Cruise from Rome – the essential guide

We spent time in the beautiful city of Rome both before and after our cruise. And we can’t wait to go back again.  We had two fantastic vacations within one and the same trip!

Are you planning your next vacation and considering a cruise from Rome? Visiting the epicenter of the greatest empire in history for the very first time will give you goosebumps. We say the thrill of seeing Rome with your own eyes is the same whether you are a first-time visitor or a returning guest.

No wonder this remarkable city, steeped in history and tale, has a permanent place as a bucket list destination for all of us.

It’s impossible to see Rome in a day. Or even two or three. So stay as long as you can before you board your cruise ship. If Rome is a one-day stop, squeeze in as many sights, sounds, cultural landmarks, and gastronomic flavors as possible.

You can always catch up on sleep once on board the cruise ship. We offer four great daily itineraries suggestions below.

Where to stay before your cruise from Rome

Let’s start with where to stay before you start your cruise from Rome. Rome’s principal cruise port is the Port of Civitavecchia, about 90 minutes outside the city. Stay in the center of Rome, then transfer to the port on the day of your cruise. Or spend one night in Civitavecchia as well just before your cruise.

Hotels around the central train station in Rome (“Termini”) are plentiful and convenient. Several familiar names, such as Best Western, are located there. Opt for at least a 4-star hotel. Just be careful around this area in the evenings; pickpocketing is not uncommon.

Stay nearer the Spanish Steps or around Via Veneto to be even more central. You’ll find names you recognize, such as Westin Excelsior, Marriott, Savoy, and Sofitel. Live near Piazza Navona if you don’t mind the extra price tag.

Alternatively, look for a hotel close to any subway stop. Rome’s subway system is easy to use to get around quickly.

Best hotels in central Rome for cruise guests

Here is our list of tried and tested hotels in Rome for cruise guests:

  • Hotel Savoy Roma
  • The Hotel Canada Rome, Best Western Premier Collection
  • Hotel Mancino 12
  • Augustana House
  • Hotel Forum Roma
  • Hotel Accademia
  • Bettoja Hotel Mediterraneo
  • Pantheon Hotel
  • Hotel Barocco
  • Napoleon Hotel Roma
  • Relais Fontana Di Trevi
  • Relais Trevi 95 Boutique Hotel
  • Cancelleriadieci (Guesthouse)

Hotels in Civitavecchia, close to the cruise port

Some cruise guests prefer to stay the last night before their cruise close to the port in Civitavecchia. Located 80km northwest of Rome, it takes around an hour from Termini station to Civitavecchia train station. Tickets can be bought at the station or booked in advance on the Trenitalia website.

A Civitavecchia Express Train runs from Rome’s Termini station to Civitavecchia between April and November. The Civitavecchia Express runs daily from Rome’s central Termini station at 3.30 pm, and the journey takes one hour. Book tickets in advance on the Trenitalia website.

Civitavecchia is a charming coastal town dating back to the 2nd century; here are our recommended hotels:

  • Hotel Traghetto – this hotel offers complimentary breakfast with your booking. A shuttle bus is right across the street to take you to your ship. You are more or less next door to the entrance of the cruise terminal. A grocery shop is nearby if you miss essential items from your cruise packing list. This hotel will also arrange a transfer if you are coming straight from the Rome international airport. Contact them by email before you leave home for a price quotation. If you are over 65, remember to ask for their senior discount!
  • Hotel San Giorgio – this is a good hotel. Ask for a room with a sea view. Take a 5-minute taxi ride to the port on the morning of departure.
  • Hotel Mediterraneo – this is a clean but basic hotel within walking distance of restaurants and a supermarket. You can walk to the port from here. However, it’s better to ask the hotel to arrange transport with the shuttle bus in hot weather.
  • Hotel Traiano – this hotel offers a complimentary shuttle transfer to the port. Ask the concierge for help booking this when you check in. They will also help with airport transfers if you contact them before you leave home.

Four ways to see the best of Rome before your cruise from Civitavecchia cruise port

We have covered four primary areas of the city. Explore each as much or as little as you have time for. And in any order you like. In a city with so much history and art, it’s a good idea to pack a pocket guidebook, so you don’t miss anything. And for some sights, it is worth booking a guided tour.

Day 1: The Jewish Quarter, Trastevere and Vatican City

Start your day by visiting The Roman Ghetto, the Jewish quarter in Rome. A small area stretching only four blocks but packed full of unusual shops and small eateries.

Born on the edges of the Tiber river, Rome connects its neighborhoods with a series of bridges. From the Jewish quarter, walk over the Ponte Garibaldi and into one of these neighborhoods, Trastevere.

Many locals live in apartments, squeezed tightly along the narrow streets of Trastevere. You’ll find tiny book shops, small cafés, and unique boutiques. In the center, Piazza Santa Maria has a good selection of restaurants surrounding the central fountain. You will find better value for money here than prices in Rome’s more touristy areas. Try Antica Osteria Rugantino for delicious, local dishes. Alternatively a 10 minute walk away is the classic trattoria Da Checco Er Carettiere.

A tour of the Vatican museums and St Peter’s Basilica

While on this side of the Tiber, take the subway to Vatican City and start with St Peter’s Basilica. You now stand in the heart of iconic art and an architectural treasure trove.

St Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world and is located in St Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro). The church is free of charge to enter. However, the lines are very long.

We recommend purchasing a “skip the line” ticket, which is well worth the small fee.

After St Peter’s Basilica (or before, it does not matter which order you do this), visit the Vatican Museums. This includes Renaissance frescoes and, of course, the unforgettable Sistine Chapel.

To visit the Vatican Museums, you must pay an entrance fee. If you are visiting without a guide, we recommend you purchase the audio guide.

We estimate that you will need around 4 hours to see the museums in their entirety. Don't forget to include the stunning Gardens of Vatican City in your tour. You will need to purchase a ticket that includes the gardens as the entrance is only allowed from within the museums.

We strongly recommend, however, that you book tickets with a professional tour guide. It’s a great way to get a whole new appreciation of the wonders of this small country.

Good to know before visiting Vatican City

  • There are security checks in Vatican City, and queues can be extensive. Be prepared to wait. Have a water bottle, sunscreen, and a hat to beat the heat. There are public restrooms behind the post office.
  • Check that St Peter’s Basilica is open when you are due to visit. You will not be able to go inside the church on Sunday morning if there is a Pope’s mass. In addition, the Pope’s general audience is held in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday mornings. At this time, you cannot enter the church.
  • The dome of St Peter’s Basilica is open from March to October. There is an elevator which, for a fee, you can take to the roof for around 10 euros per person. Climbing the steps takes longer but is a little cheaper. From the rooftop, it is 320 steps to get to the dome. Do not do this if you are not keen on confined spaces. It’s a tricky narrow climb up and down in the same way.
  • There is a dress code in Vatican City. The general rule is that shoulders and knees should be covered.

Onwards from Vatican City

From St Peter’s Square, walk straight down the broad avenue of Via Della Conciliazione. Before you cross the road at the end, turn around and snap an iconic view back towards St Peter’s Basilica.

Try to avoid the lunch restaurants along this street. In our view, they are generally overpriced for what you get and aimed at the unknowing tourist.

A Bird’s eye view over Rome from Castel Sant’ Angelo

Straight in front of you is the park and Castel Sant’ Angelo.

Designed by Hadrian as a massive tomb and now a museum, the castle gets its name from the statue on the roof of Sant’ Angelo. Only if you love art will this fortress be worth the entrance fee. It will take you around 1.5 hours to see the art and architecture.

Even if you choose not to visit the art collections, before you leave we recommend that you make your way to the terrace at the top of Castel Sant 'Angelo. Stop for coffee at the small café for a fantastic view over Rome, Vatican City, and the bridges over the Tiber.

Outside walk directly across the old Roman bridge Ponte Sant’ Angelo. Be sure to stop and look at the views around you as you cross the Tiber. This leads you back into the city’s heart and towards Piazza Navona.

Day 2: Piazza Navona, The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain

The center of Baroque Rome, Piazza Navona, is home to one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. Trendy cafes sit alongside magnificent palaces, spire and lantern churches, and tiny nightspots.

Take your time walking the small streets around the piazza. Look up at apartments with rooftop gardens that pack the tiny streets. Here local delis and hole-in-the-wall bakeries can be discovered. Order a plate of antipasti with a glass of sweet Riesling. Or a scoop of gelato if you are less hungry but need a sweet treat.

In the warm weather, the piazza is packed. Many visitors cluster around the elaborate fountains, the most famous being Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain – Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi.

Artists will want to paint your portrait or will offer paintings and postcards of Rome’s architecture. They make a great souvenir. Take your time to explore the surrounding palazzos and frescoes. Finish with some antique window shopping along Via Dei Coronari.

Authentic gelato from a Roman artisan

A word about gelato: find an artisan who sells authentic gelato. That means one who makes their gelato on the premises with fresh ingredients. Authentic gelato is dense, not airy, and the colors are natural, not vivid and fake. Try Gunthers on Piazza di S. Eustachio, and you will be spoiled forever.

The Pantheon dome and its oculus

A short 10-minute walk away from Piazza Navona is the two-thousand-year-old Pantheon. Stop for a cappuccino on Piazza Della Rotonda to take in the site of this ancient wonder. Imagine a busy Roman market where there are now tourist tables, cafés, and souvenir shops.

Entrance inside the Pantheon is free, and there are seldom queues. Follow your instinct and look up towards the only light source – the oculus – at the center of the incredible dome.

If you want to experience shopping at its best before you cruise from Rome, walk Via del Corso. One of the central and most elegant shopping streets, it ends at Trevi Fountain. The fountain is probably the most famous site in Rome.

Remember to turn your back and throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain. It’s a wish to return to the city!

Day 3: The Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese

The area around Villa Borghese is orderly, elegant, and lush. The enormous landscaped gardens of Villa Borghese houses statues, fountains, and world-class museums. Spend a couple of hours here, stopping at the café if you want a light bite.

Then walk to the Pincio Terrace for a panorama of Rome. This will be one of your most memorable days before you start your cruise from Rome.

Follow the steps down into Piazza del Popolo, a vast oval piazza that was the main gateway into ancient Rome at one time. The piazza is home to Raphael’s famed Chigi Chapel inside the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. The church is used in one of the scenes from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

Via Condotti and Rome’s center of haute couture to the Spanish Steps

From here, make your way between Via Margutta and Via del Babuino. You’ll find the best of the art and antique shops. 

And then side step towards Via Condotti before heading to the Spanish Steps. On Via Condotti, you will find the chicest of shops in the center of Rome’s haute couture. Follow the road leading to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps for those iconic photo moments. Finish your day with an evening in this area, where you can take your pick of restaurants.

You are walking a lot today, but this area is worth taking your time in. Pick up a guidebook before you leave home. That way, you will not miss gems such as Galleria Borghese and Keats-Shelley Memorial along the way.

This day out highlighting the Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese also works well in reverse.

For a new appreciation of the Spanish Steps, get there early in the morning before the tourists arrive. We mean at sunrise if you can. Take time to enjoy this area in peace, quiet, and sunshine.

Day 4: Ancient Rome, Vittoriano, and the Colosseum

Experiencing The Eternal City before your cruise would not be complete unless you place yourself in its ancient past. Start with the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument or simply Vittoriano, mesmerizing in its sheer size and luminosity.

Dedicated to the memory of Italy’s first King, the monument Vittoriano houses art galleries and the tomb of the unknown soldier. If you want to skip seeing the art, buy a ticket and climb the stairs to the first level. From there, take the glass elevator to the top. Here you are rewarded with the best panoramic view in Rome.

A step back in time to Ancient Rome at The Colosseum and Roman Forum

In the heart of ancient Rome, visit The Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and Musei Capitolini. There is so much more, but with these four focal points, you will experience the best of Rome’s ancient history.

Use a guidebook so you don’t miss anything. For example, it’s easy to miss the cremation site of Julius Caesar if you don’t know where to look. Better still, book a guided tour.

Most good tour operators use local guides, and tours last about 3 hours. Wear good walking shoes and long sleeves to beat the sun. Fill up your water bottle from the drinking fountain outside the main entrance to the Colosseum. Many of these fountains are dotted around the city, and the water is good to drink.

Hop-on/hop-off bus from Circus Maximum to the city center

At the end of your tour, walk towards Circus Maximus. If you are there in the summer, visit the nearby Rose Garden, Roseto di Roma Capitale, where all the flowers bloom. From Circus Maximum, hop onto one of the open top Big Bus tours or hop-on/hop-off buses. They also depart from outside the Colosseum.

The hop-on, hop-off buses are one of the best ways to see any city. Get yourself a 24-hour ticket before you leave home.

After walking so much, it’s a perfect way to get back to the city center. Head to Piazza del Popolo and make your way through the crowds for some local Italian food.

Many attractions in Rome are accessible on the first Sunday of each month. That includes the Colosseum. This area of ancient Rome gets very crowded, so get there early at opening time if you can.

How to get from Rome city center to Civitavecchia Port

To get to the Port of Civitavecchia for your cruise from Rome, you have these alternatives:

Private Transfer

If you are more than two people, then we recommend booking a private transfer before you leave home. It is the most expensive option but good if you can share the cost with your fellow travelers. Tell your supplier when you want to check in at the cruise port. They will calculate your pickup time from the hotel to get you there in good time.

Taxi

Ask your hotel about pre-booking a cab. Allow plenty of time to get to the port. Traffic and queues are unpredictable, especially in high season. Taxis charge a flat rate, to establish this with your driver before you start. The cost is high – around 120 euros from the city to the port.

Train

Traveling by train from Rome’s Termini station to the train station at Civitavecchia is easy and will save you money.

You can buy train tickets for a local train for around 5 euros per person. There are ticket windows (be prepared to queue) and automated machines at the train station where you buy your ticket.

If you have a paper ticket, you must remember to get your ticket stamped at a machine before boarding the train, otherwise you risk a heavy fine on board. You do not, however, need to do this if your ticket is digital and you download it onto your phone.

There are shops, cafes, a tourist office, and even a shopping center located on the lower floor of Termini station.

Italy’s train system is Trenitalia, and you can also book tickets online before you leave home.

Arriving at Civitavecchia Port

Arrival by transfer/taxi

You need to get dropped off at the port service center, Largo Della Pace. It is the main terminal for all shuttle buses that will take you to your cruise ship. The shuttle buses are all free of charge within the port.

Arrival by train

From Civitavecchia train station to the service center at the port, Largo Della Pace, a local bus costs about 2 euros. The journey is 10 minutes, and buses leave every 15 minutes. Tickets can be bought from inside the train station.

Alternatively, you could walk from Civitavecchia train station to Largo Della Pace to save money. It is about 1.5km and takes about 15 minutes. But remember you have your luggage too so it could be tiring. Taxis can be pretty hard to find from the train station, but this is also an option if you succeed.

How to get from Civitavecchia port to central Rome to continue your cruise vacation

If you plan to spend more time in Rome after your cruise, it is now easier than ever to travel by train.

The new Civitavecchia Express train and the Civitavecchia Port Link bus service means your transfer from your cruise ship to central Rome is smoother than ever.

How to start planning your cruise from Rome

If you are still in the planning process and need help deciding on the best cruise for you, these articles will help you along the way. They are full of good advice and travel tips to help you book the perfect cruise for you and your family:

Italy Cruise Package – Venice, Florence, and Rome

Cruise from Venice – the essential guide

Cruise Package – Mediterranean cruise from Rome with Royal Caribbean International

Best cruise deals and how to get them

Trieste cruise port – the essential guide

1 day in Ravenna – what to do, where to stay and how to get there

Essential tips for a first-time cruise

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.