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20 travel tips every first-time Rome visitor should follow

Whether you are a Roman novice or expert, these travel trips for Rome should be followed at all times

Anna Rahmanan
Livia Hengel
Written by
Anna Rahmanan
Livia Hengel

Rome is a huge, sprawling, fantastic beast of a city. Bowls of cacio e pepe, plates of sautéed greens, huge open squares perfect for people watching, and huge, beautiful churches make it a vast metropolis, perfect for exploring (and eating). Once you’ve seen it in the flesh once, you’ll want to come back again and again. But to do that, you’re going to need to learn its rules. 

From what time to order coffee to what days you can get into museums for free, there are a ton of tips and tricks out there to help you get the most out of your time in the big city. Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up 20 essential tips for your time in Rome – the kind of tips that only a local can know. We’re here to save you money and stop you embarrassing yourself. Here’s everything a first timer in Rome should know. 

📍 The best things to do in Rome 
🍝 The best restaurants in Rome
🏛️ Unmissable attractions in Rome
🛍️ Where to go shopping in Rome
🏨 The best hotels in Rome

Planning your next trip? Check out our latest travel guides, written by local experts.

Rome travel tips

Order coffee at the bar
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Order coffee at the bar

You might notice people in Rome tend to order an espresso and drink it standing up, before even leaving the bar. That’s the way things are done. Italians don’t order coffee from the table and have it brought to them, and in fact, that’ll likely slap you with service charge and almost double your bill. Do as the Romans do, and neck that espresso before you go anywhere. 

Don’t order a cappuccino after noon
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Don’t order a cappuccino after noon

Have you guessed the Italians are quite particular about their coffee yet? Coffee etiquette actually makes up a fair few of the biggest culinary crimes you can commit in the capital. This one? Don’t you dare order a cappuccino after noon. Cappuccinos are thought of as heavy drinks more suitable for breakfast, and paired with a cornetto. If you’re craving one in the afternoon, order a caffè macchiato instead. 

…But gelato is acceptable any time, any season
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Derek Key

3. …But gelato is acceptable any time, any season

Great news for gelato lovers. You can order one of these bad boys anywhere, anytime. Before lunch, after lunch, whatever you desire. The gelato world is your oyster in Rome, and their flavours change seasonally, so you’ll never get bored. Think ciccolato fondente (dark chocolate), pistacchio and mandorla (almonds). Delicious. 

Buy bus tickets ahead of time
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/linssimato

4. Buy bus tickets ahead of time

Rome’s public transportation leaves much to be desired, but if you need to take a bus in the city centre, stock up on bus tickets ahead of time because you can’t buy them on the bus. You can buy tickets at any tabaccheria in the city, little convenient shops that are designated with a large T. Tickets are €1.50 each, or opt for a 24-hour, 48-hour or weekly ticket for a discounted price. Tickets are valid for all forms of public transportation in Rome (bus, metro, tram and local train).

Take your bus ticket straight to the beach
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Arnaud 25

5. Take your bus ticket straight to the beach

Speaking of public transportation, your €1.50 ticket is also valid on the local commuter trains in Rome, including a line that goes straight to the beach. You can catch a train at the Piramide Metro Station that will take you directly to Ostia Lido, Rome’s local beach. Although it’s not the most glamorous beach near Rome, Ostia is perfect for an inexpensive day trip, with some sunshine and fresh seafood.

Free museums on first Sundays
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/David Blackwell

6. Free museums on first Sundays

Rome’s state-owned museums, galleries, archaeological sites, parks and gardens are free on the first Sunday of each month, so be sure to drop by and soak in some art if you’re in town these days. Lines quickly form outside the main attractions, so plan to show up early or visit a lesser-known destination (warning: you’ll still need to pay a fee to browse through special exhibitions).

Buy Vatican tickets online to skip the line
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Buy Vatican tickets online to skip the line

Housing one of the world’s greatest collections, the Vatican Museums are one of Italy’s most popular attractions, visited by over 5 million people annually. Though you’ll inevitably face a crowd, you can skip the long lines by purchasing your museum tickets on the Vatican website. The extra Euros for booking online are well worth the time you’ll save by not waiting in line.

Note museum closures

8. Note museum closures

Many of Rome’s city and state-owned museums, like Galleria Borghese and Palazzo Barberini, are closed on Mondays, so plan your schedule accordingly. The Vatican Museums are closed on Sundays instead, so they’re very crowded on Saturdays and Mondays; if you can, try to visit Tuesday through Friday.

Watch your bags
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Watch your bags

Always be mindful of your bags on public transportation and around key tourist attractions. The city is safe, but petty crime is rampant, especially on crowded buses and metros. Thieves in Rome are stealthy, so always keep your bags zipped and held in front of you; wallets should ideally be tucked in your inner jacket pockets. Some thieves also snatch bags, so keep them in close reach at all times.

Always carry cash
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Images Money

10. Always carry cash

Italy still largely functions on a cash economy, so be sure to carry cash with you during your time in Rome. Coins, or spicci, are especially welcome at cafés small shops so hold on to your Euros – they’re a precious commodity here. Most stores and large restaurants will process cards, but restaurants don’t traditionally split the bill so cash is always useful to have, especially if you’re travelling with a group. The pandemic has brought about a bit of a change on this front, but cash is always handy. 

Tipping is not obligatory, but it’s appreciated
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Paul Rysz

11. Tipping is not obligatory, but it’s appreciated

Tipping has not traditionally been part of the Italian culture, as service charge is generally included in the bill as the coperto (cover) or breadbasket, but leaving a few extra coins at the table is often appreciated. Depending on the final price of your meal, the level of service you received and the number of people in your party, you can leave anywhere from 5-10% on the table.

Dinner starts late
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Wine Dharma

12. Dinner starts late

Drinking and dining are important rituals in Italy, and meals start later than normal (and last longer) than in other countries. In the evenings, Italians usually meet friends or colleagues for an aperitivo around 7pm, which consists of a drink and some light snacks, before going to dinner around 8-9pm. On the weekends, it’s not uncommon to arrive at a restaurant around 10pm.

Relish the simplicity of Italian cooking
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Relish the simplicity of Italian cooking

Italian food is beloved throughout the world for its simple, nutritious and delicious ingredients, but you may feel like something is missing. There are no fancy condiments at the table, no complicated sauces and few foreign ingredients. In Italy, simplicity reigns supreme, so enjoy your meal the way it was meant to be tasted: without asking for alterations or extra ingredients.

If you need vegetables, look under the “contorni” portion of the menu
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/C. Shen

14. If you need vegetables, look under the “contorni” portion of the menu

With pizza, pasta and pastries around every corner, Italy is a veritable carb-lover’s paradise. But, sometimes, you need a break from starchy foods. Italians are masters at preparing vegetables, too, so get your fix of sautéed greens and braised Roman artichokes under the “contorni” (or side dish) portion of the menu, which is usually listed in the back. Although large mixed salads haven’t caught on in the city, you can order a few side dishes at once if you’re trying to eat healthily.

Order house wine
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jing

15. Order house wine

Local house wine is one of the greatest things about dining out in Rome and across Italy. Not only is it extremely affordable, but it’s also usually quite decent. House wine is available in red or white, and you can usually order a quarter, a half or full litre of wine for under €10.

Dress modestly in church
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Dress modestly in church

Rome has over 900 churches that house some of the city’s most beautiful works of art, so don’t miss stepping inside to marvel at their treasures, whether you’re devout or not. Just be sure to dress appropriately to enter these holy spaces: women’s shoulders should be covered, and skirts should hit at or below the knee, while men should wear pants or shorts that extend to the knees. Linen pants are a great option for the summer, and a scarf is a perfect last-minute cover-up if you’re wearing a tank top.

Greet owners in small shops
Photograph: Shutterstock

17. Greet owners in small shops

There are many family-run artisan workshops and small boutiques in Rome, and you’ll often find the owner manning the cashier as you peruse the store. In Italy, it’s customary to greet the owner when you enter and leave the shop. When you enter, you can say “Buongiorno” until lunchtime and “Buona sera” in the afternoon and evening; when you leave, you should say “arrivederci.”

Wear comfortable shoes
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Cameron Photo

18. Wear comfortable shoes

One of the most charming aspects of Rome’s urban typography is its cobblestone streets, but uneven stones can take a toll on your feet. Pack a couple of pairs of comfortable walking shoes so you can avoid pain or injury. If you bring heels, skip the stilettos, which can get caught between the cobblestone grooves.

Don’t count on WiFi
Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Don’t count on WiFi

The internet is spotty around Rome, and even hotels, cafés and restaurants that advertise free WiFi can’t always guarantee coverage. Consider signing up for an international plan while in the city or bringing a portable hotspot with you if you need it to get around or for work. This is changing, but progress is slow.

Enjoy free-flowing water
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Bud Ellison

20. Enjoy free-flowing water

Rome may be famous for its monumental fountains like the Trevi Fountain and the Fountain of the Four Rivers, but the city is also filled with drinking fountains everywhere you look. These small fountains are affectionately called “nasoni,” or little noses, because of their curved shape. They deliver free-flowing water, gratis, so save your empty water bottles and fill them up all around town.

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