Traveling to Rome for the first time?
Nobody wants to pick a hotel in the wrong part of town or sit down at a bad restaurant. We all know that is what happens when you don’t plan ahead. The good news is that you are reading this article which means you’re planning ahead!
This post will go over some of the “Rome basics” and link out to a ton of great content that will make your trip perfect.
Pro Travel Tip: Bookmark this post and other helpful articles like where to stay in Rome in a trip folder on your browser. I do this whenever I travel so I can quickly find helpful articles. Also, Rome is an expansive city worthy of a tour or two. We are the leader in Rome tours and experiences!
What This Article Covers
- Airports & Public Transport (Metro)
- Where to Stay
- Things to do
- Food Culture
- Credit Cards, Tipping, and Communicating
- When to Travel to Rome and What to Pack
1. Rome Airports & Public Transport
There are two airports in Rome, Ciampino & Fiumicino, and they’re both roughly the same distance from the center.
- Bus (least popular)
- Train (most popular)
- Taxi (most convenient)
The train is by far the most popular. For 15€ you can get the Fiumicino Express from FCO to Termini station (main station).
Taxi is by far the most convenient. There are regulated rates from the airport to city center that falls between 45€-50€ depending on a few difficult to explain criteria such as what type of license the taxi has.
If you are staying outside the historic center of Rome you may also have to pay more or less.
Taxis normally take credit card but always ask.
- Bus (most popular)
The bus tends to be around €6-7, depending on the airport and the coach company and they run based on arrivals. Terravision has been around for a long time and is pretty cheap.
Taxi again is most convenient. They cost between 35€ – 45€ depending on the same factors which are difficult to understand.
Rome Transportation Options
Rome has plenty of Transportation options and we’ll go over all of them:
- Renting a car or scooter
Walking Around Rome
Rome is an extremely walkable city. If you are in reasonably good shape and the weather isn’t overly hot, you can walk Rome’s historical center very well.
Piazza del Popolo to Colosseum: 35 minutes walk
Colosseum to Vatican Museums Entrance: >60 mins
Rome is a pretty walkable city but sometimes the streets are confusing. If you aren’t using a mobile map function it could get tough.
I also would pick my battles and not walk to the Vatican from the Colosseum. The Vatican Museums is at least three hours on your feet when visiting with a guided tour (ours are awesome!). I would take the subway or even a taxi to conserve energy.
That all said, be ready to walk when you’re in Rome. If you aren’t already doing so, walk at least an hour each day to get your legs ready!
Rome Bus System
We have a great video on what you need to know to use the busses in Rome. It’s a little dated, but fun to watch.
There are three fundamentals that you need to know when using the busses.
1 – Buy a ticket before you get on and validate it when you are on the bus.
2 – The bus signs are pretty confusing unless you know the city really well. Download an app.
3 – The buses go literally everywhere. They are a good option but get crowded in the summer and hot. Something to consider.
Once you know these things you can use a bus. Walking around Rome can get really tiring. Hoping on a bus for a km or two can conserve energy so you don’t wear out.
Rome Metro (Subway) System
The Roma metro system consists of two lines; A & B. A is red and B is blue.
As a visitor, you’ll find yourself on the A-line the most. It goes from Termini past the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, and most importantly the Vatican.
The B line will get you from Termini Station to the Colosseum and Circus Maximus. That is what 90% of visitors to Rome will use these lines for.
You can’t to Trastevere using the metro, but you can get close to Testaccio by getting off at Piramide. Both Trastevere and Testaccio are known for nightlife and great food.
Your hotel and most Airbnbs will have a metro map that you can keep handy.
Getting a Taxi in Rome
I use the mass transit system for short direct rides from place to place. I may be at the Vatican and want to get to the Spanish Steps.
Or I arrive at Termini Station and need to get to the Colosseum. For anything complicated, I normally pony up and take a taxi. They are relatively cheap if they don’t rip you off which they will try to do.
A good workaround is to search for the destination you want to go to on your phone, create a directional map, and hit go. Then show that map to the taxi driver when they ask “Where to?” This way they know you’re tracking.
Otherwise – there is really nothing you can do. Just don’t pre-negotiate the rate. There is a meter in the vehicle that decides the cost.
Renting a Scooter in Rome
If I am in Rome for more than a couple of days, I am going to rent a scooter. That said, I don’t recommend you do the same unless you have scooter-experience.
It can be dangerous getting around an unknown city when you don’t know how to even drive the thing.
2. Where to Stay
Rome is a large metropolitan city but the area most visitors are interested in, the historical center or Centro Storico, is pretty condensed. You can walk from the Colosseum to the Vatican, almost opposite sides of the historical center or “center” for short, in an hour.
The center is the place to be in Rome and each neighborhood is really great. I prefer the northern sections like Piazza Navona and Spanish Steps. I think they are classical Roman/Italian and super nice. Here are the best areas to consider:
Again, I really like anything near the Spanish Steps as I like being in the thick of it. It will come with a price tag but savvy travelers find deals. We have an article you can bookmark that goes much further into dept on each area.
3. Top Things to do in Rome
There are literally unlimited things to do in Rome. From visiting the Sistine Chapel to an underground apothecary run by priests. It is a limitless city. This list should take you 5 or 10 visits to get through ( ;
Be sure to bookmark our article that goes more into depth on visiting each one of these monuments.
- The Vatican Museums
- The Borghese Gallery
- The Capitoline Museum
- Palazzo Barberini
- Palazzo Altemps
- Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
- MAXXI Museum
- The Colosseum
- The Basilica of St. Peter
- The Catacombs of Domitilla
- The Roman Forum
- The Pantheon
- The Palatine Hill
- The Trevi Fountain
- Piazza Navona
- The Spanish Steps
- Belevedere of Gianicolo Hill
- The Tiber Island
- The Mouth of Truth
- Trajan’s Column
- Il Pincio & Piazza del Popolo
- Villa Doria Pamphili
- Villa Borghese
- Park of the Acquedotti
- Giardino degli Aranci
- Vatican Gardens
- Villa Ada Savoia
- Villa Sciarra
- The Basilica of St. Peter
- The Spanish Steps
- The Pantheon
- The Palatine Hill
- The Trevi Fountain
- Piazza Navona
4. Food Culture in Rome
Where to start with Italian food? It’s often one of the top reasons why tourists come to Italy, and for good reason.
Every region serves amazing, fresh, handmade delicacies.
A traditional Italian meal (more elaborate explanation) will go like this: antipasto (starter), primo (pasta) secondo (meat and vegetables), dolci (dessert), followed by coffee and liquors. Do Italians eat like this every day?
Fortunately for those of us that live here, no! But these are typically the headings that you’ll see on a menu, so it’s best to have an idea of what they mean. A lot to cover in this section:
A. How to Find Local Restaurants
B. Types of Restaurants
C. Rome Meal Times
D. Coffee Culture
E. Drinking Fountains
How to Find Local Restaurants in Rome
Rome is a very touristy city, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t good places to eat in the city center. Check out our Rome restaurant master list that we update annually. From that link, you can navigate and see our restaurant’s recommendations near every major Roman attraction.
In general, avoid restaurants within sight of a tourist attraction, with pictures of the food on the menu or people standing outside trying to hustle you in.
You can read more about our favorite restaurants in Rome or join us for one of the coolest experiences there is – a Rome food tour!.
Even in the most authentic restaurants, don’t expect particularly friendly service.
Some of the best food is often flung at you without so much as a ‘hello’, but it’s guaranteed to be worth it. Areas a little more off the beaten track are guaranteed to find you a more authentic experience.
For example, the area of Testaccio is well-known for being a classic Roman foodie area, packed with local restaurants.
Types of Restaurants
In Italy, there are stereotypical classifications for almost anything including restaurants. Restaurants don’t just have a name, like “Tony’s!” but also a classification such as, “Trattoria.” Each one means something and helps visitors know what they are getting into.
Unfortunately, about zero visitors going to Italy know the difference between an Osteria and Trattoria. We’ll solve that for you right here. This is a good post to bookmark for your trip!
Imagine waking up at 6:30 am and rolling over to see your significant other. You look at them and say, “Want to head to the bar?” This is something that happens almost every morning to millions of Italians.
No, they are not alcoholics. You can get alcohol at an Italian Bar, but you normally don’t. You get breakfast there. You’ll see the “Bar” sign all over Italy and when you walk in, you’ll find espresso drinks, cornetto, and panini.
You can also get fresh-squeezed orange juice or vegetable juice. I highly recommend it!
Unlike the bar, you definitely shouldn’t wake up at 7 am asking you’re significant other to roll into the enoteca. This is definitely a place to drink wine or maybe beer & alcohol.
A good enoteca will serve tons of wine by the glass in many different price ranges. They will often serve cured meat plates for a snack or even warm dishes at times. I definitely recommend stopping into one of these in your travels to Italy and Rome.
One of my favorite types of places to eat lunch is a Tavola Calda. They are normally unassuming and serve many different types of dishes from cooked vegetables to lasagna and pasta dishes. Normally the dishes normally change day to day based on what is in season and other factors.
For example, gnocchi in Rome is only served on Thursdays. If you see it on the menu 7 days a week you may be in a tourist-trap. Authentic Roman restaurants only serve this dish on giovedí.
These are pretty cool little sandwich shops. They are dotted all over Rome and range in quality. Don’t refer to your sandwich as a “panini” unless you get more than one. The “i” makes it plural. Italian’s order a panino.
Check out 200 Gradi by the Vatican. Awesome place. Campo dei Fiori also has an awesome drive-up stand open for lunch that serves porchetta.
Osterie are pretty cool if you can find one. They are basically super cheap and extremely unassuming places to eat. A true osteria would have communal-style tables and serve super cheap eats.
Back in the day when Italy was extremely impoverished, they’d even allow you to bring your own food and just drink there. Imagine that today?
You can find restaurants with the title “Osteria” in Italy and you shouldn’t bring your own food or normally expect to eat with strangers. There is a place named “Da Mario” in Florence which says it is a Trattoria but feels like what a traditional Osteria would have been.
You should definitely expect a warm and cheap meal if you happen to go inside an Osteria in Rome and even more so in the Italian countryside. The menu will either be non-existent or small. In the Italian countryside or in small towns they can be really cool. The waiter may rock up to your table and say, “Today we are serving pasta with clams. Would you like Fettucini or Spaghetti with that?”
The Trattoria of Rome sits somewhere between Trattoria and Ristorante. Almost all Italian restaurants are family run but Trattorie almost must be family-run. They are normally inexpensive but have a larger menu that an Osteria.
Expect traditional regional cuisine at a Trattoria. If you go to two different ones you may find the same exact things on the menu. This is because they offer their family’s version of that regional dish.
This is basically the Italian equivalent of a more formal restaurant. They’ll have a more formal menu with all the Italian courses and you will be expected to eat each course.
You should definitely find a top-rated Ristorante in Rome and budget 3 hours for your meal. Really indulge in food, wine, and deserts.
This is an Italian bakery serving all types of delightful local treats. They are probably the best places to go for breakfast as they will make their cornetto’s fresh and supply them to all the bars.
You should be able to get a coffee here too but that isn’t a given. If you are doing an Airbnb or apartment rental, find a Pasticceria close by and pick up a bunch of cornetti for your group. You’ll be a star!
You won’t find this is in Rome but it is worth mentioning. A Rosticceria is a place you can go to find pre-cook meals like roasted meats and high-quality products. If you do find one and you are renting an apartment, consider doing take-out one night from a Rosticceria.
Taverna or Rifugio
You will find restaurants in Rome with Taverna in their names but this is more a colorful play on words. Taverne are secluded restaurants in the Italian mountains that you could find a hearty meal, something to drink, and possibly a warm bed to sleep in.
Today, you can still find a few dotted in the landscape but you are more likely to find an agriturismo which is more a B&B.
A taverna in Rome is most likely going to decorate their interior with rustic countryside type decor and have hearty items on their menu. Kind of like going to a seafood restaurant that is decorated in a nautical theme but nowhere near an ocean.
Rome Meal Times
One of the biggest differences is that Romans tend to eat much later than basically everyone except the Spanish. In fact, many of the best restaurants won’t open until at least 7.30 p.m.
Lunch: 12:30pm – 2:30pm
Dinner: 7:30pm – 11pm
In order to avoid eating in an empty restaurant and to really make the most of your evenings in Rome, try and fit in with them and eat a bit later – around 8 p.m. is a good time to sit down.
Coffee Culture in Rome
Italians take their coffee culture very seriously, and there are almost as many rules about coffee as there are for food.
Espresso “un Café”– a very small shot of coffee. Unless you’ve been to Italy, its never been this small.
Café Doppio – Double shot of espresso
Café Macchiato – Basically a mini cappuccino. Imagine an espresso and foamed milk all in a tiny espresso cup. Normally men order these in the morning.
Cappuccino – This is espresso and foamed milk in a small cup. Larger than a macchiato, but nowhere near that tall cappuccino you are used to. You won’t find a larger size.
Café Americano – Espresso with hot water. The name is from WWII when American troops would ask Italians to put hot water in the espresso.
Latte – a cup of milk – don’t order this if you want caffeine.
Café Latte – Warm, not foame milk with espresso.
Yes, there are rules.
- No cappuccino or milk-based espresso after 11 am. You can do it obviously, but it’s not really the culture.
- No cappuccino or milk-based espresso with meals. Don’t do this.
- Cheap when you stand up at the bar (1€ – 2€), expensive when you sit down. Same for everyone, not just tourists.
Rome Water Fountains
One of the best things to know about Rome is that there’s no need to buy plastic bottles of water when you get thirsty – there are tons of fountains dotted around the city, and Romans are very proud of them.
Bring a refillable water bottle, and fill it up whenever you see one. There’s an app to help you find them, called I Nasoni di Roma – if you’re going in the summer heat, you’ll find this tip invaluable!
People are always surprised that you can drink from these fountains which is crazy if you think about it. Their original purpose and reason they were built were to provide running water to each neighborhood since there was no running water in most houses. Today we forget that due to our many creature comforts and are astonished at this basic concept.
5. Credit Cards, Tipping and Communicating in Rome
Cash or Credit?
The currency in Italy is the Euro.
In general, most restaurants will allow you to pay on card, as will large shops and tourist attractions, but for drinks, coffees, transport tickets, and small items cards often aren’t accepted.
There may be a 10€ minimum on card payments.
Rule of Thumb:
Less than 10€, pay cash. More than 10€, you can probably pay credit as long as there isn’t “Solo Cash” sign in the door.
The Good News:
The Italian word for credit card is carta di credito. Any Italian shop owner will understand when you ask, “Credit Card?”. They also will know to respond, “Cash” if they don’t accept credit card. Don’t stress.
Tipping isn’t particularly expected in Italy. I’ve tried to convince visitors that you just need to leave some extra change, a euro per person regardless of check size, but it normally falls on deaf ears.
To simplify things, I have created different levels of tipping to help people understand:
Don Corleone – Leave 20% if you go back restaurant staff will celebrate your return as if you were the Godfather. You may get some sneers from other resturant goers that can’t get your waiters attention.
Super Nice – Leave 10%. Less than you are used to be far more than anyone in Italy would expect.
Roman – Leave a euro or two extra per person. Wait staff will be very happy.
Nothing at All – Leave nothing and nobody will say anything. Your food will not be poisoned upon returning.
Communicating in English or Italian
One of my favorite things to watch are travelers trying to string together Italian words into sentences from a guidebook. I have been that traveler in many countries and the worst part is when you actually make sense and the person responds to your bewilderment.
Let’s not romanticize the “key phrases” part of a guidebook here and keep it simple. The below phrases will make you look like a pro because you’ll get simple responses such as “si” or a finger pointing at the bathrooms.
Remember that C’s have a hard “ch” sound, unlike Spanish.
How much does this cost?
Il conto per favore.
Do you take credit cards?
Where is the bathroom?
Dov’è il bagno? or simply “bagno?”
Table for 2, please.
Tavolo per due, per favore.
Can you order for me?
The last recommendation is by far my favorite. If your waiter is Roman they will accept the challenge and bring some tasty food.
A key phrase is “certo” (cherto) which means “of course”. Romans use this all the time so you may hear it instead of “si”.
6. When to Travel to Rome and What to Pack
When to Travel
Part of the reason why people love Rome is the weather. It is pretty much always nice and bad weather is when it is too hot. That is a good problem to have.
The average monthly temperature in Rome spans from 37 degrees F at the low and 89 F at the high. It snows once every 10 to 50 years and people don’t know what to do when that happens. It is the greatest.
To decide when you want to travel to Rome you should form a sort of equation in your head.
How much am I willing to spend / Am I ok with cooler weather = Daily budget
- December (1st – 20th)
- Jan (7th – EOM)
- March (1st – 20th)
- March (21st – EOM)
- April (excluding 5 days on either side of Easter)
- October (can be higher in price in early Oct)
- Christmas – New Year
- Easter (5 days on either side)
What to Pack
Check out the infographic on what to pack. While this infographic is very useful, the ideal amount to pack is one change of clothes and a mostly empty suitcase. Shopping in Italy is great so the more space you can leave in your suitcase the better.
You also don’t need to pack an umbrella. As soon as it rains 100 people will appear out of nowhere selling umbrellas. It’s magical.
Also, you can’t wear heels in Rome but you can wear flats and pack heels in your purse for when you are inside bars and restaurants!
Hey, we sell tours too!
Planning a trip to Rome? We can definitely help you out with that. We offer some of the best Rome tours around with expert guides who want nothing more than to show you around.
I Want More Italy!
- If you want us to arrange the entertainment in Rome (and beyond!), contact our Trip Planning Team to coordinate an unforgettable Italian experience.
- Check out our YouTube video and step-by-step guide about how to do Rome in a Day. If you’d rather let us guide you, check out our Rome tours.
- Not sure where to stay in Rome? Read this guide!
- Follow our adventures in Italy on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Then, comment and tell us what you want us to cover next.