Is a Roma Pass Worth It?

Is a Roma Pass worth it?

“Is a Roma Pass worth it?” has to be one of the questions I get most frequently — and from those who have done a bit of extra research, that question sometimes expands to “Should I get a Roma Pass or Omnia card… or some other combined sightseeing card for Rome?”.

That question has only gotten more complicated over the years. In simpler days, Rome had one combined sightseeing pass, called the Roma Pass, for tourists who wanted to skip lines and use public transport. Now, there’s a dizzying array of options. Not only does the Roma Pass now have a 48-hour and a 72-hour version, but it has competitors: The Rome City Pass, confusingly also called the TurboPass, which includes the Vatican (but you’ll pay a premium for the addition); the Omnia Vatican & Rome card, which also includes the Vatican (but will charge you even more); and the Archaeologia Card (refreshingly bells-and-whistles free, and which focuses on Rome’s ancient archaeological sites). Though what they offer varies, all of them promise skip-the-line benefits to some of Rome’s most popular sites.

If you already feel overwhelmed by the choice, I can make it simple for you.

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The (New) Revealed Rome Guidebook Is Out!

New Rome guidebook

I couldn’t be more excited to announce that, after five years, my new Rome guidebook is out.

The original 2012 version of the Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks to the Eternal City sold thousands of copies (and got rave reviews). This book builds on that success with an in-depth update and serious expansion: It’s crammed full with more than twice as many fun, easy-to-digest tips and tricks than the previous version.

Like the previous version, the new book is not your normal “Rome guidebook”. Instead of providing information easily found elsewhere, it gives you tips and tricks to experiencing Rome like a local, including items like…

  • how to pick an authentic Roman restaurant at a glance
  • budget accommodation options you may not have considered
  • the one place to never take a taxi
  • secrets to skipping the lines at the Colosseum, the Vatican and more
  • off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods that should be on your list
  • how to eat gluten-free, vegetarian or with other dietary restrictions
  • key tips for booking (and taking) trains
  • here to find drinking water, and bathrooms, while out and about
  • how to protect yourself from pickpockets
  • the best neighborhoods in Rome for shopping

New Rome guidebook

…and much, much more. Buy it on Amazon here or by clicking the cover at left.

I’m also really excited to say that, for the first three months of publication, I’m donating a significant portion of the profits (€1/$1/£1 per book, depending on location of sale) to a cause I believe in: the American Institute for Roman Culture, a nonprofit which protects and campaigns for Rome’s cultural heritage. So if you’re thinking of buying a book, now is the time to do it!

The book comes on Amazon as an e-book which can be read on any tablet, iPhone, laptop or Kindle.

Note: Bought the book before today, and now wish you’d waited for the new version? Don’t worry: You can replace the older version with this update. If you’re using a Kindle device or app, turn on Annotations Backup to back up your notes, highlights and bookmarks. Then go to the Manage Your Content and Devices page, select “Automatic Book Update” under the Settings tab and select “On” from the dropdown menu. Your e-book automatically will be updated to the new version.

If you’d prefer to receive the book as a PDF, order it through Paypal by clicking on the button below. When I receive the order confirmation, I will e-mail you the book as a PDF. (Just be aware that this is a manual process, so can take me up to 48 hours to e-mail over).




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Why These Catacombs in Naples Might Be the World’s Creepiest

Catacombs of San Gaudioso, Naples

I’m constantly telling people to visit Naples, and I’ve finally written about one of my favorite reasons why: the catacombs of San Gaudioso. While Rome has no dearth of spine-tingling sites (hello, Capuchin crypt), these catacombs — which include a gallery in which desiccated heads were attached to the walls… and portraits of the dearly departed frescoed around them — are, hands-down, the creepiest place I’ve ever visited.

The run-down: Like the spectacular catacombs of San Gennaro, the catacombs of San Gaudioso were first dug out in Greco-Roman times. They were used as an ancient necropolis and then — later — an early Christian cemetery. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the catacombs in Rome have similar backstories, too). But after being inundated with the lave dei vergini (literally, the lava of the virgins; great name, right?) and abandoned in the 9th century, they were forgotten about. Until, that is, some enterprising Dominican friars decided to build a church here in the 17th century… and pay for it, at least in part, with their really gruesome fancy-schmancy burial practices. (So fancy, in fact, only nobles and high-level officials got the benefit of it. Really, who doesn’t want to be drained, beheaded and put on display for all eternity?!).

Read more over in my story on the catacombs of San Gaudioso for BBC Culture, and remember: You have been warned.

If you’re already sold and just need the details:

The catacombs of San Gaudioso are located in the Naples neighborhood of Rione Sanità. (If you go, don’t miss the equally creepy Cimitero delle Fontanelle). The entrance is at the Basilica Santa Maria della Sanità in Piazza Sanità. The catacombs are open from Monday to Sunday, 10am-1pm, but visitable only with a tour, which leaves every hour; the guides (who are super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable, by the way — not always the case in Italy!) speak English, so you can ask for an English-language tour. More info here. It costs €9 per adult, which also gets you entrance to the catacombs of San Gennaro (also a must-see).

Also: two facts about ancient Rome you probably didn’t know, why you should visit Rome’s only pyramid and some other reasons to visit Naples.

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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Books About Italy I’m Compulsively Reading (and Re-Reading)

No matter where I am in the world, I have a shelf devoted to books about Italy. Which may be why, although I started out this post planning to write a gift guide — something I do every couple of years — I found that everything that came to mind to include was… a book.

While that partly speaks to the fact that I’m a nerd bookworm, it also speaks to something else: whether you’re interested in fiction or memoir, food or art, ancient history or World War II, there are a number of compulsively-readable books about Italy out there these days.

What is my bar for “compulsively readable”? In the last three years, I’ve gone through two transatlantic moves. Each time, I’ve had to winnow down my library. Most of the books on this list are ones that I found myself re-buying after my last move. That’s how much I couldn’t live without them.

So. Here are the books about Italy I’ve sometimes bought not once, but twice — and the person on your gift-giving list (other than you!) who might like them best.

The best book about Italy for the one on your list… who, faced with a table of magazines at the doctor’s office, always reaches for the New Yorker.

Haven’t heard of Elena Ferrante? First, crawl out from under your rock. Second, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore to pick up the first novel in her “Neapolitan quartet”: My Brilliant Friend.

The series pins down human emotions, flaws and foibles with such searing precision, it’s sometimes almost excruciating to read. On the surface, it’s about two girls who grow up together in the shadows of a working-class neighborhood in postwar Naples. And if you love Italy, especially the south or bella Napoli, it will give you a raw, intense look at a people and culture that tend to be stereotyped, not examined.

Why take a day trip from Rome to Naples?

And yet, as in any true masterpiece, so many of the observations Ferrante makes apply far beyond the backstreets of Naples. For example…

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Seven of the Best Autumn Sagre in Italy

I’ve been obsessed with Italy’s sagre  since my first introduction to them. So much more than food festivals (though food’s a big part of it), these are celebrations of a local community, culture and cuisine. The particular foodstuff they celebrate completely ranges — anything from white truffle to chocolate to pumpkins to chestnuts to wine. And the best season for them? The autumn! Which is why I just wrote about seven of the best sagre in Italy in autumn — from a little town just outside Rome to Puglia to Piedmont — for The Guardian. Check it out here.

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What is the Weather in Rome Really Like? (And How to Pack for It)

Want to know the weather in Rome, Italy? You could obviously just check out the forecast. (Not that that’s necessarily that reliable). But you’ve wound up here instead, so I’m guessing you don’t want to know the Rome weather coming up in the next few days — you’re looking further ahead and curious what, say, the weather in Rome is usually like a few weeks or even months from now.

Maybe you’re trying to decide when to come to Rome. Or you’ve already chosen your dates, and you need to know what to pack.

Although I resisted writing a post about weather in Rome for a while (compared to all of the incredible art and unknown museums and underground ruins and gelato gelato gelato the topic just seems so… banal), I get asked about it enough that it seems like it’s time.

So: here’s what to expect, season by season, in terms of the weather in Rome. And what this means in terms of what to pack and prepare for.

(PS: If you are looking for the weather forecast in the near future, two of my go-to sites are Weathercast and Accuweather).

Weather in Rome in… summer (spoiler: it’s hot, and they’re not that into a/c)

This is when things get nice and sweaty. Temperatures peak in July — that’s when you’re looking at an average high of 88°F (31°C). (While the average low is a comfy 62°F/17°C, if Rome ever hit that temperature in July, I’m pretty sure it’s while I was sleeping). It’s also the driest month of the year, with less than an inch of average rainfall. August is about the same — plus you have the double-whammy of the uber-crowds and that it’s ferragosto (read: when many restaurants and shops close as locals, reasonably, flee to the seaside). If you can swing it, June is milder and less crowded, especially earlier in the month.

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The Pyramid in Rome: Restored, Clean and Now Open

The pyramid of Rome, also called Pyramid of Cestius

Did you know there’s a pyramid in Rome? Neither do most people. And not only is there a pyramid, but it’s a pretty legit — and ancient — pyramid: dating back to 12BC, it was the over-the-top burial tomb of Caius Cestius, a Roman praetor with a thing for Egyptian style.

At 120ft (36m) tall, with a base of 97ft (29.5m) on each side, the Pyramid of Cestius is pretty hard to miss. It’s been largely overlooked for years, though, for a few reasons. For one, it’s located in Testaccio — a neighborhood that, while very much in the center of Rome, is just off the beaten tourist track. That’s changing, thanks to recent trends like the gamut of food tours that now run through the area. But the quarter remains less trodden than, say, the streets around Piazza Navona.

Not to mention that Rome’s pyramid was in bad shape. Once gleaming, white marble, it had become so dirty that, by the time I first laid eyes on it in 2009, it was a sooty, dark brown-gray. It was so bad that, having just scoured five years of photographs to see if I could find proof for you, it turns out I don’t have a single one — probably because, in all the dozens of times I walked past, it was so grimy I hadn’t felt moved to take a picture.

And finally, except for the occasional “extraordinary opening”, the pyramid was closed to visitors.

That’s all changed.

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A New Way to See the Imperial Forum: A Light Show

Imperial Forum at night
Last year, Rome launched a nighttime light show in the Imperial Forum (Fori Imperiali) at the Forum of Augustus. This year, it’s not only bringing the Forum of Augustus show back — it’s also starting a second one, at the Forum of Caesar.

I did the Forum of Augustus tour last year. It was excellent. I’m sure the Forum of Caesar tour will be the same.

(Note: This post was updated with current information in April 2017).

What makes these light shows/tours so cool? For one thing, both lead visitors through a usually-inaccessible archaeological site: the Imperial Forum, which was built by Caesar and the emperors who followed him and which, unlike the Republican Forum on the other side of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, you can’t buy a ticket to wander through. Instead, usually, all you can do is peer down at the Imperial Forum from the road. (Or from the museum at Trajan’s Market).

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What to Know About Coffee in Italy — And Where to Find the Best Coffee in Rome

Where to find the best coffee in Rome

The sad news arrived this week that Italy is truly, finally getting its first Starbucks — which seems like the perfect time to talk about coffee in Italy. You know, Italian coffee in Italy. What it is. How to order it. What the various kinds (macchiato, lungo, cappuccino, mamma mia!) really meanAnd, naturally, where to find the best coffee in Rome (and beyond).

But first, let’s get one thing out of the way: what coffee in Italy is not.

How to know your coffee isn’t Italian-style

Italian coffee is not something you would mistake on the first sip for a weirdly hot milkshake. It does not require 10 minutes of you patiently waiting for a barista to make it only to then grab it to go and rush out the door with it in your hand as if, at that precise moment, the urgency of your situation suddenly became apparent. It is not served in a cup so large it could be mistaken for an army barracks stock pot.

And it does not in any way taste like peppermint, spiced pumpkin or like what would happen if you burned butter, added it to raw bitter greens, then boiled the two together. (Yes: that last point means properly-done espresso, from good-quality beans, does not have that burned, bitter taste that you get from a mug of classic Starbucks roast).<p?

Got it? Good!

Okay, fine, but what’s the big deal with Italian coffee, anyway?

You mean, why does Italian coffee have such cachet that leading coffee chains worldwide all give their menu items Italian names… no matter how American/British/fill-in-the-blank their drinks really are?
Best coffee in Italy at Naples Caffe Mexico
At the best Italian bars, like Caffe Mexico in Naples, making an espresso is down to a science

For one thing, because Italians invented coffee culture. No, they weren’t the first to harvest—or brew—the beans. But they were the first in Europe to open a coffee house (Venice, 1629), to invent the espresso machine (Turin, 1884) and to come up with the macchinetta (the stovetop percolator first produced by Bialetti, still the leading creator of the moka, in 1933).

Or, as the owner of Caffè Sant’Eustachio in Rome once put it to me years ago, when I asked him why he thought not a single Starbucks had opened in Rome:

Macchiatto, espresso, cappuccino — these are all Italian names. Why would we buy the American version of these drinks when we’re the ones who invented them?”

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Can Rome’s Ancient World Be Saved? My Video with BBC Travel

IMG_1783

In July, I filmed my first video for BBC Travel: It’s about how Rome’s ruins are at risk — and what’s being done (or not) to save them. The video is part of what we hope will be a series called Dissolving History, about cultural heritage under threat around the world. You can watch Dissolving History: Rome here.

Cultural heritage (a decidedly unexciting term for what I think is one of the most exciting things around — the one way we can really get up close and personal with our own history!) is a topic close to my heart. I first covered how Italy’s heritage was underfunded five years ago. Since then, I’ve written about UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage for National Geographic Traveler and Italy’s stolen works of art for the BBC.

But even when I’m not writing about cultural heritage directly, I’m writing about it somehow. It’s rare that I write a travel story — or take a trip at all — without somehow touching on the destination’s monuments and museums, its artifacts and archaeology. And I have a feeling it’s the same for most of you.

So it’s an important topic. And a surprisingly fun one. Check out the video for more.

And here are some behind-the-scenes shots, if you’d like to see…

Biblioteca Casatense, Dissolving Heritage Rome

I was fortunate enough to get an interview with Italy’s Minister of Cultural Heritage Dario Franceschini. Here, I’m debriefing with his aides after the interview.

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