Planning ahead to make the best of a vacation to Italy's capital
Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire world. Its natural beauty, historical significance, and amazing food make the city worthy of any traveler’s bucket list.
My first trip to Rome was an excursion from our incredible Mediterranean adventure with Carnival Cruise Lines. I liken the experience to that of a first grader experiencing Disney for the first time—stimulation overload! To assist my fellow travelers in making the most of their experience, I put together a few tips for first-time travelers to Rome.
- Comfortable shoes. Exploring Rome will require a significant amount of walking so it’s probably not a good idea to try to break in a brand new pair of shoes. There’s no point in looking great if you’re feeling miserable.
- Sunscreen. Even though you’re not at the beach, you’ll want to pack sunscreen. Rome is the city of romance so don’t let sunburn ruin your romantic moments.
- Umbrella. It always pays to be prepared for rain, and it also is nice to have your own portable shade.
- Toilet paper. It’s not that they don’t have toilet paper in Rome—they do. The problem: Most of the local T.P. is the consistency of the colorful tissue paper you’d use to put in a gift bag. Europeans claim that Americans are spoiled. When it comes to toilet paper, I am guilty as charged.
- Camera. You’re going to Rome, of course you’ll want to be able to capture some pictures of the Colosseum and other iconic sights. While you’re at it, you may want to make sure you have a few extra data cards and batteries, just in case you need them.
There are plenty of places where you can exchange currency in Rome, but the exchange rates are pretty steep, particularly around the more popular tourist attractions. It’s best to do a little research and exchange your currency before leaving home.
Also, be sure you have some coins. Pay toilets are the norm throughout Europe so unless you have a really strong bladder, it’s a good idea to keep some Euro coins with you as you explore the city.
- Metro. Rome’s Metro public transportation system is an inexpensive way to get around town. It can be quite crowded at times, so study the system map to make sure you getting on the right train and getting off at the right stop.
- Taxi. Taxis are the quickest way to get from one destination to another in Rome. Unfortunately, they also are the most expensive. If you do take a taxi, get dining suggestions from the cab driver. Locals always know best.
- Hop-On, Hop-Off Buses. The double-decker, hop-on, hop-off buses are a fun way to get around town, as most routes pass by every major tourist attraction. Purchase a pass for however many days you’re planning on being in the city and you can use the buses as many times as you like. Headphones are provided so that you can listen to a guided tour in several different languages.
- On Foot. Walking is always my favorite way to explore a city. It is the best strategy to immerse yourself into local culture and experience what a city is really like.
How to dress
For the most part, casual attire is the norm in Rome. Of course if you’re going to a fancy restaurant or an Italian Opera you’ll want to dress accordingly. Be aware that the dress code in the Vatican and churches is strictly enforced—no short skirts, exposed shoulders, plunging necklines, or clothing that might say or depict anything offensive.
Lines can be long for some of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome, so if there are particular spots you’d like to visit, be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time whenever possible. Some of the attractions that sell tickets in advance (or accept reservations) include the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Borghese Gallery. Who wants to spend precious vacation hours waiting in line?
Dining in Rome is an experience you’ll want to savor—literally and figuratively. Expect service to be at a leisurely pace. You can find equally satisfying food at much lower prices away from the main tourist attractions.
Most restaurants charge a “sitting fee” if you are dining in. Waiters will bring you tantalizing bread, olive oil and bruschetta, but unlike the tortilla chips served at your favorite Mexican restaurant, these appetizers will show up on your bill even though you did not order them. Waiters are not in a hurry to “turn the tables” and will not bring your bill until you ask for it.
I don’t normally give advice on souvenirs because I rarely purchase them. But in a small gift shop near the Vatican, I purchased a “Popener,” a bottle opener bearing the likeness of the Pope. I was hoping that it might turn a bottle of soda into wine. It did not. Still, everybody to whom I showed it wanted one. For only two Euros, you can’t go wrong with a “Popener.”
Eating gelato in Rome should be on everyone’s bucket list. An Italian friend advised me to select a gelateria based on the color of its pistachio gelato. In most places it is bright green, but pistachio gelato made with fresh, natural ingredients is always light brownish-green in color. Consider this your inside scoop.
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