Welcome to Joan's Travel Advice!!
As you might imagine, I receive countless requests for information about tours, how to visit the Vatican, places to stay in Rome and Italy, etc. Because there is no way I can personally answer the many letters and individual requests, I have prepared some information for those of you who are planning to visit the Vatican, and also some links to some useful sites in English that should answer your questions. At the very bottom you will find some recommendations for dining in Rome.
You can reserve tickets to the Vatican Museums, tours of the Vatican Gardens and visits to the world famous scavi in advance, and the information you need to do this is below. I highly recommend the following helpful websites:
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING THE VATICAN
(from the vaticanstate.va link above)
PAPAL AUDIENCES: A ticket - always free of charge - is required for attending the General Audience on Wednesday mornings or other papal ceremonies. They are issued by the Prefecture of the Papal Household reached by way of the Bronze Door. The office is open Mondays from 9:00 to 13:00 and Tuesdays from 9:00 to 18:00.
To request a ticket: Telephone +39.06.69883114 – +39.06.69884631; or fax +39.06.69885863.
A note from Joan: Remember, you can also ask for tickets through the North American College by going to the web site of the Visitors Office of the Pontifical North American College: www.pnac.org/general/visiting_vatican.htm or by visiting www.santasusanna.org. the church in Rome for Americans that, like NAC, on Tuesday afternoons distributes tickets to those who have requested them in advance. I recommend both of these avenues because of the extraordinarily personal treatment you will receive as you meet fellow Americans, “ex-pat” Americans who live in Rome.
ST. PETER’S BASILICA: The Basilica is open every day from 7.00 to 19.00, April to September and from 7.00 to 18.00, October to March. To preserve the sacred character of the church, groups consisting of more than five members and accompanied by a guide are kindly requested to use "audio-guides" which can be rented at the entrance to the Basilica. Proper dress is required for admission to the Basilica. To rent "audio-guides": telephone +39.06.69883229 or +39.06.69881898.
A note from Joan: “Proper dress” means that knees and shoulders must be covered - for men and women.
P.S. To get into the basilica without waiting in a long line, go to 8:30 a.m. Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel – on the right aisle of the basilica. This way you have the beauty of Mass and the joy of experiencing this marvelous basilica without the tourists, as tourists are not allowed in until 9. If you cannot make Mass, make sure you are in line for security at 9 a.m.
HISTORICAL AND ARTISTIC MUSEUM (Treasury): The Treasury is open from 9.00 to 18:15, April to September and from 9.00 to 17.15, October to March. The entrance is from inside St. Peter’s Basilica (on the left side).
VISIT TO THE DOME: Visits to the dome of St. Peter’s are possible every day from 8.00 to 18.00, April to September and from 8.00 to 17.00, October to March. The entrance is at the portico of the Basilica (on the right hand side of the basilica, just off the atrium).
A note from Joan: There are 320 steps to the top of the dome and it is an incredibly wonderful experience but also – and literally – breathtaking! Anyone with heart ailments, breathing problems or anything else that might be a serious impediment to scaling that height is forewarned before taking even one step. You can’t go a quarter of the way, for example, and decide it is too much and turn around. It is all or nothing! And the staircase is the width of only a single person.
VATICAN GROTTOES: The Vatican Grottoes are open every day from 7.00 to 18.00, April to September and from 7.00 to 17.00, October to March. The entrance is at the transept of St. Peter’s Basilica.
VISIT TO THE TOMB OF ST. PETER AND THE PRE-CONSTANTINIAN NECROPOLIS: For visits to the tomb of St. Peter and the necropolis (known as the “scavi” which means excavations), please contact the Ufficio Scavi (excavations office): tel. + 39.06 69 88 53 18; fax + 39.06 698 73017; e-mail: email@example.com . The office is open from 9.00 to 17.00, Monday to Friday and reached by way of the Arch of the Bells.
CLICK HERE FOR FULL INFORMATION ON SCAVI TICKETS AND TOURS: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/uffscavi/documents/rc_ic_uffscavi_doc_gen-information_20040112_en.html
A note from Joan: This is one of the best visits you will make in Rome – or perhaps all of Italy. BUT, you MUST book well in advance. Several months before your departure is NOT too early to request a scavi visit.
VISIT TO THE VATICAN MUSEUMS: The Vatican Museums are open weekdays from 10:00 to 13:45 during November - February (except during the Christmas period when they are open from 8:45 to 16:45). During March - October the Museums are open Monday - Friday from 10:00 to 16:45 and Saturdays from 10:00 to 14:45. On the last Sunday of each month the Museums can be visited free of admission charge from 9:00 to 13:45. Entrance to the Museums is not possible 75 minutes before closing time.
For information: Telephone +39.06.69883860 or fax +39.06.69885433
To arrange ADVANCE bookings for guided tours:
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
tel. +39.06.698.84676 (for individuals);
tel. +39.06.69883145 (for groups);
AUDIO GUIDES may be rented at the entrance to the Vatican Museums. For information and reservations: Telephone +39.06.69883229 or +39.06.69881898.
A CAFETERIA is open during visiting hours.
A note from Joan: For much of the tourist season – which, in Rome, is about 10 months a year – the lines to get into both the museums and the basilica are indescribably long, and the wait can take a great portion of the day you had planned to spend in an altogether different manner. All that changes if you reserve your Museum visit in advance: When in Rome, call the numbers that appear above, or fax 06-6988-5100. You will be given a date and a reservation number (you may also received these by email or fax if that is how you contacted the Museums). On the date of your visit, go to the small square at the Museum entrance and look for the sign that says “For Reservations Only” or “Reserved Groups.” Show you email or fax or state your name and reservation number and you will then be led into the Museums to join your group. I have accompanied friends and relatives who reserved in this fashion and the ‘thank you’ smile on their faces was my best compensation!
VISITS TO THE ROMAN NECROPOLIS IN THE VIA TRIUMPHALIS. The Necropolis can be visited only through prior written bookings. This can be arranged by emailing: email@example.com .
VISITS TO THE VATICAN GARDENS. The Vatican Gardens can be visited only through guided tours organized by the Guided Tours Office of the Vatican Museums. Tours depart from the Vatican Museums. Entrance to the Gardens is denied to persons not properly dressed.
For information: Telephone +39.06.69884676 (individuals) or +39.06.69883145 (groups). Bookings can be arranged by faxing +39.06.69885100 or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Note from Joan: Check with one of the above contacts first because now that Pope Francis lives in the Santa Marta residence and has quick and easy access to Vatican City, and Benedict XVI, Pope emeritus, lives in a monastery in the Vatican gardens, there may be days and times that garden visits are not allowed.
You can well imagine that I receive lots of emails and meet many visitors in Rome who ask me how they get tickets to an audience with the Pope and how they can visit the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc. Well, now you know – and it would be wonderful if you help me spread the word! You might even want to email the link to this column to your friends and relatives who will coming to Rome– and perhaps even email the link to this column to people you know who are planning a trip to Rome and the Vatican.
LODGINGS IN ROME
One area in which I cannot help people – simply because it is too time consuming - is in finding accommodations. If you seek a hotel via the Internet, you might also try to search under B&B (Bed and Breakfast) or even under “Residence.” A residence is part hotel – often has a lobby and reception area but no room service, etc – and part apartment – you have a kitchen, etc. and it is like being at home, in a way. If large families are traveling or perhaps close friends or relatives, such as two or three couples, this can be a wonderful – and far more economic - way to travel.
You might also want to look at convents. I know many people that have had the vacation of a lifetime by staying at a religious house, whether or not they understood the language! In any event, Italians are famous for communicating with a smile and charade-like gestures! The Santa Susanna website is extremely helpful in this respect. Check it out at www.santasusanna.org - and go directly to “Coming to Rome.”
Other reasons why I stay away from helping people find accommodations: There are so many categories of hotels - and the ratings here can differ so greatly from ratings of U.S. hotels (a 3 star here often does not equal a 3 star in the States). In addition, personal tastes and budgets vary so widely that I could really be off the mark. What is more, the US $ - € Euro exchange rate is often so bad that if you see a hotel for €100-150, you may think you are getting something decent for that amount, only to discover it is not at all what you want and very much overpriced for what you are getting. There are B&Bs that charge €100 or more that for a double with very, very simple furnishings. There are simply so many variables that it is better for me not to get involved in suggesting or recommending accommodations.
When I travel, I consistently use www.booking.com. However, be sure to do three things once you think you have found the right hotel: 1. Visit the hotel’s actual website, 2. read the reviews by past guests, and 3. check the map to be sure this is the location you want.
Good Luck and Safe Travels!
SO YOU WANT A GREAT MEAL...
LA VITTORIA, Via delle Fornaci, 15 – 100 meters south of left hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. The underground walkway – it will be on your left as you exit the walkway. Ask for Claudio and tell him Joan sent you – great food and company and views and reasonable prices. Closed Tuesdays.
LA SCALETTA DEGLI ARTISTI: Via di Santa Maria dell' Anima 56, Piazza Navona area. Tel. 06.68 80 18 72 Email: email@example.com. You will always get an amazing meal here and have a great time enjoying it! Ask for Giò (owner - pronounced Joe) and Francesco, the Sicilian Bill-Murray look-alike chef. Just tell them “Joan sent me!” My favorite place in the Pza. Navona area.
“PIERLUIGI,” Piazza de Ricci - not far from Piazza Farnese, about 15 minutes walking from the Vatican - unbeatable food, fantastic wine list, superb staff – ask for the owner Roberto or his son Lorenzo and tell them Joan sent you. Fairly expensive but totally worth it. Try to eat there when the weather is good and they serve outside on the piazza. Closed Mondays.
ZI GAETANA, Via Cola di Rienzo 263, owned by the Cataldi family for the past 70+ years. The name means “Aunt Gaetana” and four of Gaetana’s grandchildren now own and run the place – innovative menus, good wine list, good prices for lunch menu.
LO SCARPONE – the name means “boot” or “big shoe” - Via San Pancrazio, 15 in Monte Verde neighborhood– specializes in steaks and grilled meats – everything here is good – has large outdoor terrace as well as big rooms inside – frequented by people from Pontifical North American College and by Vatican clergy.
IL FALCHETTO – Via dei Montecatini, 12 – off of Via Del Corso in central Rome – closed Fridays – a wonderful menu – Roman dishes + specialities – rustic and homey atmosphere, has a fascinating history.
L’EAU VIVE – Via Monterone 85 – an unusual treat – a French restaurant not far from Piazza Navona run by a lay sisterhood of missionaries from five continents - the sisters wear traditional dress – much is African - and they pray and dance to prayer at 10 p.m. – each floor of has a different decoration - ground floor is the most basic.
TRE SCALINI on Piazza Navona. Considered somewhat upscale but the fun you have here eating outdoors and watching people and listening to music on Pza Navona is worth it. You can keep costs down, however, as there are fixed price menus that are very reasonable. Tre Scalini is famous for “tartufo” – a decadent rich chocolate ice cream desert - but it is more expensive in the restaurant than next door at the Tre scalini gelateria (ice cream parlor). Buy the tartufo here and walk around the piazza after dinner.
DA GINO – In Trastevere – Via della Lungaretta – very good menu – typical regional and local dishes – dining indoors or outdoors, weather permitting – lots of Roman dishes but also some innovative combinations – and some pretty amazing salads. Closed Wednesdays.
Create your own adventures and find great restaurants on your own!