Oh, you’re planning your first trip to Rome?! That’s so exciting! You’re going to need some of the best tips for your first time in Rome, Italy: 2023 and I’m happy to help!
I don’t have to tell you that Rome is amazing. It’s probably been on your bucket list for quite some time. Now you’re beyond excited and a little bit nervous because you want to see all of the best places but you don’t know what to expect. Take a deep breath and try not to worry my little travel buddy. I’ve got some great tips for your first time in Rome.
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Best time to Visit Rome, Italy
Depending on what your goals are, the best time to visit Rome might be different for each person. Keep these things in mind when deciding what time you want to take your first trip to Rome.
Most Popular and Most Expensive:
From April to June, and September to Early November it is the high season to visit Rome.
Less Busy and Less Expensive:
From November to April it is less crowded and less expensive. It is also cooler at that time so you will want to pack some extra layers.
In the summer months of July and August it is VERY HOT in Rome. Since you have to do a lot of walking this would not be the best time, especially for first time visitors.
*I went to Rome in May and I thought it was a good time to go for the weather. Honestly, there were still plenty of people everywhere.
What to Pack for Rome, Italy
Lucky for you, I already wrote an article about How to Pack a Suitcase that saves you money. In that post, there are lots of helpful packing tips and an awesome app that I use and recommend. It gives you suggestions on packing for different activities. You can also add your own items to the list so you don’t forget anything.
The most important thing you will need is comfortable walking shoes. You will do a TON of walking around Rome and bad shoes can really ruin your experience. When I was in Hawaii I did a lot of walking and it was there that I discovered a brand of shoes called Vionics. I LOVE them because they have the arch support I need and they are comfortable enough to walk in for miles.
Look for comfortable shoes that are flats because there are lots of cobblestone streets. You do NOT want to wear heels. Ladies, make sure you get yourself some blister prevention spray. You’ll thank me later!
For your first time in Rome you do NOT want to get turned down from going into any of the buildings because you aren’t dressed appropriately. My father was denied access to one of the most famous churches in the world because he was wearing shorts. Basically, men and women need to remember to cover their knees and shoulders.
The good news is ALL of the water fountains in Rome have delicious and safe drinking water! Bring a glass refillable bottle with you so you can fill it up daily. (Make sure you fill your bottle directly from the spout of the fountain.) You should never have to buy water while you are in Rome. These are the glass water bottles that I use ALL the time!
Universal Power Adapter:
You will need to bring a few good Universal Power Adapters so you can use/charge your electronics. Make sure you read the information on your electronics to ensure the wattage works properly with the adapter or the item can break. I learned this the hard way in Italy.
R.I.P my little clothing steamer.
Where to Stay in Rome, Italy
Are you only briefly staying in Rome to see some famous landmarks? Then you might want to stay in City Centre. If you don’t have much time to travel around then it’s worth it to maximize your time and experience.
Staying in the historic center is the best way to easily walk to several of the main attractions on your first trip to Rome. Although it’s more expensive, you will save time and some money on transportation to/from popular destinations.
Are you are staying for several days and time is not as tight? Then a great option is to stay on the outskirts of the city where it can be much cheaper.
For my first time in Rome, I had the kids with me so I needed 2 hotel rooms. That’s why I opted to say outside of City Centre to save on the cost. If I only needed one room then I’d definitely stay in City Centre because it’s a great place to enjoy the nightlife! No matter where you decide to stay make sure you read my tips about what you need to know when finding a hotel before you book.
Getting Around Rome, Italy
Luckily Rome has a number of options for public transportation.
The metro is great for getting around the city. I found it to be similar to other European metro systems and fairly easy to figure out. The metro is sure to take you within a short walk to many of the popular destinations on your first time Rome itinerary. Just keep in mind that it does not take you to City Centre.
Once you are in the heart of Rome most of the tourist destinations are all within walking distance. If you make sure you pack your good walking shoes then you will love exploring the city on foot.
It is fairly common for public buses to be very late. They are known to be slightly unreliable so take that into consideration if you decide to purchase bus tickets. Note: You must purchase your bus tickets in advance.
I’ve mentioned before how much I love taking tours when I travel. Rather than using the city bus, we used the Roma Hop-on Hop-off bus and we LOVED it!
Unfortunately, taxi drivers are known to scam tourists so it is best to avoid taking a taxi if you can.
The best way to get to/from the airport to Rome City Centre is by train or by private transportation.
Personally, I like to use private transportation from Get Your Guide because it’s a reputable company and I have it all set up in advance. It’s a little bit easier than public transportation and I don’t have to worry about issues on the day I’m traveling to/from the airport.
The First Thing You Should Do in Rome, Italy
During my first trip to Rome, we did the Sightseeing Hop on Hop Off Tour. It was the first time we did it and I’ve been doing them everywhere I travel ever since!
It’s a good place for you to get an idea of what the city has to offer. I PROMISE you this is one of the best things you can do on your first visit to Rome! You will learn interesting history and facts about Rome from your tour guide and you can find all the best areas for shopping.
The Hop-on Hop-off bus stops at many of the popular tourist attractions around the city of Rome. It is a perfect form of transportation to spend the day getting around the eternal city.
As you ride around you can see the different places to go shopping or go to eat. It’s also a great time to ask the local guide for some recommendations on good food so you can avoid tourist traps. They have an audio guide (in the language of your choice) that tells you about what you are seeing as you ride around.
When I travel with my children during dinner I usually ask them what their best and worst part of the day was. To my surprise, their “BEST” was the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus!
Popular Attractions You Can't Miss During Your First Time in Rome, Italy
Vatican Museums/Vatican City/Sistine Chapel:
You HAVE to visit the Vatican Museums in the Vatican City when you are in Rome. Get Your Guide has approximately 300 different tour options to choose from, so you can pick the one that works best for you.
I strongly suggest that you buy your tickets in advance so you can skip the long line, and get them before they sell out. Ranked the #2 thing to do in Vatican City, everyone wants to see the Sistine Chapel when they are in Rome. I was so glad that I got my tickets in advance because even though it was “off season” there was a VERY long line when we arrived.
St. Peter’s Basilica:
Known as one of the Most Famous Churches in the World, you must visit St. Peter’s Basilica when you take your first trip to Rome. There are approximately 175 different tour options, all depending on what you’re looking for. We did the combination tour of the Vatican Museum, & Sistine Chapel St. Peter’s Basilica Tour, and I highly recommend it!
The state-owned museums and attractions offer FREE access on the first Sunday of each month. This is a good way to see a pricy attraction if you have a very large family.
The Trevi Fountain is something we have all seen in the movies. Of course, it is much more crowded in real life. It is FREE to visit the fountain but there is also an option for a 40 minute guided tour where you see the fountain up close AND you get to see the underground ruins of ancient Rome. It is a truly unique tour that not many people have experienced so the tickets typically sell out quickly.
Visit the Fontana di Trevi either SUPER early in the morning or late at night. It is PACKED during the day!
If you aren’t familiar with the Spanish Steps you might be wondering, What’s so special about steps? (Confession: I had no idea either and I studied architecture in college.) TripAdvisor ranks the Spanish Steps #15 out of #2,252 things to do in Rome, Italy. It even won the 2022 Traveler’s Choice Award. That’s pretty impressive for steps! It’s simply a beautiful area to visit.
The Spanish Steps are a popular place for people to sit and rest while walking all over Rome. It is FORBIDDEN to eat on the steps so make sure you don’t make that mistake while you are taking a break.
You MUST see the Roman Colosseum during your first time in Rome. TripAdvisor ranks it #3 out of #2,252 things to do in Rome, Italy. It is beautiful just to walk around, see the amazing historical sites, and imagine what the Roman Empire was like back in history. There are over 300 different types of tours available for visiting the Colosseum so you can definitely find something that works best for you!
Roman Forum and Palatine Hill:
Make time to see the Roman Forum. TripAdvisor ranks it #2 out of #2,252 things to do in Rome, Italy.
Palatine Hill is another very famous attraction that people visit during their first time in Rome. It is ranked #5 out of #2,525 things to do in Rome on TripAdvisor. Each of these attractions won the 2022 Travelers’ Choice Award. These were some of my favorite things to do in Rome. You will likely purchase a combination ticket for a guided tour to see both areas.
I did the combination tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill and I HIGHLY recommend that option. It gives you the skip-the-line tickets and you get to experience ALL the best parts of the attractions with your tour guide. This is the most popular tour and it is likely to sell out so if you want to do it, please make sure you get your tickets in advance.
The Roma Pass is a city card that gives you a very unique option. With the purchase of the 42 or 78-hour city card, you get to select 1 or 2 main attractions of your choice at no charge, then you get a discounted rate for any additional attractions you visit. You also get unlimited public transportation ALL around Rome included! The Roma Pass is the BEST option if you are staying outside of City Centre.
In my post, “How to Travel Virtually From Your Home to Rome” I shared a number of virtual tours of the famous landmarks in Rome, Italy. Check out that post if you want to be more prepared about what to see when visiting famous tourist attractions.
There is NO WAY that you can pass up having some gelato when it’s your first time in Rome! Gelato means “frozen” and it’s similar to ice cream but somehow better. It’s just so creamy and delicious.
If you want to plan ahead for restaurants known to have amazing gelato, then I’d suggest doing a search on Pinterest with “gelato Rome” and you will find a TON of articles with maps and everything! I just remember that EVERYTHING we ate in Rome was delicious!
Before You Leave for Your First Time in Rome
Do you need tips for your first time in Rome, Italy because it’s your first trip to Italy OR if it’s also your first trip to Europe? (How exciting!) Well, I’d like to share some travel tips you will need anytime you are traveling abroad.
Call your Credit Cards:
I call my credit card company prior to leaving to double check on any hidden fees for the exchange in currency and to let them know I’ll be traveling so they don’t shut my card down to protect me from possible fraud. You can also inquire with your credit card company if they offer any type of travel insurance if you use that card to pay for your luggage or rental car.
Make a plan to get Cash:
Some local restaurants and local markets only accept cash so definitely plan to have some on you. You might get some sort of special exchange rate from a AAA membership (in the U.S.) or from your bank so look into this before you leave.
Make Copies of Documents:
You should have copies of documents like your passport, ID, hotel reservations, and tickets. Odds are you won’t need the copies but JUST in case you lose your phone, it dies, or you lose any of your documents/items, it is best to have a backup of everything in your suitcase.
Approximately 24-48 hours before leaving for your trip make sure you confirm your accommodations, tickets, and flight to ensure nothing has changed. Double-check ALL of the dates to make sure they are correct.
Get Your Tickets Ahead of Time:
I’ve mentioned several times that I use Get Your Guide and Viator to purchase ALL of my tickets ahead of time. That’s because it helps me with my budget and planning, AND it typically allows me to skip long lines on the day of my adventure.
There are a lot of attractions that SELL OUT so it’s REALLY important to plan ahead!
The best part is, that most of the options allow you to cancel within 24 hours for a FULL refund if your plans change.
Now more than ever, travel insurance is a MUST. Some credit cards might cover items like lost luggage or rental cars, but you need travel insurance to cover medical and emergencies if your trip gets delayed or canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. I recommend using Insubuy for all your insurance needs!
Check Your Phone Plan:
Find out if you need a SIM card for your phone or if your phone plan will work fine once you get there. If you need to purchase a SIM card, they are cheaper to purchase in City Centre. I have the T-Mobile military plan so I don’t need a SIM card and I have unlimited data. The only thing I can’t do for free is make or receive direct phone calls. I can make audio calls through the data plan though. (I love T-Mobile!)
Download Useful Apps:
I like to use the CityMaps2Go FREE app for planning my trip. It has great offline maps available. Most people use Google Maps, but this app also lets you plan your itinerary so you have everything in one place. You can mark and save restaurants and tourist attractions in the app.
The other FREE app I like to use is called Sightseeing Experience. It shows you where the buses are moving around the city to help you know when you can expect them to arrive. This app is in conjunction with the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour.
Odds are your family and friends will ask you to let them know when you’ve arrived in Europe. Below is my tip for sharing flight tracking with anyone you’d like so you don’t have to call or text anyone to tell them you’ve arrived.
Common Italian Phrases for Your First Time in Rome
It is always respectful to attempt to learn a few basic words and phrases when you are traveling to a new country. In big cities MOST of the time you will find that people can speak English, but I’d still suggest that you use the free app Duolingo to learn some Italian before you travel to Rome for the first time.
Here are some common basic Italian words and phrases:
- Thank you – Grazie (grah-tzee-yeh)
- You’re Welcome! – Prego! (preh-goh)
- Please – Per favore (pair fah-voh-reh)
- Excuse me – Scusi (skoo-zee)
- I’m sorry – Mi dispiace (mee dees-pee-yah-cheh)
- I don’t understand – Non capisco (non kah-pee-skoh)
- Yes – Sì (see)
- No – No (noh)
- Hello / Hi – Salve / Ciao (saal-veh / chow)
- Goodbye – Arrivederci (ah-ree-vah-dair-chee)
- How are you? – Come sta? (koh-meh stay)
- Good – Bene (benn)
- Do you speak English? – Parla Inglese? (parh-la een-glay-zeh)
- How much is it? – Quanto costa? (kwan-toh koh-stah)
- Where is the toilet? – Dov’è il bagno? (dov-e eel ban-yo?)
Entrance – Entrata (en-trah-tah)
Exit – Uscita (oo-shee-tah)
Safety Tips for Your First Time in Rome
Even during the off-season, keep in mind that Rome is a major city with lots of people. Unfortunately, there are pickpockets that you need to be aware of. They typically are located near major attractions. Be sure to keep your wallet in your front pocket and/or your purse in front of your body.
You might see people who look like street performers approaching you in order to get close and take a picture with them, but it is safer if you either avoid this or be very cautious.
Fun Facts about Italy
You should expect to eat your dinner much later than you would in the United States. Dinner typically starts at 8:00 pm. Most authentic restaurants don’t even open until 7:30 pm and you can easily spend hours enjoying a multicourse meal. Italian food is an experience!
Speaking of dining, it’s best to take the food as it is prepared. Italians don’t typically ask for modifications to the menu. Of course, if you have an allergy then it is acceptable to make them aware.
House wine in Italy is delicious and many times cheaper than ordering a soda. Cheers to being economical!
Leaving an extra tip (as we know it in the U.S.) isn’t really practiced in Italy. You will typically see it already listed as an extra cost on your bill. Of course, if there was something exceptional then you can feel free to leave an additional tip in cash, but it is not customary. Personally, I still tip when I’m in Europe because it feels so weird not to do it.
When you are in Italy, don’t expect to get ice in your drink like you do in the U.S. It is not unusual to have drinks at room temperature so if you want them very cold with lots of ice, you will have to ask for that extra accommodation. If you ask for ice you will probably just get a few cubes.
You will find some American chain restaurants like McDonald’s, for example, but they are MUCH different from the U.S. version. We went into McDonald’s in Rome to see what it was like and they had an entire case of beautiful desserts! The Europeans are so good at delicious food.
Things aren’t always like they seem in the movies. Sometimes you see movies about luck being related to coins in the fountains. It’s actually a crime to take money from the fountains so make sure your children don’t think they found free treasure. Fountains like the Fontana di Trevi are used to donate money to the poor.
I feel beyond blessed to have had the opportunity to give you some tips for your first time in Rome, Italy: 2023. Please feel free to comment below and ask questions about anything you think I might be able to help you with. I hope your first time in Rome is the BEST time!
Quick Links for Your First Time in Rome, Italy
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