Rome for the weekend? You bet! With the pope's stunning announcement of his retirement and with spring upon us, now is an exciting time for a quick weekend escape to the Eternal City. Here are my three tips for your three perfect days in Rome.
1. Plan ahead of time
Of course, you can't see all of Rome in just a weekend, but you certainly can see the historic center of Rome. To maximize your time and to avoid long lines, it is essential to have a game plan before you go. Keep in mind that every minute will count and don't plan on sleeping much.
If this is your first visit to Italy, it pays to work with a travel agent or an incoming tour operator to help you find the best deals and to plan your trip.
Quiiky (quiiky.com ) is the first and only Italian tour operator specializing in gay and lesbian travel. It is a five-year old company affiliated with Sonders & Beach. Quiiky is a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. Quiiky can arrange all or part of your trip. Be sure to ask about a private tour guides in Rome. Private tour guides, while expensive, are a smart way to get lots of local knowledge and they can customize a tour to suit your interests.
Adventurous travelers will find it easy to self-organize a trip to Rome too. You can buy most of your tickets online and in advance. There is also plenty of information online on the history of Rome and the historic attractions. Now with Google Maps and Google Images, you can almost map out and visualize your entire trip even before you leave.
2. Stay in the center of it all
There are a number of wonderful hotels in ancient Rome. For a quick trip, consider the 2nd Floor bed and breakfast ( www.2floor.it). This cozy hotel has amazing views of the ancient ruins of Rome and is steps away from the Coliseum. Located at Via San Giovanni Laterano 10 the hotel caters to the LGBT traveler but is perfectly suitable for gay and straight guests traveling together. The charming rooms have free Wi-Fi and private baths. Some rooms offer small balconies. The hotel staff is super friendly and can offer excellent recommendations for local bars. This hotel meets even the fussiest traveler's needs and you can't beat the affordable price.
What makes the 2nd Floor an ideal choice for travelers with a short time in Rome is the Coming Out Bar on the first floor. Guests of the 2nd Floor enjoy complimentary continental breakfast and Italian cappuccino and espresso. By mid-day the restaurant is bustling with a young lunchtime crowd and by evening this is the spot for early cocktails. By 10 p.m. the restaurant becomes a small bar and dance club. The DJs play international and American music. (By coincidence during my own three-day Rome getaway this past January, the DJ was wearing a Philadelphia Flyer's hat.)
While I didn't see this hotel personally, Quiiky also recommends the Kolbe Hotel, a luxury hotel in the center or Rome. This four star hotel is located in a historic building dating back to the 15th Century. Many of the newly renovated rooms overlook the Roman Forum. Visit www.kolbehotelrome.com .
3. Eat, pray, love
There are two things you can't avoid: eating and visiting a church.
Italy is where pizza was invented. Pizza shops are everywhere. On Via San Giovanni, check out the casual Bisteccheria Pizzeria. For an authentic Italian meal, try the Divin Ostilla Enoteca, a small wine bar on Via Ostilla 4, a short walk from the 2nd Floor. The Coming Out bar, located on the street level of the 2nd Floor, offers an affordable menu of Italian classics.
Rome's number one tourist attraction is the Vatican (vatican.va). The Vatican is a must-visit even if you are not Catholic. There is so much to see to and to here. There is the iconic Sistine Chapel and the treasures within the architectural marvel of the Basilica of St. Peter. If you plan far enough in advance it is possible to arrange a special visit to the necropolis underneath the Basilica, where the tomb of St. Peter is located. It is best to use a local tour guide to help you set up this tour and it could take up to four months. As of January 1st, the Vatican is cash-only.
The Coliseum is Rome's most visited attraction after the Vatican. Built by Emperor Vespasian in A.D. 80, it is a gorgeous and surprisingly preserved wonder of the world. Beautiful by day and by night, you can buy a two-day ticket that gives you access to the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was the political, religious and legal center of the ancient world.
The massive Trevi Fountain became legendary through films including La Dolce Vita. It is customary to throw one coin in the fountain to come back to Rome and a second coin to fall in love. If you are lucky, you are traveling with someone you love.
4. Getting there
It pays to shop around for the best airfare deals to Italy. You may find more competitive fares and a wider variety of in-flight amenities by leaving from Newark and JFK airports in the New York City metro area. Chicago does not offer non-stop flights to Rome.
Once in Italy, it is easy to get from the airport to the city center. Take the Leonardo Express Train to Termini Station. Once in Termini station, follow the signs for the Metro and take Metro Line B. It is designated with a blue color. Take this line two stops to Colosseo station. From there, it is a short walk to the 2nd Floor and other nearby tourist hotels.
Jeff Guaracino is the author of Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing, and is the co-chair of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.