Trying to stay inconspicuous as a tourist in Rome is impossible — you’ll give yourself away with your mannerisms alone. No need to draw more attention by getting caught making classic tourist mistakes!
After visiting Rome on my recent trip with Monograms Travel, I’ve collected a few key things to know before planning your first trip to Rome.
Rome, Italy Travel Tips
1. Book a Tour For the Popular Sites
Booking a tour to the Colosseum and Vatican City will let you cut the line, which can often take over an hour (longer if you visit in summer). Given the popularity of the most classic and famous Roman sites, skip-the-line tours are a splurge well worth the money.
I visited both Vatican City and the Colosseum with a Monograms Travel tour guide, which meant skipping the line completely at the Colosseum and we were allowed entrance into Vatican City before it even opened to the general public. I even visited off-season (October) and the wait time without a tour to both of these sites were over an hour, so I can’t imagine what it would be like in the summer.
2. Public Transport
Buses that cover the entire city run 24 hours a day, and there’s also a metro/tram system to take advantage of if you’re staying near a station. Taxis are overly abundant, but you have to hail them at a specified taxi stand or call one from your hotel. I used Uber instead of taxis whenever possible and the cost was often half the price.
There are a few passes you can purchase for easier and cheaper travel within the city, including the 2- or 3-day Roma pass that will give you access to the Metro, trams and buses.
3. The Best Time To Visit: Spring and Fall
Rome is beautiful year-round, but summer is particularly hot and miserably crowded. Winters are mild but wet, leaving April/May and September/October the best times to visit. The days are cool and nights can get chilly, but if your come prepared with a packable waterproof jacket and travel umbrella, you’ll find skipping tourist season worthwhile!
4. You Will Need Cash
It’s not uncommon for places to only accept cash, so make sure you have enough euros on hand for your day’s planned activities. Notify your bank before traveling so you don’t find yourself with frozen debit and credit cards, and pull out at least some money from an ATM once you arrive at the airport. You don’t want to be stuck looking for an ATM while you’re jetlagged and may even run into one or two that don’t work.
When you do need more cash, look for ATMs that are attached to a bank just in case it eats your card.
5. Carry a Water Bottle
Bring a bottle to fill at the many fountains around the city; a reusable one (I use this one) from home is best for the environment and can easily be cleaned in your hotel room. Some sites (e.g the Colosseum) have ‘water taps’ — the equivalent of a drinking fountain — to fill your bottle with once inside. You’ll never have a need to buy water in Rome!
6. Table Service
Coperto is a table service fee — usually 1-3 Euros or 10% of your meal — and is charged to every person who sits at the table. Restaurants should disclose the service fee, but expect it regardless.
There is almost always a charge for bread, so if you don’t want bread (or rather, don’t want to be charged for it) let your waiter/waitress know as soon as you sit down so they don’t bring it out automatically as they normally do.
7. Beware of Pickpockets
Because Rome is known to be a popular tourist destination, pickpockets often prey on unsuspecting foreigners and swipe valuables without suspicion. Public transportation is a hotspot for theft, but beware of the iconic tourist attractions like the Trevi Fountain and Colosseum as well.
Keep your purse, backpack or belongings on your body and zipped up, and never leave your phone sitting on the table while eating out. Only carry the minimal amount of cash necessary and leave your valuables in the hotel safe.
It’s also best to get theft insurance and make photocopies of your important documents in the unfortunate occasion that you do fall victim to such thieves. However, employing even the most basic, common sense security tactics will save you the drama!
8. Wear Comfortable Shoes
This should go without saying, but leave your cute heels at home, unless you’re one of the lucky few who find heels comfortable. I wore these Adidas sneakers during my entire time in Rome (ladies, they even look cute with dresses!) You’ll surely be thankful for comfy insoles in your favorite pair of sneakers by the end of a long day walking around the city.
9. Learn Basic Italian Phrases
While this may come as a shock (especially to Americans), not everyone speaks English! While it’s more common for locals in large cities to know a bit of English than those in rural villages, you don’t want to don’t want assume someone speaks English. Learn a few key Italian phrases, and always greet in Italian first!
10. Avoid Driving in the City
With extensive public transportation, driving in the city is pretty unnecessary and wildly aggresive; unless you have a specific reason for needing a personal car, forgo driving. Traffic is very fast, very heavy, and plays by no rules — don’t expect streets signs or traffic lights to guide you, because there aren’t many.
If you plan to venture outside Rome for time in rural Italy, wait until your last day in the city to rent a car. Make sure you have both a GPS and paper map, familiarize yourself with the unique road signs, and expect the unexpected! Really though, don’t drive unless you absolutely HAVE to.