Top 4 Travel Tips for Visiting Rome

Updated on March 26, 2018
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I travel, and I eat things. I'm also a professional scientist, writer, musician, and engineer and an amateur chef and painter.

So you're finally going on your dream vacation to Rome—the Eternal City, the Seven Hills, the City of Love. Or maybe you're just there for business, in which case, let me know what sweet job you've got that sends you on free trips to Rome.

Rome has so much to see (and do, and eat, and drink) that it can be a little overwhelming once you start trying to plan the details of your trip. Even if you're the type to just wing it without an itinerary, I wouldn't recommend that for Rome. You might miss something really amazing or spend too much of your time standing in line or walking between distant sights. Fortunately for you, this article will provide four of the most valuable tips I've learned over many visits to this beautiful city.

1. Don't Eat in Touristy Areas

For better or worse, Rome attracts an enormous number of tourists. You'll probably be spending most if not all of your time in the most touristy areas of the city, especially if it's your first trip. After all, they're all here to see the same famous places as you.

Unfortunately, touristy spots tend to come with bad food. You might be under the impression that you can eat anything in Italy and it's going to be the most delicious thing you've ever tasted, but this is incorrect. It is actually very easy to eat badly in Rome, especially near the major monuments and sights. Fortunately, the center city is so condensed that it's not hard to get away from the thickest crowds. Trastevere is a neighborhood within walking distance of "Tourist Rome" that's close enough to be accessible, but out of the way enough to be authentic. Trastevere restaurants make food primarily for Romans, not tourists.

If you must eat near the tourist attractions, at least spend some time researching reviews of nearby restaurants so you know you're getting something decent. And whatever you do, don't eat at a restaurant that employs someone to corral customers off the street. Good food speaks for itself, so this should be a red flag.

Restaurant across from souvenir stand: bad sign.
Restaurant across from souvenir stand: bad sign.

2. Always Order the House Wine

Speaking of restaurants, once you find one, what to eat is up to you. But drink the house wine. Trust me.

Almost every restaurant in Italy offers house wine, usually a red and a white. This is just bulk wine that they buy in a cask or tank and serve in a carafe. For about €10 a liter, you can afford to have plenty of delicious wine with every meal. I mean, you didn't come to Rome to not drink wine with every meal, did you? You can usually get it by the half liter or sometimes even quarter liter too, in case you're by yourself (or you practice moderation better than I).

Restaurants will generally have wine lists you can order bottles or glasses from if you're looking for something specific, but if you're not sure what to try, you'll rarely go wrong with the house wine for a fraction of the price of a bottle.

3. Do Ancient Rome in One Day

The first time I went to Rome, I read a lot of travel guides that recommended breaking up the major sights of ancient Rome (the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill) into two days because trying to squeeze them all into one day would be exhausting. However, they're all right next to each other, so I decided to visit them all at once anyway. I didn't see what the big deal was. Yeah, I was a little tired by the time I was finishing up Palatine Hill, but that was more from the climbing of the hill than anything else. For most people, there's no need to spend more than four or five hours all together between the three sights. I'm a big history and archaeology nerd, and I stopped to look at everything while researching what it was and its historical background, and I still saw everything I needed to see by lunchtime.

If you read travel guides that warn you not to attempt all three sights in one day, but you think you can handle it, go for it. I would only really advise against it if it's summer and very hot out, or you or anyone in your group is elderly or disabled, or you have young children.

I've added a photo of the Forum rather than the obvious choice of the Colosseum, because while the Colosseum is all right, the Forum is where the really good nerd action is.
I've added a photo of the Forum rather than the obvious choice of the Colosseum, because while the Colosseum is all right, the Forum is where the really good nerd action is.

4. Download Audio Guides

This is an especially useful tip if you're traveling solo. If you're with friends or family, you may prefer to enjoy one another's company rather than putting your earbuds in, but I still recommend an audio guide at least for the museums. If you're alone, on the other hand, earbuds and an audio guide are perfect for drowning out the other tourists and getting the most out of your sightseeing.

You can find free audio guides online for just about everything: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, even walking tours of some of the different neighborhoods in Rome. If you want several in one place, you can download the Rick Steves' Europe app, which has tons of free audio guides for Rome (some better than others, but most are decent). His Roman Forum guide is invaluable for making sense of the remains of the glory of the Republic. The buildings and ruins are a lot more interesting with someone explaining what they are as you go by. The Vatican Museums are also much more enjoyable with an audio tour to point out the most important pieces and give you some context.

Who are these guys? Who made them? Where are his pants? See, this is why you need the audio guide.
Who are these guys? Who made them? Where are his pants? See, this is why you need the audio guide.

This is obviously not an exhaustive travel guide, but hopefully it will help you get the most out of your trip. Please add your own tips and recommendations to the comments below. Have a wonderful trip!

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    © 2018 Hays Savoy

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