This is a guest blog post by Hydaway ambassador Zelphia Peterson. Follow her on Instagram @z_claire29.
Rome is one of my favorite travel destinations. It’s a beautiful, complex city, and a place where I feel a kind of soul-deep comfortable that I can only describe as home. As a student, I was fortunate enough to spend a month living in this beautiful city. Since then, I’ve returned to Italy a few times to fall even further in love with Italian culture. If you’re planning a trip to Rome anytime soon (and you definitely should be!), here are a few tips to help you feel right at home.
1. When arriving from Fiomicino airport (FCO), take the train into the city. It’s usually far cheaper than taking a cab, and doesn’t require any arrangements in advance. But once you’re inside the city, don’t plan to rely on public transportation. While Rome does have a metro, there are only two lines that cross the city, often quite far from any major attractions. You’ll likely have better luck with the bus system, although it can be unreliable at times. Walking is usually your best bet, and is a great way to see the city.
2. On that note, plan on lots of walking! On a packed day, don’t be surprised if you end up walking over eight miles. Translation: bring good shoes! In addition, Rome is the city that was built on seven hills. Your knees and your quads will definitely start to feel it after a couple days of heavy walking and stair climbing, so be sure to allow for rest if your body needs it.
3. One of the best locations to stay is in the Monti neighborhood. With plenty of hotels, Airbnb’s, and hostels available, it has something for everyone. Plus, it is close to a few metro stops (easy to get to and from with luggage) and in easy walking distance of many of the top historical sites.
4. Don’t overextend yourself! Plan one or two things to do and see each day, and don’t forget to enjoy the city in between sites. Rome is a complex city with over 2,000 years of concentrated history. Accept that you won’t be able to see everything, and plan according to your tastes.
5. If you like museums, set a whole day aside for each one. Especially for museums like the Capitoline and Vatican, where you could spend three days and still not see everything. If you’re not a museum person, I would recommend avoiding the two previously mentioned altogether (even though they’re incredible world-class attractions) and spend your time and energy experiencing the city instead.
6. Get outside the city! Train rides are usually quite affordable, and there are a number of great destinations within a two hour radius of Rome that make for great day trips. Personal favorites include Firenze, Anzio, Orvieto, Sorrento, Tarquinia, and Tivoli.
7. Dress conservatively, especially if you planning on visiting churches. Overall, Italian dress codes are more formal and conservative that what we’re used to in the US. If you’re wearing shorts, have uncovered shoulders, or are dressed extremely casually, it’s possible that you can be denied entry into churches, especially more formal or active churches. For help with what to wear, reference this blog for wardrobe tips.
8. Be prepared for noise and smoke. Unless you’re a native of NYC, you probably won’t be prepared for the sheer busyness of Rome. While it’s not a concrete jungle of skyscrapers, it is quite loud due to motor traffic and the never ending “deedle-deedle” of ambulances. Chances are you’ll grow to hate that sound. In addition, public smoking is the norm and doesn’t have the same restrictions as it does in the US. Be prepared to walk through absolute clouds of cigarette smoke.
9. Experience the food! Alfredo and pizza may be your favorite, but don’t be afraid to branch out (although you may want to avoid anything bolognese to make sure you’re getting the best quality).
Wine is the same price as water or pop, and definitely the more mainstream choice. Just don’t overindulge, as that can be a bad deal for travelers and is frowned upon by the locals.
10. Learn a little bit of the language before you go. Most people in bigger cities like Rome will have some English and be happy to practice, but some won’t. It’s more practical and respectful for you to have at least a few dozen common words or phrases. Plus, ordering in Italian can sometimes get you better service at restaurants and brownie points nearly everywhere else!
Bonus Content: I’m including my top ten favorite sites in Rome. It’s so hard to choose, but you simply can’t miss these!
1. The Palatine Hill/museum – The ruins of the Roman palaces are simply breathtaking, and utterly irresistible when paired with a charming little museum.
2. The Roman Forum – So much history! I recommend finding a guide or bringing a comprehensive guidebook, because they will literally explain almost every brick to you.
3. The Colosseum – A classic. Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Also yes.
4. Museo Altemps – A tiny but comprehensive collection in a gorgeous and peaceful setting
5. Catacombs di San Sebastiano – haunting, reverent, and one of the most moving experiences I’ve had.
6. Il Vittoriano – Skip the museum inside and climb straight to the top for the best views in Rome. Pro tip – the hot chocolate in the rooftop cafe is divine.
7. The Vatican – Including the famously breathtaking St. Peter’s Cathedral and the enormous Vatican museums, this is an all day affair. In a word, overwhelming.
8. Villa Borghese – A medieval villa belonging to a cardinal was restored and renovated into a beautiful art museum. The surrounding gardens and park are gorgeously laid out and a serene break in Rome’s busy hustle.
9. Capitoline Museum – a dizzying array of some of the best art and sculpture of the last 3 millenia. Not for the faint of heart, but gives an unparalleled look into Roman and Italian culture.
10. Ostia Antica – Technically not in Rome, but an easy ride away on the metro. It’s an abandoned Roman town that visitors are free to walk through. Original structures still stand from almost 2,000 years along streets where you can wander freely. My absolute favorite experience.
Safe travels and buona fortuna!