Earlier this year in January, to get rid of the post-Christmas blues, I decided to take a few days off work and travel to Rome with my sisters. It was my first trip to Rome and I remember feeling overwhelmed trying to plan the trip when there was so much to see and do! Of course I’m sure many of you will be dealing with the same dilemma, so here are ten things I wish someone had told me before I went:
1. It is impossible to see the whole of Rome in one trip
Rome wasn’t built in day, and you won’t be able to experience it all in a day either. Or even three. So my first tip is to plan, plan, and plan again. And then prioritise. Whether it’s the sites of Ancient Rome high on your agenda, or exploring the modern city vibe, make the most of your time by having an idea of what you want to see, and where those places are, so you can create a seamless itinerary. A lot of modern travel can be a “wander and see” type of deal, but trust me, planning your Rome trip will be worth it!
2. Visit Rome in January
Visiting Rome in January is a perfect time to explore the city without the sweltering heat. There will still be queues for the main cultural attractions, but it isn’t as busy as the peak summer season and you shouldn’t have any problems waiting for a table in restaurants either. The only downside is the unpredictability of the weather. While snow is almost never seen in Rome, the temperature does drop and we experienced a whole afternoon of torrential rain. The next day, however, was clear blue skies with warm sun! My advice would be to pack for all weathers – and keep your fingers crossed.
Another advantage of visiting Rome in January, especially if you like shopping, is the sales. Go on, treat yourself to Italian designer clothing at a bargain price – you know you want to!
3. Buses and trains are cheap!
Almost all trips start with the dreaded airport to city trip, where you’re faced with hustling taxi drivers and overpriced shuttles the moment you step into arrivals. Rome is no exception. Quick tip: We flew into Ciampino GB Patine International Airport and the cheapest way to travel into Rome city centre was by bus straight to Rome Termini (the main station). You could also get a shuttle bus to Anagnina (€1.20) and then catch the metro to Rome Termini (€1.50). There isn’t a train station directly at Ciampino Airport, so other than getting a taxi, these will be the best options. Buses leave periodically from just outside the airport, but you may find you are waiting a long time for one to arrive and leave. Bear this in mind if you choose to get back to the airport in this way, we were waiting a long time for the shuttle bus after the scheduled arrival time in Anagnina. Luckily we had given ourselves plenty of time to get back to the airport. I suggest doing the same, and splurging the taxi money you save on a few extra wines at dinner!
4. Use the metro for convenience
The metro is also the best, and cheapest, way for travelling around the centre of Rome. With only two lines, A and B, it is extremely easy to navigate. The entrances to the metro, however, are sometimes difficult to spot; the station outside the Spanish Steps is fairly hidden and just looks like a few steps down to nowhere, disappearing from the path. Nothing a clued up traveller like you can’t handle, though!
5. The queues for the Vatican City are long
Very long. Therefore, I would recommend pre-booking your tickets or booking onto a tour. Tours are a great option if you want to learn about the history and the artwork – they last about 3 hours and you will have time at the end to wander around on your own. If you prefer to take your own time, a tour is probably not for you, however you will miss out on the snippets of information a local tour guide can provide that might not be mentioned elsewhere. A good example: Before entering the Sistine Chapel, we spent around 20 minutes or so learning about the history of the ceiling artwork, painted by Michelangelo, and what the art depicted. As you’re not allowed to talk or take photos in the Sistine Chapel, this was incredibly useful.
6. Pre-book tickets for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palantine Hill
With a pre-booked ticket, you can fast-track the queues and be able to see these three ancient sites in your own time. It is also possible to book a tour, however we found this tour moved a little too quickly and the guide didn’t add much more information than we could have found ourselves from the displays available. You’ll need to give yourself 2-3 hours to experience these popular sites as there is a lot to see, and some hills to walk up!
7. Drink from the water fountains
Keep an eye out for the numerous water fountains dotted around the city, and feel free to help yourself – it’s free! Either fill up your water bottle or hold your finger over the spout so it comes out at the top to drink. Simple. A great way to save a few bucks, plus it is ice cold – perfect after all the walking you will be doing. Which brings me to my next point…
8. There is a lot of walking!
Even when you’re using the metro to get as close as you can to the cultural sites, you will still spend a lot of time walking. So start your step counter and watch as you’ll soon hit 10,000 steps, and no doubt much more! Of course with all the pasta you’ll be eating, that could be a good thing.
9. Appreciate what you see. Take photos.
With having a tight schedule and trying to fit everything into the time you have in Rome, it can begin to feel like you aren’t appreciating the moment, but rather thinking about where you need to be next, how tired you are or how much your feet ache.
Pause. Stop for a minute and appreciate all of the wonderful things Rome has to offer and how important the history is. So many amazing things happened in this great city. Take a moment to imagine it all. Take a lot of photos. It’s what travel is all about.
With everything there is to do in Rome, it isn’t so much of a relaxing break. And you wouldn’t want it to be – especially if it is your first time visiting. And while you’re immersing yourself in the historical culture, don’t forget to also experience the local cuisine, because you know what they say; when in Rome…
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