Rome has two airports: Fiumicino (FCO), which is also sometimes referred to as Rome’s Lenardo da Vinci Airport, and Ciampino (CIA).
So which airport should you use to fly into Rome?
Rome’s Ciampino Airport:
Ciampino is essentially a glorified bus station.
It is a nice bus station… with planes.
While it is incredibly small and simple (one single terminal), that also makes it fairly easy. It is an old military airport that is now the main base of some budget airlines like RyanAir.
There are no long haul flights out of Ciampino, so it is likely only an option for you if you are heading to/coming from a European destination, or Europe-adjacent like North Africa.
The security at Ciampino is much, much faster than at Fiumicino Airport, but once you are through the metal detectors… well, there is not a whole lot to do.
But what there is, is getting better. I mean, they installed a foosball table at Ciampino! That’s something! They also sell cannoli! WOW!
And you are just going to have to take my word for it that it is 100% better than it was 1 year ago. They are closing the airport for a few weeks in October 2016, so I anticipate that it will only get better.
“Better” is relative when you are talking about a bus station-type airport. Don’t think you are going to do a lot of last minute shopping (but there is a tabacchi). Eating options are also limited, so you will likely be ordering a fairly sad sandwich if you get hungry.
Getting to and from Ciampino
A taxi from Ciampino Airport to Rome is only €30, which is cheaper than a cab from Fiumicino. However, the cabbies are grumpy and you may need to insist on the price. And outside of taxis, your only real option is to take the Terravision bus for €4 from Termini station. There are no other viable train, metro or public bus links.
The drive from Rome to Ciampino varies based on traffic, but it is slightly closer to the center than FCO. You also get to drive down the Via Appia, which can be quite charming.
Bottom line: Ciampino Airport (CIA) is fine. It is small, and not too far from the center compared to FCO. The smallness means fewer amenities, but also fewer hassles. Bags come more quickly and transport is cheaper.
Rome’s Fiumicino (FCO) Airport:
Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) is Rome’s main airport. It is a large airport with 5 terminals.
Being the main airport means that it is slightly better connected in terms of transportation. There are more affordable buses like Terravision that will take you to Piazza Cavour or Termini, as well as a high speed train and a regional train. Taxis to and from Fiumicino are €48, so slightly pricier than from Ciampino.
Fiumicino has more dining and shopping options by far. For example, there is a duty free Furla shop that dents my bank account nearly every time. (Though now that the women in there recognize me, I am doing my best to cut back).
However, this means a much longer wait at security, and massive passport control lines. If you are flying out, give yourself at least the recommended 2 hours to avoid any surprises (and have time for a glass of wine).
If you are arriving, expect to wait at immigration, and to wait again for your baggage. I try to bring carryon only whenever possible because the wait for luggage at Fiumicino can take up to an hour. Luckily, there is a lone espresso bar near the baggage area to keep you sane.
If you are coming from the US, or a further destination, Fiumicino is probably your only option.
Bottom line: Ciampino is less comfortable, but much easier. It is slightly closer, but FCO is only a 35 minute drive from Rome when traffic is light.
Happy airport travels!