Travel guide to Rome

Also known as the Eternal City, the capital of Italy and the once-home to gladiators and emperors, Rome is an iconic city and tops many travellers' bucket lists.

Boasting ancient monuments like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain, visitors could spend weeks wandering the streets of this legendary location and never see all that is on offer.

Rome is well-equipped to cater to visitors, with excellent restaurants and cafés on every street. However, keep in mind that the closer you are to the major tourist centres, the more you'll pay for a drink or meal.

Over 4.3 million people call Rome their home and the city welcomes millions of tourists each year. Read our handy travel guide to Rome below to find out why so many people have fallen in love with this Renaissance-style city.

Here are a few must-know facts about Rome:
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Official language: Italian
Country: Italy

Roof top view of Rome

Visiting Rome

Rome is located near the centre of the country, below the fashion capital of Milan and above the southern coastal city of Naples. Famous for its history, architecture, and aqueducts, Rome is a marvel to behold and experience.

Rome was first nicknamed the Eternal City by the Roman poet Tibullus because of its long history and longevity.

The city hosted the Summer Olympics of 1960, a fitting tribute to its history, as Italy is considered to be a pioneer of stadia sport and athletics alongside ancient Greece.

The city also plays to the tune of food-lovers, with Italians being famous for their hearty and tasty pasta, pizza, and pane Toscano (bread), although the country is quite divided on which region is best at what dish.

In 2019, it was ranked as the 14th most popular city to visit in the world and the 3rd most popular city in the European Union (EU) by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.

A historical point of view

Romans have a saying: ''Some people travel to see history; we have it in our backyard.'' Everywhere you look you'll find hotels and restaurants integrated into and built alongside ancient grounds where legends lived, fought, and died.

Evidence of stone tools and pottery indicate human ancestors lived in the region around 14,000 years ago. However, the myth which depicts the more legendary story of Remus and Romulus, the twins who set upon building the glorious city of Rome, is far more interesting for many people than the historical facts.

Arguably the most well-known part of Rome's history is the reign of Julius Caesar, whose rule increased the power of Rome through various political and battle victories. His fall came on 15 March 44 BCE, also known as the Ides of March, when he was assassinated by his closest political peers.

People and restaurants at a small square in Rome.
People touring the Pantheon in Rome

Landmarks in Rome

Vatican City, the home of the Pope and the Catholic religion, is situated near the centre of Rome. Interestingly, Vatican City is a sovereign city-state and is the smallest country in the world. The large barriers surrounding the Vatican can be seen from various spots in the city.

Tip: The Vatican is crowded with tourists year-round. If you're planning a visit, book a tour guide in advance or arrive there as early as possible to avoid standing in the long queues which form in St. Peter's Square.

St. Peter's Square is a large open plaza located in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. There, you can rest by a fountain while you marvel at the largest church in the world.

For history buffs, the Pantheon is a must-see. The large dome dominates the heart of the city and offers visitors a glimpse into the astonishing effort that went into designing the structure, which remains the largest unsupported dome in the world.

The Colosseum is another popular tourist attraction that isn't to be missed. Built during the Roman Empire as a stadium to host gladiators and games from around the world, the Colosseum became a symbol of Rome's glory and grandeur.

The Trevi Fountain is an artistic marvel. Crafted from stone and marble, the fountain was designed by architect Nicola Silva and eventually completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762.

Tip: Throwing a coin into the fountain is considered good luck and establishes a tradition that you'll return to the city, but there is a catch. You must throw the coin over your left shoulder using your right hand, as depicted in the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain.

Ponte Sant'Angelo was built in 134 CE and was the bridge to Castel Sant'Angelo, the castle which was the Pope's fortress. It makes for a magical sight at night when the city lights shimmer on the surrounding waters.

Where to stay in Rome

There is an array of options for accommodation in Rome. However, do keep in mind that because the city and its structures are old and densely populated, space and privacy are considered to be a luxury.

Prices to rent an Airbnb in Rome range from affordable to expensive, depending on how far you are from the main landmarks. The same can be said for hotels, with the outskirts of the city usually offering better pricing.

Tip: When you book accommodation in Rome, keep transportation in mind as more affordable options could end up costing more in transportation to and from places you'd like to see.

Hotel front entrance at Hotel Indigo, Rome.
Taking a picture with people and antient buildings in the background.

For the adventurous

One of the best ways to explore the city is by bike. Book a bike tour of Rome and experience the city on a laid-back tour with the sounds and sights uninterrupted.

Of course, as there is something to see on every corner, you can always walk your way around the city if your fitness levels are up for it.

Want to feel like a gladiator? Book a trip to go inside the Colosseum and see where the warriors of the past laid their lives on the line for sport.

You can also experience Rome from the sky, with helicopter tours and even skydiving on offer. Imagine parachuting over the city for a truly unique perspective.

Weather in Rome

Rome has a Mediterranean climate, with cool winters followed by dry and warm summers. Summer occurs between May and September, and the average annual temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius, making for a pleasant holiday for visitors.

Heavy dark clouds and a rainbow over the city of Rome.
A plate of pasta penne with meat.

Food in Rome

Italy is steeped in food history, with the country boasting a long list of unique Italian dishes. Pasta, pizza, risotto, and Tuscan wines are just some of the world-famous cuisines that originated here.

While Italy is a haven for food fanatics, what you'll find at cafés and restaurants depends on where you are. The southern region of Italy, more specifically Naples, is considered to be the home of pizza, while Rome is the home of carbonara, the creamy pasta dish made with spaghetti, eggs, guanciale (a pork meat), black pepper, and pecorino cheese. Romans are fanatical about this dish and consider it to be an edible icon, alongside their beloved manzo (meat), pane (bread) and gnocchi, a semolina dumpling which is made in a similar manner to pasta.

Coffee is another delectable classic, with Italians being the leaders in coffee-making. Beware though – they make it very strong! From espresso to latte, every café offers its own take on this famous hot beverage.

Tip: If you simply want to grab a coffee, don't sit at a table but rather order at the bar. Italian restaurants often charge a table fee for sitting.

Crime and safety

Rome isn't considered to be a dangerous place; it's ranked the 34th safest city in the world. However, there is a major problem with pickpocketing and tourist scamming.

Tip: When exploring the streets of Rome, don't carry cash, jewellery, or any items of value on your possession unless they are securely locked away. If you are approached in close quarters by a stranger, avoid contact and move away from them as quickly as possible while keeping an eye out for any partners in crime.

Side view of Roman police vehicle with people in the background.
Airplane view in Rome

Travelling to and within Rome

Italy is part of the European Union, meaning South African tourists require a Schengen visa to enter the country. The only way to obtain a Schengen visa is to book an appointment online with Capago International, the exclusive visa representative for Italy in South Africa.

Here are the ways you can travel to and around Rome:

Driving in Rome

Rome was built for a time before ours and this includes the roads. Designed for horses and carriages, the cobblestone streets aren't kind to cars, and narrow lanes make it impossible to drive in some places. Because of this, you'll see the tiniest, weirdest-looking vehicles parked all around the city. If you want to rent a car in Rome, be sure to take out car rental insurance or contact your insurer about rental car insurance, as the chances of scratching a vehicle are high.

Cruise ship

Rome is landlocked and can't be accessed by cruise ship; however, the Tiber river is full of tours where visitors can relax on yachts and escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Flying to Rome

The main airport in Rome is the Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino International Airport, located on the outskirts of the city. It was voted by the Aviation Authority as Europe's 10th busiest airport.

Tips for visiting Rome

1. Carry a water bottle

Fountains are located across the city and provide clean and cool drinking water. Rather than paying for bottled water, simply fill up your own bottle and enjoy fresh water for free.

2. Language

Although Rome is quite accommodating to international visitors, English is not a first language in the country. Learning a few basic Italian words and phrases will help you speak to the locals when you need some help.

3. Extend your stay

The city has far too much history for a visitor to explore in just a few days. Also consider that tourist lines can be long and it can take an entire day just to see one or two sights because of this. If you want to see everything on offer in Rome, we suggest you plan well in advance and book at least a week there.

Ancient buildings in Rome with the cloudy sky in the background.

Prices quoted are correct at the time of publishing this article. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal, or medical advice.

Sources: Wikipedia, LonelyPlanet, TripAdvisor; Thought Co