When in Rome...
There are cheap adventures to be found in maze of streets
THINKING of visiting Rome, one of the great cities of the world, but worried about the cost? Then worry no more as there’s simply great value if you do a bit of homework either before or on arrival in the eternal city.
On a trip there earlier this year (my first) I was surprised to find how reasonable the prices were for things such as food and accommodation, and also just what you could see for free.
So here are a few tips to get maximum bang for your tourism buck in the Italian capital.
Many must-sees, such as: THE PANTHEON: Crowds milled about the small square out the front of this pillared temple, claimed to be the best preserved monument of ancient Rome, but there was no queue to get inside to see the absolutely stunning giant, unsupported dome and interior. THE TREVI FOUNTAIN: Not a long walk from the Pantheon. Toss a coin or three and make a wish at this tourist magnet, the biggest baroque fountain in town. Crowds can be thick on the ground. The piazza is small but tiered so it shouldn’t stop you getting a good view. THE SPANISH STEPS: It’s a bit of a hike up the hill from the Trevi. Again, this traditional meeting place is very popular with tourists. Its commanding position provides a panoramic view as you get your breath back after the haul up the series of steps. We cheated and arrived from a nearby street at the top of the steps so just had to negotiate the downward leg.
THE VATICAN: Seeing inside Rome’s best known church, St Peter’s, costs money and time (queues can be massive) so instead why not just take in the impressive atmosphere of the stunning piazza San Pietro enveloping the basilica? It is always popular, particularly the midweek morning when the Pope delivers his address.
LOTS OF CHURCHES: Worry not if you miss out on St Peter’s as there are many other stunning churches in the inner city, where there are no queues or admission charges. All have superb interiors. One to see is the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest in Rome.
THE ROMAN FORUM RUINS: As you walk along the Via dei Fori Imperali either to or from that other tourist giant, the Colosseum, there are many good viewing points, on either side, of the ruins. The Colosseum, like St Peter’s, charges admission to get inside but you can stand back, on the outside, and marvel at the sheer size of Italy’s most celebrated monument (claimed to be the biggest amphitheatre in the world), take in in the atmosphere and try not to be too irritated by the many touts.
GETTING FIT: Strap on your shoes and take to the streets of inner Rome. It’s compact and has a lot of flat areas (not up to the Spanish Steps, though). Just enjoy wandering through the maze of streets. You will probably get lost but that’s half the fun. Even locals have trouble, one saying that “Rome is crazy like that”. VISIT THE BIG SQUARES: Such as giant Piazza Navona with its three fountains, obelisk and the simply stunning church, Sant Agnese in Agone facing it, and nearby the Piazza Campo de Fiori which does a roaring trade on market days.
PEOPLE WATCH: The Romans are a stylish crowd well worth a gander. Find a seat in one of the squares and watch the passing parade.
TRAINS AND TRAMS: When you arrive at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, grab a local train into town for about $10. A tram ticket in town itself will cost about $2.
DINING OUT: Prices are reasonable but it depends what area you choose. Try the little eateries in the lovely old Trastevere
area across the Tiber River but still not far from the all the action. You should be able to get a plate of pasta for $10. Go for the tucked-away places in the back streets where locals eat. One off-the-beaten-track place near Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere was particularly good, but it was quite a wait even on a quiet night. Still, the pasta was great and there was entertainment in the form of the owner who looked like an Elvis double.
Avoid the more obvious tourist menus: cheap but usually nothing special.
ACCOMMODATION: There can be very good value. One such place is Hotel Santa Maria in Trastevere. It was only $120 a night for a decent-sized room and bathroom. A substantial breakfast was included. It was also handy to eateries and walking distance to tourist must-sees such as the Vatican, Colosseum and Pantheon, and even the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps if you’re up for a longer but doable trek.
GELATO: No visit to Rome would be complete without sampling the delicacy. Look for little holes-in-the-wall away from the main tourist routes to avoid being ripped off.
Just enjoy wandering through the maze of streets. You will probably get lost but that’s half the fun.
Toss a coin or three and make a wish at the Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous and most beautiful fountains in the world.