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Letter from Rome: 6 Great Roman Resources

St. Peter's seen through the keyhole of the Priory of the Knights of Malta. Photo by Karen Glenn.


By Tom Passavant

Let’s face it: Exploring Rome is at once exhilarating and exhausting. All those churches! All that pasta! And yes, all those guidebooks and maps and web sites and blogs that purport to explain it all for you. After four weeks of daily explorations, not to mention years of accumulating dozens of said guidebooks, maps, etc., here is my latest, field-tested (or in current jargon, curated) list of resources that really worked for me in Rome.

Eyewitness Travel: Top Ten Rome If you’ve got to tote just one guide book around Rome, make it this one. How authors Reid Bramblett and Jeffrey Kennedy manage to cram so much useful information into a 4” x 7.5” book of less than 200 pages is beyond me, but they consistently steer you straight (the Top Ten lists of the title are especially well-chosen) and even manage to include tips and info that bigger guides miss.

Speaking of which, Eyewitness Travel: Rome, with its superb illustrations, is far and away the best full-size guide, but it weighs as much as a Roman paving stone. Bring it along in your checked luggage, and use it for research in your hotel room.

Rough Guide Map: Rome I know, paper maps are so last century. Try telling that to the droves of tourists on every corner squinting at the various free maps handed out in hotels and the tourist office. It’s not that those maps are completely useless, but that they could be so much better. So pony up $8.95 (it’s available from Amazon) for this absolutely indispensable tool, printed on tough, waterproof paper with legible type and highlighting everything from bus routes to shopping streets to gelaterias. Even when you still get lost, it will probably lead you to some unexpected Roman pleasure or treasure.

Head at Capitoline Museum. Photo by Karen Glenn.

Rome Bus This free app for iPhone and iPad, courtesy of Atac, Rome’s transportation agency, is invaluable for getting around on the city’s excellent, if tangled, bus system. Tell it where you are and where you want to go and the walking directions and bus connections (in English) pop up in no time.

Eat Rome This terrific iPad and iPhone app, recently introduced by the Rome-based food writer Elizabeth Minchilli, is a delight to use, not only for its logical, easy-to-navigate format, but also for the impeccable dining choices within. Organized by category–pizzerias, wine bars, cheese shops–and by location, with zoomable maps, it offers reviews by Minchilli and also links to web sites when available. $2.99 from the Apple app store. Check out her video below.

Food Wine Rome David Downie is one of those writers you’d love to hate. In addition to being an insightful reporter, his knowledge of Rome and its food culture is comprehensive, and his lifestyle is enviable. (He “divides his time between France and Italy,” as his web site puts it.) This handsome paperback serves up generous helpings of both deep background (33 ways to order coffee in Rome, everything you need to know about bread, pasta, salumi, etc.) and instant access to Rome’s finest food sources.


Tom Passavant is a former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine. Now a freelance travel and food writer based in Colorado and Hawaii, his work has appeared in Aspen Magazine, Gourmet, Four Seasons Magazine, Town & Country Travel, ForbesTraveler.com, Ski, Powder, Luxury Living, and many other places. He is the co-author of “Playboy’s Guide to Ultimate Skiing.” A former president of the New York Travel Writers Association, Passavant has won a Lowell Thomas Award for his travel writing and has served as judge for the James Beard Journalism Awards. See more of Tom’s work at TomPassavant.com.

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  1. June 30, 2011 at 4:38 am — Reply

    Thank you for including me in this round up!

  2. April 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm — Reply

    I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Minchilli and David Downie especially when it comes to culinary travel advice – they have both contributed to my subscription newsletter Dream of Italy. They know their stuff – get their books and apps! Dream of Italy also has a full Rome app – from cookng lessons to more than 40 museums to apartment rentals. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/pOASNy Tom, we’re about to release an update to the app – happy to get you a download to review if you are interested!

    Kathy McCabe

  3. May 21, 2013 at 1:48 am — Reply

    Execllent choice for the picture!
    The legend about that huge head is incredible: the emperor Constantine, coming in Rome after the final battle against Massenzio, entered into the Massenzio’s Basilica to find, in the middle of the building, a colossal sculpture of his enemy, in marble and bronze.
    He had the authority to destroy it, but he wisely decided to cut the head of the statue, placing HIS head over the body. So, Constantine’s head over Massenzio’s body. 🙂
    Then, when the barbarians arrived in Rome, they melt all the bronze parts, leaving us only head, feet and hands! 🙂
    Just to balance the pleasure, may I suggest you a guided tour in the most marvellous city of the world, Rome, with excellent human private Tour Guides, instead of a book or a audioguide?
    Sometimes it can be more expensive, but absolutely more satisfying!
    Have a look on http://www.romeguides.it so that you can have an idea about the beauties of Rome: it would be my pleasure having you as my guest in your next holiday in Rome…

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