up the hill from the forum (above the Colosseum, on the map).

Centro historico/Historic center — Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish steps (which is near Via del Corso for shopping/people watching), Alter to the Fatherland (called the wedding cake — it’s impossible to miss. Also on the piazza where Mussolini gave his speeches, and located between the center and the forum): All free but you may need to get a timed entry for the Pantheon (open 9-7 every day but last entry at 6:30 pm). While you are in this part of the city, try to walk down Old Government Street (Via del governo vecchio), as it is picturesque in parts. I like Forno Monteforte cafe/bakery which is on this street but way down. If you have time, when you are near Monti or Trevi, visit Quirinale, the palace of the president.

Campo de fiori market: You will probably run across this when wandering around downtown. Open from 8 am to 2 pm. Overly touristy, but hey, this is Rome.

Jewish Quarter: It is famous and quaint. There were Jewish people living in Rome before the time of Christ. Look for the small brass cobblestone plaques marking where Jewish people once lived before being taken in WWII. If you need an address to locate it, go to a cheese store called Beppe and His Cheeses, Via di S. Maria del Pianto, 9a/11.

Trastevere: This is an area that was once a separate small town. Now filled with students and artsy types. It’s adorable. These days, it’s too crowded for me, but it’s probably a must-see. Get gelato at Otaleg.

Campodoglio: Is the hill with the Capitoline museum and the mayor’s office. But, I like it for the view of the forum. Free and great at sunset.

Circus Maximus: Free. It’s a huge area that was once a sports area. Near my favorite farmers market. If visiting on a weekend, I would recommend the local zero kilometer market to see the foods (fresh cheese, meats, oil, fruit, and breads — all produced within 68 miles of Rome) available. The market is closed in August.

La Bocca della Verità (address is Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18) – Mouth of Truth: Made famous by the film, Roman Holiday. It’s near the Circus Maximus. Open 9:30 am-5:30 pm. I think it’s free or you pay a small donation.

Keyhole of the Knights of Malta/Aventine hill/orange garden (good for a view and at sunset)/rose garden: The Aventine hill is beside the Circus Maximus. Open all the time and free but especially popular at sunset. The keyhole allows you to see three “lands” — the Knights of Malta’s garden (the Knights of Malta are an independent entity), Italy, and the Vatican. And according to a local, you can also see a fourth kingdom — heaven.

Ask for this place to get to the keyhole and walk down from there.

Borghese museum and gardens: The Borghese Gallery houses masterpieces by Bernini and Caravaggio, among others. Tickets are 27 euro and there is timed entry all day from 9 am to 5 pm (they close at 7). The parks is called Villa Borghese and it is free. It includes the national gallery, zoo, a lake, rental bikes, and so much more. It’s the green lung of the city.

Baths of Caracalla: Open for concerts in the summer. Closed on Mondays.

Baths of Diocletian: Closed Mondays.

Testaccio Market: This market is visited by many food and travel shows. Open 8-4 or so because it also has lunch options.

Trionfale Market: Open 7:30-1:30, located near the Vatican, this is the largest of the produce markets in Rome. There are many local markets all over Rome but as a tourist, you probably won’t visit them.

There are many churches and museums to visit as well especially if you want to see some of the masterpieces in a quieter setting. But, that’s a much deeper level of tourism than your first, second, or third visit. Here are some other things to do on visit two or three.

Via Appia: The famous road is a park just south of Rome (there are many bit os this road outside Rome) and it can be a fun outing.

There are things to do outside Rome as well making for good day trips. Here are some ideas:

Naples for a day (boardwalk, museum for the items from Pompeii, pizza, downtown). I wrote about this here.

Pompeii: Info on how to get there and buy tickets.

Wine tasting lunch at Torre in Pietra: I love this.

Sabine valley wine tasting/olive oil tasting: I also love this.

Plus, as a tourist in Rome/Italy… gelato, tiramisu, wine (ask for the local — Italy has more varietals than France — some so local that they are only grown within a few miles of the place you try it), prosciutto, or pizza, every day. See my list of where to eat.

Now some practical matters.

Money

Euro (each country in the euro zone makes their own euro but you can use them all over the euro zone) is the currency. There are ATMs all over the city. You can also exchange money all over the city. Most places take cash and credit card, but vendors pay a fee for credit card use so I usually use cash if it’s under 25 euro. Most grocery shopping and meals are under 30 euro and I don’t find Rome to be excessively expensive.

Tipping

The general rule is that you do not need to tip in Italy. Americans have a reputation as good tippers so many places will expect that Americans will tip well. But, you do not have to tip at all. Most restaurants will already have included a “service” or “pane/bread” charge to your bill, usually around one to three euro per person. If you think the service was excellent, you can leave a tip of a few euro or ten percent. No one should make you feel wrong for not tipping. Nor for leaving one or two euro. Lots of places like gelato shops, will have a tip jar. You can use that if you want to tip them. Again, no obligation to tip.

In taxis, you can round up to the whole euro. Otherwise no tipping in taxis. At hairdressers, beauty salons, massage therapists, etc., you can leave a tip if you thought they were good. But, it is not expected. Never more than ten percent. If you go on a tour, like food tour, you can tip if you want to, but again, you do not have to.

Transportation

From/To Rome airport (FCO is the airport code because the airport is in the town of Fiumicino about 30 kilometers/18 miles from Rome): There are buses that go direct from the airport to all over the city for as little as five euro. Also, the Leonardo Express to/from Roma Termini train station for 18 euro. Taxis have a fixed rate to the walls of old Rome. 50 euro from Leonardo da Vinci Rome airport and then meter. There are private limo services starting at 50 euro. Read more about this here. The SIT bus stops near the Vatican which is convenient if you are staying in Prati. Most buses and trains connect to Roma Termini.

Getting around: Most of what you will want to see in Rome is within a three-kilometer/two-mile radius. But you may get tired of walking. You can buy a 24-, 48-, 72-pass that will let you use all buses, trains, trams, and the Metro. Some passes also let you get into museums for the same price.

Taxis: Taxis are white and you should not flag one down… supposedly. There are taxi stands all over the city. You can also download the ItTaxi app and order a taxi to your location. Even as a tourist. You can pay with cash or credit card in all taxis.

To travel by regional train (to Naples or Florence, for example), there are two train companies, TrenItalia and Italo. You can download their apps and purchase tickets from your phone. Or buy them at the station, but remember to validate!

Phone Card

While there is a lot of WIFI and you can download maps, but if you want to buy a phone SIM card, TIM sells them for 45 euro for the first month and nine euro after that. So if you are here for more than a week, it might be worth it. Other local companies are Vodafone and Windtre.

Water and bathrooms

The water is free from the fountains. Perfectly clean and cool. Learn how to drink from one of the “nasone” fountains. Bathrooms are harder to find. Generally, you need to use them at a restaurant or coffee bar.

Safety

Rome is safe, also at night. But, don’t let your credit card out of your sight. Wear all your valuables on the front of your body, from groin to armpit. Anything on your back will be pickpocketed. Thieves are the biggest danger. Oh, and the traffic.

Accessibility

Rome is not a place for wheelchair users. It can be done, but there are so many steps and crooked cobblestones everywhere. Mostly, there are stairs everywhere and no ramps.

Language

Italians speak more English than every before. I doubt in Rome that a tourist would need to learn Italian, but a “Buongiorno” is always appreciated. If pressed, use Google translate. Plus, most of the service people in Rome speak English (many are from Bangladesh and the Philippines). Also, there are more tourists in Rome than Italians, so ask another tourist. They probably have the answers, as they are going to the same places.

This photo of the Trevi Fountain was taken last year, empty due to COVID.

Having now lived in Rome for over a year, my conclusion is that Italy is an awesome place to be a tourist. As I learn more practical tips from my visitors, I’ll update this article.

The Best Pistachio Gelato in the World

Italians love pistachio gelato. The real deal is not neon green nor “flavor” — it’s actually pistachio nuts that have been ground and then mixed with the milk to make gelato. Having read about Crispini’s world champion gelato, we had to go.

In the Umbrian town of Spoleto, Crispini’s proudly display and sell their 2017 World Champion Pistachio Gelato.

We went. But, as neither my gelato-loving friend nor I like pistachio flavor, neither of us got it!

As we were eating our gelato outside, I said that as we had come all this way, we needed to try it. It was absolutely worthy of the accolades. The pistachio gelato tasted like fresh pistachio nut juice. If you can imagine what that would be like.

So if you are a fan of pistachio gelato, make Spoleto a destination on your next trip to Umbria. An added bonus is that Spoleto is a typical cute Umbrian town with a cute old part. They have elevators from the parking area which is practical.

Napoli for a Day

Naples deserves a longer visit, but as it is only one hour away from Rome (in the next region, Campania), it is often done in just one day. Here’s how to do a tour of Naples in one day. To read about the “new city” of Napoli’s 3,000 year history, read here. First, a warning. There is a lot of graffiti in Naples. But only in the central part near the university. The city feels really gritty in those narrow streets.

Take an early train to Naples. The train from Roma Termini goes every hour and takes an hour.

Go to the famous fish market. It is not as picturesque as in the cooking shows, but it’s located near the train station in a “dicey” part of town. I didn’t think it was all that dangerous but maybe it was because it was daylight and the sun was shining.

Go for breakfast in Naples. Try Caffè Gambrinus, on Via Chiaia n. 1, favored haunt for the presidents of Italy, if you want to go somewhere famous. Otherwise, find any local cafe for a sfogiatella (a traditional pastry from the region of Campania) and a coffee.

Visit the National Archeological Museum of Naples (MANN). If you are not going to visit Pompeii, then visiting this museum will give you a chance to see some of the art from the famous city.

This museum has a “Cabinet of Secrets” where they display some of the erotic art from Pompeii. This room is only open until 2 pm, and there is a time limit of five minutes.

Eat seafood for lunch. Spaghetti alle vongole is so famous and it seems like a natural dish to eat in this port city.

Walk the promenade, admire the view of Vesuvius. (or if you are really cheeky and want to include even more in one day, take a drive down the Amalfi Coast or a ferry along the coast.)

Grab a gelato along the way. Gay Odin is a famous chocolate and gelato chain with many locations in Naples.

Eat a famous pizza for dinner. Most restaurants should make good pizza but you can also look for a sign stating that the chef is a trained pizza expert, a “pizzaiolo” — learn about how Neopolitan pizza making is on the UNESCO “intangible heritage” list here.

You can stick to the classic Margharita or branch out. I had a spicy ‘nduja sausage one and it was the best pizza I have had in Italy.

My spicy pizza at L’Albero dei Visconti, where they have two pizzaioli.

Along the way, enjoy some wine. Ask for local wine and discover grape varietals that you have never heard of. But, traditionally, one drinks beer with pizza.

Take the last train to Rome.

I Dream of This Ice Cream – Was It That Good?

The style is retro.

Recently, some friends and I were discussing ice cream and gelato, again. One of my friends reminded me of that place in Denmark that we had visited… I was sure that I must have blogged about this place… But, somehow I had not. So now I will.

The ice cream place that is still on my mind is called Ismajeriet, and it now has two locations in Denmark.

One day, several years ago, when visiting Copenhagen, we were at a lunch party. After eating smoerrebroed (open faced sandwiches), a cooler tub was taken out of the freezer, and inside were four flavors of ice cream from Ismajeriet. It was so delicious that we had to visit the actual shop. My friend and I grabbed bicycles and off we went, in search of ice cream. This was a few years ago when the shop was located out among the summer houses of Amager, the island south of Copenhagen. The Ismajeriet (translates to “the ice cream dairy”) has a large selection, including sorbets. The style of the shop was in a retro design (a bit like an ice cream parlor of old) but the ice cream was fresh! I was delighted to see that they had many flavors, including licorice (I understand that licorice is an acquired taste but I acquired it a long time ago). The shop also has sorbets.

Licorice and mint flavor.

Why is this in my dreams? Because it was so creamy. The ice cream has a high fat content so it is creamy, really ice cream. Cream is the fat part of milk and fat on the tongue adds a creamy texture when it melts. In contrast, most gelato is made with milk. Gelato’s creaminess is derived from how it is made. Some gelato is actually ice cream (which must have a fat percentage of more than 3.5 percent). There are gelato shops where they will advertise that their plain flavor is “fiore di panna” (panna = cream) and not the usual “fiore di latte” which is the “milk flower.” Basically, calling something the “cream flower” is like saying that it is the “cream of the crock” — the best.

In Denmark, gelato is quite popular now, but the Danish style ice cream lives on in places like Ismajeriet. In Italy, one can add whipped cream on top of one’s gelato (most places will do it for free and it should be unsweetened freshly whipped cream). In Denmark, that is the norm. Another thing is that the Danes like to add a “floedebolle” on top. This “cream ball” is a meringue topped wafer covered in chocolate (the one in the photo has coconut flakes on it) that can be eaten on its own, or used as the cherry on top of the ice cream cone.

One thing that the Danes and Italians share in relation to their ice cream/gelato is that any time of the year and day is a good time to eat it. In Italy, gelato shops are some of the food shops that are open almost all day long, some open as early as 8 am and close after midnight.

As for Ismajeriet, I will be back some day to see if it is as good as in my dreams.

Cook Italy – Food Tour in Bologna

Bologna’s streets will make it hard to move on.

Do you know someone who is so extremely picky? As in, never satisfied? Oh, maybe YOU are that friend.

If you are one of those people who has such high standards for everything and never quite finds things up to scratch, then Carmelita of Cook Italy is the guide for you.

She will talk a lot about tortellini.

We booked her for a food tour. I mentioned some of the places earlier. We met at an excellent pastry shop where I am glad that I got a good breakfast.

Carmelita then showed us the formerly great, the famous, the touristy, and the abominably disgraced. She then showed us the still great shops and vendors downtown. Along the way, we had a snack stop and the history of why Bologna, “La Grasso” is translated too literally — the nickname refers to the bounty that is Bologna.

[A note about bologna, boloney — mortadella. It is a whole separate food product in Italy. It can be eaten sliced, cubed, and in a meat pate like a smear. There are required amounts of lardons per product and, of course, there are standards. People eat it like proscuitto. Yes, just like having slices of proscuitto on a charcuterie board… that’s how they eat mortadella.]

Bologna is a bountiful foodie city with warm red brick porticoes, shopping opportunities galore, and enough foodie gems for a month of feasts. One of the best things about the tour was being taken to the “horse” emporium.

This shop is a knife shop but so much more.

Carmelita ended our tour at an enoteca who kindly stored our wine while we went to Carmelita’s newest “project” – a new gelateria called Sablé. Check it out!

The pastry chef who owns Sable.

Carmelita also offers cooking classes. I found her through a friend, even though I see that she is famous on TripAdvisor. For a food tour, this was the least amount of food that we ate but the pace was very nice for the more mature traveler. It was a relaxed tour. Carmelita is very communicative and will send all kinds of recommendations even after the tour. A tour with Cook Italy is a gently paced tour.

But Carmelita’s standards and critique of the gastronomy scene is fierce and pointed. Carmelita is passionate about those she disdains and even more passionate about those whom she admires. If you want that style of guide, then she is for you.

Those hams are all the same because of special selection.

Here are some of Cook Italy’s recommendations:

Best aperitivo

Gamberini via Ugo Bassi
I Conoscenti via Mazzini
Stefano Cardi same street

Best gelato

Sablè  – in a Class of its own
Cremeria Santo Stefano – via Santo Stefano
Cremeria Cavour – in Piazza Cavour

Best little cakes  

Pasticceria mignon

Regina de Quadri – via Castiglione
La Borbonica  – via Riva Reno
Stefano Cardi as before
Gamberini as before

Inside Enoteca Italiana

As my friend commented, we had the least amount of food on this food tour. But, we did stop for a quick snack, and then for the light lunch. Also, a balsamic tasting. For three hours, the tour cost 280 euro for the group.

Carmelita will also come after you after the tour to write reviews. Beware. In the nicest way, but you are forewarned.

Ten Gelato Places To Try in Rome

So here it is. My list of gelato shops to try in Rome. This is not the definitive list but I’m getting tired of trying gelato…

Gunther, Via dei Pettinari, 43: Gunther has three locations but this is where you will usually find him. He makes the best vanilla (from Madagascar) and his gelato is extremely creamy. He also lets you try lots of flavors until you find the ones that you want.

Gracchi, Via dei Gracchi, 272: old school but go early in the day when the gelato is fresh.

La Romana, various locations: big chain but still good gelato.

Neve di Latte, Via Federico Cesi, 1: two locations, and I’m fairly sure that the staff are hired for their looks.

Banana flavor should be brown as the bananas oxidize.

Come il Latte, Via Silvio Spaventa, 24/26: I have a suspicion that this place was started by an American. Great affagato.

Otaleg, Via di S. Cosimato, 14a: famous place in Trastevere. The name is gelato backwards but the gelato is straightforward.

Frigidarium, Via del Governo Vecchio, 112: located on one of the most picturesque streets in Rome.

Fassi 1880, Via Principe Eugenio, 65-67: Oldest place in Rome. One of my favorites because it’s out of the tourist frenzy.

Gelati Gelati, Via Cicerone, 20: I’m fairly sure that this gelato is made by the gruff guy working here. The pear compote was unusual and the grittiness worked.

Cremilla, Via di Porta Castello, 39: Almost like soft serve. Near the Vatican.

I will probably write another article when I go to more places but as I’ve been to over 30 so far, I’m in need of a break from gelato.

Fassi Gelateria, The Oldest Gelato Shop in Rome

Away from the center of frenzied tourism in the center of Rome, is a large old fashioned gelato shop. Fassi is located in Esquilino near the Termini train station.

It is the oldest one in Rome, started in 1880. This former “palace of frozen delights” is showing her age, but the gelato is fresh, every day.

To one wall is a museum like display of former machines used for making gelato.

Fassi 1880 has so many flavors that it’s hard to find the time to look at all of them.

Whipping cream machine from 1932.

There are tables inside and a drinking fountain for water (the best drink for ice cream).

The best part of this place is the diversity in customers, old and young, immigrants, tourists, and everything in between. It’s the most diverse place I’ve seen in Rome.

Melon flavor with whipped cream.

Like most gelato shops, they serve you two flavors even in a small cup or cone, and you can get whipped cream on top.

What Americans Notice In Italy

Now that I’ve had my first American visitors, they suggest that I write about what they noticed while in Italy. They noticed three very different things…

Adults making love to their gelatos: This is what they really noticed. They said that it was not normal in the United States to see a grown adult in business clothes “making love” to an ice cream, while walking on the street. I have no photos of this so instead I include a photo of a gelato that I ate… while on the street. As you can see, gelato melts fast so you have to eat it fast.

Note that my gelato has “panna” or whipped cream on it. This is normal in Italian gelaterias. Another thing that is normal is that no matter how small your gelato, you will usually get two flavors.

Peanut and salted caramel gelato.

Swastika graffiti: On the walls. In the United States, it would removed or painted over fairly quickly.

Five inch platform mules: On women. I guess it should be ten centimeter platforms since this is in Italy.

See and Eat Rome with Sophie

Suppli

Want to try Roman foods? Wish you had a Roman friend who lights up a shop when she walks in? Wish you were Stanley Tucci? Then try a food tour with Sophie Minchilli, on her tour called “Rome with Sophie”. It is a pleasant walk with some history but mainly food tastings. You may try suppli, cheese, wine, cookies, pizza, prosciutto, gelato, coffee, and visit old markets and neighborhoods of Rome. We chose the “three neighborhoods tour” of Campo di Fiori, Jewish ghetto, and Trastevere. Sophie has known some of the shop owners all her life and it shows. You get a real “insider’s” tour. It is clear that they love her. You might risk feeling the same way.

Roman pizza

The tour cost 140 Euro but she gave us a COVID discount. The max group size is six people and the tour takes about three hours. She does tours starting late morning and also late afternoon. Ours started at 11 a.m., as she accommodated our schedule, but it’s better to start earlier to avoid the crowds. The food tour was a good intro. It’s more an array, rather than an in-depth lesson in food, but good if you are new to Rome or just visiting. As you fill up on food, Sophie will adapt the tour. Some can’t hack it to the prosciutto or gelato stop. The day we went, we forewent the gelato for a sit down with an alcohol-free aperitif. Along the way, Sophie will get you snacks, answer questions, and explain food in Rome.

In the Jewish ghetto, we learned about the brass markers embedded in the cobblestones to mark where once there lived a Jewish family, killed during WWII. But, we also sat outside at the only table at a 400-year-old shop, eating cheese, feeling the ambience of ghetto life.

Sophie is half American/Italian and much beloved in her neighborhoods. If you want a tour in English and with someone young, she’s the perfect person. She and her mom, Elizabeth Minchilli, run longer tours of Puglia, and Sophie is expanding to one-day outings in Lazio (the region that includes Rome). Elizabeth Minchilli is an author (and friend of Elizabeth Gilbert, for those who are fans of Eat, Pray, Love) and well connected to the other tour guides in Rome. Sophie offers three tours in Rome and accepts payment via PayPal and cash. With her mother, Sophie also does food tours in other parts of Italy so you can spend a whole week with them and really feel Italian!

Puntarelli

Sophie Minchilli

Food Tours and Culinary Services in Rome

http://www.sophieminchilli.com

Instagram: @sminchilli

On Tripadvisor

A savory cookie.

My favorite part of the tour was the ghetto. I also enjoyed the spontaneous non-alcoholic aperitif discovery. I don’t know what it’s called but it was orange and bitter, yet refreshing, and slightly addictive.


Mealtimes in Italy

Okay, so mealtimes in Italy.

Colazione (breakfast): Breakfast is a cup of coffee with milk like a cappuccino. Maybe a croissant or a sandwich (triangular white sandwiches like the triples in Peru). Italians don’t really eat much for breakfast. They consider the milk in the coffee to be the “food.” But, later in the morning, they will have more coffee. Coffee is a small cup of coffee like an espresso. No coffee in Italy is ever the size of American coffees. Italians will have many coffees throughout the day, although milk in coffee is only for breakfast (so before 11 a.m.).

Around 10 or 11 a.m., Italians might have a small snack with their next coffee.

Pranzo (lunch): Lunch is generally eaten from noon to 2 p.m. but on a Sunday, lunch can be later.

Merenda (tea): At around 3 p.m., Italians (and certainly children) will have a snack. One could have a gelato… or some crackers and cheese.

Aperitivo (happy hour): after work, Italians may have a tapas/mezze style spread. Many judge the bar based on the selection of free nibbles. During the current COVID restrictions (restaurants close for in restaurant dining at 6 p.m.), many people are having aperitivo at 3 p.m. Why not?

Cena “che-na” (dinner): Dinner is generally at 8:30 p.m. or later. One had a snack earlier, thankfully.