Welcome to Rome:
This is not really a story about what to see and do in Rome. It is an attempt at getting you around this gorgeous city without destroying your budget. As with most tourist meccas, Rome offers plenty of easy ways to pay top euro for things that won't really enhance your experience. Get a National Geographic Destination Map of Rome.
When to Visit:
Summer is a popular time, but dress for very hot weather. Some prefer the winter months, which can be windy and cold but generally free of ice and snow. The best bargains often are found in Winter and early Spring, with Autumn becoming more popular, too. If you go for the Christmas Eve Mass at Vatican Square, book airfare and other arrangements well in advance.
Where to Eat:
Enjoy at least one meal in a neighborhood trattoria, the kind of place where the owner is also the chef and thinks nothing of coming out of the kitchen in his apron to ask about your meal. These places are usually very reasonably priced. It's your best way to see how the average Italian enjoys a meal.
Where to Stay:
The area surrounding the main train station (Termini) is known for its budget hotels and, unfortunately, levels of crime that make many visitors uncomfortable. An alternative to the standard hotel rooms is booking in a convent, where you'll find large, clean rooms and friendly service at a fraction of the price of a hotel. Romeguide.it provides a listing. You should be prepared to pay cash and respect the fairly early curfew most convents observe. If you would rather book a standard room, check out links to 10 cheap Rome hotels.
Rome's rather small subway system is good for trips across town from the main (Termini) railroad station, but it is not as complex as London's underground or the Paris metro. Fortunately, many of the top ancient sites can be seen on foot because of their proximity. Likewise, the Vatican is mainly an indoor, foot-powered tour. Parking and driving can be frustrating here, but car rentals can be good for touring outside the urban area. Cabs are a necessary evil, especially late at night.
Vatican City is a place most people see in one day, but it merits several days to truly appreciate. The same could be said of the ancient sites, but many will find a way to see each in compressed time frames and come away awe-struck. If you can allow a minimum of three days to see Rome's major sites, you will be far happier than those who try to do it in two or less. Don't laugh--it's far more common than most travelers imagine.
Beyond the Legendary Wonders:
You won't often hear a lot about the Catacombs, but they are fascinating and humbling for Christians and non-Christians alike. The trip just outside of Rome includes some views of the ancient viaducts you probably saw in those elementary school history books. Look for a bus that says "Saint Calixto." On the other end of the spectrum, Rome is a style and shopping mecca. The place to see and be seen is the Via del Corso. Always remember that window shopping with imaginary dollars is free!