Rome Travel Guide
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10 Things You Absolutely Need to Know Before You Go to Rome

From when to go to where to stay.

Rome is a spectacular, bustling, and chaotic metropolis, and with so much to see, eat, do, and experience, it can prove a little overwhelming for even the most well-traveled explorer. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned Rome visitor, these tips will go a long way to help you plan a seamless trip to this vibrant and extraordinary city.

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PHOTO: bellena/Shutterstock
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Be Aware of Extra Charges at Hotels and Restaurants

As is common in many big cities, tourists can be taken advantage of in establishments near major sights, and Rome is no different so always check your final bill carefully. It’s common to see table service charges or cover charges on menus, but they should be specified and the cover charge should include a breadbasket. These charges mean tipping is not mandatory, although locals generally round-up to the nearest Euro of the total amount; at a casual trattoria or pizzeria, some coins on the table are good enough.  If any surprise fees are on your final bill, don’t be afraid to bring this up to the waitstaff. If you’re at a bar having coffee, it’s customary to leave a coin for your barista. Other charges to be aware of include paying to use the bathroom in some public places and the Tourist City Tax, imposed by the City of Rome—this is a compulsory per night, per person charge for all hotels, B&Bs, and even Airbnb bookings.

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PHOTO: Catarina Belova/Shutterstock
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The Best Neighborhood to Stay In Might Not Be the Most Centrally Located

Rome’s historical center is reasonably compact and so most monuments and major attractions can easily be reached on foot from many city hotels. The Tiber River cuts through the middle with most of the tourist action on the right bank. In line with global trends, smaller boutique properties and apartment stays in inner-city neighborhoods are becoming increasingly popular and great options for those looking to spend less on lodging. Neighborhoods like Monti, Trastevere, and Testaccio are growing in popularity.

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PHOTO: Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock
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Dress Appropriately When Visiting the Vatican

If you’re planning to visit the Vatican, in particular, St. Peter’s Basilica, appropriate clothing and attire must be worn and at a minimum, shoulders have to be covered. Low-cut or sleeveless clothing, miniskirts, and hats are not allowed. Scarves and shawls are available for purchase in and around the Vatican if you turn up unprepared. Modest dress and behavior should also be observed when visiting other religious sites and all churches in the city.

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PHOTO: Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock
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Petty Crime Does Happen

Rome is not a dangerous city, but it is an extremely busy one and you should be wary of pickpockets at major tourist spots and transport hubs. Foreign and local press have recently reported an increase in underage pickpocketing networks, commonly operating around crowded areas. Secure any significant valuables in your hotel safe or don’t travel with them at all. There is no need to walk around Rome in fear, but be vigilant with bags, cameras, and phones when in the most densely populated areas. You should immediately report a theft or any other suspicious activity to the police (carabinieri).

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PHOTO: ilolab/Shutterstock
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There Are Ways to Avoid the Crowds

Millions of tourists visit Rome each year and you should plan your sightseeing ahead of time, especially for the most popular sights like the Colosseum and the Vatican. While travelers seem to be catching on to what used to be low season in Rome, January, February, and November are still when the city is a little quieter than usual. Advance tickets and private tours that let you skip the ticket lines are highly recommended to ensure hours aren’t lost queuing for the major attractions. While the city center is the most aesthetically spectacular part of the city, spend some time in the less busy neighborhoods like Testaccio, Monti, or San Giovanni if tourist crowds aren’t your thing.

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PHOTO: Konstantinos Papaioannou / Dreamstime
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Use Public Transportation

Public transport has had its problems in Rome lately, especially in regards to lack of punctuality and reduced services, but it still remains your best option for getting around the city. There are now three metro lines that cut across the city center, with stops at all major attractions. If public transit fails you, there are many taxis, but be sure to ride only in official ones which are marked with City of Rome plates on the door. Uber is becoming more popular and, contrary to what taxi drivers will tell you, completely legal to use.

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PHOTO: Lornet /Dreamstime
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There Is Such Thing as Roman Time

Roman time really should be formalized as a thing. The day starts a little later than normal here with many shops not opening until 10 a.m., lunch never happens before 1 p.m., and dinner rarely happens before 8 p.m. Specialty shops in some neighborhoods are even closed completely on Sundays (but all major shopping strips in the city remain open). Locals rarely eat at a pizzeria during the day—daytime pizza eating is for pizza by the slice and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. is aperitif time. And the after-dinner stroll (the passeggiata) kicks off any time after 9:30 p.m.

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PHOTO: Scooteroma Tours
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Don’t Rent a Car, But Vespas Can Be Fun

Due to traffic congestion and the general confusion of Roman roads, renting a car is not a good idea. But what could be more Roman Holiday-esque than zipping past the Colosseum on a Vespa? You’ll find plenty of other tourists and locals who do just that. If you want to try your hand at scooter-riding, it’s best to do so with a local company that knows the rules of the road, like Scooteroma. The company offers unique and thrilling guided Vespa tours throughout the city.

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PHOTO: S-F/Shutterstock
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Take Advantage of Day Trips

You can easily spend weeks exploring Rome and never get bored, but it’s also a great idea to spend some of your trip exploring the Roman countryside and its nearby cities, outlying lakes, natural spas, and national parks. A number of tour companies can get you to the Amalfi Coast or even Capri for the day. With regular fast train services, visiting Naples, Florence, or Bologna is an easy day trip to do on your own. Walks of Italy offers day trips to Pompeii and Tuscany vineyards while Casa Mia Food and Wine Tours offers a one-day food tour to Naples showcasing the city’s famous sweets, pizza, and street food. Other popular day trips include the archeological site of Ostia Antica and the historic towns of the Castelli Romani.

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PHOTO: Eranicle/Dreamstime
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Summer in the City Isn’t All Bad

August is the traditional month for Italian summer holidays, including August 15th, which is known as Ferragosto, a national holiday for the religious feast day of the Assumption. While some Romans opt to travel in June or July instead, you can generally expect the month of August to be relatively empty in Rome, with many restaurants, bars, and shops closed entirely for the month. While that, along with stifling temperatures, might make travelers less inclined to visit during the summer, a full summer program entertains those who decide to take advantage of the lack of crowds. One of the most popular is a three-month outdoor festival along the Tiber River with an outdoor cinema, family activities, and food and drink vendors lining the riverbanks. The closest beach easily reached by train is Santa Marinella (less than one hour from the city center). Some hotels (including Aleph Rome and Hotel Gianicolo) allow non-guests to use their pools for a fee.