Are you traveling to Rome for the first time? Here are some tips that will help you weave through the cobbled lanes and enjoy la dolce vita without falling into tourist traps. Although most of these travel tips may surprise you, experience it because it is simply the way of life of the Romans. Here’s also a quick tip to get you started: you’ll need to make reservations for lunch and dinner, especially at smaller restaurants. So, start making your reservations as you read on.
Best time to visit Rome
Spring (mid-March to May) and fall (mid-September to November)
If you’ve already booked your tickets to Rome, you’ll be happy to know that a city as timeless as Rome is welcoming all year round. However, the best time to visit Rome is spring (mid-March to May) and autumn (mid-September to November). In addition to pleasant weather, these months see low attendance. If you like winter and are looking for off-season rates, December and January are also ideal times to visit Rome.
1. In Rome, always have cash on you
Most of Rome, in fact most of Italy, still largely operates on a cash economy, not yet a card economy. Make sure you have enough cash on hand at all locations. Spicci (coins) are more than welcome in small cafes and thrift stores, use them instead of your euros for small purchases. While table-service restaurants allow you to pass cards, they don’t necessarily allow you to use multiple cards to split the bill. Cash is therefore also very useful in this case. Overall, keep plenty of cash on you. ATMs are easy to find, but if you’d rather not lose money on exchange rates, bring along a few wads of cash that will last you throughout your trip.
2.Always order a coffee at the bar
If you like to quietly sip your coffee in a café while watching the crowds pass by, know that this luxury (yes, it is luxury in Rome) comes at a price. If you order your coffee at the bar, you can avoid paying a service charge. But, if you sit down and indulge in your coffee, you’re going to have to pay double for the same cup of coffee. So when you walk into a cafe, head to the cashier and place your order. Take your receipt and collect your drink, then head to the less crowded corner and quickly down your coffee. Italians don’t really dwell on their coffee and literally downgrade it, so do as the locals do. If you are up to drink your coffee, it will cost you 1 to 2 euros. Seated, it will often cost you more than 5 euros.
PS: If you ask for milk after noon, they will nod to you. Italians are picky about their digestion and because milk is heavy on the stomach, it is considered suitable only for breakfast. However, you can order a caffè macchiato, an espresso with a little milk, at any time of the day, without batting an eyelid.
3. Book all your attraction tickets in advance
I can’t stress this enough, but Rome is one of the most touristy cities in Italy and chances are you’ll spend your vacation waiting in line if you don’t buy your tickets at ‘advance. Especially if you plan to visit the most famous sites like the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Catacombs, Versailles, etc., I strongly advise you to buy your tickets online before you go there.
PS: Skip the Line tickets are an absolute bargain if you are in Rome for a few days. Even with regular tickets you’ll face considerable queues, so “Skip the Line” tickets are your best bet to skip the hour-long queues in Rome .
4.Keep your stuff close!
The city is full of pickpockets! They are everywhere in the city – from monuments to buses to piazzas. If someone tries to distract you for any reason, beware, especially if they are adamantly trying to get your attention. When you’re on the subway or bus, keep your bags in front of you and lock your zippers in an inaccessible position. The crowded piazzas are notorious hotspots, so while you’re gorging yourself on gelato, pay attention to your surroundings.
5. Don’t be hungry for dinner until after 8:30 p.m.
If you are a person who likes to dine early, you will have to wait a bit to treat yourself to a dinner in Rome. Most restaurants don’t start serving dinner until 8:30 p.m. and take the last order around 11:30 p.m. However, if you can’t wait until 8:30 p.m., grab an aperitivo like the locals around 7 p.m. You will find more and more places that serve an aperitivo, which is an open buffet and a drink for around 10€. Temporarily satisfy your hunger and then go to dinner around 9:30 p.m.
6. Keep an eye out for “real gelato”.
Not all ice cream in Rome is gelato. Steer clear of gelaterias that feature pretty puffy clouds of gelato, because those are definitely the fake ones. Real gelatos aren’t fluffy. They are creamy. Likewise, real gelatos can’t be bright pink and powder blue, because that’s just a lot of artificial coloring. If you had to trust Anthony Bourdain and his word, go to the Gelateria dei Gracchi in the Prati district. He vouches for it and frankly I consider it a holy grail!
If you want to learn how to make gelato so you can sneak out of Rome, there are a few gelato making classes you can sign up for. This is very fun !
7. Rest on Mondays, as the locals do
Yes. After a tiring weekend, the Romans consider Monday their day of rest. Most museums and restaurants remain closed on Mondays. You can take advantage of this day to visit the city’s parks, go shopping or perhaps go on an excursion departing from Rome on Mondays. As you will spend the day traveling, you will not lose much.
PS: The Vatican Museums are closed on Sundays, so they tend to be very busy on Saturdays and Mondays. Instead, plan your visit from Tuesday to Friday.
8.Never pay for water. Use water fountains instead
If you’re traveling to Rome on a budget, don’t bother paying for water. The city has water fountains, affectionately called “nasoni” or little noses on every street corner and these fountains have drinking water flowing 24/7. This is especially handy during the summer as the water is refreshing and cold! Take your bottle or water bottle and refill it at these water fountains as you stroll through the city. Bottled water is quite expensive, so save your money and grab an extra gelato instead!
9.Tipping is optional, but always appreciated.
Although tipping isn’t traditionally part of Italian culture, you can still afford to leave some if you’re truly satisfied with the service. In Rome, service charges are usually included in the bill like the coperto (cover) or the bread basket, which is why most people don’t tip extra. Depending on the bill, the level of service received and the number of people in your party, you can always leave between 5-10% on the table if you are happy with the service.
10.Buy your bus tickets before boarding the bus
Stock up on bus tickets in advance, as you won’t be able to buy them on the bus. You can pick up your bus tickets at any tabaccheria in town, handy little shops marked with a capital T. Tickets cost €1.50 each, or opt for a 24 hour, 48 hour or weekly ticket for a reduced price. These tickets are valid for all public transport in Rome (bus, metro, tram and local train).
11. Free museum day every first Sunday of the month
State-owned museums, galleries, archaeological sites, parks and gardens are free on the first Sunday of each month. However, it’s also the busiest day to visit these attractions, so arrive early or visit a lesser-known attraction for free that day. If you want to explore an attraction in depth, avoid visiting it on this day, as you will face hordes of visitors.
12.Bread is not free in Rome
You almost always have to pay for bread, so if you don’t want bread (or rather, if you don’t want to be charged for it), tell your server as soon as you sit down because most of the time, it brings it automatically.
13.WiFi is almost always WEAK
Don’t rely on WiFi in Rome. It’s almost always spotty and even in cafes, restaurants and hotels that advertise free WiFi, you can’t expect strong internet. Consider getting a data plan on your local SIM card or bring a portable hotspot if you plan to work. Trusting WiFi in the city is a big mistake! Also, if you’re going to use Google Maps, I highly recommend downloading the offline maps.
PS: Barnum Café and Analemma are two of the most popular places for freelancers. Go here if you urgently need internet.
14.Get out of Rome and take a day trip to Pompeii
If you are staying in Rome for more than 3-5 days, get out of town for a day and visit nearby Naples. It is only 2 hours and 45 minutes from Rome and you can visit the famous city of Pompeii during your visit. And even the city of Herculaneum if you’re a fan of dig sites. There are many organized tours that take you to and from town in 24 hours, so just sign up for a tour that fits your budget.
15.If you want wine, order the house wine
Local wine is one of the best things about restaurants in Rome. Not only is it very affordable, but it is also very tasty! House wine is available in red or white and you can usually order a ¼, ½ or full liter of wine for less than 10€. I know it’s cheap, but pace your wine or you’ll be drunk in no time!
16. Familiarize yourself with some basic Italian phrases
Although it may surprise you, not everyone speaks English in Rome! It is not necessary to be fluent in Italian, but knowing a few Italian words and phrases can be very useful. Here are some commonly used phrases you can start with.
- Hello -> Ciao!
- Thank you -> Grazie
- You are welcome -> Prego
- Excuse me ! -> Mi scusi!
- Please -> Per favore
- OK -> OK
- Do you speak English ? -> Speak English?
- I don’t speak Italian -> Non parlor Italiano
- How much does it cost ? -> Quanto cost?
- Do you accept credit cards ? -> Accept credit card?
17. Do yourself a favor and get the Walk On Walk Off Pass
Alberto Sordi once said: “Rome is not a city like the others. It is a great museum, a living room that one crosses on tiptoe”. To make the most of this great museum, there’s a new pass in town that will test your legs but wow the traveler in you in leaps and bounds. The Walk On Walk Off Rome Pass, also known as the Flexible Rome Tour Pass, allows you to discover Rome at your own pace through relaxed guided walks through the back streets of Rome steeped in history.
18. Ditch the heels and put on your walking shoes.
The streets of Rome are unevenly cobbled, even in uptown areas. Plus, Rome is best explored on foot, so leave the heels at home and grab your sneakers, comfy flats, and the like. Your feet will thank you at the end of the trip.
19.Do not take taxis at the airport. Take the shuttle
After a long flight, you might want to pay a taxi for door-to-door service. Although the city of Rome has imposed a flat rate for airport transfers, many taxi drivers are known to rip off tourists. A taxi from Ciampino airport to the city of Rome is fixed at 30€, which includes all passengers, their luggage and a stop in the center. It is illegal for drivers to charge more. From Fiumicino-Leonardo da Vinci airport, the fixed price for a taxi is 48€. Don’t let a taxi driver fool you that your hotel is not inside the Aurelian Walls.
If you don’t want to spend so much money at the beginning of your trip, I advise you to take the airport shuttles or the shared van service. Shuttles should cost you around €6 and shared vans between €16 and €20. You can even book ahead online and skip the line to get a ticket on the spot.
20. Cover up when visiting churches
If you plan to visit St. Peter’s Basilica or any of the other 100 churches in Rome, be sure to cover up. Regardless of the heat outside, your shoulders and knees must be covered to enter. The same rule applies, quite strictly, to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. A quick tip might be to wrap a shawl around your waist/shoulder before entering. Although makeshift sarongs are not ideal, they are acceptable.