A tourist guide to Rome – Castel Sant’Angelo, Pantheon

This February (2014) I took my mum to Rome for 6 nights while my dad and brother went hiking in Germany. I learnt so much and visited a good number of places that I felt my experience may be helpful to others so here is a blog-advice-guide. I’ll cover the most popular sites in Rome, as well as taking the Italian railway to Pompeii and the metro system within the Rome vicinity.

Castel Sant’Angelo, Pantheon

Castel Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

We hadn’t previously planned to go here, but we were wandering along the river and saw there was no queue and felt spontaneous. Prices are: €7 reduced, €10.50 full price, audio guide €5 each. Again, audio guide is brilliant. I’m so glad we did this! You start in the lowest part built for Hadrian as a mausoleum and continue up to the castle built on top for the Pope/as a prison during other periods of time. You eventually end up at the top and have a fantastic view of the city. 

One of the views from the castle

One of the views from the castle

By the time we left it was mid afternoon and we worked our way back through the historical centre via the Piazza Navona and Pantheon.

Pantheon

Pantheon

The Pantheon is free to enter, but they are strict on dress code and noise so if you go in summer take something to cover up. Because of the amount of walking we were doing each day we went back to the hotel at about 4/5pm to relax for a few hours before heading out again to look at shops and eventually eat dinner. Italians eat later than we are used to in the UK and many restaurants aren’t open or serving proper meals until 8pm+. You’ll find some who do serve earlier, but generally it gets busy from 8pm onwards.

A tourist guide to Rome – Day trip to pompeii (including train and ticket advice)

This February (2014) I took my mum to Rome for 6 nights while my dad and brother went hiking in Germany. I learnt so much and visited a good number of places that I felt my experience may be helpful to others so here is a blog-advice-guide. I’ll cover the most popular sites in Rome, as well as taking the Italian railway to Pompeii and the metro system within the Rome vicinity.

Day trip to Pompeii from Rome (including train and ticket advice)

We bought our train tickets the night before from the self service ticket machines at Termini station. These machines are in the main hall as you go in and have the option for changing into a number of languages. The screens take you through the process logically and you can add a return towards the end. We selected an early time of 7.55am which got us into Napoli (Naples) at 10am. We paid €11.20 each per person each way for a second class seat.

Italian train ticket

Italian train ticket

We booked a return train back for 16.58, thinking it would be plenty of time. When the tickets printed there wasn’t a time on the tickets so we went over to the customer service desk. To join the queue here are there machines which gives you a ticket number and this works a bit like Argos stores. The number will appear on screens with a desk number to go to.

There are three options on the screen: for general help and advice press the third option which gives you a number beginning with I (capital i); the other options are for specific ticket buying. We were lucky and had some one who was able and happy to speak to us in English. We had selected a ticket which could be used at any point within the next 2 months! Brilliant. It meant we didn’t have to get that exact train back if we wanted to spend more time in Pompeii. He told us that you need to validate your ticket before you get on the train by using a small machine at the beginning of the platform you’re getting the train from. Without doing this your ticket is not valid for travel but there aren’t any signs to let you know about this so remember to do it! It marks your ticket like the picture below.

Check the machine has definitely stamped your ticket

Check the machine has definitely stamped your ticket

He was excellent- there was no way of us knowing this otherwise. Prices to Napoli can be a lot more expensive (up to about €50 each way) so plan this kind of trip ahead of the day you want to go.

In Napoli

The train takes between 2hr10-2hr30 from Rome. Once you get off the train follow signs for Circumvesuviana. This is a local train service and tickets must be bought from the offices on the lower floor of the station just before the entrance to the platforms. You can ask for a return ticket to Pompeii Scavi (in your best Italian if you can) and it will cost you €2.90 pp each way (accurate as of Feb 2014). Go through the barriers and to the platform for the Sorrento line. They seemed to come every half an hour and it takes about 30 minutes to get to the site. Each station is not announced, so keep an eye out! Once you’re off the train at Pompeii Scavi there are signs for the entrance and it is about a minute’s walk.

Station for Pompeii

Station for Pompeii

In Pompeii

We didn’t have a queue at all because we went in the winter season, yay! The site also felt like we were the only ones there sometimes. It costs €5.50 reduced entry (18-25 years old) or €11 full price. I’d recommend the audio guide again (€10 for 2 audio guides, €6.50 for one) although beware- some signs are wrong and some houses may be closed. Even with this it is well worth going and doing the audio guide, just keep an eye on your map and do things logically. It might even be worth scouting out a guide to Pompeii before you leave for the holiday altogether if you’re sure you want to go (this is an example and is the one sold at the site). We spent 5 hours there and that’s wasn’t even doing all of the houses with the audio tour (because they were closed). At the time of writing there’s some quite extensive restoration going on which are going on a while. In fact, the site has been subjected to some damage from the bad weather covering western Europe late 2013/early 2014 and in March 2014 it was announced that one wall had collapsed. We saw some walls being held up with scaffolding and wood panelling and this explains why. Because of this news, it’s worth remembering to take extra care when walking around.

There is now a pizzeria canteen style area within Pompeii itself, converted from an open space (by the look of the map) so if you do need food you can buy while you’re there.

The new restaurant

The new restaurant

Some houses are fenced off and some walls being propped up elsewhere

Some houses are fenced off and some walls being propped up elsewhere

We got back to the hotel at about 9.30pm and just went straight out again for food! A great day well worth doing. If you can make it to Herculaneum too (maybe get a hotel for one night in Napoli) then it is also on the Circumvesuviana line. I have been previously and yields different finds: multiple stories and has grander houses etc. If you’re staying for that, there are so many recommendations for the Archaeological museum in Napoli you may as well do too.

A tourist guide to Rome – General Advice and Getting From The Airport

This February (2014) I took my mum to Rome for 6 nights while my dad and brother went hiking in Germany. I learnt so much and visited a good number of places that I felt my experience may be helpful to others so here is a blog-advice-guide. I’ll cover the most popular sites in Rome, as well as taking the Italian railway to Pompeii and the metro system within the Rome vicinity.

General advice

  • Take a map and mark your hotel on it before you go so you can always get back to it even if you’re lost and need to take a taxi.
  • Be careful of wearing heels on the cobbles!
  • Learn basic Italian at the very least. Take a phrase book to help too.
  • Eat somewhere new every night. There’s so much choice! We managed to always keep our dinner at under €15 each for a main course plus a half litre carafe of wine between us. Occasionally we had a starter or dessert which took the price up a fair bit, but we were pleased with how affordable eating out can be.
  • Try a new gelato flavour each time!
  • Try and pay for things with cash as close to the right price you can. If you only have notes you may be asked for an extra euro or two so that they can give you change in a note. I was thanked for paying in change once! It definitely helps you at the end of the holiday for changing more money back into your own currency.
  • Take ID! Even if you don’t want to carry around your passport with you, keep your driving license if you’re 18-25 and want to take advantage of the significant discount you get at attractions (apart from the Vatican, but we’ll get to that). Even i you don’t qualify for the discount, you still have to leave some official ID when hiring audio guide handsets.
  • Note for coffee drinkers: an espresso seems to be what they mean when it’s just advertised as “coffee”. I don’t like coffee at all, but my mum drinks decaffeinated americanos with milk and it was always more expensive if it wasn’t specifically advertised as being available. You will always have to ask for milk too, so ask for it as you order to save them coming back with it later.

Getting from the airport

Since I booked via Expedia I had the option to book shared transportation (a minibus which drops you to your hotel) as I booked the whole trip. It suited my visit this time since my mum would rather just be dropped off right at the front door from the flight- completely understandable. However, it did add about £20 pp for a round trip. If you’re on more of a budget then you can take the metro from the airport into the centre of rome for €1.50 and walk from the nearest metro station. Taxis are expensive (compared to other cities I’ve taken them in) and when we did take one this trip he tried dropping us at the wrong hotel and charging us loads. I know this won’t be unique to Rome at all but if you’re nervous or want to keep an eye on the the pennies, figure out your nearest metro station and take a map. I’ll discuss the metro system later. We arrived early Saturday evening so had plenty of time to get out for dinner and come back via a handy shop to buy our own bottle of wine.

A tourist guide to Rome – Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill, Città dell’acqua, Spanish Steps

This February (2014) I took my mum to Rome for 6 nights while my dad and brother went hiking in Germany. I learnt so much and visited a good number of places that I felt my experience may be helpful to others so here is a blog-advice-guide. I’ll cover the most popular sites in Rome, as well as taking the Italian railway to Pompeii and the metro system within the Rome vicinity.

Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill, Città dell’acqua, Spanish Steps

The ticket for the Colosseum, Palatine and Forum is one thing and can’t be bought separately. You can buy a ticket at any of the entrances and it will get you in to all three sites as a standard. The queue at the Colosseum is huge, even in winter. If it doesn’t come out of the entrance, the ticket office is still a quarter way round the building. If you want to jump the huge queue then you can do one of two things:

  • Go through the middle entryway to the Colosseum and pay for an audio guide with a ticket for your visit. This isn’t an advertised queue jump; we were in the normal queue for tickets and a man came along announcing it to the crowd. We were one of two couples who took his advice and got in 10 minutes later. We probably would’ve been waiting at least an hour otherwise- no exaggeration!
  • Start your visit at the Forum or Palatine Hill and buy there. When we left each of these, there wasn’t a queue at either!

The audio guide is an extra €5 each but it would highly recommend it for the Colosseum (I didn’t notice if they were available for the other two). Even if you have a guidebook like I did, they are very good value for money. Entry price is €7.50 for 18-25s, €12 for adults (remember this is for all 3 attractions and is valid for 2 days! This last bit isn’t advertised but is on the back of the ticket.)

The reverse of the triple site ticket

The reverse of the triple site ticket

There are options for extra tours. We wanted to do the underground tour for an extra €9 but you cannot go underground as it has been flooded, so there were no tours at the time of writing. Check out http://www.the-colosseum.net/around/visit.htm for more details.

We did this on our first day and was a brilliant introduction to Roman sights. We were so lucky with the weather; the light rain stopped and the sun came out just as we were making our way around the start of the Colosseum and it stayed nice for the rest of the day. The Palatine doesn’t take very long to get around but the signs for the exit will take you the long way out. We weren’t in any rush so didn’t mind. It is worth noting that the Palatine isn’t suitable for anybody unsteady on foot or in a wheelchair. The Colosseum does have a lift though! The Forum is stunning and deserves as decent amount of your time.

Those three sites together take a few hours so we grabbed something to eat at a bar in Piazza Venezia (they’re called bars but are open for light snacks and pizzas etc in the day). It is usually cheaper to take away, so sat outside next to Foro di Traiano in the sun.

We went back towards our hotel area (Trevi) and before I left for the holiday I had found online a little gem round the corner from the Trevi fountain. Città dell’acqua is a small excavation found during the development of the area where you’ll see the remains of an Imperial era building with a holding tank for water from the same aqueduct which still feeds the Trevi fountain. It’s about €3 to get in and only takes 20-30 mins max, but is a nice little find and deserves a few euros from you to see some more intimate ruins close up. It’s got very restricted opening hours: 4-7.30pm Monday, 11am-3pm Thursday-Sunday. If you face the Trevi fountain, turn around 180 degrees and up the street in front of you there is a sign pointing to your left for the entrance.

I think the Spanish Steps are more spectacular in the summer when there are huge garlands of flowers going up the steps but even in winter they can be appreciated for their grandeur and architecture. I wasn’t as taken by them as others seem to be, I’m not sure why.