Traveling to a city for the first time can come with a stack of surprises — and not always the good kind of surprises.
Travel guides are great, but they can only tell you so much about a city. The best way to be prepared for your first trip to Rome is hearing travel advice from people about what they learned and wish they knew before taking their first trip to Rome.
Join us as we detail what visitors wish they knew before heading to Rome, Italy.
Tip #1 – Bad gelato does exist.
Just because you’re in Italy doesn’t mean every gelato shop serves the tastiest and freshest gelato. You can find bad gelato in Rome, and a good indicator is if the gelato is neatly sitting in plastic containers. This gelato comes from factories. Gelato that’s piled really high, is pretty fluffy or is brightly colored rather than resembling its natural color is gelato to also stay away from.
You want fresh, genuine gelato, which you can find in shops that offer seasonal fruit flavors, keep their gelato in flat metal bins or even keep them covered with metal lids and have gelato that looks like its natural fruit color if you were to crush said fruit. And to ensure you try the best of the best, ask locals where they go to get their gelato fix.
Tip #2 – Use any Italian lingo you know.
Any Italian you know and use is much appreciated by the locals when trying to converse with them. They’ll be more patient with you if you can speak a few words or phrases in their native tongue.
If you plan on taking a taxi anywhere, then you definitely want to be able to mostly speak to them in Italian, so they know exactly where to pick you up or take you to.
- Per favore – please
- Grazie – thank you
- Buongiorno – good morning
- Buona sera – good evening
Even simply remember the four phrases above will serve you very well when you venture outside your Rome hotel.
Plan on doing lots of uphill and downhill walking.
With monuments, ruins, restaurants and other attractions spread throughout the city, you’ll be doing plenty of walking during your Rome vacation. And it’s not easy, flat-level walking. More surprisingly than you might think, your days will be spent doing lots of uphill and downhill walking, so plan appropriately, i.e. wear comfy shoes and clothes and keep a bottle of water on hand.
Tip #3 – Pack appropriate clothes and shoes.
Speaking of clothes and shoes, make sure you pack the right ones. And by right ones, we mean comfortable and modest clothes and shoes. Rome is filled with cobblestone streets so sorry ladies, but high heels of any kind (even wedges) aren’t meant for touring the sights of Rome and enjoying all the activities — no matter how good you are at walking in them. You want to be comfortable while you’re out and about, but you also need to be appropriately dressed. Casual clothes are fine to wear, but it’s important to know the Vatican and Christian sites won’t let you in if your shoulders, midriff or bare knees are showing.
Tip #4 – Water from the public fountains is safe to drink.
Tons of public drinking fountains are placed throughout Rome. These fountains, called nasoni, are completely safe to drink from. Many tourists don’t believe they’re safe to drink from because of how they look, but they contain clean, cool drinking water and are completely harmless. So instead of buying water at every stop during your day, keep an eye out for these fountains and simply put your hand over the spout to get a water stream to squirt out of the hole at the top to make it like your elementary school drinking fountain or use it to fill up your empty water bottle.
Tip #5 – Stay away from restaurants where waiters are outside madly trying to get you inside.
More often than not, when you pass a restaurant where waiters are outside frantically trying to get you inside to try the best Italian food you’ll ever eat — it’s not the best Italian food you’ll ever eat.
These restaurants aren’t the authentic, remarkable Rome restaurants you want to eat at. Instead, ask the locals or go on a hunt for the small, sometimes hidden, spots where several locals are dining at and where the waiters speak hardly any English.
Tip #6 – Many food places have set times for lunch and dinner.
Most food places in Rome have set hours for lunch and dinner. Typically restaurants serve lunch from about noon to 2:00 p.m. and dinner from 7:00-10:00 p.m., so plan accordingly. If you want an early lunch or dinner, you’re not going to get it at a Rome restaurant, and restaurants here aren’t open 24 hours like various American restaurants so don’t expect a late night meal either.
Tip #7 – Choose walking and public transport over taxis.
Taxis are expensive. Rather than forking out lots of money for one, stay in a hotel that’s central to everything you want to see and do so you can walk there or that’s near public transport. But keep in mind when you take public transport, like the bus, have a map of Rome in hand to ensure you get off and on at the right spots.
Follow these helpful tips, and you won’t feel like such a Rome rookie when you arrive in this beautiful Italian city — and it will make your first visit to Rome the best possible visit.