Your Ultimate Rome Travel Guide
The Eternal City. The City of Love. Rome has earned many nicknames, but it is perhaps best known for being the capital of Italy and a stunning city full of rich history, ancient architecture, and incredible food.
Planning your first visit to Rome? Make the most of your trip with our practical travel guide, which covers all the basics from packing and getting there to saving money on the best attractions. Make sure you also check out our Paris travel guide.
Getting to Rome can be half the fun!—if you enjoy long flights. And it’s no secret that international flights are expensive. Fortunately, there are some tips you can follow to help save on your airfare to Rome. From there, it’s just a matter of getting from the airport to Rome’s beautiful city center.
Finding Affordable Flights to Rome
Flexibility is key when it comes to saving on a flight to Rome. As with most international flights, you can usually save money by traveling during the week as opposed to the weekend. For example, flying into Rome on a Thursday and leaving on a Monday will likely be much cheaper than arriving on a Friday and leaving on a Sunday.
Another potential option for saving on a flight to Rome is actually booking a flight to London, which is almost always cheaper. From there, you can use a budget airline to fly you the rest of the way to Rome. This can also be a great opportunity to do a little extra sight-seeing if you’re up for it.
Getting to the City Center
Once you’ve arrived at Rome-Fiumicino Airport (also known as Leonardo da Vinci Airport), you’ll still be about 30 kilometers (19 miles) away from Rome’s city center. Fortunately, there are a few options for getting from the airport to your destination.
The Leonardo Express is a direct shuttle-train service that runs every half hour and takes you directly to Termini, which is Rome’s central station. This service will get you to Rome in about 30 minutes and is ideal for those who want to avoid potential traffic delays. The Sabina-Fiumicino line is a similar shuttle-train option that is cheaper than the Leonardo Express and runs directly from the airport to a number of stations throughout Rome. Many travelers prefer this option because the trains run more frequently and it’s more affordable.
Another option to consider is taking a taxi or private car from the airport into Rome. This is ideal for those who don’t mind spending a little extra money to have a car to themselves. There are plenty of taxi services that frequent the airport, including the reputable Comune di Roma (look for the white cabs). Just keep in mind that with a car service, you’ll be at the mercy of local traffic and it could take you over an hour to get into the city.
What to Pack
Apparel-wise, your packing essentials for a trip to Rome will vary depending on the time of year in which you’re visiting. December through February tend to be cooler months, whereas July and August can be absolutely sweltering. Regardless of the time of year in which you’ll be traveling, there are some essentials you’ll want to pack for your visit to Rome.
Your Best Walking Shoes
The best way to get around most neighborhoods in Rome is to walk. Not only is walking practical and affordable, but it allows you to really take in the incredible sights and sounds of each unique neighborhood. With this in mind, bringing at least one pair of comfortable walking shoes or compression socks is a must. Ideally, these will be close-toed shoes, as Rome’s cobblestone streets and walkways can otherwise leave you prone to toe-stubbing.
Sunscreen and Sunglasses
Many of Rome’s top attractions are outdoors, so you’ll want to make sure you’re protected from the sun. Even during Italy’s “winter” months, UV exposure can be quite high. Bring along a bottle of your favorite sunscreen and don’t forget at least one pair of sunglasses to shield your eyes.
Swimwear (During the Summer)
If you’ll be visiting during the spring or summer months, you’ll probably want to check out some of the popular beaches near Rome, such as Fregene or Ostia and the Cancelli—so don’t forget your swimsuit and sandals! Even if you don’t make it to the beaches, your hotel may have a pool.
Most plugs/outlets in Italy are 220-volt, though the shapes of the plugs themselves are often different from what you’d find in North America. Play it safe and bring along a plug converter in your suitcase so you’ll be able to charge up your devices. If you do a lot of international traveling, you may want to consider an international size carry-on and picking up a universal plug converter so that you’ll be set no matter where your travels take you.
A Few Pairs of Modest Clothing
Modest dress is the norm in most parts of Rome—and if you’ll be visiting any churches or religious sites, you may not be permitted to enter if your clothing exposes your shoulders, knees, midriff, or other parts of the body. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to pack a few pairs of modest clothing for your trip.
A Scarf or Pareo
Spend any amount of time in Rome and you’ll notice that the locals love to wear scarfs and pareos, regardless of how hot or cool it may be. You can avoid looking like an obvious tourist by following their lead. A light scarf is not only considered fashionable in Rome, but can also provide additional sun protection while you’re out and about.
A Waterproof Jacket
There’s nothing worse than being caught in a downpour in the middle of a guided tour or other outings. Plan ahead by bringing along a light waterproof jacket or plane umbrella.
Copies of Your Passport and ID
Any time you’re traveling internationally, it’s a good idea to bring photocopies of your passport and identification. This way, if your passport, ID, or other important documentation is lost during your trip, you’ll have the back-up copies needed to expedite your return to the United States.
Customs and Etiquette
Before visiting a new country, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some basic customs and etiquette. This way, you can avoid accidentally insulting locals and blend in more with the crowd.
Don’t Use “Ciao” as a Greeting
“Ciao” is an informal greeting, so it may be insulting to use it with somebody you’ve just met. Instead, stick to phrases like “buongiormo” (good morning) and “buona sera” (good evening), which are more formal and appropriate.
You’ll Need to Request Your Check
When you’re dining in Rome, waiters and waitresses typically don’t bring your check to the table until you request it.
Shut Off Phones Before Entering a Church
In addition to dressing modestly when visiting churches or religious sites, you should also turn off and stow away your cell phone before entering. Having your phone out to check e-mails or browse social media while visiting a religious site is considered extremely rude and disrespectful. Taking photos may also be frowned upon, so be sure to research a site before you arrive so you know what to expect.
Consider Learning a Few Basic Phrases
In the city center, it typically isn’t difficult to find somebody nearby who speaks at least some English. However, you will earn much more respect from locals if you take the time to learn at least a few basic Italian greetings and phrases, such as:
- “si” (yes) and “no”
- “per favore” (please) and “grazie” (thank you)
- “mi scusi” (excuse me)
Tipping Isn’t Typical
Unlike in the United States, where standard gratuity is 15%-20%, tipping isn’t expected in Italy unless you receive absolutely outstanding service.
Hotels and Lodging
Finding a place to stay in Rome isn’t difficult, but finding an affordable lodging option can be—especially if you want to stay in the city center during a busy time of year. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can save on accommodations in Rome without necessarily sacrificing location or amenities.
Contact Hotels Directly
A sensible first step towards finding a great deal on a Rome hotel is to compare rates online. However, before you book, it’s never a bad idea to contact a hotel directly. If you let them know about the deal you found online, they can sometimes work with you to secure an even lower rate if you book directly through them. This won’t always be the case, but it’s worth a shot. You can also book many of these great hotels with airline miles points.
Consider an Agriturismo
If you’re open to staying somewhere other than a hotel, look into agriturismo accommodations, which are essentially “farm stays” with a local family. Often times, these accommodations are located on large and scenic plots of land and may include additional amenities, such as home-cooked meals. This is a great option if you’re looking to save money and want to enjoy an authentic experience, though keep in mind that you may be a little further out from the city center if you go this route.
Look Into a Monastery Stay
If you’re set on staying within the city center, a convent or monastery say may be a better option. While accommodations here are often far from luxurious, they are practical and you can’t beat the location. And of course, the buildings in which these rooms are located can be absolutely gorgeous and historic. This is a wonderful option for budget-family travelers who may not be spending a lot of time in their room and want to be as close as possible to the action. Just be aware that many of these buildings have strict rules in place, including curfews and restrictions on drinking.
Explore a Short-Term Rental
Renting out an apartment in the city is another viable option that may be more affordable than you think—especially if you’re traveling with a group and can split the cost. One of the main benefits of a short-term rental is that you’ll have more of the amenities of home, such as a kitchen. Being able to occasionally cook your own meals can save you money on your trip. Still, short-term rentals can be difficult to come by, so you’ll want to begin your search early and book as soon as possible if you decide to go this route.
Factor in Transportation
No matter where you decide to stay, make sure to factor in transportation costs and time. For example, staying in a rural agriturismo may save you a lot of money, but if you have to pay for a taxi into the city center each day, your savings may be offset. In some cases, spending a little more to stay in the center of the action can pay off.
Much of Rome is walkable, which is why bringing a great pair of walking shoes with you is a must. Still, there are likely to be a few destinations that aren’t quite within easy walking distance—or you may run into a day of inclement weather where you don’t want to walk anywhere. Regardless, there are several options for getting around Rome and the surrounding area.
The Metro (Subway)
Rome’s subway system is known as The Metro, and there are three different underground lines from which to choose. This is by far the fastest way to get around Rome and the local areas. It’s also a relatively affordable option, with tickets available for purchase at each Metro station and at most local newsstands and shops. You can find Metro stations throughout the city by looking for red signs with a large “M” on them.
A cheaper option for getting around Rome is to ride the ATAC Buses that run throughout most parts of the city. When you purchase a bus ticket, it is valid for 100 minutes; during this time, you can get on and off as many buses as you wish, so long as you validate your ticket at each stop. You can purchase bus fares at most shops and at bus terminals throughout the city, but keep in mind that you must have your ticket when you board; fares cannot be purchased on the bus itself.
ATAC buses are a practical option, but they can also be very crowded. You should also plan on it taking longer to get to your destination on a bus versus the Metro, as you’ll be at the mercy of street traffic.
You can combine your bus ride with a little sight-seeing by taking a Hop-On/Hop-Off (“Ho-Ho”) bus to most destinations throughout Rome. These double-decker buses offer all-day passes, so you can board as many buses as you wish throughout the day. Each seat on these buses also comes with headphones, which you can plug in to enjoy a guided tour of the area in your desired language.
Whether you’d prefer a more private transportation experience or are looking to travel farther outside the city center, a taxi service can be a viable option for getting around as well. Be aware that this will be the most expensive transportation option, but depending on your destination, the cost may be worth it. Just be sure to choose a white cab with the words “comune di Roma” on it to ensure you’re getting into an authorized vehicle.
Drinks and Dining
Many travelers would agree that wining and dining is one of the best parts about visiting Rome. Authentic Italian cuisine includes many fresh yet simple ingredients that are sure to make your taste buds dance. Whether you’re in the mood for pizza, pasta, or something in between, you can find what you’re looking for in Rome.
Breakfast and Brunch
Fuel up for a long day of sightseeing with a delicious breakfast or brunch. If you’re staying at a hotel, you may be offered a basic complimentary breakfast that can save you money. If you’re really looking to sample the best of what Rome has to offer, however, check out some of the top-rated breakfast and brunch spots, including:
- Avocado Bar
- Panificio Nazzareno
From pizza by-the-slice to sit-down fare, you have plenty of options when it comes to grabbing lunch in Rome. There are a number of food stands that serve up pizza slices and even individual mini pizza with fresh ingredients, as well as large food halls with a variety of Italian cuisine. Check out some of the top lunch spots in Rome, including:
- Mercato Centrale
After a long day of exploring Rome’s museums and other attractions, you’re sure to have worked up quite an appetite. Fortunately for you, Italians don’t skimp on their dinner portions. Whether you’re craving authentic pasta, fresh seafood, a mouth-watering pizza, or anything in between, there are literally hundreds of incredible restaurants throughout Rome. These restaurants can range from simple and budget-friendly to extravagant and costly. Regardless of where you plan on eating dinner, consider making reservations first—especially if you’ll be eating in the city center.
Explore some top-rated restaurants for dinner in Rome, such as:
- Osteria Bonelli
- Armando al Pantheon
From an etiquette standpoint, it’s best to avoid excessive drinking in Rome. Public drunkenness is very much frowned upon, but there’s nothing wrong with a little responsible imbibing. And there are plenty of options for getting your drink on in Rome, including the popular Drink Kong, which boasts a fun 80s arcade theme.
Looking to enjoy your drinks with a view? Check out Terrazza Borromini, which is located on top of the Eitch Borromini Hotel and offers incredible views of the city.
What About Vino?
In a country known for its wine, you would be remiss not to check out at least a few of the best local wine bars and enotecas during your visit to Rome. One popular location for tourists is Cul de Sac, which carries nearly 1,500 different wines and has a rich history dating back to the early 1900s. The staff at this wine bar is extremely knowledgeable and will be happy to help you select a wine based on your tastes and preferences.
Trimano is another well-respected wine enoteca right in the heart of Rome. This brand has been selling wine since the early 1800s, and this location offers a wide range of the best wines and champagnes from around the world and local wine-makers. Plan on taking wine home? Learn how to pack wine in your suitcase.
Built during the Roman Empire and inaugurated in 80 A.D., this amphitheater saw its fair share of executions, gladiator fights, and more back in the day. Today, it’s one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” and a bucket-list item for most who visit Rome—so it’s not surprising that more than six million tourists visit The Colosseum each year.
The Trevi Fountain
The breathtaking Trevi Fountain is not only the largest fountain in Rome; it’s also one of the oldest. It is believed to have been built in 19 B.C. Its name literally means “three ways,” which is fitting because the fountain was built at the intersection of three streets. Many people who visit this fountain will throw coins into the water because of an old myth, and this money is donated to various causes throughout the year. This is a lot different than the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas!
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel, designed by Michelangelo, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome. Constructed in the late 1400s, the walls of this incredible building are covered in “frescoes,” or paintings by such artists as Luca, Perugino, and even Michelangelo himself. The Sistine Chapel itself is located inside the Vatican Museum, as is open throughout most of the year.
The Roman Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient Roman building, despite the fact that it was built in the year 126 A.D. You truly need to see this building for yourself to appreciate the unique architecture. From the large granite columns along its facade to the famous inscription, there’s so much to take in. As an added bonus, this is a free attraction!
You could easily spend weeks exploring all the museums and other tourist spots that Rome has to offer, but if you’re looking to explore some lesser-known attractions, you’ll need to venture off the beaten path.
The museum of contemporary art is housed inside what used to be a production center for the Peroni Brewery. Today, you can explore a rotating display of unique exhibits from both Italian and international artists.
Quadraro Street Art
Hidden within the Quadraro neighborhood in Rome is an incredible display of street art from such notable artists as Alice Pasquini and Zelda Bomba. Immerse yourself in a world of color by walking through this neighborhood for yourself. Depending on when you visit, there may even be a guided tour available.
The Magic Door (Porta Magica)
Porta Magica is an odd structure that was built inside the home of Massimiliano Savelli Palombara at some point during the mid- to late- 1680s. The myth of the magic door is that when famous alchemist Francesco Giuseppe Borri stepped over the door would disappear, he disappeared and left behind a speck of gold. It’s a bizarre and mysterious tale, but this hidden gem is one you should really see for yourself regardless of whether you believe it.
Trekking to Rome with kids in-tow? There are plenty of sights and attractions to explore with the entire family! If you are flying with children, make sure to read about these activities below.
This is the site of Rome’s ancient and famous chariot races, which took place along the sloping walls that are still there today. Many families enjoy coming here for the history and for the fact that it’s a wide-open space with plenty of room for children to run around. Because of its vastness, it also tends to be less crowded than many of the museums and other attractions, which is helpful for those traveling with small children or infants/toddlers in strollers.
Baths of Caracalla
If you’re already visiting Circus Maximus with the kids, walk an additional 15 minutes over to the Baths of Caracalla. These were built by Emperor Caracalla himself in 127 A.D. and are open for the public to walk through today. What really makes this a fun site to visit with the kids, however, is the new virtual reality tour that has been implemented; this unique tour allows you to see first-hand what the baths used to look like!
Family-Friendly Guided Tours
Visiting Rome with kids doesn’t have to mean missing out on the must-see museums and other attractions. The biggest hurdle to overcome (for most families) is navigating the busy crowds and long lines at these locations. One option to consider is that of booking family-friendly tours at these attractions and paying a little extra for a skip-the-line pass, which will cut down significantly on your wait times.
Depending on when you’ll be visiting Rome, there are some notable events throughout the year that you may wish to check out for yourself.
Ides of March
On March 15 each year, the anniversary of Julius Caesar’s death is remembered with the Ides of March. During this event, actors and actresses reenact the events leading up to Caesar’s demise. The Ides of March serves as an important reminder of this turning point in Roman history, and it’s an event taken rather seriously by locals.
Città della Pizza
Perhaps one of the best time to visit Rome is during Città della Pizza, an April event where some of the top-rated pizza makers in the country gather to share their creations with attendees. From unique fried pizza concoctions to delicious Roman-crust slices, this is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all things pizza.
From mid- to late-June, Rome holds its annual VinòForum, which (as you could probably guess) is a celebration of wine. Here, more than 500 wine vendors serve up more than 2,500 different kinds of wine. There are also a number of guided wine tastings and wine classes available for those who sign up. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or would simply like to explore some different flavors, this is a must. And don’t worry about drinking on an empty stomach; there are plenty of food vendors at this event, so you can sample some of the area’s best cuisine while you sip.
Taste of Roma
Speaking of food, you’ll certainly want to check out the Taste of Roma festival if you’ll be visiting towards the end of September. This annual festival features bites from a dozen of the area’s favorite restaurants, as well as some gourmet cooking classes, wine tasting, and show-cooking. This is a great opportunity to sample some of the area’s authentic Italian cuisine in one place!
When in Rome: Maximizing Your Experience
Now that you have a better idea of where to stay and what to do while you’re in Rome, there are a few last tips worth keeping in mind that will help you make the most of your experience (and possibly save you some money in the process!).
Visit During “Shoulder Season”
Save money on airfare and accommodations, plus enjoy lighter crowds when you visit during Rome’s “shoulder season.” This off-season takes place between the end of March and October before tourist crowds tend to pick up again. The one important exception to shoulder season to keep in mind is Easter. Crowds in Rome around Easter are extremely heavy, and prices for hotels and airfare will be at their peak.
Prepare to Pay in Cash
Many shops, restaurants, and other vendors throughout Rome only accept cash, though some will accept credit cards here and there. Play it safe by making sure to take out and exchange cash before your trip. For added security and peace of mind while carrying cash through the busy streets of Rome, consider investing in a quality money clip as well.
Visit Museums for Free
Many of the major museums across Rome offer free admission on select Sundays throughout the month, so if you’re looking to explore museums on a budget, check the schedule and plan ahead. Just keep in mind that free museum days also tend to be the most crowded, so don’t forget to bring your patience.
Order the House Wine
Staring at the huge wine list in an Italian restaurant can be daunting, but you typically can’t go wrong with simply asking your waiter or waitress for the house wine. Not only will this be affordably priced, but it will probably be pretty enjoyable as well.
Fall in Love With The Eternal City
A visit to Rome can be truly life-changing—and after you see it for yourself, you’ll understand why. Keep our travel tips in mind as you prepare for your visit in The City of Love so you can make the most of your time there!