The centre of Rome will be awash with green rugby jerseys this weekend ahead of the Ireland-Italy match at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday. Irish fans can always be sure of a warm welcome from the Italians, particularly given the nationality of Conor O'Shea, the head coach of Italy's rugby team. Here are some pointers to make your stay in the Eternal City more enjoyable.
Thanks to a deal with the Italian Rugby Federation, Six Nations ticket-holders have free access to 16 museums in Rome throughout the weekend, from Friday to Sunday. This list includes the spectacular sculpture-filled Capitoline Museums but be warned that the offer does not include state-run museums such as the stunning Galleria Borghese, which requires advance booking. For full list see museiincomuneroma.it
Tickets for the Colosseum also cover the nearby Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. However, with an average of 21,000 visitors a day, be prepared for crowds. Many of the city's main sites – such as the recently restored Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps – are free and can be explored easily on foot. The Pantheon is also free after the Italian government recently dropped plans to charge a €2 entry fee. The Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, are normally closed on Sundays however on the morning of 24th of February they are open – for free – from 9 am to 12.30 am.
The best places to soak up the Six Nations atmosphere are the city's Irish pubs. Chief among these is the centrally-located Scholars Lounge (Via del Plebiscito 101) as well as Rome's historic Irish bars such as the Fiddler's Elbow (Via dell'Olmata 43) and the Druid's Den (Via di S. Martino ai Monti 28). For an Irish pub with a strong rugby following and lively atmosphere head to The Shamrock (Via del Colosseo 1), the off-field home to the Roma Rugby team. Meanwhile for a genuine Italian rugby experience check out the UnoDue pub, recently opened by Italian rugby stars Salvatore "Totò" Perugini and Fabio Ongaro (Piazza di S. Andrea della Valle) – you just might see rugby legend Martin Castrogiovanni propping up the bar.
As a rule of thumb, it is best to stick with the maxim of avoiding restaurants with a tourist menu and instead steer towards side-streets away from the crowds. For lunch on the go there are plenty of pizza slice shops but be aware that the mobile snack-bars around the city are there precisely to fleece tourists. Those interested in food markets should check of the sprawling Mercato Testaccio or the smaller farmers’ market on Via di San Teodora 74, beside the Circus Maximus.
This warning cannot be underlined enough, with tourists’ holidays in Rome wrecked every day of the week thanks to losing their wallets and sometimes passports too. Common sense is required, particularly on public transport, but also while stopping to watch outdoor entertainment. If eating outdoors keep your bags within sight.
Rome is not known for its efficient public transport network, particularly in recent years, however it is extremely cheap in comparison to other European capitals. A €1.50 ticket lasts for 75 minutes and covers the city's buses, trams and metro. There is also a 24-hour ticket (€7) as well as 48-hour (€12.50) and 72-hour (€18) options. Tickets can be bought at tobacconists, identifiable by a black and white "T" sign.
Many Irish people visit the Spanish Franciscan church of San Pietro in Montorio, located on top of the Gianiculum hill, a stone’s throw from the Irish embassy. They come to see the burial place of Ulster’s Hugh O’Neill, of “Flight of the Earls” fame, who was laid to rest here over four centuries ago. His funerary slab, which carries one simple sentence in Latin: “the bones of prince Hugh O’Neill”, can be found on the left-hand side of the main altar.
For those who wish to include some religion in their trip to the Eternal City, there is 10am Mass in English on Sunday morning at both the Pontifical Irish College – which houses a monument to Daniel O'Connell – and St Isidore's, a Franciscan College whose founder Luke Wadding arrived in Rome exactly 400 years ago. Pope Francis will impart his apostolic blessing during the Angelus in St Peter's Square at midday. The event is free and no tickets are required but make sure to be there on time or you will miss it.
Getting to the stadium
Take the Metro A line, direction Battistini, and get off at Ottaviano. From here take the No. 32 bus and get off at Piazzale della Farnesina. Alternatively take the Metro A line direction Ottaviano and get off at Flaminio stop, then take the No. 2 tram and get off at the terminus in Piazza Mancini.
What’s On in Rome
To discover the latest events as well as information about museums and galleries, pick up a copy of the English-language magazine Wanted in Rome, available at newsstands across the city, or check out its website, wantedinrome.com