Rome- the eternal city, the ending point of so many pilgrimages and one of the must-see places in Europe. Outstanding history and the abundance of attractions lure the tourists from around the world. However, as much as the value of admiring the ruins and ancient architecture is hard to overrate, the contemporary Rome can easily make your heart beat faster not only for the good reasons.
The Italian „order”- omnipresent lack of information
The old saying says, „When in Rome act as the Romans do”, but trust me, it can be hard. When a tourist comes to the new city, any city, he usually has limited amount of time to see what he can. Therefore, I think you’ll agree with me, some good information flow would be highly desired everywhere you go, especially in a foreign country.
That’s how it should work, to make the tourist’s life easier, but be prepared that it doesn’t necessarily happen in Rome. Before coming here, make sure you do a very good research of what can be purchased where and what the tickets include, as the rules here can change fast. We had 2 examples, one of which shocked even a tour guide who lives and works in Rome on a daily basis.
Visiting the St. Peter’s basilica is one of the most common activities in Rome. And while entering the inside of the church is free, you can also decide to go up the cupola for a small price (6/8 euro, depending whether you take stairs or elevator). Everywhere in the internet you’ll find the information that entrance to the cupola is outside of the basilica and that there’s another queue to wait in. So we did visit the St. Peters’ basilica and intended to go up to enjoy the view the following day. We have arrived to the square, found the second queue and entrance, and surprise-surprise, nowhere to buy the tickets except INSIDE of the church! So in order to get to the top, you have to wait a couple of hours again or… you can always buy a „skip the line ticket’ from one of the vendors for at least 15 euro to go buy another ticket… As I’ve mentioned, we’ve been inside of the basilica the day before and there was absolutely no sign of the ticket office or „biglieteria” inside. You probably have to ask for it or go to the sacristy- honestly, no idea where. The sad thing is that this has just changed and even a tour guide from Rome was a 100% convinced that you can buy a ticket directly in the line. Not really a nice surprise: you either wait a couple of hours again, spend 15 euro per person extra for something that you’ve already seen or just skip the attraction…
Another place to be cautions is the Colosseum. To avoid the lines, you can buy tickets online in advance, which is really great. What you don’t know is that the entrance fee doesn’t cover all the sightseeing you might want to make. So, we bought the tickets, wondered around the Colosseum for over an hour and wanted to get to the 2 floor. To our first surprise, it’s only available for the guided tours. Ok, so skip that… Then we thought that we could enter the arena, as it’s renovated and would probably give you a real thrill. Another surprise, it’s also available only for the guided tours. The third area also closed to the general public are the basements and the cells of the gladiators. Everything would be ok and fair, really, if there was any information beforehand anywhere that you should buy the extended tickets if you want to see everything. Sure, there is an option of a guided tour, as anywhere else in Rome, but you have no idea that without it you won’t be allowed inside these areas, which are honestly the most interesting. After having spent an hour or 2 visiting the place by yourself, you then spend another hour or two doing exactly the same with a tour guide, while waiting to see the interesting part. If we knew how it looks like, we would have bought a tour guide to begin with and not waste twice as much time for visiting.
Incredible crowds during weekends and high season!
We were lucky enough to have arrived to Rome on Wednesday. We bought tickets for the Vatican museum for and visited the Colosseum the same day. Quite honestly, I was even surprised that there were not that many people outside, as we were warned about the incredible crowds and hours and hours of waiting in lines.
We were lucky… Doing all the major attractions during the week, we had some time to wander around the city on Saturday and Sunday. And that was a shock! Even though we came to Rome way before the main season starts (in March!!!), what we saw before the St. Peter’s Basilica is hard to describe. When we entered the cathedral, we had to wait in maybe 20 meter queue and still for all the security reasons it took us over an hour, so I really don’t want to imagine how much time those poor people waited in front of the basilica, as the line was a couple of hundred meters long!
On Sunday, we passed by the Colosseum and it was slightly better, but generally a similar story.
So take it deep into your heart, unless you like to stand a couple of hours waiting: Buy ticket in advance and as much as you can stay out of Vatican and Colosseum during the week-end.
Prepare for the high prices in the center
We’re not extremely budget-savvy. And, honestly, we’re not even trying to be. I’ve visited many expensive countries and capital cities- Paris, London., Norway, and we’ve been in Italy twice over the last 6 months. However, when you stay in the center of Rome expect to pay almost twice as much as in other, also tourist, parts of the country (e.g. Taormina, Sicily, which is considered to be extremely expensive for Italy).
A piece of not the highest quality pizza- 5 euro, a sandwich- 5 euro, these were the prices I paid in Nice during the summer, when we went from Liguria to Cote d’Azur for a short visit. Apparently, the center of Rome is expensive even for the Italians!
When you wish to eat out in Rome, one of the best options near the city center is go to the Trastevere, a district still almost in the city center, but with much more of the local feeling, flavors and, most importantly, prices. To our surprise, we paid here 5 euro for 3 slices of pizza instead of 1! And it was delicious.
Also the prices in the supermarkets significantly vary here. So, as much as you can, stay out of the city center while buying food, otherwise you’ll just be paying for the not really best tourist restaurants.
Beware of delays
I’ve been working with the Italians for a long time now, and cannot deny that „Italian” is a state of mind 😉 Even my friends at work, supposedly under a lot of pressure, have a very specific approach to time. So expect delays… Everywhere, every time… Just take your time and try not to get angry about it.
You can encounter it absolutely everywhere, so make sure you take it into account when you hurry, for instance, for a plane. In our case, the express train from Termini station took off almost 20 minutes in delay and for the first 20 km drove in a pace of a turtle for no apparent reason, which means that we got to the airport 40 minutes later that the official time of arrival. I’m so used to this that we still came much earlier, but if you expect everything to work with „German precision”- I assure you, it won’t!
Be careful about the typical tourist scams and pickpocketing!
As in all tourist destinations, there are a few general warnings that should be made and, in this case, Rome is no different.
First, it’s honestly hard to walk through an area close to one of the major attractions, without being stopped at least 10 times by people trying to sell you something. And while selling selfie-sticks to tourists seems ok, the other part of that business definitely is not! There were two major scams we came across here. The first one we have already seen in Athens: a guy, usually black, approaches you and asks: „how are you mate?” or „where are you from? Africa?” gives you high five and immediately puts a bracelet on your wrist. Once he does it, you have to buy it as you’ve already worn it. And there’s not much way out of it. The second is similar, but this time performed by different nations. A guy approaches a girl and hands her a rose, a tulip or any other flower. Girls, don’t take it! He’ll probably say, you’ll get it for free. Eventually, your boyfriend/husband or you will have to pay for this!
We’ve seen a family, where two women were handed in flowers and put on the bracelets in the same time. And trust me- the head of this family wasn’t happy!
Even if you’re well aware of these procedures, it’s annoying, as it makes it impossible to sit quietly and enjoy your time, as you get disturbed every 2 minutes!
Another thing, don’t allow anyone do any photos of you next to the tourist attractions, like the Trevi Fountain or the Colosseum. You’ll have to pay for it not accordingly to the quality of the photo you get.
And last but not least: mind your personal belongings. As in all crowded and tourists places, Rome is a paradise to pickpockets. You find them absolutely everywhere, from the tourist lines in front of the attractions, the underground, to the Vatican museum. We’ve heard of a lot of people being robbed of their personal belongings, so please be careful. One of the most common things to be stolen here are the cameras, and trust me, the thieves are skilled, so be careful there.
Toilettes in Rome- good luck with that!
Prepare yourself for a very interesting game: find the toilette. There are so many attractions, shops, gelatterias, cafes, and restaurants… namely everything in Rome. Except from this tiny little detail: there are no public toilettes. So before coming either devote yourself to some Kegel muscle exercise routine level expert, or prepare a good evacuation plan just in case. Our best idea was: locate Mc Donald’s (which is not that easy, as they are not really well marked in Rome), as apart from the crappy food, they offer TOILETTES! And trust me… after a day of walking, eating drinking and standing in lines, you begin to like that brand 😉
Although this may sound as a way to discourage you to visit one of the most famous cities in Europe, it was not our intention. Some of these points were already easy to find in the internet, some were not. We believe that knowing what to expect will save you an unpleasant surprise and make you avoid disappointment.