Every city has its quirks, including Rome. After living in Rome, I know how to make the most of the city that at times can seem a little backwards. I’ve collated a list of essential Rome tips and tricks that you should know before your trip.
My top tips to Rome tips cover everything from where to stay, how to save money, how to avoid queues, what to wear and other tidbits you would have never even thought of.
Here are my top tips for visiting Rome.
1. Order house wine and save
When dining out, order the ‘vino della casa’ (house wine) instead of a bottle. Not only does it taste just as good, but it’s much cheaper and you can buy more of it! It usually comes served by the litre in a lovely carafe.
2. Beware of Pickpockets
Rome is no exception to pickpockets which operate all over the city. They tend to stay around monuments, archaeological sites and popular bus routes. Be waring if you ever find yourself on bus routes 40, 64 which connect Termini Station and the Vatican. These routes are usually packed with tourists making it a notorious hotspot for pickpockets. Err on the side of caution and take the metro to Ottaviano instead; even then be careful. If anyone tries to distract you for any reason, be suspicious, especially if they are adamantly trying to get your attention.
A great way to keep your valuables safe is disguised in this ingenious travel scarf.
3. Don’t eat in the centre, unless you’re with a local
Unless a local gives you a recommendation, don’t expect to eat great food in the historical centre. I get it, you want to enjoy a meal whilst admiring Piazza Navona, but remember that you’re paying for the view, not high-quality food. Romans wouldn’t be caught dead eating in Piazza Navona, neither should you. Here are a couple of my favourites. In Campo dei Fiori, there’s Hostaria Romanesca, Roscioli and Osteria da Fortunata.
Heading to Italy? Download my free Italian travel phrase guide here
4. Taxis drivers might rip you off
Before you jump in a taxi, know what you’re paying for. The city of Rome enforces a set fee for airport transfers, having said that some taxi drivers are part of a racket which rips off tourists.
A taxi from Ciampino airport to Rome is fixed at €30. This includes all passengers, their bags, and one stop in the center. It’s illegal for drivers to charge more. A cheaper alternative is to take the airport shuttle bus which takes 45 minutes and costs around €6.
From Fiumicino-Leonardo da Vinci airport, the set fee for a taxi is €48. However, it’s much faster to take the Leonardo Express train to Termini station which takes 30 minutes and is €14.
Don’t let a taxi driver bully you into thinking your hotel is not within the Aurelian walls either as it most likely is. Here is a map of where these set fees apply (see page 4)
5. Know how to spot a ‘fake’ gelato
Enjoying an authentic creamy gelato is one of the real pleasures when coming to Italy. But not all gelato is created equal. Steer away from a gelateria (gelato shop) with displays of pretty, puffy clouds of gelato. This fluffiness comes from artificial thickeners. Also, avoid gelato that is brightly-coloured, this means lots of chemicals were used in the process. If you’re still unsure, compare its colour to how it would appear blended. A blended apple is never fluorescent green.
One of my favourite gelateria’s is Ciampini.
6. Monday is a day of rest
Since museums and restaurants are open throughout the week, Monday is their rest, therefore, they remain closed. Make sure you plan ahead by checking opening times on their website to avoid disappointment. Keep Mondays for shopping and visiting parks.
7. Go to museums for free
On the first Sunday of each month state, numerous museums and archaeological sites are open to the public for free. This includes the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, Baths of Caracalla, and Galleria Borghese. This isn’t just restricted to Rome, it applies to all regions in Italy.
8. Don’t pay for water
The ancients keep the Eternal City well-hydrated providing the best drinking water to its citizen via its aqueducts. To this day, public drinking water flows from the ‘nasoni’ fountains scattered throughout the city. This is especially convenient during the heat of summer as the water it refreshingly cold. Simply carry a flask or bottle with you and top up along the way as you explore the city.
9. Don’t rely on card, cash is king
Rome is ancient and so too is the way it accepts payment. Cash is king here. Make sure you carry enough cash with you each day to pay for incidentals like take away pizza or gelato. Even though things are changing, more often than not the smaller establishments will only accept cash. Even some museums only accept cash! If you’re going shopping or paying for your hotel, card payments will always be accepted, just don’t expect to split bills in restaurants.
With every transaction you make, no matter how small the purchase, you’ll be given a small receipt (scontrino or ricevuta in Italia). You might feel inclined to leave it on the counter or throw it straight in the bin, but don’t do this until after you get back top your accommodation. Italy has what is know as the Guardia di Finanza which is basically the finance police. You’ll see them dressed in smart grey suits with a bright yellow strip down their suit leg. It’s their job to ensure everyone is paying their taxes which is why they can and do stop people in the street once they’ve left an a bar, gelateria, restaurant or other and ask to see your scontrino or ricevuta. If you don’t have one, both you and the proprietor my be prosecuted.
10. Don’t have milk after breakfast
Unless you want to be judged a stupid tourist, don’t order a caffè latte afternoon. It’s practically a sin to to have milk after breakfast. Italians see milk as something you should only have a breakfast so it’s a massive faux pas to order a cappuccino or (caffè) latte with or after lunch or dinner.
11. Ordering the right coffee
First of all, there are no ‘cafes’ in Italy. You won’t see one so don’t look. Instead, Italian call them a ‘bar’ and they are pretty much everywhere. There are no Starbucks in Italy either, why would there be? Italians invented the coffee culture along with the macchiatto, espresso, and cappuccino.
Once inside, if you ask for a caffè, this just means “coffee” and doesn’t specify the type you want. In Rome, however, a caffè is an espresso: a single shot of coffee, with no water or milk added.
Here is a little cheat sheet of the types of coffee you can order.
Cappuccino: Is an espresso with hot, foamed milk on top.
Caffè americano: An ‘Amercian’ coffee, this could mean either an espresso with hot water or filtered coffee (caffè all’americana).
Caffè lungo: Italian for “long”, is a coffee made by using an espresso machine to make an Italian-style coffee – short black (single or double dose or shot) with twice as much used than to prepare a caffè americano, resulting in a larger coffee.
Caffè macchiato: In Italian, macchiato means “stained” or “spotted” so the literal translation of caffè macchiato is “stained coffee”, or coffee with a spot of milk. The barista may ask you if you want to milk hot or cold, “Latte caldo o freddo?”. In which case, ‘caldo’ is hot, ‘freddo’ is cold.
Latte macchiato: This is opposite of a caffè macchiato. This time the milk is “Spotted” milk with coffee.
Caffè corretto: In Italian, “corretto” means corrected, but this coffee is made with alcohol.
Caffè shakerato: Next something to cool you down in the stifling summer month? The closest thing to a frappuccino you’ll get is this a cffè shakerato or “shaken up”, it’s made with ice and sugar.
12. Standing at the bar is cheaper
Once you’ve got your coffee, now you have to decide where you’re going to drink it. Italians don’t consider drinking coffee as pastime that should be had at a table with a newspaper or friends, they drink coffee simply to refuel. They down an espresso and leave. If that’s not for you, then be prepared to pay an extra fee to sit at a table.
13. Avoid the Faux Gladiators
Loitering around Roman monuments are men dressed up as gladiators who offer to pose with you in photos…but it comes at a cost. While you may think it’s free or part of the experience, after take more than one photo with the ‘gladiator’ he’ll demand you pay him. One gladiator reportedly demanded $40!
As of 2012, a new law came into effect that makes it illegal for “gladiators” to hang around the Colosseum or ask for money. Since then they’ve branched out to other monuments, we smart and just avoid them.
14. Cover up when visiting churches…including the Sistine Chapel
Want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica or any one of the other 1000 churches in Romes? The rule is simple: cover knees and shoulders and knees or you’ll be refused entry. The same rule applies if you’re visiting the Vatican Museums and want to go inside the Sistine Chapel at the end. It gets stupid hot in Rome, so carry a light shawl, sarong, or scarf with you and tie it around your waist or shoulders. This sarong is a great option.
15. Buy your ticket before you get on the bus
Even though Rome is easily managed on foot, at some point you will probably need to take a bus. You can’t buy tickets on board, instead, you’ll need to stock up at the ticket machines at any metro station, transit hubs, or bus terminals. Tickets become active once validated and will last you a single 90-minute journey. While we’re on the topic of public transportation, when it comes to catching buses, trains, or shuttles, you must always validate your ticket. Public transportation officials are very strict on this. You’ll find validation machines (convalida in Italian) on board the bus, in the main entrance at train stations and on the platforms.
16. Know some Italian
While you don’t need to be fluent in Italian, knowing a few choice words and phrase will help you in situations outside of your hotel or visiting museums. Italians aren’t known for your mastery of the English language so help them out and meet them halfway. My free Italian travel phrase guide with pronunciation tips will help you get started.
If you want to step up your Italian, then check out my book for beginners.
17. Be aware of the poor and deformed
Wow, this title sounds super morbid but the truth is that at some point in Rome, you will be approached by poor folk usually with severely disfigured limbs. They will beg you for money and it’s up to you to decide if you want to. During my first trip to Italy, on the first day, our tour guide told us that as babies their parents would intentionally break their bones so they could earn money on the streets from tourists who pitied them. It’s a tough decision to make because ultimately, any money you give them is encouraging this practice.
18. Bring toilet paper or wipes
No matter where you are, public toilets in Italy are pretty dismal. I’ll never understand why they don’t have toilet seats either, or why you need to pay 50 euro cents to use a toilet (look for a W.C). Most importantly though, more often than not they won’t have toilet paper either. If there is paper (usually rough) and a toilet seat, then you’ve won the toilet lottery. Congratulations! This compact kit will give you both flushable toilet seat covers and toilet paper. Winning!
19. Where to stay in Rome
Without a doubt, staying in the Centro Storico, or historic center, is the best option. This way you’re always within walking distance to all the major attractions and will help you save money on transportation.
Hotels in Rome are expensive, so book early. A great alternative to a traditional hotel is the ‘pensione’ which are lower-priced and are more like a BnB.
On the other hand, if you want to live large then staying at Hotel de Russie is a great option. It’s classy, discreet, and close to the Spanish steps.
20. Don’t expect an amazing buffet breakfast
Italians don’t really do breakfast, they usually have a cornetto (croissant) and an espresso to start their day. The real food comes at lunchtime. With that said, don’t expect anything more than a ‘continental breakfast’ from your hotel breakfast. They will usually provide various type of cheese, cured meats, some pastries, and bread. That’s it! If you’re lucky they may have cereal, but don’t count on it.
21. Cacio e Pepe is life
Meaning ‘cheese and pepper’, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of Rome’s traditional pasta dish ‘Cacio e pepe’. As the name suggests, the ingredients are simple but the difference is in the quality and preparation. Using only black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese, and pasta, you can’t leave Rome with eating this tasty Roman pasta dish. One of the best places in the city for traditional Roman food is at Trattoria Perilli.
22. Visit the Vatican in the afternoon…or Friday night!
When it comes to visiting the Vatican Museums, the later you go, the better. Ignore those who say you should to go early and queue up, that’s what everyone else is doing! Then once you’re inside it’s elbow to elbow all the way to the Sistine Chapel.
If you’re in Rome during the summer high season, the Vatican Museums are open till late on Friday night, which provides a far less busy and stressful experience.
23. The metro gets busy
Rome only has two metro lines with a third one that’s been in the works for over 5 years. One day it will be finished…maybe. During peak times and on weekends it can be impossible to board the metro. Your best chance is to try getting on at either the first or last carriage, which tends to be less crowded.
If you’re on the B line (which goes to the Colosseum and Circo Massimo), wait for one of the newer trains as they have air conditioning.
24. Don’t carry a large backpack
So, you know how I said to bring a shawl or scarf? Well, don’t go ahead and bring a large backpack with you. Most museums will make you cloak large items which an extra hassle I prefer to live without. Instead, take a largish handbag or Longchamp tote bag, alternatively, take a small backpack like this one from Fjallraven Kanken.
25. Buy Colosseum tickets online or at the Palatine Hill
Buying a ticket to the Colosseum also includes access to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. I highly recommend buying these online directly than in person. If you’re not as organised than me, then skip the queue inside the Colosseum at the new ticket office near the Palatine Hill.
The ticket also includes current exhibitions and is valid for 2 consecutive days, from the first use, for 1 entrance to the Colosseum and 1 entrance to the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill.
26. Italian Meal Times
Italians eat late which is probably why they hardly eat at breakfast. Don’t be surprised if that restaurant you want to check out isn’t open at 6 pm. Generally, Italians have dinner from 8 pm or even later. Restaurant kitchens usually close well after 10 pm too.
If you can’t wait until 8 pm, do as the Romans do and have an aperitivo. All over the city, from the late afternoon you can visit bars (yes, the ones that serve coffee) or more traditional bars like my favourite Freni e Frizioni, which offer an open buffet and drink for 10 euros. Bargain!
27. Tipping Culture
When the bill comes after your meal, you may be wondering what tip to leave. It’s handy to know that Italy doesn’t have much of a tipping culture but restaurants will usually add a service charge to your bill. In trattorias and pizzerias, a one to two euro tip is generally acceptable. Once you sit down at the table, the first thing you’ll get with your menu is bread which you can expect to pay for, this is called ‘pane e coperto’ (bread and cover charge). This is pretty standard and is added provided even if you don’t ask for or eat it.
Taxi drivers or bartenders don’t generally expect tips either.
That’s it! Rome is an absolute gem of a city. I lived there for three years so it will always be in my heart. I truly hope you get to experience the best of Rome thanks to these travel tips. Got a question? Ask me below and I’ll answer any and all your questions 🙂
Planning a trip? Don’t risk it. I never travel without getting travel insurance. I used World Nomads for all my trips.
Don’t miss these guides to Rome and beyond!
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- Top 10 Absolute Best Views of Rome That Will Blow Your Mind
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- Lakes, Mountains & Castles: 21 Best Things to do in Trento, Italy
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