Reservations for European vacations are up by as much as 20% over last year.
And, according to a recent survey of Carlson Wagonlit Travel agents, Rome will
rank as the No. 1 European destination for Americans in 2006. Arguably the world’s
most photographed city, last year Rome was the stunning backdrop as the world
watched the election of Pope Benedict XVI on TV, and this undoubtedly influenced
its popularity as a tourist destination this year.
Rome is a spectacular travel destination. First the hub of western civilization,
then the center of western Christendom, the layers and veins of history are
endless. And it’s a world-class secular city, so there’s something
for everybody. But it can be overwhelming.
Some vacationers will have the luxury of more than a few days at a single destination,
able to get plenty of rest and to pace themselves. Others will traipse around
in groups, bleary-eyed, following a bobbing pennant or umbrella held aloft by
a fact-spurting tour-guide. Do-it-yourselfers will pore over guidebooks and
trudge dutifully from site to site, valiantly trying to understand what they’re
To help make your stay in Rome (or any big city) a thoroughly positive experience,
Jane McIntosh, frequent traveler, professional tour guide, and creator of Jane’s
Smart Art Guides, offers these tips.
1. Limit your agenda. It’s easy to
make the mistake of trying to see “everything.” Make up your own
personal “highlights” list ahead of time. That way you can pace
yourself, and if you’re on a group tour, you’ll find opportunities
to relax while the rest of the group races off to overdose at another site that
they probably won’t remember in a week’s time anyway!
2. Concentrate your geography. One way to
decide where to stay is to think about what era in history most interests you
— Roman Empire, Early Christian, Renaissance, Baroque — and then find a hotel
or rent an apartment situated near most of the sites you’ll want to see.
Traffic can be snarly, and Rome’s a great walking city, but it’s
big and it can be hot — even in the Spring and Fall — so focusing your geographic
attention has definite advantages.
3. Choose a general guidebook with care.
Look for one that maximizes the type of information that’s useful to you
so you won’t be carting around a lot of unnecessary page-weight! You’ll
have reserved your hotel in advance, so you don’t need pages of hotel
listings. If you are more “artsy” and less “shoppy”,
for example, you’ll want less information on shopping and more about art
and architecture. Some publishers go so far as to suggest you tear out the pages
you do or don’t need … although the idea of ripping up books makes
some people cringe!
4. Consider the efficiency of audio walking tours. Whether
on CD, a book-on-a-chip, or digital download, audio guides are available from
many travel stores, bookstores and on-line sources, as well as public libraries.
With your audio player strapped on and ear-buds in, you’ll waste no time
stopping to read about what you’re looking at. A well-done audio walking
tour can be an entertaining way to get an overview of an area in a relatively
short period of time. (Note from Dream of Italy’s
editor: You can buy Jane’s excellent Rome audio guides, right here at this site
— Audio Guide to
St. Peter’s Basilica and Audio
Guide to Santa Maria del Popolo.)
5. Look for a good art guide. People who think of Florence
as more of an art city than Rome, don’t know Rome! Extraordinary architecture
and sculpture is everywhere, dozens of churches contain masterpieces of one
sort or another, and the Vatican, Borghese and Capitoline are just the start
of a long list of museums. Here’s where a book can be more trouble than
it’s worth. A human tour-guide or an audio guide is an especially good
idea when looking at art and architecture – they explain what you’re
seeing, while your eyes are free to actually look!
6. Ask friends for recommendations. Most people love to share
their travel experiences, and have fond memories of a wonderful meal somewhere,
or a romantic hotel, or a special site off-the-beaten-track. The quality of
tour-guides is highly variable, so a recommendation from someone you trust can
make the difference between disaster and delight.
7. If you find it hard to resist the temptation to try to “see
one more thing” … until you’re utterly exhausted … keep
in mind that one of the best ways to absorb the real flavor of a city is by
simply sitting. In Rome, avoid tourist-swarms like the Trevi Fountain
and Spanish Steps, find an outdoor café in a pretty piazza and linger
over a glass of wine or a coffee. The cover charge “buys” you the
table for as long as you like. Early evenings and weekend afternoons are great
8. Despite what you may have heard, it is possible to have a bad meal
in Italy! The highest likelihood for disappointment is at a restaurant
that caters to tourists. Sure, the menu’s in English. But a kitchen that
isn’t trying to keep a regular clientele coming back is less likely to
care about quality, and the waiters can be cranky. Instead, arm yourself with
a food dictionary and eat where the locals eat! Order a Limoncello to top of
your meal, and the Romans at the next table might even think you’re a
If you do go to the Trevi Fountain though, be sure to toss in a coin over your
shoulder. This simple act is said to guarantee that one day you will return
to Rome … and since there’s always more to see — no matter how
often you’ve been before — that’s a delightful prospect!
Learn more about Jane’s audio guides – here!