For today’s Destination of the Week, we asked TPG contributor Melanie Wynne Waldman to guide us through one of the world’s greatest all-time travel destinations, a city that administered sprawling empires, spawned legendary artists, not to mention mouthwatering cuisine that has permeated every corner of the globe. Today we visit the Eternal City: Rome.
Rome’s Fiumicino Airport (FCO) is a huge international hub, situated about 15 miles from the city center. It serves as hub for Skyteam partner, Alitalia, which offers flights from several US gateways including Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, New York and Boston. When it comes to U.S. carriers, Delta flies to Atlanta, New York-JFK and Detroit seasonally, United to Washington-Dulles and seasonally to Newark, U.S. Airways all-year to Philadelphia and seasonally to Charlotte and American offers seasonal service to both New York-JFK and Chicago O’Hare. Since all the major carriers fly here, you can use miles on your preferred alliance.
Unless you’re an adrenaline junkie, renting a car and driving yourself into some of the world’s craziest traffic should be avoided; your three best options for getting into town are a local train, bus or taxi.
The Rome Metro‘s FR1 line (also known as Sabina-Fiumicino) takes you from FCO to the Tiburtina, Tuscolana, Ostiense, and Trastevere stations in Rome; at Tiburtina, Tuscolana and Ostiense, you can transfer to either Metro line A or Metro line B to reach other stations in the city center. Trains leave every 15 minutes (every 30 minutes on holidays), and one-way trips average €8-10 ($10-12.50) per person.
Cotral buses connect FCO with Rome’s Termini and Tiburtina stations (which are right after one another). Buses run eight times a day to and from the airport, and a €5 ($6.25) ticket for the approximately 30-minute trip can be purchased directly on the bus.
To avoid being fare-gouged by an independent cab driver, line up at the taxi areas near FCO’s A, B and C exits and look for a white car with a “TAXI” sign on the roof; an official Roman cab will have an ID number on its doors, rear and interior. An official taxi’s fixed fare between FCO and the city center is €40 ($50) one-way (inclusive of luggage, and allowing a maximum of 4 people); see a a map of the covered area here.
WHAT TO DO
Known as the Eternal City, Rome is a vibrant mix of new and very old, an enormous metropolis unlike any other in Italy. Its thriving restaurant culture, art scene, and even its modest subway, invite comparisons to New York City, but ancient treasures on every corner scatter these similarities like dust on an urban dig.
Spread out over seven hills, you could spend weeks just finding your bearings in Rome. If you have only a few days, however, you can still take in some highlights at a leisurely pace.
The Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s best to explore these vast buildings, which are crammed with priceless art, in the company a knowledgeable, engaging guide who will provide you with headsets to better hear the tour; it’s easy to get overwhelmed or even lost amidst the constant crowds. Viator offers several excellent tours, including a three-hour, small-group tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and St. Peter’s, generally led by art history graduate students. You’ll start at about 8am, and even if you choose to climb to the dome of St. Peter’s, you’ll be finished by lunchtime.
The Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. Note: You can purchase a combination ticket for all three of these attractions. Historically considered the birthplace of Rome, Palatine Hill was where ancient Rome’s wealthiest citizens built their palaces. Today, the Palatine is an outdoor museum of ornate, mosaic-tiled ruins which overlook the Forum and Colosseum. Built between 72-80 AD and originally called the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum was the site of bloody gladiator battles, while the nearby Forum, with its ruins of temples, a marketplace and great halls, was the center of ancient Roman life and government.
The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. Set beside the Forum and free to enter, this enormous white wedding cake of a building (considered an eyesore by most Romans) honors the first king of a united Italy. Regardless of your feelings about its architectural aesthetics, know that the rooftop Quadrighe Terrace offers thrilling views of thousands of years’ worth of Roman history; feel free to hoof your way there, or spend €7 ($8.75) on “Rome from the Sky,” the monument’s glass elevator.
The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Via dei Condotti. All three attractions lie within easy walking distance of each other, and provide great opportunities for people-watching. The 138-step scalinata takes you from the Piazza di Spagna to the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, where in a quirk of history, the Renaissance-era Trinità dei Monti church is the property of France, not Italy. The Trevi Fountain is generally a mob scene of lingering tourists, souvenir-hawkers and price-gouging snacks, but it still manages to be a spectacular display of water and snow-white marble. If you choose to throw a customary coin in the fountain, be sure to toss with your right hand over your left shoulder – when in Rome! The Via Dei Condotti is Rome’s fanciest shopping street, rife with well-heeled fans of Prada, Gucci, Valentino and more. Depending on your budget, this lineup of boutiques could be considered a goldmine or a museum.
Piazza Navona and the Campo dei Fiori. Respectively one of Rome’s most romantic and most exciting spots, these two squares are set within blocks of each other. The elaborate fountains of the Piazza Navona share the same water source as the Trevi, and the square’s windowboxes offer some of the city’s most beautiful flower displays. Nearby, the bustling market stalls of the Fiori are where locals shop for food and flowers, and they provide a vibrant glimpse of contemporary Roman society, fashion and recipe ingredients.
Villa Borghese and the Borghese Gardens. Originally a vineyard and then the palatial home of Pope Paul V’s wealthy nephew (both members of the powerful Borghese family), this haven of public green space includes secret gardens, an orange orchard, a lake, an aviary and more. The parkland houses the Galleria Borghese, where you’ll find the artwork of masters like Titian, Caravaggio and Bernini.
The Tiber River. At 252 murky miles, Italy’s third-longest river provides a relaxing means of acquainting yourself with the meandering layout of Rome. Much like the Seine in Paris, you can take stone steps down to the river all along its quiet paths, where you’ll have a unique perspective on building details you might otherwise miss. Or, if you’d prefer a break from walking, try a €16 ($20) hop-on-hop-off cruise via Batelli di Roma, which includes an audio tour.
If you find yourself with some extra time, you might want to wander the cobblestone streets of the quiet Trastavere neighborhood for a daytime break from crowds, traffic, and expensive food, or check out some of the more unique museums of Rome (e.g., the Capuchin Crypt, Pasta Museum, or Museum of Purgatory).
Ordered ahead of your trip or purchased at the Colosseum, the €30 Roma Pass ($37.50) gives you automatic entrance to two museums of your choice and discounts on many others. Note that most museums in Rome, with the exception of the Colosseum, are closed on Mondays.
As elsewhere in Italy, food is all but sacred to Romans. Before you travel, you might want to pick up The Hungry Traveler: Italy, an excellent resource for learning about and finding local Roman specialties like cacio e pepe, fresh pasta with pecorino romano and black pepper. Or, if you’d rather not slog through Rome with a book in tow, find suggestions for great restaurants in every neighborhood with the Parla Food App.
WHERE TO STAY
Most of the major chains are represented in this enormous city, so we’ve chosen a few properties from each to highlight.
Radisson Blu: Perched atop Esquiline Hill, this sleek, glassy hotel takes full advantage of its sprawling city views with two Italian restaurants and a 20-meter-long rooftop pool. It has 232 rooms and suites, a full-service spa and health center with a sauna and Jacuzzis, and internet service is free throughout the hotel. Rates in September begin at $176 a night or 50,000 Gold Points.
Rome Cavalieri: The first European hotel to be included in the Waldorf Astoria collection, this luxurious 5-star property is set on 15 parkland acres. The Imperial Club offers a view of St. Peter’s Basilica, all rooms have private balconies, and all seven suites have a different theme; the Petronius has a fiber-optic-studded ceiling designed to mimic a starry sky. The Grand Spa offers La Prairie treatments and a solarium separating outdoor and indoor pools. With five on-site eateries, guests can have everything from a poolside snack to afternoon tea, including a multi-course meal at La Pergola, the only three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Rome. Rates in September begin at $400 a night, 60,000 Hilton Honors Points, or $184 + 30,000 Hilton HHonors Points. The hotel is also a member of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and Visa Signature Hotels (see below).
Hilton Garden Inn Claridge: Situated in the Parioli neighborhood near the Villa Borghese, roughly 10 minutes’ walk from the city center, this hotel offers a relatively quiet, residential experience of Rome. Wi-Fi is free throughout the property, there’s an on-site restaurant serving three daily meals, and the wellness center has a sauna and Turkish bath. Rates in September begin at $190 a night or 40,000 Hilton Honors Points.
Hilton Rome Airport Hotel: Offering free shuttle service to and from the city center 8 times a day, this 517-room hotel is a 5-minute covered walk from FCO. All rooms are soundproofed and provide free Wi-Fi access, and there are two on-site Italian restaurants, a bar, and an indoor rooftop pool with an outdoor deck. Rates in September begin at $283 a night or 40,000 Hilton Honors Points since this is a Category 6 property.
Le Club Accorhotels
The luxurious Hotel Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese, a 111-room, 5-star hotel in a registered national monument that overlooks the gardens of the Villa Borghese, is walking distance from several attractions, including the Spanish Steps. There is an elegant Italian restaurant here, as well as a cozy lobby lounge and a rooftop terrace cocktail bar. Rates in September begin at $537 a night.
Other Le Club Accorhotels properties in Rome include Mercure Delta Roma Colosseo, Mercure Roma Piazza Bologna, Adagio Roma Dehon, Mercure Roma Corso Trieste, Adagio Roma Garden, Ibis Roma Fiera, and Novotel Roma La Rustica.
Rome Marriott Park Hotel: Set halfway between FCO and Rome’s city center, the hotel offers shuttle service for €10 ($12.50) per/person, per trip. A huge hotel with 560 rooms and 41 suites, Wi-Fi is available only in public areas; in guest rooms, ethernet access is available. There are four on-site Italian restaurants and bars, including a wine room offering vintages from Rome and beyond. Two golf courses are nearby, and the fitness/wellness center has an outdoor pool, whirlpool, sauna, and full-service spa. Rates in September begin at $136 a night or 25,000 Marriott Rewards points since this is a Category 5 property.
InterContinental De La Ville Roma: Set at the top of the Spanish Steps in a former 19th-century convent, this half-Baroque, half-Art Deco hotel has one of the best sightseeing locations in Rome. It features 192 luxuriously appointed rooms and suites, a rooftop sundeck with views of the Piazza del Popolo and St. Peter’s, a shaded public courtyard, and an elegant Italian restaurant with an expansive terrace. There’s an Executive Club Room/Level and full-service office center, and internet services start at €12 ($15). There is an on-site fitness center, but no spa. Rates in September begin at $420 a night or 50,000 Priority Club points.
Crowne Plaza Rome St. Peter’s: Located 20 minutes from both FCO and Rome’s city center, this modern, garden-rimmed hotel offers airport shuttle service and has public bus stops at the end of the driveway. Internet services start at €3 ($3.75), and in addition to several suites and an Executive Club Room/Level, the hotel offers an on-site Italian restaurant and separate bar. The full-service St. Peter’s Spa, which includes a Roman bath area, is only open to guests 16 and older; the pool, fitness center and tennis courts, though, are open to all ages. Rates in September begin at $187 a night or 25,000 Priority Club points.
Holiday Inn Express Rome San Giovanni: This convenient, recently-refurbished 120-room hotel is set beside the Tuscolana train station, which offers direct service to FMO, and a public bus stop to take you the 15-minute trip to downtown Rome. A daily buffet breakfast is complimentary, and suites as well as an Executive Club Level/Room are available. All guests have access to the spa and fitness center at the Crowne Plaza, a short walk away. Rates in September begin at $145 a night or 25,000 Priority Club points.
The St. Regis Rome: One of the most luxurious hotels in the city, this 5-star, 138-room, 23-suite hotel is set in the heart of downtown Rome, not far from the Spanish Steps. Most guest rooms feature a mix of Empire, Regency and Louis XV styles, but select suites, like the three-bedroom, three-bath Bottega Veneta suite, offer one-of-a-kind furnishings; suites also offer St. Regis butler service. On-site you’ll find a small spa with signature treatments, as well as a small fitness center. Internet service in public areas is complimentary, but guest room Wi-Fi access starts at €15 ($18.75). Rates in September begin at $550 a night; 8,000 Starpoints + $150; or 20,000-25,000 Starpoints. This is also a Visa Signature Hotel (see below).
The Westin Excelsior: An Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, this luxurious 1906 hotel on the Via Veneto has 281 rooms and 35 suites, including the Villa Cupola, which claims to be the largest suite in Europe. The 3,200 square-foot fitness center includes an indoor pool, and internet services throughout the hotel are €15 ($18.75) per day. Rates in September begin at $361 a night or 20,000-25,000 Starpoints. This is also a member of Visa Signature Hotels (see below).
Hotel Eden: This 121-room Starwood hotel features antique Italian furnishings, a renovated wellness/fitness center, and La Terrazza, an acclaimed Mediterranean restaurant with an outdoor terrace that offers sweeping views of Rome. Internet services throughout the hotel are €15 per day. Rates in September begin at $514 a night or 20,000-25,000 Starpoints. Hotel Eden is also a member of both Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and Visa Signature Hotels.
Sheraton Roma: This 640-room hotel and conference center is in between FCO and the city center, in Rome’s EUR business district. Shuttle service to and from FCO is €5 ($6.25) each way; shuttle service to the city center is €3 ($3.75) roundtrip. Fitness services here are extensive, with tennis courts, an outdoor pool and more, and internet services throughout the hotel are €12-16 ($15-20) per day. Rates in September begin at $124 a night or 7,000 Starpoints.
Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
A 5-star Relais & Chateaux property on the Via Veneto, the Regina Hotel Baglioni Rome features sumptuous Art Deco furnishings, an elegant Italian restaurant, and a full-service spa and wellness center. In September, room rates start at $738 per night.
Other Fine Hotels properties in Rome include the Hotel Hassler Roma, Rocco Forte Hotel de Russie, and detailed below, the Rome Cavalieri (Hilton), and The Westin Excelsior and Hotel Eden (both Starwood).
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards,Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Set just below the gardens of the Quirinale, the 12-room/suite Villa Spaletti Travelli is ideal for exploring the city center on foot. The former family home features tapestries, antique furniture and an impressive library, as well as a shaded garden patio surrounded by jasmine hedges and an expansive rooftop sundeck; the small but full-service spa includes a Turkish bath and hammam. Rates in September start at $488.