Rome’s compact centro storico, where most of the major sights lie, is small enough to get around on foot. But it’s worth getting to grips with the city’s mostly efficient public transport system, which will save you some very long treks on certain key routes – for example if you want to travel between the main train station, Stazione Termini, and St Peter’s; or if you are keen on exploring the Appian Way and its famous catacombs. The one major downside of public transport in Rome is the fact that there are currently only two metro lines – so expect to spend most of your time on buses or trams, and arm yourself with patience, as traffic can be intense. As for driving – it may seem like anarchy out there, but there are rules beneath the chaos. The problem is not so much the driving as the parking – the city has nowhere enough spaces to satisfy the demand. Best advice is to leave the car in a hotel car park or in the suburbs close to a metro stop.
Rome’s main station, Stazione Termini, is situated just to the east of the historic centre. It’s also where Rome’s two metro lines intersect. For the Colosseum and points south, take line B in the direction of Laurentina. Line A heads south-east (direction Anagnina) to San Giovanni and beyond, or west (direction Battistini) to St Peter’s (a short walk from the Ottaviano stop). If you are heading into the heart of the centro storico (Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori) or would rather do the trip to St Peter’s overground, take buses 40 or 64. See below for bus ticket and travel pass information.
For train times and online ticketing, go to www.trenitalia.com.
Those approaching the city from the north on the A1 motorway should turn right on the GRA ring road (follow signs to ‘Salaria/Flaminia/Fiumicino’). To get into the centre, take the Via Salaria turn-off (following the centre icon – three concentric circles) if you are headed towards Villa Borghese, Stazione Termini or Via Veneto; or the Via Flaminia turn-off if your destination is St Peter’s, the centro storico or Trastevere. From the south, there’s not much to choose between the Via Appia or the Via Tuscolana – both tend to be heavily trafficked, especially during the morning rush-hour, and both end up in the San Giovanni-Colosseum area of the centre.
The whole of the historic centre is a restricted traffic zone, open only to pass-holders. To see a map of the restricted area, click on www.atac.roma.it/index.asp?p=15. Note that you can drive along the Tiber-side road (Lungotevere), but as soon as you turn off here, you are in the restricted area or ‘zona ZTL’, which is controlled by automatic sensors, with heavy fines for those who drive through regardless. Apart from a few pedestrian or super-restricted areas, you can drive in to the centre freely outside of the ZTL times, which are currently Mon-Fri 6.30am-6pm and Saturday 2-6pm. Some of the ZTL areas are also closed to non-passholders on Friday and Saturday night between 11pm and 3am.
This is never easy in Rome; in the centro storico, it’s almost impossible to find a legal parking space, though there are a few metered spaces on the Lungotevere (the Tiber-side road). Unless you’re staying in one of the very few hotels that has its own garage, the best advice is to leave your car for the duration of your stay in one of the ‘parcheggi di scambio’ car-parks run by ATAC, most of them close to metro station or other transport links: for details of locations and charges see www.atac.roma.it/index.asp?p=24&i=15 (Italian only). Wherever you park, leave nothing of value on view inside the car, and consider using a good steering wheel or pedal lock, as auto theft is a serious problem in the city.
If you’re car’s not where you left it and there’s a chance that it might have been towed away for a parking infringement, ring the city traffic police (Vigili Urbani) on +39 06 67 691. If they don’t have it, ask where your nearest Polizia di Stato or Carabinieri station is, as you will need to fare una denuncia (file a report).
Getting around the city
Rome’s public transport system is operated by ATAC (www.atac.roma.it). It’s reasonably efficient, though the fact that there are only two metro lines (plus a few suburban train lines) means that much of it relies on buses and trams, which can be agonisingly slow-moving. You can pick up bus maps from tourist offices or the ATAC offices at major metro stations, or download one from the ATAC website, where you can also calculate journey routes and times (note that the English pages on the site are incomplete and not regularly updated).
Tickets need to be purchased before boarding – though some buses now have on-board ticket machines. You can buy them from ATAC booths, tourist offices, tabacchi (shops selling cigarettes – look out for the blue T sign outside) and most newspaper stands. On boarding you should stamp your ticket; day or week passes only need to be stamped once. Note that children under the age of 11 travel free.
The following tickets are currently available:
Single-journey (‘bit’): costs €1, lasts 75 minutes from stamping on any single trip or bus/bus or bus/metro combination in a single direction.
Single-day (‘big’): costs €4, lasts until midnight on the day it is stamped, valid for any number of trips within the city limits.
Three-day (‘bti’): costs €11, lasts until midnight on the third day after stamping, valid for any number of trips within the city limits.
Weekly (‘cis’): costs €16, lasts until midnight on the seventh day after stamping, valid for any number of trips within the city limits.
These tickets are valid on all forms of public transport within the city limits, including suburban train lines.
Alternatively, integrated three-day tourist card Romapass (www.romapass.it; cost €25) includes unlimited free public transport in the city, excluding suburban trains operated by Trenitalia.
There’s a very deliberate taxi supply shortage in Rome: that’s the way the taxi drivers’ lobby likes it, so that they are rarely without passengers. As a result, it can be difficult to find a vacant cab to hail in the street. Best advice is to head for a rank: key central locations are Piazza Venezia, Largo Argentina, Piazza Barberini, Piazza della Repubblica, and of course Stazione Termini. Taxis in Rome are not cheap: it’s rare to pay less than €5 even for a short hop, and this goes up at night (between 10pm and 7am) when a €3 surcharge applies to the minimum €2.80 fare. One piece of luggage goes free; for the others, you pay €1 each. Romans generally tip, if they tip at all, by rounding up to the next euro. To ask for a receipt, say “Mi può dare una ricevuta?”.
Radio cabs charge from the moment they are called, so it’s not uncommon to find them turning up with 5 or 6 euros already on the meter. The operator will tell you how long they are likely to be; it’s perfectly standard practice to turn down a cab if the time lapse sounds too great.
The main radio taxi cooperatives are:
Cosmos: +39 06 8822
Cooperativa Radiotaxi 3570: www.3570.it
La Capitale: +39 06 4994
Though you may feel that riding a bike in Rome is a high-risk enterprise, it’s actually a perfect way of exploring the lanes and piazzas of the centro storico, where motorised traffic is either banned or restricted. Riding a Vespa, on the other hand, really is taking your life in your hands – but if you have a little experience of riding a scooter or are happy to jump in at the deep end, it can be an exhilarating experience.
Best bike and scooter hire companies are:
Top Bike Rental: Via dei Quattro Cantoni 40; www.topbikerental.com; open 9.30am-7pm daily. Bikes only; rates from €13 per day.
Bici & Baci: Via del Viminale 5; www.bicibaci.com, open 8am-7pm daily. Bikes: rates from €11 per day; scooters: rates from €32 per day.
Romarent, Vicolo dei Bovari 7a, http://web.tiscali.it/romarent, open 9.30am-7pm daily. Bikes: rates from €15 a day; scooters: rates from €35 a day.
ROMA RENT BIKE, via di San Paolo alla Regola 33, www.romarentbike.com; open everyday from 8.30am - 7pm. Bikes: rates from €15 a day; bike and rickshaw-pedicab tours: from €40.