I fell so hard for Rome! From my first glimpse of the Aurelian walls from the back of the taxi maniacally driving us towards the city center, I was hooked. The history, the architecture, the food–oh my god, the food–there’s something amazing seemingly around every corner! With so much to see and so much to do, the smoother your trip goes the better. With that in mind, here are my 9 Rome Travel Tips for First Timers to help make your first trip to Rome a success.
1 – Screw Fashion, Get Comfy Shoes!
You’ll be walking at least 5-6 miles a day, much of it on uneven cobblestones which, though charming, are killer on the feet. A bad pair of shoes can literally ruin your whole trip. Whatever you wear, they should be comfortable, provide support, and be broken in enough to not give you blisters. I did not break my shoes in enough and ended up getting blisters on Day One. I kept on trucking, but my feet were bloody messes by the time we left. I really wished I’d taken tennis shoes instead of zero-support sandals as a backup.
2 – Bring a Water Bottle, Don’t Buy Bottled Water
There are water fountains all over the city that provide free, fresh, cold drinking water, and you’d be crazy not to avail yourself of them. It’s perfectly safe, and because it’s Rome most of them are super old and cool, which makes using them extra fun. Save the planet and your budget, all while staying hydrated. Everybody wins!
3 – Buy Skip-the-Line Tickets In Advance!
Tickets to top attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums can sell out sometimes weeks in advance. Know what you really want to see and plan ahead. Purchase your Skip-The-Line tickets online as early as possible to ensure you don’t miss out on some of Rome’s most magical highlights! For sites like the Pantheon, which does not offer skip-the-line, your best bet is to arrive very early or right before they close. To buy your tickets to Rome’s top attractions, click the links below:
- Roma Pass
- Colosseum & Roman Forum
- Vatican Museums
- Borghese Gallery & Museum
- Capitoline Museums
- Baths of Caracalla
- Castel Sant’Angelo
4 – Spend Wisely and Come Prepared
You’ll want a variety of options when going to Rome. Make sure any credit cards you bring have a PIN, as those without may not be accepted at many locations. ATMs are everywhere, but you’ll want to get some euros from your bank before you go. Be sure to allow a few days for the bank to receive the funds. While you’re at the bank, ask which ATMs will incur the lowest fees, and notify them (and any other credit card companies) of your travel dates so they don’t think your card has been stolen when it starts making purchases in Italy.
While in Rome, always pay in local currency. Sometimes you’ll be offered the option to pay in U.S. currency, and it’s usually presented as a benefit for you. It’s not, it’s a scam. It allows the vendor to set the exchange rate and fees, which will always be higher than the rate your bank will charge.
5 – Stay in the Historical City Center
If you’re budget conscious you may be considering accommodations outside the city where the prices are lower. Don’t do it. The price you’ll pay to be transported to and from the city will eat up any money you saved on the initial lodging, and valuable time will be eaten up in transit. We were just a couple blocks from the Trevi Fountain and only used transportation once, to go to the Vatican. We still walked back, there’s just so much to see in such a small area! In Paris we stayed outside the city and spent hundreds of dollars on Ubers and wasted so much time going back and forth, it just wasn’t worth it.
6 – Enjoy an Apertivo
Italian dinner starts much later than it does in the U.S. Use this extra time to enjoy this classically Italian activity: the Apertivo. Grab a cocktail and some appetizers to tide you over till dinner time. People watch, relax, soak it all in! After all, when in Rome… While it’s good to escape the tourist areas for the best food, enjoying an Apertivo in the Piazza Navona is a fun way to splurge. The atmosphere, scenery, and people watching are well worth the extra few euros you’ll pay.
7 – Embrace the Italian Dinner Experience
- Italians don’t rush through dinner, it’s sacred, an event, and is meant to be savored. Take your time, enjoy every course, reminisce about your day, just relax. The waiters will not be pestering you to leave.
- Dinner begins no earlier than 8:00 – 8:30 in the evening, and they stop seating around 11:00 – 11:30.
- You’ll never be interrupted by annoying waiters asking how your meal is or if you’d like another refill, it’s considered rude to interrupt someone’s meal. But don’t worry, whenever you need something, the waiters are always nearby, ready to help without being intrusive.
- Tipping isn’t necessary, but small amounts are appreciated! Every time you sit at a table you’re charged, usually per person. It’s called a coperto, and it’s essentially a cover charge. Though tipping is not customary in Italy, rounding up or giving an extra 5-10% is appreciated for exceptional service.
- Coffee is basically a shot. Italians don’t sit in coffee shops sipping giant mugs of coffee. They buy their coffee at the counter, chug it, and go. If you want to sit down with your coffee you’ll have to pay a coperto. And don’t ask for milk with it in the afternoon, that’s just not how they roll.
- Your pizza will not be cut when they give it to you. This is more of a side note than a tip, really, but it confused the hell out of me, so I’m sharing it with you. They do not slice pizza, they just give you the whole pie with regular silverware and then you’re on your own. It’s very awkward, but that pizza is heavenly.
- If you want the most authentic experience and best food, avoid eating in high-tourist areas. Generally, you’ll want to walk at least a few blocks away. The best places to eat will have a smaller menu with no food pictures, and prices will be listed. It never hurts to ask some of the locals where their favorite places to eat are! They know best!
8 – Cover Up, Sinners:
If you plan on visiting any of the magnificent churches in Rome, be prepared to cover your legs and shoulders. If you’re wearing a tank top be sure to have a wrap with you. Jesus just can’t handle your sexiness.
9 – Leave Time to Explore
A certain level of planning is necessary to make your trip to Rome a success, but don’t over-plan every day. Leave time in your day to just explore. Wander the streets with no destination, walk into every random church you pass by, sit by a fountain and people watch, stop by that cute cafe you see, explore a smaller museum you didn’t know about. There’s so much to see and do in Rome, you’ll want to leave time to just explore it!
Want to explore without the massive crowds? The early bird gets the worm on that front. Wake up with the sun and go walking the streets before 7:00am and you’ll have them mostly to yourself. You can always take a rest or break at your hotel in the afternoon when the top attractions are busiest.
Ready to start planning your own trip to Rome? Click here to be redirected to Ladycations LLC, a full service travel planning agency! Member of CLIA and ASTA, Stephanie Stohre is a TAP certified Travel Advisor who’s ready to help make your travel dreams come true!