First, see the Sistine Chapel.
Eat more than one gelato.
Rome, as a travel destination, is haplessly done to death. Yes, it’s gorgeous, spellbinding, romantic. It is. You have to go to Rome, at least twice. You will come home gushing about your Roman adventures. But before that happens, you want answers to your burning questions, to make that first time so smooth you’d head back for seconds.
So, here I will tell you what I know, based on my experience.
The Roma Pass – do I need it?
Simple answer, no. Unless you are the sort to visit at least five museums in a 72-hour period (meaning crazy) on top of seeing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, you don’t need the Roma Pass. Granted, this pass covers public transportation (buses and trains), you are not likely to take enough rides to justify the cost. Seeing that a one-way ticket sets you back €1.50 and allows only one metro segment within a 100-minute period, you’re better off grabbing a map and walking before you finish figuring out how to connect.
Also, it doesn’t cover to the trip to the airport – so yeah, the Roma Pass is real useless, if you ask me. AND if you are an architecture student, a student in general or a senior citizen, please check for extra discounts not related to the Roma Pass.
Can I walk around Rome? How walkable is the city?
We walked from the Vatican City to Termini after a whole day of traipsing around the Old City. It takes 45 minutes, good shoes and an uncomplaining companion. So, the answer is yes. That said, on a bloody hot summer day, it will also cost you a few gelatos.
I don’t want to walk. Give me a public transport solution that’s simple to remember.
For those who have mobility problems, or simply being lazy, the bus number 40 does the shuttle between the Vatican and Termini via the main avenue Corso Vittorio Emanuel I, turning around Piazza Venezia before going straight down Via Nazionale towards Termini. (There’s also a bus number 64 along a similar route which is slower and has more stops.)
It will bring you within 5 minutes of these popular spots (non-exhaustive):
The Vatican, Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori, Piazza Venezia, Roman Forum (the opposite far end from the Colosseum), the Termini train station, Castel Sant’Angelo
For Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese, go with the metro Line A and stop at Spagna.
I want to see the Sistine Chapel when it’s least crowded. When should I go?
Book your tickets online for the earliest slot in the day. Print them out. Take the metro Line A to Ottaviano. Armed with the printed tickets, head to the Vatican’s northernmost walls along Viale Vaticano, go past the long queues (in summer) of people who didn’t buy their tickets online and laugh at them.
Then breeze in the entrance – the doors might open before 9am which was what happened to us – and follow the RED “express route” signs to the Sistine Chapel. Don’t run please (the guards will tackle you to the ground), so just walk briskly through the long corridors of Vatican Museums.
Enjoy the chapel, peacefully for the next 20 minutes before the gates of hell (pardon the pun) open.
Where can I find the best gelato?
Everyone’s going to recommend “this place” they’ve eaten. Frankly it’s up to you to discover your own best gelato – keep eating and report back.
Here’s my take: Frigidarium (at Via del Governo Vecchio) is mobbed all four times we passed by, and the bacio (bah-cho) flavour is move-to-Rome-worthy. Antica Gelateria Del Viale in Trastevere has lovely décor and the strawberry flavour is gorgeous, and this shop seems to be standalone (since 1896!). I’d say, as for gelato chains, Old Bridge, Venchi and Hedera are fantastic – Venchi has more quirky flavours but much more pricey than the other two.
How many days do I need to see it all?
Four days is ideal for the ‘highlights’ – one day for Colosseum and the Roman Forum, one for wandering around the Old City, one for the Vatican City and one last day for Villa Borghese or any museum/archaeological site or a day trip to Ostia Antica.
Following this, most likely you will be exhausted at the end of the trip, though you’d feel fairly accomplished. If you have one week, you can take a break every other day, go to a local market, smell the roses, drink your morning coffee slowly etc.
Please don’t cram everything into the days you have. I’d say you can live two lifetimes in Rome and not be sick of it. So, bookmark the rest, toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain and come back again!
Any final reminders, important tips?
Museums – Keep in mind that many museums close on Mondays so the Colosseum will be flooded on this day. Be forewarned!
Buses – You cannot buy bus tickets on the bus. Unimaginable, I know. You have to buy them in advance at tabacchis or tobacco shops (marked by a “T”) or at metro stops. A few bus stops (I personally haven’t seen during my brief time) are supposed to have machines.
Or, just forget about the damned bus and walk. Most tourists who jump onto the bus, get bewildered/disgusted when they realise the bus driver doesn’t sell tickets and doesn’t give a monkey’s nose about their situation. That’s fine because they ride free and hop off at their destination. You can try this but when you get fined, it’s gonna be nasty.
Vatican City – If you want to meet the Pope or attend a Mass at the St Peter’s, check the dates. Tickets are free (pick-up at the door at certain timings) but if you need more than ten, you have to reserve in advance. For more information, look here: http://www.papalaudience.org/tickets
Postcards – Send your love at the Vatican Post Office. They pride themselves with their world-class service, plus the postcards and stamps have an extra ‘cool factor’!
Water fountains – Can be found in most squares, very drinkable – at least I am a living example that it is. So bring your own water bottle for a refreshing refill. There’s also one on the way down from climbing the St Peter’s Basilica.
That elusive passport stamp – It does not seem to exist. Please tell me if you found it.
With that, I leave you in the hands of the Eternal City. ♥