History and high-culture meet haute couture and heritage in Italy's oldest and most romantic of cities. The city's history, visible on every corner is a love-letter to itself, but today the culture, the food and the people make up a cosmopolitan, vibrant city that is worthy of a visit irrespective of its past. Here are our local's tips to help you do as the Romans do and get the most out of the Eternal City.
1. Learn some Italian
Most professional Romans speak excellent English, especially in the larger, touristy areas where you will be hard pushed to find a waiter who won't reply to you in English. Despite this it's always an idea to learn some conversational language which helps build a rapport with the locals. Here are some basics that should get you through any eating experience in Italy...
Prendo (I'll have) tre birre, un caffè, una pizza etc.
Per favore, Grazie (please, thankyou)
Un tavolo per due (a table for two)
Il conto per favore (the bill please)
Roman artichokes (carcofi), source: Flickr/Tim Sackton
2. The waiter isn't being rude when he leaves you alone to eat
This phenomenon isn't unique to Rome, but it's worth mentioning because it catches so visitors many off-guard. Italian food rituals command that food (and people) take their time, so it's up to you to wave a cameriere (waiter) down and ask to order and also for the bill.
The same relaxed attitude also applies to tipping which is rarely done in Italy. I was once chased down the street by a barista for leaving an extra €5 on the tray after paying. Ok that's not true, but often bar staff will question a tip, especially if the establishment is small.
Nowhere does coffee like Italy. Making a good caffè here is an art in itself and the Italians know how to serve and consume it with style. The Romans are busy people and the surcharge imposed upon sitters means they drink small espressos standing up at the bar. Please note: order a 'caffè' and you'll get a simple espresso; all other types of coffee need to be distinguished as such.
Colosseum in the rain, source: Flickr/Moyan Brenn
4. Know when to go
There's no real off-season in the Eternal City, though as a rule the best times to go are spring and autumn. Easter weekend sees the annual pilgrimage of the world's catholic population to Vatican City and the city sees its population more than double. It is best to avoid city at this time as hotel's are extortionate and museums and galleries booked-up weeks in advance. In the winter the city can be grey and wet, making it challenging to see the Roman Forum and Colosseum. In the summer Rome is scorching hot (temperatures reaching 40°c) and full of coaches and crowds of tourists. Which leads me on to...
5. Escape the heat
In the heat of the summer, Romans escape to the coast as the city becomes unbearable. Most head to the beach of Ostia, which used to be a separate town and has now been incorporated into the city. A beautiful alternative is the Villa Borghese, just north and to the left of the Spanish steps. Step behind the Aurelian walls and cool-off on the lawns. The villa is always worth a pit-stop as to see the amazing Renaissance and Baroque museum of the same name.
Villa Borghese Temple Esculape; source Jean-Christophe Benoist/Wikimedia
6. Prepare to walk
It's been said the best museum in Rome is the city itself and for that reason this is a city to navigate on foot. That being said, the public transport is horrifically bad and almost as ancient as the city itself; rarely will you find a bus or metro that can connect to the city's many places of interest at the time you want. It's best to pick a central hotel, wear comfortable shoes and walk.
Roman number plate, source: Flickr/H Matthew Howarth
7. See the panoramic views from Rome's seven hills
Although the gradient of the seven hills of Rome is considerably lower that in was in the 1st century AD, there are still some incredible views to be seen from the top of them, the best city panoramas can be seen from...
Giardino dei Aranci: This tranquil garden filled with orange trees, also known as Parco Savello, is well worth the hike up Aventino Hill. A favourite spot for theatrical productions, artists, locals and tourists, the terrace offers views over the Tevere, Forum, Santa Maria in Cosmedin and the dome of St Peter's. Tip: 100m up the road is a hidden surprise through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta...
Giardino Degli Aranci and St Peters' Dome
Terrace of the Monumento Vittorio Emanuele: Located in the Piazza Venezia, the colossal testament to the unification of Italy is 70 meters high and has a panoramic terrace at the top, offering views over the Colosseum and all the seven hills. You can walk up halfway for free or take the glass elevator to the top for breathtaking views.
Terrace of the Monumento Vittorio Emanuele
8. Trastevere is where it's at
Take a stroll through the labyrinthine cobbles if this medieval quarter of the city. Trastevere's narrow streets are filled with bars, pubs and local restaurants and in the summer it also extends along the river. In the 60s and 70s musicians and artists flocked to the area, including Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum and the bohemian legacy lives on today.
Trastevere, source: Flickr/Ben Cremin
9. Roman attitude
Romans consider themselves the fathers of civilisation, they are rightfully proud of their city and history and are not shy or quiet about boasting about it. They consider themselves the forefathers of sophistication, history and culture from the best city in the world. Once you visit, it's hard not to fall in love with the city and see they have a point.
Couple in Rome, source Flickr/Ben Cremin
10. Romantic ideologies
Italy is still a new country, (unification didn't occur until 1847) and for this reason many people identify themselves with their region first, and their country second. With this heightened sense of local identity comes certain stereotypes. For example...southerners see the northerners (in particular the Milanese) as cold, money-driven and high-maintenance whereas those from the north see the southerners as hot blooded lazy, tax-evading outlaws.
The Romans located at roughly the mid-point of the country are known as menefreghista's (literally 'those who don't give a damn') i.e. those who have strong opinions and can be resistant to change.
Like all stereotypes these views can be debated. But it's fair to say that things in Rome don't change as fast as in other international cities. Italy's rigid traditions and customs are charming and unique but often seem detrimental to the city's economic progress. Whenever a Roman tries to impress a certain way of doing things on to you don't take it as gospel, simply nod along and don't try to argue....and just remember...when in Rome...