Rome is a marvelous city, and deserves a visit of several days, weeks, or even months. Those of us who love cruising are lucky to get a few days in Rome, either as a port of call or as a pre-cruise or post-cruise extension. Rome is not actually on the Mediterranean Sea. It is located on the Tiber River, and the Tiber is way too small for cruise ships to sail on. Ancient legends report that Rome was founded on the seven hills flanking the Tiber by the two brothers Romulus and Remus.
Cruise ships port at Civitavecchia, and passengers can visit the city with a one-hour ride by bus or train. Visiting Rome by cruise ship is much like visiting Florence--it's not that easy to get from the sea to the city, but it's well worth the trip.
Like most people, I love Rome. If you have one day in Rome, you'll need to choose between seeing the glory of ancient Rome on one side of the Tiber River or St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum on the other side. If you have two days in Rome, you can squeeze in both if you move quickly. With three or more days you can expand the time you spend at each attraction, add another museum, or venture outside the city to the surrounding area.
Cruise ships dock in Civitavecchia, and there isn't much to see in this tiny port town, so if your ship has only one day in port, you need to try to get into Rome via a shore excursion, shuttle, or by sharing a guide/taxi with your fellow passengers.
The About.com Expert on Italy Travel has an excellent article on getting into Rome from Civitavecchia. A hotel within sight of the airport makes for an easy transfer when you leave Rome for the U.S., but it is a long taxi or train ride into the city.
Walking the streets of Rome is wonderful. You can walk or take a taxi or subway to the Colosseum, a great place to start your tour of Rome.
You can almost picture the animals and gladiators in the small rooms underneath the Colosseum floor. Across the street from the Colosseum is the ancient Roman Forum. Visitors can walk the same streets as the ancient Roman citizens.
Using a detailed map of the city, you can walk to the Trevi Fountain from the Forum. Every visitor to Rome wants to see this fountain and dispose of some loose change. The Trevi Fountain is fed with water from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and was completed in 1762. The area around the Trevi Fountain is always crowded, so be sure to protect your belongings. However, it's a fun place to enjoy a gelato and do a little people-watching.
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The church next to the Trevi Fountain is very unremarkable in appearance, but has an interesting history. It seems that for years, popes willed their hearts and intestines to the church, and they were buried inside. According to legend, the church was built on a site of a spring that developed at the time of the beheading of St. Paul, at one of three sites where his head is said to have bounced off the ground.
Obviously, even an unremarkable church in Rome can have a remarkable history!
Leaving the Trevi Fountain, you can wander the back streets towards the Spanish Steps. A huge McDonald's restaurant is near the Piazza di Spagna and Spanish Steps. When touring anywhere, I see American fast food restaurants as two things--a place to buy a Diet Coke, and a place to use the toilet! Rome is like most European cities, and you will find a fast food restaurant near every tourist attraction. I'm sure some are offended by the presence of such blatantly commercial establishments, but they sure come in handy if you are thirsty or looking for a rest room.
The Spanish Steps were not built by the Spanish but are so-named due to their proximity to the Spanish Embassy during their construction in the 19th century. In fact, they were designed by an Italian architect and almost entirely funded by the French as an entrance to the Church of Trinita dei Monti, which sits at the top of the steps.
The church was started in 1502, but the steps were not added until 1725. At the foot of the steps sits the house were the famous English poet John Keats lived and died.
Leaving the Spanish Steps, you can window-shop on the Via Condotti. This street is almost heaven for those of us who are fascinated with the fashion industry.
Via Condotti and many of the surrounding streets are lined with the famous (and not so famous) fashion houses. Even though those who can afford to can buy these name brands in the U.S., there's something special about seeing the shops in their original home.
By early evening, you might be looking for a drink or dinner. There are many outdoor restaurants near the Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotunda. The Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient monument in Rome, having been rebuilt by Hadrian in 125 A.D. The masons who constructed the Pantheon used granite as one of the building materials, which helped ensure its longevity. It was originally dedicated to all of the gods, but was transformed into a church by Pope Boniface IV in 609 A.D. The Pantheon is topped by the widest flattened dome in the world, exceeding that at St. Peter's by about 3 feet. Light streams into the monument by day, and rain pours in through the hole in the dome when it rains. The columns on the front are marvelous. Sitting in a cafe in the piazza and studying the Pantheon and the crowds is a perfect end to a day spent touring the streets of Rome.