What are some things to know before Visiting Rome?

There are lots of pitfalls to be avoided and things to be aware of before visiting Rome. I will give some hints and tips below so you can be properly equipped for your visit to the Italian capital.

I have travelled extensively throughout Rome over two decades, with my most recent visit being in September 2022. Rome is a big city, so it will help to know where all the attractions are and how to get to them. You may want to read my other Italy posts before your trip.

Hazel's Travels - Rome Fountains Yellow Scarf

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1 . Don’t Buy Water When Visiting Rome

You don’t ever need to buy water when visiting Rome. There are free drinking water fountains (called nasoni) all around the city, and you can fill your water bottle from these. The water is clean and fresh. There are sometimes queues at the fountains, but they don’t last long.

Nasoni drinking water fountain in Rome, Italy. with brown brick wall in the background.
Typical antique public drinking fountain on the streets of Rome

There are some rules to observe when using the nasoni: never put your lips to the spout (instead fill a bottle or drink from your hands) and don’t put your head under the water. I recommend a foldable water bottle like this one or this one.

Don’t get confused with the Trevi Fountain and other public fountain attractions. These are water features, not drinking fountains, and if you try to drink from them you could be arrested or fined.

2. Be Prepared for persistent street sellers

It is illegal to sell things on the streets in Rome. However this doesn’t stop the street sellers trying to sell you stuff, especially near tourist attractions like St Peter’s Square and the Colosseum.

Trading tray on the streets of Rome with shawls and hats for sale.
Trading tray on the streets of Rome with shawls and hats from the heat

You can be fined for buying things from these unauthorised sellers, so don’t entertain them.

Be especially wary of the bottled water they sell. The locals say they don’t know where the water is from and it could be dangerous. There should be no need for you to buy water anyway, due to the nasoni fountains as mentioned above.

3. Dress modestly for the Vatican & churches

If you are visiting Rome, in particular the Vatican, the Basilica, the Sistine Chapel or any church, you must have your shoulders and knees covered. I recommend taking a light scarf like this one to cover up when required. This is also another reason the street sellers will approach you – they are trying to sell you a sarong to wrap around your waist and cover your knees. If you are wearing shorts you will get approached more than others, as the sellers will assume you are in need of one.

Front view of the Basilica of Saint Peter (San Pietro) in Vatican City
Front view of the Basilica of Saint Peter (San Pietro) in Vatican City

4. Beware of pickpockets when visiting Rome

Rome is unfortunately one of the pickpocketing capitals of the world. Be very careful with your belongings. Leave valuables at home, keep hold of your bags and resist looking down at your valuables. One way pickpockets operate is by watching you read a warning sign about pickpockets, then instinctively glance down or check your pocket. You have now told them exactly which pocket your phone and money is in!

Backpacks are especially vulnerable, and so is anyone standing near an ATM. You may want to consider an anti-theft sling bag or an anti-theft backpack. You can keep your bank cards safe by storing them in an RFID blocking pouch or an RFID travel wallet.

Be careful on buses, there are pickpockets who work the buses all day long (the 64 Vatican bus is well known for this).

If you do fall victim to pickpocketing when visiting Rome, report it in the nearest Carabinieri (police) station. You can also call the emergency Carabinieri number on 112.

5. Know When To Visit The Vatican

The Vatican is super busy all the time. You will need to allocate most of a day if you want to see it properly. The Pope visits on Wednesdays and Sundays, and this makes it even busier. You may want to avoid those days, or of course aim for those days if you want to catch a glimpse of the Pope. I recommend getting Skip the Line tour from Viator. Don’t forget to cover up with a light scarf if needed.

6. Allow Extra Time at Tourist Attractions

When visiting Rome you will need to allow a lot more time than you might think.

6.1 Visiting Rome: Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

The Vatican museums take a long time to visit. There are around 4.5 miles of corridors to walk through in total. You cannot get to the Sistine Chapel without walking through the Vatican museums, and when you get to the chapel you will have to go through extra security. The traffic is extremely slow moving and extremely crowded. You will need to allow about 4 hours (most guided tours are 3 hours long).

Taking photos in the Sistine Chapel is strictly forbidden.

6.2 Visiting Rome: St Peter’s Basilica

One of the free things to do when visiting Rome is to visit St Peter’s Basilica, but the queue is usually around 2 hours long. Remember to cover your shoulders and knees with a scarf like this one, or you won’t get in.

6.3 Visiting Rome: Colosseum

There is a lengthy security and queuing process at the Colosseum. It can take hours to get in. The second time I visited, I purchased a skip-the-line tour through Viator and this was really worth it. The tour also accessed parts of the Colosseum that other people couldn’t reach, plus included fast track entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill as well. It also had audio headsets, which was invaluable as you can still hear the guide no matter how far in front they are.

Here are some photos from the tour below. The colosseum never ceases to amaze me. You can also go underground into the sectioned off area (in a separate tour).

Visiting Rome: Close of up the Colosseum in Rome against a blue sky.
Visiting Rome: Side wall of the Colosseum in Rome against a blue sky.
Middle of the arena in the Colosseum in Rome against a blue sky.

Edit: I’ve had lots of queries about this one, so have included the exact tour for you below.

7. Book tours and tickets far in advance

You will need to book tours 2-3 weeks in advance. Even though there seem to be lots of tours available, I found most tours on Viator were sold out 2 weeks prior to my trip. You should avoid the ones right in the middle of the day if it is very hot.

8. Stay in the shade when visiting Rome

It gets extremely hot in Rome. Remember places like the Forum and Palatine Hill are out in the open with no shade available. My advice is to do your tours in the morning to avoid the blazing afternoon heat. I also recommend taking a foldable sun umbrella, plenty of sunscreen and a packable sun hat. Sunglasses are important too – my favourite sunglasses are here and here.

9. Know which attractions you want to visit

Unless you have a week or more, you won’t be able to do all the attractions in Rome properly. It’s a big place and there are long queues and lots of tourists. It gets very hot and frustrating if you haven’t planned sufficiently.

Decide which attractions you are interested in beforehand. If you don’t love churches, only visit one (or none). If you only have one day visiting Rome, look at which attractions are close to one another. For example the Forum and Palatine Hill are right next to the Colosseum. You could do those three in one day.

10. Don’t eat near tourist attractions

The food is notoriously expensive near the big attractions, and also not great quality either. Real authentic food can be found down the side streets.

When visiting Rome look for where the locals are eating, rather than where the tourists are eating. The good places don’t open before 19:30. These places may also be very small and will probably have queues outside.

11. *Literally* don’t eat near the Trevi Fountain

A lot of things are illegal at the Trevi Fountain. Eating ‘messy’ food and drinking from glass containers are two of them. Also wading in the fountain, drinking from the fountain, taking money from the fountain, bathing any body parts (including pets), jumping in, sitting, lying down or climbing on the fountain are all forbidden.

There is quite a police presence here, as at all Roman landmarks. Make sure you know the rules, to avoid fines or worse.

12. There is no need to tip in restaurants

Tips are not required or expected in Italy. In Rome especially, the staff get paid enough to not have to rely on tips. Some Italians might just leave the small change on the tip tray, but most will tell you they only tip in exceptional circumstances. It can also be seen as rude to leave money on the table.

13. Don’t expect the ‘Italian’ dishes you see at home

Fact: pepperoni pizza is not a thing in Italy. You will never find a chicken alfredo dish (unless it is in a restaurant catered to tourists) and they rarely offer parmesan cheese. You wont get a spoon with your pasta, and garlic bread does not usually exist on Italian menus.

A Margherita pizza has three ingredients – tomato, white mozzarella and basil. There is a reason for this – it represents the three colours of the Italian flag (white, red and green).

Be prepared for simple flavours. When visiting Rome, I met some American people who were sorely disappointed with the pizza, as they found it very bland. They were used to chilli oil and bold favours on their pizza back home.

I recommend trying a local food tour like this one or this one if you want to get a real authentic favour of Roman food.

14. Local dishes to know when visiting Rome

Each town has its own local dishes, including a different type of pasta and pizza for each place. In Rome the specialities are Alesso di Bollito (a simmered beef dish), Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper pasta), Spaghetti Alla Carbonara (pasta with pancetta and eggs), and different types of artichokes.

Roman pasta cacio e pepe - cheese and pepper- served with grated Parmesan on top.
Cacio e pepe – cheese and pepper sauce served with Parmesan

15. Avoid taxis and ubers in Rome

When visiting Rome, only take an Uber if you have to. The Ubers available are ‘Uber Black’ which are inflated in price – about 40 euros for a five minute trip. Taxis can sometimes be ok, but mostly they are known for overcharging tourists.

The metro system is quite good (there are two lines, A & B, red and blue) and there are buses too. The Hop On Hop Off buses follow a great route, but some charge a lot, so look for ones with special offers.

16. Validate your train ticket (or get fined)

On the Roman train network, you have to ‘validate’ your ticket. If you don’t do this you could face a massive fine. Look out for yellow/green validator boxes and make sure you tap your ticket to validate.

17. Be wary at Metro ticket machines in Rome

When visiting Rome, you will find lots of keen ‘friends’ who will offer to help you buy tickets at the machine. These are not your friends, they want your money. Politely say ‘No thank you’, and if they persist, be a bit more firm with them.

Make sure your machine has green lights to show it is working. Ones with red lights will always attract people trying to ‘assist’ you.

Things to know before visiting Rome

That brings me to the end of my list of my 17 things to to know before visiting Rome. I hope you found it helpful for planning your Roman trip. You can now avoid some of the common mistakes that tourists make when visiting Rome.

Thakn you for reading my post on things to know before visiting Rome. I hope it will help you to plan your trip to Italy. You may also be interested in Naples – the birthplace of pizza.

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Organised Tours in Rome

Here are some organised tours in Rome from my preferred tour organised Viator (owned by Tripadvisor).

Hotels in Rome

Romantic Hotels in Rome

These are my top picks for romantic hotels in Rome (from Booking.com).

You can see all current hotel deals in Rome here. I recommend reserving your room immediately to lock in the price, even if you have to cancel it later (this is usually free of charge).

Related Reading for Italy

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