Rome. The Eternal City. The expensive city.
Most people, whether avid travelers, or once-in-a-lifetime trip takers, have Rome on their list. Perhaps it’s the history that summons you, or the air of romance and mystery portrayed in the oft alluded to Roman Holiday. Either way, whatever starry-eyed notion brings you to Rome, the reality of the city can sometimes rear it’s trash-littered head. Rome has a bit of a reputation. Corruption, pick-pocketing, price gouging, man-handling, inept public transportation, monuments closed without warning. You name it, someone visiting Rome has complained about it.
So, how do you fix all of that? You can’t. Rome is out of your control.
But, if you know how, you can easily make all that Rome has to offer work to your advantage. Traveling smart contributes to traveling safer and traveling cheaper no matter where you go in this world.
Travel Smart Tips: Rome
Are you interested in seeing magnificent works of art, but less than enticed by entrance fees and long lines? Visit some of Rome’s 900+ churches! The entrance to most churches is free, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the largest church in the world. There you can see Michelangelo’s famous La Pieta, a jaw-droppingly beautiful marble statue depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus. Other famous works of art in otherwise possibly overlooked churches include Renaissance master Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew, St. Matthew and the Angel, and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew at San Luigi dei Francesi; Michelangelo’s Christ Carrying the Cross at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva; and Caravaggio’s Martyrdom of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul, Raphael’s Chigi Chapel, and many statues by Bernini at Santa Maria del Popolo. Each church has its own operating hours, and some can be quite idiosyncratic. Make sure to double-check before you make your plans.
Go for a walk. It’s really that simple. Every corner you turn, every small side street you walk down, can hide the most beautiful treasures, both big and small. Not to mention you’ll save the hassle of dealing with the public transportation system, an organization plagued by a reputation of running behind schedule, drivers striking without notice, and passengers left stranded.
Are you getting thirsty on your walk around Rome? Carry an empty water bottle with you and fill it up at one of Rome’s many Nasoni, or public water fountains. These fountains, of which there are around 200, can be found throughout the historical center. The best part? This water is clean, drinkable, and free! Not to mention fresh! If you want to blend in with the locals, drink from the Nasoni – it’s the same water coming through the taps in Roman homes! ACEA (manager of water services utilities) has a map of Nasoni locations throughout the historical center, which can be found here.
Many famous attractions in Rome offer free admission, including the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Trevi Fountain (among many others). But, if you happen to be in Rome on the first Sunday of any month, you are in luck! All public museums, monuments, and archaeological sites are free to all visitors! Choose wisely what you will see during that time, as some places, such as the Vatican Museum, are absolute madhouses. Others offer discounts after a certain time of the day, so make sure to double-check those places you’ve decided you want to go!
Be smart about how you eat and drink! It seems like every other week a disgruntled tourist is posting a picture online of a receipt for four coffee’s and a gelato costing an astronomical amount. If you order a coffee, pastry, gelato, or anything else that is served at a bar and can be eaten standing up…stand up! The cost of the same item, when seated, can be triple. Not to mention, when seated, you have to pay a service charge (or coperto), which can range anywhere from 1-5 Euro per person. This rule of thumb applies even more so if you are near a famous attraction such as the Vatican Museums or the Colosseum. And if the menu doesn’t have prices? RUN.
Do as the students do and have aperitivo! Did you spend too much on that rockin’ purse and now you’re short on cash for dinner? Aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink (see some of my favorite Italian cocktails here) that typically comes with access to a full-fledged buffet of salads, pizzas, mini-sandwiches, and sweets (shall I go on?!). Some restaurants create a platter for you and serve it to you at your table, others are a bit more casual. In Rome, the price for what will become your favorite thing about Italy, commonly ranges from 9-15 Euro (drink and food). Have a drink, or two, and eat until your heart’s content…no need for dinner after!
If you are looking for the perfect time of the year to travel to Rome, let me be brutally honest and tell you that summer is not that time. Overwhelmingly hot and humid, Rome becomes a dense and insanely crowded city during the months of June, July, and August. August is quite possibly the worst time to visit Rome, as the majority of Romans flee the city for the coast for the entire month. That means fewer people, yes, but fewer people that run the restaurants and stores, leaving many things permanently closed. The best time of the year to visit Rome is in the fall, when the temperature hovers between 62-72 degrees Fahrenheit (17-22 degrees Celsius) well into mid-November, and day trips outside of the city (perhaps a weekend in Tuscany), put you smack-dab into the middle of harvest time (new olive oil sampling, anyone?!).
So, are you ready for your next trip to Rome? Keep these travel smart tips in mind and I promise you’ll leave feeling as if you’ve conquered the city, know the ins and outs, and can blend in with the locals (don’t wear flip-flops!).
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