What to do & avoid in Rome according to University Directors

University directors share advice on the things to do and avoid in Rome
Photo by: Emmanuel Cordoba-Castro

University directors give students advice on what to do and what to avoid in Rome

Rome is filled with international universities and students coming from every corner of the globe. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend a few months living in the Eternal City? But there are a few do’s and don’ts you should keep in mind during your stay in Rome. And who better to give you tips on how to make the most of your time in Rome than some of the city’s international university directors?


Dr. Jose B. Alvarez

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Operations of John Cabot University

University directors share advice on the things to do and avoid in Rome

Set attainable goals

Set attainable goals for while you’re in Rome. For example, although you won’t be able to master Italian language in a few short months, tell yourself you want to be able to order food in Italian or master basic conversational skills. By setting attainable goals and having a travel partner to check in with so that you achieve these, you will feel accomplished at the end of your time abroad.

Branch out of your comfort zone

It’s tempting to go places that are “easy,” where you know how to order and how to act. Instead, go somewhere that challenges you, where doing something simple suddenly becomes very complicated, where people are talking and you feel you have no voice. Branching out of your comfort zone will help you to grow and integrate.

Avoid having a bucket list focused on visiting a million places

Get to know the city and country you’re in. Students often spend all their free time traveling to neighboring countries and don’t actually get to know Rome. Instead, become a cultural anthropologist. Get away from the big groups of students and go around the city observing everything, and then reflect. Try to understand society and culture and your own identity.

Dr. Richard Hodges

President of the American University of Rome

University directors share advice on the things to do and avoid in Rome

Find places to contemplate

Rome has truly amazing churches, with crypts built into earlier ancient remains. These are glorious places for contemplation. Some are really extraordinary, some are simple. Visit the crypt of S. Crisogono and the two earlier levels of S. Clemente, and then find solitude and listen to the nuns sing in S.S. Quattro Coronati.

Visit the Villa Giulia museum

Walk across the Borghese Gardens and descend into the Valle Giulia to see one of the world’s greatest museums: the Villa Giulia, devoted to the Etruscans. We know so much more about these peoples than their better known peers, the Greeks. The art and culture was life affirming, as the English author, D.H. Lawrence described in his posthumous book, Etruscan Places. Then retrace your steps and have a cocktail in the garden of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (and then pop in to see the Carlo Levis and De Chiricos).

Forget the bucket list places

Forget the bucket list places and enjoy the many corners of ancient and medieval and early modern Rome that miraculously lie still beyond the tourists. Climb the Janiculum and Santa Sabina and see the most remarkable city on the planet.

Dr. Fay R. Trachtenberg

Interim Director | Acting Dean of Temple University Rome

University directors share advice on the things to do and avoid in Rome

Go visit the Galleria Borghese

I have been coming here since I was a teenager, there is always something new to find amongst its treasures. I never tire of seeing the Bernini sculptures and recalling the works of Ovid and seeing the metamorphosis come to life in the Daphne and Apollo and the Rape of Proserpina. I encouraged our students this semester to go and visit – providing them with reimbursement for their tickets, with the caveat that they had to come and tell me about their experience.

Get lost!

Go wander in the many, diverse and unique neighborhoods that make up our beautiful city. Pick a place, do a little research about what you can do and see there and then, go (with a friend)!

Avoid main attractions during peak tourist times

I would avoid seeing the main attractions of Rome during peak tourist times. Instead, because you are now living here, go see the Colosseum at night – preferably when it’s a full moon and find the moon through the many arches of this iconic structure. Take a walk early in the morning and see the Pantheon or Piazza Navona. Live more like a Roman and less like a tourist!

Dr. Thanos Zyngas

Director of University of St.Thomas – Bernardi Campus

University directors share advice on the things to do and avoid in Rome

Get out of your comfort zone

Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. Venture out independently and ‘discover’ Rome and its culture by just going on a walk and/or using public transportation. Being with your friends all the time can deter your integrative cultural experience.

Make an effort to learn Italian

Work on learning the Italian language a little bit more – it makes things much easier and it makes you feel much more confident in your communication with the locals.

Change things up

Avoid getting into the habit of always going to the same restaurants, gelato, pizza places, having the same routine every day because there are tons of so many good options and you can’t find them if you don’t look.

Ms. Maggie Panzera

Assistant Dean of St. John’s University Master’s Program – International Relations

University directors share advice on the things to do and avoid in Rome

Explore the more off the beaten path neighborhoods of the city

Pigneto, Monteverde Vecchio, Garbatella to name a few… After 14 years in Rome, there are still so many beautiful palazzi, piazzas and gardens I have yet to see. Learn about their history, about their most famous trattorie, gelaterie, and markets. Here, you will get a glimpse of the many diverse areas of the city and get a better understanding of everyday life.

Take the time to get to know the locals

It is easy to stay in your own Expat bubble, but there are so many ways to meet people these days – language exchanges, meet up groups etc. Make the most of your time here and learn more about the culture. Ask the Romans you meet about their food traditions, where their families come from, what they think about the national politics. All of these exchanges will lead to a much deeper understanding of your new city.

Avoid being distracted on public transportation

Do not keep all of your credit cards and cash in one wallet. Bring a photo copy of your passport and permit card with you and keep the originals at home. Pick pockets are abundant in the city and they target foreigners. This tip (originally from my mother) saved me when my wallet was stolen.

Dr. Amity Neumeister

Resident Director of University of Washington Rome Center

University directors share advice on the things to do and avoid in Rome

Get lost

Turn off your phone and go explore your neighborhood—or even better, a new neighborhood—without a map. Sharpen your navigation skills, become more familiar with your surroundings, make new discoveries, and find hidden treasures.

Discover Rome’s parks

Take a long stroll, have a picnic, or stretch out on the grass at Villa Pamphilj, Villa Borghese, Villa Ada, or one of Rome’s amazing parks. Find a quiet place to connect with nature in the middle of the bustle and chaos of our beautiful city.

Don’t expect things to work like they do at home

Whether we’re talking about eating at a restaurant, taking the bus, or simply buying groceries at a super market, don’t expect things to work the same way as they does at home. Part of the beauty of travel is discovering how differently other cultures do things, and realizing your way is not the only way.

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