Tag Archives: Travel Tips

Where to Find Bernini in Rome

Rome is a city full of art, and while many have left their mark on the Eternal City over the years, there are a few whose names come up again and again; Gian Lorenzo Bernini is one of them. The Baroque master’s artistic talents can be seen in churches, galleries and piazzas around Rome. Here’s a list of the best places to see some of Bernini’s most famous works.

Galleria Borghese

Bernini's iconic David at the Borghese Gallery

Bernini’s iconic David at the Borghese Gallery

The fantastic Borghese Gallery is an excellent place to visit for any art lover in Rome, not least because it has several Bernini works. The artist had a close relationship with the Borghese family (one of whom was a pope), so many of his works were commissioned by them and are on display in the Galleria Borghese. Four of the highlights of the gallery’s Bernini collection are his sculptures of Apollo and Daphne, David, The Rape of Proserpina, and Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius, all completed between 1619 and 1625.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Bernini later became close with the powerful Barberini family, just as one of them rose to the papacy. Among his first works executed under the new Barberini pope in the early 1600s was the massive bronze baldacchino that stands over the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. He then redesigned the four huge columns at the base of the dome, including sculpting one of the figures that stands in the column balconies. Under later popes, from the 1640s through the 1660s, he created the ornate Chair of St. Peter at the back of the church, and designed the double-colonnaded arms that line two sides of St. Peter’s Square.

Piazza Navona

Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers

Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers

One of Rome’s most famous squares, Piazza Navona is decorated with two fountains designed by Bernini. The one at the center of the piazza, the Fountain of the Four Rivers, is the most famous. Four huge figures represent the four rivers of the world that were known at the time, with an Egyptian obelisk towering over them. Another fountain in the square is also by Bernini — the Fontana del Moro, with a figure standing on a shell at the center.

Santa Maria della Vittoria

One of Bernini’s most famous sculptures is that of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa, in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria church. The piece was completed in 1652 after roughly five years of work, commissioned by a Venetian cardinal. The sculpture is based on St. Teresa’s description of a vision — and ecstatic experience with — an angel wielding a spear. The sculpture and church feature in the many Angels & Demons tours of Rome.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk

Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk

Just around the corner from the Pantheon is what many see as a whimsical statue of an elephant holding up an Egyptian obelisk. The monument stands in front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and while there are Bernini works inside the church, it’s his elephant that attracts the most attention. Bernini designed the monument (it was carved by a pupil), and the obelisk is the shortest in Rome.

Sant’Andrea delle Fratte

You may have heard that Bernini is responsible for two of the angels along the Ponte Sant’Angelo — the bridge from the Castel Sant’Angelo across the Tiber River. While that’s true, the Bernini-designed angels on the bridge are actually replicas; the originals are inside the Sant’Andrea delle Fratte church near Piazza Barberini, donated by descendants of the pope’s family in 1731.

– Jessica Spiegel

Where to Find Bernini in Rome from Viator Rome

3 Reasons to Avoid the Metro in Rome

The Rome Metro

The Rome Metro

Unlike some of Italy’s other major tourist cities, Rome is enormous and its popular tourist attractions are quite spread out. Some of the city is quite walkable, but trying to cover the whole thing on foot would get exhausting really quickly. Taking public transit in Rome is a must, but there are some very good reasons why you should skip the Metro and take the bus instead.

It’s Extremely Limited

There are only two Metro lines in Rome, with a third that’s been under construction for more than ten years. Whenever workers dig a bit more, they make new archaeological finds and all work is halted. Since modern Rome is built on the ancient city, that’s likely to keep happening, which means visitors are left with only two lines.

The two lines also only intersect in one place. In most cities with more Metro lines, transferring from one train to another underground is a common and easy way to get around the city. In Rome, you must travel all the way to Termini station to switch from one line to the other.

The two Metro lines – Linea A and Linea B – do serve some of Rome’s top attractions (including the Colosseum) and get you reasonably close to others (such as the Vatican), but for the vast majority of the monuments, museums, galleries, and other sights you’ve got on your list the Metro just isn’t the best option.

You Can’t See Where You’re Going

One of the perks of using the subway is knowing it will stop at every station, so you don’t have to worry about knowing when to pull the cord and request a stop. With a bus, however, you can actually see where you’re going and – at least sometimes – will know when you need to get off by sight.

Rome’s bus network is incredibly intricate, and passes right by most of the capital city’s main attractions. Some routes can make for inexpensive DIY Rome tours.

What’s more, there are a few trams in the city that run above ground. These not only let you see where you’re going, they also stop at every station.

The Tourist Line is Known for Pickpockets

Linea A is the Rome Metro line that gets people out toward the Vatican, which can be reached from either the Ottaviano or Cipro stations. Pickpockets aren’t an uncommon sight in many parts of Rome (or in any other big city), but they can be quite a common sight on Linea A – especially during the height of tourist season.

Petty thieves know tourists are riding Linea A to get out to the Vatican, so they often hang out on platforms waiting for unsuspecting visitors who just aren’t paying attention. They may also climb onto crowded trains to ply their trade when everyone is in very close quarters.

Some bus lines in Rome have a similar reputation, but without the added problem of underground train stations without big crowds of people around.

If you’re going to take the Metro

If the Metro is close to your hotel, then it can be really handy to get to and from Termini Station. It can also be useful to get to the Colosseum or Vatican or a couple other sights if they’re not in easy walking distance. Just make sure you keep an eye on your surroundings and your valuables.

-Jessica Spiegel

3 Reasons to Avoid the Metro in Rome from Viator Rome

How to Visit the Amalfi Coast From Rome in a Day

Pretty Positano overlooking the sea

Pretty Positano overlooking the sea

The luxurious Amalfi Coast is one of the most popular destinations in Italy for visitors, but if time is tight and you don’t plan to stay for a few days in one of the towns, a day trip is the next best thing. Amalfi Coast day trips from Rome can be done, but the two areas sit a good distance apart — which makes for a very long day.

Travelers making the trip on their own should plan on a combination of high-speed train and local bus services, which is the easiest way to get from Rome to the Amalfi Coast without a car. The train gets you as far as Naples, where you’ll switch to a separate train. That takes you to Sorrento, where you’ll board a bus — the towns of the Amalfi Coast are not served by trains.

Amalfi Cathedral

Amalfi Cathedral

The train trip from Rome to Naples is relatively quick, just over an hour. In Naples you’ll switch to the Circumvesuviana train line which serves both Pompeii and Sorrento. The Circumvesuviana trains depart from a different part of the Naples train station, so be sure to look for signs pointing you toward Napoli Garibaldi — that’s the Circumvesuviana station underneath Piazza Garibaldi. You don’t have to leave the Naples Centrale station, you just have to get to the underground tracks.

Circumvesuviana tickets are inexpensive. A one-way ticket from Naples to Sorrento costs only €4.50, but if you’re planning to make this a day trip you can get a day pass instead of a ticket, which is only good for 180 minutes. The trip from Naples to Sorrento takes about an hour.

Sorrento isn’t technically part of the Amalfi Coast, but if this is as far as you’d like to go, then you can begin enjoying your day trip once the Circumvesuviana arrives in the station. Those wishing to get to the actual Amalfi Coast, however, must at this point get on one of the buses that wind along the coastal road toward Positano and Amalfi.

Panorama of Positano

Panorama of Positano

Again, bus tickets are inexpensive, in the €3-5 range for a timed ticket. The drive from Sorrento to Positano takes about 50 minutes. All told, the journey from Rome to Positano requires about four hours to complete from start to finish — and then, of course, you get to do it all over again on the return trip.

To cut down on quite a bit of the confusion of Italian public transportation and eliminate some time spent waiting for trains and buses, you can choose instead to book an Amalfi Coast day trip from Rome. Transportation is taken care of, and — in some cases — a visit to the excavations of Pompeii is included in a day trip. Choose an Amalfi Coast small-group tour from Rome or Amalfi Coast and Pompeii day trip from Rome.

– Jessica Spiegel

How to Visit the Amalfi Coast From Rome in a Day from Viator Rome

Complete Guide to Visiting the Vatican During a Jubilee Year

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

By now most Italy-bound travelers know about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began in late 2015 and continues through late 2016. What you may not know is what this means for your upcoming trip to Rome — and what it would mean if you were to visit Rome during any Jubilee Year in the future. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect during a Jubilee Year visit to Vatican City and Rome.

Holy Doors Open

The Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica and other churches throughout Rome (and the world) are only opened during Jubilee Years. Even if you’re not a pilgrim hoping to have all your sins absolved, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to walk through the Holy Door at St. Peter’s. You can book ahead for a date to walk through the Holy Door using the Vatican’s official Jubilee website. This, like tickets for all the Jubilee special events, is a free ticket.

Bigger Crowds

Vatican Museum corridor

Vatican Museum corridor

Rome is a popular tourist destination during a normal year, so during a Jubilee Year the regular numbers of tourists are compounded by a significant number of pilgrims who come specifically for the events of the Holy Year. Some pilgrims will focus just on Vatican City and the special celebrations of the Jubilee Year, others will spend time sightseeing in Rome and in other parts of Italy, too. Expect the crowds to be bigger throughout the whole Jubilee Year, bigger still on special event days and even bigger on major holidays like Easter and Christmas.

Tighter Security

With the influx of so many pilgrims in addition to tourists, the already-tight security at many Rome and Vatican monuments will be increased. This can mean long lines to get through metal detectors (and this is after the long line for tickets), so be prepared for lengthy wait times. You can’t bypass security, but you can bypass the ticket lines by booking entry tickets or Vatican tours in advance — a good idea in a normal year, and an even better idea during a Jubilee Year.

Papal Audiences Booked More in Advance

Up close to the pope during a papal audience

Up close to the pope during a papal audience

More pilgrims coming to the Vatican means getting a papal audience ticket will be more difficult. If you’re so inclined, make sure you arrange your papal audience as far ahead of your trip as you possibly can. These can be booked through the Vatican’s official Jubilee website for free, though if they’re all booked up you can also book a papal audience ticket through Viator for a fee.

Rome Hotels Are More Expensive

Hoteliers raise their rates during holidays and peak travel seasons, when they know demand is higher, so during a Jubilee Year you can expect higher-than-normal prices on hotels throughout the city. Hotels closer to the Vatican, which are often cheaper because they’re not within easy reach of the historic center, may be more expensive than normal because of their easy access to St. Peter’s Basilica. Booking well in advance gives you more options in more price categories.

Learn more about the 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy and special events during the 2016 Jubilee Year.

– Jessica Spiegel

Complete Guide to Visiting the Vatican During a Jubilee Year from Viator Rome

5 Reasons to Visit Rome in Winter

Bundle up fashionably for a wintry Rome

Bundle up fashionably for a wintry Rome

Rome is never really a quiet city. It’s the busy Italian capital, and gets constant tourist attention on top of that. But Rome in the winter can be a refreshing alternative for visitors who don’t love big crowds – and who don’t mind cold weather.

Here are just a few reasons why you’d want to visit Rome in the winter months.

Smaller Crowds

Enjoy more elbow room in the Vatican Museums by visiting in the winter

Enjoy more elbow room in the Vatican Museums by visiting in the winter

No, Rome never empties of tourists entirely. In the winter, however, you’re far more likely to find there’s no line outside the Vatican Museums, allowing you to walk right in without buying a ticket in advance, and plenty of elbow room in the Sistine Chapel when you get to the end of your tour. The piazzas, churches, galleries, and restaurants aren’t as full, either, all of which gives you more time to enjoy Rome’s beauty in relative peace and quiet.

Lower Prices

Visitors to Rome in the winter months get to take advantage of what are typically lower prices on things like airfare, accommodation, and even sometimes tour prices. Prices often spike around holidays or winter festivals, such as Christmas, but you’re still likely to get a better deal if you travel to Rome in the winter than in the summer.

Christmas Markets

German-style Christmas markets are cropping up in lots of other European countries recently, and in Rome there’s a big one in Piazza Navona each year. There are others around the city, too, many of which have more authentically Italian goodies. Christmas markets in Rome can be festive places to pick up a unique souvenir or sample a local seasonal treat or two. These markets usually run from late November through Epiphany on January 6th.

Holiday Events

Rome, like plenty of cities around the world, gets festive around the holiday season with special events. There are often concerts in performance theaters as well as churches throughout the city, and New Year’s Eve especially is a night for fireworks. Check with the tourist information office when you get into town to find out what special holiday events are going on in Rome when you’re there, as the calendar for these changes each year.

Winter Sales Season

In Italy there are two official sales seasons when all retailers put “discount” signs on their goods. One is in the summer, and the other is in the winter. The winter sales period usually begins in early January and lasts for 5-6 weeks – each region can set their own dates. These dates change annually, but if you’re in Rome in January or early February chances are good you’ll see sale signs in every window.

- Jessica Spiegel

5 Reasons to Visit Rome in Winter from Viator Rome

Staying Cool in Summer with Rome’s Drinking Fountains

Using a "nasone" in Rome

Using a “nasone” in Rome

There are ornamental fountains throughout the city of Rome, some of which are on the must-see lists of most visitors. There are also more utilitarian fountains that are easy to miss – these are Rome’s “nasoni,” or public drinking fountains.

In ancient times, Romans built aqueducts to carry water to the people of the city. Today, Rome’s residents have access to water from their tap and also while they’re out and about in the city, thanks to the roughly 2,500 public drinking fountains in Rome. They are technically called “fontanelle,” but most people know them as “nasoni,” for their large nose-shaped spigots.

The first nasone appeared in 1874, and most were installed in the 1920s. The water is cold and delicious and completely safe to drink. Anyone is welcome to refill a water bottle or grab a quick sip on a hot summer day, and some nasoni even have a pail at the bottom to collect water for panting pups. The water is recycled, so it’s not wasted.

There’s a map of nasoni in Rome, as well as a mobile app to help you find the fountain nearest you. And if you watch the locals, you’ll see that plugging up the bottom of the spout with your finger makes the water come through a hole at the top, making it easier to take a drink.

Join a walking tour of Rome’s squares and fountains or a Segway tour of Rome’s squares and fountains

- Jessica Spiegel

Staying Cool in Summer with Rome’s Drinking Fountains from Viator Rome

Rome’s Most Famous Cafes

Espresso shots at a cafe in Rome

Espresso shots at a cafe in Rome

Coffee is an art form in Italy, and each city has its go-to coffee bars. In Rome, there are cafes on nearly every street serving excellent espresso, but not every Roman coffee bar is famous.

Here are four of Rome’s most famous coffee bars – three of which you’ll visit on this espresso and gelato walking tour in Rome.

Tazza d’Oro

Tazza d'Oro cafe in Rome

Tazza d’Oro cafe in Rome

Opened in 1946, Antigua Tazza d’Oro has long been one of the most popular and well-known coffee bars in Rome. It’s a few steps from the Pantheon, and their coffee is so beloved that they ship it all over the world. This is the kind of cafe where you’re drinking your coffee in a few quick sips standing at the bar, but during the summer the best-seller is the granita di caffé – basically a rich coffee slushy with whipped cream on top.

Antico Caffé Greco

In a city as old as Rome, even the coffee can be historic. Antico Caffé Greco is Rome’s oldest bar (and one of Europe’s oldest), open since 1760 and located on the chic Via dei Condotti. Previous patrons have included Byron, Goethe, Stendhal, Keats, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Casanova. It retains lots of Old World charm, as you might expect, with plenty of art on the stately walls and small marble-topped tables throughout.

Sant’Eustachio il Caffé

Sant'Eustachio cafe in Rome

Sant’Eustachio cafe in Rome

Another famous cafe near the Pantheon is Sant’Eustachio il Caffé. It opened in 1938, and is often noted in travel guides as one of the places to get coffee in the Eternal City. The combination of Roman regulars and tourists in this tiny bar can make Sant’Eustachio awfully crowded, but most people swear the quality of the coffee makes the wait worth it. They’re particularly known for their “Gran Caffé,” an espresso with an especially thick crema on top.


Bar Rosati opened in 1923, and the decor basically hasn’t changed since then. The bar is located on the Piazza del Popolo (near the much larger Canova), and they’re known for their pastries and sandwiches as much as their coffee. You can take your coffee in a few quick sips standing at the bar like the locals do, or pay a little extra to sit at an outdoor table and do some quality people-watching.

- Jessica Spiegel

Rome’s Most Famous Cafes from Viator Rome

Pope Francis Declares Jubilee Year in 2016

Pope Francis among the crowds in front of St. Peter's Basilica

Pope Francis among the crowd in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis recently announced that 2016 will be what’s known as a Holy Year, commonly called a “Jubilee Year.” The pope has declared it the Holy Year of Mercy, focusing on his favorite theme: compassion.

Jubilee Years have been called by the church every 25-50 years, starting in the year 1300. Historically, these were to be special periods of complete forgiveness of sins. In the Bible, it’s when slaves were to be set free and debts absolved. Today, a Jubilee Year is a time for the faithful to seek “Jubilee Indulgences” (which include visiting all four papal basilicas in Rome, entering through the “holy door”) and, more generally, an opportunity for the church to promote a particular theme (such as Pope Francis’ selected theme of “mercy”).

The Holy Year of Mercy will begin on December 8, 2015 with a ceremonial opening of the holy doors on Rome’s four papal basilicas – St. Peter’s in Vatican City, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls – which are only opened during Jubilee Years. Walking through all four of the holy doors is said to absolve a believer of all sins. The closing of the holy doors marks the end of the Jubilee Year – in this case, the end of the Holy Year of Mercy will be November 20, 2016.

If you’re visiting Rome and Vatican City during the Jubilee Year, you’ll see bigger crowds than normal – both pilgrims and tourists – and things like getting tickets to a papal audience, touring the Vatican and booking accommodations will require more advance planning than usual.

- Contributed by Jessica Spiegel

Pope Francis Declares Jubilee Year in 2016 from Viator Rome

7 Great Photo Ops in Rome

While many places in Rome are pretty as a picture, and nearly every street may seem poised for a photograph, there are some places that are worth the trek to capture the perfect image. Some of them are found on postcards sold throughout the city, so you know they’re ideal photo ops.

Want to learn from a professional while you’re exploring the Eternal City? Sign up for a Rome photography walking tour.

Capitoline Hill

Overlooking the Forum from Capitoline Hill

Overlooking the Forum from Capitoline Hill

Everyone takes pictures of the Roman Forum, but the excavated area is big enough that – when you’re walking through it – it’s impossible to get a great photo of it. One of the best places to do that is from up on the Capitoline Hill. The piazza at its center, designed by Michelangelo, is photogenic enough, but walk around behind the building at the back of the piazza and you’ll have a commanding view of the Forum.

The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

From the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

From the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

While St. Peter’s is the subject of many iconic images of Rome, climbing up into the dome affords you a view over the city like no other. From the top of the dome, you’ll see the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square stretch out before you as if they’re trying to hug the city of Rome beyond. Turn to one side and you’ve also got a great lookout over the Vatican Gardens.

The Pincian Hill Gardens

The view from the Pincian Hill gardens

The view from the Pincian Hill gardens

These gardens atop the Pincian Hill can be reached via stairs from the Piazza del Popolo or the Spanish Steps, and from up there you can take great photos of the Piazza del Popolo as well as cityscape views with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

Janiculum Hill

The Vittoriano monument at night from the Janiculum Hill

The Vittoriano monument at night from the Janiculum Hill

Although Janiculum Hill isn’t one of the original seven hills of Rome, it’s now one of the best places to see the entirety of Rome spread out before you. So many of the best vantage points in Rome are also on top of things that you’d rather have in your photograph, but from the Janiculum Hill you even get those monuments in the frame.

The Top of the Vittoriano

From the top of the Vittoriano

From the top of the Vittoriano

There are plenty of Romans who don’t like the Vittoriano monument itself, but there’s no denying the allure of the 360-degree views of Rome you can have when you get onto its roof. The skyline stretches out around you, giving you a chance to pick out as many famous monuments as you can. And if you’re not crazy about the Vittoriano, either, then you’ll be happy it’s not in any of your shots.

Ponte Umberto

Looking toward St. Peter's from the Ponte Umberto

Looking toward St. Peter’s from the Ponte Umberto

One of the most popular postcard views of St. Peter’s Basilica is a photograph you can duplicate with a visit to the Ponte Umberto I. Midway across, you’ll enjoy an excellent vista of the church dome behind the graceful arches (and many sculptures) of the Ponte Sant’Angelo in the foreground. If the river beneath is calm and the day clear enough, you’ll also be treated to the whole scene repeated in the water’s reflection.

The Maltese Embassy Keyhole

Through the keyhole

Through the keyhole

You’ve no doubt seen this image before, even if you didn’t know what you were looking at – or through. The Maltese Embassy in Rome is atop the Aventine Hill, and the little keyhole in the enormous green door (which you won’t be able to go through) is a perfectly-framed viewpoint of St. Peter’s dome through an artfully-trimmed hedge. Capturing the image with a camera isn’t easy, but it’s a peek you won’t forget.

Get more insider tips about Rome

- Jessica Spiegel

7 Great Photo Ops in Rome from Viator Rome

The Mouth of Truth & the Skull of St. Valentine

The Mouth of Truth outside Santa Maria in Cosmedin

The Mouth of Truth outside Santa Maria in Cosmedin

In the historic center of Rome, there is an old church with a famous tourist attraction on the outside and the relics of a famous saint inside – the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin.

Construction on Santa Maria in Cosmedin began in the 8th century, with later work done in the 12th and 18th centuries. Some of the Baroque changes were removed in a later restoration, making the church we see today more akin to how it looked when it was first built. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and gained the addition of the word “cosmedin” in its title from the Greek word meaning “ornate.”

Most people who visit the area don’t go into the church, because its most famous attraction is actually on an exterior wall. The Mouth of Truth – la Bocca della Verita in Italian – is in a church portico. You may recognize it from the 1953 film “Roman Holiday.” It is widely believed today that the carved disc was once a drain cover.

It’s worth a stop inside the basilica, however, to see a piece of the 8th century mosaics from the original St. Peter’s Basilica, the beautiful mosaic floor, the lofty wooden ceiling beams, and the skull of St. Valentine. The saint’s skull is wearing a crown of flowers and is kept in an altar on the left side of the church.

-Jessica Spiegel

The Mouth of Truth & the Skull of St. Valentine from Viator Rome