It is impossible to overstate just how overwhelming Rome is. There is so much to do and see, both in terms of sights we all know about, and just in walking around and stumbling across something amazing. The city is chaotic, fast-moving, unpredictable. There are tourists everywhere in the center, and navigating around them physically and emotionally can take its toll.
As long as you are prepared for that for which you cannot prepare, Rome is truly amazing, one of the world’s great cities. This guide will help you to plan your own Rome getaway, although it is worth noting that even in my recent month-long trip, I didn’t get to everything on my list, let alone all the city has to offer. To fully see Rome would take a lifetime.
Please click on the links throughout the guide to read more detailed articles on specific aspects of Rome that might interest you. And if you enjoy this guide, click here to read our Ultimate Guides from destinations all over the world.
Rome has multiple airports, but if you are flying in from the US, you will almost certainly end up at FCO, Da Vinci International Airport. While you can catch a cab, the best way to get into the city is the express train, which runs every fifteen minutes. It is direct into Termini Station, and tickets can be purchased from a machine before boarding. Just follow the signs.
Once at Termini, you can take a taxi or the Metro (more on that in the next section) to your lodging. There are also a dozen or more bus lines going past the station. If you are arriving in Rome by train, you’ll also end up here at Termini most of the time. (There are a couple other train stations but this is the biggest.)
Within the city center, the odds are you’ll walk. It is about a mile or two maximum between the major sights (other than the Vatican which is a bit further out), so while buses do run through, walking is easier. When walking, be aware of traffic, even if you have the right of way at a crosswalk (Romans will cross against the red when it is clear as well) or if you are on a pedestrian-only street, as Roman drivers – especially those on Vespas – are notoriously unpredictable.
Within the city, there are two and a half (line C is in process) Metro lines, which connect many of the areas you might be staying in with a couple of stations along the outskirts of the center. (You’ll use the Colosseo stop on Line B most often, or three stops off Line A, which also takes you to the Vatican.) The Metro is very reliable, although some trains are older and a bit loud and less comfortable. Elevators at stations are hit and miss, but most have escalators or chair lifts on staircases. (Note: the Metro has limited nighttime hours, especially during the week. Instead, there is a night bus, which can be overwhelmingly crowded, as it runs less often and with much smaller capacity than the train it replaces. Avoid it if even remotely possible.)
Metro tickets are €1.50, and can be bought at a machine in the stations. Or, if you are staying in Rome for a longer period, €35 will get you a monthly pass. To get an eRoma card, as it is called, go to a Tabbachi store (there is one in Termini Station near the Metro entrance). You’ll pay €3 for the card and then the money to load it. It is good for a calendar month, so if you buy it on August 15, it will only last through the end of August. The pass is good on the bus as well.
Buses in Rome go everywhere. To get on one, flag it down like it is a taxi; otherwise it might not stop. You’ll either buy a ticket onboard from a machine near the front, or scan your pass at a machine near the back. It is important to note the bus schedules in Rome are more of an optimistic statement of ideal intent rather than an actual timetable. They can be early, late, or not show at all. Have backup plans ready, and don’t count on Google Maps to tell you when the bus is arriving.
What to Do
Oh heaven, there is so much that it’s hard to even figure out where to start. So let’s go chronologically through time.
Are you interested in Ancient Rome? Obviously you’ll want to see the Colosseum. (Click here to read about that experience.) Or you can visit any number of other sights, monuments, and other things related to imperial Rome. (Click to read about some of those.)
What about Rome’s place as the seat of the Catholic Church? Obviously, you can visit the Vatican. For Museum (and Sistine Chapel) entrance, book well ahead of time. For St. Peter’s (or the other amazing churches of Rome), just show up, but be prepared to wait in a security line. (Click here to read about my favorite churches in Rome.) If you want to see the Pope, he speaks from his balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square most Sundays at noon. Arrive early and be prepared to stand in the sun, but it’s a fun experience.
How about Renaissance Rome? A few suggestions. For art, visit the Borghese, which has a truly spectacular collection highlighted by some of the more well-known pieces by Bernini and Caravaggio. Or check out some of the aforementioned churches with their artworks. Or you can just stroll the squares like Piazza Navona, walk past the Trevi Fountain, and find hidden gems all over the city.
Are you interested in more modern Italy? Make sure you learn about Italian unification in the museum inside the amazing Vittoriano monument, and use the admission to get the best view of Rome from the observation deck on top. (Click here to read about Italian unification.) Or see the tiny remnants of Fascist Italy at Villa Torlonia, where Mussolini lived in Rome, or the EUR district he built. (Click here to read about Mussolini’s legacy.)
Of course, not all of Roman history is positive. Visit the Jewish ghetto to learn about this sad chapter, and to eat the famous Jewish-style artichokes Rome is famous for. (Click here to read more about the Jewish ghetto.)
You can also take some day trips from Rome, or side trips. I spent two full days in Naples, but one can visit in a single day if one uses the express train. Or take a day trip to Tivoli for the famous villas. (Click here to read about Tivoli.) And I bet there are a ton more!
So what is my favorite thing I did in Rome? I LOVED the Capitoline Hill and all it had to offer. (Click here to read about that experience.)
Beyond that, just stroll. If you want a more local neighborhood, try Trastavere, just across the river. Or walk the center, spotting remains of Ancient Rome. Even the area around Termini Station has some awesome churches and fountains and cafes. Pick a direction and see where your feet take you.
Where to Stay
American brand hotel chains are all over, from a Hilton in the EUR district to the gamut of properties around the center. You’ll want to be either near the center or right off a metro or bus line that will take you there easily. The area right around Termini Station has a ton of restaurants, and easy access to transit, making it a slightly cheaper option than something right in the center.
I stayed in an Airbnb near the Metro B Line Policlinico station, and with my monthly eRoma pass had no issue getting around the city. I just had to allow 30-45 minutes each way to get to some places that were not right off the metro. With a month in the city, this was doable. If I had only a few days, the lack of things within an easy walk might have been a detriment.
If you choose to stay in another neighborhood, just do some due diligence ahead of time to find out what the safety reputation is. Like any major city in the world, Rome has some less safe areas.
What to Eat
Italian food isn’t a monolith. While basic staples can be found at pretty much every trattoria or osteria in the country, there are regional specialties that you’ll want to try when in Rome. To get a better idea than I can give you, watch Stanley Tucci’s fabulous show Searching for Italy, and write down anything that appeals. That’s how I started my process. But here are the basics.
Pasta. Rome is known for four basic pastas, and all four are pretty much ubiquitous on menus here. First is amatriciana, pasta with tomato sauce and guanciale (similar to bacon). Carbonara has bacon, cheese, and fresh egg for a creamy experience without cream. If you like cheese, try cacio e pepe, which is literally just pecorino cheese with a bit of pasta water to get it creamy and lots of fresh black pepper. Or pasta gricia has pecorino, pepper, and guanciale. I had each one at least twice during my stay. A good bowl of pasta should run you €10-15, give or take, depending on the place and how touristy it is. There are also some takeout counter restaurants that serve pasta for less, but the quality is just as good. Seek those out, like Pasta Imperiale near Piazza Navona.
If you find yourself in the Jewish ghetto, try a Jewish-style fried artichoke, one of Rome’s specialties. Obviously they are best in season, but are served year round. Jewish food has actually infused Roman cuisine, and many places specializing in “traditional” Roman food will have things like Jewish-style white meatballs made with cloves and cinnamon.
My personal favorite meal of my month came from Osteria Barberini, which features a menu full of black and white truffles for reasonably affordable prices, fairly near the Trevi Fountain. You will need a reservation; actually in Rome it is best to make reservations a day or two ahead (more for some of the top end places) whenever you can as many places are small and will fill up quickly. This is also a good place to remind you that meals skew later in Rome. The lunch rush is around 1pm, and many restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7. If you find a place that is open all day, around 6 or 630pm you might have it to yourself.
While not specifically Roman specialties, you’ll of course want coffee and gelato. A small gelato typically comes with two flavors and should run you €3 unless it’s right in the center. For your morning cappuccino (remember, only barbarians order one after 11am; after that, it’s a latte macchiato – if you ask for a latte you’ll just get milk – or espresso) expect to pay around €1.50 at a place catering to locals and up to €3.50 for a touristy establishment. If you ask for “coffee,” you’ll get an espresso, so be aware of that. That espresso will range from €1 to €3 depending on where you are.
Other Useful Information
Summer in Rome is hot. Like can be triple digits hot. That peaks in late July and August, so be aware, and make sure you stay somewhere with AC.
Speaking of summer, August is the month that Italians, especially those in Rome and south, take vacation. So you might find a lot of restaurants or shops closed. Have a backup plan when you go out.
If you want to do high-end shopping, the best bet is near the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Barberini. For better shopping – and more fun – check out the huge Sunday market in Trastavere and its amazing selection of €1-10 finds.
A quick note on dress. You will need to have knees and shoulders covered (especially as a woman) to get into many of the churches. Some have wraps to borrow, but some do not. My advice is – if you aren’t already dressed appropriately for that – to keep a wrap with you that you can wear around your shoulders or as a sort of skirt/kilt depending on which part needs covering, just in case you see a cool church and want to go inside. In addition, much of Rome’s center is stone that has gotten a bit slick over the centuries, along with some uneven spots. Wear shoes with tread, especially if it rains.
If you go out to eat, a couple things to note. First, you will likely be charged a cover of €2 or so per person, which gives you bread and such. This is not really optional, so be prepared. Second, free tap water isn’t a thing here. If you ask for water, you’ll get a bottle or nice carafe, but there will be a charge. Flat water is acqua naturale; many Italians prefer sparkling water (with gas). There is, however, free water throughout the city at public water fountains. Just fill your bottle there. (And no, I don’t mean at ornate fountains like the Trevi.)
Rome is just one of those places. When I tell people I’m traveling to Germany or to Argentina or pretty much anywhere, they respond with “cool!” When I said I was going to Rome, I got envious sighs. Rome does that to people, and after a month here, I can see why. The city is amazing. It is chaotic and can be hard to handle at times, but what it has is more than enough to make up for that. In fact, I think the chaos only enhances the experience here. If you’ve been, you can certainly relate. And if not, I hope you’ve been inspired to plan to visit the Eternal City!
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