What I learnt in my first week in Rome: 6 tips for first-time visitors of the Eternal City

Image: Erika Gatt

Ah, Rome, I thought to myself when I finally touched down at Fiumicino Airport. This was the start of a new adventure for me – living in Rome for four months as part of an Erasmus Mobility programme I signed up for. I had never been to Rome before, and quite frankly, never lived on my own in a foreign country for an extended period of time. Thankfully, I wouldn’t be entirely on my own, for my good friend and fellow History of Art student Nicole had also applied for the Erasmus programme to the same university I did. To say I was excited about the trip would be an understatement. Lots of friends and relatives who had been to Rome shared some of their knowledge about the city with me, but I was still very overwhelmed when I found myself in the heart of Rome. A few days after I arrived, I quickly realised that I had to learn some things by trial and error.

With these tips, you’ll hopefully save yourself some of the initial mistakes that come with being in Rome for the first time, and you’ll be breezing through the city in no time:

  • ** Brace yourself, Termini is coming – Taking its name after the Baths of Diocletian (Termi di Diocleziano) which are just a stone’s throw away, Termini station is one of the largest and busiest railway stations in Europe. With connections for Metro, national railways and trams, thousands of people stop at Termini station. You’ll know that a train is on its way to Termini because the carriages will get progressively more and more crowded than on any other stop on any other Metro line. So hold on to your bags and belongings tight, as the chaos to get to the main station floor is the perfect environment for pickpockets to strike unnoticed, and prepare to elbow your way out – if you don’t, you’ll probably never make it on or off the train. Also, if you’re on a train which is arriving at your destination, and you can see the platform as the train is slowing down, try to notice the exit – or uscita – signs and where the arrow is pointing, so that once you get off the train, you know where you have to go.
Theatre of Marcellus and Temple of Apollo

Image: Erika Gatt

Theatre of Marcellus and Temple of Apollo

  • The Termini tourist information – So, you’ve arrived in Rome’s Termini station after a two hour flight and a long trip from the airport. If you’ve arrived in Rome in the morning, you’ll probably want to gather as much information as possible, and thus start making your way to the tourist information. Suddenly, you realize that there are no signs in the main station area directing you to the information office. So where the heck is the tourist information? Worry not, for I have your back on this one. After walking around Termini for what seemed like an eon, pulling luggage around, and being directed all over the station by different personnel, I was finally told that I had to exit Termini station to find the tourist information office. You need to make your way to Via Giovanni Giolitti, and walk in the opposite direction of the bus station outside. You’ll see signs directing you towards the information office above you. Hopefully, your quest to collect some brochures about Rome won’t be as eternal as the city itself.

  • Cakewalk- Finding the Altare della Patria – The grand monument to modern Italy’s first king Vittorio Emanuele II might be at the top of your list, and with reason. Though it is often sarcastically called ‘The Wedding Cake’ by most Italians, the imposing marble monument towering over Piazza Venezia is a stunning feat of art and architecture. But be warned: if you’re a first timer in Rome, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Metro stop on the A Line called Vittorio Emanuele would conveniently deliver you in front of this impressive monument, but in reality, you’ll find yourself in front of the Giardini Nicola Calipari. If you feel like walking it, the closest Metro stops are ‘Cavour’ and ‘Colosseo’, both on the B Line.

Altare della Patria

Image: Erika Gatt

Altare della Patria

  • Cut down on travelling and increase your sightseeing – As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day; and you can’t expect to see all of Rome in a day either. Organize and prioritise your sightseeing according to different areas, so you don’t waste a lot of time zigzagging all over the city using public transport or walking. Though distances might seem small on a map, out in the real world, it might be quite the stretch, so don’t expect to walk from one end of Rome to the other; you’ll just get exhausted and won’t be in the right mind to appreciate the beauty of the city. Similarly, if you’re using public transport, especially the bus service, you might have to wait for quite some time. Break down Rome into different areas, which can be done quite easily according to the different hills like the Palatine, and the Quirinal that make up Rome. That way, all the sights you want to visit will be within easy reach.
Piazza di Spagna

Image: Erika Gatt

Piazza di Spagna

  • Research your museums – Yes, I know, there is a lot to see in Rome. Of course, you need to see the highlights – the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain… the list goes on. There are many ‘major highlights’ in Rome which you can visit on any day and at any time you want because they are in public spaces, but with museums, a little research can go a long way. Most museums, for example, are closed on Mondays, with the exception of the Vatican museums, and similarly, most catacomb complexes on the outskirts of Rome are closed on Tuesdays, except those of St. Callistus. People generally opt to visit these places on Mondays and Tuesdays respectively because they’re two of the few museums which are open when most are closed, so if you’re not a fan of crowds, you can do some ‘homework’ and pick a day to visit when there won’t be a lot of people . On the other hand, a number of museums and places have free entrance on certain days, usually the first Sunday of the month, or ‘special access’ to parts which are usually closed - like Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, which only opens to the public on the 16th of March. If you happen to be in the city on these particular days, a little pre-visit research could save you some money or give you access to parts not usually seen.
Palazzo Corsini

Image: Erika Gatt

Palazzo Corsini

  • Mix up your History and Art lessons – Sure, you might be really interested in Ancient Roman history, or be an avid amateur art critic yourself, but you’ll get tired of hearing about who built what and conquered where, or seeing room after room of paintings and sculptures for an entire day. You won’t pay attention to what is being said, or appreciate the artworks in front of you as much as you would like. If you have a whole day planned in an area, for example, which is characterised by Ancient Roman ruins – like the Palatine hill, try finding a Baroque church in the vicinity, or a public park, so you can give yourself a break whilst still seeing something new.

These are just six tips from my own personal experience – some could apply for your stay in Rome, and others might not. Keeping these tips in mind, all that should be left for you to do now is pack your bags, brush up on your Italian, and get ready to say “Ciao!” to the Eternal City. Oh, and one last, very important tip: Be sure to take lots of pictures!

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Erika Gatt

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