Totally accidentally we booked our tickets to Rome on the first weekend of the month, without knowing that on the first Sunday of the month all museums in Rome are free, or – as was the case with Vatican – they do not open for public at all. Perfect timing if you are traveling on a tight budget, but taking into account that Rome is full of tourists any day of the month, you can imagine the length of the queues for the major attractions of the city. That, if they are open at all.
Getting to and from the airport
A great and convenient way to get to the city from both Fiumicino and Ciampino Airports is by taking one of the available shuttle buses. There a few companies (SIT Bus, Terravision, Atral, etc) which stop at slightly different places and run every 30 minutes approximately (although each company has a different schedule). The prices are really similar – between 4.5 and 6€ – so you can really take the one you find first. Even though the tickets can be bought from the driver of the bus, it might be useful to buy them in advance online, as there might be long queues (yes, there seem to be queues for everything in Rome) and if you don’t have a ticket, you might not be able to catch the first bus to arrive. This might not be a problem when you are going to the city, but it could become a problem on your way back if you are in the hurry to get to the airport.
A trip to the city by shuttle bus from Fiumicino will take you around 60 minutes and around 40 minutes from Ciampino. The buses go to Termini Station, next to which there is a bus stop for a big number of the public city buses, so it’s easy to go anywhere in the city from there. Be aware that differently to the shuttle buses, you can’t get public city bus tickets from the driver. You must buy your tickets in advance from a kiosk or a tobacco shop. The cost is 1.5€ / per ticket, and they are also valid for the city metro, although we have never tried using the latter. If you need to change buses, you can use the same ticket for 100 minutes, which is quite convenient.
Staying at Fiumicino
In our case, we arrived to Fiumicino around midnight, and unfortunately none of the shuttle buses run that late. Taking a taxi to the city is very expensive (around 50€ or more), and most of the Airbnb apartments we were looking at as options for renting, were charging up to 50€ more for late arrival. Therefore, we have decided that it made more sense to get a hotel next to the airport for the first night and then take a shuttle bus to the city in the morning. This is when we found B&B Vegan Inn, which happened to be a great choice.
B&B Vegan Inn is a small vegan bed and breakfast place with only a few rooms at a great price for the quality they offer. We paid 55€ for a double room, which happened to be a small and cozy apartment – and, a vegan breakfast was included in the price. Even though we arrived way past the official check-in time, the hotel arranged a pick-up service for us for 10€ more and checked us in. However, what we really loved about the place was the fridge, available to all guests free of charge, full of water, juice, almond milk and fruit. And, there is a bus stop around 3 minutes from the hotel where you can catch the shuttle bus for the city, which is what we did in the morning.
In the city we stayed next to Piazza Navona, one of the many landmarks of Rome, and a place where you can always find street musicians or, of course, have a gelato, if the weather allows it. Piazza Navona is in the historic center and the heart of the city, so if you decide to stay there, you must be prepared for some noise – although our Airbnb apartment was extremely well isolated. Apart from that, it’s a perfect spot for visiting the city – you can reach most of the centric city attractions by foot, which is what we did.
Here’s a few great places for eating out close to Piazza Navona we discovered during our stay:
LUNCH: Pizzeria Baffetto. Our Airbnb host recommended the place to us, as we were looking for somewhere to have lunch before heading to Vatican on Saturday. It was quite early for lunch, but we wanted to have something to eat before leaving the historic center, as the closer you get to Vatican, the more expensive it gets to eat. We were not aware of it then, but we were extremely lucky to get to Baffetto so early, as the place became crowded very quickly, and by the time we left, there was a queue (yes, there are queues even for restaurants) at the entrance that turned around the corner of the street.
We really loved the rustic interior, long tables, which you share with other customers, and, of course, the traditional Roman crisp thin-crust pizzas, which were big, cheap and really tasty.
DINNER: Est Artigiani del Gusto. We found this small and cozy restaurant following the recommendations on Tripadvisor and were very lucky to get a table for dinner without having booked it in advance, as we were early once again. Except for the wines, which were quite expensive, the restaurant had very reasonable prices for the quality offered. Service was impeccable, the gnocchi al pesto exceptional, and the caprese salad simply out of this world. We also loved the original decoration of the place and the great selection of classical music we were treated with.
BREAKFAST: Ristocaffè. Close to Piazza Navona, but a little off the beaten track, Ristocaffè is not touristic at all compared to the rest of the cafeterias and restaurants in the historic city. It was a breath of fresh air to find a breakfast place we could share with the locals. It has a great variety of breakfast options, and if you like eggs in all their forms as well as good coffee, you won’t regret stopping there.
If you are planning to visit Vatican during your stay in Rome – which you should – there are some things you should keep in mind.
- Vatican Museum (it includes Sistine Chapel) is closed on Sundays, and you need at least 3-4 hours to visit it – which would still be a very fast visit. Therefore, plan your time in advance.
- There is a possibility to get a ticket at the entrance to Vatican Museum for 16€, but the queue can steal another couple of hours of your time, so I sincerely recommend you to book your ticket in advance online at the official Vatican online ticket office. It will cost you 4€ more, but you will be able to skip the line when you arrive, and believe me, when you see the queue, you will know that it was worth it. There is a limited number of online tickets, so try to book yours a couple of weeks in advance too. The latest turn you can get when booking the tickets online is at 3 pm. There is an option that includes lunch, but it doubles the price, so I would recommend you to get something to eat before you go to Vatican.
- The museum will be crowded. If you expect, that you will be able to admire the unforgettable ceilings of the hallway passages of the museum and the Sistine Chapel in a silent and serene environment, as its usual in art museums, you are as naïve as I was. It’s so crowded there that you will be happy to find a corner where you are not pushed around by other visitors and can stop to breath in some of the beauty around you. And still, it’s worth it.
- There is no access to St. Peter’s Basilica from the Vatican Museum. If you want to visit it, which I really recommend you do, you will have to leave the museum and go back until your reach St. Peter’s Square. Don’t worry, you will immediately know where the entrance is, as it’s going to be marked by a long queue. The only way to avoid this line is by booking a guided tour to Vatican, as it usually includes the Basilica as well.
Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum
Visiting Rome on the first Sunday of the month was good and bad at the same time. All museums, including Colosseum, were free, but that also meant that we had no possibility of booking the ticket online and skipping the queue. And, as the access was free, there were even more people trying to get in than usually. Given the fact that the wait would be approximately two hours, unless we book a guided tour, we decided to skip entering Colosseum and only saw it from outside. If you are planning your trip in advance, and you are not traveling on the first Sunday of the month, do get your ticket online through the official website. The ticket will also include access to Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, located right next to the Colosseum, and one of the most ancient places in the city.
As the entrance to the Roman Forum is very close to Colosseum, there is a long queue there as well, so I would recommend you to take a few minutes’ walk to the entrance to Palatine Hill and start from there – you will be able to access Roman Forum freely once inside.
Both Palatine Hill and Roman Forum are an absolute must, even if you are visiting Rome for a very short time. Although pictures do not do them justice, I am leaving you with a couple more photos, in case you still have doubts about going there.
Trastevere neighborhood, just across the Tiber from the historic city, is a perfect escape from the crowded tourist attractions. You will enjoy the walk through its narrow cobblestone streets and if you like live music, you will find many buskers in Piazza Santa Maria. Food prices are much lower in Trastevere than in the center of Rome so it’s a perfect place to get some rest and from the crowds and enjoy a glass of Italian beer and have lunch for just a few euros. And, do not leave without having a pistachio ice-cream in one of the best gelaterias of Rome, hidden close to Garibaldi bridge – Gelateria del Viale.