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From the architectural relics from the Roman Empire to the myriad gastronomic treasures, Rome is a vast city with so much to explore in any season. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
Don’t stress over finding a hotel right downtown. The public transit system is fairly easy to navigate; so don’t worry about not being able to get to all of the hot spots. By staying outside the city center and farther away from the Termini, you can avoid the crowds and the tourist-inflated prices.
Get a Roma Pass. When you’re in the airport, convenience store, hotel, pretty much anywhere you go -- someone will be selling a Roma Pass. As a tourist, this pass was the best purchase I could’ve made. For 25 euro per person, you will have unlimited access to all of Rome’s public transportation (trains and buses), entrance and the line-jumping clearance for two attractions (museums and/or archeological areas), as well as discounts to other areas for three days. The cost is well worth it; you have to factor in that you don’t have to pay for each train/bus ride. And museums and archeological sites can easily cost 8-20 euro per person.
A tour guide really adds something to the trip. This was my first experience with a tour guide while traveling abroad, and I can honestly say I would never do it any other way. You think that you are seeing all you need to by just walking around and touring by yourself. Maybe you’ll even have a guide book with you too, but once you get a tour guide it’s like your eyes open to the past and you seeing even the tiniest markings in a new light. Our tour guides were not only native-English speakers, but they were also engaging. You could visualize the bloody battles at the Colosseum and hear the lively chatter at the marketplace in the Forum.
Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel. Remember that Vatican City is not a part of Rome. It is a separate country, and therefore your Roma Pass is no good. There can also be very long lines when trying to get in, unless you are with a tour group. Plan for these tours to take up the majority of your day. There is a lot to see. Bring snacks and water.
Don’t forget, no talking at the Sistine Chapel! Most people only hit Michelangelo's “Last Judgment” and “Creation,” but it is also home to many other important pieces of Renaissance art.
Just say no…to the peddlers on the streets. They will push bracelets, blankets, purses and tripods at you. If you look like you’re interested they will not leave you alone. My mother just looked a shawl and voiced that it was pretty to me. We spent the next 20 minutes being followed around the outside of the Colosseum while a man tried to sell her the shawl. So unless you plan on buying, don’t make eye contact, ignore their questions and walk away.
Gelato. You’ll never want just ice cream again.