Rome Guidebook Smackdown!

Michael Kraus
Three recent guidebooks about Rome

Because no one knows a city as well as the locals do, we asked a trio of insiders to give us their opinions of three recent guidebooks about Rome.

BT Top Pick
* The star goes to the guidebook that the insider considers the most useful.

Marta Falconi Born in Rome 27 years ago, she's now a reporter in the Associated Press's bureau there.

Christopher P. Winner The editor and publisher of The American magazine has lived in Rome since 1975.

Sofia Celeste Based in Rome since 2004, she has written for The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe.

Rick Steves' Rome 2008 ($18)

Marta Falconi: A friendly approach, with first-person reports, B&W photos, and hand-drawn maps. Restaurants get less play than attractions, and nightlife coverage is virtually nonexistent. Best for backpackers or families with little time in the city.

Christopher Winner: A long, generally precise monologue. But basic needs like lodging and food aren't separated from tourism, and the religious coverage is nearly double that of entertainment and dining. What the guide lacks in maps--there are few--it makes up for in clear writing.

Sofia Celeste: Written with the humor and street smarts of a local, and full of insider info. The restaurant guide will lead you to the best little-known spots as well as the nearest McDonald's. Anyone looking for the trendiest places, however, will want to hang out with someone other than Rick Steves.

The Rough Guide to Rome, 2007 ($18)

Marta Falconi: The best take of the three on the Vatican, with essential maps. No ratings, though, so you can't tell at a glance which attractions you can ignore. In general, descriptions are only a few lines, and some restaurant/bar entries are outdated. At least one closed long ago.

Christopher Winner:* Time Out's gloss meets Steves's primitivism. Listings are approachable, and there are eight maps at the back of the book. Best of all, a Contexts section includes lovely excerpts about the city and astute book tips--it's just one more example of the book's attention to detail.

Sofia Celeste: Seeking a tour that includes the setting of Tosca? This is the guidebook for you. It's thick with historical and cultural background, but lacks a simple breakdown of restaurants, hotels, and clubs. Definitely better for more-mature travelers.

Time Out Rome, 2007 ($20)

Marta Falconi:* A hip, entertaining guide packed with the latest on bars, restaurants, and trends--even most locals would find it useful. Quality photos and smooth graphics make for better reading. Nothing seems to be missing; the book even has a small glossary of pizza toppings.

Christopher Winner: The attitude can be jarring: An essay on art is subtitled, "So many Virgins, so little time...." Please. The nightlife and entertainment sections are the best around, making the book a better bible for the 20-something crowd than for anyone else.

Sofia Celeste:* Goes beyond a directory of boutique hotels and day spas (though that's here, too) with insightful articles on topics such as Pope Benedict XVI. Despite Time Out's fairly youthful reputation, bargain hunters should look elsewhere.

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