I had a message this morning from a friend of a friend who is a married Catholic priest who is travelling to Rome with wife and two teenage children in the new year. I'd been suggested as someone who might have a few ideas about accomodation, and so on.
Well answer the email caught my enthusiasm, so I thought I might put my suggestions down here. Readers may wish to suggest additions, amendments or recommendations of their own.
I started my reply by pointing out that I am hardly an expert traveller to Rome, but I have been several times now, both privately and with parish groups, so I am only claiming to impart a little of what I have learnt.
So, here goes:
If you want a well located and (reasonably) inexpensive Hotel, then I would certainly recommend the Concilliazione, which is in the Borgo Pio. It is clean, comfortable and family run. It is not luxurious, but it is in an excellent location, in a side street with a lot of character which runs parallel with the Via della Concilliazione the main road up to St Peter's. It is only a few hundred metres from St Peter's Square. They only do breakfast, but there is a cafe (same family) next door and many eating places near by. It is not the cheapest part of Rome, partly because so many tourists pass through the area, but it is possible to eat a reasonable meal (but not a banquet) for under €10.
I think you would find it difficult to find a hotel which does an evening meal. When we took a parish pilgrimage to Rome we stayed at the Concilliazione and ate each evening in a restaurant along the same road. Not at all bad.
You can get contact details for the Concilliazione here:
There are lots of Web sites with other Rome hotels and reviews. One I have used is venere.com. If you explore these Web sites you'll discover that the cheaper hotels are either well out of the centre of Rome, or in the less attractive areas, such as around Termini train station. We stayed near there once with one of our lads (aged 20 at the time). Hotels are basic and functional - but cheap. If you are out all day and just use the hotel to sleep in no problem.
A much cheaper option is to look into convents which provide accomodation. There are many, some very well placed and often very comparable with hotels.
One web site that gives a list of several is here: http://www.santasusanna.org/comingToRome/convents.html
And one I would especially recommend is:
SUORE DOROTEE, Via del Gianicolo,4A, 00165 Rome
Tel. 06.6880.3349; Fax: 06.6880.3311; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I stayed there with a priest friend last year. It is basic, but the sisters are very helpful, and you can eat full board here if you wish. You can order meals day by day. The meals are very generous, served with wine (though not the best!) and I think quite Italian. We came to the opinion that in fact the lunches are a little better than the evening meals. The location is excellent (you can walk through a car park set into the hillside right through to St Peter's square) and the charges are very reasonable. When we left we also discovered that they have a man who happily will take you to the airport for a few euros - very much cheaper, more convenient and more reliable than other forms of transport. I'd recommend it.
A few more tips.
You can get to most of the main sites on foot, though the bus services are very good. You can't pay on the bus, and must buy tickets in advance from any shop showing the T Tabac sign. You get on at the back of the bus, stamp your ticket and it is valid for any number of buses for up to 70 minutes, I think. You will need to catch a bus if you go to the catacombs. You get a bus near St John Lateran. St Peter's Square is on the opposite side of the Tiber to the main tourist sites - if you wanted to be nearer to them, then a hotel near Termini would be the least costly option, but the distances are not very great, and there's lots to see on the way.
If you eat out in the evening, then there are very many good restaurants. I'm told that the area between the Colloseum and St John Lateran is particular popular with the locals. I have eaten there a couple of times and its pretty good - but then we also ate near Termini and had a great meal, so pretty good all round.
When you know when you are going, I strongly suggest that you write to the Uffizio Scavi and ask to join a tour of the Scavi - the excavations under St Peter's. They get booked up very quickly, but even so it sometimes possible just to turn up. These excavations are quite extraordinary. The entrance to the Scavi is to the left of St Peter's basilica (ask the Swiss Guards). Tickets are about €10.
If you are in Rome on a Sunday head for St Peter's just before Midday for the Angelus. I prefer this to the Audience on Wednesdays, as then you have quite a long wait - however you do stand a chance of getting a much better view of the Holy Father. Tickets are free for the audience (no need for tickets for the Angelus). You can order them in advance or go the office in St Peter's Sq - entrance on the right hand side - a couple of days before.
Information about both the Scavi and the General Audiences is on the Vatican Web site.
(you can download a request form from here)
This is surprisingly easy to arrange. Normally you just go along to the sacristy of a particular church and ask when you could say Mass (usually it would be for the next day). At St Peter's such privately arranged Masses have to be quite early in the morning (typically, 7.30am), but in the other Churches it is somewhat more flexible. As a priest travelling abroad, yoiu should have a celebret (usually issued by the Vicar General) which is your 'passport' to say mass while on holiday, and proof or your bona fides.
Have a great time!