Rome: A Student Travel Guide
One of the best things about living in the UK is how quick, easy and cheap it is to get to mainland Europe. For short weekend breaks there are so many options it can be hard to decide where to go. To help you out we are creating a series of guides to places in Europe that are perfect for short holidays. If you have been anywhere exciting in Europe and want to write a short guide, then please get in contact with us. Below, Cuban student Maria gives her guide to Rome.
When I visited Rome for the first time last summer, I was convinced it was the most beautiful city in the world (after my native Havana). Now, just after my second visit, I can confirm my initial perception. During the last few days, I have wandered in the world's largest open-air museum, taking in some much appreciated sun and probably gained a few pounds off the best food out there. Here are some tips for a budget-friendly student trip to the capital of Italy based on my own experiences.
It can be pretty easy to get cheap flights to Rome, but given the rising accommodation costs associated with the high tourist season in Rome, I had a difficult time finding a cheap room in a central area. I finally found Vacanze Romane B & B in the Time Out Rome guidebook I purchased in preparation for the trip. This bed-and-breakfast, just minutes away from the beautiful Santa Maria Maggiore and Termini station, is a private apartment owned by the Citaddinis.
I truly cherished the experience of living with an Italian family and getting a real feel for their customs. Rita, the main hostess, is a warm and talkative grandmother that has decorated the walls of her house with old advertisement posters. My room was immaculate, and I loved the shelves of books everywhere as well as unique and fun features such as the toilet seat inside the shower!
Rome's historic centre is best explored by foot. Every major attraction is within a short distance, and it is worth getting a little lost just to find the many hidden gems that you may overlook otherwise. I would advise you to take the metro only if you are visiting the Vatican, which is a little farther from the centre. Be aware, however, that the Roman metro system only has three lines and usually closes at 11:30 PM. You can purchase tickets at vending machines inside the stations, but some do not take credit cards or large bills. Your best bet is to purchase the tickets beforehand at news stands or tabacchi (tobacco stores).
What to See
If you are on a budget, you will have to prioritize. Although some of the best things in Rome (as in life) are free, other top attractions do charge an entrance fee. Here are my recommendations:
- The Vatican. You can visit the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel) for free only on the last Sunday of the month. Be prepared to wait in line for over an hour, but the long queue will be worth it once you are inside grandiose rooms completely decorated by such icons as Michelangelo. Also, visiting on a Sunday will allow you to be there for the papal audience that takes place at noon on that day. I also recommend a visit to the basilica, which is free of charge. Warning: the dress code is very very strict; nobody wearing shorts or tiny skirts, or exposing midriffs or shoulders, will be let in.
- Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatino. Purchasing a single ticket to any will allow entrance to all three, and there are discounts for young EU nationals. I advise you to visit the Palatino first, as the queues for the Colosseum and Roman Forum will be much longer.
- Fontana di Trevi. This gorgeous piece of Rococo architecture draws large crowds of tourists every day, every hour, since legend claims that he who tosses a coin inside the fountain will be assured a return to the city. While you are in the area, grab a gelato at San Crispino, the most famous gelateria in Rome and perhaps even the world.
- Piazzas. After hours of walking under an intense sun, I was always relieved to rest in one of Rome's beautiful piazzas. Piazza Spagna is perfect to sit on the famous Spanish Steps and watch the groups of Russians and Japanese that flock to Via Condotti in search for the Guccis and Pradas. Piazza Navona, on the other hand, offers Bernini's beautiful Fountain of the Four Rivers, and plenty of nice cafes. Other nice piazzas include Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Colonna.
- Appian Way. Find the Archeobus at Termini Station for a relaxing escape from the buzz of the city. Just a few kilometers away lies Via Appia Antica, one the earliest roads connecting Rome with other cities. The hop-on hop-off bus takes you to ancient catacombs, basilicas and baths, and your ticket is valid for 48 hours.
- Trastevere. This hip and cool area on the other side of the Tiber River is very popular among locals. Young Italians come here after work and on the weekends for a nice meal and drinks, creating a really nice atmosphere.
Bring your student or ISIC card; these will allow you to get discounts at many places. Also, don't be afraid of drinking from the many public water fountains around the city. They were life-savers! Ask for lunch menus, which are well priced and offer great options, and carry cash with you at all times since some establishments do not accept credit cards.
Finally, plan to spend at least two days in the city, for any less time would not allow you to engage in the dolce far niente, or that sweetness of doing nothing that you must experience in order to love and experience Rome.
See more student travel guides to top destinations in Europe.
Maria is a Cuban Harvard and LSE graduate and a guest blogger for Foreign Students. Click here to see her older posts.