Day trip from Rome: the beach (without a car)

by Amy Knauff

The Italians’ beloved national holiday Ferragosto has passed, which means summer is starting to wind down – but it’s still hot in Rome, and central Italy’s moderate climate means there’s about a month of potential beach time left.

The good news is that you don’t need a car to get to the beach – there are several different beaches easily reachable by bus or train. The bad news is that the beaches near Rome aren’t known for being particularly beautiful (or clean). Having said that, if you’re willing to go just a little farther out you can find some very nice, clean beaches. And even a day at one of the closer beaches can be fun – if nothing else, it’s a very typically Roman experience.

Ostia / Torvajanica

Ostia is the beach closest to Rome, and it’s packed with Italians all summer long. The water here does not win any cleanliness awards, so taking a dip is up to your own personal squeamish factor (although plenty of people do!). You can pay a fee to go into a stabilimento – an organized beach complex where you rent an ombrellone (beach umbrella) and lettini (loungers) or sdrai (deck chairs). Otherwise, you can “rough it” by going to the part of Ostia known as i cancelli – a stretch of coastline with several free beaches in a row that are identified by numbered front gates (cancello means gate in Italian). Here you just throw down your beach towel wherever you find a free spot of sand. Heading away from Ostia and the cancelli, you’ll get to another beach called Torvajanica. It’s similar to Ostia, but as it’s slightly farther out, it’s a little less crowded and the water is a little cleaner. In Torvajanica, you’ll find both stabilimenti and free beaches.

Do as the Romans do: go early in the morning and stay until evening. Rent an ombrellone and lettino and spend the day tanning, reading, snoozing, strolling along the water, chatting,  playing cards, and taking swims. Have a panino and gelato from the closest bar for lunch, or better yet, if you’re at a stabilimento, take a break from the sun and have a long, leisurely lunch at their (usually cafeteria-style) restaurant. Don’t forget the Italian summer favorite insalata di riso (a cold rice “salad” with mixed vegetables) or pomodori ripieni (baked tomatoes stuffed with rice). Seafood is a good option too. And if you want to be truly Italian, follow up your meal with some fresh fruit (like a juicy peach or slice of watermelon) and an espresso.

Getting there: Take the metro line B (blue line) to Piramide. Exit the metro station straight into the small Porta San Paolo train station (just next to it, you don’t have to go through a turnstile; use the same ticket you used on the metro). Board the train and exit at the last stop, Cristoforo Colombo (about 40 mins). From there, simply cross the piazza and big street to the other side and you’ll find a few stabilimenti there. Otherwise, you can take the bus from right in front of the train station (bus 07) farther away to the cancelli (another 10-20 minutes) or Torvajanica (another 15 minutes or so). Total transportation cost: €1.50 one way.

Santa Marinella

Again, this beach is winning no beauty contests, but it can actually be easier to get to than Ostia, depending on where you’re coming from, and it’s not quite as close to Rome so the train and beaches are not as packed.

Santa Marinella, near Rome’s port Civitavecchia, is mostly full of stabilimenti but there’s one small free beach – tucked away in a corner near a cement wall. Not very picturesque, but if you’re on a budget, it works.

Getting there: Take the train from Termini station (you can also get a train direct from Trastevere station or San Pietro station) – it takes about 1 hour. When you exit the train station, walk straight up to the main road: the sea is in front of you. Make a right on the main road and walk up until you can cross the street and take the stairs down to where the beach is. It’s about a 5-minute walk. Total transportation cost (from Termini): €4.60 one way.

 

Fregene

The swimming is not great  – last time I was here I saw some trash floating in the water. However, the beach is free (and therefore particularly popular with students and young people) so if you’re into sunbathing, it can be fun to just hang out. Fregene is also known for being something of a pick-up scene, so if you feel like flirting and maybe getting a phone number or two, this is the place to go.

The real reason I’m mentioning Fregene, though, is not for the swimming, but for its nightlife. In the summer, several outdoor bars/restaurants on the beach open up and they get packed with people who come for aperitivo (drinks and a buffet) and to watch the sun set. The bar Singita is particularly popular: you can sit at tables, lie on beds (yes, beds), or lounge on big sheets on the sand while you listen to chill “Buddha bar” type music and sip drinks out of pitchers with extra-long straws.

Getting there: Take the train from Termini to Maccarese-Fregene. From outside the Maccarese station, you’ll need to take a local bus (like the 020) to Fregene. Total transportation cost (from Termini): €4.10 one way.

Sabaudia

This one’s a little trickier to get to by public transport, but well worth it. By far this is one of the prettiest, cleanest beaches near Rome. It regularly wins awards for having some of the cleanest beaches/water in the Lazio region. It’s also less crowded, and the beach is rather large so rather than feeling like sardines packed in with rows of lettini, you have room to breathe and even play a game of frisbee without tripping over your neighbors. The lovely San Felice Circeo mountain overlooks the beach (also worth a visit, but sadly, you really do need a car for that one).

Getting there: Take the train from Termini station to Priverno-Fossanova. From there, take the Cotral bus to the town of Sabaudia. From Sabaudia town, there is another bus that goes to the beach, but it’s also possible to walk (about 15 minutes). Total transportation cost (from Termini): €6.10 one way.

Sperlonga

I’ve saved the best for last – in my opinion. It’s also the farthest away, just past Sabaudia. It’s definitely worth it, though, so whenever I have a whole day free to spend at the beach, I go here.

The beach itself is probably prettier at Sabaudia (as it’s less “built up” with stabilimenti), but the water here is equally as clean and beautiful. What wins me over, though, is the town itself. The other beaches on this list have pretty unattractive towns (relatively new, Mussolini-era blocky cement towns), but Sperlonga looks like a little white-washed Greek village. The town’s main square and pedestrian street have a gorgeous view over the beach below. It’s possible to take the bus directly down to the beach, but I always choose to get off first at the town so I can walk through the tiny, labyrinthine streets and stairs to get down to the beach. I also head to the alimentari to get a fresh sandwich made (opt for mozzarella as one of the fillings – being pretty close to Naples, the mozzarella around here is amazing!). You can also get some fresh fruit, snacks, and water, and you’ll be set for the day.

Head down the stairs (follow all the people dressed for the beach, or ask somebody) to the beach below. If you want to go to the free beach, make a left and walk for about 10 minutes. Otherwise, you’ll have no trouble finding a nearby stabilimento.

Getting there: Take the train from Termini station to Fondi-Sperlonga. From right outside the train station, there is a bus that leaves regularly (it coincides with the train arrivals) for Sperlonga town and beach. Total transportation cost (from Termini): €7.90 one way.

Estate Romana: Roman Summer events

by Amy Knauff

Tourism tends to slow down in Rome during July and August, as travelers get scared off by the notorious hottest months of the year and would rather head to the seaside or more northern locales.

Despite the heat, I actually think July and August is a great time to visit the city. The crowds have thinned out, the summer sunlight makes the city look gorgeous, and it’s easy to do as the Romans do to avoid the hottest time of the day: get up early to do your sight-seeing, go back to your accommodations for a post-lunch siesta, then go out again in the late afternoon when it’s cooled down a bit, staying out until late at night enjoying the long days and cooler evening air. If you really aren’t used to the heat, consider booking a place with air-conditioning so you can get a good night’s sleep.

The best part of the Roman summer is the variety of festivals that are held in July and August. Many of the art exhibits at galleries and museums across the city are winding down in June or early July, but the outdoor music, dance, and theatre festivals are starting up. Here’s a rundown on the most interesting not-to-miss festivals in Rome:

LUGLIO SUONA BENE, 25 June – 2 August

This literally means “July sounds good.” It’s a series of concerts that take place almost every night, often in the Auditorium but also at other venues across the city. Some of this year’s biggest acts are Massive Attack, Robert Plant, James Blunt, Herbie Hancock, Simple Minds, Keith Jarrett, and Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. http://www.auditorium.com/eventi/5707901

FESTIVAL DI CARACALLA, 24 June – 9 August

This is one of my personal favorites – the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma moves their opera and ballet performances outside to the Terme di Caracalla, with the stunning backdrop of the ruins of the ancient baths of Caracalla. This year the Terme will host ballets Swan Lake and Robert Bolle and Friends, and operas La Bohème and The Barber of Seville. www.operaroma.it/ita/caracalla.php

NOTTI D’ESTATE A CASTEL SANT’ANGELO, 1 July – 7 September

The Castel Sant’Angelo hosts jazz and classical music concerts on the outdoor terrace (with fabulous views of the city, by the way) on Wed and Fri-Sun. They also have guided evening tours (also in English) from Tues-Sun, where they show you normally “off-limits” parts of the castle, like the prisons and the Passetto di Borgo. http://www.castelsantangeloestate.it/

FESTIVAL MUSICALE DELLE NAZIONI, 4 June – 5 October

All summer long there are classical music performances (both solo musicians and ensembles) in the ancient Teatro di Marcello, an amphitheatre that looks like a smaller version of the Colosseum. http://www.tempietto.it/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

ESTATE ROMANA ON THE TIBER AND ISOLA DEL CINEMA, 21 June – 30 September

One of the Estate Romana’s most popular venues is along the lower river banks of the Tiber, where stalls selling artisanal goods, clothes, gourmet food, etc, are set up along with “pop-up” outdoor bars, restaurants, and pizzerias. It’s a fun spot for aperitivo or late-night drinks. On Tiber Island, an outdoor cinema has been set up with both mainstream films and independent films (all in Italian, though!). www.facebook.com/estateromanaturismo, http://www.isoladelcinema.com/

ROMA INCONTRA IL MONDO, 2 – 31 July

Rome Meets the World is a “world music” festival featuring international and Italian acts, held nightly in the lovely Villa Ada park in northern Rome. http://www.villaada.org/

I CONCERTI NEL PARCO, 6 – 31 July

In another big park, Villa Pamphili (between Trastevere and the Vatican area), outdoor concerts are held throughout July. There’s a variety of international and Italian musicians, with this year’s lineup including Mayra Andrade, the Tango Spleen Orquesta, and an orchestral version of Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon. www.iconcertinelparco.it/#

VILLA CELIMONTANA JAZZ FESTIVAL, JULY & AUGUST

This is a pretty important Italian outdoor jazz festival that takes place in Rome every year, but  unfortunately they still haven’t announced the dates or concert schedule for this year! I do know that it features concerts on a near-nightly basis and an outdoor restaurant/aperitivo area so you can eat or drink during the shows (you must book ahead). www.villacelimontanajazzfestival.com

GLOBE THEATRE, 8 JULY – 7 SEPTEMBER

Yes, Rome has a Globe Theatre – it’s a copy of the one in London, set up in Villa Borghese park. It opens every summer for performances of different Shakespeare plays (in Italian). This year’s plays will be Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado about Nothing. At the end of the season there will be a “Shakespeare Fest” with theatre, cinema, and music to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. http://www.globetheatreroma.com/

IL CENTRALE LIVE, 1 – 26 JULY

At the Foro Italico in northern Rome (near the Olympic Stadium), the smaller Stadio dei Marmi hosts a series of outdoor concerts of mostly Italian pop stars. Wildly popular (in Italy) Franco Battiato, Alex Britti, and Gigi d’Alessio will perform this summer. There’s also a bonus tango performance by Argentine dancer Miguel Angel Zotto. http://centralelive.it/

ROCK IN ROMA, 3 JUNE – 2 AUGUST

At the Capannelle Hippodrome in the south of Rome (it’s not well-connected by public transport so you’d be better off taking a taxi here) is a rock festival. The rest of this year’s lineup features important names like Franz Ferdinand, Placebo, and The Lumineers, plus some Italian favorites like Caparezza and Paolo Nutini. http://www.rockinroma.com/

¡FIESTA!, 13 JUNE – 24 JULY

Also at the Capannelle Hippodrome, the ¡Fiesta! is an “international festival of Latin American music and culture”. Remaining concerts will be held by Gente D’Zona and Eva Ayllon, and on the other nights of the festival (Wed-Sun) there are DJs, dancing, and Latin American food. http://www.fiesta.it/

Where to leave bags for the day in Rome

When you rent a vacation rental it can often be a problem what to do with your bags before you can check in (usually around 3pm) and after you check out (normally around 11am) when you’re leaving the city later in the day.  I just discovered this service, near Termini station, that will not only store your bags for a small fee, but they’ll come and collect them at any point in Rome (station, B&B, apartment, etc) and will deliver them to you where you need them next.

Bags Free
Via del Castro Pretorio, 32
email:  info@bags-free.com
(+39) 366 26 76 760 (office hours are 8:00am to 8:00pm every day, holidays included)

Off the Beaten Path in Rome’s Monti Neighborhood

by Amy Knauff

Monti is the historic area located between Termini Station and the Colosseum/Roman Forum.  It’s where Woody Allen shot a good deal of “To Rome with Love” – so it’s your picture postcard version of Rome: ivy covered buildings, narrow cobblestone streets – but it’s less touristy, more authentic and hip than the area around Piazza Navona/Pantheon.  On a rainy autumn day, here’s what we’d consider an ideal visit:

9:30am: Start at the Cavour metro stop. Walk straight up the street in front of you, via Leonina. Here you’ll find two great cafés to choose from for breakfast. Ciuri Ciuri, at nr. 18, is a classic Italian bar with yummy Sicilian pastries (cassate, cannoli, marzipan, Modica chocolate, sweets made with Avola almonds and Bronte pistacchios). 2 Periodico Café, at nr. 77, is a cozy spot where you can enjoy a more leisurely breakfast while listening to chill-out music, snuggled up in an armchair as you read the morning paper.  For a typical Roman bar, with amazing coffee and good pastries, head right up Via del Boschetto to Er Baretto on your left at nr. 132 (has a few outside tables too).

10am: Head back down via Leonina to nr. 46/48, where you’ll find a big, blocky industrial-looking building that stands out like a sore thumb from the more quaint buildings in Monti. It’s a parking garage, and on Saturdays and Sundays, the ground floor is home to Mercato Monti, a small but interesting vintage-styled market. Purists, take note: most stuff in here is not actually vintage. But it’s the style that counts, and it’s a fun spot to pick up some interesting, offbeat finds and hang out with creative types.

11am: Leave the market and head out for a wander around the narrow cobblestone streets of Monti. This neighborhood is charming, picturesque and packed to the brim with interesting, eclectic shops for clothing, jewelry, and home goods. Stop by the uninspiringly named Candle’s Store (via Urbana, 21), which has gorgeous homemade candles. Aromaticus (via Urbana, 134) is like being in an adorable greenhouse; they sell garden and home decorations (and you can enjoy lunch or an organic smoothie or snack surrounded by greenery). On via dei Serpenti (nr. 141) check out Pifebo Vintage Shop, which has authentic vintage finds.

Of course, Monti isn’t just about shopping: the architecture is fascinating, as the mix of individual homes with street entrances, ivy-draped streets, and planters exploding with red and pink flowers make you feel like you’re not in otherwise chaotic Rome. Being something of a bohemian/artsy area, there is also plenty of interesting street art and graffiti to see as you walk around. (See if you can spot the space invader mosaics!) And of course, it’s de rigueur to pay a visit to the neighborhood church – the Church of Santa Maria ai Monti right in the main piazza was designed by none other than Giacomo della Porta.

1pm: You’ve earned a long lunch. Monti is loaded with good restaurants (for all budgets). Urbana 47 (at via Urbana 47, of course) is one of the most popular ones in Monti, and it’s “zero-kilometer” (locally sourced). But in general, it’s hard to go wrong in this area – it has mostly authentic, non-tourist-menu restaurants. Even La Bottega del Caffè located smack dab in Piazza della Madonna dei Monti is good, packed with tourists and locals alike. It has covered outdoor seating (so it’s great for people-watching) and I like their pasta with salmon in cream sauce. If you’re in the mood for something non-Italian, you can also get sushi at Daruma (via dei Serpenti 1) or Indian at Maharajah (via dei Serpenti 124) or Sitar (via Cavour 256) to name two of the four different Indian restaurants in the area.  Down Via dei Madonna ai Monti, almost at the end on the right, is Taverna ai Fori Imperiali (via della Madonna dei Monti 9), a well known Roman trattoria with great food – but you’ll definitely need to make a reservation.

2:30pm: Stretch your legs after lunch – climb the stairs next to the Irish pub on via Leonina and cross the busy street (via Cavour). On the other side there is a big tunnel with stairs. Walk up the stairs and keep going straight until you get to Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli. Follow the hordes of tourists into the church and visit the stunning marble statue of Moses, sculpted by Michelangelo.

3pm: Leave the church and keep going straight, away from via Cavour. You’ll soon get to the back end of the Colle Oppio park, which overlooks the Colosseum. On Sundays the dirt soccer field (called “la polverera” for its dustiness in the summer) in this part of the park is used all day by Latin American soccer teams. They play rain or shine. Huddle under your umbrella for a while and watch the back-to-back soccer games with the Colosseum as a backdrop. The smell of South American food and the sound of Latin rhythms add to the atmosphere.

4pm: It’s time for an afternoon coffee (or hot chocolate). Get out of the rain and into the closest coffee bar. Caffe dello Studente, just across from the soccer field, is Rick Steves-recommended and has a nice view of the Colosseum.

And no visit to Monti is complete without a stop at Fata Morgana on Piazza degli Zingari (up at the end of Via degli Zingari, and not on the lower part near the Cavour metro).  This is one of the top 3 gelaterias in the entire city and not to be missed.

Want to stay in the neighborhood? Here’s some of our top suggestions:

Appartamento Baccina starting at €100/night

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B&B Suburbe from €120/night

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Apparatmento Urbana from €110/night

 

Where to chill out on a rainy day in Rome

It’s early January and raining outside.

Rome is a city that really needs to be visited on foot, out in the open. From March through October, and especially in the summer when the sun doesn’t go down until after 9pm or even later, Rome is full of places to sit outside and people watch; have a drink and simply soak up the ambiance and the view of beautiful colored buildings crumbling away. That’s when this city is at its best.

When it’s cold and wet and grey – it’s another story. That’s when I truly feel the shortage of “cafe culture” – cute little places to just sit and kill time, perhaps read some of my book or catch up on some emails on my phone. Most restaurants are closed between meal times, and when they are open, they’re generally full of customers eating, and/or not really designed for the lingerer who wants to just have a tea and maybe something sweet. There are many bars with outdoor seating that are inviting, but most are dismal and boring indoors, designed for the quick caffé/espresso-at-the-bar crowd. And Roman bars aren’t the place for tea time.

Here’s a few exceptions, scattered around the city:

1. 2Periodico Cafe – Via Leonina 77, Monti – open all day

Located in the hip neighborhood of Monti, between Termini station and the Colosseum, this eclectic little place was converted from what was once a car mechanic. The Monti area was recently used for shooting in Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love”, due to its quaint, cobblestone streets and ivy covered buildings.  For Italian speakers, this is a good review from the Puntarella Rossa blog.  Or connect with them through their facebook page.

My favorite places to stay in the neighborhood are:  Appartamento Baccina and Appartamento Urbana

 

2. Caffé Propaganda – Via Claudia 15, Celio (Colosseum) – open from 12pm to 2am

This very stylish cafe is a great place for a beautiful cocktail like you’ve never experienced.  You’re on holiday, it’s ok to start drinking at 4pm.  More info on their website.

Without a doubt my favorite place to stay in the neighborhood is the Appartamento Colosseo.

 

3. S.a.i.d – Via Tiburtina 135, San Lorenzo – open for lunch and dinner.

Once Rome’s oldest chocolate factory, opened in 1923, S.a.i.d is a restaurant and chocolate shop.  Also a good place in the winter to enjoy a hot chocolate.  Overpriced hot chocolate, but great atmosphere.

Best apartment in the neighborhood the beautiful 3 bedroom Appartamento San Lorenzo.

4. Bartaruga – Piazza Mattei 9, Jewish Ghetto – open from 6pm

Located in a 16th century piazza with the Fontana delle Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain).  This ‘salotto’ in the Jewish Ghetto is a good place to park it on one of their cushy couches, drink a prosecco (Venetian sparkling wine) and listen to someone play the piano (if the grumpy bar guy allows it).

One of my favorite places on Cross-Pollinate is also here in the ghetto, the Casa al Portico.

5. Salotto Caronte – Via Machiavelli 23, Esquilino (Piazza Vittorio) – open from 7pm

Half restaurant and half ‘salotto’, this place is very un-Roman in all the right ways.  Located where there’s virtually no other night life, this spot will make you instantly feel like you’re in the know.

Some equally stylish digs nearby are Frank’s House B&B and Millefiori Guestrooms

6. Etablì – Via delle Vacche 9, Piazza Navona – open from 6:30pm

Restaurant and wine bar, it used to be open during the day as well (and hopefully will be again) as it was a nice place for afternoon tea.

Nearby apartments:  Appartamento Banchi Vecchi, Appartamento Navona al Tevere, and Appartamento Piazza Navona

7. Vert Cafe – Via Anton Giulio Barrili 47-47/a, Monteverde Vecchio – open from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm

I’m throwing this in as I recently read this convincing review from friend and Rome expert, Gillian McGuire.  Soups, salads, sandwiches and American style sweets.

Just down the street is the adorable Honey Rooms B&B.

by Steven Brenner