Veni, vidi, vici: Getting around Rome

Debra Thimmesch | 20/05/2019
A couple on a scooter in front of the Galleria Nazionale in Rome.
When in Rome... ride a scooter!

Planning a trip to Rome? You’ll quickly learn that there are many efficient ways to get around the Eternal City. Read on for expert tips on navigating the city chariots and Vespas and those infernal, infamous paving stones that surely must have claimed their share of high heels from fashionable Italian shoes. 

Those small, slightly convex, roughly cube-shaped, and dangerously slippery-when-wet pavers have their own rich history. Cut from volcanic rock, they’re known as Sampietrini, which translates to “little St. Peters”. The name is probably a reference to the use of the first these paving stones in St. Peter’s Square. 

You’re most likely to have to traverse the Sampietrini in the historic center (in Italian, it’s Centro Storico) of Rome. The further out from the city center you go, the more modern the streets become. But you’ll get used to the little stones that are one of the city’s most distinctive features. 

Walking in Rome

Walking may be the absolute best way to explore this beautiful ancient metropolis. First, get yourself a good guidebook or a downloadable map (or app) and get oriented. RomeMap360° is a great resource for finding a variety of maps, from historical sites and tourism maps, to bike and Metro maps. You may also spend your first day in the city enjoying a top-rated walking tour. Get your bearings, then you’ll feel more confident heading out on your own if you prefer a self-guided experience.

Roman taxis and ridesharing

If you need to get somewhere quickly and prefer to avoid public transit, Rome offers rideshare and taxi options. Uber is available in Rome as is Blacklane, a more upscale car service. We recommend installing the MyTaxi app, which will connect you to most local taxis. MyTaxi allows you to hail a cab and pay on board, or order a taxi on demand or in advance. Rates are cheaper than taking Uber. 

Rome’s subway: the Metropolitana

Aside from walking, we highly recommend using Rome’s great public transit system, the Metropolitana or Metro for short, which operates from 5:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and stays up and running until 1:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Metro entrances throughout Rome are marked clearly with a bright red “m.” There are two lines and a third under construction:

  • Line A, the orange line, runs southeast to northwest with the main stations being Termini (also the name of Rome’s main train station), Barberini, and Spagna. This is the line you would take to visit the Vatican.
  • Line B, the blue line, runs north to south; Termini is one of its main stops and it runs through the city center near the ancient sites.
  • Line C, the green line, is slated to be finished in 2021.

It’s easy to buy tickets in the vending machines in all of the stations and you can also purchase them in most newstands as well as the many tabacchi, tobacco shops, around the city. The most budget-friendly multi-ride option is the weekly pass — even if you’re staying less than a week, chances are you’ll be using public transit several times a day if that’s your go-to. If you have a Roma pass (which will also get you into some of the more popular attractions), simply touch the card against the yellow dots at the entrance to the metro and the gates will open. 

Rome’s subway system is safe and clean. The lines are limited because the city is so old and layered that, when attempting to dig lines create or extend subterranean tunnels, works projects as often as not run into unexpected and exciting archaeological finds that they are expected to preserve.

Buses and trams in Rome

Rome’s buses and trams may be even more convenient than the subways. You’ll need to buy tickets to ride the bus or tram in Rome. On the first bus you board, insert your ticket into the machine, which will imprint your ticket with the day and hour you first used it. Don’t forget to retrieve your ticket and keep it safe and handy. Most buses and some of the trams offer free WiFi (look for the “ATAC WIFI” stickers on bus and tram windows). A single ride ticket is valid for up to 100 minutes. 

As with using public transit in any large city, we want to encourage you to be vigilant, as pickpockets are abound. 

The Italian word for stop is fermata; bus stops all have signs that list the numbers of the buses that serve that stop and area. At busier stops, electronic signs have been installed that will inform you of the approximate time a given bus will arrive. 

Note that the center of the city in particular will be quite congested during morning, lunch and evening rush hours, so plan accordingly. We recommend downloading a free bus, tram and Metro map here

The major tourism bus and tram lines are the 40 Express (Termini to the Vatican, passing by the Piazza Venezia and Piazza Pia near the Castel Sant’Angelo); the 64 (Termini on Via Nazionale past Piazza Venezia, along Via Argentina to the Piazza San Pietro/Vatican fermata); the 75 (Termini to the Colosseum); and the H (Termini by the Piazza Venezia and Ghetto to Trastevere across the Ponte Garibaldi).

Exploring Rome on a bicycle

Bicycling in Rome is an option for tourists and a great way to get around the traffic congestion and down those narrow streets in the historical district. However, those pesky cobblestones can make cycling a bumpy affair, plus Roman traffic can be quite unnerving. To be honest, unless you’re a veteran cyclist, we don’t recommend attempting to bike your way through Rome. 

There are bike lanes but, as with most cities, cars encroach in them — a helmet and constant vigilance are a must. Rome has tried bikeshare but has not been able to successfully maintain a program (mostly because of theft). Bicycle rental shops have cropped up here and there in the city as cycling has become more popular. If your heart is set on biking in Rome, try going on a Sunday morning and sticking to less busy streets.

Scootering in the Eternal City

As with cycling, while it sounds romantic, riding a scooter around Rome requires more than daring and a fashionable scarf. If you simply can’t leave Rome without having the Vespa experience, Rent Scooter Roma offers three different scooter options: a Vespa LX, Vespa Primavera, or Piaggio Liberty. You must have a driver’s license for cars or motorbikes and should have previous experience riding a scooter. You are required to wear a helmet and a second helmet is provided for a passenger. A credit card is not required for rental. You will be expected to pay for insurance (it’s cheap!) and return the vehicle with the same amount of fuel in the tank as when you picked it up. You’ll be loaned a chain for locking it up and will get unlimited mileage. Vroom!

Other ways of getting around

Of course, there are other less conventional ways of getting around Rome — for instance, by pedicab or horse and carriage. Human- or beast-drawn conveyances are probably best reserved for short, touristic trips. Remember that drivers, especially of pedicabs, should be tipped generously. 

Traveling in and out of Rome

As for getting to and from the city itself, car rental is available at points throughout the city and particularly near the larger train stations, as well as the airport. We recommend only getting a rental vehicle to travel outside Rome, as finding parking within the city is enormously challenging.

As train travel is so affordable and pleasurable, we think it’s preferable to sit back and let someone else do the driving — it’s your vacation, after all. Italy offers many options for traveling by train, from commuter trains to the high-speed Freccia trains.

World-class public transportation in a world-class city

With a little planning and preparation you won’t have any difficulty getting around Rome, particularly if you’re accustomed to navigating urban public transportation networks. Rome’s public transit is world class; make the most of it and you will quickly be journeying around The Eternal City like a local.