Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it certainly can’t be seen in a day. But it’s always an adventure to see what you can on a day’s visit.
The more you know of Rome, the more you realize you know only a fraction of what there is to know about the Eternal City. You could spend an entire month just exploring the art and architecture of a single century.
But for most cruise passengers heading in on the highway from Rome’s far-away port of Civitavvecchia for an “on your own” day, there are only about six or seven precious hours to expand their knowledge of sprawling history-packed city.
The crowd pleasers are the Big Four: the Roman Forum and Colosseum, the Vatican and St. Peter’s. And there are the possibilities of getting lost in the shop-till-you drop triangle between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo.
Until recently, all the “Rome on Your Own” tour buses from cruise ships were required to let passengers off and park at the same place—an underground garage near the Vatican. So that was the starting point for any Roman ramble.
The city has now relaxed its restrictions on short-term tour bus parking. Tour companies are being allowed to pick from a range of different drop-off points and pick up points in different corners of the ancient historic area.
As a repeat visitor, I’ve found the liberalized rules have opened up many new opportunities to explore fascinating parts of the city I haven’t taken the time to visit on a day trip before.
On a recent visit from Carnival Cruise Lines’ newly rebuilt Carnival Sunshine, the drop off point for the tour buses was the Piazza Venezia, whose main focal point is the enormous Altare della Patria — also known as the Vittorio Emanuelle monument and nick-named the “wedding cake” for its resemblance to an ornate frosted confection.
The piazza (or square) is at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and across the road from Emperor Trajan’s Forum, which is an under-appreciated remnant of Imperial Rome because it is just off the start of the Viale di Fori Imperiali that leads past the much larger Roman Forum and to the Coliseum.
I started with a quick walk up the stairs of the “wedding cake” that became the formal office of dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930s for a view of Rome from the heights that Il Duce used to give his speeches.
From there, I took a route from Piazza Venezia down the Via del Plebiscito to one of Rome’s often overlooked attractions: the site of Julius Caesar’s infamous stabbing on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. A recent archeological dig at Largo di Torre Argentina uncovered the remains of buildings around the ancient Theater of Pompey and while it’s off limits to tourists, you can walk around the whole site and get an overview because the square is a good 10 feet lower than today’s street level.
From here, I followed the Via del Cestari north down lanes of shops including one that’s a tailor shop for cardinals and bishops to the Pantheon, which has stood here in virtually pristine condition for 20 centuries since the days where Roman armies gathered on the surrounding Campus Martius to head out to battle.
From the Pantheon, I headed right up a somewhat circuitous walk along the Via dei Coronari and the Vicolo di Febo, some of the oldest shopping streets in Rome to the Piazza Navona, which is in a sense Rome’s living room with its broad plaza filled with elaborate fountains surrounded by shops and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a coffee or gelato, or lunch, I’d recommend finding a cafe on the streets outside the Piazza itself, which is tourist central for this part of Rome. A cappuccino that costs one1 Euro for a stand up bar or two Euros at a table a block away will come to five or 10 Euros at one of the famous cafes in the Piazza. Of course, there’s the view, which many find worth the extra price.
In the afternoon, most tours have to reconnoiter with their buses by about 3:30 in the afternoon to head back to the ship. But that leaves time for a leisurely lunch. I always like the restaurants on the streets around the Via Condotti, which have outdoor tables that allow for ample people watching.
Ignore the menu and ask for what the chef is most proud of that day and you’ll always be pleased
For more Roman rambling see: Seeing Rome in a Day: Six Highlights from Piazza Navona