Travellers booking flights to Rome will discover that a lifetime is not enough to enjoy everything that the Italian capital has to offer. The city of the seven hills on the River Tiber is ancient; every stick and stone of it sing out of glorious times past. It is where the gladiators fought in the Colosseum, where the devout prayed in the Pantheon, where Michaelangelo painted the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel and where millions of visitors have tossed a coin or two into the Trevi Fountain in hopes of their wishes coming true.
The devout still flock to Rome to visit the Vatican City, the residence of the Pope and a city-state of enormous cultural importance. The Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican Museums draw millions of tourists each year. Michelangelo designed the basilica's dome (you can climb the 323 steps to the top to enjoy sumptuous views of Rome) and, famously, painted the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
After the culture, soak up the atmosphere on the streets - Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, the most theatrical of the piazzas, or Trastevere, bohemian and with a young vibe - and sample the hearty Italian fare.
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Winter is typically cool with December and January temperatures in the single digits and low teens (Celsius) and most of the yearly rainfall. Spring and autumn are Rome’s best weather seasons. April usually starts in the teens and temperatures reach the mid-20s in June. Summer can be very hot and dry with July and August temperatures in the high-20s.
When to fly to Rome
Rome’s peak tourist season begins just before Easter (when the greatest number of visitors step off their flights to Rome) and runs through October. June to the beginning of September is usually the most expensive and crowded time to travel to Rome. Many visitors come in the summer despite the warmer weather. It’s recommended that you don’t travel in Italy in August. Most of the population is on holiday for the month of August, especially the last two weeks of August. Even hotels, restaurants, and shops are closed as all the Romans go on holiday.
Most attractions either go on shorter winter hours or close for renovations from late October to Easter. Some hotels and restaurants are closed for a month or two between November and February. However, during the winter months, especially January through March, you can often get into the open attractions and sights without having to wait in line.
Getting around Rome
Don’t try driving a car or motorbike in Rome. The historic centre of the city is easily managed on foot and many streets don’t allow cars. Where the streets are open, traffic is heavy and congested and local drivers have little patience. You’ll enjoy the city on foot, especially if you have some comfy walking shoes to make your way over the cobblestones. For longer distances, take advantage of the public transport system, the Metrebus or Metro. You can find subway entrances by looking for a big red “M.” Most of the popular attractions have subway stops nearby and trains run from 5:30am until 11:30pm. On Saturdays trains run an extra hour until 12:30am.
For after-hours travel, hop on a night bus, which run from 12:30am to 5:30am. Look for stops marked with an owl. The daytime buses and trams start running at 5:30am. You won’t get anywhere fast, but at least you can soak up some of the city while you get around. You’ll need to buy bus and metro tickets before you board.
Rome insider information
- If you're in Rome in September, don't miss La Notte Bianca ("the white night") when all of Rome stays open until dawn. Most of the museums and galleries have free entry all night long and it's the only chance to see behind the normally closed doors at some public buildings, such as the stunning Palazzo Farnese, home of the French Embassy.
- On the last Sunday of every month the Vatican Museums have free admission, so you can save €15 if you visit then.
- And if you're there just to see the Sistine Chapel make sure to get there and join the queue early - at least an hour before the museums open at 8.45am. Once you're inside, sprint all the way to the Sistine Chapel. (To walk round normally and look at all the other works of art would take at least a couple of hours.) If you're lucky, and quick enough, you might get to see it on your own.
- Rome is the place for shopping. If you're on the hunt for bargains, steer clear of the Via dei Condotti and visit Via del Governo Vechhio and Porta Portese, the weekend market in the Trastevere district. Both are boutiquey and trendy and have second-hand clothes, knick-knacks and junk at reasonable prices.
- If you want to look Italian, don't order a cappuccino after your meal. Despite being one of Italy's most famous exports, a cappuccino would only be drunk by the Romans at breakfast and never at any other time of the day. No matter how well you speak the language, ordering a cappuccino after supper is a giveaway sign that you're a tourist.