You’ve decided to make that big jump across the pond and head over to Italy. You’ve read all the tour guides, seen plenty of vlogs and have been fantasizing for what seems like forever, and now it’s finally happening.
But if Rome is your first stop on a European adventure, or if you’ve never been to the city before, then you might be in for a surprise. Here are five things about Rome that may shock you. Knowing them might help you prepare for your trip.
1. Rome Is busy
Anyone who’s been to Rome will tell you how busy the city is, but you’re not going to understand how busy until you experience it for yourself.
Depending on when you go, not only will Rome be full of locals trying to live their daily lives, but it will be filled with tourists as well. The metro and buses, while well-connected, are quite crowded.
Europeans and Italians are going to be traveling during the summer and into the early fall months, so be sure to time your trip accordingly.
Vatican City, a tiny country within Rome, is the center of the Catholic Church’s activities. It is also is the home of the Pope, so if there is a Christian holiday coming up, you can be sure there will be throngs of worshippers, especially during Christmastime and Easter.
During these holidays, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find cheap accommodations in Rome. You might be better off delaying your trip instead of going during a holy time.
2. Pickpockets work 24/7
Professional street hustlers are everywhere.
If you want to blend in and avoid most pickpockets, you should dress as the locals do.
Italians are known for being fashionable yet understated. Clothing is always expertly tailored and often paired with gorgeous, handmade shoes (which are surprisingly reasonable to purchase in Italy).
Tone down your image and leave the digital SLR camera with the extra lens in your hotel. If you don’t feel like being fashion forward, you just have to be more aware of your surroundings than you normally might be.
Keep valuables (like your passport), at the accommodations and keep money and cell phones inside your zipped coats or under your clothing. Don’t make it easy for thieves to rip you off, duh.
Keep your head up and don’t assume someone is offering to help out of the kindness of their heart: Con artists target tourists under the guise of helpfulness, but then expect to be “paid.” Be polite, but be firm. A loud “No!” is often most effective, as they will move on to easier, less-vocal targets.
3. Accommodations are expensive
Hotels are not cheap, even when using discount websites to book them.
Fortunately, there are many alternatives to choose from. Locals will often rent out their homes through private vacation rental sites, such as AirBnB. This is a great way to save money since the locals set the rates, not hotel chains.
Another alternative is to stay at an agriturismo–accommodations that are located on a farm and typically offer B&B-like amenities. Often run by individuals who also live on the property, agriturismos allow you to experience their culture and see how they live from day to day.
When you’re looking to stay in the city, hostels are another alternative to major hotel chains. Bear in mind that many hostels cater to a younger clientele and can be busy, noisy places. Check the reviews before you book and be sure there is no age restriction.
Many hostels are run like conventional hotels; you just have to be sure the one you’re staying at caters to your particular needs.
By saving money on accommodations, you’re free to spend that extra cash on the things you want to do in Rome like eat and sightsee.
4. The food is terrible (unless you know where to look)
Unless you only want to eat pizza and panini, eating in Rome can be a terrible experience.
Most restaurants around the popular Roman tourist sites are expensive and cater to tourists that are desperate for food and willing to pay anything to get it. Don’t fall into this trap. Before you go to Rome, investigate some cheap and delicious restaurants online, and then program them into your cell phone map.
Not only will you have a guide to great eating right in your hands, but you’ll also be able to find your way around the city and explore areas you might never have gone to otherwise.
The best restaurants are where the locals also go, and they usually do not eat near touristy areas.
5. The weather can be wild
Depending on the time of year, Roman weather can vacillate wildly between extremely hot and humid and miserably cold and damp.
Check the weather forecast and plan ahead. You will need an umbrella, a sturdy rain jacket, and comfortable walking shoes.
Although public transportation is efficient in Rome, you will be doing a lot of walking, so leave the heels and dress shoes at home (unless you’re planning on a fancy dinner night).
Temperatures can fall below freezing during the winter, so make sure you pack light but warm clothing (think Merino wool that can be layered).
In the summer, the less clothing the better, but you need to be careful.
Many religious sites have specific clothing restrictions (women can’t have bare legs or shoulders in churches; men can’t be wearing shorts or go in without a shirt), so check the sites you want to visit and be sure to pack comfortable, cool clothes that also cover your body.
When in doubt, pack a scarf that can double as a shawl, or pants that convert into shorts.
Clothing is relatively inexpensive in Rome, so if you forget something at home, you can pick up what you need at one of the local shops.
Ohhh, the Memories…
Rome is an amazing city and one that will linger in your memory long after you’ve left, but it does take careful planning, especially if it’s your entry point into Italy.
When you plan, pack accordingly, and keep your head up, you’ll have a wonderful time in the eternal city.