10 Rome Travel Tips for First-timers

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Rome Travel Tips-FirstTimers

If you’re coming to Rome for the first time, this post if just for you. Below you’ll find some useful Rome Travel Tips to make your first visit that much more magical. Don’t make the same mistakes other travellers make, and instead navigate the city like a pro.


Below are the post sections, in case you want to jump straight to a specific tip:

1. Don’t try to see it all on your first trip.
2. Explore Rome’s different neighbourhoods.
3. Buy your tickets to main sites in advance online.
4. Use Public Transport like a pro.
5. Validate your public transport tickets.
6. Be prepared to wait for delayed buses.
7. Know who to call for an English doctor.
8. Visit the historical centre at Sunrise.
9. Drink from the fresh water fountains.
10. Try some of the local customs
– Aperitivo Time!
– An Evening Passeggiata
– Breakfast standing up
More Tips.


1. Don’t try to see it all on your first trip.

There is a lot to see in Rome, nevermind Italy. Even in my third year in Rome, I still have a ton to explore. When you come to Rome, it’s easy to jampack your itinerary and keep yourself very busy. Walking miles every day, visiting as many sites as possible. Go, go, go.

However, I’d recommend that you instead be selective and leave yourself more time to soak up the atmosphere without a schedule.

Sure, there is lots to see, but you’re never going to see it all anyway. So go and visit the main sites and anything else, in particular, you want to see. But also leave yourself enough time to soak up the city freely. You can simply stroll through the city’s pretty streets and its different neighbourhoods, and see what you discover. Or enjoy lazy long lunches in Rome’s many pretty piazza. Soak up the city without somewhere to be, at least for some of your time in Rome.


2. Explore Rome’s different Neighbourhoods.

Rome has a few different neighbourhoods you should try to see on your first visit.

If you see a neighbourhood is near one of the main sites on your list, before or after, spend a little time strolling through it and perhaps having a bite to eat along the way. See which hood you like the most, and go back a second time 🙂

Some of the neighbourhoods to check out include: The Jewish Ghetto, the area around Campo de Fiori, Monti, Trastevere, and Testaccio.

The Jewish Ghetto:

The Jewish Ghetto is a lovely little neighbourhood, right by the river. It’s got lots of history and great food. Visit it’s pretty square, Piazza Mattei with its darling renaissance Turtle Fountain. If you’re a foodie, be sure to try some local pastries at Pasticceria Boccione, and Jewish-style artichokes at Nonna Betta.

Campo:

This is just a nickname for the pretty area around the Campo de Fiori outdoor market. The little streets that run off Campo are all lovely. Many were named after the artisans who worked on them, like Via dei Balestrari (crossbow-makers), Via dei Baullari (coffee-makers), Via dei Cappellari (hat-makers), Via dei Chiavari (key-makers) and Via dei Giubbonari (tailors). It’s a pretty part of the city, worth exploring on foot. On route, get a sweet treat Babba at Doce Doce, and a coffee break or cocktail at Barnum Cafè. And, if you’ll looking for a quality modern handmade jacket, visit Empresa on Via dei Giubbonari. Beautiful!

Monti:

Monti is one of Rome’s hippest hoods. It’s a very pretty and artsy neighbourhood that is conveniently located in between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. This makes is a convenient area to visit before or after a visit to the Colosseum. Here you’ll find lots of vintage and designer shops, and places to eat and drink. I love strolling around Monti and eating different foods along the way, like rose-shaped sandwiches at Zia Rosetta, and mini pizzette at Trieste Pizzeria. If you want a longer list of foodie spots to stop at, check out this article on Where to Eat in Monti.

Trastevere:

This pretty neighbourhood by the river has become popular over the years, but it still retains its charm. Trastevere is usually bustling day and night, and a great area to simply just walk around in. Get a yummy filled pizza pocket from Trapizzino or a Suppli (filled and fried rice ball) from Pizza Trilussa, and simply sit on Piazza Trilussa‘s fountain steps while you people watch. In the evenings there is often live music here. Another square to visit is Piazza di Santa Maria which is particularly lively in the evenings. During the day you can visit the grand church Basilica di Santa Maria, known for its 12th-century mosaics and ornate interior. One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon in this hood is to food-hop. I pick 4 or 5 spots and hop from place to place, enjoying the different foods and the atmosphere along the way. If you want to try the same, check out this article on Where to Eat in Trastevere.

Testaccio:

Testaccio is a more local foodie district. During the day you can visit the Testaccio Market, and get more of a local feel of the city. The market is open from about 7am – 3:30pm. Here you can visit Mordi & Vai, where you can get one of there tasty panini (sandwiches). They have a few classic Roman dishes, like slow-cooked beef and pork, meatballs, and even tripe if you’re feeling adventurous. In this hood, you’ll also find the pretty Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome, which houses the grave of the famous English Romantic poet, John Keats. While you’re in the neighbourhood, you can also enjoy a tasty lunch at Trapizzino or a 6pm Aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks and snacks) at Trentatre.

So, when you’re planning your trip to Rome, think about its neighbourhoods too. Leave some time to stroll through them, soaking up the street life and eating yummy foods along the way.


3. Buy your tickets to main sites in advance online.

It’s worth buying tickets to main sites online before you arrive. It helps with planning out your days and saves you scrambling for tickets later on when in Rome.

Buy tickets to main sites like Vatican Museums, Colosseum and Borghese Gallery online before you visit Rome. It’s quicker and you’ll avoid wasting precious me standing in lines. And, for small museums like the Borghese Gallery, this will ensure you actually get tickets.

It also helps with planning. You don’t want to waste time thinking about how and if you’re going to get tickets. Instead come to Rome with your tickets sorted, leaving you more time to wander around and get lost in the wonderful city streets.

Whether you’re doing a guided tour or not, sort out your tickets beforehand.

Colosseum:

Buy your tickets directly on the Colosseum Coopculture website or with a Tour Company (there are many to choose from). However, if you find yourself in Rome without tickets, and don’t want to book online, you can also buy your ticket at the ticket office at the entrance of the Roman Forum on instead of at the Colosseum. The queues are much shorter here compared to the Colosseum. The ticket you’ll buy includes the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.

Vatican:

The Vatican City has a few special places to visit, including the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. You can buy your Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel tickets directly from the Vatican Website, or with a tour company. Taking an early morning guided tour is worth it though, as you skip the lines and get inside before the public. St. Peter’s Basilica, which is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen, is free to enter. And, after visiting it, be sure to climb St. Peter’s Dome for some of the most incredible panoramic views of the city.

Borghese Gallery:

This is is where you can see some of Bernini’s sculptures, like the “Apollo and Daphne” which is breath-taking. This gallery is small, but the quality of art is exceptional. Villa Borghese also has a huge public park to enjoy before or after your visit. It’s essential to book tickets in advance for this gallery as they have strict two-hour slots that sell fast. You can book directly on the Borghese website.

Save yourself the hassle and sort these tickets out beforehand. Then you can plan your days better and save extra time to discover the city without an itinerary.


4. Use Public Transport like a pro.

Rome’s Historical Centre is best discovered by foot, and you’ll walk a lot while you’re here. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes. But, there are many other modes of transport. Below are some tips.

Public Transport Tickets: Depending on how long you are here and your needs, there are different public transport passes you can buy. 100min, 24hrs, or a ROMA PASS for 48hrs or 72hrs. The Roma Pass gives you use of all the public transport within the city, and even free skip-the-line admission to 1 or 2 museums. There are Weekly and Monthly passes too.

Buy Tickets: You can buy your tickets at “Tabacchi” tobacco shops (sometimes they have a “T” sign outside), and at Magazine Stands (usually green). There are also ticket machines at Termini or Trastevere Train Station. At the airport, you’ll find ticket offices and machines. If you have internet while in Rome, you can also use the MyCicero App to buy and validate all your tickets all from your phone, which is very convenient.

Buses:

When you have the internet, use Google Maps or Rome Bus to plan your basic route and see what number of buses you need. You’ll find bus hubs in Piazza Venezia, Largo Argentina, and Train Stations. Read the Bus Posters at the stop from top to bottom to know when the bus is going from that stop. Most buses run from 5:30am – 12am. After 12am, the night buses start to run less frequently (bus numbers start with “N”). Watch out for pickpockets, and don’t forget to validate your ticket ON the bus at the machine.

Trams:

Rome has 6 Tram Lines, but the 2 you’ll probably come across are the newer Tram 3 and Tram 8. Tram 8 has as a long route, but the main section to note is it’s route from Piazza Venezia to Trastevere Station. Tram 3 runs from Trastevere Station to Piazza Thorwaldsen. It stops at Testaccio, Circus Maximus, Colosseum. Read the Tram Posters at the stop, from top to bottom, to know where the Tram is going. Inside the trams are stop maps. Validate your ticket ON the tram at the machine.

Trains:

The main central station and transport hub is Termini Station. Simply known as “Termini”. Another regularly-used station is Stazione Trastevere. From Termini, there are many buses and metro lines. From Stazione Trastevere, there are buses and Trams 3 & 8. Book train tickets online via Trenitalia or ItaloTreno, at the station’s ticket machines, or with your MyCicero App. Note: There are many trains running to and from Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (known as Fiumicino Airport, FCO), but fewer trains run between 12am – 6am. This is useful to know when booking flights – Make sure you arrive in Rome in regular hours when there are lots of trains running, to make your trip from the airport to the central city easy. You can, of course, get a shuttle or taxi, but by train is so quick and easy, and cheaper than a taxi.

Metro:

There are 3 metro lines in Rome: Linea A (red), Linea B (blue), and Linea C (green). You’ll spot them with their big red “M” at the entrances of stops. Lines A and B are the ones you’ll likely use. These 2 lines intersect at Rome Termini Station. From Termini, you can basically go anywhere 🙂 If you don’t already have a Roma Pass, you can buy a ticket in the metro station at a ticket machine, Tabacchi shop, or on the MyCicero App.

Other modes of transport:

Bicycles: Rent electric bicycles from Bici e Baci, or use the OBike App to ride any of the available yellow bikes found dotted around the city. To use OBike, simply download the App, connect your card, and you’re ready to go. Lots of fun!

Scooters: Use the Scooterino App to catch a scooter ride – it’s like the Uber of Scooters 🙂 Or use the Ecooltra App to use any of the electric scooters dotted around Rome.

Taxis: Use the MyTaxi App or ask your hotel reception to call and book for you.

Good Resource Sites:


5. Validate your public transport tickets.

Don’t forget to Validate your public transport tickets.

I know I’ve already mentioned this before, but it’s really important, as fines can be steep! When I got fined once, it was about €50, and I had to pay it in a short amount of time or else it would be doubled.

You basically just validate your ticket at the start of your journey. If you’re getting on the bus, you validate your ticket at the machines found at the front and middle of the bus. On the tram, you’ll also find the validating ticket machines. When starting off with a metro ride, your ticket will be automatically validated when using it to enter the metro. When catching trains, you validate your ticket at the machines in the station, before you get onto the train.


6. Be prepared to wait for delayed buses.

Rome’s buses can run late, or honestly just never arrive. I have spent many hours waiting for buses, often running terribly late for appointments because of it.

When you are catching a bus, leave some extra time in case it’s late. Especially if you have to be somewhere at a specific time like a Borghese Gallery visit. Leave earlier, just to be sure you’ll arrive on time 🙂

That’s not to say the buses are terrible, it’s just to be prepared.


7. Know who to call for an English doctor.

When you’re in Italy, language can be a barrier. If you’re an English speaker, having an English doctor will be a huge help, making communication so much easier.

To keep a peace of mind, know that there are English Doctors in Rome! If you need anything, just contact Doctors in Italy. They’re an amazing service, and very easy to use. I know a few expats in Rome who use them and fave about them. They provide high quality, comprehensive health care to patients of any nationality. Their clinic and staff are warm and welcoming, making it feel more like a home than a medical office. They also have a team of experienced and compassionate doctors, who really care. No matter what you need, they can likely help you and are easy to contact.

It’s always good to know that you have an English-speaking doctor, just in case you need one. They’re a friendly and reliable helping hand when you most need one.


8. Visit the historical centre at sunrise.

If you’re up for it, stroll through the historical centre of Rome at the crack of dawn. The city is clean and fresh and quiet. It’s also a totally different experience seeing the main sites. You get to actually SEE them in all their glory, without the masses of people covering them. Central Rome sightseeing at its best!

This is especially true for the Trevi Fountain. During the day there are often tons of people visiting this majestic baroque fountain. It can get a bit much. Just before you visit Rome, check the Live Trevi WebCam to see how many people are at the fountain during certain times.

If you want to try something different, visit this fountain as early as 6am, and you’ll likely get it (almost) all to yourself. Check out this “Rome Sightseeing Stroll at Sunrise” for a lovely route to do one morning when you come. You’ll get to experience the historical centre in a different way, without the crowds.


9. Drink from the fresh water fountains.

Rome has more than 2500 drinking fountains spread out all over the city.

Many travellers ask the same question “Can I read drink from Rome’s fountains?“.

The answer is “Yes!”

Nasoni big-nose fountains:

The typical column-shaped drinking fountains are known as “nasoni” (singular is “nasone”), literally meaning “large nose”. They get this name from their characteristic design with a metal spout protruding out of their column shape.

Fontenelle ornate fountains:

The nasoni fountains have this typical column shape with the big-nose metal sprout. But there are also other kinds too, known as “fontanelle” which means “little fountains”. These fountains are usually mounted into stone walls and are much more decorative than the Nasoni. The water is just as clean and fresh.

You can find the oldest and most iconic fountain in the city in the Giardino degli Aranci – the Garden of the Oranges – on the Aventine Hill. This fountain is very cool, with the spout in the shape of a wolf. The she-wolf is a very important symbol of Rome. It’s worth reading up about it, as you’ll see the she-wolf everywhere. Other “fontanelle” will have lions and dragon designs.

These drinking fountains were first introduced in the 1870s, and back then there were about 5000 of them. Pretty amazing! Now there is only about half the number of fountains, but still more than enough to quench your thirst when you need it.

Many travellers are surprised to know that these fountains are safe to drink from. And once they know, they can’t stop raving on about how useful they are to have around. Especially in the hot summer heat, while you’re exploring the city by foot.

The water is brought in from outside the city. The clever Ancient Romans built this aqueduct system that carries fresh spring water from the mountains into the city. So the water is fresh and completely safe to drink.

Another plus is that it’s always icy cold, making it extra refreshing.

Drinking the freshest spring water for free!

So do as the Romans do. Save your €1.50 per bottle, and instead refill your water bottle at one of these freshwater fountains. There are over 2,500 in the city, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding them.

If you don’t have a water bottle, there is another easy way to drink from these big-nose fountains. Hold your hand over the end of the spout and block the water flow. The water will come out of the little hole on the arch of the spout, and into your mouth. Mmmm. How clever were those Ancient Romans?

Many a time have I been saved by a Roman water fountain. Having them all over Rome is an absolute blessing!

So don’t go thirsty or waste money buying water all day long. Just keep a refillable water bottle with you, and the city will provide you with all the drinking water you need.

To make it easier, you can use the WeTap App to find fountains near you. Simply download the App onto your phone, and it will show you where you are and all the fountains surrounding you.

There are so many fountains, but some useful ones to know are:

Campo de Fiori: There is a fountain in the square, on the side of the market closest to the flower stand.

Monti: There is a fountain right in the neighbourhood’s little square, Piazza della Madonna dei Monti.

Pantheon: There is a drinking fountain in the middle of the square (Piazza della Rotonda) at the steps.

Trevi Fountain: If you walk to the bottom level of the Trevi fountain, on the far right you’ll find a drinking fountain where you can fill up your water bottle. This is not a typical nasoni, but still offers fresh clean drinking water.

Colosseum: There are a couple drinking fountains around the Colosseum, near the metro entrance and near the Tram 3 stop.

This has been one of the most useful tips I’ve given to first-time travellers 🙂


10. Try some of the Local Customs.

There are a few local traditions to try when in Rome. There are many, but below you’ll find three to start off with.

Aperitivo Time!

Aperitivo is often compared to “Happy Hour”, but it’s a lot more than that. It is different to “Happy Hour” as it is not focused solely on drinking and you don’t get any discounts like a buy-one-get-two. The Italians are refined drinkers, and getting drunk off cheap drinks is not the goal. Aperitivo in Italy is just as much about the drinks as it is about the food.

Aperitivo is a wonderful couple of hours, where locals can relax after work over a drink and some snacks. As many Italians eat later at around 9pm, Aperitivo is perfect to work up an appetite for dinner afterwards.

Aperitivo usually runs from about 6pm – 9pm. You pay for your drink (a cocktail, beer, a glass of wine, or whatever you want), and then you’ll get nibbles with it. You’ll find different places do it slightly differently. Some places offer basic snacks, while others have huge buffets which can become dinner 🙂

Aperitivo is a great way to experience local culture and to relax after a long day of sightseeing and exploring on foot. Get yourself a classic Italian Spritz – a cocktail mix of prosecco, sparkling water, and either Aperol or Campari liqueur. You’ll see these brightly coloured cocktails all over the place. They’re delightfully refreshing at the end of a long day.

> Aperitivos with a big buffet:

If you want a big buffet of different foods, head to Freni e Frizioni in Trastevere or Momart Restaurant Cafè further north of Rome. You’ll be able to try all sorts of different foods while sipping on your Spritz and reminiscing over your fabulous day in the eternal city. Freni e Frizioni is right by the river in Trastevere and has a creative selection of cocktails and a mostly-vegetarian buffet. There is some seating, but most people take their drinks and plate of food outside and hang out in the little piazza. Momart has an even bigger buffet spread, including everything from pizza and salads to desserts. At Momart you sit down in their large outside section.

> Aperitivo in Monti’s pretty little square:

Another spot to enjoy Aperitivo hour is in Monti, at its main little square, Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. Many of the locals hang out here during Aperitivo time, having a drink while standing around the square or sitting on the fountain steps. If you’re in Monti from 6pm onwards, make your way to Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. Standing in the piazza, you’ll see a vine-covered bar called La Bottega del Caffè. If you’re looking at it, on the left is an outside section where you can sit or a little bar on the right where you can just get a drink and take it out onto the piazza. I’ve done both, so take your pick and enjoy!

An evening Passeggiata.

Yes, this is a thing. It’s called a “passeggiata” in Italy, which is basically a leisurely walk or stroll, usually taken in the evening for the purpose of socializing. It’s such a lovely simply tradition that all travellers should do when here.

A passeggiata usually happens in the evening between about 5pm and 8 p.m. But it can also be enjoyed after dinner, to work off your meal and get some fresh air before bed. Many locals take these leisurely strolls, friends, couples, families.

As I’ve mentioned before, Rome is best discovered on foot. And as the day closes, go for a stroll through the Historical Centre and down some of the city’s pretty streets. The light is so beautiful at this time of day, and especially in Summer, the temperature is divine.

> An evening gelato stroll down the pretty Via Giulia: 

One of my favourite Passeggiatas is a 6pm stroll down Via Giulia with a Gelato in hand. Via Giulia is one of Rome’s prettiest streets, right by the Ponte Sisto bridge. You can get yourself a tasty gelato at the nearby Punto Gelato and Via Giulia is 2 minutes walk away. The street goes on for quite a while, and is nice a wide. It starts with an ivy-covered arch, designed by Michelangelo. It was part of an unrealized plan to connect the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) with the Villa Farnese, on the other side of the Tiber River. The connection was never made, so the arch instead functions as a sort of majestic entryway. The Campo de Fiori piazza is also nearby, which is bustling in the evening, in case you want to include this in your evening stroll.

Breakfast standing up.

A traditional breakfast in Italy is simply a caffe (espresso) and a cornetto (Italy’s version of a croissant). Sitting down for a coffee breakfast is not normal in Italy. Instead, locals stand at the bar counter having their shot of espresso and a cornetto afterwards, sometimes while they walk.

It’s a lot different to back home in South Africa, where we, firstly, don’t eat sweet breakfasts, and secondly, don’t stand and eat. We take out time, sitting down with our “big coffees” and and savoury breakfast.

While you’re in Rome, be sure to do as the locals do at least once. Head to the local bustling bar in the morning, and have your breakfast standing up at the counter. Experience the local culture with a shorter breakfast, and save your extra time for a leisurely long lunch in a piazza. Also, prices are cheaper when you have your breakfast coffee standing at the bar, as there is an extra fee for sitting at tables.


More tips:

Below are some other tips to keep in mind before you come to Rome.

Know how to find quality gelato:

Avoid places with huge mounds of crazy coloured gelato. Quality gelato needs to stay cold, so look for places where the gelato is more level with the containers it’s in (not stacked high). Brightly coloured Gelato has often got lots of additives, so opt for more natural colours instead. There are plenty of Gelaterias to go to, the options are limitless. Look out for Fatamorgana gelaterias, which have great quality gelato.

Avoid eating at tourist traps:

It’s not easy to navigate all the tourist traps, but here are some simple tips. Avoid places that are very persistent with food displayed outside and staff trying to invite you in. Often when a place is really good, they won’t try hard at all to get you to come inside because it’s all about the food and the customers will come. Also, instead of eating right at main sites, explore a couple streets further on or head for a cool sounding neighbourhood. For example, after a visit to The Colosseum, head to Monti for lunch.

Experience Italian street food:

Don’t spend all your time sitting in restaurants. There is a great selection of street foods to try, and you can hop from place to place while exploring the city. This is my favourite way to eat in Italy, as I can eat a few different foods and explore at the same time 🙂 Check out my Where to Eat in Trastevere for some ideas, or just book yourself on an Italian Street Food Tour and get shown around by a local.

Eat before a long guided tour:

Avoid not eating before a long tour, and then eating at a tourist trap straight afterwards because you’re too hungry to look for something better. If you have a morning tour, enjoy an easy Roman breakfast (caffe & cornetto) before to fill you up. Before the tour, do a little research of places to eat, so you at least know which direction to go in after the tour 🙂

Order coffee like a pro:

As mentioned above, you can visit one of many “Bars” for your coffee fix. You can either sit down (which costs a little more) or stand up like most locals do. At many places you go and order at the counter and then take your slip to the coffee counter. But there are different places that work differently, so just go with it. A “Caffe” is an espresso, which is the typical coffee in Italy. A “Caffe Lungo” is a long espresso. The regular and long espressos are a lot shorter than most other countries. If you want a proper “big” coffee, ask for a “Caffe Americano”. If you want a Latte, ask for a “Caffe Latte” – If you simply ask for a “Latte”, you’ll get a funny look and a cup of milk. 🙂

Learn some basic Italian and have a little fun:

Immerse yourself more and learn a few words in Italian. It’s fun and takes you out of your comfort zone. Even if it’s just the basics that you can use every day like Ciao (informal Hello and Goodbye), Arrivederci (formal Goodbye), Buongiorno (Good morning to 3pm), Buonasera (Good evening, from 3pm onwards), Per favore (Please), and Grazie (Thank you). The locals will appreciate it. You can use Duolingo to practice a bit before you come, and Google Translate while you’re here. Google Translate is great as you can download the Italian dictionary so that you can use the App without Wifi.

Also, say “Grazie” the right way. It’s “Gra-tsi-e” not “Gratsi”. Pronounce the “e” at the end.

If you have the time, go on a Day Trip:

Rome is perfectly located, offering an amazing list of day trips to go on. If you have extra time, be sure to go out of the city for the day. The options are limitless, so do some research and find a day trip perfect for you. You could go to Florence, Naples, Pompeii, Tivoli Gardens, Orvieto, Frascati and many more. Rome is also pretty close to the seaside, so you could even do a beach day trip.


If you’re visiting the Eternal City for the first time, I hope that these Rome travel tips have helped you out in some way. And if you have any questions, feel free to send me an email or connect with me on social media. Happy to help!

Happy travels friends!

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