Rome Survival Tips for the First-Time Visitor


I’ll admit it – I don’t love Rome. I want to, believe me. I want to fall head over heels for its chaotic blend of modern and ancient, its larger-than-life attitude, and its hidden gems. But I haven’t yet. This is partly due, I’m convinced, to the fact that I have yet to spend time in the city with someone who truly loves Rome to its core. I really believe that can make such an enormous difference to one’s perception of a city, that I continue to hold out hope that one day I’ll rhapsodize about Rome the way some of my friends do.

Until that time, however, I thought I’d offer what I call “Rome Survival Tips” – because if you’re anything like me and you need to visit Rome but you’re worried about being overwhelmed by it (which happens to nearly everyone on their first trip), you’ll want to know how to make the most of it. After all, just because you don’t end up loving Rome doesn’t mean you have to hate it, either.

>> For more, don’t miss my list of things you should know about Rome, too.

Rome Survival Tips for the First-Time Visitor

  • The city might feel overwhelming at first, but many of Rome’s biggest tourist sights are concentrated in a relatively small area, so the part of Rome that you will be spending the majority of your time visiting is considerably smaller than you might think. With a good map, a centrally-located place to sleep and an understanding of the public transit system in Rome, you will be able to navigate the city more easily. In particular, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get a handle on taking the bus around Rome – the bus network is way more extensive than the subway system, so there are even more places you can go without much effort. Your feet will thank you later.
  • In a city like Rome, more than in other Italian cities (at least in my opinion), it’s important to pace yourself. Will you see everything in Rome on your first visit? Absolutely not. And you’d be foolish to try. Give yourself ample opportunities to relax. Don’t try to cram too much into a day. And if the busy-ness of the city itself is starting to get you down, find a quiet place (or at least quieter) to hang out for a bit before diving back in – whether that’s a restaurant, a bench in the Pantheon, your hotel room, or a relatively car-free neighborhood like the Trastevere by day. This is, I find, an easy and enjoyable way to acclimate yourself to Rome.
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  • Accommodation in Rome runs the gamut, and you can certainly find cheap places to stay – but remember that just because a hotel or hostel says it’s “in the historic city center” doesn’t mean it’s going to be within spitting distance of a major attraction. Rome’s “historic city center” is huge, so be sure to check the location of any hotel or hostel on a map before you get too excited about it. There are, for instance, a high concentration of cheap hotels and hostels near Termini station, but it’s hardly in what most people would call the historic city center. It is, however, right next to the major bus hub at the train station, so you can get anywhere you want in the city from there.
  • July and August might be the peak vacation months in some parts of the world, but in Rome they are typically exceedingly hot and humid and many residents (the smart ones, anyway) abandon the city for the coast. Do not be surprised to find lots of “closed for the holidays” signs up in shop windows around Rome. Of course, this means the city is potentially less crowded for those who do brave the heat!
  • If you do decide to visit during the hottest summer months, be smart about your time spent in the sun – bring and wear appropriate sun gear (floppy hats, sunscreen), and carry a reusable water bottle with you. Rome’s free public drinking fountains spout some of the best-tasting (and blissfully cold) water you’ll find anywhere, and you’ll need it. There’s even one conveniently located right in the Roman Forum, which is good because there’s almost no shade to speak of there.
  • Like any big city the world over, you are bound to run into higher crime rates in Rome than you might in the Tuscan hill towns, for instance. I know people who have been pickpocketed in Rome, people who have caught pickpockets in the act (and thwarted the theft), and others who’ve never had any trouble at all (including myself, though I might have just jinxed myself by saying that aloud) – so I’m definitely not saying that anyone setting foot in Rome is going to be robbed. However, I do think that it pays to be alert in Rome. If you remain aware of your surroundings and cautious about your belongings, especially on the subways and the bus “tourist routes,” you will in all likelihood have no problems whatsoever.
  • Many of Italy’s main tourist cities are also cities where people still live and work, and in Rome this is particularly true. The people you pass on the street are not just waiting to give tourists directions to the Colosseum or recommend a good restaurant – they are on their way somewhere, just like you would be walking down the street in your hometown. If you can find a tourist information office or a tourism-related shop, those are the places to stop and ask questions. The locals you pass on the street aren’t rude, and many of them may stop to help you if you’re holding a map and looking lost – but they’re also not delegates of the tourism office, so you shouldn’t expect them to go out of their way to help you.

original photo at the top by Jessica Spiegel, and may not be used without permission

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