Planning a trip to Rome - how to get the most out of your visit

Planning a Trip to Rome – 7 Tips for a Better Experience

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I’m just back from a weekend in Rome. My head is still spinning from all the impressions, my legs are sore and, despite of walking more than 46km (29 miles) in three days, I’m afraid I gained a few pounds… I want to share some advice for a more enjoyable travel experience in the Eternal City and give you some useful tips on how to get the most out of your time in Rome. From where and when to go, to where to eat and where to stay, to what shoes to wear – find out all you need to know when planning a trip to Rome so that you can get the most out of your visit and truly enjoy it.

Rome is a beautiful city. One of the most impressive cities in the world, actually. I often refer to it as the city-museum because it feels as if you are walking through a huge museum. Every street, every church, every building breaths history. It’s a city like no other and one everyone should visit, at least once in their lifetime.

Unfortunately, it feels as if everyone is actually visiting Rome at the same time as you are… Rome is crowded. It’s certainly the case for the main tourist sights. Visiting the Trevi fountain in the middle of the day is really no fun. It’s so busy that it makes many other popular destinations look like a rather quiet experience…

Trevi fountain is better visited in the evening - read about common mistakes tourists make in Rome and how to avoid them

Trevi fountain during the day

Despite the crowds, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Rome. Find out…

Tips for planning a trip to Rome – how to get the most out of your visit

If you are traveling to Rome, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you want to see. The Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican… You will quickly realise that you are not the only one. There are huge crowds at each of the most famous landmarks. It’s so busy that it’s difficult to truly appreciate the beauty of the place and enjoy it.

1. Skip some must-see places or get ‘skip the line’ tickets

If you are like most tourists, you have just two or three days in Rome and want to see it all. Do you really want to spend 75% of your time queuing at the most famous landmarks and completely miss out on the more authentic travel experience? If you don’t, then you should consider skipping some ‘must-see’ places or book ‘skip the line’ tickets. Spend your time getting to know the city and don’t follow the crowds.

  • Skip the lines at Colosseum or don’t go inside at all. Don’t skip Colosseum completely, just don’t spend the whole day in order to see the inside. Are the ruins of Colosseum’s basements really worth 3-4 hours to you or are you ok with just seeing the exterior of the building and spending the extra time exploring the less known places? Skip the line tickets might cost you a few extra euro’s, but considering how much your trip costs, it’s really worth spending that tiny bit extra and get more out of your time in Rome.
Colosseum in Rome

Colosseum is more impressive from the outside

 

  • Skip the lines at the Vatican Museums or plan your visit at quieter times. Do you really want to spend 4 hours in a queue at the Vatican museums in order to spend 2 minutes inside the Sistine Chapel to see the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo? I understand that you want  to see the Vatican museums, they are worth it, but try to at least plan your visit in such a way that you spend more time at the museums and not waiting to get in.

Going very early in the morning or on the less busy days can be a good option. I would consider paying more for the ‘skip the line’ tours. After all, your trip to Rome is not cheap and it would be a complete waste of money to spend all your time waiting in lines… So better pay a little bit more and make the most of your trip.

2. Outsmart the crowds

  • Go to the Vatican late in the afternoon. We tried the Vatican in the morning, but all the streets leading to it were so crowded that we quickly gave up and turned towards Trastevere instead. We came back at around 6 PM and were inside St. Peter’s Basilica in less than 10 minutes (security check included)! By the way, the entrance to the Basilica is free and, unless you really need a guide and are interested to hear lots of historical facts, I see no reason to pay for the guided tours for this part of the Vatican. You do need a ticket to go up to the top of the Dome. In that case you may want to get these priority tickets in advance.
St. Peter's square the Vatican is less crowded in the evening

Vatican is quieter in the evening

 

  • Visit the Pantheon half an hour before the closing time. Pantheon is also extremely crowded, but we managed to see it completely empty by visiting it right before it closed. You have to make sure you are not too late as they don’t let people in just before the closing time, but once inside you can stay till it closes and everyone leaves. Great experience!
Empty Pantheon just before closing

The only time you can see the Pantheon empty is at the closing time.

 

  • The Spanish Steps are probably best visited very early in the morning or late at night.
  • Go to the Trevi Fountain late in the evening. It will still be busy – it always is – but it’s nothing compared to the crowds during the day. I wonder if Trevi Fountain is ever quiet; I suspect it might be at night, 3-5 AM would be my best guess, but I was too tired to actually find out if it’s the case.
Trevi fountain at night in red in memory of the persecuted Christian martyrs

Trevi Fountain at night – it was not only quieter than during the day, but we also got to see the famous fountain in red – in memory of the persecuted Christian martyrs

 

  • Skip the busiest museums (=save lots of time). If you like art, consider some of the less busy places, like e.g. the art gallery at Villa Borghese (has to be booked in advance) or visit some of the churches and admire some of the most amazing pieces of art for free and without the crowds.

 

3. Discover the less known parts of Rome

I have shared some great suggestions for the off-the-beaten-path, different places to see in Rome in one of my previous posts.

If I could give one general advice on how to avoid the crowds in Rome, it would be to go in the opposite direction of where most of the people go! Take a side street, look around, enter a narrow passage, try the closed door of the church… We visited a couple of amazing places just meters away from the main streets where – literally- thousands of people were passing by focused on their main goal and completely ignorant to all the rest.

Basilica Santi Cosma e damiano in Rome

Basilica Santi Cosma e damiano is just on the main road to Colosseum, yet only a handful of people came in…

 

4. Avoid tourist restaurants

A big part of any Italian trip experience is related to the food. Food in Italy can be absolutely delicious, but don’t just assume it will be everywhere you go. If I can give one piece of advice it would be to avoid tourist places. Eat where locals eat! Here you can read more about how to find the best food in Rome.

5. Stay in the city centre – close to Piazza Navona

If your budget allows, try to find a place in the old city centre, in the area close to Piazza Navona and the PantheonYou can find the best deals for Central Rome accommodation here. That way you do not need to use public transport and can discover most of  central Rome on foot. If you want to see some other areas, renting a bike or joining a guided bike tour can be a very good option – read further.

6. Rent a bike to get more out of your time in Rome

The old city centre of Rome is pretty compact and you can easily walk to the main sights such as Piazza Navona, Pantheon, The Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Even the Vatican and the Colosseum are within walking distance from the city centre. But if you want to explore more of Rome and discover some of the less known hidden gems of the city you may want to consider renting a bike or joining one of the guided bike tours. You can cover big distances in less time and get more out of your time in the city.

7. Visit Rome in shoulder season

Most travel guides will probably tell you that spring and early autumn is the best period and they are absolutely right. I think that May and September are the best months weather-wise, but it’s extremely busy in that period. On the other hand, you really want to avoid Rome (or any other cities in Italy for that matter) in summer.

We visited Rome the first weekend of May and with temperatures of just 18-22°C it was pleasant most of the time and sometimes it even felt too warm. I cannot even try to imagine how hot it feels there in July or August when temperatures rise above 35-38°C (around 100°F)…

Visiting during the cooler months might be advisable for those wanting to avoid the crowds and save some money on accommodation. My best bet would be the ‘shoulder season’ – end of March – beginning of April (but avoid Easter!) and October.

Extra tip: wear comfortable shoes in Rome

Don’t underestimate the importance of good footwear when visiting a city and especially Rome. The distances in Rome are very big and you will be walking a lot. If your feet are hurting you will not be able to enjoy the sights much, are you? At a certain moment we realised that we could tell what shoes people were wearing just by looking at the expression on their face. People who seemed to be enjoying themselves were also the ones with the most comfortable footwear.

Forget about all the ‘Italy is about looking stylish’ advice and pack comfortable shoes. OK, I don’t really like wearing sports shoes in the city and it’s not really done a lot in Europe, but given the choice I would go for the old Nikes instead of some sandals with a thin sole… Also, there are so many fashionable comfortable shoes available that you don’t even need to sacrifice comfort for style.

And one last piece of advice. Don’t plan every minute of your day in advance – allow yourself some time to explore the places along the way. Look around you and you will be amazed to see how many hidden treasures you will find in Rome: most beautiful churches, wonderful architecture, secret alleys and little squares… All you have to do is keep your eyes open and your mind flexible. Enjoy!

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How to get the most out of your trip to Rome - 7 tips for a better experience. #Rome #Italy #travel #tips

7 tips how to get the most out of your trip to Rome

 

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Comments

  1. Hi I am thinking of going to Rome and maybe a few other places in Italy , my husband and I both have trouble walking and have small scooters ! How scooter friendly is it over there? Great info on your blog !

    1. Author

      Hi Karen, it really depends on a place, but in general, European cities (especially old towns) aren’t that easy to navigate for people with mobility issues. There will always be towns and landmarks that are better equipped for that than others, but it’s really hard for me to answer this as your question is so general.
      I think that in any case, you have to be prepared for cobbled stones and crowds, so it’s already a challenge to navigate. As for specific landmarks, you’d have to check information on the official websites to see how accessible they are.
      It won’t always be easy, but if you are determined to make it work, everything is possible I suppose.
      All the best!

  2. Would I be ok if I go to Rome alone? Planning to go there this November. for about 5 days/4 nights.

    1. Author

      Hi Daisy, I don’t see why not. Just – as anywhere else in the world – be cautious and use common sense. Maybe not the best idea to walk around at night alone (as in any other big city), but for the rest, why not. I think pickpockets is something you really have to be cautious about, but once again – it counts for everyone and everywhere.
      Also – don’t know your age or the looks, but Italian men are usually quite flirty. Usually it’s very innocent and they might whistle or call you ‘beautiful’ and similar – it’s more a cultural thing I suppose. My experience shows that it’s best to ignore it if that happens (not that it happens a lot).
      Rome is amazing, you’ll love it.

  3. Hi, nice post!
    I have been to Italy and Rome several times and I want to recommend to spend some time in Cinecittà, which is the Italian “Hollywood” if you love the italian cinema! There is a museum with two permanent exhibitions and a guided tour (1h) in French and English every day, including the weekend.
    My kids loved that, the tour included outdoor sets, warehouses for scenographic elements and a lot more!

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing this, Roberto. Never heard of it before.

  4. Hi,
    I’m planning to visit Rome in August. I saw that you mentioned that you went to the Vatican at 6pm. On their site, it says the last entry time is 4pm, and closing time is 6pm. Would you then recommend that we go at 3pm? or 4pm? Do you recommend going to their Friday night hours?

    Thanks,
    Jonelle

    1. Author

      Hi Jonelle, if you want to visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, then yes, indeed, better go there at least a few hours before the closing time. It always takes longer than you think it would. Just make sure to get skip the line tickets in advance. I see now that those Sistine Chapel skip the line tickets only have a few times that you can choose, and 1PM is the latest one. Very strange.
      You can also get skip-the-line tickets for St. Peter Basilica and there you can choose 3-5PM entrance slot.
      There are also many guided tours that visit Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica and I see that the last ones start ar 2.30-2.45pm, so I assume that’s about the time you need in order to see it all before closing.
      We went there in the evening and just walked inside the St. Peter’s basilica without a long wait. But we had been to the Sistine Chapel and also on top of the Dome before, so this last trip in Rome, we chose not to visit those places again. Whereas if you go there for the first time, I guess you may want to see the Sistine Chapel as well.
      Suggestion. If I was to visit Vatican for the first time, I think I’d start with the Vatican first thing in the morning – get the 8AM tickets (either guided tour or just do your own thing). It won’t be half as busy as in the afternoon at 2-3PM I think. I’m not sure if it makes any difference which day you visit – it’s always very busy, so going just as it opens or just before it closes is the only way to have it somewhat less crowded.

  5. I am going to Rome with my partner next week. I am so glad i found this article on google! it has helped a lot with planning & packing. I have already booked a few tours but not planned my days to the second which was my original plan & i have now decided to wear my Nike running trainers instead of my sandals i won’t even be taking them. Thank you so much for the insight & great links just made me 10000x more excited to go.

    1. Author

      Hi Alex, glad you found this guide helpful. Yes, I think it’s wise to go with comfy sneakers rather than sandals (also the weather forecast for next week isn’t really summerly).
      I was just in London last week and walked over 10 miles (16km) each day. Was very happy with my sneakers, even though I obviously looked like a tourist between all those bankers in their suits. My friend had fancier-looking shoes and got blisters after the first day. She also switched to light sneakers after that…
      Everyone travels different, obviously, but if you travel for sightseeing, comfortable shoes are an absolute must for city trips. You always walk more than you think you will.
      Have a wonderful trip!

  6. Great article!! All of these tips are very useful!
    I agree that it’s very important to buy tickets in advance so that you don’t spend your time waiting in line!

    1. Author

      It sure is, Sofia! You don’t want to spend all your time waiting in lines instead of sightseeing.
      Happy travels!

  7. Nice post! So I just got back from Italy/Rome and I went the end of November and came back early December. This was the absolute best time to avoid crowds. I honestly did not have any issues when it comes to crowds at any of the locations listed, the only downfall of course was the weather. I did end up layering up a lot which helped. If you don’t mind the cold and bringing layers of clothes, this was the perfect time to visit and avoid crowds!

    1. Author

      Sounds like you had a great time in Rome! I absolutely agree with you – November to February are probably the quietest months to travel to Italy and perfect to avoid the crowds. I was just in Milan and Lake Como a few weeks ago and had a great time. No people at all, ideal for sightseeing.

  8. Hi Jurga – I have been overwhelmed in my trip planning for Rome, until I came across your blog! Sooo helpful and concise. Links are so very helpful as well. My husband and I are planning to visit our daughter who will be studying abroad starting in January and she will be there until right before Easter. We are planning to fly out on February 9 and return home on the 17th. I have been doing research and putting together a google docs (I’m a visual person and I need to have my thoughts organized!) Your blog is exactly what i needed! If you have any other tips, advice, or recommendations, I would really appreciate it! Still working on a place to stay and our flight – it’s all so overwhelming!

    Melanie Dilworth

    1. Author

      Hi Melanie, thank you so much for such kind feedback. It always makes my day when I get comments like this 🙂
      Do I understand it right, you’ll be in Rome for 8 days? I think that’s a really nice time to see the city and the museums. In general, I think 3-4 days is enough for the highlights. The extra days will give you the chance to take it all easy and visit the main landmarks thoroughly. Since it’s low season I’d definitely advice to visit the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, also the Colosseum. All these places are crowded if you’d come any other time of the year.
      Please also check this small guide for some less known places to visit in Rome.
      Also, 8 days is quite a lot in Rome, so you could easily consider a day trip or two and see a bit more of Italy. There are other bigger cities like Florence that you can reach by train. Alternatively, you can also consider an organised day trip, e.g. Florence and Pisa day trip, Amalfi Coast and Pompeii or Naples and Pompeii.
      As for tips for accommodation, my favourite area to stay in Rome is close to Piazza Navona – Pantheon. It’s lively with lots of restaurants nearby and all the main landmarks in the city are within walking distance. When we visit Rome, we always stay there. There are lots of hotels, b&b’s, apartments in that area, so you can find accommodation for any budget.
      Hope this helps. Enjoy your trip!

      1. Hi again! So we are actually staying at a hotel right near the Trevi fountain. My husband was doing research a few weeks ago and found a bundle through Travelocity that includes our airfare/hotel/travel insurance and shuttle to and from the airport. It looks like a pretty central location to many of the things we wish to see. One of the things that really intimidates me is trying to figure out transportation to anywhere that may be too far to walk (like Trastavere, for example). We are also considering taking a visit to Venice but I know it’s a bit far.from Rome. Do you think it is worth our while to take the trip to Venice or just focus on the many things that are closer to Rome and in Rome? Another question – I have a Canon DSLR that I love to use but it can be a bit cumbersome to carry around. We were thinking of just buying a smaller, point and shoot camera for the trip but I’m really not sure. If I bring my “big” camera, I need a different camera bag that can basically double as a day bag/purse, etc.. I would love any thoughts you have on this!

        1. Author

          Hi Melanie, yes Trevi fountain area is quite central. You’ll be fine. Just expect it to be VERY busy, especially if you are, as you say, just next to Trevi.
          As for transportation, we usually walk everywhere in Rome. It’s indeed a lot of walking, but you get to see so many amazing places. You can take a taxi or Uber to places as well, or use public transport. I personally never used metro in Rome, but my mom used it several times and never had any issues. You can find metro map and more info here.
          Another nice option is to rent a bike or join a biking tour.
          As for Venice, I think it’s indeed too far, so I wouldn’t do it as a day trip. Florence is feasible, also Amalfi Coast, and some other places.
          In regards to the camera, it’s the same dilemma I have as well. I usually take my big Canon DSLR on every single trip, but it’s indeed very big and not ideal for city trips. If you rather invest into something smaller, I recommend checking this selection of The Best Point-and-Shoot Cameras .

  9. Hi there.
    Our travel agent has us flying into Rome first week of May next year for 2-3 days. After that we basically have two & half weeks to see the Amalfi coast, Tuscany and Cinque Terre which is amazing but i was wondering what you’re recomendations would be : First destination from Rome would be? We are not sure if we should go straight from Rome to the Amalfi coast or Rome to Florence and then go straight to Cinque Terre. and then go back down to Amalfi Coast. Never been. So you’re suggestions would be appreciated.
    Look forward to hearing from you.
    Thank you

    1. Author

      Hi Catherine, I honestly don’t think it matters that much where you go first. All these are amazing places and well worth visiting.
      Not sure if you saw it, but we have quite some blog posts about Tuscany, Cinque Terre, and also suggested Amalfi Coast itinerary. You can find all of them on our Italy destination guide.
      If you like some beach time at the end of the trip then maybe leave Amalfi coast for at the end of the trip, but for the rest it really doesn’t matter.
      Have a great trip! You’ll fall in love with Italy.

  10. Great article! Thank you. I’m currently planning a trip to Rome in the spring. My husband has been there, but I never have. We are fortunate enough to have about 3 weeks to spend there. We are thinking about spending a day or two in Firenze, where he used to live. I also love art. Any suggestions on what to see?

    Thank you

    Tammy

    1. Author

      Hi Tammy, if you have 3 weeks, you can see so much more than just Rome or Florence. I’d say take 3-4 days for Rome, maybe 1-2 days in Florence, but don’t limit your visit to these two places.
      Why not visit the Amalfi Coast for a couple of days, or the most beautiful towns of Tuscany (not just Florence), also the countryside there is so beautiful. From there head towards the coast where you can visit Cinque Terre and Portovenere, as well as some other beautiful little towns of Italian Riviera. If you still have more time, you could drive up towards the Lakes – Garda Lake area is stunning.
      There is so much to see in Italy, it’s easy to fill your itinerary with the most amazing places. Hope this helps.

  11. Rome is home to me a lot of beautiful impressions, I will remember a week’s memories here with my love

  12. Thanks very much for all information on Rome, I am on a cruise only there for one day!!!

    1. Author

      Just one day in Rome! That’s a tough choice on where to go and what to see I imagine… Don’t try to do it all or you’ll be overwhelmed. I’d just take a really nice long walk and ‘visit’ all the highlights without going inside to any of the places where you need to queue. If there is any such place that you really want to see, make sure to get Skip The Line tickets in advance. A day in Rome will be over so quickly. Enjoy it!

  13. Hi Jurga! Planning trip tips that you make and share are very interesting and beneficial for my family. Because next month I’m with family planning to vacation in Rome. I like your content. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. It makes planning our trip easier.

    1. Author

      Good to hear that Clara. Enjoy your trip to Rome!

  14. I am keen to do a trip to Rome, and around later this year. Could you send me a link to the itinerary for your incredible trips?

    1. Author

      Hi Hank, it’s a bit difficult for me to give you any suggestions for an itinerary if I don’t know how long you are staying on what your interests are. Make sure to visit all the main sights like Pantheon, Colosseum, Piazza Navona, Roman Forum, St. Peter’s and the Sistin Chapel, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps,… Please also check this post for some hidden gems of Rome.
      Hope this helps a bit. Visiting Rome for the first time can be a bit overwhelming, so don’t try to squeeze too much in too little time, or you’ll spend all your time walking from one thing to another and queuing. Make sure you leave some time for unexpected discoveries, enjoy a gelato, maybe take a cooking class or a bike tour – travel slower and you’ll enjoy your trip more!

  15. Thank you so much. Headed to Rome in August. Very good advice.

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