There is a reason that Rome is referred to affectionately as the eternal city. As one of the most beautiful, bustling cities in the world, it has much to offer its citizens, long-staying visitors, and fleeting wanderers alike. With so many sights to see, things to do, and foods to eat, one of the biggest dilemmas for travelers is deciding how and where to invest what little time they get to spend there.
Do you spend your days gallivanting through the many marketplaces, buying trinkets and tchotchkes for yourself and loved ones you left back home? Maybe you have a soft spot for the breathtaking architecture and rich history that can be found by simply turning your head to see what buildings and famous sites surround you every which way. Or perhaps you spend it at the countless ristorantes and gelaterias that grace every corner of Rome’s small and winding streets.
However you decide to spend your time in Rome, there are a few things that you’ll absolutely want to know before departing for your glorious journey into the vast unknown that is Roma—la citta eterna.
Tip #1: Walk or take public transportation whenever possible. The taxi drivers in Rome will try to rip off anyone who enters and uses their painfully obvious American accent to ask for a ride. They are not afraid to prey on the weak, especially if it means extra time and money on the meter. Asking for a ride to your hotel around the corner may mean a long and unnecessarily circuitous sightseeing tour of all of Rome’s greatest feats, which sounds great in theory…until you’re forced to shell out an extra twenty Euros for what should have been a two minute ride. Renting a car might also sound as though it might tickle your fancy; riding in one of those novel European clown car-esque vehicles with the windows down and the radio up, zipping through Vespas and gliding through narrow alleyways…until you hit the traffic. Roman drivers are notoriously crazy drivers and will do whatever it takes to get into your lane, even if it means using force to make sure you’re not in it. Skip the stress and parking fees and opt to hoof it or take Rome’s buses or the metro instead. You’ll thank yourself for it once you pass a gas station, or distributore de benzina, anyway.
Tip #2: When planning on seeing Rome’s churches, be anything but a typical American tourist. Most churches and cathedrals allow visitors throughout the day, but only if they are willing to respect the sanctity and rules of said churches. That being said, many churches in Rome have strict dress codes and will not let you in if you don’t abide by them. That can mean wearing pants and skirts that cover from the knee up, or wearing shirts that cover both chest and shoulders. In most cases, so long as you meet these two criteria, you shouldn’t have a problem being turned away at the door based on appearance alone. Churches in Rome (and most everywhere else in the world) are places of worship before they are tourist attractions. Always. No exceptions. Food and drink should be left at the door. No photography, videotaping, loud talking, or other disrespectful and borderline sacrilegious behaviors. Essentially, picture a typical American tourist…and do everything in your power not to be one.
Tip #3: Skip all the restaurants that draw in a lot of tourists. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. The Romans don’t eat in second-rate pizzerias with a hundred other Americanos; nor do they pay copious amounts of money for the inevitably second-rate pizza sold there. If you’re feeling peckish, it is strongly recommended that you wander around the less-traveled roads and piazzas to look for more authentic Italian cuisine and for more reasonable prices as well. It is doubly recommended that you find a small, little-known ice cream shop—gelateria—or hidden coffee shop—caffeteria—as these are ones with the best prices and, more importantly, the best treats. Some coffee shops offer secret hours in which they are only open in the middle of the night and only let you in if you know where to find them. Knowing tricks like these can make Rome that much more exciting, so make friends with the local natives and ask them their favorite hangouts. Traveling is all about immersing yourself into the cultures and traditions that define the city and that comprise the gloriously unique characteristics that made you want to visit in the first place. Do it, and do it well.
Tip #4: Don’t expect luxury. Americans have long been accustomed to a lifestyle of excess and superfluous comfort. Europe doesn’t believe in frivolities like free refills or air conditioning, and most everything in Europe is smaller: hotel rooms, grocery stores, meal portions, cars. Your hotel or youth hostel will most likely be cramped, hot in the summer months, and if it does come with a complimentary breakfast, it will be minimal to say the least. However, it should be your ultimate goal that the only time spent in your room in Rome will be to shower, slumber, and rest up for the next day of adventure, exploration, or whatever else may be on your agenda.
The most important thing to remember when in new territory, and especially in a city as fast-paced and illustrious as Rome, is to be flexible. When you travel, you are predestined to rise and fall: things will go wrong, your Italiano won’t be anywhere remotely near perfect, you will spend more money than you told yourself you should, and your American visage will be inescapable no matter how hard you try to shake it while away from your homeland. Of course the good news is that you’re bound to fall in love with the beauty and culture that overwhelms you the second you step out onto those busy Roman streets. The world is a big place, and exploring Rome for even just one day will feel as though you’re seeing so much more of it than you could ever imagine seeing in the states. Rome has infinite wonders that appeal to people of all ages, backgrounds, and personalities. The young and young at heart, Italians and foreigners alike, introverts and extroverts, and everyone in between will be able to quench their seemingly unquenchable thirst for newness and excitement once they rid themselves of all inhibitions and plunge right into the heart of this eternal city. The first step to discovering the many joys of la citta eterna is to simply get out there and roam…if you want to.