Rome is different than any other city I’ve ever visited. Rome is an amazing mix of ancient sights engulfed by modern society. Enter Rome with the right attitude and you will find an incredible city full of life and culture that is easy to fall in love with. Enter Rome with the wrong attitude and you could find yourself disappointed by the chaos of the city that surrounds you. Keeping in mind that Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, some appropriate planning will make your visit so much more enjoyable. To help you accomplish just that, we are sharing our list of 21 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Rome to help make your experience the best ever! Whether it’s knowing where to stay in Rome or figuring out your Rome airport transfer, we have you covered!
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1. Buy Tickets in Advance for Major Attractions
With millions of tourist a year flocking to the Eternal City, Rome can get a bit crowded, especially at the major attractions. It is estimated that over 4 million tourists visit the Vatican Museum and the Colosseum each year. To save yourself precious time waiting in line and to ensure that you get to visit the attractions your heart is set on, buy your tickets in advance.
Skip the lines and the crowds at the Vatican Museum with this tour. You will enjoy early access to the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel. Trust me, it is worth it! The crowds can become overwhelming in the Vatican.
We have loads of tips for avoiding the crowds at The Colosseum and Roman Forum in our Ultimate Guide to Visiting Ancient Rome. For great tips that will help you to navigate the Vatican read this post from Tigrest Travel. Her post is full of so much useful information!
2. Know Where to Stay in Rome
While Rome has a good public transportation system and is fairly easy to navigate, you don’t want to spend precious vacation hours getting from attraction to attraction. Instead, choose an area that is close to the attractions that you are most interested in. Locate the attractions that you want to see on the map and then head to TripAdvisor to research the area.
For a romantic stay, choose the Centro Storico (historic center area). Here you will find your dream Rome. Winding cobblestone streets and alleys surrounded by great piazzas and historic churches. For an authentic Roman feel, book with Airbnb, and save $40 on your first booking by using our link. Find your perfect Rome hotel using Hotels.com. Sign up for their rewards program so that you can start earning free nights for future stays.
Once you arrive, familiarize yourself with Rome by taking an awesome walking tour like this one.
3. Set Up an Itinerary Before Going
Ok, before you close this blog post because you’re mad that I told you to set up an itinerary, hear me out. I’m not saying to plan every minute of every day. I’m just saying to set up a general itinerary of the places you want to see and determine when they are open and what the dress code is. For instance, Ostia Antica is closed on Monday and you need reservations to attend the Borghese Gallery. Doing your research in advance and setting up a general itinerary will ensure you get to see all of the top places that you are dreaming of! Our post, 25 Awesome Things to do in Rome will help you with your itinerary!
4. Arrange Your Rome Airport Transfers
The airport is definitely far from the city center, so arrange your transportation in advance. You have several options when considering transportation. Of course, you can take a taxi, but I wouldn’t advise it as this is going to be your most expensive option. There are several rideshare options that you can prebook as well.
I would personally recommend taking public transportation. The Leonardo Express train runs every 15 minutes and will have you to the city center in about 30 minutes. There are also regional trains that run from the airport into town, but they are much slower. For the most economic transfer, take the Terravision bus. Take note though that the bus will be the longest option taking about an hour to get you into the city.
5. Purchase and Validate Public Transportation Pass Before Boarding
Rome’s public transportation system is cheap and efficient. Sure, you will run into the occasional strike, but really this is only a minor inconvenience. After doing a day on the Hop-on, hop-off bus to orient ourselves with the city, Marty and I took public transportation or walked the rest of the time.
All public transportation uses the same ticket, and you can buy single ride tickets (good for one Metro ride-including underground transfers-and unlimited bus rides for a 100-minute period), or you can purchase one-day, three-day, one week or one month passes. Purchase your tickets or passes at major Metro stations, or and tobacco shop.
Before boarding, validate your ticket by sticking it in the Metro turnstile or in the machine when you board the bus. Just watch everyone else and do what they do! The machines will return your ticket with a time stamped on the back showing when the ticket expires.
6. Don’t Let People on the Metro Help You With Your Bags
I know this sounds terrible, but it’s true. Don’t let people on the Metro help you with your bags. They are either going to hold your bags hostage and insist that you tip them, or they are going to steal your stuff. We personally witnessed this when getting on the Metro one day. Some guy offered to help a lady with her suitcase and then argued with her and her husband until they finally agreed to tip him. Sad but true!
7. Always be Aware of Your Surroundings
Rome is very safe for a big city, but like any other big city, there is crime, especially petty crime like pickpocketing. Just be smart when traveling. Don’t make yourself stand out like a tourist, try to blend in. Trust me, I know that’s hard, especially with my Texas accent! LOL! So always be aware of your surroundings and protect your belongings as much as possible. Wear a money belt that is well hidden under your clothes or an anti-theft crossbody bag, and be protective of your items especially in crowded areas. Being diligent and aware of your surroundings will pay off.
8. Wear Comfortable Shoes
Rome is a big city. As we said before, Rome has a very efficient public transportation system, but I guarantee you will be walking. It was nothing for us to get a minimum of 10 miles a day during our time in Rome. With that being said, be sure you are wearing comfortable shoes. I know, shoes make an outfit, and I totally agree, but you will be thankful that you brought some comfy walking shoes, trust me!
9. Carry a Bottle for Water
Sure, you can buy bottled water in Rome, or you can carry a refillable bottle around and refill your bottle all over the city. As you’re walking you will see fountains all over the city, 2,500 of them to be exact! The fountains look a bit like a fire hydrant and have water flowing from them continuously. And yes, the water is perfectly safe to drink and tastes good. If you don’t have a water bottle to refill, then use your thumb to stop up the fountain where the water is flowing from and it will force the water out of a small hole at the top allowing you to get a drink like you would out of an American water fountain.
10. Carry Cash
Cash is king in Rome, so always have some with you. Many places do not take debit or credit cards, so you always need some cash on hand. This is another area that doing some research ahead of time will pay off. Go online and find out your banks affiliates in Italy and then find their bank or atm machines. This will save you money on foreign transaction fees! We were super lucky that our bank had branches all over the place. We found our first one right after getting off of the plane!
11. You, Will, Have to Pay to Pee
Always keep a few euros of that cash handy in order to pay for the restroom. Really, you have to pay to use the restroom. This is actually really common in a lot of big cities, so I wasn’t completely shocked. Of course, there are free restrooms at museums and most restaurants if you are a paying customer. There is also a free restroom at the McDonald’s located near the Spanish Steps.
12. Tipping is Not Mandatory
I know that this is a difficult concept to grasp if you’re from America, but it’s true! The servers in Italy get paid a competitive wage and therefore tipping is not mandatory. If you receive great service and just want to give something extra, then, by all means, you can leave a tip. The amount varies according to the circumstances, but generally adding a euro or two per person is generous.
13. You Pay for Table Service
So part of the reason that tipping is not mandatory is that you are already paying for table service. Before you sit down, look at the menu to see what extra charges will be applied to your bill. There is often a coperto (cover charge) or a servizio (service charge) displayed on the menu. The cover charge helps to cover some of the restaurant’s expenses like electricity and water. Think of it like covering the cost of sitting at the table for as long as you like, and is usually a flat fee per person (1-3 euros). The service charge is about 10 percent and pays for the waitstaff. Some include the service fee in the amounts listed on the menu, while some will add the percentage to the end of your bill.
So keep in mind if you are just having a cup of coffee that it might be much cheaper to stand at the bar.
14. Meals Are an Event
You know that cover charge we just spoke about, well that covers your table for the amount of time that you wish to sit there. Italians meals are an event. Think of them like a marathon, not a sprint. You will notice Italians lingering and enjoying a multi-course meal for hours. They will sit laughing and talking while drinking wine and just enjoying life. So don’t expect for your check to come while you’re still eating. You will have to ask for it as the Italians see it as rude to rush through the meal.
I must admit, this was a little bit of an adjustment for us. We are used to receiving our check while eating and then leaving shortly after the meal complete. I quickly learned to look forward to sitting down to a slow, relaxed dinner. I found myself lingering a little longer, having another glass of wine while enjoying the wonderful ambiance of Italian life that surrounded me. Just go with the meal marathon, you will be glad you did!
15. Time Your Meals
Italians eat on a very different schedule than we do in America. Generally, Italians eat meals later than we do, having lunch between 1-3 pm and then dinner around 8-9 pm. In between lunch and dinner, people often drop into a bar for an afternoon snack and aperitif (drink).
Be sure and take note that most restaurant kitchens close between their lunch and dinner service, so time your meals carefully so you aren’t stuck eating McDonald’s because everything else is closed.
16. Know How to Order
Eating while in Rome is definitely one of the highlights of your trip. Knowing how to order can definitely save you some money on your food bill. In Rome, seafood and steak are usually sold by weight, unless the menu says fillet (filetto). Some dishes are meant to be shared by two people, so the menu will show “X2”, but the price listed is often per person! If a waiter asks you if you want an appetizer “for the table” they are asking if you want one per person, not if you want to share it.
Be sure to ask questions and make sure you are completely clear on what you are wanting to ensure you aren’t slammed with a bunch of unwanted charges at the end of your meal. Our Rick Steves Travel Guide helped us tremendously when it came time to eat!
17. Eat Where the Locals Eat
If possible, avoid eating around the tourist areas. Not only are the prices too high, but the food isn’t all that good usually. For the best food experience, go where the locals go. Find the small hole in the wall places that are out of the tourist areas. Ask locals where they would go to eat, and then head directly there. A dead giveaway of places to avoid are the ones boasting “Menu Turistico”. These places are often serving bland, cheap food targeted at unsuspecting tourists. We also tend to avoid any place that has pictures on their menu!
18. Drink the House Wine
So I will be the first to admit that I am not a wine snob. I feel people should drink what they like regardless of the cost. I was so happy while visiting Rome to discover that the house wine was usually as cheap as the water. I mean, I could have a liter of wine for about the same price as a liter of water. Why wouldn’t I choose the wine? I tried the house wine at every restaurant we visited, and discovered that I liked them all! So go ahead, drink the wine!
19. Know When to Order a Cappuccino
If you want to avoid the dirty looks and snarky comments from the barista, don’t order a cappuccino after 11 am. Italians think about digestion all the time, hence the reason they often end the meal with a limoncello. They believe that the milk in the cappuccino impedes digestion if consumed too late in the day, so don’t order a cappuccino after 11 am.
20. Bring Appropriate Clothing
When visiting churches in Rome, you should always be appropriately dressed. Modest dress is expected when going into a place of worship. So keep your plans for the day in mind when dressing. If it’s summer and hot out, then you might want to carry a long scarf that can be used to cover your knees or shoulders when you are ready to go into a church.
21. Buy the Roma Pass
Get the most out of your time in Rome by combining the Roma Pass with a hop-on, hop off tour. We love Hop-on, hop-off tours to orient ourselves with a new city. This one also includes the Roma Pass which allows you skip the line access to many of Rome’s top attractions.
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