For the Globe and Mail, the Ancient Town of Taormina, Sicily

Taormina Sicily
"The ancient Greek theatre of Taormina, Sicily, was designed with serious drama in mind – and not just the costumed kind. Perched 250 metres above the Ionian Sea, the amphitheatre’s 360-degree view encompasses the still-active Mount Etna, the sparkling Mediterranean, the medieval village of Castelmola and, of course, Taormina itself.

From here, the town’s pastel palazzi and pretty cathedrals spread across the lush hillside like icing on a cassata siciliana, a traditional Sicilian cake.

It’s hard to look away—or say goodbye. Which is why I’ve come back to the town for a second time."

Read the rest of my story on the ancient seaside town—out in today's issue of the Globe and Mail newspaper—online here.

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Rome in Summer: Is Rome Hot? (And How to Deal)

Rome in summer
No matter how hot it gets in Rome, please don’t jump into the Trevi Fountain. Okay?

When it comes to Rome in summer, let’s get back to basics: what the weather in Rome in June, July, August, and September is really like… and how to deal.

In this first installment of the Rome summer guide, you’ll find out about some surprising ways to beat the heat, why Rome’s water fountains are freakin’ awesome, which of Rome’s sights have nada shade, why dressing skimpily isn’t always the answer, and—of course—what that heat is a great excuse for (hint: it comes in a cup or a cone…).

Want to survive enjoy Rome in summer, at the height of its temperatures? Read on!

What to know about summer weather in Rome (caution: heat ahead)

Rome in summer? Hot? Um, yes (at least for this New England girl). Rome’s average temperature in both June and September reaches a high of 81° F. The heat peaks in July, with a high of 88° F. And August isn’t much cooler, at 87°.

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A Few of My Favorite Places in Rione Monti, for National Geographic Traveler

Monti article for Nat Geo Traveler
It's no secret that I adore Monti, the ancient rione a stone's throw from Rome's Colosseum and forum. Want to find out why? Pick up the April issue of National Geographic Traveler (that's the U.S. version of the magazine), where I've written about some of the area's hidden gems and hottest spots—from an ancient basilica to an artisanal gelateria. Here's a sneak peek, but when the article goes live online, I'll share it here, so check back. (Update, March 17: You can now read the story about Monti online!).

And stay tuned for news of an article on another fantastic Rome neighborhood, for another great travel magazine, coming soon. (What can I say, I hate to play favorites).

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Chatting About Underground Rome on the How to Tour Italy Radio Show

Colosseum-underground-web
The Colosseum underground, one sight we talk about on the How to Tour Italy radio show

I was back on the How to Tour Italy radio show with Anthony Capozzoli today, talking about one of my favorite subjects, Rome’s underground sites.

Got a half-an hour? That’s enough time to get the low-down on my top four underground sights, including the Basilica of San Clemente, Catacombs of Santa Priscilla, Palazzo Valentini, and hypogeum of the Colosseum. Enjoy!

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The Most Romantic Places in Rome

The most romantic places in Rome

Looking for romance in Rome—whether you’re traveling here for Valentine’s Day, a honeymoon, or maybe even (!) to propose? You’re in luck.

No, I can’t promise you’ll meet the dark-eyed love of your life here. But if you’re already traveling with your sweetheart, you’re golden: Rome has to be one of the most romantic cities around.

Of course, lots of people tend to think that the most romantic spots are also the most famous (the Trevi Fountain, say, or the Spanish Steps). Call me jaded, but I think the 24/7 crowds and pushy rose-sellers kind of suck the romance out of them.

The most romantic places to propose or honeymoon in Rome

Want to find a spot that’s a little more tranquil… where you can actually grab a moment to yourself? Here are a few of my favorite, off-the-beaten-path romantic places in Rome. 

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Now, Buy Skip-the-Line Colosseum Tickets Online—On Pierreci’s Sexy New Site

Buy skip the line Colosseum tickets onlineGood news for those hoping to dodge the line at the Colosseum and Roman forum: Now, you can buy skip-the-line tickets directly from Pierreci, in advance.

Before, your options for skipping the line at the Colosseum were as follows. First, you could go to the ticket desk at the forum or Palatine hill to get your combined Colosseum/forum/Palatine ticket; although this usually worked, it wasn't always foolproof (when friends visited this spring, we went to the Palatine window at noon and still had to wait for a half an hour). Second, could go through a third-party ticket-sales service online, which added a hefty booking fee. Or, third, you could book a tour with a reputable tour company (still something I recommend, since fully appreciating the scandalous, salacious stories behind Rome's ancient ruins can be tough on your own).

But now? It's even easier. Just go to Pierreci's new ticket booking portal for the Colosseum, scroll down to where it says "Purchase your ticket," and choose your option—online or (whooooa) by iPhone. (For the iPhone option, you have to download Pierreci's app).

Once you've reserved, you can either jot down the code and bring it to the reservation desk, or print your ticket off yourself. Either way, you don't have to stand in that absurd line wrapping around Rome's most depressing most popular sight.

It's €1.50 extra, per person, to reserve your ticket. The ticket itself is the same €12 combo job (forum, Palatine and Colosseum) that they've had for a couple of years now.

As an aside, Pierreci's new website is really, really slick. Is this a sign that Rome's tourism is emerging from the Dark Ages?

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Three Top Sights in Rome… That Must Be Booked in Advance

At the Borghese, which must be reserved

Want to see Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love"? Then you have to book your spot

For some of the best sights in Rome, you don't need to worry about reservations, or tickets, or a booking. You can waltz right into the Pantheon, explore Rome's lovely small churches, or gawk at Rome's archaeological treasures in the Palazzo Massimo without so much as a booking.

But some of Rome's coolest experiences do need to be planned in advance. How you'll get into the Colosseum or Sistine Chapel without standing in a 3-hour line, for example. (More on that in a future post). And some actually need to be booked.

Yes, you heard me. In the land of la dolce vita and 2-hour lunch breaks, there are tourist sights you can't get into unless you have a reservation.

And here they are.

St. Peter’s tomb

The necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica—which includes what’s thought to be the tomb of St. Peter—makes a super-cool visit for anyone, not just pilgrims. The ancient tombs here are both pagan and Christian, many still with elaborate mosaic decoration; it gives you a great idea of what a 1st-century, above-ground cemetery would have looked like.

But because the archaeological site is delicate, only 250 visitors can enter per day, on tours only, and must book in advance. Note that visitors also must be at least 15 years old.

To book, email scavi@fsp.va or fax +39 0669873017. You also can ask at the Excavations Office when you’re in Rome, but because these tours tend to book out weeks ahead of time, I wouldn't wait until then to do so. Make sure to include the number of participants, names, which language you need, how to contact you, and the period when you’re available to attend.

Borghese Gallery

Borghese Gallery must be booked in advance

The Borghese Gallery, which must be booked in advance

This is my favorite art museum in Rome, and it’s absolutely a must-see. To keep it a pleasant experience, however (and to protect the art), the museum limits the number of people who can be inside at any one time. Entrances are at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 5pm, daily except Monday. Book at least a week in advance in high season.

To book, either go to galleriaborghese.it and click on “Tickets reservations” or call +39 0632810. There is a €1.50 surcharge per ticket for booking online. You also can automatically get a reservation by booking a tour with a reputable tour company.

Palazzo Valentini

Palazzo Valentini
If the Borghese is my favorite art museum, this is my favorite ancient, underground site. (Although that sounds quite specific I can assure you that, in a city chock-full of them, it’s not!). Smack in the center of Rome, not far from the Forum, the 16th-century palazzo sits on top of two opulent, ancient Roman villas. An (enthusiastic! and dramatic!) automated tour takes you through them as—drumroll, please—light shows “recreate” what they would have looked like.

You can book online at palazzovalentini.it (just make sure you pick an English, “inglese,” tour!). Or you can call +39 0632810, or make an appointment in person. However, particularly in high season or if you have limited time, I’d recommend booking this at least a week in advance.

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How Should I Schedule My Sightseeing in Rome?

Not everything’s open every day in Rome. The Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel close one day a week; so do lots of favorite restaurants and shops.

So when planning your trip to Rome, it pays to have a basic idea of what day in the week is best for which sight or activity. Here’s help. (In the form of a “rhyme.” Move aside, Shakespeare Keats Dr. Seuss Eddie Mannix).

And here it is… in video form!

Dreaming of the Sistine Chapel? Then don’t go on a Sunday

Vatican museums, closed Sundays

You’ll also be out of luck if you were hoping to see the School of Athens.

The Vatican museums (which include the Sistine Chapel) are open every day but Sunday. On the last Sunday of the month, they are open and free, but it’s not something I recommend if you value your vacation time; the line is often three hours or more (and you can’t book a ticket in advance on the Vatican website). St. Peter’s Basilica is open daily; on Sunday, the Pope appears at 12pm to an audience on the square, and on Wednesday, he has his general audience at 10:30am.

Best time to go to the Vatican: Wednesday morning, as the museums tend to be emptier while the Pope does his audience; otherwise, Tuesdays, Thursdays or Fridays, since Saturday and Monday tend to be crowded with people who would have gone on Sunday.

And stay away from smaller churches—at least if it is midday

Most churches are open daily in Rome. However, many of the more off-the-beaten-path churches also close midday, some for as long as from 12pm to 4pm, so always check. On Sunday, remember that they may be holding Mass and more ceremonies than usual, which can make it more difficult (or forbidden) to walk around to sightsee. 

Best time to go: Morning or evening, except for Sundays (unless you want to see Mass).

On Monday, many museums are a no-go

Palazzo Massimo, closed Mondays

Palazzo Massimo, closed on Mondays

Most of Rome’s best museums close on Mondays, but are open every other day of the week. These include the Borghese GalleryPalazzo BarberiniPalazzo MassimoCrypta BalbiMAXXICastel Sant’Angelo, and the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Best time to go: Tuesday through Friday; weekends tend to be more crowded than weekdays (not that that’s much of a problem at some of these places, like the Crypta Balbi).

While for lots of restaurants, it’s the day of riposo

Many of Rome’s restaurants have one “day of rest,” even though this is no longer government-mandated. This day is typically—but not always—Monday, and sometimes Sunday for lunch and/or dinner as well (particularly for restaurants that are more elegant or upscale; since Sunday is a big pizza night, pizzerias are usually open Sunday). Some restaurants, like popular Da Francesco near Piazza Navona, close Tuesday instead.

Best time to show up without a reservation or calling in advance: Wednesday or Thursday. Popular places tend to have a wait on Friday or Saturday nights, and if you’re heading somewhere on a Monday, you’ll want to call in advance (or look it up) to make sure they’re open. 

There is a catacomb open every day (phew!)

Luckily, no matter what day you’re planning on going, at least one catacomb will be open. Just make sure it’s the right one! The catacombs of St. Sebastian close on SundaySanta Priscilla closes Monday, St. Domitilla closes Tuesday, and St. Callixtus closes Wednesday. They also close on most major holidays and over the lunch hour, so double-check the hours on the websites.

Best time to go to the catacombs: When they’re open—and not on the weekend, which tends to be more crowded.

And the Colosseum and forum are open daily, too

Rome's ancient sights open every day

Rome’s ancient forum

Most of Rome’s most famous ancient sights are open daily, including the Colosseum, forum, Palatine, and Pantheon (although the Pantheon does close slightly earlier on Sundays, at 6pm rather than 7:30pm). The Baths of Caracalla also open daily (but close at 2pm on Mondays).

Best time to go: Anytime—although to avoid lines and crowds at the Colosseum and forum, opt to either be there first thing in the morning (i.e. 8:30am), or later in the day (many people clear out by 3pm).

And shops can be tough on Sunday, unless they’re big and new

Shops in the heart of Rome’s center—particularly on Via del Corso, around Piazza Navona, and near major sights—are open every day. Especially the chains. (But we know how I feel about those). More interesting and better Smaller shops, which don’t have the staff to open daily, tend to close one day a week; for many, this is Sunday. Lots of them stay closed through Monday morning. Many of the smaller stores also close midday, like churches.

Best time to go shopping: Monday through Saturday, outside of lunchtime; to avoid shopping crowds in high-trafficked areas, try not to shop in the evening or on weekends.

 

Want more tips about what to do in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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