- Rome is smaller and more accessible than you would think. The city is walkable – as in, the entire city is walkable. And it’s probably easiest to walk. Carry Band-Aids because even your most comfy shoes will kill you.
- It is possible to take the train from the Fiumicino airport to the center of Rome. It was 14 Euros (one way). From the main train station, the Termini, you can easily get to anywhere else in the city buy metro, bus, taxi or walking.
- If you are going from one end to the other, there is the metro, which saves your legs but not time. And the public transit is possibly more crammed than NYC. In fact, the culture does not have the same personal space as the US (unless you’re from NYC) so there’s that in general.
- There is such a thing as a Roma Pass. I found it at newsstands – not at the grocery stores and not at the train ticket station. It is a pass that will allow you unlimited travel on the metro and buses in the city as well as two museum entrances (including the Coliseum and the Forum but not the Vatican). I spent five days in Rome. I walked the first two and then bought a three-day Roma pass for 36 Euros. I do not think I used the pass enough to offset the cost but it was nice to know I had it if needed. And it was one less thing to figure out when traveling (buying bus tickets that must be stamped upon entry to the bus or metro tickets at each kiosk – not a big deal, but just another thing).
- By far the best app (and only app I used of the three I downloaded) was Ulmon, Rome. It did not use wifi or data. It would find my location, let me enter where I wanted to go, and literally point me in the direction. Since Rome is a maze of streets, I preferred this to street-by-street directions.
- I also downloaded Viber for free. Here’s the thing – I am not tech-savvy. But, since some people I know do not have an iphone and could not use iMessage, Viber was a good app that let me stay in touch via text AND phone calls for free. Even for those without the app, I could use it to make outgoing calls for much less than my service provider.
- Consider where you stay. There were hotels everywhere. I think I saw someone rolling a suitcase everywhere I went. And I do mean everywhere – no exaggeration.
I stayed in a female-only hostel for a total of $130 for six nights. Seriously. It was close to the main train station and it was a little removed from the major sights so it was a little quieter. Super safe – I had four keys: one to get into the building, one for our hostel, one for my room, and one for my cabinet that held my luggage and personal belongings. I also had easy access to the very helpful and kind people at the front desk. I also had a fridge and a kitchen so I ended up buying some food items from the grocery store to have on hand, which was helpful for snacks and leftovers.
- You could easily do most of the major sights in Rome in only a couple of days. Not only are places close together, but they do not take as much time as you might think. Unless you do the tours, which I did not. Most tours cost something whether you buy an app, use a pre-recorded device, group tour or private tour. This, I am almost certain, would have made the sights more meaningful to see.
- There are fountains all over the city. Not just the pretty ones – there are water fountains for people to use for drinking water. Most look like a tall spigot, not what you might consider a water fountain by US terms, but the water is fine and it is most advisable to take a water bottle and fill up often.
- Do not eat at restaurants that use pictures or English to describe the food. Order the house wine. Order gelato. Personally, I would recommend ordering small cups multiple times a day. (Wine and/or gelato)
- Order cappuccino. Even if you do not like cappuccinos; they are different in Italy. Also, “iced coffee” is coffee milkshake and is served in tiny glasses. Order this often as well.
- Use cash/Euros, not cards. It is easier for so many reasons and, even though many places do use credit cards, there are many places that do not.
- Use sunscreen!
- Buy an adapter for your iPhone upon arrival. The converter did not do a good job with the iPhone for some reason. I bought one for 20 Euros.
- Adapt. For the love, don’t be the typical American. I saw many Americans complaining and being loud and rude about the culture and their expectations. You. Are. Not. In. America. And that’s the point.
Try to adapt to the culture. Say “Ciao” (chow = hi and goodbye) and “ Buongiorno” (bon-jorn-o = good morning/good day) and “Grazie” (grought-zi = thanks). The people are more often than not welcoming of this.
- Avoid the summer months because they are hot and few places have AC – even public transportation. If you do go during the summer months, you body will adjust and it even feels better than jumping back and forth from AC to heat. However, when your body finally adjusts to the heat, and you return home, you will be cold at all times.
- Be prepared for the return flight. It. Is. A. Mess. I took the train to the airport. Then, you have to take a shuttle bus to the Terminal – they don’t actually tell you this. Then, once through security, you have to take a shuttle bus to the Gate. Once there, they may or (most likely) may not announce any delays. Plan for about a 3 hour travel time from the main train station to the gate. I don’t mean “3 hours early” as in American time. I mean, actually 3 hours to get to your gate.
- For any church you enter, you will most likely need to abide by the dress code (no shorts or tank tops). Also, most call for silence.
- You can purchase a ticket online ahead of time for the Vatican. Do. This. Otherwise, you will be in one of the longest, fattest lines you may have ever seen. And in the summer, this is not ideal. I bought a ticket for 1:30pm but they did not check the time and I went at 10:30am. The entrance is to the right of the main entrance. There will be approximately 251 people trying to sell additional tours that allow you to skip the line. I’ve heard they are legit, but I just wanted to get inside so I ignored them. I should have listened as they were actually pointing me in the right direction to enter for pre-bought tickets. Woops.When you get in, you will need to exchange the printed ticket for an actual ticket. No worries – they will point you in the right directions.
Honestly, I was underwhelmed with the Vatican. But I did not do a tour so that may have been part of the experience.
I preferred the St. Peter’s church to the Vatican museum. If you go through the Vatican museum, once you (finally) get to the main room where there are about 100 people staring at the ceiling, there is a fence/wall area in the middle of the room. Go through that and to the RIGHT. There is a door that will lead you to the line (and ticket office) to go up to St. Peter’s Dome. It’s several hundred stairs but well worth it. Not for those who do not enjoy heights or tight spaces. Taking the stairs was 5 Euros and taking the elevator was 7 Euros; choose wisely.
- You can purchase tickets online ahead of time for the Coliseum and the Forum (good for both places) – or you can use the Roma pass (one swipe for each, thus using the two museum entrances). I was told to start at the Forum first, but I started at the Coliseum and it was fine. If you do not buy tickets ahead of time, then definitely start at the Forum to buy your ticket(s).http://www.coopculture.it/colosseo-e-shop.cfm
- There is a park that is lovely to rest at and meander around. Again, definitely walkable. It is near the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo (don’t worry, you’ll figure this all out). This is also where the Borghese gallery is. I did not go there because you need to make a reservation ahead of time, but I hear it is worth seeing.http://www.galleriaborghese.it/default-en.htm
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are several things I did not get to or did not know about. Castel Saint Angelo, for one, would have been fun but I tend to enjoy just meandering the city rather than getting smooshed in with the tourists.
You could also get familiar with where the sites are located in general before you go. This is a similar map to what I had and preferred to use:
The few websites I used are pinned here: https://www.pinterest.com/theandrea/rome-if-you-want-to/