Complete Rome Travel Guide: A Local’s Way To Discover Rome
With thousands of years of history, Rome has a huge amount of things to do whether it’s your first time or you have already been and would like to discover more and go beyond the touristy. Known as the eternal city for some 2000 years, Rome is famous for its well-preserved archaeological sites, Renaissance art and architecture, beautiful churches, and fantastic food. Whether you should book a private Rome tour or explore the city on your own, it’s totally up to you. With this Rome travel guide, I’m aiming to give you all the tools you need to travel independently, to decide what is best to see and do within the time you have at your disposal, to get around if you have a baby or entertain your toddler, to know where to eat and how to use the public transport.
Too much information altogether? It is, but it’s all packed in a way that you have all the essential bits and pieces you need to kick off your trip planning. Of course, throughout the website, you will find everything in more detail. Planning a trip to Rome is an exciting thought but it can also be overwhelming for all the things to do and remember. We don’t leave you alone, we help you all along the way!
All you need to know before visiting Rome: The ultimate Rome travel guide
Where is Rome?
The capital of Italy since 1870, after the unification, and of the Latium region, Rome lies in the center of the country on the western coast of the “boot” lapped by the Tyrrhenian Sea. It takes an hour and a half to reach Florence by high-speed train, an hour and 15 minutes to reach Naples, three hours and 40 minutes for Milan and four hours to Venice.
What is Rome famous for?
Depending on your passions, the first thing that comes to a traveler’s mind when hearing about Rome might be the Colosseum or its hearty culinary traditions. If you are a foodie, you are already inquiring what are the most popular Roman dishes and where to eat them. If you are a history buff, you have probably already booked your ticket to the city’s archaeological parks or the Vatican Museums.
To pin down what Rome is famous for in only a paragraph is pretty challenging. Think aristocratic Renaissance palaces, narrow winding alleys, all-natural artisan gelato, the Pope, designer shopping streets, the Spanish Steps, gorgeous piazzas and fountains, ancient Basilicas and so much more.
Why is Rome called the Eternal City?
Oftentimes, Rome’s eternal city moniker is assigned to the 2nd-century emperor Hadrian who would have said: “other Romes will come, whose forms I see but dimly, but whom I shall have helped to mold. When I was visiting ancient cities, sacred but wholly dead, and without present value for the human race, I promised myself to save this Rome of mine from the petrification of a Thebes, a Babylon, or a Tyre. She would no longer be bound by her body of stone, but would compose for herself from the words State, citizenry, and republic a surer immortality. […] She would endure to the end of the last city built by man.”
However, this is not what the emperor said in reality but a passage from Marguerite Yourcenar’s famous book “Memoirs of Hadrian”. In fact, the term eternal city applied to Rome had been already in use for centuries. The first time we know Rome was referred to as the eternal city was by Latin poet Albius Tibullus (born c. 55 bc—died c. 19 bc) in his second book of elegiacs, and after that, so many have used the term that it became famous and somehow Rome’s own title, even though also other cities have been called this way, including Jerusalem and Kyoto.
When is the best time to visit Rome?
Italy has four seasons and each of them is good to visit Rome. Usually, the summer months are the hottest and count the biggest crowds of tourists lined up to enter the city’s landmarks. This is obviously because most people have their holidays in July and August, but if you can, the Springtime between April and June is probably the most pleasant to wander around, with the cold temperatures just gone and the blazing heat not yet here. When you are out sightseeing in Rome, a good amount of walking is involved, and doing it under a scorching sun can prove pretty challenging.
Fall, from September to around mid November, is also a nice time to visit Rome, even though you can expect some shower and the first post-summer thunderstorms.
What Rome airport to fly into and from?
Rome has two airports, Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport in Fiumicino and the military airport in Ciampino. Which Rome airport is closer to the city? Probably Ciampino is slightly closer to Rome, but Fiumicino is very well connected, so the transfer time is really not much of an issue when booking your flight to Rome.
Ciampino is mainly the airport used by low-cost airlines such as Ryanair, but now these land in Fiumicino, too. While Ciampino is a small airport with limited options of shops and places to eat, Fiumicino airport is huge and features all types of stores, from technology to clothes to accessories, as well as a diverse restaurant scene that really accommodates every taste and preference.
How to reach Rome from the airport?
From Fiumicino’s airport, you can train either the train (faster and slightly more expensive) and the coach (cheaper and slower). There are two different trains you can take in Fiumicino to reach Rome. Leonardo Express is the direct train to Termini, it doesn’t stop anywhere else, it reaches in half an hour and costs 14€. The regional train stops in every station, including Trastevere, Ostiense and Tiburtina, it takes 27 minutes to reach Trastevere, 31 to Ostiense, 47 to reach Tiburtina, and it costs 8€.
Coaches are cheaper and take longer as they drive through the traffic. In the GRA, the ring road around Rome, there isn’t always much traffic, but once inside the city, it can get pretty crazy depending on the hour. Single tickets are around 5€ but every company has different fares and timetables, so it’s better to check directly on their website. Some of the most popular companies are Cotral, Schiaffini and Terravision. If you are flying with Ryanair, you can purchase your Terravision ticket on board.
Ciampino is a smaller airport and it can be reached only by bus, so it takes a bit longer. The companies are also Terravision and Schiaffini. From Ciampino, you can also take Atac urban bus to reach the metro stations Anagnina
What to pack for Rome?
Italy has four seasons, so depending on when you are traveling, you will pack for Rome differently. Traveling to Rome for Christmas? Definitely pack warm clothes, an umbrella, a winter jacket, and warm shoes or boots. On the other hand, if you need to pack for Rome in summer, don’t forget your swimsuit for a nearby beach or the pool of your hotel, sunscreen, light t-shirts and shorts or light long trousers that you might need when on a tour in the Vatican.
In Rome, you can find pretty much everything, but if there are things you know you are going to need as soon as you arrive and don’t have time to look for a shop, I say pack a small version of it and then buy it in Italy when you run out.
What to wear in Rome?
There is no particular dress code in Italy, so in Rome, you can wear pretty much what you fancy and what you usually wear at home. If you are visiting the Vatican or other churches, however, you will be asked to wear modest clothes, which will mean long trousers, light if it’s summer, long skirts, and t-shirts that cover the shoulders, so no sleeveless shirts even if outside it’s stifling hot. In case you are wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, when you enter a church, it will suffice to cover your shoulders with a shawl. Inside, it’s usually pretty fresh so don’t worry about feeling too hot.
Usually, there is no dress code to go to a restaurant, pub or club, although some might prefer you to avoid flip flops, Bermuda shorts or sleeveless t-shirts for men. If there is a specific occasion where a dress code is required, organizers will make it clear, but usually a smart outfit gives you access in most places.
Where to stay in Rome?
When looking for the best area to stay in Rome, you should keep in mind the purpose of your trip. Are you coming for a sightseeing holiday? Book your hotel in central Rome or Monti area to reach all the main landmarks easily. Do you like to experience traditional Rome and lively nightlife or bars and pubs? An accommodation in Trastevere is probably your solution.
Districts like Ostiense, Garbatella, Trionfale/Monte Mario will probably have cheaper rates and are well connected to the city center, so if you are in Rome for more than three days and can take the time to use the public transport, it might be worth saving some money. While most of the best hotels in Rome are probably around the historic center, in other areas you can find cozy places to stay that can meet your budget and needs. Even some accommodation options around the Vatican contemplate some pretty nice apartments and are close to public transport and handy shops and grocery stores/markets.
Public transport or car rental in Rome?
If you decided to book your hotel room or apartment slightly away from the city center, you can either take a daily walk or, if it’s really too far from your destination, rely on Rome’s public transport system. Consisting of buses, trams, trains, and metro, the local system is quite widespread and efficient, especially when connecting to central neighborhoods.
If you prefer to drive in Rome, you need to pay attention to the large ZTL, limited traffic zone, because fines are pretty hefty. If you are only staying in Rome, probably it’s not convenient, but if you are thinking about visiting also other regions and straying far from the big cities to enjoy some countryside, renting a car is your best bet. In Rome, you can rent a hotel that is not in the city center so you won’t be entering the ZTL and you will also have the chance to find better parking if your hotel doesn’t provide one. Staying in an area that is not in the immediate city center might also increase your chance to find much cheaper Rome accommodation.
What to eat in Rome?
Roman traditional dishes are hearty and don’t make for a light meal. Pretty meat-centric, you can also find delicious fish and seafood recipes as well as delicious side dishes such as sautéed chicory with garlic and chilli pepper, (carciofi alla giudìa or alla romana) Roman-style artichokes and the fresh “puntarelle” (a very crunchy form of chicory) when in season.
If you are not a vegetarian or want to try the local dishes, you can start with some pasta options such as bucatini all’amatriciana, tonnarelli cacio e pepe, or spaghetti alla carbonara. As the main course, you will often find coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew), saltimbocca alla romana (veal cutlet topped with cured meat and sage), filetti di baccalà (dried and salted codfish pan-fried) and quinto quarto, which can be considered more of an ingredient as it’s made with the offal of a butchered beef or sheep. If you want to stay traditional but give the meat a break, you can order the delicious fettuccine ai funghi porcini (egg pasta with porcini mushrooms) or the above-mentioned tonnarelli pasta with cacio cheese and black pepper.
Where to eat in Rome?
To find a place to eat, you will definitely be spoilt for choice. Of course, we have our favorite restaurants in Rome that we’ve been to over and over again, but there are many that we are still waiting to try. Some of the places we have enjoyed many times and don’t hesitate to recommend are Felice A Testaccio near the Cestia Pyramid and the non-Catholic cemetery, Ginger Sapori e Salute in one of their restaurants either near the Pantheon or Via del Corso, Il Margutta vegetarian restaurant in Via Margutta, Trattoria Pennestri, delicious restaurant in the Ostiense area,
When I want to eat strictly plant-based, Romeow Cat Bistrot in Ostiense is my go-to and one of my very favorite vegan restaurants in Rome together with Ma Va?, also a vegan restaurant but in Prati area, a neighborhood I always like to visit and where I used to live.
If you are a fan of street food, Rome offers this too in the form of supplì, pizza by the slice and the famous Trapizzino, which you can find in a few neighborhoods including Testaccio and Trastevere. Pizza by the slice can either be a quick morning or afternoon snack or even an easy lunch on-the-go, and some of the best places for pizza in Rome include Pinsere in the Trieste neighborhood and the fantastic Pizzarium by Bonci in Prati near the Vatican Museums.
Where to find the best gelato in Rome?
Not to be confused with the fatter American cousin “ice-cream”, Italian gelato is a whole different deal. Creamy just enough and flavourful, it’s been quite a while that Romans have been demanding always more quality when it comes to their scoops. So now, when you buy your gelato in Rome, you can (and should) expect an all-natural, chemical-free, additive-free sweet goodness in many flavors from all types of fruits to nuts in the most original combinations.
I would stay clear from chains showcasing unnatural, fluffy wells of ice-cream and would really stick to the most recommended places, otherwise, you are just going to find an average industrial ice-cream that does no justice to the real product. Some of my favorites? Fatamorgana in Trastevere, Via del Corso and Prati, Fiordiluna and Otaleg in Trastevere, Gunther Gelato Italiano in Piazza Sant’Eustachio behind the Pantheon.
Where can I have the best coffee in Rome?
Coffee is something Italians rarely give up on. The smell of coffee is what defines an Italian home when everybody wakes up in the morning, so it’s only normal that you want to find the best coffee in Rome. Let’s start by saying that what Italians have is an espresso “shot” that you can order by simply asking for a “caffè”. If you are more into larger cups, you need to order an American coffee, “caffè americano”. If you order your coffee “lungo” (long), you will just get the same tiny cup with the same espresso shot a little more diluted with the addition of more water. Just as an example, I take my “caffè” simple as it is, so a single espresso. I can have a “lungo” sometimes because I know it’s still strong and velvety, but I would never be able to have American coffee.
This being said, in Rome, you can find great coffee in just about every bar, even the small one in the suburbs, where you can enter, order your coffee and have it at the counter like many Italians or at the table. If you want a longer and more enjoyable experience with different types, styles and additions, some fantastic places are Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè in the namesake Piazza Sant’Eustachio, where they roast their coffee in-house, Castroni, a fantastic deli with several shops in locations like Via Cola di Rienzo, Via Ottaviano, Via Frattina and Piazza della Balduina, and also Pergamino Caffè in Piazza Risorgimento with the view of the Vatican Walls.
What to do in Rome?
This is a million-dollar question. It’s quite impossible to answer in a single paragraph, or article, or book, for that matter. We have even written our master guide with 95+ things to do in Rome but yet, it’s not enough either as constantly new discoveries are made and old landmarks are being restored and opened to the public.
A day or even half a day touring the Vatican is a must whether you are religious or not. Getting lost in the maze of alleys of the historic center eventually stopping to enjoy immortal masterpieces like the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, or Saint Louis of the French if you wish to view some Caravaggio paintings. Book a tour to the Colosseum that usually includes also the Roman Forum to explore some of the most important and well-kept archaeological ruins, or stroll around Trastevere for a taste of gentrified former working-class vibe.
It’s not your first time in Rome and don’t want to spend your day in the city center? Venture to some of the most fascinating hidden gems or lesser-visited neighborhoods like Ostiense to know more about Rome’s industrial archaeology or street art. Are you a foodie? Embark on a themed itinerary and explore the city through its top local restaurants.
What can I do in Rome with my kids?
Plenty of things! First of all, there is hardly any kid who doesn’t want to feel gladiator for a day, so the Colosseum is a great starting point to introduce Rome to your children. Rome has also beautiful parks where your kids can run free, play in the devoted playgrounds, see the local wildlife and as well as the beautiful fountains, sculptures and lakes that are pretty much in every park in Rome. For kids of all ages up to around 12 years old, close to Piazzale Flaminio and Piazza del Popolo is Explora, the museum where children can play and engage in plenty of interactive games.
Apart from the activities specifically organized for kids, you can ask your hotel if they know of any kids-friendly and family tours and just take your children to see Rome’s attractions, and buy them plenty of gelato and pastries!
What to do in Rome for free?
One of my most favorite things to do in Rome consists of wandering around the historical streets of its neighborhoods, so it’s obviously free and really what I suggest anyone does for a first, insightful introduction to the city. Among the most famous landmarks you can visit for free in Rome are the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica and all the other churches, including the important Saint Paul Outside the Walls, San Giovanni in Laterano, San Pietro in Vincoli, Santa Maria Maggiore and the two Trastevere basilicas Santa Maria and Santa Cecilia.
Visiting Rome’s parks is also free and doesn’t only involve a stroll in the green. Rome’s urban gardens are historical places because they all were former residences of local noble families, so inside, you can visit palaces, museums, themed gardens, lakes as well as see local wildlife and a variety of plant species. Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphilj, Villa Ada and Villa Torlonia were all aristocratic residences, with Villa Ada being the residence of the Savoy royal family and Villa Torlonia where Benito Mussolini used to live.
But this is really only the tip of the iceberg because every neighborhood in Rome has its own personality and the free things to do in Rome are potentially never-ending!
What if I come to Rome with my baby?
I’d say to pack wisely and pick the right hotel in the right neighborhood! While these are essential steps, exploring Rome with a baby does require some attention. First of all, if you are traveling with a stroller, you need to be careful because Rome’s streets are often connected with staircases and not all metro and train stations have (functioning) elevators, so you might have to carry your stroller up and down the stairs. This is why, if your baby is small enough, a baby carrier is probably the best solution.
Also, food-wise, many restaurants in Rome serve dishes that your smaller ones can eat, but not all, so probably you might want to carry some prepared food on a thermos. Obviously, this is possible only if you have rented an apartment rather than a hotel and can make your own food, otherwise, you should prefer the baby-friendly restaurants that we have tried and tested.
Should I book a guided tour of Rome or explore it independently?
As I mentioned at the very beginning of this guide, this is entirely up to you. Some of the questions you should ask yourself when deciding are: Do I have enough time to explore everything on my own? Will I be able to explore the place deeply and thoroughly by myself? Will I be able to find lesser-known local restaurants without booking a Rome food tour with a local guide?
Booking a tour has many advantages, skipping long lines being one of the main ones. But it also gives you the chance to dig deeper into the local culture and lifestyle, as well as finding the best restaurants and dishes to try.
However, while joining a tour might be more insightful, it can also be more expensive than traveling on your own. If you are an independent traveler, you can choose cheaper hotels, eat street food on the go, skip some landmarks that require an entrance fee, do more walking around the neighborhoods rather than entering museums and other sites, and enjoy the many free things you can do in the city. Rome is pretty easy to navigate, so if you are traveling on a budget, you can still love your trip.
Where to go shopping in Rome?
Rome is packed with all types of shops and stores, it all depends on what type of shopping you need to do. For food and grocery shopping, I would suggest heading to one of its beautiful local markets, while if you are looking for clothes, shoes and accessories, there is no better place than famous shopping streets like Via del Corso, Via Cola di Rienzo and the very exclusive Via dei Condotti and surrounding alleys.
Another cool place for shopping in Rome is the Designer Outlet Castel Romano McArthurGlen, a large pedestrian area built like a proper village of outlet stores of the biggest brands. If you have the time and are serious about shopping, you can spend there the whole day as there are a few restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as clean restrooms and toilets well-equipped also with baby changing units. Among the 150 brands you can find for a fraction of the original price are Roberto Cavalli, Moschino, Nike, Falconeri, Burberry, Coccinelle, Ermenegildo Zegna, Samsonite, Calvin Klein, as well as homeware names like Bialetti and Caleffi. This outlet village is located south of Rome quite far from the city center, so to reach, you will have to rent a car or take a taxi.
Cool day trips from Rome
While Rome is a bottomless resource of things to see, do and experience, a day out of the city is a great alternative to the hustle. There are many day trips you can take from Rome, each of them exploring a place with their own personality and beauty. Some of the trips that I suggest are to Ostia Antica, the ruins of an ancient Roman city archaeologists are still digging and making new discoveries, to Tivoli to see the two UNESCO heritage sites Villa of Hadrian and Villa d’Este, to Bracciano medieval town famous for its large lake, to the beautiful Viterbo, ancient papal city, and to the scenic Castel Gandolfo.