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 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.
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.
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 newly launched, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.