1. Book your Vatican tour in advance – way in advance if it’s important to you. Our super early in the morning Pristine Sistine tour with Walks of Italy got us into the Sistine Chapel with only about 100 other people, which was so much more special than our previous visit when the Chapel was so busy we could barely move. The tour starts by beelining it straight to the Chapel & then working your way through the Vatican Museums at a slower pace, ending in St. Peter’s.
2. Stay off the beaten path. Our stay at the D.O.M. Hotel was down a quiet, non-touristy street, but within easy walking distance to everything.
3. Reservations at Hostaria Romana are a must. This chaotic, loud Roman institution is as authentic as it gets: no one speaks English, the tables are super close together & it’ll be the best meal you’ve ever had.
4. The Monti District is home to winding side streets & tasty local eateries.
5. A stroll along the Tiber River at night can be as romantic as strolling through Venice.
6. Rome’s subway is basically useless for tourists (it’s not near anything), so pack your walking shoes.
7. A food tour is a great way to beat jet lag on your first day in Rome & the Testaccio Supper Stroll is the perfect way to explore a new neighborhood, along with cocktails.
8. Finding non-touristy places to eat in Vatican City can be challenging. Yelp (or in our case, an English speaking seminarian from Chicago) can be helpful in finding a solid lunch place.
9. Piazza Novena is the perfect place to people watch & munch on a gelato. Make sure to pop into the breathtaking church, St. Agnes.
10. A guided tour of the Roman Forum is extremely helpful in covering the large site. Most tours end inside, leaving you time to explore on your own. Our combo Walks of Italy Colosseum/Roman Forum tour was unexpectedly enjoyable.
11. If the line is out the door at the Pantheon, stop by at another time. We walked in on a Thursday afternoon with no line. The oldest building in Rome is definitely worth seeing.
12. Celebrating a special occasion? The view from Aroma is absolutely stunning & the tasting menu is artfully prepared.
13. You’d be hard pressed to convince me to visit the Spanish Steps again. They’re steps. And a lot of people. And not much else.
14. Interested in attending Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica? Get there at least an hour early to get through security & line up inside the massive church to get a seat.
15. The Colosseum recently opened a section of the fifth level. If visiting it is important, make sure it’s included in the tour you book (ours does not).
16. Rule of thumb for finding good food off the beaten path: walk five minutes away from the touristy thing. Turn off the main road onto a side street. Turn onto another side street. Find perfect local place to eat.
17. Looking for authentic gelato? Keep an eye out for geloterias that serve pistachio gelato that isn’t bright green (it means they’re using real pistachios & not food dye) & gelato that isn’t piled sky high (too much air in their recipe).
18. Taxis cannot be hailed on the street, like in the U.S. Look for taxi stands at major squares & tourist attractions or ask your hotel or restaurant to call for one.
19. The National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II offers a lovely view across the Roman cityscape.
20. Like much of Italy, Romans enjoy aperitivo & a late dinner. The only people who eat dinner before 8pm are the tourists.
21. In addition to the ticketed Papal Audience every Wednesday, the Pope delivers the Angelus Blessing every Sunday at noon. Tens of thousands of pilgrims, Catholics & curious tourists gather in St. Peter’s Square starting about 30 minutes beforehand. Regardless of where you stand, if you can see the window with the little banner (the Papal Apartment), you’ll be able to see the Pope (who will basically look like a white dot). The Angelus is delivered in Latin & Italian.
22. Depending on what time your flight arrives, the express train which runs every 30 minutes from the airport to the main train stations might be faster than a taxi. We sat in quite a bit of weekday morning traffic on the highway from the airport into Rome.
23. Have some Euros on hand: while all restaurants took credit cards, many preferred cash (especially for small purchases like gelato).
24. Climbing St. Peter’s Dome means stunning views of the city. But even if you purchase the more expensive elevator option (€8 vs €6), you still have to climb about 200 stairs up to the cupola (hernia optional). If you’re mobility challenged, the views just off the elevator on the roof are still nice & there’s a small gift shop & cafe.
25. Italians don’t do “to go” coffee. Pop into an espresso bar & stand at the counter while you down a coffee in a few sips.
26. Do not get a rental car in Rome – parking is terrible & driving within the city center is extremely limited.
27. It’s true: the Trastevere neighborhood has great restaurants & a different vibe than the rest of Rome. I regret that we weren’t able to eat there.
28. Many hotels include breakfast. If yours doesn’t, or you want something different, stop by a grocery store to pick up provisions. They seemed to be on every corner.
29. If you need to pay for your taxi with credit card, make sure to confirm they take it before hopping in – some do, some don’t.
30. Looking for authentic pizza? Real pizzerias won’t serve individual pies at lunch time because they don’t turn their ovens on until dinner. If you’re in the mood for pizza for lunch, look for slices.
31. Like in much of Italy, a little bit of Italian goes a long way. A well placed “Ciao!” & a smile will get you far as a visitor in Italy’s Eternal City.