Driving in Italy: Tips for Your First Time (or Tenth)

Beautiful view in Italy for post on driving in Italy tips

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.

A rural road in Tuscany for driving in Italy tips post
Hotels like this are all but impossible to access without a car.

(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).

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What To Do in Rome When You’ve Done… Everything

What to do in Rome when you've done everything

Sometimes, I get a call from a client who needs help planning their second, third, even fourth trip to Rome. The issue isn’t that they need to know how to use Rome’s public transport, or where to eat, or whether to book the Vatican Museums in advance. What they want to know is if there’s anything to do in Rome when you’ve done… everything.

The good news: I always can help. And it’s not because I’m some kind of genius. It’s because you could spend years, even a lifetime, in Rome and never see everything the city has to offer. (I’d know). As much as it seems like you’ve checked off just about every item in your guidebook, I promise: You haven’t. There are always more fascinating, unique sights to see.

So whether you’ve already seen Rome’s main attractions — or you already have them in your itinerary and have more time to play with — here are some sights to add.

Yes, there’s much, much more to Rome than sights like the Pantheon… as beautiful as they are

Nota bene: I’m assuming you really have seen “everything in Rome” for this post, so I’m not including things that have been written about many, many times already, like the Colosseum underground, Borghese Gallery or even Basilica of San Clemente or Appian Way. My litmus test for this list was whether a visitor normally would have seen these attractions in their first three or even four trips to Rome (no!) — and whether I’d recommend that they do (yes!).

(PS: There’s so much you can do in Rome once you’ve done “everything”, this won’t be the only post like this. Stay tuned!)

What to do in Rome when you’ve done everything? Here are 10 more sights to explore:

Rome’s other “Central Park”: You’ve visited the lovely Villa Borghese and seen views of Rome from the Janiculum Hill and Garden of Oranges. What’s next? Monte Mario. Little-known to most visitors, this massive park (actually a nature reserve) is located on Rome’s highest hill just northwest of the city center — and has some extraordinary views of the city. (Also shown at top of post).

What to do in Rome when you've done everything -- Monte Mario park
Views from the little-known park of Monte Mario in Rome

The ancient world of Aventine Hill: If you’ve been reading Revealed Rome, you know I’m a big fan of ancient underground sites — and that many of them can be found beneath churches. One of my favorites, though, is the Church of Santa Sabina in the Aventine.

That’s not just because of the church’s underground, which includes 2nd-century homes and a 3rd-century shrine. It’s also because, even if you can’t access the underground (open only on pre-reserved tours), you can get a glimpse of how the ancient/early Christian world would have looked: this is one of the few churches in Rome that’s been left with its 5th-century structure largely intact.

The Church of Santa Sabina on Aventine Hilla
The ancient Church of Santa Sabina on Aventine Hill: stunning and often nearly completely empty
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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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Spending August in Rome? Plan Your Attack

Ferragosto in Rome
I've written before about ferragosto, the August holiday when shops shutter, restaurants close, and Italians flee for the hills (or beaches). 

But it's time for another reminder.

That's because I think there's a big misconception about ferragosto: Primarily, that it's only a couple of weeks long, and that it starts on Aug. 15. In reality? Every business owner (and family) decides when to take their holiday, and for how long. So I've seen closures ranging from mid-July to early August, from early August to early September, or for just a couple of days in mid-August. (The popular restaurant shown above, Checchino dal 1887, is closed from Aug. 5 to Sep. 3, for example). 

How much you'll be affected by ferragosto also depends, very much, on the neighborhood you're in. The area right around the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona continues to hum with activity. But center's more "authentic" quarters, particularly Monti, Testaccio, and Trastevere, are starting to feel like ghost towns. And since those tend to be where the city's best restaurants and most interesting shops are located, that's a challenge for travelers.

So if you have to come to Rome in August (or early September), be prepared to have a plan of attack.

Here's a good listing of restaurants open in August 2012 from Katie Parla and another from Tavole Romane, and here's a general guide to what to expect in Italy in August that I wrote for Walks of Italy. And, just so it's not all doom-and-gloom, here's a much more optimistic post from the lovely Kathy McCabe on why she actually likes traveling to Italy in August (crazy, Kathy, crazy!).

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Rome with Kids: 8 Ways to Make Sightseeing Fun (Or At Least Less Painful)

Traveling in Rome with children

Want your kid in Rome to look as happy as this one? Then you’ll need to do some planning…

Sightseeing with kids in Rome? The bad news: Because of their skew towards art, history, and archaeology, some of Rome’s sights can seem less than immediately child-friendly. The good news: There’s enough here to keep kids entertained and happy. If you do it right. Truly.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re sightseeing in Rome with children.

1) Make sure you don’t stand in any lines

Kids hate standing in line as much as adults do. They’re just (usually) worse at hiding it. So make sure you avoid the lines at the top sights. At the Colosseum, use a RomaPass or get your ticket at the Palatine or Forum entrance; at the Vatican, cough up the extra €4 (yes, per person) and book your Vatican museums tickets in advance.

2) Know the limits of thy stroller

Rome by stroller

Okay, these stairs to Santa Maria in Aracoeli might be a little tough with a stroller…

I’ve said it before: Rome is a city best explored by walking. That might be fine if you have a super-energetic 10-year-old. But traveling with a toddler? You’ll definitely want a stroller.

Just bear in mind that Rome is a city of cobblestones and ruins. Translation: Any stroller you bring should have nice, sturdy wheels. It should also be light, because you’ll sometimes wind up having to fold it up and carry it—at the Colosseo metro stop, for example (there’s no elevator, just stairs), or at your B&B or hotel (many have tiny elevators, or sometimes no elevator at all).

Also keep in mind that you won’t always be able to use your stroller. They’re forbidden in St. Peter’s Basilica, for example (you can check them before you enter). So it might be a good idea to also bring a backpack child-carrier.

One thing not to worry about? Getting strollers on and off buses and public transportation. Yes, it can be daunting—but you’d be surprised at just how many strangers will help you with the task.

How to travel with kids in Rome in a stroller

Make sure you have a sturdy stroller for all the cobblestones!

3) Hit up sights children will love

I promise that they exist. Some favorites:

Palazzo Valentini makes ancient Rome come alive in a way I haven’t seen in Rome before; because it’s very dark, which can scare little ones, it’s best for ages six and up.

I haven’t done this yet myself, but at Gladiator School, kids (and adults) can try their hand at being gladiators, donning their tunics and duking it out with foam swords. Talk about making history hands-on. Apparently, even toddlers can participate.

Exploring the “hidden” ancient ruins beneath Rome’s churches, like at San Nicola in Carcere or the Basilica of San Clemente, turns a church visit into an Indiana Jones-style adventure for older kids.

Underground in Rome with kids

The underground of San Nicola in Carcere

For children who like the creepier side of things, the catacombs are as spooky as they get. You’re lucky if you see a bone, though (most were cleaned out by relics-seekers and grave-robbers years ago), so for that, head to the Capuchin Crypts, where the walls and ceilings are decorated with bones and the actual bodies of the deceased on display.

The “Mouth of Truth” is pretty goofy—it’s a possibly-ancient marble image of a face that gained worldwide fame after Audrey Hepburn stuck her hand in in Roman Holiday. And there’s always a line in high season. But I know I dragged my dad there when I was 13.

These days, Piazza Navona is essentially a breathtaking tourist trap. But the square does buzz with street performers and caricaturists, making it a draw for families. And during Christmas season, it’s home to Rome’s most famous Christmas market.

5) Find the kid-friendly parts of more “adult” sights

Like at the Vatican museums. Which—let’s be honest—can be tough with kids: There aren’t many places to sit, eat, or go to the bathroom, and unless you sprint through the long halls, it’s tough to get in and out in less than two hours, minimum.

Given that, one part you don’t want to miss? The Egyptian section, which even displays a 3,000-year-old mummy with her hair and toenails still preserved. (Ew!).

6) But remember that (almost) anything can be made interesting to kids

Seeing art in Rome with kids

Raphael’s frescoes in the Chiostro del Bramante

I mean, yes, the finer points of Renaissance art are lost on most 6-year-olds. But there is always some way to bring it down to your child’s age level. (This is coming from someone who spent a childhood of being endlessly entertained in art galleries and historical museums. No, I’m not being sarcastic. And it’s due to my family, who seriously tried to always make sure I connected, somehow, with what I was looking at. Thanks, Mom!).

Case in point: Old Master paintings. Of saints. In a museum. Not something you’d assume was child-friendly. Right?

But maybe it can be. Maybe you can, say, find an art guide to the museum—a book in the bookstore, or even just the museum brochure—and your 7-year-old can try to find the “matches” of the images in the brochure with the paintings she sees on the wall.

Or maybe you and your 10-year-old can play a game of “name that saint,” since artists generally characterized different martyrs and saints in consistent ways (St. Jerome is usually old with a red hat and a lion nearby, St. Peter has the keys, St. Sebastian holds some arrows). Or maybe your 13-year-old will be intrigued by the gory stories of why the martyrs are depicted that way (St. Sebastian has arrows because… he was shot full of arrows during his martyrdrom!). Or maybe, if neither of you know, you can try to figure it out and retell what you think is going on in the painting.

Make anything child friendly in Rome

Make this Pinturicchio painting (in the Borghese Gallery) into a game of “Name That Saint”!

Or maybe you just give your kid a sketchbook and your whole family spends 20 minutes sitting and drawing in front of a painting that catches your eye.

Seriously. You can make almost anything fun. And when all else fails, well, there’s always that coloring book/iPhone game you brought along.

7) Think about taking a family-friendly tour

Telling stories about saints and martyrs is a lot easier when you know the stories. Oh, you don’t?

That’s when a tour guide comes in handy.

A great, enthusiastic tour guide can bring art and sights to life, for both adults and kids. In Rome, one sights where I think that’s an especially valuable option is the “ancient city,” i.e. the Colosseum Palatine and Forum. After all, there’s so much storytelling potential here: The history of these sights is full of blood and gore, treachery and romance, pagan rituals and horrible punishments. And (did I mention?) it’s all true!  

How to make the Roman forum child friendly

The forum: a little daunting for parents (and boring for kids) unless you plan it right

But if you don’t know the stories yourself, or if you have a dry audioguide, or guidebook, or tour guide, then all of that gets lost. And that’s a shame. So no matter what tour company you go with, just make sure their guides get top points for being exciting and enthusiastic.

I promise that after you’ve had a guide bring the ruins to life, your child will be psyched for the “ancient Rome” unit in school.

Another tour I’ve come across that’s perfect for kids is Walks of Italy’s Rome food tour with pizza-making class and gelato. Yes, these are the guys I used to blog for; they’re also the only tour company that offers a Rome food tour that includes not only tons of tastings and a market visit, but a hands-on pizza-making class. Pretty fun, especially for children.

8) Don’t discount Rome’s parks

In Rome with kids? Head to a park

The kid-friendly Villa Borghese

Rome’s parks offer, obviously, green space for kids to run around (or rest) in. And (bonus!) they often sneak in “cultural sites,” like ancient ruins or Renaissance villas, too.

If you’re near the Colosseum, for example, considering taking a rest or a picnic in the Villa Celimontana, a 16th-century estate turned public park that’s strewn with the remnants of ancient temples and palaces, including columns, statues and a temple altar. There’s even an ancient Egyptian obelisk inscribed to Ramses II from the 13th century B.C.

Near the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo? Head to the Villa Borghese, Rome’s answer to Central Park. It has fantastic museums, but also fountains, a (small) pond where you can rent boats, lots of shade, and the opportunity to rent those funny pedi-cabs you can pedal around the park. In Trastevere, the Villa Pamphili has plenty of space for little ones to run around.

Farther out, the Appian Way is a park where you can rent bicycles and bike along the 2,300-year-old Roman road, checking out spooky catacombs along the way. And the Park of the Aqueducts is a cool glimpse of how ancient Romans brought water into the city.


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Rome… For People Who Don’t Like Cities

Rome is definitely a city!
Not everyone's a city person. 

But lots of people want to come to Italy. And when they do, even those people who get hives from traffic and crowds, who break into a sweat taking public transportation or trying to cross a busy street, feel like they have to come to Rome. And I'll be honest: This city is so fantastic, that it's worth getting out of your comfort zone to see.

That said? You can experience Rome in a more tranquil, relaxed way—and there are parts of Rome worth seeing that don't even feel like a city at all.

Here, my top tips for how to fall in love with Rome… even if you don't like cities or crowds.

Come in the off-season

Spanish Steps in May, high season
Yes, Rome is, obviously, a city year-round. But in the high season—which runs from Easter to October, with the peak in June and July—it's particularly intense. Thousands of tourists flood the streets. The Sistine Chapel is shoulder-to-shoulder, while you practically have to steamroll people if you want to get close enough to the Trevi Fountain to toss in a coin. So if you're not a fan of crowds, take it from me: Come between late October and early March. The weather will be chillier (and probably rainier), but the major sites will be much, much quieter. (Above: The Spanish Steps in May, or the start of high season. Just imagine what they look like in July!).

Stay in a hotel that really feels like an escape

Donna Camilla Savelli hotel courtyard

In general, I strongly recommend that most people stay in Rome's centro storico. That's where you'll spend most of your time sightseeing, and even if hotels outside of the center seem more economic at first glance, the prices of taxis to and from them, or the time lost on public transport, will quickly nullify any savings.

But if you're not fond of cities or crowds, staying right in the heart of the center—in the Spanish Steps area, say, or Piazza Navona—can feel overwhelming. As soon as you step out the door, you'll be thrown onto a street busy with pedestrians and, in some cases, cars. So I recommend one of two things. 

First, stay in a hotel in the center… that's small, boutique, and feels like an escape from the city. Don't book one of Rome's many big or chain hotels, where you'll be surrounded by people from breakfast on. Instead, look for hotels like Babuino 181, which, while a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps, is discreet, private, and has a (just-opened) rooftop terrace where you can get a drink, relax in the sun, or read a paper in solitude.

Or, as your second option, stay in a hotel off the beaten path. Like at the sleek Fortyseven Hotel, tucked into the lovely, ruins-sprinkled Forum Boarium area; it's a 5-minute walk from Piazza Venezia, but since it's in the opposite direction from where everyone else goes, it feels like a hidden gem. Or at Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli, a 17th-century convent, built by famed architect Borromini, that's tucked into the Janiculum hill, just a 5-minute walk from Trastevere (at top, the hotel's courtyard). Or, for a budget option, the RetRome Colosseum Garden B&B, which, while a stone's throw from the Colosseum, is on a tranquil, residential street that few tourists wander up. Don't go too far—having to deal with too much public transport will just replace all of the stress you're trying to get away from—but remember that you don't have to. Just a short walk from the main sites in Rome can get you off the beaten path.

Enjoy Rome's great outdoors 

Villa Pamphili, a lovely park in Rome

While you might not realize it at first glance, Rome has a lot of green space. So if the sound of sirens makes you wince, make a plan for how you'll get back to nature. I've written about three of Rome's prettiest parks, including Villa Borghese (Rome's "Central Park"), Monte Mario, and Villa Pamphili, before. Others to check out include the wild-feeling and forested Villa Ada; next to the Colosseum, there's the small but lovely Villa Celimontana.

And I can't say enough how much a stroll down the Appian Way will make you feel like you've traveled back in time—and to a Rome of greenery and parks and bikes and ruins and rambling villas. City? What city?

Chill out in churches

Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Trastevere

No, not St. Peter's Basilica. Many of Rome's (other) churches are hidden gems, and you just might be the only person there.

Don't deal with lines

Bocca della Verita line

This is advice I'd give anyone, but if you're crowd-averse, pay particular attention. Don't go to the Vatican museums in the morning, avoid them on a Saturday or Monday, and never, ever go on the "free day" (the last Sunday of the month). Visit St. Peter's Basilica in the evening, rather than during the day.

And when going to the Colosseum, don't get in the always-absurd line stretching out front; get your combined Colosseum, Forum and Palatine ticket from the desks at the Forum or Palatine entrances. (Before 2pm, especially in the summer, these, too, can sometimes be long. Go in the afternoon, and remember that you can use your ticket—one entrance per site only—for 24 full hours, so if you only have time to visit the Forum before it closes, you can go back the next day for the Colosseum and Palatine. No waiting in line necessary). (Above, by the way, is the line for the Bocca della Verita, or "Mouth of Truth." Frankly, there's no way to skip this line… but this is also never necessary to wait in, unless you just can't leave Rome without that photo op).

Give yourself time to relax and people-watch

People-watching in the Jewish Ghetto

I find a city most feels like a city—in the stressful, chaotic, high-pressure sense of the word—when I'm rushing around and trying to do a million things at once.

So, when in Rome… don't. Build extra time into your schedule. Plan to sit at a cafe (although be very careful which cafe you choose, and steer clear of those on main piazzas or at tourist sites). Or do like the Romans do and relax over a nice, long lunch. In the evening, enjoy a stroll through the cobblestoned streets, gelato in hand.

And even if you're not a city person, you will fall in love with Rome. 

You might also like:

How Safe is Rome, Really?

The Best Gelato, and Best-Kept Secret, in Rome

Should I Use Public Transport? And Other Bus- and Metro-Related Questions

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Rome’s Most Roman Restaurant… But Forget the Checkered Tablecloths: Fraschetteria Brunetti

Fraschetteria Brunetti, Rome

When I first walked into Fraschetteria Brunetti*, a stone’s throw from Piazza del Popolo, I thought all of my senses were under assault.

If the bright-red walls and yellow tablecloths weren’t enough, they were covered in notes and hand-drawn pictures left by particularly appreciative (or drunk) clientele. Tables were jammed so closely together, and so packed—with people who kept jumping up and down to go out for smoke breaks or to call friends on their telefonini—that elbow-room wasn’t so much a commodity as something nobody had ever heard of, never mind required.

And then there was the noise. Want to have a conversation with your dining companion? Nah. Between the blaring pop and the equally-loud diners, you might as well be whispering at a discoteca.Diners at Fraschetteria Brunetti near Piazza del Popolo

If all of that sounds annoying… it was.

It was also completely, quintessentially—and, yes, endearingly—Roman.

Forget checkered tablecloths. If you want to experience “authentic Rome”—the Rome of young men shouting “OH, bell-ohhh” at their friends and of girls wearing Nike Airs and shiny jackets, the Rome of youth and fun and noise, of Romanaccio and worn-out, smoke-spitting scooters—then this is the place to come.

What’s that? The food, you say? You want me to write about the food?

Right. The food. In the celebration going on around me, I almost forgot to order. Never mind eat.

Pasta at Fraschetteria Brunetti in Rome

The food is… fine. There’s a cheap, fixed-price lunch menu from Mondays to Fridays—€9 for a primo, or for an antipasto and a secondo, each with a drink, coffee, and bread. Otherwise, an enormous antipasto of meats and cheeses came to €10; pastas are €10, and main courses €12—good prices for the area and for the amount of food (the portions were huge), less-good for the quality (granted, I did order a pasta with sausage and broccoli, but it was even greasier than I’d expected).

But perhaps the huge portions and the oiliness were all a part of the strategy. It seemed like at least three-quarters of the other diners were here to eat away their hangovers or, alternately, to keep the party going. (To be fair, it was early afternoon on a weekend. It might be far more staid on a weekday. Although the exuberant scrawls from former diners, hanging all over the restaurant, make me think it’s always like this).

Want to check the place out for yourself? Just make sure you bring your humor. After all, the Rome you’re diving into is “authentic”—but it might not be the one you’ve been picturing. And note: We did not receive a fiscal receipt here (just another way this place was super-Roman…). If you go, make sure you request a ricevuta fiscale.

Fraschetteria Brunetti is located at Via Angelo Brunetti 25b, right near Piazza del Popolo. Phone: +39 06 3214103.

*I’ve linked to the restaurant’s website for information’s sake, but I’m flabbergasted by the photos. Is that really what the place looks like without all the people packed inside? It’s almost… downright… sober-looking!

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The $10 Purchase That Can Save Your Italy Trip

Rome at nightRome looks peaceful at night… but looks can be deceiving.

First, let’s make one thing clear: I am a greedy sleeper.

Ask anyone who’s known me for a while, and they’ll tell you. Anything less than 8 hours of sleep and I become a grouch. That’s if I’m just sitting at home. If I actually have to do something—like move, think, write, or, worst of all, travel—then it’s simply impossible.

As well as annoying everyone around me, my underslept self is also one that could be in the most beautiful city in the world (like, say, Rome), and not even notice the little things that I moved here for, like the friendly barista at my local cafe wishing me “Buon giorno” (what do you mean, it’s a good morning) or the beautiful light on the Colosseum (ugh, what a *$&@!!!-ing tourist trap).

But here’s the thing. I may need more sleep than some most. But in not managing very well on a lack of sleep, I don’t think I’m that different from anyone else.

If you’re coming to Rome, I think that’s particularly important to keep in mind. After all, traveling can be stressful. Traveling in a city even more so. And traveling in a foreign city, one where you have to figure out everything from the local public transport system to how to order the kind of coffee you want? Still worse.

And for many people, the one thing that can dull your decisionmaking abilities, as well as your enjoyment of what’s going on around you, is not feeling physically up to snuff.

Making matters worse, it can be a little trickier to get a good night’s sleep in Rome than back home.

For one, if you’re not a city-dweller already, you might not be used to having such close neighbors. Even in that private-seeming apartment or B&B, you’ll be living practically on top of other Romans (above, the common sight of hanging laundry): I’ve written before about how common it is to hear everything from a babies’ cries to domestic spats while, say, cooking dinner.Romans tend to live on top of each other...

That’s exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the walls in Italian buildings just don’t seem to be as thick and soundproof as those back home. Many apartment buildings and hotels in Rome were previously structures that belonged to one family; when they were later turned into housing for more people, walls were thrown up to create separate living spaces. Needless to say, these often can be paper-thin.

Aside from the noise from inside the building, you have what’s going on outside to contend with. Rome is (duh) a (wonderful, fascinating, beautiful, chaotic) city. With lots of traffic. And people.

And forget noise-blocking double-glazed windows. Hardly any apartments, B&Bs or moderately-priced hotels have them. In fact, I’ve done a lot of writing about hotels lately—with another article on them upcoming—and I’ve been consistently surprised by just how few of even Rome’s luxury hotels have invested in double-glazed windows.

(Tip: If your hotel is on a main thoroughfare, like Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Via del Corso or Via Nazionale, or if it’s near an area known for late-night festivities, like Campo dei Fiori or Via San Giovanni in Laterano, ask about the windows. If they’re not double-glazed, ask for a room that doesn’t face the street. And invest in the $10 trip-saver that I’m getting to).

Typical apartments in RomeSo. All of this is to say: You could do as I’ve done many nights before, being awoken by anything from the person who lives upstairs who finds it necessary to walk in high heels across the wood floor at 3am, to the construction work that simply must start in the building’s courtyard at 7am, to the party on the street outside that continues to sunrise. Again, while these are the pitfalls of staying in an apartment or B&B, they’re more than possible at hotels, too—the last occurrence happened to me while staying at a nice business hotel in Naples two weeks ago.

Or… you could buy earplugs.

Foam ones work. My favorites, though, are wax earplugs, which (even though the idea is sound of gross) are great for molding right into your ear, and tend to fall out less. You can get them at any pharmacy in Italy (ask for “tappi per le orecchie”). Or, if you want to arrive prepared and have them for your flight, just in case you’re across the aisle from 3 screaming children under the age of 5 (…also something that happened to me two weeks ago), buy them before you go; you can even get these wax earplugs straight from Amazon.

You might not need them. But if you’re woken in the middle of the night by a sound that has no sign of stopping, you’ll kick yourself for not having thought of it earlier.

Finally <startrant/>: Please keep all of this in mind when you, yourself, are enjoying a late night in Rome. As annoying as the mysterious high-heeled person upstairs from me is, I’m also plagued, at least once a week, by groups of loud Americans and Brits staying in one of the building’s many makeshift B&Bs who think it’s appropriate to leave the windows open, play music, and have shouting conversations until the wee hours of the morning. On weekdays. Please, remember that not everyone else in Rome is on vacation <endrant>.

Happy sleeping… and happy traveling!

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Where to Eat in Rome’s Most Touristy Areas

The best restaurants right at Rome’s tourist sites, including near the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Colosseum.

Food at Palatium, a great restaurant near the Spanish Steps

I’ve said it before: When you’re looking for good restaurants in Rome, get thee away from the city’s tourist centers. The farther from the Colosseum, Pantheon, or Spanish Steps you are, the better and cheaper — in general — the food is going to be.

That said? Sometimes, after a day of sightseeing, your feet are just too tired, or your stomach too darn loud, to walk the extra 20 minutes, or wait for the bus, that’s required to wind up in a less hit-or-miss food zone like Testaccio. But that doesn’t mean all is lost.

Here, suggestions for where to eat in Rome’s most touristy locales. Even if they won’t all blow your mind (although some will), they’re reliably good food, good value, and within a 5-minute walk from the given site. (Just to make sure, I used the ever-objective Google maps to see how long “walking directions” took).

To help you visualize how close these really are to Rome’s major sites, here’s a helpful map of them all. Print it all out to save your feet, and your stomach, when you’re in Rome.

This post covers where to eat when you’re at the Spanish Steps, Colosseum, or the Pantheon. (Above: An awesome mozzarella-di-bufala-egg-combination thing from Palatium, a top spot near the Spanish Steps).

Look for an upcoming post on where to eat when at the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, or Piazza Navona!

Where to eat at… the Colosseum

Taverna dei Quaranta. Via Claudia 24, a 3-minute walk from the Colosseum. I didn’t quite believe it when a friend of mine said that this place was any good. But then I went. And it is. Despite being located just 2 minutes’ further down the road than all of the terrible, touristy places that directly overlook the Colosseum, Taverna dei Quaranta is a different story. The cacio e pepe here is fantastic, the spaghetti alle vongole tasted super-fresh, and a pasta alla norma (with eggplants, tomato and salted ricotta) decided my next return for me. The restaurant also offers traditional Roman secondi (oxtail, fried baccalà), a pizza menu, and, my friend says, a kick-ass tiramisu. At about €8 for a pasta, the prices are also good for the area. +3906 7000550, www.tavernadeiquaranta.com/en. Open for lunch and dinner daily.

Pizza from Trattoria Luzzi, a good restaurant near the Colosseum

Trattoria Luzzi. Via di San Giovanni in Laterano 88, a 5-minute walk from the Colosseum (and a 1-minute walk from the Basilica of San Clemente). As I’ve written before, Luzzi isn’t the best food you’ll eat in Rome — but it is some of the cheapest and, thanks to its nutty waiters, the most fun. Its amatriciana or fettucine alla bolognese are reliably okay… and both set you back just €5.50. The pizza (above) is also very good, although don’t order it at lunch: The official pizza chef isn’t on then, so what comes out instead is a sad excuse for a Roman pie. Another bonus? Unlike many of the places in this quarter, the guys at Luzzi don’t try to screw you. That said, I’ve noticed more complaints about rudae service at Trattoria Luzzi, and had one bad experience so far myself — but it seems always to be from people sitting indoors, and at dinner only. For the best experience, grab an outside seat. +39 06 7096332‎. Open for lunch and dinner every day except for Wednesday.

Li Rioni. Via dei SS. Quattro Coronati 24, a 5-minute walk from the Colosseum (and a 2-minute walk from the Basilica of San Clemente). One of Rome’s better pizzerias, this is also a local favorite, a place that’s filled (and loud) with Italian families and babies by 9pm. (Come at 7pm, of course, and you’ll see mostly tourists). The pizzas are how Romans do them — crispy, thin and piled with fresh ingredients — and cheap, to boot.The service can be a little spotty, especially on busy Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, but it’s all part of the fun. The name “Li Rioni,” by the way, comes from the fact that the pizzeria is right on the border of two of Rome’s famed rioni, or quarters — Monti and Celio. +39 06 70450605. Open for dinner only every day but Tuesday.

Where to eat at… the Spanish Steps

The Via della Croce pastificio (lunch only). Via della Croce 8, a 1-minute walk from the Spanish Steps. Time your sightseeing to land you in the Spanish Steps area between 1pm and 2pm, and lunch is all set. That’s because that’s when a pasta shop, located a stone’s throw from the famous staircase, starts offering “samples” — i.e., big trays — of hot, handmade pasta. The price, with water and wine included? Just 4 euros. Check out my previous blog post on the Spanish Steps pasta shop for more info. Open for lunch every weekday.

Palatium, a great restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome

Palatium. Via Frattina 94, a 5-minute walk from the Spanish Steps. I’ve sung the praises of Palatium elsewhere before, and with good reason. A foodie favorite, Palatium is run by the Lazio Regional Food Authority—which, while it might not sound sexy, means that all of the ingredients are home-grown in Rome’s Lazio region. The menu, which changes frequently, features Rome favorites with a twist, like ricotta-and-mint ravioli. The prices are great for the quality, with pastas around €10 and mains €15. Just keep in mind that this isn’t your traditional, checkered-tablecloth trattoria (photo above). +39 06 69202132, reservations recommended. Open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday.

Enoteca Antica. Via della Croce 76, a 3-minute walk from the Spanish Steps. This isn’t the best value you’ll find in Rome, but it is one of your best bets if you don’t want to stray from the Spanish Steps (if you can’t get in at Palatium, that is). A wine bar and restaurant, the atmosphere is lovely, there’s outdoor seating, the food ranges from fine to good, and the prices aren’t terrible. Just make sure you double-check your bill: Several recent clients have noted that staff has been sneaking in higher prices than the menu calls for. Never hesitate to point out any mistakes you see, and to be firm. +39 6 6790896. Open for lunch and dinner every day.

Where to eat at… the Pantheon

The torta at Armanda al Pantheon, a good restaurant at the Pantheon

Armando al Pantheon. Salita de’ Crescenzi 31, less than a minute’s walk from the Pantheon. Since 1961, Armando’s has been serving up traditional, Roman dishes right next to the Pantheon — and he’s been making it in the guidebooks, too. The constant mentions of Armando’s make it all the more surprising that both the food, and prices, remain good. Look for pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas) on Fridays, and don’t miss the damn-good torta antica Roma (above) to finish everything off. +39 06 68803034. Open for lunch and dinner all week except for Saturday night and Sunday.

Trattoria da Gino. Vicolo Rosini 4, a 5-minutes’ walk from the Pantheon. Hidden on a side street north of the Pantheon, near the Parliament building, da Gino is authentic Roman cuisine at its best. The handmade pastas are excellent, as is the antipasto spread. Since it’s a tiny place and a favorite of locals, make reservations if you can. +39 06 687 3434. Open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday. 

Trattoria da Ugo e Maria. Via dei Prefetti 19, a 5-minute walk from the Pantheon. Don’t expect a big sign welcoming you to this no-frills, family-run restaurant: The only sign says “Trattoria,” and the curtains and door are often closed. Enter, though, and you’re walking into an authentic Roman experience. The hand-written menu changes daily, pastas are handmade and prices are moderate (about €8 for a pasta). +39 06

6873752. Open for lunch and dinner every day, except Saturdays and Sundays.
If you liked this post, 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! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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The Colosseum Opens at Night

Colosseum at night
We'll add it to the list of cool ways to see the Colosseum: The Colosseum is now open at night.

Every Saturday until September 17, the Colosseum will be open from 8:20pm to midnight. (Last entrance is at 10:45pm). It costs €18 to visit the Colosseum and the Colosseum's "Nero" exhibition, or €23 to also visit the Colosseum underground, with a guide. To book, call +39 0639967700. For more information (in Italian), click here.

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