This article may contain affiliate links. For full information, please see our disclaimer page
Rome at a Glance
Rome’s cityscape is a stirring sight. Monuments such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Pantheon recall the city’s golden past when it was known as caput mundi (capital of the world). St Peter’s Basilica towers over the Vatican, a testament to the vision of the Renaissance Popes and the genius of renowned artists and architects such as Michaelangelo, Raphael and Caravaggio to name just a few. In fact few cities can match Rome’s astonishing artistic heritage. The city is graced with a myriad of creative achievements. Elegant piazzas and beautiful fountains add a stylish flourish to the city’s streets.
Where do cruise ships dock?
Well, they certainly do not dock anywhere near Rome that’s for sure. In fact, cruise ships dock at the port of Civitavecchia which is about 50 miles north-west by road from the centre of Rome. This fact can make a day exploring the Eternal City and travelling to and from the port a long one and sometimes a bit of a challenge timewise.
Most people opt for cruise line excursions and we can certainly see the sense of that. The last thing anyone wants is to miss the ship departure due to late arrival back. However, you can do it on your own if you so choose. A taxi to and from the city will be expensive but there is quite a good direct train connection from Civitavecchia itself. We have done this ourselves but you have to be super careful about times. More details on this in the transport section below.
Things to do in Rome
St Peter’s Basilica
Rome is full of beautiful churches but none compare to St Peter’s Basilica. It’s a great testimony to the genius of Michaelangelo and Bernini. Building started in 1506 (on the site of the original church where St Peter was said to have been buried) and was completed in 1626. The 115m wide facade features 13 statues. Christ the Redeemer, St John the Baptist and the 11 Apostles.
As you walk through the vestibule into the basilica to your right you can see the ‘Pieta’, Michaelangelo’s beautiful sculpture depicting the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. It is one of no less than 395 statues within the basilica
The Baldachin of Bernini
This large Baroque sculpture in bronze, which serves as a canopy over the altar of the basilica, was the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a great Italian sculptor and architect. The baldachin marks the tomb of St. Peter, situated inside the basilica. Pope Urban VIII, who wanted to mark the tomb in a grandiose way, commissioned Bernini for the task. Bernini started work in 1623 and completed what became one of the finest works of Renaissance sculptures, by 1634
There are more than 100 tombs in the St. Peter’s Basilica, of which 91 belong to former popes. If you want to see the relics of Saint Peter, you must be in the crypt. It’s forbidden to take photos here, out of respect.
Many people are unaware that it is possible to climb to the top of Michelangelo’s Dome (cupola) and if they are they are usually put off by the word climb or worried that they don’t have enough time. Going up inside the dome is a fantastic experience and one we would recommend if you can.
There are 2 parts to the climb. You can take the 231 steps or the elevator to the first level. Even from here you can see things on the inside of the done in more detail such as the mosaics. From here you can walk out onto the roof of the basilica. If you go to the front you can see the long row of 13 statues that we mentioned previously. There is also a toilet, refreshment stand and gift shop here.
If you want to climb to the very top of the dome you can take the next 320 steps (there is no elevator for this part) and it does get quite claustrophobic as the narrow corkscrew staircase that spirals up gets narrower and narrower. Don’t worry there is a rope to hang onto (yes you read that correctly). There are some windows along the way which does help and the way back is different so you don’t run into those heading down.
If you do manage it the views from the top are spectacular no matter what the hour of the day or the time of the year. However, if you want to avoid the crowds then earlier is better.
One of the most thrilling of Rome’s ancient sites, the Colosseum is where gladiators met in mortal combat and condemned prisoners fought off wild beasts in front of an often bloodthirsty and baying crowd. Today, nearly 2000 years later it is one of Italy’s top tourist attractions.
The outer walls have 3 levels of arches. Originally the arches of the 2nd and 3rd storeys would have been filled with marble statues. The upper level had supports for masts that help up huge canvas awnings to shield spectators from the sun and rain.
The arena originally has wooden floors (latin: harena) that was covered in sand which soaked up and prevented combatants from slipping on the spilt blood. The stands were split into 3 tiers with senior officials in the bottom tiers, wealthy people in the 2nd and the plebs in the higher tier.
The subterranean complex beneath the floor is called the Hypogeum (underground). It consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath; larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like.
The Roman Forum
This impressive, if somewhat sprawling ruins, was the centre of ancient Rome’s day to day life. Filled with impressive government buildings it was the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city’s great men.
The Trevi Fountain
Rome’s most famous fountain is iconically beautiful. Standing 26 meters tall, 49 meters wide and intricately decorated in the Baroque style, the Trevi Fountain is an unmissable sight in the city and a must see stop on your tour of the city. It’s location, between narrow streets, adds to the magic when you finally round the last corner and it’s there before you.
Don’t forget to throw a coin or coins into the fountain . The myth about the coins is as follows:
- If you throw one coin: you will return to Rome
- If you throw two coins: you will fall in love with an attractive Italian
- If you throw three coins: you will marry the person that you met
Apparently, on average, $3000 is thrown in every day.
One of the most visited monuments in Rome is the Pantheon. This enormous building with its magnificent dome houses many prominent figures from Roman history. The majestic interior and the magnificent sculptures are worth discovering in this monument. Some prominent people have been buried in the Pantheon since the Renaissance, including Raphael and Peruzzi.
Situated between the Roman Forum and the Circo Massimo, the Palatino (Palatine Hill) is one of Rome’s most remarkable sights, a beautiful, atmospheric area of tall pine trees, majestic ruins and unforgettable views. This is where Romulus supposedly founded the city in 753 BC and Rome’s emperors lived in palatial luxury. Look out for the stadio (stadium), the ruins of the Domus Flavia (imperial palace), and grandstand views over the Roman Forum from the Orti Farnesiani.
Things to do in and around Civitavecchia
Although this post is mainly concentrated on the city of Rome we can’t ignore some of the other things you can see and do in and around Civitavecchia itself. It could be that you have already visited Rome and want to explore what else the port of Civitavecchia has to offer.
Firstly a note on pronunciation. Of all the port stops in the world, this is the one (along with Kralendijk in Bonaire) that gets mispronounced most often. I find it easiest to split the word into these 3 parts. Chiv-Vita-Vekia. (Oh and in case you wondered. It’s Kra-Len-Dike).
Civitavecchia itself is the principal port for Rome and central Italy and the main ferry link with the island of Sardinia. The port, situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, was founded early in the 2nd century by the emperor Trajan on a stretch of coast known as Centumcellae.
Hotels in Civitavecchia
We have personally stayed in and would recommend these hotels for your pre or post-cruise stay.
Places to eat in Civitavecchia
We have eaten at a number of pizzerias in town and all were good so you won’t go far wrong if you enjoy this Italian delight.
If you want something a little more upmarket then we can highly recommend 80 Fame. We loved the amazing food and very friendly and attentive service here. Prices were reasonable too.
Civitavecchia – Nearby attractions
If you have visited Rome before or just don’t fancy the long schlepp into the city there are a few options in the surrounding areas
Lake Bracciano is a volcanic lake situated about 30 miles from Civitavecchia. The lake is one of the cleanest in Italy (no motorboats are allowed) and serves as a drinking water reservoir for the city of Rome.
It’s a great place to explore this small town. We enjoyed walking around this small lakeside town withs it’s narrow streets and great views over the lake. We stopped for gelato and coffee at the Il Gabbiano snack bar right by the lakeside. Interesting fact: A 2-part episode of Everybody Loves Raymond was filmed in this very town.
Inextricably linked with historical noble houses such as the Borgias and the Medici this impressive looking castle was also the location of Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes in 2006.
Any Roman will agree, the best way to whet your appetite before digging into a personal pizza is with:
Deep-fried goodies that are tasty, comforting and very satisfying. A classic choice is the supplì, a fried rice-ball mixed with ragù and mozzarella and cooked to perfection.
Fiori di Zucca
Another fried favorite is Fiori di Zucca, battered zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. Not only is it a beautiful dish, it is extremely flavorful: picture the mozzarella oozing and the anchovies give it a nice kick.
Each region of Italy has its preferred street food and in Rome it is certainly pizza by the slice. Thin and crispy is the preferred style in the capital as opposed to the thicker, more doughy pizzas further south in Naples.
A perfect carbonara is the cherry on top of a perfect experience in the city. This creamy egg-based sauce is dotted with pieces of succulent guanciale (cured pork jowl) and a healthy dash of black pepper to balance the flavors. Roscioli is renowned for preparing one of the best versions of this dish inside its trendy deli-restaurant atmosphere.
Get ice-cream at Fata Morgana. It has some of the best homemade ice-creams in Rome. It offers both traditional, typical ice-cream flavours and some very unique creations. There are a couple of these gelateria dotted around the city. Trust us, you wont regret it.
A Word of Warning.
Sitting down to eat anywhere with a view of a famous monument or landmark will cause the price to shoot up. Better to find somewhere a few streets back or away from places that are overly touristy. If you want to eat cheaply (but still tastily) then we would suggest heading to Testaccio Market. Testaccio Market is a good spot for street food, picnic ingredients, and picking up pasta-to-go. There are also several stalls where you can pick up a nice pre-made salad. It’s also located not far from Ostiense station so is a handy stop on the way to catch your train back to Civitavecchia.
Civitavecchia To Rome Express train
In 2019 a new service was launched called the Civitavecchia Express, designed for cruise traveller transfers into Rome. This service is quicker and has guaranteed seating, but does not go to Termini Station. Its two station stops are the San Pietro and Ostiense stations. San Pietro is perfectly located for exploring the Vatican City and a 30 minute walk would get you to the Piazza Navona or the Pantheon. Ostiense is slightly closer to the Colosseum and the Forum.
However, once in the city centre you can utilise the metro system to get around quickly and cheaply.
The Metro in Rome (Metropolitana) is currently the smallest metro system in Europe with only 3 lines. That said it can be used to reach the city’s most important landmarks.
During the day, metros come approximately every five minutes. On nights and weekends, the wait for the next metro can be up to ten minutes.
Line A – Orange
This line runs from the northwest to the southeast. The most important stops are the following:
- Cipro – The Vatican/Sistine Chapel
- Ottaviano – St Peter’s Square/St Peter’s Basilica
- Spagna – Piazza di Spagna/Villa Borghese
- Barberini – Trevi Fountain/Piazza Navona/Pantheon
- Termini – Rome Termini Central Station.
Line B – Blue
This line connects the north to the south of Rome.
Line C – Green
This line serves mainly the suburbs and as such will not be of much use to tourists.
Click this link for a detailed Rome Metro Map
Rome Airport to Civitavecchia Port
If you are starting/ending your cruise at Civitavecchia you may consider getting to/from Rome’s Fiumicino airport by train. This is possible but bear in mind there is no direct train route. Instead you would have to change stations at Trastevere. Then you would need a taxi/shuttle to the port itself. This fact makes it slightly awkward and less favourable than a direct taxi/mini bus transfer.
Good to Know
Consider what you wear.
It certainly gets hot in the city during the summer months but please bear in mind you are likely to be visiting places of worship where modest clothing is appreciated. Women’s shoulders should be covered and skirts should be at or below the knee, while men should wear pants or shorts that extend to the knees. Linen pants are a great option for the summer. Comfy walking shoes are also a must.
It’s not customary to leave tips in Italy. They automatically add a service charge to your bill but if you want to leave something then we would suggest just rounding the bill up to the nearest Euro. A few coins will be appreciated (see below).
Still on the subject of money it’s always a good idea to carry some cash in Rome…especially coins. Italy still operates on a mainly cash economy although the larger stores do of course accept cards.
Don’t be guilty of committing ones of Italy’s most infamous crimes. Never order a Cappuccino after noon. It’s a breakfast drink and should only be taken in the morning. An Espresso with a dash of milk is acceptable any hour of the day.
Language: Italian, although English is widely understood.
Money: ATMs can be found throughout the city.
Visas: Not required for EU Citizens, Nationals of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA.