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20 Essential Tips For Your First Visit to Rome

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Are you planning a trip to Italy and looking for travel tips for Rome? In this post, we’ll talk about 20 essential tips for your first Rome visit so you can have a more enjoyable trip and soak up your time there! 

After our visit to the Eternal City for the first time, there were definitely a few things I would have loved to know ahead of time to really maximize my time there, and make it as smooth sailing as possible. From where and when to go, where to stay and what to wear, find out all you need to know when planning your trip to Rome!

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1. Pack a cell phone power bank

This is one travel tip we almost learned the hard way in Rome! After spending an obscene amount of time packing, I still managed to forget to bring our cell phone power bank and it was something we wished we’d had every step or our trip. After exploring the city all day, using our phones for maps, pictures and videos, both my husband and I found our phone batteries extremely low. After hightailing it back to our Airbnb to charge them, we arrived with one phone dead, the other at 1% and so much relief that we weren’t almost in a terrible situation! We would have had no idea how to get back to our rental, even the address of it was – you guessed it – only on our phones. 

Avoid a stressful situation like that one and make sure to bring along a cell phone power bank! We like this one

2. Book Tickets in Advance

Even when we visited in November, tourist attractions were busy and had long lines. We wanted to go into the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, but were unable to get tickets after waiting too long to book. When we arrived and walked around Vatican City, we saw why – there was a line probably 500 people long waiting to get inside!

Pro Tip: If the tickets you want are sold out, you can often still visit the place by joining a guided tour. Most tour companies have access to additional tickets or pre-book tickets for their tours.  While a more expensive option, this is a great way to see the sights if you miss out on tickets, or if you just prefer a more guided experience. 

3. Get “Skip the Line” tickets

To piggyback off our last tip, booking your tickets in advance, we recommend you get “skip the line” tickets. While it may hurt a little to spend the extra money upfront, we promise you’ll be so glad you did when you arrive and see the massive entry lines to get inside! If you only have a few days in Rome, you want to give yourself as much time as possible to see all the city has to offer, and you can’t do that if you’re standing in line half the day!

Another way to avoid lines is with guided tours. Many offer a “skip the line” experience and often even enter through a different entrance than the main line. It can feel “touristy” and cost you a few extra euros, but it can really help you maximize your time and give you a deeper understanding of everything you’re seeing.

4. Get the Keys to the City: A Rome Tourist Card

Make seeing all of the tourist attractions easier with timed entrances to Rome’s most iconic attractions, using the Rome Tourist Card.

This digital card is simple to use and pretty much gives you the keys to the city! Once you purchase it online, you get a digital pass sent straight to your phone. You can then choose the date of activation and the individual tickets and time slots for each activity. There’s no time limit on the card once it’s activated, so you can spread out your time slots as much or as little as you need.

The card also helps you to skip the lines at each attraction and head right inside where a guide will meet you at the specified meeting points. You can learn more about the pass here. 

5. Plan Your Transportation

As Americans, most of us aren’t accustomed to taking public transportation or really giving it much thought unless you live in a large, dense city. As suburban dwellers ourselves, we were a little mystified when it came to figuring out buses and trains to get around! When visiting Rome, decide if you’ll be walking around the city or taking the bus or metro, and get acquainted with where the stops are that will be beneficial to you. 

6. Give Yourself Time to Wander

Rome truly is a city unlike any other. Every street, church and building is so full of history, it feels as if there is something to see around every corner. While I created a walking path for us to follow in Rome, we often found ourselves straying from it, being distracted by a beautiful street, monument, or fountain. While you can follow my walking plan, a guided tour, or your own custom creation, give yourself time to wander off the beaten path and explore this stunning city!

This is especially fun because Rome is very crowded, especially during peak season. It feels as if everyone on the planet is visiting Rome when you are! Visiting the major sights is amazing (they’re popular for a reason), but exploring a little off the traditional path will allow you to get away from the crowds and have quiet experiences mixed in with the loud, craziness of the crowds.

7. Plan For the Heat

Rome gets exceptionally hot in the summer, and the vast majority of places will not have air conditioning. Some hotels and restaurants may (this is something you might consider checking ahead of time), but most will not. And those that do, are probably not going to be as efficient at cooling the space as we’re used to in the US.

Don’t underestimate the heat and sun exposure while waiting in long lines to get into the Pantheon or Vatican or any of the other sights, where shade is not plentiful. Wear light, loose clothing, sun block, shades, and consider bringing along a small portable fan to help cool-off.

8. Eat the Pizza How You Want To

This tip is for those that are visiting for the first time and afraid about making some major food faux-pas like I was! Everywhere I looked online and everyone I talked to told me no one eats their pizza with their hands in Italy, as it is common in the US.

And like a good little tourist, I tried to cut my pizza with a knife and eat it with a fork, before very quickly abandoning the idea as it was taking so gosh dang long to eat. I picked up my pizza with my hands, folded it over and ate it like an American… and to my surprise, not a single person cared. Or if they did, I didn’t notice!

The rest of the trip, I never bothered with a fork and knife again. So eat how you’d like to eat, be polite about it, but don’t expect a big reaction like so many people convinced me was coming!

9. Meal Timing

On the topic of food, it’s important to know that the meal timing over there may be different from what you’re used to. This was something that presented problems for us throughout the trip and could be very frustrating at times!

In Italy, lunch seemed to begin around noon and wrap up around 2-3 PM, before dinner being served at places no earlier than 7 PM. While this isn’t the end of the world, after lunch at noon and walking around all day and becoming ravenous by 5 PM, there were definitely times of frustration and hanger.

We frequently found ourselves in that awkward time of 3 PM – 7 PM, starving and unable to find anywhere to eat! My tip to you is to have a solid lunch and plan for snacks if you need them before places open for dinner. You can then fill in the time with wine, Aperol spritzes, and aperitivos.

10.  Avoiding the Crowds

One common complaint for those visiting Rome is how busy and crowded it is – we even felt it in November, when it was supposed to be “off season!”

It can feel difficult to enjoy the sights when you’re being swarmed by people in every direction. But if you plan well, you can minimize this frustration as much as possible. Do this by visiting during the less busy season like we did (between November and March), and visiting the popular tourist sights at less busy times of the day.

See the colosseum first thing in the morning before you grab your coffee, or pay the Trevi Fountain a visit while everyone is getting ready for dinner or in the late afternoon as most people will try to do their sightseeing between 10 AM and 3-ish in the afternoon.

11. Bring Earplugs

No matter where you’re staying, you will likely encounter some degree of noise while you sleep. There are quieter streets that hotels and rentals are on with limited traffic and crowd noise, but there’s always the possibility of loud neighbors or people stomping around above you. If you’re a light sleeper like I am, a pair of ear plugs and a white noise machine is your friend!

Everywhere we stayed in Rome and throughout Europe, there was usually someone stomping around in the unit above us and I was very grateful for my ear plugs!

12. Bring a Selfie-Stick

While it may feel a little silly when you’re packing it, you’ll be glad you have it! I cannot tell you how much we used our selfie-stick throughout Rome, there was always something we wanted to grab a picture in front of and we didn’t want to be asking strangers to take our picture everywhere we went. 

We loved having this selfie-stick that could also double as a tripod if we wanted farther away shots. It was super easy to collapse and fit right in my bag!

13. Stay in the Trevi Fountain or Pantheon Area

If your budget allows, we found the best place to stay in Rome is near the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon. It is so central, it makes it so easy to see all of the tourist attractions by foot! There’s also a lot of great restaurants and shops in this area, making it easy to find delicious food any time of day. 

While we stayed in Prati for our first trip to Rome, we frequently wished we had stayed in this area instead. It was much more central and would have made it so much easier to see all of Rome without needing public transport. We also found it to have the best restaurants during our November visit.

14. Book Airport Transfers in Advance

With the airports being so far out of the city center, it’s a good idea to book your airport transfers in advance if you are arriving to Rome by plane. There are two airports in Rome, both being a 35-45 minute drive depending on where you’re staying. You can also take a taxi, Uber, train or bus to the airport but you’ll usually find a private transfer is the most comfortable and time-efficient option.

Pro Tip: If budget is a concern, the cheapest way to travel between the airports and the city center is by bus. Though, you’ll want to plan for it having to stop along the way. 

15. Explore the City’s Churches

Whether you are a Catholic or not, the churches of Rome are something amazing to behold. So full of rich history, artistic detail, and an overwhelming peace the moment you walk through the door, taking a peak inside a church as you’re out and about is something that can’t be missed!

When we were exploring near the Colosseum we came across several churches along quiet streets that had their doors open, ready to be viewed by anyone who had an interest.

They were probably one of the highlights of our trip, though we opted not to take any pictures out of respect. With jaw-dropping ceiling paintings, intricate sculptures, and a peaceful presence I have not otherwise felt in my lifetime, I will forever remember spending the 10 minutes to admire and appreciate those little Roman churches!

16. Eat Where You Want to Eat!

So many travel websites and “gurus” say you have to eat where the locals eat and anywhere touristy is not going to be good. I call BS!

Some of the best food we had in Rome was in the “tourist” areas of the city and the few times we ventured off the beaten path to more local establishments, we were left a bit disappointed. There’s also something to be said of the busy, tourist-focused restaurants having the freshest foods because they’re going through much more than a restaurant that sees a lot less traffic.

The point is, eat where you want to eat. My husband and I would walk near the tourist destinations, check out the menu and do a quick Google search of the reviews and make our decisions that way and we had much better meals doing that than when we tried to find the “local” favorites sprinkled outside of the tourist epicenters.

17. Join a Food Tour

Explore the city and taste some of its famous flavors by joining a food tour. Not only is it a great way to learn about Rome, but trying all of the little bites throughout the city can give you some ideas of where you’d like to have lunch or dinner later in the trip.

18. Have Some Cash On You

While most places will accept credit cards, it’s always a good idea to have some Euros on you in the event you need them. Almost everywhere we went in Rome accepted card payments, until we got somewhere where their machine wasn’t working! We were very glad we had Euros to pay. As a rule of thumb, we always tried to carry at least 50 Euros in the event we went to a restaurant and had a meal, and our cards didn’t work. Though, this never ended up being the case.

19. Wear Comfortable Shoes

Rome is not the place to break out your heels or adorable sandals. With cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks anywhere you go, your feet will be hurting in no time without the proper foot attire.

I wore my favorite pair of Asics and they were absolute champs – my feet never even hurt, even after a 12 mile day in Rome!

20. Get the Gelato

Whether you’re visiting in the dead of winter or on a scorching summer day where there’s a line out the door at the gelato shop, always stop and enjoy some gelato! Enjoy this delicious dessert any time of day and try new flavors each time. We were freezing in the rain in November and still enjoyed every bite of delicious gelato (and we could hide inside from the rain for a few minutes while we savored it!)

The best gelato shops we found were Grom – a chain of authentic Italian gelato stores. By far the best tasting gelato in our opinion!

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