Rome, as they say, was not built in a day. Nor can travelers really experience the Eternal City in a day—or even a year. Rome’s numerous and diverse neighborhoods require some time to fully explore. The best place to start? With a stroll through the city’s ancient wonders, including the Forum, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon, followed by a perusal of the food vendors at the “new” Testaccio Market--the location changed in 2012 but, this being Rome, it will always be the “new” location--and a tour of the traditional restaurants and watering holes of the Centro Storico. But no matter how brief your trip, be sure to save time for the old Jewish ghetto, the boutique and wine bar–rich Monti neighborhood, and the broad avenues leading to the Spanish Steps. And, of course, stopping for a shot of espresso and a few scoops of gelato is practically a requirement.

ROME, ITALY - MAY 05, 2015 : Unidentified people at street restaurant in Rome, Italy.

ROME, ITALY - MAY 05, 2015 : Unidentified people at street restaurant in Rome, Italy.

Photo by Boris B/Shutterstock


When’s the best time to go to Rome?

Although summer is peak tourist season, it’s also the time of year when much of city life is lived outdoors, and the warm temperatures and long days can be worth the crowds. However, if you’re looking for a less crowded experience and milder weather, the months of March, April (except for Holy Week), and October are your best bets.

How to get around Rome

From Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport—the largest in Italy—there are many ways to get to the center of the Eternal City, including by taxi. (They all charge a city-mandated flat fare of €48 for trips within the bounds of the ancient city walls.) It helps to familiarize yourself with your hotel’s location before arrival. You can also come by train; national rail connections arrive at Stazione Termini, while the privately owned Italo Train service arrives at Stazione Tiburtina.

Rome is a very walkable city and also has several public transportation options, including a limited metro system and dozens of bus lines. Taxis are readily available, but they must be caught from a taxi stand or booked by phone—it’s not customary to hail cabs in the street.

Can’t miss things to do in Rome

Don’t miss Rome’s best pizza by the slice (and, therefore, the world’s), at Pizzarium just north of the Vatican Museums. Gabriele Bonci celebrates traditional ingredients and produce, yet combines them in a modern—and delicious—way.

Food and drink to try in Rome

Italy’s 20 regions have diverse food and wine cultures shaped by climate, terrain, and conquest. In Rome, expect to find dishes driven by cured pork, Pecorino Romano DOP, and offal. Pasta is taken very seriously here, and some dishes are specific to Rome, such as tonnarelli cacio e pepe (fresh pasta with cheese and black pepper), spaghetti alla carbonara (a rich dish, sauced with raw egg, cheese, black pepper, and guanciale or pancetta), and, for the adventurous, rigatoni alla pajata (rigatoni with lamb’s intestine). When it comes to meat dishes, lamb is very popular, especially around Easter, and is often roasted, as are offal dishes such as trippa alla romana, tripe stewed with tomatoes and mint. Travelers should not miss the traditional fried artichoke dish, carciofi all giudia (Jewish style), in season from February to May. Participate in a Savoring Rome Food Tour with AFAR’s partner, Context Travel, and get a taste of the ancient city’s cuisines, from gelato to pizza and from the daily open-air markets to artisanal shops to the restaurants of the Jewish Ghetto.

Culture in Rome

Of course, Rome’s culture is heavily steeped in history and tradition, and yet the city retains a youthfulness and vivacity that makes it one of the hippest destinations in Europe. In Rome, life is lived outdoors and thoroughly enjoyed, at a human pace. The ruins of the ancient city serve as a constant reminder to live in the moment, and the Roman passion for love and life is unique. During the summer, there are special evening events in Rome’s cultural sites, such as after-hours visits to the Vatican Museums on Fridays and opera performances at the Baths of Caracalla.

Rome hosts a tremendous number of festivals throughout the year, including Settimana della Cultura (Cultural Heritage Week) in the spring, and the Cinema Festa Internazionale di Roma (Rome’s film festival) in the fall. Also of interest is the Giornate FAI, when owners of historical homes open their doors to the public.

Local travel tips for Rome

Tipping is always appreciated but never required, though many restaurants in central Rome will expect outrageous tips from American travelers. As a rule of thumb, if you were very happy with the service at a restaurant, leave a couple of euros per person; at a pizzeria one euro per person is acceptable. No tipping is necessary at cafés with table service, though it is a Roman custom to leave 10 cents per coffee when it is taken standing at the bar. There is no need to tip taxi drivers, but hotel porters expect one to two euros per piece of luggage.

Practical Information

- Americans can travel in Rome (and the rest of Italy) up to 90 days as long as your passport is valid for six months after the date you’ll depart Italy. For trips longer than 90 days, you must get an Italian visa.
- A member of the European union, Italy uses the Euro.
- Italian standard voltage runs at 220v to 230v, and uses a two- or three-prong plug.

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
In a city with well over 2,000 gelato shops, the search for Rome’s best gelato might seem like a time consuming endeavor. But thanks to a recent gelato revolution of sorts, a crop of new artisanal shops has set itself apart, shunning the all-too-common additives, emulsifiers, and thickening agents, and using 100% natural, fresh ingredients. The delicious results are some of the best gelato you’ll find in Rome-or anywhere else!
A mere three days in Rome may feel overwhelming, but with some strategic planning, you can visit many of the Eternal City’s iconic sites. Take gelato breaks between cultural destinations and rent a bike to get outside the center and enjoy the city’s public parks. The best people watching is in cafes or in squares like Piazza Navona or around Trevi Fountain. The best shopping is on the avenues leading to the Spanish Steps, a great way to get in two Rome-perfect activities in one afternoon. Art and history fans should make time for the Vatican Museums.
The precise formula for a perfect day in Rome is highly personal, but visitors hoping to make the most of a single day in the Italian capital should start with an early morning visit to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, followed by a peek inside the Pantheon on the way to the Forum and Colosseum. Rome is stunningly gorgeous at night, so use your last bit of energy to chase panoramic views and to soak in the atmosphere of the historical center’s piazzas and fountains.
Whether you are looking to self cater, picnic, or take gifts home, these gourmet food and beverage shops offer enticing delicacies from Rome, its environs, and beyond.
Though Rome is, basically, a massive open-air museum, the city does have some smaller scale (though no less impressive) self-contained museums. From the exquisite treasures at the Vatican Museums to the Caravaggio paintings at Galleria Borghese and the contemporary treasures at MAXXI, your eyes are in for a treat.
No Roman holiday would be complete without spending some time, at the very least, window shopping your way through the city. But it will be hard to stave off the urge to buy goods on some of the world’s best shopping streets. (Roads leading to the Spanish Steps tend to be lined with beautiful goods.) Rome’s shops sell exquisite delights from Italian designers, including leather bags, clothes and accessories (the eyeglasses at Ottica Spiezia will make you swoon), and much more. Of course, there are also plenty of food shops so you can bring home the tastes of Rome too.
Hand-crafted items, from jewelry to leather goods, to clothing, is everywhere you turn in Rome. Here are the best of the best.
Wine bars, craft beers, cocktail bars: Rome will quench your thirst in the most delicious of ways. Whether you choose to do your people watching at the Stravinskij Bar at the Hotel de Russie, the Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, or a spot far more relaxed, you can’t go wrong. Though Italy, of course, usually puts people in a wine mind, Rome goes big on craft beers at spots like Ma Che Siete Venuti.
In any season, gelato is a hot commodity in Rome. It’s also the perfect pick-me-up during a long day pounding the city’s centuries-old pavement. With hundreds upon hundreds of vendors, it can be difficult to sort through the crowd. So we’ve done the first-hand research to make your Roman holiday even sweeter. Here are our pairings of five historic sites with the best nearby spots for savoring one of Italy’s greatest gifts to the world: gelato.
Beautiful beaches, enchanting villages, and Papal history: what to do outside Rome.
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