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Rome (Civitavecchia) Overview
The capital city in the land of Leonardo, Michelangelo and the popes is today a living museum with gorgeous artwork, amazing architecture and inspiring ancient sites -- yet at the same time it is alive and vibrant in a 21st-century way. It's an unforgettable city to visit and we'll warn you right now once you've experienced it you'll want to come back for more.
One of our favorite things to do here is walk and ogle. On a recent visit, we took one day to do the route from Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica, with its jaw-dropping art and statuary, not to mention religious significance, to Via del Corso, where our quest of the latest Italian fashions was more than fulfilled amidst the well-dressed crowd of Roman shoppers. And then the next day we went on an ancient history quest past ruins and columns, traversing the same streets Julius Caesar strode (and rode) to the Colosseum, where gladiators once battled. Then, walking on, we were awed by the Pantheon, the well-preserved ancient symbol of Rome and now a great hangout spot.
First-time visitors, many envisioning Rome as big and congested, will be surprised by the scenic layout, with its famous seven hills and the Tiber River running through the city (Cleopatra famously made her grand entrance from the river). And the senses may be shocked by the general energy and hustle and bustle -- with cars, taxis and scooters roaring here and there, crossing the street can be a challenge (don't worry, there are quiet piazzas aplenty with lovely cafes where you can get away from it all and unwind).
The food is of course wonderful -- we can't eat enough pasta -- and the spirit of la dolce vita (the good life) abounds. Whenever we do such a quest in Rome we do regular gelato stops (try the yummy pine nut flavor) or coffee breaks because "when in Rome..." And the shopping scene serves up Prada, Gucci, Armani and more (high style can be found in more affordable brands like Furla as well). What could be better than that?
No question, Rome has one of the world's most important collections of once-in-a-lifetime sights to see, including St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum and on and on and on. And for those historic monuments the city is worth a visit alone.
But if you're on an itinerary where Rome is just a port of call for the day, you won't see everything. Either resign yourself to that fact or book a tour that will at least drive you by the main sights. Be aware the port for Rome, Civitavecchia, is about 1 1/2 to 2 hours from the city (there is decent train service). If you are beginning or ending your cruise here, plan to stay at least a couple of nights to explore the Eternal City; it is likely to steal a piece of your heart. Make sure to drop a coin in Trevi Fountain, which is said to assure you'll come back again.
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Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malta • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Sardinia • Sete • Seville • Sorrento • St. Tropez • Taormina • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
Italian, but many people you encounter will speak at least some English.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro. Get cash from an ATM machine that's compatible with your local bank. Local "cambio" shops exchange dollars to euros, though at higher rates than at ATM's. Banks also provide exchange services for a fee. You can use credit cards but dollars are generally not accepted by retailers and restaurants.
Religious icons from Vatican City; haute couture; leather handbags and shoes.
Watch Out For
Pickpockets on buses and at the major tourist sights (especially the Colosseum, where there are often bands of gypsies).
Where You're Docked
Civitavecchia has been the port of Rome since Emperor Trajan's time in A.D. 108. It is about 1 1/2 to 2 hours by taxi or bus from Rome (depending on traffic). Free shuttles typically ferry passengers from the ship to downtown Civitavecchia.
This is a commercial port and it's about a 20-minute walk into the city, although there are basic services like Internet, a deli and a small market, just outside the gates of the port. The other important "service" Civitavecchia offers is a train station, about a mile outside the port, with a direct line to Rome.
From Civitavecchia: The bus trip or taxi ride to Rome takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The other option: Take the train, which leaves every half-hour from Civitavecchia (it takes about 1 1/4 hours) and lands right in the heart of Rome at Termini Station. For more info, go to www.civitavecchia.com.
Most cruise lines offer both a motorcoach transfer option and organized tours. If you're not a tour type, one advantage here to the cruise line motorcoach option is that if the motorcoach is late coming back, the cruise ship will wait. Taxis line up at the port; play to pay about $150 each way to Rome and back.
In Rome: Rome is a great walking city, and within the center area most of the major historic attractions, shopping areas and fabulous piazzas are easy to get to on foot. However, Rome's bus system is also efficient and simple to navigate, particularly from Termini Station; individual tickets are about $1.30 per ride, or you can buy an unlimited daily pass for about $4.50. The Metropolitana or Metro (marked by a big red M) is the city's subway system; tickets are about $1.50 per ride.
In the Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica (Piazza San Pietro, daily, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.), the earthly locus of the Roman Catholic Church, and the extensive Vatican Museums (where you'll find the Sistine Chapel) are grouped together just across the Tiber River from central Rome. In recent years visitors to St. Peter's have had to clear a security line, which can be found to the right of the main entrance. Expect to wait in line for hours if you want to visit the Vatican Museums on your own (one advantage to booking a cruise line tour is you might not have to wait quite that long). Be aware that tank tops and shorts are not acceptable attire within St. Peter's.
The Colosseum (Piazza del Colosseo, Tuesday - Sunday, 9 a.m. - 7:15 p.m.) is a shell of an ancient stadium -- first inaugurated in 80 A.D. -- where gladiators engaged in bloodbaths. The Pantheon (Piazza della Rotunda, Monday - Saturday 8:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.) dates back to 27 B.C. and is considered the ancient world's most complete monument. Even better, the Pantheon is more than a museum; it still holds concerts and other special events.
Near the Colosseum, we always drop our jaws at the sight of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument (Piazza Venezia), an extravagant white marble monument (its nickname is "the wedding cake") with giant horse sculptures, constructed in the 1800's to honor Italy's first king. You can't go inside, but it's a great photo opp.
The Trevi Fountain (Piazza Trevi, 24 hours), was made famous by the classic flick "Three Coins in a Fountain"; legend has it if you want to come back to Rome, you must throw in a coin.
For art lovers, Galleria Borghese (Villa Borghese, Tuesday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.) has Rome's premier collection of masterpieces, including works by Titian, Caravaggio and Raphael.
Rome's most magnificent shops are clustered on streets branching off from the elegant Piazza d'Spagna (the Spanish Steps). The chic-est of chic stores are found on Via Veneto and Via Condotti; more mainstream (and affordable) stores are on the long Via del Corso. Take a coffee break at Antico Caffe Greco (Via Condotti 84), a place to see and be seen since it opened in 1760. Antique stores are clustered on Via del Babuino.
For More: Virtual Tourist's Things to Do in Rome
Been There, Done That
Ostia Antica (Viale dei Romagnoli 717, Tuesday - Sunday, 8:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.), Rome's version of Pompeii, is about 45 minutes outside the city, but worth the trek. It was founded in the fourth century B.C. and was a bustling port city until a couple of factors -- outbreaks of malaria and the river's changing course -- led to its abandonment. Ultimately it was covered in silt, and the site has gradually been excavated over the past century.
Explore the hip urban neighborhood of Trastevere (just across the Tiber). Among its attractions, beyond tons of charming sidewalk cafes, one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, is the serene and soothing Orto Botanico (Largbo Cristina di Svezia 24, Tuesday - Saturday, 9:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.), comprised of 19 different gardens, and the piazza of Santa Maria, one of the city's prettiest piazzas and the site where, according to legend, oil was said to have sprung from the ground on the occasion of Christ's birth. Santa Maria Cathedral, which anchors the square, is a soothing, restful stop.
One of Rome's most exuberant piazzas (traffic-free squares) is Piazza Navona, which is virtually a carnival -- you can have your portrait drawn, sit by the fountain and enjoy a gelato cone, drink wine at a sidewalk cafe, or dance to live music. Also fun is Campo dei Fiori (the only reason it's not called a piazza is that it isn't anchored by a church), particularly if you like flea markets in the morning, and fun, informal sidewalk cafes from lunchtime onward.
A meal at an outdoor cafe is a must-do Roman experience. We like to avoid the crowds on Piazza Navona and follow the locals instead to Piazza del Popolo, where you'll find cafes serving excellent pasta and fine people-watching, not far from the Via del Corso shopping area. It's a little more out of the way, but locals also hang out in the Trastevere neighborhood. One of the best spots there is Sabatini (Piazza Santa Maria, lunch served daily, 12:30 - 2:30 p.m.).
For something you can't get anywhere else, head to the Jewish Ghetto and try the famous fried artichokes, especially at Piperno, Via Monte de' Cenci 9 (lunch served Tuesday - Sunday, 1 - 2:30 p.m.).
Oozing history, atmosphere, utter romance and a fabulous top-of-the-Spanish Steps location is the Intercontinental De la Ville Roma. It feels a bit like your own private palazzo (you'd never know, from the inside, that this is a 192-room hotel with choice of restaurants and other services).
A close-to-Vatican City option, great for couples, is the cozy, intimate Palazzo Cardinal Cesi. It's filled with antiques, rooms are larger than average for Rome, and the gorgeous courtyard is a wonderful haven for a snack or a cocktail.
Another great location -- this one more for heart-of-the-city convenience steps away from the fabulous Piazza Navona -- is Hotel Raphael, a comfortable, atmosphere-laden place with all the amenities, such as a restaurant and fitness area.
For those looking for more of a splurge, do as Hemingway did and stay at the five-star Hotel Eden, grand and glamorous and boasting a world-class restaurant with views over the city (the hotel is now operated by Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts).
Families and those on a budget should check out La Residenza, near Piazza Barberini. Located in a converted villa, the property offers decently sized guestrooms and junior suites, in a homey atmosphere.
Staying in Touch
easyInternetCafe (via Barbarini 2, not far from Rome's central rail station) is a really neat concept: The rate you pay is based on how busy it is. The no-nonsense -- albeit charming, with coffee bar -- cafe has rows and rows of terminals. You buy a ticket at an automated machine (minimum: one euro) and it tells you how many minutes you get.
Editor's Note: Due to an anti-terrorism law passed in Italy in 2005, all passengers wishing to use the internet in a public facility must present an internationally recognized document (or a passport) to the establishment providing public communication services.
Best Overall Tour: The Rome City Tour is an all-day affair that includes visits to the Colosseum, the greatest architectural remnant of ancient Rome, and the Vatican, including the Bernini-designed Piazza San Pietro, magnificent St. Peter's Basilica, and the Vatican Museum, with its remarkable Sistine Chapel (bring binoculars). Also drive past such landmarks as the remains of the Roman Forum, Trajan's Column, the Arch of Constantine and the Circus Maximus. The tour may also include a short walk to see Trevi Fountain.
Best For Second-Timers: So you've seen Rome, but have you seen under Rome? Book a Countryside and Catacombs tour and see the underground maze of tunnels where early Christians practiced their religion in secret. Then visit the hills and countryside that surrounds the city. Your tour will follow the Apian Way, an ancient military road, as it passes farms, villas and palaces. You might even stop at a winery for aperitifs with the resident Count, and pause to see an extinct volcano.
Best Choice for "Da Vinci Code" Fans: Book a tour of Rome inspired by author Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons" ("Da Vinci Code" did not take place in Rome) and your guide will take you to the first Altar of Science (the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo) and the second Altar of Science (St. Peter's Basilica), and will point the way to the third Altar of Science (or at least give you a clue). The tour also includes the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Vittoria; Bernini's statue "The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa" (which provides direction to the fourth Altar of Science); the Pantheon and lunch at Piazza Navona; as well as the Bernini fountain that's the clue to the fifth you-know-what. And you also visit St. Angel's Castle, where the Illuminati held their secret meetings.
For More Information
On the Web: Rome Tourist Board
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Europe
The Independent Traveler: Europe Bargains and Features
--By Fran Wenograd Golden. Boston-based Golden, whose contributions to Cruise Critic include features, ship reviews and port profiles, is the travel editor of the Boston Herald and also co-author of "Frommer's Europe Cruises & Ports of Call."
All photos except Arco di Tito appear courtesy of the Italian Government Tourist Board.