Rome: 7 Things to Know Before You Go
Most people who are considering visiting Rome will have a preconception of how the city is. They may imagine it to be a noisy, hot – yet exceedingly enjoyable – open air museum and they’d not be entirely wrong.
Some will picture side streets filled with cloth-covered tables around which smartly dressed waiters buzz around like flies. They’ll picture themselves eating gelato while climbing the Spanish Steps before ending their day with a walk along the River Tiber as the sun goes down.
Rome is set to surprise you. When your flight lands and you arrive into the center of the city your expectations are going to be challenged. Thankfully with a couple of useful travel tips you’ll be more than prepared for what the city has to show you.
Throw away your watch and become Italian for the duration of your vacation. Life in Italy is slow and Italians are incredibly happy to keep it that way. They take their time to talk, sip their coffees, walk along the cobbled streets, and eat their food. In fact, when it’s time to join the dinner table the clock is disregarded altogether.
Prepare yourself to go slow. Ordering your food will be slow. It will be slow to arrive too, but when it does it’ll be the best meal you’ve ever tasted. Don’t shovel it down, instead take a few minutes to watch the Italians around you and follow their example. Don’t just eat. Talk and eat. Mealtimes are a time to be enjoyed, not rushed.
This means that mealtimes will overrun their allotted timeframe and you’re going to be late for something on your itinerary, hence it’s best to half it before you arrive and dedicate your time instead to enjoying each moment of your trip. Why else are you in Italy if not to enjoy the peace and leisure of their way of life?
The best rule of thumb for eating in any city is to avoid any restaurant within a kilometer of any popular attraction in the center. These restaurants are aimed solely at tourists and are overpriced with food that is not a good representation of how amazing local cuisine can be. What you really need to do is to find the restaurants only the locals eat at.
To find these restaurants you must avoid any restaurant that displays their menu in more than two languages. Any restaurant with a menu outside in German, Japanese, or any other language paired with photographs is only concerned with people paying and not on the quality of food.
Secondly, look around the tables before you sit down and if you see anyone who doesn’t look local, find another restaurant.
During the middle of the day Rome is one of the most overly popular places in Europe as tens of thousands of tourists visit the city for day trips. Coaches arrive from cruise ships docked at Civitavecchia from 10 o’clock which make the crowds around the iconic attractions like the Colosseum swell in size.
The smartest option is to make the most of the time when fewer people are there in the earliest part of the morning and the later hours of the day.
Not only are the streets much quieter when walked around between 6 AM to 10 AM, watching how local Romans enjoy their nights is even more fascinating. As you walk around neighborhoods like Trastevere after 7 PM you’ll have the benefit of quieter narrow streets to explore and also the pleasure of being swallowed up by the noise and atmosphere of Italians enjoying great food with even greater company.
Caution is advised when visiting Rome. Petty crime exists in the capital just as it does in every other major city in the world so it’s wise to be smart in how you keep your valuables secure.
One smart travel tip that often goes unmentioned is to dress the part. Walking around in a t-shirt and shorts whilst all the locals are in overcoats sends out an easy message to pickpockets. Criminals can read that you’re not local and that you may be carrying large amounts of money and your passport with you.
By dressing more like a local you’re less likely to stand out and be seen as less of a target. Keeping your camera inside of a secure camera bag in front of you – instead of around your neck – can also help you avoid being prey to someone cutting the strap and pulling the camera away.
Another reason to dress like a local is also to avoid disappointment when visiting places of worship.
Throughout Italy people are regularly refused entrance from churches because they are wearing shorts that are too short or tops that reveal either bare arms, bare shoulders, or both. The Catholic Church is a religion based around modesty and it would be rude to disregard their few simple requests to cover up.
By replacing the clothes mentioned above with lightweight fabrics that properly cover your body, you can respect their requests whilst also avoiding disappointment at being refused entry at the door.
Some say that the success of Rome was a result of the extensive water network brought to the city via the kilometers of aqueducts – that you can still see today – giving the city the oft-used moniker of "The City of Marble and Water".
Throughout the city you’ll still see many remnants of the free-flowing abundance of water the city had and still maintains to this day. Hundreds of fountains are noticeable everywhere, both as decorative features, and as simple water fountains for drinking.
The water is perfectly safe to drink. The water network of the city has been completely replaced with a modern and safe system that brings fresh clean water to every part of Rome. Instead of buying overly expensive bottles of water, pack a more eco-friendly refillable bottle instead and fill it at one of the many fountains you’ll see every local drinking from.
Rome is an enormous metropolitan city and if you’re going to see it all you’re going to need to take public transport – however, if there’s one transport option you should try to avoid it is the Metro.
The Metro in Rome is a much smaller network than most other capital cities with only two and a half lines in full operation (the new third line is still being constructed). Because it connects the main Roma Termini train station with historical stops such as the Colosseum, the network becomes too saturated to use during the middle of the day.
Rather than going underground, the best option is to take the quieter and equally easy to use tram and bus network that covers the entire city.
There’s no mistaking that the city you're about to visit for your holiday is one of the most fascinating in the world, so don’t forget these tips and simply enjoy yourself whilst you’re there.
Take it slowly. Eat local food. Start your day early. Dress like you’re Roman – but keep yourself covered up – and drink the water whilst you take the bus and not the Metro. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy it.