Tips for Touring Rome
The Pontifical North American College is pleased to present the following tips for making a pilgrimage or trip to Rome.
Information about obtaining tickets to papal events (Masses and audiences) can be found elsewhere on our website.
Rome’s above-ground mass transit system is called ATAC (Azienda Tranvie ed Autobus del Comune). Their website (atac.roma.it), is useful in figuring out the very large system. It can seem daunting at first, with over 350 bus lines and over 8000 stops, but once you narrow your focus to the few bus lines that you’ll need, you can travel anywhere in the Rome metro area easily.
Rome’s subterranean mass transit system is called the metro. There are currently two subway lines in operation, A (orange line) and B (blue line). The only intersection of the A and B lines is at the Termini train station. There are also several suburban rail services: the Roma-Lido, the Roma-Pantano, and the Roma-Nord lines.
Finally, there are eight regional train lines (ferrovie regionali del Lazio,or regional railways of Lazio) that form an intra-city urban rail network. These trains are operated by Trenitalia, the state-run rail network.
Note that all of these transit systems (ATAC: buses and trams; Met.Ro.: subways and suburban railways; and Trenitalia: regional railways of Lazio) use the same ticket, known as a “metrebus ticket.”
One must buy a ticket before getting on the bus, tram, or subway and then validate the ticket in the little yellow box. If you are stopped without a ticket you can expect to pay a €50 cash fine immediately, or a €100 fine mailed to you if you do not have the cash. Tickets can be bought at almost any tabaccheria, in some cafés, and at automated machines. Look for the black or blue tabacchi T signs to locate a tabaccheria.
In case of a malfunction of the validation machine, you should write the date, the departure station or stop name, and the bus window number (not the line number) on the back of the ticket. If you are stopped and you have not done this, you are still liable to pay the fine for not having a validated ticket. If on an intra-city urban train, you are supposed to report to an official of Trenitalia if the machine is broken, but experience has shown this rarely happens.
The best ticket for someone spending a few days in Rome would be the BTI (Biglietto Turistico Integrato, or Integrated Tourist Ticket) which allows you to use the buses, metro, trams, and intra-city trains as much as you want until midnight on the third day from the date of convalidation. A BTI costs €16.50.
Be sure to watch your valuables while traveling through the city, especially on the packed public buses.
Top Ten Churches to See in Rome
1. St. Peter’s Basilica (Piazza San Pietro)
The greatest church in Christendom. Too much to say and describe without writing at least a few paragraphs, but suffice to say that it is a masterpiece of architecture and under the iconic high altar rest the bones of the Prince of the Apostles.
2. St. John Lateran (Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 4)
The official title of the church is Papal Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran, and such a chain of honorifics is justified for the Cathedral of Rome. Notable are its beautiful Cosmatesque floor, the high altar that contains the skulls of Saints Peter and Paul in twin reliquaries, and the connected Baptistery—the first in the world—and the Holy Stairs and Sancta Sanctorum, formerly part of the (now destroyed) Lateran Palace.
3. St. Paul Outside-the-Walls (Piazzale San Paolo, 1)
Originally founded by Constantine over the burial place of Saint Paul, its current form is the result of a nineteenth-century reconstruction that was necessary because of a catastrophic fire in 1823. Nevertheless, it retains the rather primitive character of a Roman basilica, with a grand central nave and unadorned columns. The mosaics that survived the fire date from the 400s.
4. St. Mary Major (Piazza del Esquilino, 34)
One of Rome’s five papal basilicas, Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest church dedicated to Mary in Rome, and houses an important relic under its high altar: the crib in which the Child Jesus rested in Bethlehem. A side chapel contains an icon beloved of the Roman people, “Salus Populi Romani.”
5. Santa Maria in Trastevere (Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere)
Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of Rome’s oldest churches and believed to be the first church in the world where Mass was publicly celebrated after the legalization of Christianity in 313 AD. It originally dates from the late third to the early fourth century but was rebuilt in the twelfth century. The church is famous for a Byzantine mosaic behind the altar and a number of medieval mosaics. The piazza has a beautiful octagonal fountain.
6. San Clemente (Via Labicana, 95)
San Clemente, near the Coliseum, is a perfect example of how history still exists in layers in Rome’s churches. The current twelfth century church features probably the most beautiful mosaic in Rome, and sits on top of a fourth century church built over a first century Christian meeting place that’s above a first century BC Mithraic temple and school.
7. Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (Piazza della Repubblica)
This church was constructed (according to plans drawn up by Michelangelo) inside the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian. The layout is unique, in that the transept, which runs crosswise to the nave, is longer. It also houses a fascinating solar median that was formerly used to calculate the time in Renaissance to early modern Rome.
8. Sant’Agostino (Piazza di Sant’Agostino)
One of the first Roman churches built during the Renaissance, it holds the tomb of Saint Monica, Saint Augustine’s mother. There is also a very popular devotional statue inside, Nostra Signora del Parto, a devotion to Our Lady as protectress of pregnant women and mothers.
9. Sant’Ignazio (Via del Caravita, 8a)
Another example of the exuberant Baroque style that the Jesuits popularized throughout Europe, Sant’Ignazio is a worthy companion of the nearby Gesù. The bodies of Jesuit saints John Berchmans and Aloysius Gonzaga are entombed under side altars inside.
10. Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Piazza della Minerva, 42)
Santa Maria sopra Minerva is one of Rome’s only Gothic style churches. It was built in the thirteenth century over what was believed to have been the Temple of Minerva (actually the Temple of Isis). Inside is a sculpture by Michelangelo and the tombs of Saint Catherine, Fra Angelico, and some of the Medici popes. Outside is a Bernini sculpture of an elephant with an obelisk on its back.
Quick trips outside the city
Ostia Antica is a large archeological site on the location of the harbor city of ancient Rome. The site is noted for the excellent preservation of its ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics, and is a good substitute for a visit to Pompeii. Notably, Saint Monica (the mother of Saint Augustine) died at Ostia in 387. A full price ticket to the excavations costs €8, while train tickets to the site are €1.50 (you can use a bus ticket).
Take the FC2 line from Stazione Porta S. Paolo
A pleasant little town on Lake Bracciano, it’s a nice getaway from the frantic pace of the capital. Visit the Castello Odescalchi, a well-preserved medieval fortress, and the town’s modest cathedral dedicated to Saint Stephen. Train tickets are €1.50 (you can use a bus ticket); and entrance to the castle is €8.50.
Take the FC2 line from Stazione S. Pietro
Tivoli and Villa d’Este
Tivoli is an idyllic little town out near the mountains to the east of Rome. Its main attraction is the Villa d’Este, a beautiful Renaissance country home with spectacular water gardens that sprawl down a landscaped hillside. The train station that leads you there, Tiburtina, is accessible on the metro. The cost is approximately €2.60 for a train ticket and €8.00 for entry to Villa d’Este.
Take a train from Stazione Tiburtina