JOAN’S ROME: TRAVEL ADVICE AND TIPS FOR TOURISTS
As you might imagine, I receive countless requests throughout the year for information about tours, how to visit the Vatican, places to stay in Rome and Italy, etc.
Because there is no way I can personally answer the many letters and individual requests, I prepared these Tips for Tourists for people planning to visit Rome and the Vatican, answering questions about reserving tickets for the Vatican Museums, for tours of the Vatican Gardens and for visits to the world famous scavi, etc. There is also information about procuring free tickets to the weekly papal general audiences and occasional papal Masses.
In addition to the information below, I highly recommend the very following helpful website: https://stpatricksamericanrome.org
St. Patrick’s is the church of the Catholic American and English-speaking community in Rome and a great meeting place, not to mention liturgy! While I cannot offer help on lodgings in Rome (I explain why later), if you are interested in convents, here’s a link: https://stpatricksamericanrome.org/index.php/resources/convent-accomodations. For a ton of useful tips, here’s another section of our website, helpful Tips for Tourists from A (Airport shuttles) to W (working and Shop Hours).
I am often a lector here or Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist so we might meet. In addition, we serve coffee and Italian cornetti after the 10:30 Mass so please come visit!
And guess what! You can also buy my book, “A HOLY YEAR IN ROME,” as a great guide. The Holy Year of Mercy is over but the book is an invaluable guide to Rome, the Vatican, (Vatican Gardens, the Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, the catacombs, Castelgandolfo and tons of churches in Rome). If we meet I will sign it for you! As I noted above, the church in Rome for Catholic Americans is now St. Patrick’s – that is a change from the information in my book when we went to press. You can get the book directly from Sophia Press, at a very reduced price, so buy one for yourself and one for a friend! https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/holy-year-in-rome-a
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING THE VATICAN
(www.vaticanstate.va has a new webste but it no longer offers a link to information on visiting the Vatican. What I post below is from the original web page. I am so grateful I made a copy!
PAPAL AUDIENCES: A ticket – always free of charge – is required for attending the General Audience on Wednesday mornings or other papal ceremonies. They are issued by the Prefecture of the Papal Household and you will be told where to pick them up in the prefecture’s response to your request for tickers. Usually the ticket pickup office is accessed by way of the Bronze Door (Portone di Bronzo). The office is open Mondays from 9:00 to 13:00 and Tuesdays from 9:00 to 18:00. The website is: http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index_en.html
To request a ticket, use their email or fax +39.06.69885863.
A note from Joan: Remember, you can also ask for tickets by visiting www.stpatricksamericanrome.org, the church in Rome for Americans that, on Tuesday afternoons distributes tickets to those who have requested them in advance by going to the website. They can be picked up at the Paulist Fathers’ office and that info is on their website I recommend this avenue because of the extraordinarily personal treatment you will receive as you meet fellow Americans, “ex-pat” Americans who live in Rome.
ST. PETER’S BASILICA: The Basilica is open every day from 7.00 to 19.00, April to September and from 7.00 to 18.00, October to March. To preserve the sacred character of the church, groups consisting of more than five members and accompanied by a guide are kindly requested to use “audio-guides” which can be rented at the entrance to the Basilica. Proper dress is required for admission to the Basilica. To rent “audio-guides”: telephone +39.06.69883229 or +39.06.69881898.
A note from Joan: “Proper dress” means that knees and shoulders must be covered – for men and women.
P.S. To get into the basilica without waiting in a long line, go to the 8:30 a.m. Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel – on the right aisle of the basilica. This way you have the beauty of Mass and the joy of experiencing this marvelous basilica without the tourists, as tourists are not allowed in until 9. Be in the security line no later than 8am, and tell the guards you are going to Mass (la Messa), so they know you are not a tourist but rather a prayerful visitor.
If you cannot make Mass, make sure you are in line for security at 9 a.m.
HISTORICAL AND ARTISTIC MUSEUM (Treasury): The Treasury is open from 9.00 to 18:15, April to September and from 9.00 to 17.15, October to March. The entrance is from inside St. Peter’s Basilica (on the left side).
VISIT TO THE DOME: Visits to the dome of St. Peter’s are possible every day from 8.00 to 18.00, April to September and from 8.00 to 17.00, October to March. The entrance is at the portico of the Basilica (on the right hand side of the basilica, just off the atrium). There is a ticket price.
A note from Joan: There are 320 steps to the top of the dome and it is an incredibly wonderful experience but also – and literally – breathtaking! Anyone with heart ailments, breathing problems or anything else that might be a serious impediment to scaling that height is forewarned before taking even one step. You can’t go a quarter of the way, for example, and decide it is too much and turn around. It is all or nothing! The staircase is wide enough for only a single person. There is one staircase for the ascent and a separate staircase (always one person at a time) for the descent.
VATICAN GROTTOES: The Vatican Grottoes are open every day from 7.00 to 18.00, April to September and from 7.00 to 17.00, October to March. The entrance is at the transept of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Note from Joan: It seems you now can go to the grottoes only if you are invited by a priest who is saying Mass at one of the altars there or if you are in a guided group. Individuals are no longer allowed to descend into and just roam about the grottoes
VISIT TO THE TOMB OF ST. PETER AND THE PRE-CONSTANTINIAN NECROPOLIS: For visits to the tomb of St. Peter and the necropolis (known as the “scavi,” meaning excavations), please contact the Ufficio Scavi (excavations office): tel. + 39.06 69 88 53 18; fax + 39.06 698 73017; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . The office is open from 9.00 to 17.00, Monday to Friday and reached by way of the Arch of the Bells.
CLICK HERE FOR FULL INFORMATION ON SCAVI TICKETS AND TOURS: http://www.scavi.va/content/scavi/en/ufficio-scavi.html
A note from Joan: This is one of the best visits you will ever make in Rome – or perhaps all of Italy. BUT, you MUST book well in advance. Several months before your departure is NOT too early to request a scavi visit.
VISIT TO THE VATICAN MUSEUMS: The Vatican Museums are open weekdays from 10:00 to 13:45 during November – February (except during the Christmas period when they are open from 8:45 to 16:45). During March – October the Museums are open Monday – Friday from 10:00 to 16:45 and Saturdays from 10:00 to 14:45. On the last Sunday of each month the Museums can be visited free of admission charge from 9:00 to 13:45. Entrance to the Museums is not possible 75 minutes before closing time.
The OFFICIAL site: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en.html
(Note from Joan; Ignore the dozens of (mostly) guys and gals around, and sometimes in, St. Peter’s Square as they try to hawk “Skip the Line” tickets. Some might even been wearing jackets or vests that say “staff” – they are not Vatican Museum staff. Reserve online at the official website before you come to Rome – or as soon as you get here – to “skip the line” officially! – see below. And don’t go to a travel site for these tickets. They have to make money and will charge you more for a Vatican Museums entrance fee than the Museums do.)
Open Monday to Saturday: the Ticket Office is open from 9 am to 4 pm. The Museums close at 6 pm. N.B. exit from rooms half an hour before closing time. Museums are closed on the following days: January 1, 6; February 11; March 19; Easter Sunday and Easter Monday; May 1; June 29 (St. Peter and Paul); August 15: December 8, 25, 26
Check the Museums website for their early morning, breakfast-in-the-Museums offer.
BOOK IN ADVANCE ONLINE: http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/index.html
For information: Telephone +39.06.69883860 or fax +39.06.69885433
To arrange ADVANCE bookings for guided tours:
e-mail: email@example.com .
tel. +39.06.698.84676 (for individuals);
tel. +39.06.69883145 (for groups);
THREE SPECIAL TOURS – FROM THE VATICAN MUSEUMS WEBSITE (Advance reservations required for all three visits):
- As of March 1, 2014, pilgrims and tourists have been able to visit the Pontifical Villa of CASTELGANDOLFO, the summer papal residence, and the exclusive Barberini Gardens. Accompanied by a multi-lingual guide, visitors will have access to the botanical and architectural wonders of the pontifical residence, also known as the “Vatican Two.”
- Again this year the Vatican Museums renew their usual seasonal appointments in the form of the NIGHT OPENINGS. Every Friday evening, from 24 April to 30 October – except in August – the monumental door of the Pope’s Museums will open at sunset to reveal over a thousand years of treasures in the Vatican Collections. The cultural and musical accompaniment to enrich the experience of some of the evening openings has also been confirmed.
Visitors can also appreciate the natural and architectural beauty of VATICAN CITY AND THE GARDENS in a new, unprecedented and sustainable way. Comfortably seated on board an environmentally-friendly open bus offering panoramic views, will the help of an audio-guide, they will be able to discover the silence and the botanical treasures of the “green heart” of the Vatican along an evocative itinerary bringing together art, nature and faith. For walking enthusiasts, the traditional guided tour of the gardens on foot remains available as always! Entrance to the Gardens is denied to persons not properly dressed. http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/visita-i-musei/scegli-la-visita/ville-pontificie-e-giardini/giardini-vaticani/giardini-vaticani-in–i-open-bus–i-.html
AUDIO GUIDES may be rented at the entrance to the Vatican Museums. For information and reservations: Telephone +39.06.69883229 or +39.06.69881898.
A CAFETERIA is open during visiting hours.
A note from Joan: For much of the tourist season – which, in Rome, is at least 10 months a year – the lines to get into both the museums and the basilica are indescribably long, and the wait can take a great portion of the day you had planned to spend in an altogether different manner. All that changes if you reserve your Museum visit in advance! I cannot stress that enough! When in Rome, call the numbers that appear above, or fax 06-6988-5100. You will be given a date and a reservation number (you may also received these by email or fax if that is how you contacted the Museums). On the date of your visit, go to the small square at the Museum entrance and look for the sign that says “For Reservations Only” or “Reserved Groups.” Show you email or fax or state your name and reservation number and you will then be led into the Museums to join your group. I have accompanied friends and relatives who reserved in this fashion and the ‘thank you’ smile on their faces was my best compensation!
VISITS TO THE ROMAN NECROPOLIS IN THE VIA TRIUMPHALIS. The Necropolis can be visited only through prior written bookings. This can be arranged by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now that you have all this information it would be wonderful if you help me spread the word! Tell your friends and relatives who will coming to Rome about this page on my blog and/or send them the link to this information.
I also mentioned this earlier but you can also buy my book, “A HOLY YEAR IN ROME,” as a great guide. The Holy Year is over but the book is an invaluable guide to Rome, the Vatican, the catacombs, Castelgandolfo and tons of churches in Rome. AND it is now available at a very reduced price! You can get the book directly from Sophia Press: https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/holy-year-in-rome-a
SO YOU WANT A GREAT MEAL…
Some advice as you sit down for a great dining experience: Carefully read the menu and know the price of each dish you are ordering. Waiters often make wonderful suggestions BUT be sure to ask the price of a dish they offer (especially if it is a fish dish!) or a bottle of wine. You don’t want to get an unpleasant surprise when you get the bill – knowing in advance will save time and money.
Italians have a wonderful way of looking at dining, be it at home or in a restaurant. This is a time to share with friends, to enjoy a good meal and great wine, to laugh and talk and relax. They feel badly if you eat hurriedly because, for example, you have to catch a tour but they rejoice if you linger over dinner for hours. That table is yours for the duration!
AND, in any decent Italian restaurant, you only get your bill when you ask for it! The restaurant owners I know here are horrified when I tell them that, in the U.S., a waiter generally brings your bill before you ask for it!
A TIP ABOUT TIPS. Check the menu to see if there is a cover or service charge. I have seen many a person not leave a tip as they assumed it was included in the price of the food or service charge – something they never assume in the U.S., for example. So check your bill: if there is a subtotal, then a service charge, then a total, no tip is needed. If they did not add service, you can! Ten percent would be a decent tip. By the way, in Italy, when you use a credit card, there is no extra line on the bill to add a tip! Tips, therefore, must be cash.
MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS –
HOMEBAKED: Let’s start with a great American breakfast (bacon, eggs, waffles, pancakes, French toast, bagels, donuts, you name it) and great lunch offerings – terrific sandwiches and wraps and salads and brownies and cheesecake – and on and on. Add a Mimosa for brunch! And items are indeed homebaked! The owners are Jesse, an American and his Italian wife, Carolina. They make you feel right at home the minute you enter Homebaked at Via di Porta Cavalleggeri 25 – just about 100 yards from the left hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.
LA VITTORIA, Via delle Fornaci, 15 – 100 meters south of left-hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. Take the underground walkway and La Vittoria is on your left as you exit the walkway. Ask for Claudio and tell him Joan sent you – great food and company and views and reasonable prices. Claudio and his wife Palmerina are the welcoming and smiling faces of this restaurant that draws Swiss Guards, Roman Curia personnel and the staff and seminarians of the North American College. Closed Tuesdays. http://www.ristorantelavittoria.com/
“PIERLUIGI” is located on Piazza de Ricci – not far from Piazza Farnese, about 15 minutes walking from the Vatican – unbeatable food, fantastic wine list, superb staff – ask for the owner Roberto or his son Lorenzo and tell them Joan sent you. Fairly expensive but totally worth it, especially for the fish. Try to eat there when the weather is good and they serve outside on the piazza. https://www.pierluigi.it/
ZI GAETANA, Via Cola di Rienzo 263, has been owned by the Cataldi family for the past 80+ years. The name means “Aunt Gaetana” and four of Gaetana’s grandchildren now own and run the place – innovative menus, good wine list, great prices for lunch menu. Not far from Pza. Risorgimento and the Vatican. Closed Sunday evenings. http://www.zigaetana.com/EN/home
LO SCARPONE – Via San Pancrazio 15 in Monte Verde neighborhood– specializes in steaks and grilled meats – everything here is good – has large outdoor terrace as well as big rooms inside – frequented by people from Pontifical North American College and by Vatican clergy. http://ristorantescarpone.it/?lang=en
TERRAZZA BORROMINI, Via Santa Maria dell’Anima, 30. You are actually entering the Hotel Eitch Borromini which, along with the restaurant, is part of the Pamphili Palace on Pza. Navona. As you enter the building, walk to the end of the long corridor and take the elevator to the 4th floor and the Terrazza Borromini restaurant.
The website says it all: The restaurant is in small to medium-sized rooms overlooking Piazza Navona, embellished by Bernini frescoes and framing one of the most precious views of the famous fountains in the square. The outside terrace transports you to another world and, as you dine al fresco, you are so close to the church of Sant’Agnese, you feel you can touch it!
A menu of both Italian classics and innovations, I found prices to be quite reasonable given the surroundings and the view of Pza. Navona. The chef is Francesco Grasso whom many of my readers met when he was at La Scaletta, on the same street. http://www.terrazzaborromini.com/en/
After dinner. take an elevator to the 5th floor, then a small staircase to the terrace above the terrace restaurant and you will be left breathless by the views of the piazza and all of Rome, as far as the eye can see. A sensational spot for drinks and music and some down time with friends.
L’ISOLA DELLA PIZZA, Via degli Scipioni, 47 (close to Ottaviano metro stop) TEL. 06 3973 3483. Has a huge capacity, numerous staff and amazing menu – and not just pizza! Their antipasti are out of the world – the quality and the quantity. I had perhaps the best steak of my life here the first time I came for dinner with friends. Definitely worth a meal while in Rome! Tables available outdoors in nice weather. http://www.isoladellapizza.com/en/index.html
IL FALCHETTO – Via dei Montecatini, 12 – off of Via Del Corso in central Rome – closed Fridays – a wonderful menu – Roman dishes + specialities. New owners have transformed the formerly rustic and homey atmosphere into a modern eatery, even though it dates back to the end of the 1800s. Formerly a simple family-run trattoria, a century ago hunters would bring their catch here and the meat would be cooked and become the centerpiece of their meal. http://www.ristoranteilfalchetto.it/
RISTORANTE PIZZERIA NAVONA – Piazza Navona, 87 – As its website says: “It’s a classic Italian restaurant with tables outside and fantastic views on Piazza Navona. Stop for a glass of wine or to eat the traditional Italian dishes. Our cuisine offers the dishes of the Capitoline tradition that would satisfy any palate. Generous portions, traditional flavors and a wonderful view of the square.” Ask for Salih or Eduardo: they both worked at the once very popular La Scaletta. https://www.ristorantepizzerianavona.com Phone (39) 06 6880 6827
L’EAU VIVE – Via Monterone 85 – an unusual treat – a French restaurant not far from Piazza Navona run by a lay sisterhood of missionaries from five continents – the sisters wear traditional dress, mostly African, and they pray and sometimes dance to prayer at 10 p.m. Each floor of has a different decoration – ground floor is the most basic, and there is a fairly varied menu, price-wise. https://www.restaurant-eauvive.it/booking/
DA GINO – In the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome on Via della Lungaretta – very good menu – typical regional and local dishes – dining indoors or outdoors, weather permitting – lots of Roman dishes but also some innovative combinations – and some pretty amazing salads. Closed Wednesdays. *no website
LA POLLAROLA – just yards from Campo dei Fiori on Piazza Pollarola, 24/25.
www.lapollarola.it – +39 06 68801654
There are, as you can well imagine, thousands of good and great restaurants in Rome. My advice: Create your own adventures and find great restaurants on your own!
A NOTE ON LODGINGS IN ROME
One area in which I cannot help people – simply because it is too time consuming – is in finding accommodations. If you seek a hotel via the Internet, you might also try to search under B&B (Bed and Breakfast), AirBnB or even under “Residence.” A residence is part hotel – often has a lobby and reception area but no room service, etc – and part apartment – you have a kitchen, etc. and it is like being at home, in a way. If large families are traveling or perhaps close friends or relatives, such as two or three couples, this can be a wonderful – and far more economic – way to travel.
You might also want to look at convents. I know many people who have had the vacation of a lifetime by staying at a religious house, whether or not they understood the language! In any event, Italians are famous for communicating with a smile and charade-like gestures! The St. Patrick Church website is very helpful in this respect: https://stpatricksamericanrome.org/index.php/resources/convent-accomodations
Other reasons I stay away from helping people find accommodations: There are so many categories of hotels – and the ratings here can differ so greatly from ratings of U.S. hotels (a 3-star here often does not equal a 3-star in the States). In addition, personal tastes and budgets vary so widely that I could really be off the mark. What is more, the US$ – €Euro exchange rate fluctuates so that the price one day is not the same price the next day. There are simply so many variables that it is better for me not to get involved in suggesting or recommending accommodations.
Sites such as www.booking.com and Trip Advisor can be helpful and produce excellent results. However, be sure to do three things once you think you have found the right hotel: 1. Visit the hotel’s actual website, 2. Read the reviews by past guests, and 3. Check the map to be sure this is the location you want.
Good Luck and Safe Travels!