Over the years, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are planning their trips to Rome—and I’m speaking to even more of them now. My goal: to help people have the best, most rewarding trip possible to this fantastic city.
So that means that, when someone coming to Rome says one of the five following things to me, I can’t help but feel a little frustrated. Here’s what they are, why I cringe—and how to fix it.
1) I want to eat the best, most authentic food Rome has to offer. Then I want to be able to walk the five minutes back to my hotel at the Trevi Fountain.
Why it’s frustrating: The biggest misconception about Rome must be that you can eat anywhere and still eat well. False. Rome is like any other city that receives millions of visitors a year: It has a lot of mediocre, overpriced, inauthentic restaurants. That’s especially true in the heart of the centro storico, where tourists tend to hang out. Can you eat relatively well there? Sometimes, and only if you plan your meals. Is it the best food in Rome? Not usually.
What you can do: If eating Rome’s most authentic food is important to you, then get familiar with public transportation. As I’ve written before, the #3 bus is the perfect “hop-on, hop-off” bus for foodies. Otherwise, take a taxi: That €10 cab ride might sting, but if you choose your restaurant wisely, you’ll save at least €10 over if you ate in the center. (Here, for example). And you’ll eat better.
2) I’m in Rome for two days. How can I see everything?
Why it’s frustrating: You can’t.
What you can do: Accept that you won’t be able to see “everything” in Rome in two days, and focus on your interests instead. If you get the most enjoyment out of wandering Rome’s quiet, cobblestoned backstreets, do that. If seeing the Vatican and the Pope is really important to you, schedule it in.
Just remember that there’s no “right” way to see Rome. And even if your friends seem appalled, when you return home, that you spent two days in Rome and didn’t see the inside of the Colosseum, you can always smile and say “No, but I did stroll down a 2,300-year-old road between ancient monuments on a gorgeous day/get a dress handmade for me by a Rome designer/see some of the world’s most beautiful works by Raphael, Caravaggio and Bernini. That was my must-do, and I loved it.”
3) I’ve rented a car for the time I’m in Rome. What’s the parking and driving situation like?
Why it’s frustrating: Although a car can be helpful for getting to Italy’s smaller towns and countryside, if you’re not planning on leaving Rome, there’s no reason to rent a car. The historic center of the city, where most of the sights are, is small enough to traverse on foot, plus most cars aren’t even allowed to enter the area. Parking in the rest of the city is tough. And public transport, despite the stereotype, is pretty good, especially in the center.
What you can do: Don’t rent a car. Walk. Take buses. Take the metro. You’ll save yourself a big headache.
4) I booked a hotel way out of the center/near the airport to save money. What’s a good way to get into town each day?
Why it’s frustrating: Hotels in central Rome are expensive. Absolutely. But when people go for the lower prices at hotels located way outside the center, they don’t always calculate in the cost of getting back and forth each day. The Rome Marriott Park Hotel, for example, is located 13 miles outside the center of Rome, and there’s no metro station right nearby. So to get into town, you’ll have to either pay €10 per person for the hotel’s round-trip shuttle (which only leaves at certain times a day), or about €15 for a cab one-way, which goes up at night and on Sundays.
What you can do: Look into your transport options into the heart of Rome before you book your hotel. Where there isn’t public transport, calculate the cost of a taxi or shuttle in advance to make sure the savings are actually worth it. Otherwise, remember that budget accommodation does exist in Rome.
5) We’re just going to play everything by ear.
Why it’s frustrating: Can you come to Rome, not have anything planned in advance, and still see a lot of the city? Sure. But will you wind up spending an inordinate amount of time in lines/money on mediocre meals out? More than likely.
Case in point: You know you want to see the Colosseum, but you haven’t planned how you’ll do so. You go to the Colosseum in the morning; the line is already two hours long (above). You get approached by an English speaker who tells you that you can skip the line by going on a tour—so you do. But the tour guide is terrible and barely speaks English, and you spend 30 minutes waiting for the whole group to get collected to enter anyway, and you feel rushed through the site. (By the way, this isn’t a rare worst-case scenario. It’s something that happens often).
Had you just looked into things in advance, you could have a) found out where you could get your ticket without having to stand in line or b) researched tour companies and found a Colosseum tour that best suited your interests and with a company renowned for having excellent guides.
What you can do: You don’t have to research everything. But for the sites that have big lines—the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums—have a game plan. If you want to eat good food, and don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of money, look up some restaurant recommendations in advance. And if you want to go to the Galleria Borghese or Palazzo Valentini, remember that you must reserve ahead of time.
Also: what weather to expect, where to eat in Rome’s most touristy areas and what to know about crime in Rome.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.
#2 made me chuckle, I’ll be in Rome at the beginning of June for 3 days and friends/family are appalled that I have no interest in going to the Vatican. I’m more interested in a terrasse and a glass of limoncello.
I had 9 days in February, renting a little apartment in the Monti and while I had a list of plans and accomplished most, it only uncovered more. I did not try to over-schedule and when the weather threw in rain, I went “home” and cozied up instead of tramping around damp. The list for the 2014 trip is already a mile long …
Great information! Thanks for putting into words why I get detailed when planning trips and why I use a travel agent!