Rome could well be one of our favourite cities in Europe. However, for all its curiosities and enticing food, the Eternal City can take a little bit of trouble to control. You will need to distinguish between what needs to be done absolutely and what deserves a pass, as well as to adapt to some local quirks. Fortunately, we have spent enough time here to help you avoid major mistakes by recruits. Keep reading and we guarantee that your holiday in Rome will be as perfect as possible.
Expect to enter the main monuments of Rome
Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and attracts travellers all year round. The activities are the busiest during the high season, from early April to late October. However, you can expect massive crowds and long queues near all the city’s main monuments all year round. Attractions like the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum are on every list, so get ready to compete for space and budget.
Thinking that you can count on public transit to go anywhere
Perhaps surprising for travellers accustomed to European capitals that are very efficient by public transport, Rome is a little more difficult to navigate. This makes sense, given that the city itself is thousands of years old. However, you must have a healthy ability to walk. Rome’s public transport system consists of a handful of metro, tram and bus lines, although they are subject to the city’s notorious traffic and are not really extensive.
Stick to the most popular districts of Rome
Rome’s main attractions are all concentrated in its central districts, or rione, around the Plaza de España, Termini and Campo de’ Fiori. However, if you limited yourself to these neighbourhoods, you would be missing some really cool places. Pigneto is a bit like the city’s district at the moment, with its mix of vintage shops, bookshops, old-fashioned cafés and trendy restaurants. Testaccio also combines the old and the new, with additions like Matty Arto alongside classic trattorias. If you head north of Flaminio, you will discover nice places like the MAXXI Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid, which is a work of art in itself.
Do not make reservations in the city’s renowned restaurants
With the crowd of Rome often come intensely packed restaurants. In fact, it would be wise to make lunch and dinner reservations wherever you hope to eat. This is particularly true in the famous restaurants of Trastevere and Testaccio, such as Felice a Testaccio, Osteria da Zi Umberto and Roscioli. However, there are many fast food restaurants throughout the city, such as La Renella (in the Trastevere), which are an easy and inexpensive alternative to a big breakfast. Bars are also a great place to have breakfast or a casual lunch without planning ahead.
Try to take a picture without the other tourists
You will not be the only person trying to create a perfect snapshot of Rome’s most emblematic monuments. This is particularly true around the Spanish steps, the Colosseum, St Peter’s Square, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. There are some tips to mark a blow with fewer people in the foreground: Visit just after sunrise or at night, when the majority of tourists have retired to their hotels or have not yet woken up.
Respecting aperitif hours in Rome
Aperitifs are as much part of Rome’s cultural fabric as its ancient and Renaissance monuments. Every evening, at around 6 p.m., cafés and patio bars all over the city fill up with residents nibbling on small plates of food with Aperol or Campari. The scene varies, but almost every corner of the city is buzzing at this time of day. We like the Bar del Fico, just next to Piazza Navona, but plan to introduce yourself a little earlier if you want to sit at the crowded tables outside.
Do not book your tickets at major sites before the time of booking
Most of Rome’s monuments do not require tickets, including the Plaza de España, the Trevi Fountain and most of the large churches that house works of art by artists such as Caravaggio to Bernini. However, other must-see attractions require tickets in advance or are so popular that not doing so means you will be in line for hours. For example, the magnificent collection of the Galleria Borghese must be booked in advance. And it would be wise to book your tickets for the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum in advance to avoid long queues.
Visit Rome in high season
Like Paris and Venice, Rome’s historic city centre is packed during the summer months. If you prefer to stay away from this crowd and get at least a glimpse of the city’s monumental wonders, you might want to travel during the mid-season. Aim for the end of October or beginning of November, when the weather is still pleasant (think light jacket and long sleeves) and the sky is relatively sunny. You will have to deal with fewer crowds and hotels will also be cheaper.
Have a meal near the main monuments of the city
This may be self-evident, but if you choose to eat a meal – from a quick snack to an official dinner – two blocks from one of Rome’s main monuments, you will be ripped off. Prices for everything – espresso, pizza, etc. – in the city blocks surrounding the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps and the Vatican are well over a few minutes’ walk. What more could you ask for? You will likely obtain better value for money in locations located a short distance from these areas, which generally target high turnover rates, target foreign pallets and rely on their location to keep them in operation
Forget that strikes occur frequently
Italy is the home of the sciopero, strikes that cover all types of industries, often directly linked to urban travel. Fortunately, there is some advance notice that these events are happening, so you can prepare yourself. But this is one more reason to consider your itinerary well in advance and be ready to adapt it.
Expect to buy only Italian luxury products
Rome happens to be a hot spot for vintage shopping. The action takes place in the Monti district, near Termini station and most of the city’s main monuments. Here, massive stores like Pifebo are filled with vintage tracksuits, denim jackets, flannel, etc. You will also save a nice cent compared to what you would do in the luxury boutiques of Campo Marzio in the west.
Not looking for hotels in Rome
Rome is undeniably beautiful, but many of its economic properties are dated, dull and uncomfortable. There are many gems throughout the city, but you will need to look beyond the price of a hotel to make sure you get value for your money.
Expect a big breakfast
As in most southern European countries, breakfast in Italy is generally a small-scale business. Your hotel will probably offer at least a continental buffet, although many now offer American-style breakfast options. However, Italian breakfasts are usually served in the neighbourhood bar, which can be noisy and lively and can include espresso, fruit juices and a pastry shop.
Take a taxi to and from the airport
Although Rome’s public transport is not the best on the continent, it is inexpensive and efficient to travel to the city’s main airport, Fiumicino. We do not recommend taking a taxi to the city centre, as it is extremely expensive and takes about the same time as the train. By train, you will arrive directly at Termini Station, adjacent to many central districts of Rome.
Visit only the museums of Antiquity and Renaissance in Rome
Rome is the cradle of the Renaissance and the former seat of the Roman Empire. As such, antiques are the name of the game here. However, there are many reasons why you should not also rely on Rome’s modern and contemporary art scene. This is particularly true in a handful of the city’s avant-garde museums, including the MAXXI, a hub of contemporary work and architecture, as well as in the impressive National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, just north of Villa Borghese.
Choose a hotel room above the street
It is a rare hotel room in Rome that offers a breath-taking view of the region, although the rooftops of Hotel degli Artisti and the Campo dei Fiori hotel boutique (and many others) offer a breath-taking view of the city. The rooms generally offer a picturesque view of the street. However, Rome’s streets – usually paved – and it is insane traffic mean that even the side streets remain noisy until late at night. And that doesn’t say anything about the bars and restaurants that stay open and noisy until late at night. If you want to sleep well, ask for a room in the back of your hotel.
Take a trip to the beach
When travellers think of Rome, they probably do not imagine a beach destination. To be fair, the city does not sit directly on the coast. However, the shores of the Mediterranean are only about 50 minutes away by train, which is faster than most New York residents need to reach their own beaches by subway. The beaches of Ostia, Sabaudia, Santa Severa and Santa Marinella are excellent day trips from Rome and are easily accessible by train in an hour or less. Don’t you want to go back to Rome in the evening? You will easily find a hotel in which you can stay in one of these areas.