Modern Rome offers incomparable food, rich art, historic sites, and stylish shopping. Subtler pleasures here include the sublime light which plays across ancient marbles, and sets to glowing the burnt sienna and ochre-colored walls at sundown. With a languid stretch on a fallen column, a feral cat among the ruins appears oblivious to it all. Thousands of years of civilizations are built literally one block upon the next, often using the recycled substance of a predecessor – an extraordinary complexity of landscape with odd and incongruous joints -- legacies of the many generations born or arrived at this sometimes chaotic, rare and worldly-wise crossroads. Do the postcard sights, but dare to get pleasantly lost to find those little treasures that delight the casual wanderer.
The "Eternal City" still captivates the world. Ancient legacies of language, law, architecture, religion, and philosophy include our Roman alphabet and calendar, and over 25 million Italians emigrated in recent centuries, many to North America. For their descendants, and anyone who grew up loving pizza, pasta, good coffee, and La Dolce Vita, the place seems already familiar on arrival. To wander here is to understand not only whence we came, but perhaps also where we're headed in our own era. Amidst vast ruins in the olive groves at Villa Adriana, it's hard today to imagine that Emperor Hadrian once administered the Roman Empire from this peaceful retreat, 20 miles from the capital. The most powerful man of his day, he travelled constantly thoughout his domain and built many things, including the eponymous British wall, and the Pantheon. Lover to Antinous, whose storied beauty is seen in many statues, he wasn't the only emperor who didn't closet his same-sex desires.
Gay travelers come to Rome for all these, but the best reason to come is the Romans. Balancing easy masculinity with gentle charm, these men will invite you to share the enchantments of their culture, millennia in the making.
Men here abound in contradictions, quite conservative in some ways, liberated in others. The Catholic Church is still influential, so gay sexuality might be expressed less openly in more traditionally Mediterranean ways than in other European capitals. But in terms of masculine affection, there are few inhibitions. An undercurrent of homoerotic desire seems barely but discreetly concealed. Friendships are close and effusively public, and welcomes bestowed on visitors can be enthusiastic and generous.
Considering the complex and conflicted relationship between the Church and pagan cultures on which Rome was founded, it's remarkable that the Vatican Museum, paradoxically, is now home to one of the world’s most amazing collections of nude male beauty. The complex includes the Museo Pio Clementino with 54 galleries, and Michelangelo’s masterpiece at the Sistine Chapel.
The Borghese Gallery, has works by Caravaggio, Bernini, Canova, Rubens, Raphael, Titian, and others from the Cardinal Scipione collection; and the Capitoline Museums collection ranges over ancient architecture and art, including statues.
Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport will most likely be your gateway to Rome. Express trains to downtown run every 30 minutes, cost 14 euros and take half an hour en route. Follow the signs from arrivals to the train station to buy your ticket, and be sure to validate it in the machine on the platform, just before boarding the train.
Bus coaches cost from 4-8 euros each way, depending on the company and special rate offers of the day. Walk right after exiting the arrivals point, look for buses parked there and buy the ticket from staff who compete for passengers at their bus door. Coming back look for the buses alongside Termini Station at the NW corner (the Via Marsala side) and enter the Terravision internet cafe to buy your ticket. Trips take from 45-60 minutes. Taxis also make the trip, but the cost is steep.
Trains from the airport and from cities around Europe and Italy arrive at the central Termini station. For information on rail services see the Ferrovie website. Ciampino, the other airport where Ryanair flights come in, is served by Metro rail and bus service.
Many of Rome's main attractions are concentrated in the historic center, so it’s easy to reach them by foot or a stop or two on the subway system or on the bus. Those outside the center can be reached via Metro Line A, often called the “tourist train.” After Metro operating hours there are night buses that follow street routes to connect the stations. For Rome public transit information see the website of ATAC. A one euro ticket buys a trip on the Metro, or 70 minutes of bus travel with whatever changes you need. Unlimited downtown one to seven day tickets for Metro trains and buses can also be purchased - weekly ones have the best rate at 16 euros.
Vespa motorbikes and bicycles can be rented too, for those adventurous and agile enough. EcoMove, and Bici & Baci are two of many options near Termini Station, and Berberini Scooters is near Piazza Barberini. Bikes for go for 10 euros/day and motorbikes for 30-80 euros/day -- with cheaper rates by the week.
Rome's gay scene is scattered all over the city, but most are within walking distance of the Colosseum or Termini station. Termini has long been a cruising area too - inside, outside, and in the restrooms. But beware of pickpockets, and those who might distract you as a silent partner disappears with your bag.
Just south of the Colosseum, Via di San Giovanni in Laterano has been designated “Gay Street” since 2007. In summer and for special events, the street closes to traffic for parties, music performances, and art displays. For events in Parco del Ninfeo each summer see GayVillage. For free film screenings information see GenderDocuFilmFestival.
Il Settimo Cielo (Seventh Heaven) is a popular gay beach off Via Litoranea, beside a pine forest on the Roman coast at Ostia. A mixed crowd gathers here for loud music and beach volleyball games, or to relax, using umbrellas and chaises that may be rented. Admission is free (unlike many private Italian beaches that charge), and a summertime catering service offers a rich buffet of rice, fruit or pasta salads and sides, during lazy late afternoons, along with cool drinks. A quiet area may be reserved where nobody will disturb you. See Gay Village Beach for directions.
Aut Magazine, published by the Mario Mieli group, has local information and listings too.
ArciGay the Italian gay advocacy and service organziation, has a list of their member businesses. AZgay Roma also has online events info and gay listings. CulturalGay and DiGay Project are two more Italian gay websites with news and updates.
For the Rome Tourist office website see Rome.info
InRomeNow is a great English-language source for off-the-beaten-track, very current tips on food & drink, arts & culture, nightlife & shopping in the city. They also have an iPhone/Pad app with more than 250 interesting side trip destinations, all within an hour or two from Rome.
Rome has many hotels. A cluster of very reasonably priced ones can be found in the vicinity of Termini Station. Off-season rates can be surprisingly inexpensive, but book ahead, especially in summer when demand exceeds supply.
2nd Floor (Via San Giovanni in Laterano, 10), five modern suites above Gay Street cafes and bars near the Colosseum, from 80 euros per single.
Altavilla (Via Principe Amedeo 9), classic palazzo with elegant rooms, between Termini station and the Coliseum.
Ares Rooms (Via Domenichino 7) gay-friendly hotel, great location, good rates; friendly, helpful staff; bright, modern rooms ten minutes walk from Termini, five minutes to gay bars, baths. Close to Colosseum, Forum, good restaurants, and shops.
B&B Best Place (Via Turati 13), simple B&B comfort in very central location.
B&B Gaspare (Via Balilla 16), newly restored apartment at center of Rome, near Termini station, from 40 euros per single.
B&B In And Out (Via Arco del Monte 97), distinctive 18th century mansion, close to the Campo dei Fiori, lively nightlife area.
B&B Bologna (Piazza Bologna 6), central tourist and business hotel, from 45 euros per single standard room.
Duca d'Alba (Via Leonina 14), boutique 4-star hotel, fully modern facilities in beautiful old building near Colosseum.
Scott House (Via Gioberti 30), 4-star conveniences, 2-star prices: private baths, air conditioning, satellite tv, breakfast, internet; near Termini station.
Youth Station Hostel (Via Livorno 5), low rates, shared dorm rooms near Piazza Bologna, for backpacker set, with private bath, internet.
Looking for a country retreat? Antica Fattoria di Pietra, or Stone House (Contrado Bagno di Manziano 15, Parrano; 39-076-383-8084) is a gay-owned restored farm house with self-contained, fully-serviced apartments, and pool, in a peaceful rural Tuscan setting.
Food & Drink
Traditional Roman food was centered on inexpensive offal dishes, and of course spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, pecorino, carbonara, artichokes, clams and tomato sauce. Other pastas and thin crust pizzas with a wide variety of toppings are popular too. The Via Cavour and Termini areas have many good, basic and cheap trattorias and pizzerias, as do the Trastevere and Testaccio districts, and the student-frequented areas of San Lorenzo.
Italian friends can steer you to some great restaurants around the city, but on first getting to town here are some gay gathering spots, mostly around Cavour and the Colosseum:
Coming Out (Via di SanGiovanni in Laterano 8), bar and restaurant, right by the Colosseum, gay men and women, daily 11am to 2am meeting place for Rome's gay community, busiest weekend evenings; cocktail specials; good first stop in Rome with all local gay papers and information, WiFi access, sidewalk seating.
Citta in Fiore (Via Cavour 269), gay-friendly Chinese restaurant. Low prices and great Chinese and Italian food, wine and beer, always a warm welcome from owner Jada and staff, very popular with locals.
Ice Cream Bears (Via di San Giovanni in Laterano 120), gelateria, tempting sweets and beverages, cabinet full of rich flavors to sample, Sicilian pastries, hot 'cornetti' after midnight. Served up by Gianni and Carlo, gathering place for area bears.
My Way (Via di SanGiovanni in Laterano 8), next to Coming Out, under 2nd Floor B&B by the Colosseum. Open from 8am daily with breakfast, panini, pastries, pizza and pasta, espresso coffees, full bar, sidewalk seating, free WiFi. Daytimes mixed, gay bar nights with dance floor in back.
Out on the town: Arcigay Cards
Arcigay, the national organization, works on behalf of gay people to change Italian society. Most bars, saunas, and some other gay businesses require membership, and many are associated with Arcigay. A card bought at one is valid nationwide. Check their website for member establishments.
Coming Out (Via di SanGiovanni in Laterano 8), mixed daytime cafe, evening gay bar/restaurant by the Colosseum, men and women. Favorite meeting place for Rome's gay community and visitors on Gay Street, sidewalk seating, busy weekends, cocktail specials. Good first stop with all the local gay papers and information, open daily 11-2am.
Bunker (Via Placido Zurla 68), Saturday men's cruise & dance club, special party nights, bear crowd.
Garbo (Vicolo di Santa Margherita 1A), drag and transsexual favored hangout bar, has art exhibits, books, and live music.
Hangar (Via in Selci 69), among Rome's most enduring gay institutions. American expat John and partner Gianni open nightly except Tuesday, 10:30pm until 2am, international gathering place for gay men. Easy conversations, often in English; Monday porn, Thursday naked dancers, dark room.
My Bar (Via di SanGiovanni in Laterano 12), mixed daytime cafe from 8am breakfast, evening gay bar until 2am by the Colosseum, mostly men, shares crowd with Coming Out next door. Sidewalk seating, busy weekends, cocktail specials, small dance floor at the back, karaoke nights, occasional go-go dancers.
Sphinx at Radio Café (via Principe Umberto 67), every Thursday, men's leather/fetish club night returns after 3 years (March 14, 2013).
For getting directly down to business, Rome boasts several man to man bars-cum-sex-clubs.
Diavolo Dentro (Largo Itri 23), sex club, darkrooms, cabins, labyrinth, sling, food, drinks, shows, naked nights, hardcore movies. Leather Club of Rome (Lcroma.com) Mr Rubber and Catacombs events.
Gate / Frequency (Via Tuscalana 380) men's sex club with naked, blackout, Nude & Crude, Naked Bear parties.
K Sex Club (Via Amato Amati 8), men's cruising and sex bar with shows, open daily except Mondays.
Skyline Club (Via Pontremoli 36), near San Giovanni metro, darkrooms, porn videos, high-energy music, naked parties, bears nights. Ask Gian Carlo for tourist advice.
Europa Multiclub Sauna (Via Aureliana 40), biggest, most popular and diverse Roman bathhouse. Amenities include mega-size Turkish bath, Finnish sauna, whirlpool, solarium; massage, internet, well-equipped gym, plus snacks and drinks at the cafe. Cabins for playing, plus big-screen erotic videos to set the mood. Open daily 1pm to midnight, and all weekend hours -- some use in place of a hotel.
Two other longtime local tubs are just off Via Merulana as you walk south from the Termini area: Apollion Sauna (Via Mecanate 59/A) and Mediterraneo Sauna (Pasquale Villari 3). Each has steam, dry sauna, massage, darkrooms, and a loyal group of regulars.
For dancing, Rome has an energetic line-up, with circuit parties popping up all over, but also some regular weekly venues. Most have one or two nights when they're gay, or busy. Many clubs and circuit parties take a break during summer months, returning in September or October for a new season until June.
Alibi (Via di Monte Testaccio 40) does Tommy, gay Saturday nights at their big dance floor and summer roof patio; Gloss, Thursdays; and Evolution Sunday nights. There's house music on the ground floor, a mix of pop and R'n'B upstairs, drag shows, and sexy Gloss Boy go-gos. Fridays' Bass are also gay-friendly.
Amigdala at Goa (via Giuseppe Libetta 13), 2nd Saturdays queer electronic music party with live music concerts, film screenings, videos and visuals, art, and theater.
Bear Mondays @ Radio Londra (via di Monte Testaccio 67), weekly gay bear dance parties, no cover charge.
COCKtail at Elle Disco (via V Veneto 81), Sunday evening buffet dinners, cocktails & DJ disco parties on three levels, go-go boys.
G I Am at Alpheus (via del Commercio 36), Saturday night gay house and pop dance parties, top DJs, performances, dancers.
Muccassassina at Qube Club (via Portonaccio 212), Friday dance party on three levels, drag and other live shows, performances, go-go boys, plus top-rated local and international DJs. As with many Roman gay dance clubs, straight couples mix right in, but they get kinky too.
Omogenic Friday gay summer dance parties at the Gay Village moves to Club BlackOut (via Casilina 713) from their previous location, for their winter dances on each second Friday/month. GLBT men/women, top DJs, performances and go-go dancers, September through June.
Just off Piazza Spagna at the base of the Spanish Steps (Metro: Spagna) by the Keats-Shelly Museum there are high-end shops that line Via dei Condotti. At the far end, Via del Corso runs from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo, with more well-known, but somewhat less expensive brand names above their doors. The Egyptian obelisk, that stands in Piazza del Popolo was brought to Rome in 10 BC by Emperor Augustus.
Many local sex and fetish shops stock gay merchandise, but a couple are of more interest than the others: Alcovo (Piazza Sforza Cesarini 27) and Hydra II (Via Urbana 139) both stock leather and fetish items, and the latter also carries Western, vinyl, and vintage wear.
Souvenir (Via di San Giovanni in Laterno 26), rainbow gift shop, books, CDs/DVDs, toys, clothing & accessories.
See Millennia of Male Beauty from February 2008, in our Guide Magazine archives.
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