The most useful hints, tips, and advice for a Rome trip
As usual, these tips mix the practical with the philosophical, the big picture (book entrance to the Colosseum and Galleria Borghese; avoid staying near Termini) with the tiny details (the dress code that could keep you out of the Vatican).
- Avoid hotels near Termini train station. There are tons of reasonably priced hotels lining the dull 19th-century grid of streets near the Rome train station. The reason they are so reasonable is that this is far from the best neighborhood to be in. There's nothing really wrong with it (used to be a bit dicey, but it cleaned up years ago), but it is a boring area, crammed with tourists, and you'll spend at least 30–40 minutes each day just taking a bus or Metro back and forth to the historic center, which is where all the good stuff is.
- Book tickets for the Colosseum. The line for the Colosseum can last for an hour in the summer high season. It's worth a bit extra to book an entry time in advance and skip the long line. » more
- Book tickets to the Vatican. For a small extra fee, you can avoid the similarly long lines to get into the Vatican Museum (sometimes you waltz right in, but usually the wait is at least 15–20 minutes, often 30 minutes or more). Just think about how much an a trip to Italy costs, and spend the extra few euro to buy back a half hour or more of that precious vacation time. » more
- Be prepared to walk and take the bus. Rome is a walking city, so be sure you pack good walking shoes that can handle pounding cobblestones for a couple of miles a day. Buses are also useful for getting to outlying areas or zipping across the city quickly. The Metro (subway) is infamously of little use—handy for the few sights it happens to pass near, but not as well-connected as you'd expect from a world capital—nothing like, say, Paris, London, New York or Tokyo. (This is not really Rome's fault; every time they try to dig a tunnel, they come across ancient ruins.)
- There is a dress code in churches (and the Vatican). Major churches in Italy—especially St. Peter's—have a strict dress code: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders. I am not kidding. They will not let you in if you do not come dressed appropriately. In a pinch, guys and gals alike can buy a big, cheap scarf from a nearby souvenir stand and wrap it around legs as a long skirt or throw over shoulders as a shawl (or pack one from home).
- Take a tour of the Roman Forum. Seriously; the Forum—downtown Ancient Rome—is amazing and chock full of history, but if you simply wander around it on your own all you will see is a jumble of brozen down columns, crumbling marble foundations, and other ancient oddments that make no sense whatsoever. Do yourself a favor and give the Forum some context with a guided tour that can explain the deep, layered history at this center of the ancient Roman world. » more
- Do not drive in Rome. Roman traffic is crazy, the city is loaded with one-way streets and confusing patterns, and there's no parking anywhere anyway. Do yourself a favor: if you want a rental car in Italy, either pick it up the day you leave Rome (so all you have to do is drive it out of Rome), or drop it off the moment you arrive in town. (Actually, unless you're hitting lots of small towns just before arriving in Rome, I would say arrange to drop the car off in the last sizeable city you visit before Rome—Florence or Naples or whatever—and just take the train into Rome. Avoids all the hassle.) » more
- Book tickets to the Galleria Borghese. The Galleria Borghese is one of the best small museums in the world, packed with paintings by Caravaggio and Raphael and sculptures by Bernini. Unfortunately, it also has a rigid timed entry system and limits the number of visitors inside at a time—and, especially in summer, these entry times can sell out quickly, sometimes two or three days in advance. Don't run the chance of being locked out; definitely book this one ahead of time. » more
- If it rains, run to the Pantheon. Rain can put a damper on any sightseeing, but there is one Roman sight that is actually even more amazing in the rain: the Pantheon, a 2,000-year-old temple topped by a famous cement dome roof with a giant hole in the center of it. When the skies open up, the rain drifts down through that hole, falling gently through the evocative space inside the Pantheon, and drummgin gently on the worn marble floor before slipping down an ancient drain grating in the center. » more
- Don't forget to stop and taste the gelato. Yes, Rome is packed with magnificent ancient ruins, fabulous museums and galleries, and amazing churches stuffed with great art—but if all you do is dash from one sight to the next, you'll miss out on one of the best parts of a visit to Rome: living la dolce vita. "The sweet life" describes the basic Roman attitude of relaxing and enjoying life. So indulge in that mid-morning cappuccino at a neighborhood bar, a riposo mid-afternoon nap, a see-and-be-seen passeggiata stroll in the early evening, a Campari-soda at a bar, and a long dinner replete with lively conversation and good wine. And don't forget the gelato (ice cream).