Rome… For People Who Don’t Like Cities

Rome is definitely a city!
Not everyone's a city person. 

But lots of people want to come to Italy. And when they do, even those people who get hives from traffic and crowds, who break into a sweat taking public transportation or trying to cross a busy street, feel like they have to come to Rome. And I'll be honest: This city is so fantastic, that it's worth getting out of your comfort zone to see.

That said? You can experience Rome in a more tranquil, relaxed way—and there are parts of Rome worth seeing that don't even feel like a city at all.

Here, my top tips for how to fall in love with Rome… even if you don't like cities or crowds.

Come in the off-season

Spanish Steps in May, high season
Yes, Rome is, obviously, a city year-round. But in the high season—which runs from Easter to October, with the peak in June and July—it's particularly intense. Thousands of tourists flood the streets. The Sistine Chapel is shoulder-to-shoulder, while you practically have to steamroll people if you want to get close enough to the Trevi Fountain to toss in a coin. So if you're not a fan of crowds, take it from me: Come between late October and early March. The weather will be chillier (and probably rainier), but the major sites will be much, much quieter. (Above: The Spanish Steps in May, or the start of high season. Just imagine what they look like in July!).

Stay in a hotel that really feels like an escape

Donna Camilla Savelli hotel courtyard

In general, I strongly recommend that most people stay in Rome's centro storico. That's where you'll spend most of your time sightseeing, and even if hotels outside of the center seem more economic at first glance, the prices of taxis to and from them, or the time lost on public transport, will quickly nullify any savings.

But if you're not fond of cities or crowds, staying right in the heart of the center—in the Spanish Steps area, say, or Piazza Navona—can feel overwhelming. As soon as you step out the door, you'll be thrown onto a street busy with pedestrians and, in some cases, cars. So I recommend one of two things. 

First, stay in a hotel in the center… that's small, boutique, and feels like an escape from the city. Don't book one of Rome's many big or chain hotels, where you'll be surrounded by people from breakfast on. Instead, look for hotels like Babuino 181, which, while a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps, is discreet, private, and has a (just-opened) rooftop terrace where you can get a drink, relax in the sun, or read a paper in solitude.

Or, as your second option, stay in a hotel off the beaten path. Like at the sleek Fortyseven Hotel, tucked into the lovely, ruins-sprinkled Forum Boarium area; it's a 5-minute walk from Piazza Venezia, but since it's in the opposite direction from where everyone else goes, it feels like a hidden gem. Or at Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli, a 17th-century convent, built by famed architect Borromini, that's tucked into the Janiculum hill, just a 5-minute walk from Trastevere (at top, the hotel's courtyard). Or, for a budget option, the RetRome Colosseum Garden B&B, which, while a stone's throw from the Colosseum, is on a tranquil, residential street that few tourists wander up. Don't go too far—having to deal with too much public transport will just replace all of the stress you're trying to get away from—but remember that you don't have to. Just a short walk from the main sites in Rome can get you off the beaten path.

Enjoy Rome's great outdoors 

Villa Pamphili, a lovely park in Rome

While you might not realize it at first glance, Rome has a lot of green space. So if the sound of sirens makes you wince, make a plan for how you'll get back to nature. I've written about three of Rome's prettiest parks, including Villa Borghese (Rome's "Central Park"), Monte Mario, and Villa Pamphili, before. Others to check out include the wild-feeling and forested Villa Ada; next to the Colosseum, there's the small but lovely Villa Celimontana.

And I can't say enough how much a stroll down the Appian Way will make you feel like you've traveled back in time—and to a Rome of greenery and parks and bikes and ruins and rambling villas. City? What city?

Chill out in churches

Basilica of Santa Cecilia, Trastevere

No, not St. Peter's Basilica. Many of Rome's (other) churches are hidden gems, and you just might be the only person there.

Don't deal with lines

Bocca della Verita line

This is advice I'd give anyone, but if you're crowd-averse, pay particular attention. Don't go to the Vatican museums in the morning, avoid them on a Saturday or Monday, and never, ever go on the "free day" (the last Sunday of the month). Visit St. Peter's Basilica in the evening, rather than during the day.

And when going to the Colosseum, don't get in the always-absurd line stretching out front; get your combined Colosseum, Forum and Palatine ticket from the desks at the Forum or Palatine entrances. (Before 2pm, especially in the summer, these, too, can sometimes be long. Go in the afternoon, and remember that you can use your ticket—one entrance per site only—for 24 full hours, so if you only have time to visit the Forum before it closes, you can go back the next day for the Colosseum and Palatine. No waiting in line necessary). (Above, by the way, is the line for the Bocca della Verita, or "Mouth of Truth." Frankly, there's no way to skip this line… but this is also never necessary to wait in, unless you just can't leave Rome without that photo op).

Give yourself time to relax and people-watch

People-watching in the Jewish Ghetto

I find a city most feels like a city—in the stressful, chaotic, high-pressure sense of the word—when I'm rushing around and trying to do a million things at once.

So, when in Rome… don't. Build extra time into your schedule. Plan to sit at a cafe (although be very careful which cafe you choose, and steer clear of those on main piazzas or at tourist sites). Or do like the Romans do and relax over a nice, long lunch. In the evening, enjoy a stroll through the cobblestoned streets, gelato in hand.

And even if you're not a city person, you will fall in love with Rome. 

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3 comments

  1. Actually, visting St. Peter’s is probably best done at 7AM- as long as you are an early riser. No line and no crowds.

  2. Hi Edward,
    Haha—yes, that’s another way to do it! Although for those of us who don’t like 6am wakeups, going in the evening is pretty great, too; you’d be surprised at how few people are in there after 6pm. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

    Hi Tiffany,
    Aw… how nice! I bet it was absolutely beautiful. Thanks for stopping by!

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