Your plane ticket is in hand and your hotel is booked: You’re ready for Rome, right? Not so fast! Before you say “ciao,” there are a few things you’ll want to know. Here are 9 tips that will save you a lot of heartache on your trip to the Eternal City.
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Wear Sensible Shoes
We know, we know, you’re in a chic European city and you want to wear sexy shoes. Do so in Rome, however, and you may quickly come to regret the decision. A visit to Italy’s capital city includes lots of stair climbing (Spanish Steps, the Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica) and walking about the various landmarks, shops, and to restaurants, all of which is made even more challenging by the city’s ancient (and uneven) cobblestone streets.
What to Know: Wear comfortable shoes—your toes will thank you later. Sensible travel shoes need not be tacky, either.
There is a Metro, But …
Rome does have a subway system, but with only three lines it offers minimal coverage and mostly skips the city center. Times, too, aren’t very favorable, with trains running until 11:30 p.m.
As one can imagine, in an ancient city so rich with archaeological treasures, expanding the system is difficult, with many obstacles and delays primarily due to frequent subterranean discoveries.
What to Know: Familiarize yourself with Rome’s metro and be ready with transportations apps.
Getting around the city is easy enough due to the vast network of readily available taxis. And now, thanks to the taxi drivers’ union, there is an app (Apple and Android, in Italian) to compete with Uber.
Carry an Oversized Scarf
Churches, basilicas, and other places of worship have dress codes. Men must remove their headwear and women need to have their shoulders and knees covered. Note that the dress code doesn’t apply while navigating the Vatican Museum’s galleries, but does as you enter the adjacent Sistine Chapel.
What to Know: Women: Carry a shawl, oversized scarf, or any other piece of attire you can drape over your shoulders and/or wrap around your waist as a skirt. Don’t worry if you forget one as there are plenty of street vendors peddling scarfs exactly for this purpose just outside the Vatican Museum.
2016 is a Jubilee Year
Pope Francis declared 2016 to be the Holy Year of Mercy, a period of absolution of sins called a Jubilee. How does this affect your visit to Rome, you ask? Regardless of your faith, all travel to Rome will be drastically affected during the Jubilee window, which is slated to last from December 8, 2015, through November 20, 2016. Vatican City, and therefore Rome, expects to attract some 33 million pilgrims during the nearly year-long event —that’s in addition to the throngs of tourists that regularly visit the city. Twenty-five million pilgrims flocked to the city during the last Holy Year in 2000.
What to Know: For Jubilee events, check out the Jubilee of Mercy calendar of events. Tickets to papal audience ceremonies are sure to go quickly, so it’s wise to pre-book with a company that can reserve your place in the crowd.
Book Accommodations Way in Advance
Whether partaking in Jubilee events or not, anyone visiting Rome during the Holy Year will be met with larger crowds and fewer accommodations options.
What to Know: If you’re traveling to Rome during the Jubilee Year, book flights and especially accommodations much earlier than you normally would.
Lines Are Long, Yet Avoidable
Due to the 33 million pilgrims expected to descend upon Rome during the Jubilee, the entire city will be mobbed during 2016. If you have your heart set on seeing any particular site, it’s advisable that you pre-book tickets with a tour operator. Even if you’re not keen on guided tours, booking attractions tickets through a tour operator may be the best option to get you past long lines and gain entry into limited-access portions of a museum.
The highlight of a recent trip to Rome was visiting the Sistine Chapel—with less than a dozen people in the room! Viewing Michaelangelo’s masterful frescoes this way was truly special, and the privilege is only granted to those who book early-access tickets with a tour operator that has partnerships with the Vatican Museum, such as City Wonders—one of only three operators in the world with such exclusive access to the Sistine Chapel.
What to Know: Any time you can skip long admission lines, get an in-depth professional guided tour, and have access to smaller group tickets, you should jump at the chance. It’ll be worth every bit of your travel budget. The alternative is to wait in line for hours in the heat or cold, guess at the history behind what you’re admiring, and battle the crowds for a viewing spot—in the case of the Sistine Chapel, about 800 tourists crammed into an AC-less room.
The Trevi Fountain Recently Reopened After Year-Plus Closure
If dipping your toes or tossing a coin into the waters of the 18th century is on your agenda, then now is the time to visit Rome. Fresh from a $2.4-million restoration that had spouts running dry and round-the-clock workers speedily rehabilitating this marvel behind Plexiglass for 17 months, the iconic fountain reopened to much jubilation on November 3—much sooner than expected, and accelerated to be ready for the Jubilee’s inaugural ceremonies.
What to Know: Legend has it you’re guaranteed a return to Rome if you toss a coin over your shoulder and into the Trevi Fountain. Reportedly more than 2,000 euros are collected per day at the Baroque-style landmark.
Build Flexibility Into Your Activities Schedule
As can happen almost anywhere, unforeseen events often throw a wrench into even the most perfect itinerary. Unannounced and impromptu closures, however, may be more common in a place like Rome.
As I experienced during a recent trip to Rome, worker strikes can erupt at any given time, and unfortunately for me, it happened as I stood before the Coliseum with my ticket in hand. While worker stoppages don’t escalate into full-fledged street protests (much less violence), these last-minute closures often impact travelers.
Additionally, due to preparations for forthcoming major events at the Vatican City, and because of the recent refugee crisis sweeping throughout the continent, commuter trains and intra-country rails were either shuttered or severely delayed.
What to Know: Check for notifications at the website of whichever site you plan to visit that day, but more importantly, build flexibility into your schedule by padding time around activities and have a plan B ready to go.
Carry a Water Bottle
Officially known as the Eternal City, Rome could also easily be called the City of Fountains for its more than 2,000 fountains—more than any other city in the world. Thanks to the ancient aqueducts running below the city, travelers and locals alike find relief from the Mediterranean heat by getting their fill of natural spring-fed water at any piazza’s fountain spout.
What to Know: Bring an empty water bottle. I like the Hydaway Collapsible Bottle for its compactness. This BPA-free, dishwasher-safe bottle folds flat to occupy minimal space in your bag, perfect for a refill at the next piazza’s fountain.
Patricia Magaña knows she’ll return to the Eternal City because she went through the time-honored tradition of tossing in a coin into Trevi Fountain. Vicariously navigate the world with her via Twitter @PatiTravels and Instagram @PatiTravels.