It’s summer! WooHoo!! My little girl wrapped up the 2nd grade this week, and we could not be more pumped for sweet summertime. The arrival of summer means my company becomes very mobile. Because my daughter and her friends will literally live in our backyard pool, I spend more time parked on my patio with my Mac on a laptop cooler than I do in my actual home office. Want to know what I’m working on? A lot of trips to Rome!
Paris. London. Rome. These are the single most requested cities for my European itineraries. Fun fact: the most easily screwed up cities on DIY European itineraries are…you guessed it…Paris. London. Rome. If you’re planning a trip to one of these great European cities, I definitely don’t want you to be one of the Americans screwing it up! I’ve decided to share with you some of my best expert “tricks of the trade” — the ones my clients know they don’t even have to worry about. Today is all about some easy-to-use travel hacks for brilliantly chaotic Rome! And yes, in case you’re wondering, you can expect to see London and Paris hacks in the very near future ;).
A Note on Planning Ahead:
There are plenty of places in Europe that lend themselves well to those tourists who like to fly by the seat of their pants. Rome, I must say, is not one of them. The city is chaotic, bizarre, and—for the tourists who converge upon it in summer—hot. Unlike, let’s say, Paris, which is brilliant for its meandering neighborhoods and winding walks, the best of Rome are her sights. There are no happy accidents in Rome (though Hollywood may lead you to believe otherwise). Please don’t take this as a negative outlook. Rome is wonderful, but you must have a plan if you’re to enjoy it.
I always say you should plan ahead. You don’t have to plan for everything, but you should plan for anything important. Doing so will almost always save you time, money, frustration, and arguments with travel companions. Some sights require advance reservations (Villa Borghese, for example), and many others will waste your entire day if you haven’t purchased an advance ticket (Vatican).
You probably already know the must-see sights: St. Peter’s Basillica, the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. If you want to do them all in one ambitious day + evening, you can, but stretching it to two is better. Two days allow you two critical Roman pleasures: lingering over a long lunch and air-conditioned afternoon siestas.
For the traveler with a little longer visit, I would add to these well-known sights, the exquisite Borghese Gallery and gardens, the Spanish Steps, Trajan’s Market, Baths of Diocletian, the Jewish Ghetto, and the Appian Way. Another favorite of mine is San Clemente church with its 3 layers of history evident in the foundation. There are also numerous side-trips you can take…but those would be a whole other article!
—>Side note: because everyone who comes to Italy wants to see the Sistine Chapel, I am including Vatican City in the discussion of Rome.
If at all possible, plan to be in Rome on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday. Generally, all sights are open throughout the day and you have a lot more flexibility in your planning. Saturdays are fine too, but far more crowded. Sunday is the worst day to be in Rome. Many of the important sights are either (a) closed or (b) open, free, and not taking reservations—which makes for a time-suck maelstrom.
Best Bets on Tickets and Lines:
Don’t wait in a line when you don’t have to! Basically every sight will have a security line. Your bags will be inspected and may even have to be checked, so the less you carry, the better.
Since there’s no getting out of security lines, let’s focus on minimizing other waits. I alwaysalwaysalways buy tickets online, at my home, in the air conditioning. This is such a no-brainer, y’all. If, however, you just don’t want to make it that easy on yourself, you need to buy a Combo Ticket for the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill (these are considered one sight) at Palatine Hill. That’s where you’ll find the shortest line. Follow me? Don’t buy your combo ticket at the Colosseum! That’s the worst thing you can do, okay! You don’t have to see all 3 places in one day. The other hack is to buy a Roma Pass and use the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine Hill as your “free sight.”
The better option is to book a tour with a private guide (your driver is not your guide) that includes admission. I do this for the ancient sights and the Vatican/St. Peter’s. Why? It is convenient, faster, and the experience will be about 10,000 times better with a knowledgable guide leading the way!! This option is more affordable than you might think and well worth it!
And Finally…Don’t You Dare:
- Rent a car. Just don’t.
- Show up at the Vatican (or any church in Italy) with your shoulders and/or knees exposed.
- Get into an unmarked taxi.
- Assume that little children aren’t trying to scam you.
- Miss the street market/art display/singles party/people-watching mecca that is a Roman Piazza (pick a piazza, any piazza—Navona is my favorite) at night.
- Forget to hydrate. Bring a refillable water bottle with you everyday. There are plenty of places to fill it up for free which is really nice considering it is like walking on the sun there.
- Use a spoon with your spaghetti.
- Miss the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon at night.
- Expect Rome to be something it isn’t. If you want languid days, gentle people, and wine overlooking the hillside, you should stick to Tuscany or Cinque Terre, for you won’t find this kind of Italy in Roma.
So there you have my can’t miss tips for your Roman holiday! Of course, these are really only scratching the surface. There are so many critical features to a fabulous European vacation. If you need help figuring them out, I’m here to help.