What To Know Before Visiting Rome
I recently visited Rome for the first time with my Mum. In fact, it was my first ever trip to Italy and my Mum’s third – we still don’t know a lick of Italian between us! While it was an undeniably beautiful city with plenty of sights to see, there were a few things I wish I’d know before visiting. If you’ve never been to Rome or haven’t been for a little while, here are some essentials you should know before you go.
The roads are mental
Italy is renowned for its hectic roads, but I didn’t quite realise how crazy it would be. Horns are blaring every two minutes, lanes don’t seem to mean a thing, cars drive within an inch of one another… it’s utter chaos compared to British roads! The worst part is trying to cross the road, especially if you look like a tourist. While pedestrian crossings exist, drivers simply won’t stop for you unless you stride confidently out onto the white lines. Even when there is traffic lights, cars will still creep impatiently by you when the green man is on. If that wasn’t enough, the majority also use their mobile phones while driving. So many, in fact, that I thought it was still legal over there, but apparently it’s not. My biggest advice would be to keep your wits about you on the road, choose your timing carefully when crossing, and avoid driving at all costs!
Taxi drivers will try to rip you off
There are signs up all over the city warning you to only take legal white taxis. But, the problem with these is you still don’t know who to trust and they can spot tourists a mile off. While taxis in the UK won’t hound you for business, it’s the total opposite here. We had a taxi stop right in front of a bus when he spotted us with suitcases and we reluctantly got into the car so he would get out of the way. The bus driver got so angry, he was shouting abuse out his window then proceeded to drive beside us and continue to yell at the driver. He responded by giving him the finger multiple times and almost swerving into the side of the bus. It was a horrendous first experience of Rome.
To make matters worse, he didn’t know where our hotel was and I had to look it up on Google Maps for him. He then tried to ask us for more money than the meter stated, which we argued but eventually gave him a euro or so more. It can be extremely intimidating when it’s just two women in a city where you don’t speak the language and you’re being hassled for more money. Unfortunately, this wasn’t our only experience of this. Against our better judgement, we got a taxi back to the airport (I’ve never been so grateful for a seatbelt in my life) and he also tried to fleece us for more money. Way to make tourists feel welcome!
Ticket touts won’t leave you alone
This was by far one of the most annoying parts about the city. The moment you get within a certain radius of an attraction, like the Colosseum or the Vatican, you’ll get harassed by ticket touts. They’re trying to sell ‘skip the line’ tickets, as the queues to get into these places can be enormous. While these may be legitimate, we didn’t even want to go inside and they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Some of the touts can be quite mouthy if you ignore them – we had one suggest we learn Chinese if we weren’t going to speak to him, and another called my Mum “princess”. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were few and far between, but you get approached every minute by a different one.
You can’t get away from street vendors
If it’s not ticket touts constantly bothering you, it’s people trying to sell you complete tat. Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. I think I’ve encountered them on every single holiday I’ve ever been on. But, I was shocked at just how many there were and their persistence. Whether it’s selfie sticks, bracelets, roses, or scarves, you’ll see the same tacky goods being sold everywhere.
Many of them use the same tactics to try and win you over, as we discovered when a migrant started to tell us about moving here with his family while he shoved bracelets on my wrist and gave my Mum some wooden elephants. He claimed he didn’t want any money for them, until we tried to walk away and he asked us for something to help feed his baby. The likelihood of him actually having a newborn is pretty slim, so we gave him his stuff back and walked away. It’s easy to feel vulnerable as a tourist and I felt sorry for the ones I saw that had been duped.
Waiters will ignore you
Like most holiday destinations, you’ll find people from restaurants standing outside trying to tempt you in. Understandably, the competition for business must be rife. But, what’s unusual is when they get you in the door, they tend to ignore you. I’ve found this in a lot of European places I’ve visited, but it’s just so different to what I’m used to in the UK. You have to get their attention for pretty much everything or else you’ll be sitting there for a very long time. Don’t be afraid to ask for a receipt either and challenge anything that doesn’t seem right. We made this mistake when we grabbed a quick bite for lunch and got charged a whopping €22 for a couple of sandwiches and drinks.
Pickpockets are everywhere
It’s no secret that tourist attractions are prime spots for pickpockets, but you really do need to keep your wits about you. I was amazed just how busy the attractions were and it’s easy to find yourself swept along in a crowd. Only take what you need out with you and be sure to zip up your bag and keep a good hold of it at all times. There are a lot of beggars and gypsies in the crowded parts of the city, so don’t be surprised if you get approached by one. Just be careful they don’t have an accomplice behind you.
It’s worth it
All that being said, Rome is well worth a visit at least once in your life. I couldn’t believe just how many sights there were to see. Behind every other corner, there’s a beautiful building, ancient ruin or breathtaking fountain awaiting you. Of course, there is no shortage of churches in the city and you often don’t need to pay to visit these. Inside, you’ll find intricately painted ceilings, statues and memorials that humble you. I’d recommend giving Villa Borghese a visit when the sun is shining and taking in the sights of the park on foot or by renting bikes. No visit to Rome would be complete without sampling the gelato on offer – I swear I had the best ice cream cone of my life! That alone is a reason to return to Italy one day…
Until next time,