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Things to do in Roma

11 Feb
I am frequently asked for ideas on what to do in Roma. After all, we have people house-and-cat-sitting all the time, often for 2 or 3 weeks. And living here, we certainly have to get beyond the usual suspects.
Embedded in the steps of the Great Hall of Galleria Colonna, this cannon ball dates back to the Risorgimento.

Embedded in the steps of the Great Hall of Galleria Colonna, this cannon ball dates back to the Risorgimento.

Everyone knows the Colosseum and Vatican, and probably the Galleria Borghese. While these should not be missed, there are many other lesser-known sights to consider. You might also enjoy reading my blog on the subject of off-the-beaten-track ideas.

Palazzi, museums, events, and exhibits

From April-November 12, 2017, there are once again special events in the Forums, a guided walk through Caesar’s Forum at night, and a multi-media show in the Forum of Augustus. You can find info at Viaggio nei fori. There’s nothing like a lovely outing after dark on a warm summer night. Take a break during the heat and head out after an early dinner for these events. I would do both, if not necessarily on the same night. If you have trouble reserving online, do not hesitate to call. They speak English.
Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini is not the usual Roman ruin. Everyone we send here says it is one of the best things they did in Roma. Beneath a government building in the center of Roma, just off Piazza Venezia, are the excavated ruins of a Roman palazzo. You walk across a Plexiglas floor to view them, enhanced with a multimedia presentation to illustrate what things looked like 2000 years ago. Only three English tours daily so be sure to reserve online in advance.
Hard-hat tour of Nero's

Hard-hat tour of Nero’s “Golden House,” the Domus Aurea.

Domus Aurea, Nero’s Golden Palace. Who can resist? It is legendary, although the goldenness is long gone. The restoration project is ambitious given the size. Visit the website and click on “Opening Hours.” Be aware, it is cold underground and even in summer you’ll need a jacket!
We went to Villa Torlonia a couple of years ago on a sunny February Sunday and enjoyed it very much. Recent guests told us that more has been done and one can even visit Mussolini’s bunker from WWII. The entrance fee to see all of the buildings is a little expensive, IMHO, but worth seeing for architecture buffs. La Casina della Civette is quite unique.  The Mussolini Bunker is priced separately from the main buildings.
Villa Torlonia

La Casina delle Civette at Villa Torlonia, a curious mix of styles.

Galleria Colonna  is only open on Saturday mornings with an English tour at noon. We went early and had a wander around, then took the tour. Lovely private collection in an amazing building. The Colonnas are an ancient Roman family and members still live in the palazzo in private apartments. We have not been to the Princess’ Apartments, but British friends said they were great, so we need to go back.
Palazzo Farnese, the French Embassy to Italy. This is an historic building with Michelangelo’s art and frescoes worth straining your neck to see. English tours only on Wednesday at 17:00 and you must reserve a few weeks in advance for security reasons.
Villa Medici

Niobe suffers from hubris and loses al of her children. Gardens of Villa Medici.

Villa Medici, the French Art Academy in Roma. No reservations required. Just show up at Noon, Tue-Sun. You will see what the gardens of a Renaissance Roman villa night have looked like.
The Palazzo delle Esposizioni has special art exhibits that are usually worthwhile. Recently we saw French Impressionists from the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Very busy Sundays when Roman families seem to flock to museums. 
Palazzo Braschi Museo di Roma near Piazza Navona is an under-visited, very tranquil museum. Cool on a warm day and certainly a respite from the rain should that occur. Featuring art depicting Roma in days gone by.
The massive staircase at Palazzo Braschi was like an Escher painting.

The massive staircase at Palazzo Braschi is like an Escher painting.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj in the historic center is also under-appreciated. It is yet another private collection in the old family digs. The collection includes Bernini, Caravaggio, Tiziano, Raffaello, and several Flemish Old Masters. The audio guide is excellent.
The Quirinale, the President’s Palace. Only recently opened for regular tours, thanks to President Sergio Matterella. Previously it was the Papal Palace (pre-Vatican days) and also housed four kings of Italy. Like visiting the White House, but security is less stringent and it’s fancier.
Riding the moving ramp down at Eataly. This is a huge place, built in what was an abandoned air terminal.

Riding the moving ramp down at Eataly. This is a huge place, built in what was an abandoned air terminal.

Eataly has two locations, a small one in Piazza della Repubblica, and the Mother Ship near Stazione Ostiense. I believe the larger store is worth the trip. Easy to stop on your way home from Ostia Antica (see below) with many choices for lunch. Eataly features Italian-made food products and a few non-food items. It is a showcase for all good things in the Italian food culture. Getting there once you reach Stazione Ostiense is a bit interesting, as I mentioned in my blog. You must persevere!
Looking to leave the crowds behind? Villa Farnesina is hidden away in Trastevere. Commissioned during the Renaissance by Agostino Chigi, a Sienese banker, it contains frescoes by Raphael and is lightly attended. 
Churches worth seeing: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, St. Ignazio, San Clemente (the famous layered church), San Giovanni in Laterano, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Prassede, San Luigi dei Francesi (the seat of the French Catholic Church in Rome) and others too numerous to mention. 
Bernini's elephant obelisk, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

Bernini’s elephant obelisk, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

Guided Tours

There are two places we highly recommend guided tours: The Vatican and The Colosseo/Foro Romano/Palatino.
Walks of Italy  does a special tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s, “The Pristine Sistine.” I highly recommend it. It is not inexpensive, but the groups are small (only 12 people), the guides are educational and entertaining, and you get to the Sistine Chapel before it is a hot mess of people.
For the sites of Ancient Rome, the Colosseo/Foro Romano/Palatino, a private guide is a great idea. For about €50-55 per hour, you get a personalized experience. Sonia Tavoletta (soniatav@alice.it) and Francesca Caruso (francescainroma@gmail.com) are excellent. They will customize anything you want. If you have four-or-more people in your party, this is less expensive on a per person basis than many organized tours. 

Day Trips

Ostia Antica. In the

Ostia Antica. In the “Piazzale delle Corporazioni” or Square of the Guilds. Mosaics depict services and products.

Ostia Antica is less than an hour away from Roma by local train out of Stazione Ostiense. What the volcano did at Pompeii, time and the river did to Ostia Antica. These are actually well-preserved for Roman ruins, and I find the Rick Steves’ audio guide (MP3 available at his website) and the guide in his book are excellent for self-touring.
Orvieto is a one-hour train ride from Roma Stazione Termini and a fascinating Umbrian hill town. There is a nifty funicular that glides up from the train station to the plateau. Great place to wander, see the Duomo, have lunch, shop a little. Again, I have to turn to Rick Steves and encourage you to consult his guide to make good use of your time. The underground tour is worthwhile!
Fountains and pools of Villa d’Este, beautiful during the day, take on added drama at night.

Fountains and pools of Villa d’Este, beautiful during the day, take on added drama at night.

Tivoli is about an hour by train from Stazione Tiburtina and an excellent trip any time of the year. We’ve gone in August for the evening light displays at Villa d’Este, which makes a wonderful one-night trip (see my prior post here). We’ve gone to Villa d’Este in September and April as well, and to Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriano) in May one year. Villa d’Este is easily done by train, but I would suggest having a car to try to go to Villa Adriano. Alternatively, take a bus tour from Roma. (Haven’t done this myself but there are options through many tour companies if you care to research it.) I think Villa Adriano would be best with a guide. It’s vast and a bit confusing.
Formal gardens, Lazio Albano, the Papal Gardens

Formal gardens, Albano Laziale, papal estate.

Castel Gandolfo and the Papal Palace. The Apostolic Palace is where the popes up until Papa Francesco went to relax and escape the heat of Roma. Papa F doesn’t relax and eschews the trappings of papal wealth. Bravo! Thus, one can visit the palace almost any old time. Castel Gandolfo is a lovely little town with good restaurants in addition to the fantastic Papal Palace. It would be hard to combine with my next suggestion because the gardens one visits in the Vatican by Train tour are actually in neighboring Albano Laziale, but if you enlist a taxi and make lunch a quick panino you just might manage to do both in a day. 
The Vatican by Train  is an all-day event. You start with about 90 minutes to tour the Vatican Museums. (It is not enough time for the entire museum so you must pick a facet, a corner, and see what you can. We chose the Pinacoteca, which we had to ourselves for most of an hour.) Then you have a walking tour of the Vatican Gardens, which leads you to the San Pietro train station where you catch your private train to Albano Laziale and a tour of the papal estate there. You ride a train through these gardens as well. An audio guide is provided.
There are many other possibilities: Sperlonga for the beach, Frascati just because (porchetta and local Frascati wine), Tarquinia for the Etruscan museum and tombs (stunning!)…. 

Miscellany

10 Things you can do for Free in Rome from Italy magazine.
Coop Culture is the official ticket site for many Italian sites. Check them before using a consolidator, who will add on fees.  If you are going to the Colosseo without a guided tour, get your skip-the-line tickets from Coop Culture.
The Roma Pass can be worthwhile if you do the Colosseo, et.al., one day and the Galleria Borghese the next, making those your first two entries with the pass. Otherwise, forget it.
Transportation tickets/passes. You can buy tickets for single trips for €1.50 at any edicola (newsstand) or tabaccheria (tobacconist). There are also passes for 24, 48 and 72 hours at €7.00, €12.50, and €18.00 respectively, which are usually available at the edicola or tabaccheria. A 7-day pass is €24.00. Details at ATAC.com. Note that few buses sell tickets on board. Buy before you board and validate or risk a huge fine. 
Transit Trip Planning is available here. If you are traveling with a smartphone, download ProBus, AutoBusRoma, or Moovit. You can research bus routes and get an estimate on when the next bus will arrive.
The books 24 Great Walks of Rome, Rome the Second Time, and 111 Things to Do in Rome are great for inspiration! I found all of them either at Amazon.com or Powells.com.
Movies in English are shown every week. Usually, they are posted on Friday for movies from Saturday through the following Wednesday. Check here for what’s on. Some of the theatres do not sell popcorn or anything else to eat or drink, so eat before you go.
Now you see why they say Roma una vita non basta! (Rome – a lifetime is not enough!)
If you have a favorite place I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment.
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24 Responses to “Things to do in Roma”

  1. Maria May 4, 2016 at 04:48 #

    I have 4 days in rome 5 nights. I would like a relaxed itinerary and would like one day trip to either the amalfi coast or venice. What is a reliable travel service to book this and which of the two places is doable in one day and which is best to see?

    Like

    • gooddayrome May 4, 2016 at 05:34 #

      Hi Maria. You might contact Walks of Italy. We and several of our guests have used them for the Vatican and they have a great reputation. I know they offer an Amalfi Coast trip.

      Venice is really too far for a day trip from Rome. It would NOT be relaxing as it is 3 1/2 hours by train EACH WAY. Venice, in my opinion, requires at least 3 nights to make a stop worthwhile.

      Good luck!

      Like

  2. dianneza5 February 15, 2016 at 20:28 #

    Can you comment about driving in Italy: Do you have a car and get from place to place in your car? We will be in Italy in September 2016. We would like to rent a car, but I have some reservations about it. Insurance, gas, parking, driving at night, etc.
    Thank you.

    Like

    • gooddayrome February 16, 2016 at 17:11 #

      Hello and thanks for commenting. We do not have a car in Rome. It is simply not needed here, nor in most cities like Venice, Florence, etc. We very occasionally rent them for travel, especially in Tuscany and driving in the countryside and on the Autostrada is not difficult. I highly recommend a GPS and that your passenger be attuned to navigating and reading signs. You have to watch out for ZTLs even in small towns/rural areas. There is a great guide to renting a car in Europe at Gemut.com. In the right hand column click on the link WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RENTING A CAR IN EUROPE. Good luck!

      Like

  3. Nigel February 14, 2016 at 13:16 #

    Do I see a guidebook coming on here? I know that you are detail oriented there is so much goodness here, and it tastes so good.

    I’m lucky to have done a number of these things – Domus Romane (suggested by you, I think?) – has been the highlight so far, yet I know I have only barely scratched the surface in so many visits. I really do think it is bottomless.

    So sorry we can’t visit this Spring as things stand, but it is only a matter of time.

    Note to self – must get to Eataly.

    Like

    • gooddayrome February 14, 2016 at 16:32 #

      Happy to inspire your return! I do believe I get credit for telling you about Domus Romane. 🙂 At least we get to see you soon, even if not in Rome. A presto!

      Like

  4. graciamc February 12, 2016 at 23:02 #

    Oh, so many places that sound wonderful. We definitely need to come back!

    Like

  5. Chloe Erkenbrecher February 12, 2016 at 18:49 #

    The last time we were in Rome, we heard the organ being played at San Antonio Portoghese, and it was wonderful. I mau actually know more about Rome than Paris, as I lived in Rome, but in France, we live in the Loire area. If you are ever there, stop by. Our husbands can discuss the marines. Yikes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome February 13, 2016 at 07:16 #

      The Loire is on my list….Along with half of Europe. We’ll finally get to Provence and the Riviera in May.

      Like

      • Jane Dunning March 14, 2016 at 18:25 #

        Hello Laurel, it’s Jane here – just doing some research ready for our arrival on Sunday. Excited to hear that you’re going to Provence in May as we know it well so you’ll be able to pick my brains! In the meantime, you might like to have a look at my Facebook Page www/facebook.com/JaneDunningAuthor
        See you on Sunday, looking forward to it!

        Like

        • gooddayrome March 14, 2016 at 18:26 #

          Thanks Jane! See you soon! Looking forward to advice on Provence!

          Like

  6. apollard February 11, 2016 at 23:21 #

    I was in Rome for 17 days last visit and still could have got up on day 18 with a list of things i wanted to do, such an amazing city.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome February 12, 2016 at 17:06 #

      I know! And some weeks we don’t really add to our sight-seeing because it’s just fun to take walks and do errands. Always fun to see the culture at work…or not work. But always entertaining!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • daivd ruggles February 12, 2016 at 19:56 #

        Hello gooddayrome:

        I just found you from the Rick Steve’s website. I am a Native Oregonian now living near Philadelphia (wife is from PA). I am mid fifties and looking forward to my “next adventure”. My wife and I would love to spend a year (or more) in Italy in our retirement. Quick question: Was the paperwork required to get a Permesso di Soggiorno difficult or doable with some patience ?
        Also, let me know if I should have posted this in another area.

        Thank you,

        Like

        • gooddayrome February 13, 2016 at 07:36 #

          Hello David, and welcome! The Permesso process is lengthy. First you apply for a visa, which requires and incredible packet of information, and then upon your return to Italy, you apply for the Permesso itself. I wrote about it extensively as we went through the process, which you can read about here https://gooddayrome.com/tag/permesso-di-soggiorno/. Absolutely doable, but much patience required! A sense of humor helps, too.

          Like

  7. marilyneb February 11, 2016 at 22:17 #

    Galleria Colonna is definitely worth the visit – such a shame it has limited opening hours as it really has the wow factor in a city full of them. Also loved Villa Medici where my partner and I had an English tour to ourselves. Some other great choices that are part of the to do list for a future visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome February 12, 2016 at 17:07 #

      Isn’t it sad they only open for a few hours a week? I think we were 5 on our Villa Medici tour. Same with Villa Farnese as mostly the French visit it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Marcia Kakiuchi February 11, 2016 at 21:04 #

    I’ve only been to Rome once and did all of the BIG touristy things. But from your post, Wow…I really loved the descriptions of Galleria Colonna, Eataly, Walk of Italy (Pristine Sistine) and Tivoli. Those to me just sound fantastic and impressive. Oh – and also that tour of the Vatican by train. Who knew! I’ve always wondered if the ‘natives’ of Rome know what special places are on their doorstep!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome February 12, 2016 at 17:10 #

      Marcia I am trying to give you reasons to return. 🙂 As to “natives” knowing what is here, many Romans never go the historical center, or go seldom, like once-a-year. We are there at least weekly. Italians do flock to art exhibits, though, and they bring their children and discuss the art with them. It’s wonderful to see that.

      Like

  9. Chloe Erkenbrecher February 11, 2016 at 19:18 #

    We love the baths of Diocletian which is stupendous. I can’t even imagine how the thing was built so long ago as it would be hard to do now. No baths left, but a fantastic building. We also love Chiesa di San Antonio Portoghese at 2 Via Portoghese. It is a very small church, but the marble work in its interior draws us back again and again. There used to be a lot of places in the area that restored art and furniture, but am not sure if that is still true. It is an interesting area however. I was glad to see that one of the churches that you mentioned was San Clement, probably our favorite church in Rome. A good mystery to precede the visit is When In Rome, by Nagio Marsh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome February 12, 2016 at 17:13 #

      I knew there would be places I failed to mention! We went to an Organ Concert at San Antonio Portoghese. They are famous for their organ. I could also include Santa Sabina, the Orangery atop the Aventine Hill (what a view!), the Rose Garden and on-and-on. Same in Paris, no?

      Like

  10. John Henderson February 11, 2016 at 17:28 #

    Great ideas. I’ve lived here two years and haven’t done most of these things. I’m definitely putting Palazzo Valentini on my to-do list.

    John Henderson
    Dog-Eared Passport: http://www.johnhendersontravel.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • gooddayrome February 11, 2016 at 17:36 #

      Some of my Italian friends who have lived here all their lives have never been to some of these places. We are trying hard to continue to explore and discover more about Rome. Try to go to Tivoli in August for an overnight when the fountains are lighted. Molto romantico!

      Like

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