Rome - Minus the Tourists
So you want to go to Rome? Well, of course you do - Rome features some of the most important cultural artifacts, religious foundations, and political innovations of our history. It manages to merge amazing cuisine, beautiful weather, and sites for all demographics into one bustling city. That, of course, also presents a problem - everyone else in the world also wants to visit Rome.
What's an introvert to do?
Believe it or not, it is possible to visit the Eternal City without eternally rubbing elbows with other sweaty tourists. It just takes a little extra creativity.
1) Bypass the hotels. Rome has its fair share of luxurious hotels and resorts, but you're doing yourself a big disservice if you overlook AirBnB and apartment rentals. Rome's most magical moments can be found in its small, twisty allies and backstreets. Search for a neighborhood close to the sites you most want to see - an AirBnB is almost guaranteed to be much more affordable and certainly more authentic than a hotel. I highly recommend a flat in Travestere, Colonna, Sant'Angelo, Regola, or Ponte. My last stay in Rome landed me in this gorgeous apartment on the amazing Via di Coronari. Castel Sant'Angelo was a five minute walk in one direction, the Basilica about 15 minutes in the opposite. This handy guide can help you figure out which neighborhood's personality suits your visit best. Bonus points: if you're visiting during the summer, spend a little extra to score a flat with a patio. The above apartment boasts a gorgeous rooftop porch - there's nothing better than cooling off on the porch with wine on a Roman evening.
2) Avoid public transportation. This one might seem odd - I'm usually a huge proponent of getting comfortable with public transport when visiting a new city. However, Rome's buses, terminals, and trains can be overwhelming and crowded, not to mention ripe pickings for pick-pockets. If it's an option, look for a more centrally located home-based and plan to enjoy the city at a more leisurely pace, by foot. I promise you will find so many more hidden gems that way.
3) Find a favorite. I mentioned this in my post on Venice, and though it still makes me feel like an old fart, I found it to be true in Rome as well. If you're in an overwhelming environment, it can be good to find a "regular" spot for meals. Yes, exploring new restaurants and cuisines is an extremely important part of travel, but sometimes you just want to eat. Right across from our apartment was a tiny DIY pasta place, and it quickly became our go-to for cheap food after a long day of exploring. Since you could get a giant plate of pasta for less than 10 euro, this also helped us stick to our budget.
4) Splurge only on the things that matter. Is the Basilica and Vatican on your must-see list? As a spend-thrift I don't normally advocate buying tours, but in Rome most of the major sites require both a ticket and a long stand in line. You can by-pass some of this hobnobbing by joining a tour group or a skip-the-line offer. If you're going this route for St. Peter's in particular, I recommend finding a tour that combines the Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Vatican, and Vatican Museums - you'll be tired by the end, but will avoid the hassle of going back and forth through huge crowds. Viator has some really great combination offers for this, including one that lets you in before normal operating hours. If visiting St. Peter's, don't forget to opt for long pants and bring a scarf to cover bare shoulders!
5) Get outside of the city. I know I dissed public transport before (don't worry, most Romans seem to hate Termini as well), but Italy's great train system allows you to easily and cheaply hop abroad for a day trip out of the city. Nearby Anzio and Nettuno provide a great beach escape and history lesson, while the mountains await just to the northeast of the city.
6) Set your "sites" elsewhere. Everyone knows the major sites that attract tourists to Rome - the Basilica, the Colosseum, Pantheon, Spanish steps. These places are gorgeous, fascinating, and important to visit (except the Spanish steps. I have never had a good experience at the Spanish steps) - however, they will be crowded, hot, and overwhelming. Frankly, you can get a lot of enjoyment out of Rome without covering these attractions. Roma Turismo offers suggestions for all budgets, interests, and timelines - AND great themed itineraries. A highlight of my last Rome visit was taking a self-guided street art tour of Ostiense (pics here!) - a great day spent with not another tourist in sight.
7) Shake up your timeline. Between 7-10 million people visit Rome each year, and predictably a lot of them come during the summer, when the weather, urban heat, and throngs of people combine to make it, scientifically speaking, hot as balls. However, Rome remains rather temperate year-round. You risk rainier weather in the winter and spring, but overall it may make for a more pleasant experience. That being said, both of my visits to beautiful Rome have been during the hottest time of the year, and that's perfectly doable as well. I recommend incorporating siesta time to your schedule - get your day moving bright and early with an espresso and corenetto, then return to your (preferably air-conditioned) apartment for a couple hours of rest during the hottest part of the day. Venture out again when the sun starts to fade. Not only will the heat be more bearably in the mornings and evenings, but crowds will be thinner.
Do you have a suggestion to add? Hit me up in the comments!