Fondly called the "Eternal City," Rome is the capital of Italy, as well as the former capital of the vast Roman Empire that conquered lands from Britain to Mesopotamia. It is also in Rome where we find Vatican City, the smallest independent state and the seat of the Catholic faith. As a city that has witnessed the passing of time, Rome is known for its bustling modernity while keeping pride of their imperial past.
The saying "Rome wasn’t built on a day" is an understatement. With so many temples, piazza, basilicas, palaces, museums, ruins, fountains, churches, clubs, and restaurants to visit-and did we mention the Vatican?-traveling in Rome without any guide to get you through the day would be daunting.
It is best to visit during spring and autumn
Rome’s main tourist season begins at Easter and continues until October, with peak periods between spring and autumn. It is in this time the tour buses pour in and the tourists are herded around like cattle.
Rome in summertime
Meanwhile, the locals leave the city during summer and head for the beaches and mountains, making Rome with very light traffic and less-crowded city centers. However, you have to bear the intense heat so try to hit the sights early, take a long lunch and nap, then head out again by 6:00 p.m. to take advantage of the cooler evening. Take note that some restaurants and shops close for the month of August.
Visit the popular sites conveniently
Rome is a vast city, but the historic center is quite small. Most of the major sights are within reasonable distance of the central railway station (Stazione Termini). For instance, it is possible to walk from the Colosseum through the Forum than up to Piazza di Spagna and across to the Vatican in one day
US Residents can avail of the Roma Pass, which is being sold in the US through ITPC (Italian Travel Promotion Council) agencies. The Roma Pass is designed to facilitate the visitors entrance and booking at famous museums, landmarks, and archaeological sites of private and public entry with advantageous discounts. The Roma Pass will be available until January 2007.
Purchase day passes for a quicker access
If you do not have a Roma Pass, you could still skip the long queues in popular sites by buying a day-long pass for 10 euros located at the Roman Forum. Other options include a seven-day pass for 20 euros and a standard Colosseum and Palatine ticket for 11 euros. The latter gets you in the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Baths of Caracalla, and the Catacombs. However, if you don’t like to cram in one day, buy the day pass instead.
Bring some toiletries with you
Clean and well-stocked public facilities are sometimes hard to find in Rome. Bring with you some tissue paper and soap with you, as that there won’t be any in the city streets.
Take a gladiator course
When in Rome, be sure to enroll in a short course in Gladiatorial Combat at the "gladiator school" located on Via Appia. This intensive three day training seminars include fighting with lions-although you have to bring your own trident.
Visit some sites for free
Some famous sites in Rome are accessible for free like the Pantheon, which is still a functioning church so silence is observed. A visit to the Roman Forum is also free of charge, but you have to pay for an audio guide that is very much recommended.
Observe proper decorum when visiting churches
The many churches in Rome are among the best places to visit and marvel at its architecture. However, do note that a common dress code is observed in most churches, especially at those popular to tourists like San Pietro and San Giovanni (both in the Vatican). This means, bare shoulders, short skirts, and shorts (basically anything that is higher than the knee) are not allowed.
Women are also advised to wear veils or scarves (which you can buy outside some churches) before entering. If you insist on wearing short clothing (especially on a hot day), visit lesser-known churches instead such as Sant’ Ivo della Sapienza where the dress code is not much observed.
Marvel at Capuchin Cemetery’s "unique" architecture
Visitors to this place vividly recall the bizarre and macabre chapels, where everything is decorated with human bones. Reminding everyone that "you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be," the Capuchin monks adorned this cemetery with dried remains of their departed brothers, creating an arch from hundreds of skulls and light fixtures from limb bones. Remember that the monks who guard the cemetery request a "compulsory" donation, so have some small notes handy.
See the "queen of all private collections"
Cardinal Scipione Borghese is probably the most passionate and knowledgeable art collector of his day. His collection includes works by Caravaggio, Bernini, Botticelli, and Raphael. Entering the state-acquired Museo e Galleria Borghese is like entering a world of everything beautiful.
The ground floor alone contains important classical statues and intricate Roman floor mosaics, as well as Bernini’s spectacular carvings depicting pagan myths. What is described as one of the most stunning of Bernini’s crafts is "Apollo and Daphne," depicting the moment at which the nymph is transformed into a laurel tree-her fingers becoming leaves, her toes turning into tree roots-while Apollo watches helplessly.
Toss three coins at the Trevi Fountain
The Fontana de Trevi is the largest and the most popular fountain in Rome. It is so huge; it takes up most of the piazza. The fountain depicts sea god Neptune’s chariot being led by Tritons with seahorses-one docile, the other wild-that represent the moods of the sea.
Although pollution has dulled the brilliant white marble, the tradition of throwing three coins (one by one) over your shoulder is still alive and well. The first coin thrown ensures your return to Rome, the second coin would have you fall in love with an Italian, and the third coin would make you marry him or her.
View St. Peter from the Pincio
A visit at Pincio Hill is simply astounding. You can view a vast area of St. Peter, not to mention feeling affluent with the park’s elegance, complemented by avenues of shady trees and lofty gardens.
See the old and the new in Trastevere
Take a stroll among the maze-like alleys of Trastevere district and you could still see the beauty of its bygone past. The washings that are strung out from the apartments has everyone reaching for their cameras. Also, the Piazza Santa Maria is the heart of Trastevere, frequented by different people such as mothers, tourists, artisans, and even the homeless. Trastevere is the center of Roman nightlife, with different restaurants, pubs, and clubs that scatter here.
Bring some cash
Although having a credit card simply means not having to carry a lot of euros, some restaurants in Rome only accepts cash. There are automated teller machines available in case you need that emergency cash.
Beware of dodgy shopkeepers
Some unscrupulous store owners tend to short-change their customers. Make sure to count your change before you leave a store.
Disguise your rented car
Cars with rental company stickers-or foreign number plates-are prime targets for thieves. Try removing or covering the stickers, leave a local newspaper on the seat to make it look lik
e a local car. Also, opt for supervised car parks.
Beware of petty thieves
Rome is not really dangerous for tourists, but pickpockets and bag-snatchers are active here. Try wearing a money belt under your clothing or keeping your bag across (and close) to your body. Crowded buses (especially the #64 bus, which runs from Stazione Termini to the Vatican) is notorious for petty thieves, as well as the Metro and busy market areas. Also, beware if someone knocks your car’s side mirror as they may snatch your watch as you reach to fix it. And be very careful with your valuables kept in your bag, even in hotels.
Learn to shout "Va via!"
The Italian phrase for "Go away!" would prove helpful to ward off potential petty thieves. Watch out for groups of disheveled-looking women and children carrying bits of cardboard that they use to distract you while they swarm around and steal your wallet.
Women should avoid traveling alone
Rome is generally not a dangerous city for women, but those who travel along would find themselves plagued with unwanted male attention, especially in bars and clubs.
Women should not walk alone in the dark and deserted streets, and opt for a central hotel close to restaurants and bars. Also, beware of men with wandering hands on crowded buses, especially the #64. Shouting "Cheschifo!" (How disgusting!) usually does the trick.