Few aspects of a city are more necessary — or more potentially infuriating — than public transport. That's as true of Rome as it is anywhere else.
Still, many visitors come to Rome with some big misconceptions about its public transportation systems. The biggest? That Rome's public transport is incredibly confusing, and only for locals, and tourists should stick to taking taxis instead. Or that it's terrible and just so much worse than the systems in other countries.
First: It's true that cabs can be an attractive alternative to public transport. They get you exactly where you want to go, they're everywhere (usually), and they're cheaper than taxis in other cities, like London or New York.
But. All of those fares add up; spending 8 euros each time you have to get somewhere instead of the 1 euro a bus costs makes a big difference. Secondly, just when you want one, you won't be able to find one; many taxis seem to use taxi stands instead of cruising the streets looking for fares, and if it's rainy or just before dinner-time, it can be tough to flag one down.
Finally, you have to be pretty careful when taking taxis. While it's getting better, some drivers won't hesitate to try to rip off a tourist, either by taking a circuitous route, not turning on the meter, or running the meter on the wrong rate. (Stay tuned for a future post on taking taxis in Rome).
That's where public transport comes in.
Many visitors shy away from Rome's buses and metros, seeming to think the system is terrible. It's not perfect, but it's certainly better than that of many other cities I've traveled in. Overall, Rome's buses and subways are clean, cheap (one euro per ride), frequent, and relatively reliable.
The metro system, especially, is remarkably good. I've never waited longer than 5 minutes for the next train. (I can't say the same for most other cities I've been in, from D.C. to New York). And a handy little display tells you how many minutes away the next metro is, like London's Tube.
The problem with the metro, though, is that it doesn't cut through most of the centro storico. (Line C, currently being dug, should fix some of that, but don't plan on using it unless your next trip to Italy is sometime after 2015). So the metro is great for getting from, say, the Spanish Steps to the Vatican, but not for getting to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, or myriad other sites in the center.
That's where the buses come in.
And while I complain about them all the time, I have to admit: The buses, too, are fairly reliable. They also go all over the place, even down those narrow, winding streets that you wouldn't expect even smart cars to venture down, never mind city buses.
But if you opt to take the bus, remember that some come far more often than others. And one bus that usually comes every 10 minutes might, when you try to get it, take 25 minutes to arrive. (Sod's Law tends to apply even more in Rome than other cities). Only some of the stops tell you when the next bus is arriving, and even that information can be wrong.
Still. I like the bus because it goes more places, and you can look around at Rome's beautiful buildings while you're riding.
So: If you're coming to Rome, plan to walk. Plan to take a cab, maybe. But also do yourself a favor — and do as the locals do — and take Rome's bus or metro.
Coming soon Also see: why didn't the driver check my ticket, how come the bus stops don't show routes, and other tips for using Rome's bus and metro systems.
Hi Amanda! We are wrapping up our 5th day in Rome and have taken advantage of the busses and Metro except for our taxi ride from Termini to our apartment near Piazza Navona. I think Rome’s public transportation is reasonably easy. I used the Internet to plan my routes, and most of that is in English (although knowing a little Italian is very useful). Rick Steves’ books also give a handy starting point regarding some major routes. Using bus and Metro we easily got out to Parco degli Acquedotti, but it can be confusing to find the return bus! In this case, from the San Giovanni Metro station, our return to Centro Storico bus was on a perpendicular street and it took us some time to find it. We tried to see all of this as an adventure, and since we had days here, didn’t fret over an hour or so spent taking a bus and searching for the stop. We also took the tram between Largo di Argentina and Trastevere, which was great. Since we had a Roma Pass, all of this was inclusive for three days. A great deal, but even without a pass, you cannot beat 1 euro per ride. But mostly we walked and walked and walked. And got a little lost — again part of the adventure. We leave tomorrow but are already planning our next trip in our heads. FYI, maybe you’ve already posted about the Van Gogh exhibit. It’s great! Took about 40 minutes in line today to get in, but the weather was fine, the Italians were jovial, and the art was fantastic! If you only have 48 hours in Rome, it might be hard to do, but for those staying a few days, what an opportunity to see an amazing collection! Ciao! Laurel, Portland, OR
Thanks for your comments, Laurel! I’m glad you found Rome’s public transportation easy — too many visitors here shy away from it because they think it will be too complicated.
And yes, stay tuned for a post on the Van Gogh exhibit. Glad you enjoyed it!
Come visit us in Rome again soon!
We’re going to Italy in 2 1/2 weeks. We will be in Rome for 4 days. This is our 5th visit to Rome. I have no complaints about the bus and Metro system in Rome other than the electric mini buses which have very little suspension travel and can “jar the fillings out of your teeth” on the ancient Rome streets.
The Rome metro is probably safer, cleaner, and in better condition than the MTA system in New York City. You have to watch out for pick pockets, which if you believe all the signs in the MTA system in NYC is bigger a problem than in Rome.
And I have never seen a rat running around the platforms in the Rome metro system. I see these regularly in Manhattan.
Too true about the mini buses. I take the 117 all the time back to my house, and often regret it.
And ugh, rats – haven’t seen one of those yet in Rome either. Something to be thankful for…