Hi, I’m Helen and I’ve just got back from a week in Rome, it was such a fantastic experience. There are some obvious things which must be done “when in Rome”, like eating as much ice cream as possible or throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain. But Rome is also this strange mix of laid-back chaos where the green cross code seems to be optional and people eat pizza for breakfast, which is why I’ve compiled my essential guide to the eternal city.
- The Green Man just means it’s less dangerous to cross the road, not necessarily that it’s safe to – there’s still a chance of traffic coming around the corner.
Also, zebra crossings are not the same in Rome, the cars don’t stop unless you’re already walking across the road. Wait for a break in the traffic or for the locals to go and follow them – it’s still illegal to run someone over so they should stop and you should be fine. FYI, if you cross where there isn’t a marked crossing, you’re likely to get beeped at.
- Water is expensive if you stop at a souvenir shop/truck or café.
Wander a little off one of the residential roads or around your hotel and you’ll find yourself a convenience store. We picked up a 2 litre bottle of water for 25c, kept it in the mini fridge at the hotel and used it to top up a smaller bottle which we took out with us in the day – the bottle we topped up originally cost us 3 euros!
- There are so many cobbles!
The roads and the pavements are all cobbled in Rome, so take comfortable shoes… Don’t be tempted with your canvas pumps that you think will be enough, your feet will hurt and you’ll start to waddle (trust me, I’ve been there). If you don’t have any proper trainers, consider getting some insoles to add to your shoes to make them more padded and help protect your feet a bit better. You’ll be thanking me on day 3, I promise.
- Get a Roma Pass.
We pre-booked ours online but you can get them from tourist stands all over Rome. They come as either 48 or 72 hours passes. We went for 72hr ones and that got us free access, with queue jump, to 2 of Rome’s main attractions (bonus; The Coliseum, The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are all counted as one ticket), unlimited access to public transport and discount at loads of other museums and attractions. We used a Hop-on-Hop-off bus for our first two days and then used the Roma Pass to get around for the rest of the trip, using the metro to get us back to our hotel in the evenings. I’m certain it saved us a fortune.
- Find your nearest metro stop.
The metro can get you from the main train station (Termini) to one of the Vatican stops in 15 minutes, a walk that would take well over an hour, but you still have to walk 5 minutes from the stop to the Vatican Museum or 10 minutes to St. Peter’s Basilica. Obviously, walking is the best way to see the city and you can find some cute streets and cafes if you let yourself get a little lost, but by the end of the week the trains were definitely calling my name.
- Small, independent restaurants prefer cash to card.
Some places, like one ice cream parlour we went to didn’t accept card at all and other places don’t get great internet connections and it’s just easier for them to operate in cash. We took a travel cash card with us because I’m not comfortable keeping large amounts of cash in the hotel, even if it is in a safe, so we just regularly withdrew at ATMs. ‘Bancomats’ are frequent, especially in the more touristy areas so it wasn’t a problem, and all the ones we went to let us select English so we knew what we were doing!
- A little bit of planning goes a long way.
Being November, we didn’t expect great weather during our stay, and it helped to look up the weather forecast to plan accordingly. The only day not due to have a rain shower was the Wednesday, so we pencilled in the Coliseum and surrounding ruins for that day. On Tuesday it was meant to rain in the afternoon, so we went to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps in the morning and a museum in the afternoon. This sort of planning meant we didn’t get caught in too many showers or find ourselves diving into a café for shelter too often. I know it seems like common sense, but on day one we said ‘let’s risk it’, and regretted it when we got stuck under an archway for a good 30 minutes and had clothes that took 2 days to dry!
Rome is truly one of the most beautiful cities on Earth and I can’t recommend it enough. I hope my experiences mean you can have a sore feet free trip and make the most of this stunning place. Tell me your experiences of Rome and maybe we can help even more would-be tourists before they jet off.