So, back in May, I took one of the more disastrous trips I’ve ever taken. It was a trip to Rome–a place I’d been dreaming of visiting since I was a kid. But I made so many Rome travel mistakes that it almost completely ruined the trip!
While I generally think of myself as a pretty organized and prepared traveler, Rome has a way of screwing with the best of us.
So in the hopes that I can help you have at least a slighty smoother trip than the one I had, here are a few tips and tricks on how to avoid the Rome travel mistakes I made!
Rome Travel Mistakes: Before You Go
Now, before you book your trip to Rome, here are a few travel mistakes that you should avoid…
Don’t Think Shoulder Season Will Mean Fewer Tourists
So, you know how every piece of travel advice ever given will include the tip to travel in shoulder season for cheaper prices and fewer crowds?
Yeah, that’s not the case for Rome.
While the very beginning of May is considered shoulder season for many destinations around Europe, Rome is so popular and overtouristed that there really is never a time that you’re going to find fewer tourists.
Yes, summer is going to be the absolute worst.
But don’t expect to have the Colosseum all to yourself just because you’re traveling in shoulder season or low season! When we went, the line was still an hour long to buy tickets, so…
Don’t Expect Warm, Sunny Weather 365 Days/Year
One of the best parts of traveling to Southern Europe when you live in Scotland is that you’re pretty much guaranteed to have better weather than where you came from.
Except, apparently, if you go to Rome.
Here’s the thing: I fully expected Rome at the beginning of May to be absolutely gorgeous. And most of the time, it was.
But I didn’t bother to check the weather, which meant that I only packed clothes for warm weather. And I didn’t even think about the possibility that it might rain while we were there.
Rain? In Italy? It does’t exist!
Spoiler alert: it does.
In fact, on our second full day in the city, it absolutely poured the whole time we were there. It was cold and miserable, and we took the tram to go to the Capitoline Hill Museum only to see that everyone else had the exact same idea and we went straight back home.
Of course, I am completely convinced that it decided to rain precisely because I didn’t bring any rain gear (and I live in Scotland, so trust that I think about rain most of the time). So if you pack as if it’s going to rain, then you’ll probably get no rain at all!
Rome Travel Mistakes: Accommodation
Now, what about accommodation?
Well, thanks to its status as one of the top tourist destinations in the entire universe, there are absolutely loads of accommodation options out there. So what can you do to make sure that you don’t book a bad one?
Don’t Listen When Your Airbnb Says it’s 10 Minutes from the Center
When it comes to big cities like Rome, I prefer to stay a little bit outside of the center in order to save a bit of money and get a bit more local experience.
In Rome, I booked us an Airbnb in the neighborhood of Monteverde which was absolutely charming.
It also said that it was just 10 minutes by public transport from all of the top sights–score!
Well, yes, it was 10 minutes by public transport from all the top sights. But it was also a 10 minute walk to the tram stop, so that commute time was double what we expected.
Honestly, 20 minutes isn’t bad at all, and I would have been fine with that if I had known it going in. But it was just a little bit annoying thinking that it was only going to be 10 minutes.
So, you know, just do a cursory Google Maps check to make sure what your Airbnb host or hotel says about how long it takes to get to the city center is actually true.
Don’t Forget Cash for the City Tax
If you’re staying in an Airbnb (that’s operating legally), then you’re going to be required to pay an additional city tax of €4/person/night in cash upon arrival. This wasn’t a surprise for us, as it was mentioned in the listing, but we did forget about it and then it took us several days to get the exact change for the city tax.
While our host was totally fine as long as we paid it before we left, it’s obviously best to just pay and get it over with, so try to have the cash on hand when you get there if you can!
Don’t Book a Sketchy Hostel Next to the Train Station
On the last night of our Italy trip, before we flew out the next morning, we stayed one final night in Rome. I chose a somewhat sketchy looking hostel near the train station so that we didn’t have to worry about anything but walking to and from the train station to the hostel. But of course, if you’ve ever stayed in a sketchy hostel near a train station in Europe, you’ll know this is generally just a bad idea.
Like, we survived. But the place smelled like smoke, the bed was super uncomfortable, and I’m honestly not sure if the door to our room actually locked.
Plus, the area around Termini is honestly just a little bit sketchy, so…
If you’re doing a multi-destination Italy trip and are staying the night in Rome before your flight, just go a little further afield from the train station if you can.
Rome Travel Mistakes: Sightseeing
Okay, now onto sightseeing. Because, let’s be real. You can’t go to Rome and not go to the Colosseum. It’s just not possible.
Do Book Your Tickets Ahead of Time
Again, these Rome travel mistakes are entirely based on my assumption that, by traveling in shoulder season, there would be fewer tourists. And that, therefore, we wouldn’t need to buy tickets ahead of time.
By the time I wised up to the fact that that probably wasn’t going to be the case (about 2 weeks before we actually left), all of the advanced tickets were sold out. Oops.
So instead, we waited an hour in line to get into the Colosseum, and then another 30 minutes for the Forum.
We straight up didn’t make it into the Capitoline Museum because it was chucking down rain and the line was too long to deal with it.
So here’s my advice: Book your tickets ahead of time.
And I’m not just talking about a few days before you leave.
I’m talking literally the second you book your plane tickets, you should be online, booking your timed entrance tickets.
It is literally the only way you’re going to get in without spending hours waiting in line.
Do Get the Skip-the-Line Tickets
While we’re on the topic of booking tickets ahead of time, did you know that even if you do book your tickets ahead of time, you might need to wait in a line of people who have also booked tickets ahead of time?
By far the best way to ensure that you’ll spend the least possible amount of time in line in Rome is to book skip-the-line tickets.
And you may even still have to wait in line for that! For example, on the guided tour of the Vatican that we took, skip-the-line tickets were included, and we still had to wait in line for about 5 minutes in order to get through security and everything.
Rome is crazy overtouristed, y’all.
But still, if you want to spend most of your time acutally enjoying the sights in Rome, rather than standing in line (like I did), then skip-the-line tickets are going to be your best bet.
Don’t believe what every guide ever says about the Palatine Hill Entrance
So, another reason that I didn’t book tickets ahead of time is because I was convinced that I had found a secret way to get around the lines at the Forum and Colosseum. And that was by going to the lesser-known entrance at Palatine Hill.
Every guide I read said it was the best place to buy your tickets from.
Well, when we got there, it turned out that it’s now been turned into an entrance only. Tickets are not sold at the Palatine Hill entrance.
I repeat, tickets are not sold at the Palatine Hill entrance.
If you’ve already got your tickets on hand (because like the smarty you are you booked ahead of time), this is a good way to have a slightly shorter line into the Forum, but you are not going to have a short line for ticket buying. It’s just not going to happen.
Ignore what they say on the internet.
Do Take Guided Tours
Okay, so this one wasn’t actually a mistake (at least one time) – woohoo! Because here’s the thing about Rome: without a guide, you’re often looking at a bunch of fallen over rocks.
Yes, no matter how much you were obsessed with Roman history when you were in middle school (or was that just me?).
I’m a big proponant for guided tours. I love learning new things and getting a unique perspective from a local guide. But for some reason I thought I just wouldn’t need one in Rome (again, thanks middle school me).
But when we got to the Colosseum, the Forum, and all of those other ruins, it really was just like staring at a bunch of fallen over rocks. We were desperately trying to evesdrop on every guide in sight!
So if you have a bit of extra cash to splurge, book a guided tour! It will be worth 100x your investment, I promise.
The tour that I took with Through Eternity Tours of The Vatican was absolutely amazing.
Rome Travel Mistakes: Transportation
Don’t Expect the Bus to Turn Up on Time (or at all)
You’ve probably heard the steroetype that Italians are always late, and it’s definitely the case with buses in Rome.
While the trams and metro run pretty much on time, we didn’t take a single bus during the whole time we were in Rome that actually showed up on time.
In fact, one time (right after we spent 30 mintues standing in the pouring rain trying to get into the Capitoline Museum), the bus straight up just didn’t turn up.
If you can get there any other way, just don’t take the bus.
Don’t Forget to Validate Your Ticket
If you’re planning on taking public transport in Rome, then you might be surprised to see that there are never any barriers for things like the metro in order to get on the train. You don’t have to tap your ticket anywhere to get in.
But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to validate your ticket. You do. You’ll be fined if you don’t and are caught.
There’s just nothing to stop dumb tourists from not noticing that they need to do this.
And sometimes, there’s even multiple different kinds of ticket validation machines, so even if you know that you need to validate your ticket, you might validate it on the wrong machine.
This happened while we were trying to get to our Airbnb on the first day and I’m 99% sure we illegally rode a train. Oops.
Read this super-detailed guide about public transport in Rome so that you won’t make any mistakes!
Rome Travel Mistakes: Food
Ah, food. There truly is nothing better than Italian food in Italy. Or… is there?
Don’t Try to Navigate Without Food in Your Stomach
While more likely than not you’re going to be eating well in Italy, on the off chance the you delay a meal (you know, while trying to fit in with the locals and eat at 8 or something), then try to know exactly where you’re going before you start getting hungry. Or better yet, get there ahead of time or bring a granola bar.
Because if you think things are bad when you’re hangry at home, wait till you’re hangry in Rome and trying to navigate public transport, winding streets, and crowds of tourists standing in your way.
I am a big victim to my own hangriness, so I can say from experience that it’s probably better to just eat at the time you normally eat, instead of trying to fit in with the locals.
Don’t Eat the Piled-High Gelato
You can’t go to Rome (or Italy in general) without eating at least one gelato a day. But if you’re on the hunt for the good stuff, then steer clear of the gelato that’s piled high in tubs.
This is actually a tip a friend who’s really familiar with Italy gave me, and it couldn’t have saved our butts more.
The fact is that when gelato is piled high like that, it’s just for show for the tourists. If you want the really good stuff, then look for gelato that’s in covered-up metal canisters.
So. Freaking. Good.
And the one time we did go to a place with piled-high gelato it was definitely not as good as all the other gelato we had had!
Don’t Eat Anywhere Near a Tourist Attraction
If you’ve done even a singular bit of tourist guide reading for any city in Europe, then you’ll know it’s generally not a good idea to eat too close to a tourist attraction becuase it’ll be overpriced for not very good food.
My general rule is to avoid places on main squares and right next to tourist spots, as well as places with pictures of the food on their menus.
I thought we would be safe my eating at a spot a few blocks away from the Colosseum, but nope. It was decidedly mediocre food and we paid much more than that food was worth.
On other days, we got big, delicious bowls of pasta for just €5. They were just a little bit farther from the tourist sights than I’m used to normally having to go. So cheap, delicious food is absolutely possible to find in Rome – you just need to walk a bit. And then a bit more.
Don’t Forget Your Lactaid
Finally, if you’re lactose intollerant like me, then my #1 tip for surviving in Rome is to not forget your lactaid. Absolutely everything that makes Italian and Roman food so delicious involves dairy products.
Pizza. Pasta piled high with cheese. Gelato.
I forgot my Lactaid and let me tell you this… it didn’t stop me from enjoying the culinary delights of Italy (I’m uncontrollable when it comes to that), but I did not have a good time in the bathroom. Yeah, that was probably the biggest Rome travel mistake I made.
So if your stomach and dairy don’t mix well together, don’t forget your freaking lactaid.
And that’s it for the Rome travel mistakes that we made! Hopefully this post will help you so that you don’t make all the same dumb mistakes we did.