I spent three days in Rome in February. Some of my impressions:
- Public transportation is fantastic. It’s easy and affordable to get anywhere you might want to visit. If you are staying for a few days and plan on walking (which you should, see below), don’t bother with a multi-day metro pass. Just buy individual tickets when you need them for €1.50.
- You can safely walk just about anywhere, and it’s probably the best way to see the city. In 3 days, I walked 30+ miles. Expect to be distracted by interesting things along the way. You’ll wander into churches, stop to listen to street musicians playing Pink Floyd in front of the Pantheon, things like that. I was there in February so the weather was nice. Summer heat might make walking more challenging.
- You won’t have enough time to see it all. You’ll have to make concessions, but that’s part of visiting Rome. When I was researching what to see, I knew the Capitoline Museum was high on my list. I searched for how many hours to allow for a visit and came across an interesting article: A blogger wrote about how the first time he visited the Capitoline Museum he spent 3 hours. The second time, he spent the full day. The third time, he spent the whole week exploring just this one museum.
- Arrange your itinerary by history: Ancient one day, renaissance another, etc. Leave at least one day for The Vatican and its museums. This worked well for me.
- Ignore the unofficial guides around the Colosseum. They are ruthless and well-trained to remove you from your money. There are better (free) guides, unless you want to do the Colosseum underground tour.
- Street hustlers will constantly proposition you. I actually admire their hustle. I was walking around the Colosseum on the second day - fending off selfie-stick offers left and right - when it started to rain. Before the first drop even touched the ground the selfie-sticks were magically transformed into umbrellas. These guys are pros. Stick your headphones in and ignore them.
- Lines to enter some sites will be long. I was fortunate to be in Rome during free-entrance Sunday (the first Sunday of each month), so even though it wasn’t peak tourist season, the lines were long. Instead of waiting I walked up Palantine Hill and discovered a ticket for admission there also grants admission to the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. I saved a long wait, toured the Palantine Hill, and was able to return to the Colosseum in the afternoon when the line was shorter.
- Validate your train tickets and ask the conductor for verification. I read a lot about train ticket validation being an issue for foreigners, but I never had a problem. I only had to validate Leonardo Express train tickets to and from the airport.
- Travel to and from the airport is simple. I opted for the easier but more expensive direct method: the Leonardo Express (€15.00). There’s also a cheaper local train which makes a few stops enroute to Termini.
- It is possible to explore Rome on the cheap, depending on when you visit. I booked a $150 roundtrip flight from Munich on Lufthansa. I used AirBnB for lodging at approximately $50 per night. I ate in and skipped lunch. My total cost for this trip was less than $500.
- It’s difficult to pick favorites but certainly St. Peter’s would be near the top. The Pantheon is also a must-see. In terms of artwork I most enjoyed the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (the original, housed inside the Capitoline Museum) and the Laocoön in the Vatican Museums. It has a fascinating history.
- For the best view of the city, climb the dome at St. Peter’s. It’s not an easy walk, even if you cheat and take the elevator as high as it goes. It’s still another 200 steps in a very narrow and confined space to get to the cupula. But the view is absolutely worth it.
Before you go, I recommend reading SPQR by Mary Beard and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King.
Rome in three days was rushed, but worth it.