When in Rome: pro tips for visiting the Eternal City

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Michael Drummond/File

You’ve seen it in movies, heard about it in songs, studied it in history class and now, you’re finally about to get on that 14-hour flight to Rome. The capital of Italy is one of the most frequently visited cities in Europe, renowned for its profound history dating back to the Roman Empire, breathtaking art and well-preserved monuments that are almost 3,000 years old. If this is your first time visiting Rome, your nerves are probably at an all-time high because it’s a massive city with endless sights to see. Any trip you take should bring you joy and amazing memories, so here are some tips to help you minimize stress and make your first experience in the Eternal City a memorable one.

Make an itinerary.

Although spontaneity is sometimes fun, it’s necessary to go to Rome with a plan. Before your trip, do some research and make a list of all the places you’d like to visit. Look up how far the places are from each other and organize your itinerary accordingly so you don’t have to walk across the city too often.

Wear comfortable walking shoes.

On that note, prepare to walk a lot. Be sure to pack comfortable athletic shoes rather than wedges or sandals. Guided tours can last up to two hours, and even if you’re not on a guided tour, you’ll want to take your time strolling the beautiful cobblestone streets. Not only will walking give you the chance to admire the incredible environment you’re in, but it will also save you the money and the hassle of ordering taxis — and this is not to mention all the pizza you’ll burn off in the process.

Keep a map with you at all times, but don’t be afraid to ask for directions.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “To Rome With Love,” you’re probably concerned about how easy it is to get lost in Rome. Your concern is valid because in reality, getting lost is a very likely possibility. Familiarize yourself with a map of the city, and try learning some Italian phrases that’ll help when you ask for directions. Romans are very friendly and open-minded — just like most locals, they’ll do their best to help you if you need it and if you show that you’re making the effort to communicate with them.

Be polite to the locals.

Imagine having more than 4 million tourists in your hometown. Sounds suffocating, right? Well, that’s the amount of tourists Rome receives every year. With that said, be polite to the locals because they deal with people from all over the world every day, and not all of those people speak Italian or fully understand Italian culture.

Respect the rules of visiting religious sites — especially the Vatican.

Catholicism is inherent throughout Italy, so all of the cathedrals and basilicas enforce strict rules out of respect for the religion as well as tradition. Holy sites such as the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon and many others require visitors to cover their shoulders and knees and to remain silent, so try to keep talking to a minimum and plan your outfit ahead of time. Some churches provide scarves and shrugs, but it’s best to come prepared, especially if you visit the Vatican, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City is its own city-state that enforces heavy airport-like security, and you’ll be denied entry if you’re not dressed appropriately.

Pay attention when you’re on a guided tour.

Don’t be too preoccupied with taking pictures every ten seconds. You might be standing at a gladiator’s 2,000-year-old burial site and not know it unless you pay attention. Listen to what your tour guide says because Rome is rich with amazing history, and learning about it will give you a deeper appreciation for where you are.

As someone who has visited Rome more than once, I can say without a doubt that it’s the kind of place you can fall in love with over and over again, with every time feeling like the first. Hopefully these tips will help you feel the same way.

Contact Claudia Marie Huynh at [email protected].

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