Sweet relief — in the form of homemade, artisanal gelato — has just come that much closer for those sightseeing in the Colosseum area. Right across from the entrance to the Roman forum, on Via Cavour, is “Flor,” Rome’s newest gelateria.
Flor just opened in the last month, and I’ve already taken (several) tastings. The good news: It’s definitely good gelato. And it’s made fresh on-site, always a absolute must huge plus. It’s also a welcome addition to an area that previously, Sicilian pastry and ice cream shop Ciuri Ciuri aside, didn’t have very many gelato options at all, never mind artisanal ones.
That said, it’s not the best gelato I’ve ever tasted. Some of the flavors don’t have as much “kick” as I’d like, particularly the fruity ones (is pear really that hard to turn into gelato? Because time after time, I find gelaterias failing to deliver on their pear flavors). But others are definitely worth trying. My two favorites: the variegato all’amarena, a mix of creamy vanilla and cherry, and the fondente, a super-rich dark chocolate.
Even if it’s not Rome’s best gelateria, Flor is still pretty darn good. Oh, and they have 3-euro milkshakes, too. You can bet I’m going back soon to try one.
Flor. Located at the bottom of Via Cavour, just above where it meets Via dei Fori Imperiali, on the left. I’ll go back soon for the proper address, but if you head up Via Cavour from the Roman forum entrance, you can’t miss it.
From now until April 17, Italy’s state-run museums and sites are free. (Yay!) In Rome, that includes the Colosseum, Forum, Palazzo Massimo, Galleria Borghese (where you can find Raphael’s beautiful “Entombment,” above) and Baths of Caracalla… to name a few. Take advantage!
In the days of the Roman empire, you never would have been able to enter the House of the Vestal Virgins — unless you were one of the six chosen women, that is, or the Pontifex Maximus, Rome's religious leader who oversaw the cult.
Now? You can stroll right in.
After a long restoration, the House of the Vestal Virgins is open for visitors. No special status needed. (It's in the forum, so the normal forum/Colosseum/Palatine ticket gets you in).
It's a neat opportunity to access one of ancient Rome's most historic, and much-mythologized, cults. The Vestal Virgins likely dated all the way back to the Etruscans in the 8th century B.C.; they hung on right up until Theodosius, who had abolished pagan cults in 391, forcibly shut down their temple three years later.
But they weren't just any pagan cult. They were one of ancient Rome's most important… and elite. A Vestal was picked between the ages of 6 and 10 — largely for her beauty — and committed to 30 years of service: ten years learning the rituals, ten actively serving, and ten tutoring the new priestesses. Throughout that time, she had two big responsibilities. She had to tend Rome's sacred fire. And she had to guard her virginity. If either was extinguished, it was thought, Rome would fall. (In return for this sacrifice, a Vestal was one of the most powerful women in Rome, allowed to own her own property, make her own will, and intercede on any prisoner's behalf).
That's why the punishment, if they did screw up (…or screw around), was so severe. "Vestals who are guilty of lesser misdemeanors are scourged with rods," wrote Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the first century B.C. "But those who have suffered defilement by unchastity are delivered up to the most shameful and miserable death."
The method? Being buried alive. Eek.
(It's worth noting, though, that this terrible punishment only happened 18 times throughout the Vestals' 900-year tenure — and almost always in times of great political upheaval, making blaming-the-Vestals probably a last-ditch effort to restore normalcy in a time of crisis).
Now, though, you don't have to take a 30-year vow of virginity in order to visit the House of the Vestals. Just stroll right in. The version you see today (above) dates back to the 2nd-century. (The fire that wracked Nero's Rome also destroyed the earlier house in 64 A.D.!)
As with the rest of the forum, of course, you have to use your imagination to picture what this house would once have looked like. Historians say it was up to 4 stories tall, its rooms were spacious, its decorations opulent. Evocatively, though, some of the original statues of vestals still remain, lining the courtyard.
There's not quite enough here to make a trip to the forum just for this. But if you're in there anyway, or haven't paid a visit to Rome's forum in a while, then don't miss it.
If you’ve booked your trip to Rome over Christmas, a couple of things normally happen. First, there’s elation. And then there’s an, “Oh no. What’s open on Christmas in Rome? Is anything open on Christmas in Rome?”
There’s reason to wonder. Many Romans do leave the city for their family homes over the holidays. Even so, there are still plenty of people left in this city of 3 million. Here’s what is open on Christmas in Rome… and what won’t be. (New Year’s, too). (For more tips and tricks, don’t miss my ultimate guide to Christmas in Rome!).
Will sites and museums be open during Christmas in Rome?
While some museums and sites will remain open even on Christmas Day and New Year’s, most of the biggies will be shut. The forum, Colosseum and Palatine will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, for example, but open every other day as usual, including Dec. 24.
The Vatican’s a tougher one: The Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel are closed on Dec. 8, Dec. 25, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1. They’re also closed every Sunday in December and January, as usual, except for the last Sunday of each month, when they are open and free.
Will the bus and metro be running over Christmas in Rome?
Yes. Often, the city even has an expanded service on Christmas Eve until the early afternoon. Service tends to end at about 9pm that night, though, and cabs are in very short supply, so if you need to be somewhere, give yourself lots of time to get there. On Christmas Eve, walking will probably be your best bet, so dress warmly!
Will restaurants be open on Christmas and New Year’s?
Most restaurants will be open every day except for Dec. 24, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1. Some others might close on Dec. 8, Dec. 31 and Jan. 6.
But many places will also be open on even those holidays themselves, including both classic Italian favorites and the kosher restaurants in the Ghetto. Just remember to book in advance.
Throughout December and January, yes. However, most shops will close early on Christmas Eve and will not be open on Christmas Day. Other days some might be closed or have shorter hours include Dec. 8, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1.
Finding this helpful? Then you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City,available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here and now updated for 2020!
If you want the saldi, you’ll have to wait — usually, these after-Christmas sales kick off throughout Lazio on the third Saturday of January.
And what about churches?
Ah, churches! They will, of course, be open on Christmas; many will offer mass at the same time they’d usually have their Sunday service. If you’re interested in attending mass, check with the church in advance. Otherwise, you’re fine to visit most churches as usual, being, of course, particularly respectful and refraining from taking flash photographs if a service is going on. And don’t forget to check out the church’s presepio (Nativity scene) — a particularly Italian handicraft (see below) that is only on display this time of year.
On Sunday, September 26, On Saturday and Sunday, September 25-26, every state-run museum and site in Rome, and across Italy, will be free — including such big-time sites as the Colosseum, Borghese gallery, and Capitoline museums (shown above).
But free entrance is far from the only perk. Many sites are offering (mostly free) events. And those events sure do range. They include:
“Twenty-Four Hours of Rome,” a mountain-bike endurance contest in which masochists bikers pedal the same 7.5km course for 24 hours straight, starting at noon on Saturday
I beg you, as much as I’d love to see a Nordic-Walking mountain-biker who’s spouting modern art knowledge and staggering from too much kosher wine, please don’t do all four of these in one weekend.
The events and free entrances are all part of European Heritage Days, which the Council of Europe launched in 1991 to promote European art and culture. And while it’s exciting, do keep in mind that at the highly-trafficked sites (like the Colosseum), lines are likely to be looong. Let me repeat that: looong.
So unless it’s worth it to you to stand in a 3-hour line to save €12, I’d recommend hitting up the lesser-known galleries, instead. Think: the Palazzo Barberini (which just unveiled its refurbished archaeological wing and newly-restored Pietro da Cortona fresco), the Palazzo Massimo with its incredible archaeological collection, the MAXXI with its modern art and cutting-edge architecture…
The list goes on, so take advantage! It’s not every day that you can do so much, while spending so little. At least in Rome.
For the past eight years, Jason Spiehler has been a top name in the world of Rome walking tours, written up by both Rick Steves and the New York Times. Now, he’s started a company that focuses on offering tours by well-informed, passionate guides of Italy’s top sites. In Rome, that includes not just the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica, but gems off the beaten path — like tours of the Galleria Borghese, the catacombs, and the city’s finest small churches.
(Full disclosure: I work for this company. But hey, I think that means I know the quality of our guides and the work that’s put in pretty well, too!).
The company just launched a website, www.walksofitaly.com, giving full information about all of the tours offered. So far, they cover Rome, Florence, and Pompeii. One top seller is the “Pristine Sistine” tour, which takes visitors into the Sistine Chapel first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrive. Another neat feature: All of the private tours give you the option of having “add-ons,” like another half-hour on the Palatine Hill or in the Imperial Forums. Convinced your tour’s the right one? You can book immediately online. Still have questions? You can shoot the tour coordinator, Linda, an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, call, or even Skype.
Okay, enough plugging for one day. But seriously. Check out the website. I know I’m biased, but I still think it looks pretty good.