Keep an eye on your stuff. As in many cities, pick-pocketing is rife in Rome, especially during the peak holiday season. Keep your handbag zipped up securely and close in front of you when you’re on the Metro or near busy tourist sites (especially when taking selfies – I saw so many people with open bags hanging off their shoulder while they were busy perfecting their pout. Don’t do it!).
Watch out on the roads (and the pavements, for that matter). You’ve probably already heard that driving in Rome is a bit on the crazy side – I had, but nothing prepared me for just how crazy it was. You basically have to walk into the road and hope for the best at pedestrian crossings or the cars will just keep on driving. And don’t think you’re safe strolling along Rome’s many quaint cobbled side streets – scooters and motorbikes speed around them like they’re on a race track. It’s all part of the holiday fun, though – just keep your eyes peeled while you’re eating your gelato.
Don’t stay near Termini. Sure, the prices are reasonable and it’s close to the sights, but in all honesty it’s really not the most pleasant part of Rome, and, to me, it didn’t feel that safe after dark. Instead, stay somewhere slightly outside of the centre, but still within a walkable distance, like Trastevere (where there are lots of great – and cheap – restaurants) or near the Vatican and you’ll have a much nicer stay.
Eat away from the tourist spots. This one seems really obvious, but when I go on city breaks I’m always surprised to see people jostling to get into the expensive cafes and restaurants near the tourist sights. In Rome, tasty, reasonably priced food is easy to find, often just a few streets away from those over-priced lunch spots, so don’t settle for the first place you come to. I can recommend Osteria Delle Commari on Via Santamaura – the food isn’t the cheapest you’ll find in Rome but it’s not the most expensive either, and it’s absolutely delicious.
All gelato is not created equal. Italy is known for its gelato, and rightly so. But that does mean there are a few gelaterias selling not-so-great gelato to cash in on this reputation. Avoid gelato that is very brightly coloured or that has an overly whipped appearance – both of these things are achieved by adding nasty stuff to it.
Tipping isn’t really a big deal. Seriously. Unlike in many other European cities, the locals generally only tip generously if the service was amazing – like, Michelin-star amazing. Although we just couldn’t seem to get over our polite-Brit need to tip everyone who served us, there was no expectation that we’d leave them something, so don’t panic if you don’t have any coins to spare at the end of your meal.
Book to avoid the queues (or visit in winter). Although we didn’t see much sunshine on our January visit to Rome, the lack of queues and crowds more than made up for it. We basically strolled straight into the tourist sites that are most notorious for queues, which, aside from making the whole experience far less stressful, meant we could get up a bit later in the mornings and still fit lots into our day. Win! If you really don’t fancy a winter holiday, I can’t stress enough the importance of booking before you visit the touristy spots, as those queues will be loooong.
See some modern art. I’m not suggesting you bypass the city’s famous historic sites and see some modern art instead, but Rome has a great modern art gallery that is well worth a visit. We saw some fantastic works by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, plus an exhibition on film star Monica Vitti (although the rest of the gallery has English translations, this was in Italian so I didn’t understand what the point of it all was, but I got lots of sewing inspiration out of it!). Plus, you can stroll through the lovely Villa Borghese gardens beforehand.
Walk it. Rome is one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever visited. We only used the metro a couple of times, and even then we got off a few stops early because we fancied the walk. On our first day, we walked over 25,000 steps and saw loads of the city. Just make sure you wear comfy shoes, or your feet will hurt before you’ve even done any sightseeing.