Rome might be a city best explored on foot but be prepared to work your calf muscles: the Eternal City really is built on at least seven hills. Though the city has sprawled significantly since the days gladiators completed grand feats of strength at the Colosseum, the Italian capital has retained its character – you can barely walk a block without coming across another Byzantine building or a fountain designed by an artistic master. So pick your favourite gelato flavour (or three) and get a few coins ready to toss into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return – this is what you need to know before you go to Roma.
Qantas flies direct to London from Perth, then onwards to Rome with partner airlines. Alternatively, Qantas flies from most capital cities to Rome through partner airlines via Dubai.
Flying into Fiumicino/ Leonardo da Vinci International Airport
Australian visitors staying less than 90 days in Italy do not need a visa but they will need their passport stamped on entry as a “declaration of presence” in the country. There are three terminals within the airport, though at the time of writing Terminal 2 is closed for renovations. A free shuttle service connects the airport car parks with the terminals every 5 minutes.
The easiest way to get from Fiumicino to the city is to take the Leonard Express train to Termini station in the city centre. It leaves every 15 minutes and takes just over half an hour.
Ciao, bella! Though English is spoken, especially in key tourist areas, you’ll earn kudos if you attempt a few Italian phrases, particularly when ordering food. You probably already know a few of the basics – ciao, buongiorno, grazie – but add these to your phrasebook, too: un caffè, per favore (a coffee, please); lo scontrino, per favore (receipt, please); quali sono le specialità della casa? (what are your specialties?).
The Australian government’s Smart Traveller website recommends visitors familiarise themselves with the laws prior to travelling to avoid penalties.
Vaccine and health advice
Check with your doctor about vaccinations you might need before you fly. Some cases of mosquito-borne disease Chikungunya were reported in Rome at the end of 2017 so speak with a GP if you’re concerned and use mosquito repellent.
The Metropolitana is the easiest way to whiz around the city, especially if you’re hitting the ancient sites (just keep your valuables close). It runs from 5.30am to 11.30pm daily (weekend hours are slightly extended). Tickets are sold from machines at stations around time limits – a 100-minute ticket will cost €1.50 while a 72-hour ticket will set you back €18. The tickets are for unlimited travel within the city and if you’re travelling with little ones, good news: kids under 10 can ride for free.
You can also jump in an Uber or a taxi. Just ensure the latter are white and have the word “taxi” written on the roof, as these are the only ones licensed by the council.
But one of the best ways to get around is on foot so you can explore (read: get lost in) the labyrinth of fountain-strewn piazzas or uncover a secret restaurant selling Pecorino-laden bucatini all’amatriciana.
At the time of writing, the Australian dollar was buying 0.62 Euro – check a reliable currency conversion service for up-to-date information.
Tipping isn’t mandatory in Italy but many restaurants – especially those along the tourist trail – will add a 10 to 20 per cent addition to the bill as a service charge.
No doubt you’ll be visiting some show-stopping churches during your stay and though the hoards of awed visitors might create a less-than-reverent atmosphere, it’s wise to dress modestly at these basilicas, especially in Vatican City where the dress code is more strictly required. Covered shoulders and knees are essential for entering some churches.
Greetings and farewells are a must when poking about shops or taking a seat at a restaurant. Stick with buongiorno, buona sera or buona notte; ciao is generally reserved for friends, family and youths.
The Italian capital is quite mild compared to the rest of Europe, with an average temperature of around 20°C. The mercury rises up to around 30°C in August (but any Aussie could handle that heat) and only drops to about 4°C, even in the depths of winter. Heavy rain is rare, with sprinkles common between November and February.
Visiting the ancient wonders
Skip the queues outside the Colosseum – and the dodgy fake costumes of the gladiator impersonators trying to encourage queuers to pay for a photo – and instead buy a combined ticket for the Roman Forum, which is valid for two days and also includes entry to the grand arena. Tickets are €12.
Going to Vatican City
Though you’re technically not visiting Rome once you step over the border to Vatican City, chances are a day trip to world’s smallest nation is part of a wider Roman jaunt. Walk around 30 minutes north-west of Piazza Navona or catch the metro to San Pietro station to begin your visit. It’s free to enter the main area of the Basilica but specialised sections, such as the Treasury, incur a fee, and some spaces, such as the archives, are off-limits to the public – unless you’re solving a grand mystery a la Robert Langdon, of course.
Pickpockets often target tourists at key attractions, on public transport or at busy metro stations. Keep your belongings close.
The rose scam, whereby people try to force the flower upon you and make you pay for it, is common in spots such as the Spanish Steps. Don’t accept a rose from anyone.
When to go
You should steer clear of August, if possible – the city is steaming, so many restaurants and shops within the city close as residents seek cooler climes along the coast.
April, May, June, September and October are milder and don’t have the tourism traffic jams of high summer.
Correct your coffee order
Order a cappuccino late afternoon and you’ll give yourself away as a tourist before you’ve even licked the froth of your spoon – caffe lattes are for morning only. Espressos are post-noon coffee stops; ask for a macchiato if you really can’t stomach the beans straight.
The water is of high quality and you can fill up drink bottles in the freestanding fountains scattered about the city. (Though during summer of 2017, they were switched off due to severe drought).
This is Italy – a little fashion nous is required. Though sensible exploring garb makes sense when you’re spending all day pounding the cobblestones, a little designer edge will help you blend into the well-dressed crowd more easily. Think comfortable and cool sneakers rather than grungy joggers, a pair of sleek sunglasses (especially important in summer) and consider adding some individual flair, such as a statement scarf or leather handbag, to your ensemble.
Australians will need an International Drivers Permit or a translation of their Australian license done by an official translator. But, really, it’s best to avoid driving in the city – there are vehicle restrictions in place to prevent traffic congestion and most hire cars don’t have the necessary permits. If you flout the rules and avoid the authorities, don’t rest too easy – people have been fined up to six years after the offence!
Smart Traveller recommends all visitors take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.
Where to stay
If this is your first time in the Eternal City, it makes sense to stay near the bucket-list attractions you’ll want to see: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain. For that, a room in the historic centre is your best bet, even though the convenience will cost you a little extra. Trawl Airbnb for a Centro Storico bargain – who knows, you might find a palazzo down a cobbled street for an incredible price.
Further afield, and for a sense of how modern Romans actually live, the Testaccio, Trastevere and Monti neighbourhoods are gentrified slices of the city that still have a village feel, as well as a slew of trattorias plating up authentic Roman dishes and a great selection of bars and clubs.
Feeling fancy? Villas near the Spanish Steps – which include the former compound of the Medicis – are an upmarket option if you want your trip to have a touch of Roman Holiday about it.
Phone calls and mobile data
Before you land, disable data roaming and don’t answer incoming calls on your mobile phone if you want to keep your monthly bill in check. Invest in a prepaid travel SIM card if keeping in touch with home is important, or buy a prepaid Italian SIM card.
Most hotels, tourist sites and cafés have free wi-fi for guests.
To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number – including the area code minus the zero. So, to call a Sydney landline telephone, you would dial +61 2 then the phone number. To call a mobile phone, use the same country code and dial the mobile number minus the first zero.
Power sockets in Italy use the same frequency and voltage as in Australia but you will need a plug adaptor in order to charge appliances and tech.
Handy apps and websites
XE for up-to-date currency conversion.
Travel Doctor for pre-travel health advice.
Smart Traveller for up-to-date safety information.
Australian Embassy Rome for passport and consular services.
Rome Airports app for flight information.
Rome Metro Map & Route Planner app for timetable information.
Uber Rome for getting around.
Duolingo app to brush up on your Italian.