12 tips and insights for Rome

Rome is a fantastic city.  You will love this city for the history and ancient ruins.  There are close to 3,000 years of architecture, art and culture to experience.  It’s a sprawling city so it’s a good idea to have a plan to cover the top sights on your itinerary.  We recently went to Rome for several days this summer and here are a few tips and insights:

  1. It is VERY hot there in the summer. When we were there in August it was 100 degrees for the days we were there.  So a couple tips.  Go early and late to avoid crowds and to avoid the heat.  We did this and it worked for us.  We would take a break mid-day at hotel and cool off in the air con or dive in somewhere for a beverage and a bite.
  2. Bring hats and sunscreen or plan to buy. Both Bruce and I wound up buying hats.  He bought a ball cap and I bought a “Panama Hat” that we wore almost the whole time.  I gave my Panama Hat to the receptionist at our last Hotel because I didn’t want to haul it home and she was ecstatic to have it and I was equally happy to not haul it home in the overhead compartment.
  3. Have Euro cause some places don’t take cash. Hotels we stayed at across Italy wanted cash for the daily tax upon checkout.  Some vendors only took cash though others took credit cards. Was hit and miss.
  4. Go early and/or late to the sights you want to see. For us, in Rome, we saw:  Vatican/St Peter’s Basilica and Museums for Vatican and Sistine Chapel, Colosseum and Trevi Fountain.  Everything else we saw on the hop on hop off.
  5. We wanted to be central to the Vatican so we were staying right across the street (booked two days before on Kayak) at a 4-star hotel. Very modern and super convenient for us to the sights.  We went at 8:30 and went straight in.  It was great to have the church while the temperature was cool and very few people there.  The security for the Vatican/St Peter’s Basilica only has 2 or 3 lanes open at any one time so if you go later in the day the lines will stretch for a long way as security becomes a bottleneck.   The Vatican/St Peters is free.  You cannot buy a ticket and you cannot ‘skip the line’ so ignore people who try to tell you otherwise.  The desk where you rent audio is immediately inside.  It took us around 90 minutes to go through and it was worth it.  Fabulous history, 2,000 years of art and sculpture collection.  Very ornate.
  6. For the Vatican Museum/Sistine chapel buy your tickets online ahead of time because you can skip the line and the crowds are thick. Try to go early in the day or towards closing.  You will be given a time on your ticket so if you book early enough you can make a choice there.  Wear a dress with cap sleeves and or top/skirt though something that isn’t too short. They will make women wear a scarf around bare shoulders and around shorts/skirts that are too short. Men can wear shorts.  They say this tour takes 3-4 hours.  My view otherwise. We preferred to breeze through hitting highlights which for me were Egyptian section, Cartography/Maps (saw a few maps where America wasn’t even on the map – cool huh), Tapestry, and of course the Sistine Chapel.  They rest we lightly viewed and cruised through.  Though because of the crowds it did take almost 2 hours from start to finish.    Worth it.
  7. For the Colosseum we went at 5pm. They close around 6 and stop letting people in however they don’t ask people to leave until an hour before sunset.  We were able to get some really great pics wandering around and there were very few people.  For us 90 minutes was plenty of time there.  It’s worth seeing.
  8. When you are given the choice to have audio or not on a tour chose audio. In my opinion the experience WITH the audio is so much better otherwise you don’t know what you’re looking at.   For instance, we stopped in Pompeii on the way to Sorrento/Isle of Capri.  Fascinating story (many already know) a volcano took out the whole city burying the entire town in 20 feet of volcanic ash. So it’s basically a gigantic archeological site.   However, when we arrived it was hotter than Africa so we decided to just do a quick walk through.  Interesting that a lot of rock stars have performed there.  For example, Pink Floyd at Pompeii turns out the ancient amphitheater has terrific sound.  Anyhow back to my point…. We didn’t get a lot out of the tour because a) it was too hot and b) it’s a lot of ruins and c) we had no audio.  So we walked around to get the jest of it and then I googled and wiki’d the rest of it to fill in the blanks.  Take your own ear plugs into the sights so you can plug into the audio.
  9. If you decide to ride the hop on hop off it’s a great way to see the whole city using the audio to understand what it is you’re looking at and to stay out of the heat (sort of – we didn’t see any bus tours that had air con but you could see if this exists). There are tours with Red Bus (best tour in my opinion), Blue Bus (City tour covers less area than Red), yellow bus (Christian tour to Christian sights only), also Pink, Green and every other color.  I’ve done the RED and BLUE and would recommend the RED.  Tickets are available in many locations just ask for the RED bus hop on hop off. Buy your ticket directly from the bus.  There are vendors everywhere pimping tickets.  Just get on the bus and pay.   The buses come around every 15 minutes so it’s super convenient.  Many of the Red buses have a cover over the upper deck which is great to shield the sun/heat OR you can ride underneath.
  10. The Trevi fountain is an easy stop and fun to throw a coin in and move on. Turns out they collect $3,500 a day here.  Not bad huh?  We stopped for a beer near there as well.  A number of little pubs are in this area and nice to pop in and out of.
  11. It’s inexpensive to take Taxi’s around Rome. We did a combo of Taxi’s and Hop on Hop Off.  When we arrived we taxied to the places that weren’t in the Vatican neighborhood (i.e. Colosseum) and the rest (i.e. Trevi Fountain) we did off the hop on hop off because it was convenient.
  12. We had several really good restaurant experiences however the best was at a restaurant that was referred to us by a friendly young couple from Vermont called “Assunta Madre” and I would highly recommend you have dinner here. We did not have a reservation and that wasn’t a problem, however, if you feel more comfortable then make one. There is indoor seating and an outdoor covered patio.    It’s in a random neighborhood and when you walk in there is a picture board that has Robert Dinero, Morgan Freeman, Elton John a bunch of other stars and they all looked trashed.  Definitely one of the best meals we had in Rome.  Great Food and fantastic wine list.  I had a lemon pasta fish dish that was fantastic and Bruce had a fabulous gnocci. We shared a wonderful bottle of Italian red wine.  Yes to this place!

 Tell me below which tip you found most helpful.  Also if you have your own tips/insights to Rome mention below.


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