While many cruise lines have Rome on their schedules, it’s usually as either the start or end of the trip, which for the traveler means precious little time spent in this great world capital. That was the case for me on my most recent Viking Ocean Cruise from Barcelona to Rome and since Rome has quickly become a new favorite city of mine, I knew that I wanted to spend some time exploring it again following the end of my cruise adventure. Whether you arrive a couple of days before for a pre-cruise stay or afterwards for a post-cruise experience, your time is somewhat limited and it’s important to know what to see and do. Aside from the major sights, which should be at the top of everyone’s list, today I want to share how I enjoyed the perfect post-cruise experience in Rome and how easy it is to enjoy the Eternal City.
Where to Stay
Most cruise lines have packages for pre-or post-cruise stays, but it’s also easy to do it on your own. There’s no shortage of great hotels in Rome but on my most recent visit I decided to stay at a newer arrival on the luxury hotel scene, the Aleph Rome Hotel. Part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, the Aleph is a boutique luxury hotel in the heart of the city. Its amazing location along the Via di San Basilio makes it the perfect home base no matter your interests in the city. Housed in a former bank, the hotel fully embraces the building’s long history with a revamped design that echoes the era of Gatsby and flappers. Intricate art deco design radiates throughout the hotel, from the exquisite public spaces to the immaculate rooms that are very much a haven away from the hectic city. Also featuring great food options and a relaxing rooftop lounge and restaurant, there’s no doubt that the Aleph isn’t just destined to be one of the city’s next great hotels, but that it’s the ideal location to call home as you explore the city.
What to Eat
Eat everything. Rome is truly one of the great food capitals of the world and it’s hard to go wrong no matter what your culinary interests may be. That being said, there are some easy ways to discover new foods and neighborhoods by taking an engaging food tour. Over the last couple of trips to Rome I’ve had the great pleasure to take two food tours, both fun and delicious but also very different from one another. Eating Europe is a food-focused food tour company that I have come to depend on whenever I’m in Europe and in Rome that meant spending a morning exploring the Trastevere neighborhood with a local resident. For hours we meandered around this hip neighborhood, one I had never before visited, learning about its history and enjoying those snacks and meals important to the people who live there. From gelato and pasta to more local favorites, the morning spent with them was full of laughter and fun moments. Following my Viking cruise I was in Rome jut a few days before Christmas and so decided to join a tour with another company I love to work with, Context Travel. Famous for offering thoughtful and offbeat walking tours around the world, in Rome I decided to hop on their seasonal holiday food tour. Led by a local chef and food writer, she spent the morning taking us to some of Rome’s best kept foodie secrets to sample those delicacies most important around the holidays. Cakes and chocolates, sandwiches and pizza and of course gelato all played a role but, more importantly, I learned a lot about the holiday traditions of the city and how local Romans celebrate the season. No matter what you decide to eat in Rome, be sure to get out there and be adventurous, exploring new neighborhoods and finding your own perfect bites.
What to Do
To sit here and tell you to visit the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon would be slightly absurd. I just assume that any visitor to the city, whether first time or not, will take the time to visit Rome’s most famous landmarks, as they should. I usually revisit places like the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona because I just enjoy seeing them. So, decide for yourself your favorite spots and go see them. No, in this section I will instead offer a few other activity ideas that may not have occurred to you but which will help you learn to appreciate the city in new and creative ways.
Vatican Scavi Tour
Anyone can go visit the Vatican Museums, see the Sistine Chapel and gaze in awe inside St. Peter’s Basilica. But for something fun and different be sure to book a Vatican Scavi tour. The Vatican Necropolis, or Scavi, is located directly beneath the immense St. Peter’s Basilica and contains everything from the Papal tombs to Roman cities of the dead. To visit you can book tickets on your own, which wasn’t the easiest process when I did it, but is well worth the hassle. The entire tour was an hour and a half, but it seemed like ten minutes. We wandered through all of the various levels of excavation, navigated uneven ground previously trod upon by Roman nobles. Included in the tour is an entire Roman city street and necropolis complex. It was incredible to peer through doorways and imagine the city two thousand years earlier.
Other Underground Adventures
Rome being Rome offers dozens of other opportunities to explore centuries past underground. For the last couple of thousand years, Romans simply incorporated or built on top of older buildings, which means entire cities exist just a few feet below the surface. Exploring the city is akin is exploring an archeological dig site and there are several ways you can learn more about the city’s ancient past in fun and engaging ways. One of my favorite underground adventures was below one of my favorite modern sites, the Piazza Navona. An archeological site open to the public shows what used to be on this very spot, a massive Roman stadium. In fact, the horseshoe shape of the Piazza is the exact outline of the stadium, a fact lost to history literally for centuries. That’s one thing I love most about Rome, it tells the history of Western civilization in a way no other city can, all in a setting that is undeniably gorgeous. Another popular spot that is both below and above ground is an easy walk from Tiber Island and a gorgeous place to explore on a bright sunny day – the Theatre of Marcellus. Julius Caesar originally planned the building, but he died before it could be built. Eventually it was finished in 12 BC and quickly became the most important theater in Ancient Rome. Holding 20,000 spectators, the shows may have been what drew the masses, but today it’s an incredible example of Roman architecture. Over the years it slowly crumbled into oblivion, with businesses taking up shop in the bottom and apartments created in the attic section. In fact, people still live in those apartments, believe it or not. With views of the Capitoline Hill and all the impressive monuments, I can only imagine what it must be like to call this place home. Of course, it’s also pretty amazing to live in a 2,000 year old Roman theater, just one of thousands of little marvels found throughout the city.
When asked about favorite places, I always say that Paris is my favorite city, and it is. But many of the reasons why I love Paris so much are also found in Rome, a fact that frankly surprised me. Not every city has an aura surrounding it and it’s not necessarily a result of age or interest. London, for example, lacks this unique quality, but both Paris and Rome have it in spades. They have a certain look and feel, cities well varnished by time and millions of residents over the centuries. Rome in particular has kept true to itself over the millennium, absorbing past generations instead of replacing them altogether. The net effect is a city that bears the imprint of those many years, a city that is fun to wander around aimlessly because you honestly never know what you’re going to find. Yes, I enjoyed hanging out in the Piazza Navona with gelato in hand, but I equally enjoyed walking around neighborhoods that remain nameless to me, just admiring the atmosphere and what it was like to be present in the moment. Sitting outside with friends enjoying a meal, lifting a glass of Prosecco in a silent cheer to a golden sunset, getting delightfully lost down a seemingly endless array of side streets; these are my favorite moments in Rome, much more than seeing the Sistine Chapel or trekking up the Spanish steps. Those private, independent moments are what endear us to new places, it’s why we travel and my post-cruise visit in Rome reminded me once again of their importance.