Top 9 Tips for First Time Visitors to Rome – AKA How Not To Go INSANE While Visiting the Eternal City
If you are visiting Rome for the first time it can be absolutely overwhelming. What do you see first? How do you see it all? Do you focus on church history? Ancient Rome? The food? The wine? I absolutely understand that Rome can be crazy, chaotic and not all that enjoyable to visit (honestly, visit in August and try to “see it all” and tell me it’s enjoyable) but there are ways to make the most and thoroughly enjoy your time in the Eternal City.
So here are our
Top 9 Tips for First Time Visitors to Rome
Realize You Can’t Do It All
No seriously, you can’t. Take it from me, I lived in Rome for over two years, was a tour guide and I still can’t say I saw it all. Rome is saturated in history, art, and cuisine and there is just no way you can condense a MILLENNIA of history into three days or how ever long your stay is.
So what can you do?
Research, and decide what is important to you. Figure out what you want to see most and what you can conceivably do with your time in Rome and then…
Plan Out Your Itinerary
Since you can’t do it all, make sure that you plan out a rough itinerary. Rome is not a huge city but with a limited metro, a lackadaisical bus system and taxis that love to take advantage of tourists, it can take some time to cross the city. Make sure that your itinerary takes this into account. The last thing you want to do is make a mad dash across the city in the sweltering heat to make your museum tour on time. And while Rome may not have any concept of time the tourism industry does so you want to be on time!
Book Tours and Tickets Ahead of Time
Don’t waste time in line. You have a finite time in one of the best cities in the world and you don’t want to waste it in line. So make sure you book any tours and tickets ahead of time. Pay special attention to when different exhibits and museums are open and if they have any restrictions (like the Borghese Gallery) so that you don’t have any surprises when you arrive.
Also if you are looking for a tour that is totally unique (I am going to plug my friend’s tour here, FYI) then make sure you check out Storytelling Rome for two amazing tours, one all about the courtesans of Renaissance Rome and another all about the Roman Emperors including Caesar, who started it all!
But Leave Time to Explore on Your Own
Itineraries are great but you should leave time to explore on your own. One of the best ways to really enjoy and discover Rome’s charms is to just get lost. There are hardly any straight roads in Rome and I always recommend just throwing away your map and getting lost in the picturesque back streets. You never know what you might stumble upon; a hidden church holding the remains of Santa Caterina, a handblown glass store where the owner will create pieces there for you, or even just a little cafe in a small piazza where you can sit and have a coffee or a glass of house wine and leave the chaos behind for just a little.
Make Time to Relax
Rome is an exhausting city but people always have such high expectations for the Eternal City and leave disappointed simply because they were completely worn out by rushing around trying to “see it all”.
So when in Rome, literally do what the Romans do. Have long lunches, chats over coffee or wine, take evening walks and drink prosecco until the sun rises. The sites and the history are just one part of what makes Rome so fantastic but taking in Roman life completes it. So make sure that you have worked some time in to enjoy Roman life and relax.
Get Away From the Tourists
If you are visiting in the summer, Rome can be overwhelmed by tourists. So one of the best ways to see Rome is to escape the center. Yes, most of the sites are in the center but so are the tourists. Try seeking out different neighborhoods including the up and coming Pigneto or the quiet Monteverde or the working class Testaccio. By seeking out lesser visited neighborhoods you can truly experience Roman life and hey, you may even hear more people speaking Italian than English 😉 And you know the food will be good!
Speaking of food….
Eat All The Gelato
No, you should. Gelato is glorious! Just stay away from any gelateria which has unnatural colors; this means that their gelatos are not all natural and won’t be as good. Personally I have a few favorites that are worth checking out but there are SO MANY around the city you could seriously just create your own gelato tour. And you shouldn’t just eat all the gelato but you should also eat all the pasta, pizza, cheese and wine you can. This is Italy afterall!
DO NOT EAT BY THE MONUMENTS
If you want a good meal in Rome, DO NOT EAT BY THE MONUMENTS! There is no quicker way to find subpar italian cuisine than by looking around the monuments. And yes, I realize there are monuments everywhere but there are tricks to finding amazing cuisine and avoiding traps. First off, check out the menu. Are there eight different languages? Move on. Even if you don’t speak Italian, just keep going. Also check out what language people are speaking. If it is mainly Italian than you should be good. Also do some research. I personally, do not trust TripAdvisor in Rome but there are plenty of blogs out there (including ours) which have advice on where and what to eat in Rome. If eating well is a priority then make sure you don’t get duped into have microwaved pasta (yes, it happens, believe me).
Also if you are really serious about eating in Rome than just send us an email and we would be happy to send you our running list of about 60 of our favorite places to eat all over the city!
And then the final piece of advice to make your stay in Rome pleasant is….
Don’t Get Ripped Off By Taxis
This may sounds simple or even not a big deal but Italians can be ruthless when it comes to ripping off foreigners in regards to taxis. Alex and I even had this happen to us in December! I was not amused to say the least.
The first thing you need to know is that the taxis are required to turn on the meter and if you are inside the city walls it should always be on 1. 2 and 3 are pricing levels for outside the city and on the highway, respectively. If you are having issues with your taxi driver then take note of their ID number and let them know that you will contact the “Guardia di Finanza” aka the tax police. (These are the scariest police in Italy) They will usually revert to the actual price.
Also take note of other little scams like paying an exorbitant fee to sit and have a coffee (You usually pay a little more but if your coffee is around 8 or 9 euros, you have been waaayyyy overcharged), or being hustled in line to take a Vatican tour. (But you should already have tickets, you smart cookie, you!)
There is nothing like getting repeatedly ripped off to put a damper on your vacation!
So there you have it, our top 9 tips for first time visitors to Rome. We hope that this helps make for a much more enjoyable visit to Rome. And whenever you feel yourself getting overwhelmed remember to just take a breathe, relax and in the end do what makes you happy and not “what you are supposed to do”. It’s your vacation after all!
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