We just got back from our Rome trip and it feels like someone woke me up from the best dream ever. Rome is the most magical city I’ve ever been to (even though I felt slightly stupid using “magical” I found most other adjectives fell short). There was something about being in a city so old, with so many snapshots of the past still in tact that made you feel like strapping on a pair of gladiator sandals and seizing the day.
My biggest regret was not purchasing a small guidebook before heading out to see the sights. Rome’s history is incredibly rich and you’re bound to run into something that makes you wish you’d paid more attention in 9th grade World History class. I usually balk at the idea of using a guidebook, but if you’re trying to save money, you can avoid paying extra for guided tours with a simple book.
I used Ulmon’s CityMaps2Go app. I downloaded Rome’s offline map for free and it worked like a charm. I created a list for each day and saved all the places we wanted to visit, plus a handful of restaurants and important metro stops. We referred to it many times throughout the trip and I highly recommend it.
For this trip, we used on Ryanair, a popular low-cost airline in Europe. We flew out of Santander, Spain (about an hour and a half away from Mundaka) into Rome’s Ciampino Airport. If you’re flying on any of the major airlines, you’ll be flying into Rome’s main airport – Fiumicino. Both airports are well connected, with various taxis and shuttle busses available (and in Fiumicino’s case – the metro).
To get from the airport to our hotel, we used SIT Bus Shuttle. I prepaid our round-trip tickets online, but you’re able to purchase tickets at the bus stop. Be sure to arrive at the bus stop a minimum of 15 minutes in advance to guarantee your seat. The good thing is if you find yourself delayed and miss the bus, your ticket is valid all day.
The bus dropped us off in Rome’s Termini Station. This place makes New York’s Grand Central Station look like Mundaka’s train station. Termini is a mall with an impressive selection of shops, a food court and the absolute heart of Rome’s transportation system. Many city buses, shuttle buses, taxis, metro lines, trams and trains pass through Termini and you almost feel out of place if you’re not dragging luggage around, squinting at the departures board and anxiously checking your watch.
For our travels, Julen and I have few requirements – it must be cheap, clean, and have free wi-fi. Hotel RomAntica checked those items off the list. Our room was decently sized with a full size bed (which, turned out to be two twin mattresses put together, but I must admit they were very comfortable twin mattresses), a tiny but clean bathroom and a small television where we got to watch “Jail – Las Vegas” dubbed in Italian. Like a lot of European budget hotels, our room didn’t have air conditioning (although, they did advertise air-conditioned rooms, so I imagine it’s something you have to reserve and pay extra for), but the window that opened to the private courtyard let in enough of the cool March breeze to make the room nice and comfortable.
But the hotel offered more – a plentiful free breakfast that we took full advantage of each day. Each morning there were croissants, bread, cereal, ham and cheese cold cuts, fruit juices, coffee, hot chocolate and an array of tea bags available in a buffet style setting. Every morning we’d go downstairs, have a good, solid meal and head straight out.
Our hotel was less than three blocks from Termini (literally a two minute walk), an important feature, as we knew we’d be getting around town on public transportation.
Julen and I used public transportation exclusively. Rome’s metro is impressively well connected. There are a few ticket options which can be purchased from vending machines at each station.
- The basic ticket is 1.50€ and is valid for 75 minutes.
- A one-day ticket is 6€ and is valid until midnight of the day it was used.
- There are two extended tourists tickets: The 3-day for 16.50€ or the seven-day for 24€
We’d purchased the Roma Pass, which gave us access to the city’s public transport network.
There are a few areas in Rome that are not accessible through the metro and the buses come in handy. When in doubt, look for a bus that’ll stop in Termini. Tickets for the buses are sold at vending machines at the stops, NOT onboard.
**As always when using public transportation, exercise caution and common sense. Pickpocketing is very common and can be easily done during Rome’s rush hours due to the hoards of people pushing their way onto buses, trains and trams. Don’t carry a wad of cash, passports or anything super valuable and always keep your wallet and bags closed and in front of you.
If you’re more inclined to use taxis (lazy!), you can use the MyTaxi app we used in Barcelona or just hail one from the street (they’re often parked near tourist areas). Be sure to ask for an estimate before getting in, the fare around town should never exceed 20€.
YOU TALKING TO ME?
Like many touristic cities, many people speak English. However, once you start branching off into budget hotels, less touristy sites and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, a little bit of Italian can go a long way. This is the small reference note I made, complete with pronunciation key. I was ordering food in Italian by the end of the trip with no problem. Preggo!
TO ROMA PASS OR NOT TO ROMA PASS, THAT IS THE QUESTION
So I’ve mentioned the Roma Pass quite a bit already. “Should I get the Roma Pass?” doesn’t have a “yes” or “no” answer. It really depends on what you plan on doing while you’re in the city.
Roma Pass offers 2 cards: 48-hour card for 28€ or a 72-hour card for 38.50€. Each one gives you access to local public transportation operated by ATAC, plus discounted tickets to additional monuments, special exhibitions and events. They’re each valid from the first use. Private monuments, such as the Vatican Museums, are not included in the Roma Pass.
What’s the main difference between the two cards? The 48-hour card gives you access to one museum/archeological site and the 72-hour card gives you access to two.
So how do you know if you should get it or not? Breakout that calculator app, folks, I’m actually going to ask you to do MATH!
First, determine if you’re sticking to public transportation to get your around the city, or if you’ll be relying on your feet and taxis. Then, make a list of what monuments, museums and sites you’ll be visiting. Highlight the sites that are included in the Roma Pass (this PDF from the Roma Pass website gives a thorough breakdown). Next, add the cost of all those bus and metro rides, plus the cost of entrance tickets to all the places you want to visit (remember, private museums are not included).
- If you’re under 28€, you should probably bypass the pass
- If you’re over 28€ but under 38.50€, get the 48-hour pass
- If you’re over 38.50€, it’s a no brainer – get the 72-hour pass
Once you start formulating your itinerary, be sure the most expensive site(s) are at the beginning of your trip so they count as the free entrance(s).
We prepaid the 48-hour cards online and picked them up in Termini before heading out on the first full day of site seeing. If you too are going to pick up the pass in Termini, use the entrance at Via Giovanni Giolitti & Via Carlo Cattaneo. This’ll save you about 10 minutes of walking around aimlessly and asking in broken ass Italian, “dov’è il Roma Pass pickup?”
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for enduring this long (but thorough!) pre-trip guide. Please put your seat in an upright position as we set out for our full itinerary! CLICK HERE!