Planning to travel to Italy in 2020? Then I have good news: The Revealed Rome Handbook, which has sold thousands of copies worldwide since it was first published back in 2012, has just been updated and published for 2020!
With more than 200 information-packed — but never overwhelming! — pages, it gives you all the tips and tricks for travel to Rome in one handy place. (At least, that’s what 80+ customer reviews from around the world say…).
It’s available for purchase as a print book or digital version on Amazon or through my site here. (NB: The print version on Amazon currently says “Updated for 2017-18”. This is incorrect and I’m working with Amazon to update it. It is indeed the 2020 version!).
Every once in a while, readers ask if I have any of my Italy photography for sale. I’m now very pleased to say that I do! I’ve opened a storefront on Redbubble, a premier website for all things photography. You can find canvas prints, posters and greeting cards of some of the many, many Italy photos I’ve taken over the years.
It’s a place where I can offer other gifts and goodies made out of my images, too. Here are some of my favorites so far:
A laptop case that will take you right out of the office and to the country roads of Tuscany:
The classiest bag for toiletries:
The prettiest clock featuring Rome’s rose garden in bloom:
Driving in Italy used to be something I found incredibly daunting. I was fine as long as I was in the passenger’s seat. But driving in Italy myself? Or by myself? Terrifying. And that’s coming from someone who will jump on pretty much any chance to do things like scuba diving, bungee jumping or paragliding.
It took me a long time to get over my fear… almost a decade, in fact. But I finally took a deep breath, rented a car and took my first trip, solo, last year. That was followed up by not one, but two more several-day road trips throughout Italy — from cities to countryside.
And you know what? It was fine. (With one caveat. More on that later…).
But knowing some key tips before I started driving in Italy definitely helped.
Whether you’re wondering what it’s like driving in Italy as an American (or Australian, or…), and whether it’s your first time driving in Italy or your tenth, here are answers to some of the most common questions I hear.
First things first: Should you drive in Italy?
If you’re planning on spending all of your time in cities, no. You don’t want a car in downtown Rome, Florence, Milan, etc (and you probably aren’t even allowed to drive one there — read on for more about why). And train connections between cities, and many towns, in Italy are very good — so it’s just not necessary and more of a hassle than it’s worth.
It’s if you want to explore beyond the city limits that it gets more complicated. It’s true that you can still take trains and buses to even rural towns in many parts of Italy. And for some people, that may be the best way to go. But you’re still limited.
I love staying at agriturismi (farm-stays) in the countryside, for example, and they’re usually all but impossible to get to without a car. Same for vineyards, hot springs and, really, many of the other things that make Italy’s countryside so special.
(While some towns will have taxi services from the train station, I wouldn’t rely on this; you’d have to book a taxi in advance. And then you’d be stuck at the agriturismo/vineyard/whatever until, of course, you hired a taxi again).
Sustainable tourism, particularly sustainable tourism in Italy, always has been a topic close to my heart. And while I know the phrase “responsible tourism” or “sustainable travel” sounds like a snooze, if you enjoy the places you visit, it’s so important. Being aware of how to be a “good” tourist is the number-one way we can all safeguard these places — not just for future generations, but heck, even for when we go back to them ourselves, whether in one year or five.
Over the years, I’ve found that one of the biggest surprises for first-time visitors involves whether you need to book restaurants in Rome.
Many of us, after all, are used to restaurants back home. Whether in the US, UK or Canada, unless you’re talking about a super-trendy or Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s often fairly easy to walk into a restaurant for dinner and get seated without much of a wait. It’s easy to assume that Rome is the same. Why shouldn’t you be able to walk into a humble trattoria on a Thursday evening and find a table?
Then there’s that all-pervasive myth about Italy: The idea that no matter where you eat, you’ll eat well. So even if you can’t get in to one place, the next place should be just as good. After all, the center of Rome is just teeming with good restaurants, right? And, of course, we all love that idea of “discovering” that perfect hole-in-the-wall spot — no research or reservations needed.
The problem? In Rome, none of this holds water. (Or wine, as the case may be…).
If anyone were to ask you “What is panettone?”, you’d say it’s pretty easy to answer: It’s that dry, bread-like cake, shaped like a dome, sort of tasteless, that pops up around Christmas and that supposedly nobody likes… right?
Last Christmas, I went to Milan to investigate where panettone comes for BBC Travel. I learned about the history of panettone, how it’s made and the traditions of how (and when) it’s eaten in Milan (and around Italy).
And, needless to say, I learned what all the fuss is about.
Spoiler alert: When it’s made properly — and good Lord, is it laborious to make properly — it is a completely. Different. Food.
No matter where you are in your trip planning, you probably have some idea of what to do in Rome… during the day. But what should you do in Rome at night time?
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Rome at night.
What to do in Rome at night when you… want to do as the locals do, part I
The funny thing about this question is that, in many ways, it’s surprisingly easy to answer. Trying to figure out how to fill your schedule between the time that the sites close and night falls and when you go to sleep? Go to dinner.
That might sound glib. It shouldn’t. Keep in mind that Romans tend to eat dinner at about 9pm — so much so that restaurants that cater to locals won’t even open until 8pm. They also tend to linger at dinner longer (and, for better or for worse, serving can be slower) — which means you’ll see many groups of friends, or couples, sit down at 9pm and not leave until 11pm or even midnight.
So, obviously, that’s one way to fill your time. (And if you really want to fit in, don’t forget to read up on Italian dining etiquette first).
Which may leave you with the opposite problem: If you aren’t eating until 9pm, what do you do from 6pm until 9pm?
There’s nothing like turning on Netflix and getting a surprise… one of the shows you were interviewed for a year ago has come out! If you have Netflix, catch me talking about Caesar (and, obviously, Cleopatra) on the new season of Roman Empire: Master of Rome. And stay tuned for next season… I may or may not have even more to say there.
Wondering what to see in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome? Good question. I talked about visiting the Jewish Ghetto — specifically in terms of when to go, what to expect and what makes its history so fascinating — before. But I didn’t go into exactly what to see in the Jewish Ghetto once you’re there.
The thing is, most people don’t come to Rome’s Jewish Ghetto with a long list of must-see sights in mind. After all, the Jewish Ghetto doesn’t have anything as well-known as, say, the Pantheon or Colosseum or St. Peter’s. Instead, people usually come to soak up the atmosphere, grab a bite to eat and then… carry on their way.
You could do that. But if you want to be a little more organized? Here are my six favorite sights to see in the Jewish Ghetto.
Theatre of Marcellus (Teatro di Marcello)
Also known to tourists as “that other Colosseum,” the Theatre of Marcellus is not the same thing as the Colosseum. The Colosseum was the home of vicious gladiatorial combat. The theatre of Marcellus? For plays, concerts and poetic recitals. Despite being more high-brow (and a bit less violent), though, this monument has a history almost as sad as the Colosseum. It was begun by Julius Caesar as a gift to the people (yay!), but left unfinished when Caesar wound up in a pool of blood about five minutes away (boo). Emperor Augustus, Caesar’s successor, finished it and dedicated the theatre in 13 BC to his nephew and son-in-law (noble families preferred to double up wherever possible). He was said to be a stand-up lad, beloved by Augustus, and was slated to be his successor (yay!)… until he fell ill and died at the age of 19 (boo). The theatre remained in use for several hundred years (yay!), until it was largely abandoned and became a quarry for other buildings by the end of the 4th century (boo).
Today, it’s been revived somewhat: People live in apartments on the upper floor (truly), while the sight itself hosts small concerts in the summer. You can’t go in during the day. But you still shouldn’t miss it. (As if you could!).
Portico of Octavia (Portico d’Ottavia)
Under scaffolding for ages, the Porticus Octaviae has finally been restored… hurrah! Its size seems impressive now, but when you see it, squint your eyes and try to imagine that these columns kept going: This is actually the fragment of a larger, colonnaded pathway that enclosed the temples of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina inside. It gets its name from Augustus’s sister, who it was dedicated to around 27 AD. And that brick archway might seem relatively new, but it actually was built in the 5th century, which destroyed the columns that were originally there.
If you’ve been researching a trip to Rome, at some point, you’ve probably heard about the Colosseum underground tour. (You may even have heard about it here… or even here). And if you haven’t visited before, you might be wondering: is the Colosseum underground worth it?
First, let’s talk about what the Colosseum underground actually is.
When people hear “underground” in Rome, they automatically think catacombs. But when it comes to the Colosseum, that’s not exactly — okay, not at all — the case. We’re not talking about a spooky cemetery; instead, we’re talking about a backstage area.
That’s right. Think of the Colosseum’s underground as where all of the work required to host these massive, bloody pageants really went on. It’s where gladiators waited for their turn to fight. It’s where the animals were caged. It’s where the mechanical lift (yes, you heard that right) was hoisted up to spring said gladiators and animals through hidden trap doors in the arena stand, stunning and, one would assume, impressing the crowd.