Italy is one of the most interesting countries in the world to visit. It has everything a tourist could want – history, architecture, amazing beaches, beautiful mountains and one of the best cuisines in the world. Deciding where to go in Italy is no easy task – I would suggest you start with the most obvious place: Rome. No matter how many times you have been or how many other places you have seen, you will always be blown away by this city. Here are my top tips for first-time visitors to make your first trip simpler and more enjoyable.
Do your research
How long is long enough to see everything? One day? Two? A whole week? The answer is – there is no answer. There will always be something that you want to see that you don’t manage to squeeze in. This is why researching is crucial.
Rome is so much more than the coliseum, the Trevi fountain, and the Vatican – although you could spend hours visiting just these 3 things. However, I would recommend that you have a thorough look at what Rome has to offer and then make a shortlist of things you really want to see. Amateur historian? The Fori imperiali is for you. You loved the Vatican? How about visiting St Peter’s cathedral or Santa Maria Maggiore, to name just 2 of the hundreds of Vatican-related sights. Searching for a hidden gem? Check out the Castelli district just outside of Rome. Not many tourists know about it as it is slightly more out of the way but believe me, if you go you will not regret it – it’s simply stunning.
As you can see, narrowing down your choices might be an issue – there is so much to see! Going without a plan might mean that you get lost, miss out on what you really want to see and consequently do not enjoy your visit as much as you could. Thoroughly planning your trip really does pay off.
(Nemi Lake just outside Rome)
Book in advance
I am not just talking about the usual flights and accommodation here but also the museums and other sights. I learned this lesson the hard way. When going to visit the Vatican, the museums at Villa Borghese and even the Sistine Chapel I learned that some places have a limit on how many visitors they allow in at a time. Do not take any chances and just assume that you will get in – be smart and book your places online ahead of time.
(The Clock in Villa Borghese)
Minimise lost property
Honestly, I lost count of how many pairs of sunglasses, sunhats and various other bits and pieces me and my family lost – without fail stuff always goes walkabout on holiday, especially on the beach or around the pool. We got around this last time by labeling EVERYTHING. We found some great name tags that could be put on small items like sunglasses and also purchased some clothing labels for all the kids’ clothes. This actually worked really well as we put our phone number on the labels and some of our walking bits and pieces did make their way back to us!
Try real Italian food
If you have never sampled real Italian food before, you must try some! A common tourist issue is not knowing where the good eateries are and so they inevitably end up in tourist traps, which are extortionately priced and the quality is normally not the greatest.
(Street food in Trastevere at night)
Luckily, we stumbled across a great area of Rome called Trastevere which is not too far from the city center and has lots of authentic restaurants offering great quality and prices. At only 15 minutes walking distance from the Vatican and located next to the Tevere river it is not too difficult to find. You can even look some restaurants up on TripAdvisor before your trip and select a few that match your tastes and budget.
Getting about in Rome
This is a big part of how successful your trip will be. Whether you are staying in Rome itself, on the outskirts of the city or somewhere in-between, here are some tips for getting about:
- Car: avoid it. Traffic in Rome is awful and can be stressful to drive in. Only drive if it is absolutely necessary or if you are visiting some places outside the city such as Castelli Romani or Ostia Antica. Otherwise, it is a waste of time and money. Parking is also a nightmare if you do not know the city well.
- Bus: Although a great way of traveling to other places, Buses in Rome are not the best. While cheap, they are always crowded and not very well connected.
- Tram: The trams are actually alright – they connect the city quite well, mostly the very touristy areas, and are pretty easy to use.
- Subway: In my opinion, the best way to get about. Prices are cheap and they connect most of the city, including all of the tourist hotspots.
- Walking: Yes, yes and yes. You will need to do a bit of walking to reach certain places so make sure that you are mentally and physically prepared for it! However, it is also the best way to really explore somewhere so take the time to look around as you go and take everything in.