First timer's guide to Rome
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A First Timer’s Guide to Rome

Must Visit Sites, Where to Stay, Best Neighborhoods to visit, Where to Eat, Nightlife, Airport Transfers, and Getting Around in Rome

If you’re visiting Rome for the first time soon, you’ve probably spent lots of time on the internet and on guide books searching for the must-visit sites, the best restaurants and must-do tours. You’re in luck, we’ve got you covered with our beginner’s guide to Rome!  Come for its history, its churches, and its ruins. Stay for its cobblestone streets, its photogenic alleyways and  its lively piazzas. 

Must-Visit Sites

The Colosseum often draws visitors to Rome whose imaginations are filled with ancient gladiators battling in a 50,000 seat area. If you choose to visit the Colosseum (and you should),  be sure to secure a guide so that you have access to the top three floors. You also get an added bonus with your tickets: entrance into the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Here you can admire the remains of ancient government buildings and Emperor Augustus’s palace which dates all the way back to the 1st century AD. Next, visit the Pantheon and gaze up at the dome as you marvel at this truly timeless structure. Of course, the Vatican is also a must when visiting Rome. An entire country within a city, this is another site best experienced with a tour; you’ll want to set aside at least half a day to fully appreciate the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica, which require visitors to wear respectful or modest dress.

Where to stay in Rome

If you only have a couple of days in the Eternal City, consider staying in Centro Storico, the historic center of Rome. Airbnb’s are available steps away from attractions like the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain and can make waking up early for tours a breeze. Twenty-somethings looking for nightlife may also enjoy staying in the Trastevere neighborhood, which sits right across the Tiber River and is still in walking distance from major sites. Everyone who visits seems to fall in love with this former-working class district and its cobblestone, ivy-draped streets. Foodies, however, will want to stay in Testaccio, a slightly more rustic neighborhood known for its spectacular markets and restaurants. If you’re looking for creative inspiration, you should consider staying in Monti, a neighborhood popular with artists and hipsters that is only a short walking distance from the Colosseum. Budget travelers will want to book a hotel in the Termini area near the train station. Though it is quite affordable, it doesn’t require travelers to sacrifice safety and is also very convenient for day-trippers catching early morning trains.

The best neighbourhoods to visit in Rome

You will definitely want to spend time in the Centro Storico during your first visit to Rome so that you can mark the major sights off of your bucket list. Step inside the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio and then people watch on the Spanish Steps or enjoy a gelato in the Piazza Navona. After visiting the Colosseum, take a stroll through Monti where you can relax in a funky coffee shop or peek inside one of the neighborhood’s many vintage stores. Visiting Trastevere is also a must as it will give you a whole new appreciation for Rome. In Trastevere, getting lost is a good thing. Vines drape over cobblestone streets lined with shops, cafes, and lively bars. Hang out in Piazza Trilussa, a popular gathering space, or enjoy aperitivo in Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Where to eat in Rome

Roman cuisine is top notch, but it’s easy to fall victim to tourist traps which can drastically hinder your experience. When you’re in the Centro Storico, be sure to check out Da Alfredo, the very place where Alfredo sauce originated. Maccheroni and Armando al Pantheon are also great options which offer mouthwatering traditional Roman cuisine. Of course, if you’re in the mood for pizza you should try Piccolo Buco, and if you’re looking for vegan or vegetarian options, stop by Ginger Sapori e Salute. For a classy dining experience, try Hotel Forum’s Roof Garden restaurant in Monti.  For a more intimate dining experience, visit Fafiuche for cheese, chocolate, and more than 600 wine labels. You can find seafood and fresh seasonal dishes at Broccoletti and the handmade pasta of our dreams at Centro Restaurant and Pasta Lab. In Trastevere, try Eggs with its ten variations of Carbonara and unique side dishes often served in eggs. Osteria da Zio Umberto, Da Teo, and Da Enzo al 29 are also authentically delicious Trastevere favorites. Of course, you cannot leave the neighborhood behind without trying Pizzeria ai Marmi’s thin, crispy masterpieces(the lines are totally worth it). For a full-on Italian gourmet experience, venture off to Testaccio’s Volpetti and sample the red wine-infused salami or the impressive cheese collection. If street food is more your thing, try Trapizzino’s specialty stuffed pizza crusts and supplí.

The best nightlife in Rome

There is certainly no shortage of nightlife in Rome, whether you’re looking for aperitivo, a casual bar or after dinner drink, or an introduction to the night club scene. Aperitivo is similar to an American happy hour and typically occurs between 7pm to 9pm. While drinks are not discounted, small plates are typically brought out with cocktails. In the Centro Storico area, try Il Marchese, Italy’s first Amaro bar,  as well as La Terrazza del Cesàri, located in Rome’s oldest hotel. In Trastevere, we recommend Santo, a beautifully-decorated establishment with delicately-prepared food and drinks. Freni e Frizoni is another neighborhood favorite with an energy that mimics that of Trastevere itself. For Monti aperitivo, Fafiuché and Panella are both great picks. For the casual cocktail kind of night, check out Argot, a vintage-chic bar in Campo di Fiori. If you like Argot, you’ll also enjoy Monti’s Blackmarket Hall, another funky cocktail bar which features live music on weekends. Wine lovers will feel at home in Bukowski’s, located close to the city center, and those seeking high-quality cocktails will enjoy Trastevere’s quirky Alembic Bar. Nightowls will undoubtedly be impressed with Rome’s trendy nightclub scene. Try the stylish Shari Vari which has two floors and multiple rooms for dancing or Circolo degli Illuminati which has gained popularity with electronic music fans. Of course, many clubs are closed in the summer, so be sure to also check out our summer hangouts guide.

Airport transfers

It’s easy to get lost in your anticipation of the Eternal City and forget that after you fly into the Roman sunset, you  are still a distance from the city center. However, there are many options for airport transfers which will appeal to a wide-range of travel preferences.

There are two airports in Rome: Fiumicino & Ciampino. For early flights and general convenience, opt for a private airport transfer.  To get to and from the airport by train, take a thirty-minute ride on The Leonardo Express from Termini Station to Fiumicino airport. You can reach Termini by bus or the A and B metro lines, which have stops at Piramide, San Pietro, Colosseo, and Circo Massimo. Depending on the time of day and type of train, the journey is around fifteen minutes. Once you arrive at Ciampino station you are very close to the airport and can take the SIT bus to the airport, a fifteen minute ride, or an AirportBus which leaves Ciampino station for the airport and takes approximately ten minutes.

Getting around Rome

For taxi transport, download MyTaxi, an app similar to Uber which estimates your cost and lets you pay with cash or credit. To truly immerse yourself in the city, opt for public transportation. Public transportation in Rome can be intimidating at first, but mastering it will come with satisfaction and savings. If you are only here for a couple days, you can purchase a 48 or 72 hour RomaPass. Cardholders also receive discounts for many galleries, museums, and archeological sites. RomaPass lets you use ATAC public transit, which includes metro lines A, B and C, trams, buses, and railway lines Roma-Lido, Roma-Giardinetti, and Roma Flaminio at Piazza del Popolo-Viterbo. Of course, children ten and under always ride for free. Omnia cards are another option which can provide tourists with a 24 to 72 hour tour pass to religious sites. Public transportation tickets can also be purchased at tabacchi shops, newspaper stands, or metro offices for a 100 minute (€1.50) to 72 hour usage (€18). 

Get your own copy of our essential guide to Rome

A lifetime isn’t enough to explore Rome. But if you plan ahead, a short period of time can give you a grand picture of the Eternal City. Just remember one thing: Rome isn’t just about the monuments, the museums and the views… it’s a lifestyle. And if you want to immerse yourself in this thousands-year-old city, this insider guide will become your best friend!

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