Laura and I answer a lot of questions and give advice on TripAdvisor’s Rome Forum, where we are a designated “Destination Expert.” We decided to jot down a summary of some of the advice that we’ve given over the years. So, here are some suggested do’s and don’ts about visiting the Eternal City.
DO read up before your trip. It will make the things you are seeing much more meaningful. I think this is particularly true when visiting Rome with children. Doing your research can also prevent a lot of problems, like showing up to see a church or museum and finding it is always closed that day, or getting fined for riding the bus without validating your ticket. In addition, some research will help you have realistic expectations for your trip. For example, we read about people who went in July and report that the heat and the crowds “ruined” their trip — when a few minutes of research will tell you that it’s both quite hot and quite crowded in July.
Which automatically leads to the next tip…
DO consider going in the low season if you don’t like crowds, or heat. High season in Rome runs from Easter through October (it peaks again for Christmas and New Year). Personally, we love the low season. The city is much more relaxed, and the crowds are, for the most part, gone (although you’re still likely to find crowds at the Colosseum and Vatican Museums).
DO book skip-the-line tickets for the Colosseum or the Vatican Museums. No one wants to spend precious time standing in lines. We recommend skip-the-line tickets no matter the time of year, but especially in summer. There are other places that should to be booked in advance, like the Scavi tour or Galleria Borghese — they get sold out, as does the Colosseum underground/third tier tour or night tour. We’ve posted some tips on what to book in advance.
DO take advantage of the Vatican Museum Friday Night visits, and the Colosseum night visits. These special, seasonal events allow you to extend your sight-seeing hours and enjoy the cooler temperatures of the evening. And they’re less crowded than in the daytime.
DO have some flexibility and be prepared to go with the flow (also known as, Have a Plan B). Despite all your planning, sometimes things go wrong. I once called on a Tuesday afternoon to book an entrance for our friends at Galleria Borghese the following morning. Well, Wednesday morning our friends arrived to find a post-it note on the door — I am not making this up — saying it was closed. So, they went to Villa Giulia instead and had a great time, even discovering Etruscan antiquities, which the husband had been fascinated by as a kid!
DO build in some time for just wandering and exploring. I am always finding something “new” to see in Rome, some times completely by chance. There is something to see around every corner.
DO wear good, broken-in walking shoes. You will walk a lot, over hard and sometimes uneven surfaces. Be prepared for your feet (and sometimes knees and hips) to take a bit of a beating.
DO take care of yourself, particularly in summer. Sunblock, a hat for outdoor places, and a water bottle are all good things to have. Oh, and bug spray in summer (mosquitos come out particularly at dusk).
DO eat with the seasons… and seek out quality food. After all, eating with the seasons is a staple of local gastronomy. There are plenty of very good places to eat in a wide variety of price ranges, if you know where to look.
DON’T think just because they are on someone’s Top 10 list that you must visit the same 10 places. For example, if you are not into art museums, don’t feel you have to go to the sometimes incredibly crowded Vatican Museums. There are hundreds of wonderful places to see and explore in the Eternal City: museums, churches, archaeological sites, and parks — places where there are, at most, a handful of other people (indeed, we’ve often had marvelous places all to ourselves). Rome has hundreds of hidden gems, and there are many wonderful places that are free, too, either all the time or on occasion. Set your own itinerary based on your personal interests.
DON’T think Rome is just about ancient stuff. Rome has a fascinating — if sometimes tragic — WWII history. Rome is also a vibrant, modern city, with terrific modern art museums, galleries, street art, and cool architecture.
DON’T sweat the small stuff. Yes, we have had a jerk for a taxi driver now and then, and we get annoyed by the pesky rose sellers and street vendors. If it starts to get to you, just grab a gelato or a glass of wine and appreciate the beauty of this crazy but magical city.
DON’T fret about crime. Rome has very little serious crime, although crimes of opportunity do happen here and there. Practice common sense safety precautions as you would in any major city and you will be fine. Wear a money belt if it makes you feel more secure, only carry the cash you need for the day and a credit card, leave a spare card and other cash in the apartment safe. Don’t leave a bag on the back of a chair or a camera on the table where it could get snatched. Be cognizant of your valuables and your personal space, particularly on the metro, buses, and in crowds. We also avoid rush hour on subways or buses if we can, as they can be too packed — and that’s also when thefts tend to happen. Plus, our guests get whisked from the airport to the apartment by our complimentary car service — avoiding the potential petty thieves at the Termini train station who prey on people who are tired, distracted, and overburdened with baggage (if you are not staying at our place, we suggest you do yourself a favor and take an official taxi or car service to your lodgings).
Finally, DON’T forget when you go to the Trevi Fountain (we like to go early on a Sunday, when crowds are at their lowest) to turn your back to the fountain, and throw a coin (using your right hand) over your left shoulder, into the fountain. The coins get donated to charity, but the main reason is that doing this ensures your return to Rome. If you throw in more coins, the fountain might grant you an additional wish. Twenty-five years ago or so, Laura threw a handful of coins in… and twenty years ago this June, we were married in Rome.