Those who know me know that I spent two semesters abroad in Europe, one of which was in Rome — and I still talk about it non-stop. Traveling is a passion of mine and it would be a shame not to share my experience and what I’ve learned. So, welcome to the first in a series of posts that I am calling “Lex and the Foreign City.” What better city is there to kick off this series with than the eternal one? Without further ado, I give you my tips for your Roman Holiday (Audrey Hepburn haircut may or may not be included).
- Don’t worry about lines: I was so worried about having to spend forever waiting in line to see the well-known monuments, but queues actually move relatively quickly, especially in the off-season. At the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica, two of the most highly trafficked tourist attractions in Rome, I barely spent any time in line. It’s not worth the money or hassle to get special tickets well in advance to skip queues.
- Check the map before you plan your itinerary for the day: I quickly discovered that Rome is an extremely spread out city. The monuments are not concentrated in one place and cabs can be hard to come by without calling or finding a taxi stand. Many of the famous attractions are so expansive and amazing that they require at least a full day visit to fully appreciate. Make sure that on sightseeing days you have an idea of where you’re going and what things are realistic to see in a short amount of time so that you can enjoy touristing without feeling rushed.
- Go to Vatican City: The crowds are crazy and it can be hot and sweaty, but the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica truly are must-sees. There is so much in Vatican Square that you could spend several days visiting and still find something new to see.
- Church-ready clothes are essential: Male, female or gender non-conforming, it doesn’t matter, to go into most churches you must cover up. Italy is a country steeped in history and jam-packed with beautiful churches. While you may not be Catholic yourself, it is important to respect the customs of any place you visit. Some churches are more lax, but most Roman churches (including St. Peter’s) will not let you enter with exposed knees and shoulders regardless of gender.
- Go to Gianicolo Hill: I lived and went to school on the lesser-known Gianicolo Hill and there are some wonderful things to see there, such as S. Pietro in Montorio (a church) and the Aqua Paola (a papal fountain). It’s much more residential (therefore quieter) and is a nice place to stay. It also is a great neighborhood to visit if you want a great view of the city without having to pay to go up the Wedding Cake aka the Vittore Emmanuele II Monument ( the Aqua Paola or Garibaldi monument will give you great, free views).
- The Mouth of Truth is okay: Yes, it’s famous and looks cool, but the Mouth of Truth itself is really best for a Roman Holiday-inspired photo op. The real site to see is the Church that you can enter (for free) when you visit. I wouldn’t make this a priority, but it’s worth seeing if you have time to spare.
- Beware of construction: Rome is under construction and restoration all the time. If it’s not one monument, it’s another, so just be prepared. Check TripAdvisor or ask the concierge at your hotel about construction and restoration to avoid disappointment.
The Most Important Thing (Food):
- Food in Rome is buonissimo: Generally, food in Rome is delicious. Most places you walk into will leave you with a smile on your face and full belly, but there are some exceptions. Restaurants labeled trattorias and osterias are safe bets and authentic 99.9% of the time, even outside of Rome.
- Know how to avoid tourist traps: Just as in any large city, tourist traps are littered all over Rome. To avoid falling into them, I recommend going off the beaten path. Avoid places with an array of different languages on the menu, don’t go into places where people are soliciting patrons, and be wary of places right along the Via del Corso and by monuments.
- Prepare for long meals: The Italians believe in savoring meals and enjoying time with family and friends over food. Meals are slow and restaurant service is slow, so be prepared to channel your inner Italian and savor your slow meal. If you really are in a rush for the check, ask for il conto, per favore!
- Prepare to pay for water: Water is not free in most places in Europe, so don’t be shocked when the bill arrives and you’ve been charged. If you want still water ask for naturale, for sparkling ask for frizzante.
- Tips aren’t necessarily required, but…: Please, tip your waiter/waitress if they did a good job!
- GIOLITTI!: If you want amazing gelato, Giolitti lives up to its reputation. I also recommend Mi Ami on Gianicolo Hill. Some tips for spotting good gelato: it shouldn’t be too artificially colored or too fluffy .
- Don’t be afraid of the Roman bus system: The Roman bus system is not the most reliable thing on the planet, however if you’re spending more than a weekend in Rome I recommend getting a bus pass. It’s possible to get around Rome by walking, but it is definitely time-consuming. Familiarize yourself with the bus schedule and don’t be afraid to ask locals if you are confused! If you want to get around Rome like the Romans do, take a chance and ride a (bumpy) Roman bus!
- Cabs aren’t that pricey: Cabs aren’t that pricey as long as you make sure that you aren’t taken advantage of. Just like in certain American cities, sometimes cabbies will take longer routes in order to overcharge tourists. This is hard to avoid, but the most you can do is make sure you take an official taxi with a meter!
- Don’t rely on a metro station: Thanks to an abundance of ancient bits, the metro system is not extensive, don’t count on being able to take the subway in Rome because there really isn’t much of one. The best ways of getting around are by cab, bus, or your own two feet 😉
Things to Remember:
- Beware of pickpockets: Like many other major tourist destinations all over the world, Rome has a problem with pickpockets. I was lucky enough not to fall victim to this, but I was very aware of my belongings (read: paranoid). If it happens, it happens, but just be aware of your surroundings and possessions, especially in tourist hubs with free entry like the Pantheon. I recommend getting a pouch for your passport that you can wear around your neck and tuck under your shirt.
- The Romans aren’t scary, it’s okay to ask questions (and try to brush up on your foreign language skills): People are usually willing to help out if you ask! Also, don’t be afraid to try out your Italian if you want to practice. In my experience, people will usually appreciate you making the effort to learn their language.
- Rome is an amazing city, enjoy it: There’s no place quite like Rome! Enjoy your time there, it’ll be over sooner than you realize and, trust me, you’ll be yearning to return again.