Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini is well-known for his depictions of Rome in modern Italy, and it’s no secret that he’s got a deep love for the city.
There’s a quote by Fellini that fits perfectly with my tips for visiting Rome, so I want to share that first. He says,
“Experience is what you get while looking for something else.”
Personally, I didn’t know what I was looking for, but Rome helped me find it.
With that being said, I’d like to offer five tips for visiting Rome that can make your trip that much more incredible and enjoyable. If you’re wondering what to pack, where to eat, and how to get around, see our other posts, and if one hasn’t been written yet, it’ll be coming soon. These tips for visiting Rome that I’m writing here are more about how to enjoy the city like a local and make some great friends (just like I did).
1. Embrace the Roman way.
If you go to Rome thinking you’ll be able to live and behave like you do wherever you come from (of course, there are always exceptions), you won’t have a very good time. Forget about the convenience of stores being open 24 hours a day and on Sundays. In Rome, if people want a break, they don’t need to ask permission, they just take one. If you get upset about it, then that’s your problem.
Forget about the concept of being “on time”. Just forget about it, because it won’t happen very often. Everyone is late all the time. Romans also don’t feel the need to apologize for being late, it’s just understood.
Don’t get worked up about crowds. And this is coming from someone who dreads crowds. When you’re in a crowded subway, for example, just go with the flow, and everything will work out. If you push and shove, you’ll probably just be publicly insulted. One time, while trying to get onto a crowded metro at the hellish Termini Station, I watched a couple of young kids with backpacks shove their way to the front of the line. They could’ve been from anywhere in the world. As soon as they shoved past an unassuming older woman, and nearly knocked her over, she unleashed on them, and didn’t let up her barrage of Roman curse words even when everyone packed themselves onto the train like sardines. She was still going by the time I got to where I was going, muttering to herself and shaming them. I could do nothing but laugh. I shared this with my Sociology professor, and I was enlightened to the fact that Romans, and Italians in general, have a great sense of social organization. I witnessed this when I went to the post office near my house to mail a package. It was early in the morning, before the office opened, and there were tons of people waiting to be let in. I started to get anxious. As soon as the door was unlocked, and the postal worker pushed the door open to welcome people in, it was as if everybody knew exactly where they fit in the queue. I looked around, nodded at a few people, and fell right into line. This kind of thing would never happen where I come from.
2. Attempt to navigate the city without a map.
Even if you’re “directionally challenged” like myself, you should still try. I know Rome better than any other place I’ve been, and I’ve been living in the same area of Philadelphia for more than seven years. It was all because I would wander around the city with no particular destination in mind, and without the constraint of time. It’s also a ton of fun to get lost in Rome and stumble upon some amazing little spot.
3. Try to learn a little Italian, it goes a long way.
In Rome, most people are incredibly receptive when Americans or other nationalities attempt to speak Italian. When ordering an espresso and a cornetto for your breakfast in the bar around the corner from your hotel or residence, I guarantee you’ll be received with nothing but smiles from the barista if you politely make your order in Italian. They don’t care if you sound like a moron or screw up the words, they just appreciate that you tried, and that you took the time to learn their beloved language. They won’t call you out either. The only time I was ever called out by a Roman for the way I spoke Italian was when I was tutoring a high-school student in English, and his mother would spend some time conversing with me and correcting my Italian. I never used the subjunctive tense, and if you know Italian you’ll appreciate this. She would stop me whenever I didn’t use it when I should have, and eventually, in order to finish my thoughts, I decided to learn it and use it properly. But don’t expect that kind of treatment unless you’re being formally (or informally) instructed. All you have to do is learn the simple, everyday words and phrases. I promise you, it’s not that hard, and it’ll make your experience in Rome a thousand times more enjoyable.
4. If you do know Italian, make small talk with everyone you can, and if you don’t know Italian, just smile.
I always found that people in Rome were extremely receptive if I made small talk with them, whether it was with the barista, the old lady at the bus stop, or the butcher at my favorite alimentari. Also, put a smile on your face and show the Romans you’re so happy to be there.
5. Say “hello” (“buongiorno” or “ciao”, or sometimes “buonasera”) and “goodbye” (“ciao” or “arriverderci”) and “thank you” (“grazie” or if you’re really satisfied, you can “grazie mille” or “grazie assai”) whenever you enter and exit any shop. I always used the combined form, typical of Roman speech, “ciaograzie” when leaving. They’ll definitely remember you if you return, and even if you don’t return, it’ll make them happy, which is always something worth spreading :). Say it to the baristas who served you that fantastic macchiato and gelato, and I guarantee you’ll be met with big smiles.
I assure you that if you’re a more adventurous spirit, or if you really want to experience the city and get to know the wonderful people who inhabit it, if you follow these five tips for visiting Rome, the Eternal city will most definitely become your second home.