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15 simple hacks to make living in Rome better

Smaller, slower and more dysfunctional than many other European capitals, Rome can be a hard place to settle once the first romance wears off. Roman resident Jessica Phelan shares her tips for making life in Italy's capital simpler, smoother and more fun.

15 simple hacks to make living in Rome better
Have you picked up any tips for making life in Rome easier? Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Make friends with the comune‘s website

The Rome Capitale website is your friend. A long-winded, temperamental and occasionally frustrating friend, to be sure, but one that will ultimately help you out if it can. 

The city council is slowly making it possible to do more and more local admin online, from requesting official certificates to paying traffic fines, applying for study grants or enrolling your kids in nursery school. 

Find a full list of online services here. You’ll need a secure way to login – either a SPID digital identity or an electronic ID card (CIE) – to access them.


Image: Di Sannita – CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Know your district

For administrative purposes Rome is divided into 15 municipi, or municipal districts, each with its own offices and officials.

You’ll save yourself time and frustration by making sure that you direct your requests to the right municipio rather than turning up at the central office or writing to a generic address. Find details of each one here.

The same goes for local health authorities (Aziende Sanitarie Locale, or ASL), of which the city of Rome has three – each subdivided into distretti, or districts. Check which one you belong to before trying to enrol in public healthcare or register with a doctor: find a list here.

Pay for public transport the cashless way

When I arrived in Rome four years ago, the only way to buy a ticket at a metro station was via one of the machines, which didn’t take card. Nor most bank notes. Finding yourself without change involved a frantic dash to a newsagents, which depending on the day, the time and seemingly the mood of the cashier, might not sell you a ticket either.

Rome has mercifully moved on since those days, and you can now enter the metro simply by swiping a contactless card (or your phone) at the turnstiles.

Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

But what if you need to take a bus or tram? Most stops aren’t equipped with ticket machines, and you can’t pay your fare aboard. 

The answer lies in an app called myCicero, which is game-changing but inexplicably poorly advertised. It allows you to buy public transport tickets online, which you can store in the app and activate when you begin your journey. Each ticket can be used for transfers between buses, trams and the metro (when taking the metro, look for a gate with a QR code scanner – usually the wider wheelchair-accessible ones at the end). 

And for journeys on local, regional or long-distance trains throughout Italy, use the time- and paper-saving Trenitalia app.

Get on your bike

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cycling is the best way (I think) to get around Rome.

Not only will you save yourself the pain of waiting for a bus that never comes, you’ll discover routes through the city that you’d never learn by taking public transport. And with new bike lanes being added – albeit in fits and starts – it’s not even as chaotic as it’s made out to be.

OPINION: Why cycling in Rome isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

If you don’t believe me, test it out for yourself by borrowing one of the red bikes that you can ride by the minute via Lime’s rental app. They’re even electrically assisted to help you climb the seven hills.

Share a car or scooter

Beyond bicycles, you can also share scooters – the kind you stand on and the kind you drive – as well as cars.

Register with Car Sharing Roma, Share Now or Enjoy to borrow a vehicle in Rome. Some services include useful extras such as a fixed rate for Fiumicino airport, full-day rentals or the option to reserve a small van – particularly handy if you need to move.

For mopeds, try eCooltra or Acciona: all their scooters are electric, though Acciona’s are marginally more powerful. Meanwhile ZigZag offers both electric and regular mopeds. All shared mopeds come with two helmets as standard, and you can park them anywhere within the zones defined on each app.

You’ll need a valid driving licence to sign up for any vehicle sharing service, and some will only accept Italian or European permits.

If you don’t have the right paperwork, you can still sign up for kick-style electric scooters using Lime, Dott, Helbiz, Bird, Wind or Link. Just please, for goodness’ sake, don’t ride them on the pavement. 

READ ALSO: ‘A small revolution for our city’: Electric scooters come to Rome

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Go outside the city walls

However you get there, make sure you venture beyond the centro storico

Many tourists’ visits are bounded by Rome’s city walls, the limits of the historic centre packed with millennia’s worth of monuments. But the city has long outgrown its ancient identity, both literally and metaphorically, and you’ll find that the areas fuori le mura – outside the walls – are where Rome feels most like a living, breathing city instead of a museum. (You’ll notice rents start to drop too.)

Call me biased because I live there, but east is my favourite direction to explore: start by wandering among the bars and cafés of Pigneto, bask in the multicultural bustle of Tor Pignattara, and make your way into the up-and-coming foodie neighbourhood of Centocelle.

Find your fix of non-Italian food

While Rome doesn’t boast the range or quality of global cuisines you can find in some other European capitals, it’s one of the most diverse places in Italy – and you can taste the benefits in the form of Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Ethiopian, Korean, Peruvian, Syrian and Mexican food, to list just what I’ve eaten recently. 

Get your bearings with Zero Roma’s pick of “ethnic” restaurants (hmmm), but remember that the best places are often found by word of mouth or following your nose. 

If you’re looking for non-Italian ingredients, meanwhile, Esquilino Market is the place to shop for a wide range of spices, condiments and fresh produce from all over the world. Nearby Pacific Trading Company and Selli are also well-stocked with everything from udon noodles to Marmite; keep an eye out too for small independent grocers scattered across the city, where you might be surprised to find just what you need.

Shopping at Esquilino market. Photo by Eric Parker on Flickr

Hunt for treasures in Romans’ castoffs 

As an inveterate bargain hunter I have to admit to being a little disappointed with Rome’s most famous flea market, Porta Portese – and not just because it involves getting up early on a Sunday. It’s worth a visit, but expect to find at least as many stalls selling new curtains and cheap saucepans as those with secondhand goods.

My preferred treasure-hunting grounds are mercatini dell’usato – junk shops where people sell their old stuff at a price agreed with the store, with deep discounts the longer an item goes unsold.

Look for branches in chic neighbourhoods if you’re on the hunt for branded clothing and accessories, while the larger ones on the outskirts of town are especially good for furniture and homewares.

Connect to WiFi for free

If you haven’t got your internet contract set up yet – or if you ever find yourself low on data – look out for one of the city’s dozens of free WiFi hotspots, which will appear in your networks as DigitRoma

Register by giving a mobile phone number and password and you can connect for up to four hours a day.

Join a library

Rome’s libraries are great for language learners, who can borrow Italian textbooks and grammar guides without having to splash out on a new one each time they make progress. Once your comprehension is up to it, you can also practice reading Italian books, newspapers and magazines, or listen to the readings and author talks regularly organised in libraries across the city.

Find your nearest library here.

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

Getting a library card is free and entitles you to borrow any books you like, but you should also consider paying €10 a year for an upgraded version called the Bibliocard: it will give you access to libraries’ WiFi, as well as discounts on local cultural services from theatre tickets to language lessons. Sign up to the Biblioteche di Roma newsletter when you join to stay informed about the latest offers and events.

Get a MIC card

It’s not entirely an exaggeration to say that the reason I rushed to register my residence in Rome, more than the urgency of Brexit, was so that I could get a MIC card.

This little tessera, reserved for people living or studying or Rome, is an astonishingly good deal – so much so that I keep half expecting the council to get rid of it. But until they do, for the price of just €5 a year, you can enjoy unlimited access to any of the city’s 19 municipal museums and 25 archaeological sites. You’ll also get priority entry to special events and a 10 percent discount in museum bookshops and cafés. 

Find out how to get yours here

Take a (different) tour

Romans seem more willing than most to be tourists in their own city. Go on a guided tour and you’ll always find people who live here alongside the visitors – especially if you choose one that doesn’t stick to the usual sights.

Since living here I’ve been on walking tours of film locations in neo-realist cinema, the Fascist monuments of Foro Italico and the street art of Tor Pignattara. Sometimes taking a tour gets you access to sites that are usually off-limits, like Villa Torlonia or the grounds belonging to the Knights of Malta behind the famous keyhole on the Aventine Hill.

READ ALSO: Why Rome celebrates its birthday on April 21st

Look for tours organised by local cultural associations and delivered in Italian for some of the most interesting topics. 

Likewise, get yourself a guidebook that takes you off the beaten path. Two on my shelves are Secret Rome, a great guide to the city’s odder attractions; and Roma Negata, a fascinating look at the remnants of Italy’s colonial history hiding in plain sight. 

Sunrise over Pigneto. Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Take June 29th off

Every Italian city has its own public holiday in honour of its patron saint, and Rome’s is June 29th. 

The capital has two patrons, in fact: St Peter and St Paul, the apostles martyred in Rome within three years of each other and both said to be buried here. The celebrations include religious ceremonies, a flower show outside the Vatican and a fireworks display over Piazza del Popolo – not to mention a day off work, depending on your employer.

Find out more about the holiday here.

Explore Lazio

The region around Rome is all too often overlooked by tourists in a hurry to get to Tuscan villages or the Amalfi Coast, but as a resident you’ll have plenty of time to discover all that Lazio has to offer. 

READ ALSO: These are the best beaches within easy reach of Rome

The region stretches from central Italy to the south and boasts hill towns to rival Tuscany’s or Umbria’s, forests and mountains as rugged as Abruzzo’s, and beaches as beautiful as (though significantly less crowded than) Campania’s. 

Whether you’re looking for day trips or weekends away, here are some Lazio travel ideas to get you started

Learn some Roman dialect

Romans’ choppy, emphatic pronunciation is sometimes looked down on by holders of one of Italy’s more typically elegant accents, and the chances are you won’t have learned to talk like a local in your Italian classes.

While you’ll get by just fine speaking standard Italian, it’s useful to grasp the basics of Roman dialect if you want to be sure of understanding what others say to you. Here’s our guide to romanesco and the words you’ll hear the most.

For some choice Roman expressions, meanwhile, try following Rome Is More on Instagram, which does its best to render some of the city’s least translatable idioms into English. 

Member comments

  1. Wow Jessica for me this has got to be one of the best articles I have read on living in Italy. I live in the Lazio region in Terracina and regularly travel to Rome for a day or for a short break with my husband, friends & visiting family. Now with all this amazing new information to hand I can’t wait to venture further to find new and even more interesting places to visit in our dearly beloved city of Rome!
    Thank you so much for sharing all this knowledge!

    1. Dear Ann,
      That’s a high compliment indeed! Thank you for your comments, and I’m really glad you found the article informative.
      Enjoy Rome and Lazio – there’s always more to explore!
      All the best,

  2. This is fascinating but to use the city web portal you really have to have good Italian. And what do you do if you don’t know what municipio you live in? How do you find that out? You can click on a Roman numeral (XII), XIII) for a municipio but that gives you no idea what the boudaries are. Thanks for the research. Joan

    1. Dear Joan,
      Thanks for reading – and I agree, the municipi can be confusing. Try searching a specific district (e.g. “Roma Municipio V”) on Google Maps to see the boundaries in more detail.
      As for the city website, you can try using Google Translate to navigate: it’s not perfect but it should help you find what you’re looking for. Try it out here.
      All the best,

  3. Hi from sunny Sardegna,
    Just wanted to say, I have only recently joined The Local, but I am really enjoying reading all the articles, very interesting, and informative. Our Italian is improving, but it is great to be able to keep up with what’s going on in Italy in English.
    Kind regards,

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Are English speakers more likely to be targeted by scams in Italy?

There's no shortage of stories about tourists or new residents being ripped off in Italy. American writer Mark Hinshaw in Le Marche asks how common such scams really are and whether English-speaking foreigners are more likely to be targets.

Are English speakers more likely to be targeted by scams in Italy?

Another foreign resident here in Italy recently related to me a tale of woe from one of her friends who was taken advantage of by a local contractor. She felt she was significantly overcharged for work done and wondered if others had similar experiences. Facebook expat groups are filled with stories of visitors and residents being ripped off, with the reader possibly inferring that this must be a common occurrence.

Obviously, it’s hazardous to make generalizations. Regions differ. Cities and towns differ. People differ. In any country or culture, one is going to encounter people who are scammers, petty thieves, or just plain dishonest.

For many hundreds of years, the Italian peninsula has been inundated by waves of tourists and newcomers from countries that are seen as wealthy. Indeed, it was a prime destination for men and women from aristocratic families on a continental Grand Tour. For the past six decades, young people from wealthier countries have been doing their own low-budget version of this rite of passage, with roving backpackers in shorts and hiking boots seen in every city, large and small. 

Whenever newcomers are seen displaying money – paying for a coffee with a credit card, buying expensive watches or shoes, and eating in overpriced, tourist-oriented restaurants – someone is going to view them as easy pickings. 

There is certainly no shortage of scams at all scales. There are the minor annoyances like the guys in Rome dressed as gladiators who are eager to take pictures with you, only to then insist upon ten euros for the privilege. There are also the listings online of houses that don’t reveal the extent of earthquake damage and want a top-drawer price. Warning: “Caveat emptor.”

READ ALSO: How to avoid hidden traps when buying an old property in Italy

Tourists are the easiest of marks. Thieves and scammers know they are likely to get away before being discovered. Or the victim won’t know how to find the police and report it. Or worse, the police will respond but with shrugged shoulders. 

One episode in the Netflix series, Master of None, captured such an interchange beautifully: the carabinieri were more interested in a fragrant dish made by the thief’s mamma than in solving the crime.

But when someone chooses to live in an Italian town, the dynamic is different. Many Italians are used to foreigners coming during certain seasons to escape undesirable weather in their own country, then disappearing for months. 

In our region locals even have a specific, mildly derisive word for such people: pendoli, like pendulums that swing back and forth. It took us a full year for our neighbors to be convinced that we were staying put.

One obvious problem that generates ill will and a suspicion of being cheated is being unfamiliar with different practices. 

For example, it is not common for a contractor to clean up a work site once a project is completed, as part of the primary contract. This is common practice in the US, but in Italy, that is handled through another separate contract sometimes with another company. So if a foreigner is expecting the service and it doesn’t happen, he can feel that he was tricked into paying more.

Cheap Italian properties aren’t always what unsuspecting buyers hope. Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

Another problem, as I see it, is that many English speakers choose to only develop relationships with other English-speaking expats. Worse, some exhibit a sense of entitlement or even superiority toward service workers, bureaucrats, and shopkeepers. The word gets out fast, especially in small towns.

READ ALSO: From bureaucracy to bidets: The most perplexing things about life in Italy

There’s also the fact that – almost unavoidably  –  foreigners are wealthier than locals. Having a second home in Italy is a sign of wealth. Certainly, a big holiday home with a large pool and gated entry is a dead give-away. Again, the word gets out fast, sometimes to criminals. We have a friend who went on vacation only to return to find his house in the country had been stripped of everything, including the heating system. The thieves pulled up with a big truck and went to town unimpeded. 

It’s vitally important for newcomers to establish relationships with locals. Of course, that means learning the language. Not necessarily all the conjugations of verbs but enough to make social connections. On our little lane with a dozen houses, everyone looks after each other. It would be very difficult for a stranger to pull something off.  

In our five years of living in this village of 1400 people, we have never felt that we were taken advantage of.

We know that we are perceived as the ‘wealthy Americans’ in town. We cannot avoid it. We live in a house that used to hold two big families. We have a panoramic view that everyone remarks on. We receive many packages, with delivery people asking shopkeepers and passersby where we live. They all know.

According to ISTAT, the medium income for Italian households is barely more than 30,000 euros per year. And that is very often with more than one person working. Accordingly, by Italian standards, we ARE wealthy, even though we do not consider ourselves to be. (In the US, our income would be considered close to poverty level in some places.) So, relatively wealthy Americans cannot help but stand out.

READ ALSO: ‘How I got an elective residency visa to retire in Italy’

Although we have never been victimized (knock on wood), I have no doubt that foreign residents in other towns have been. 

It may be more common in parts of Italy with seasonal hordes of tourists. Foreigners can be seen as easy marks, as they don’t understand the language and sometimes are careless when it comes to showing signs of wealth. 

Some people seem to fall for scams. I once watched, from an upper-story window, tourists being repeatedly robbed of their money by a shell game.

It was like a bizarre theatrical performance, with shills planted in the audience who would ‘win’ their game. Within minutes, with lightning-fast shuffles, hundreds of euros were taken from unsuspecting players.

A mocked-up ‘shell game’: one way unsuspecting tourists are parted from their money in Italy. Photo: Mark Hinshaw

Unfortunately, as an expat, one can be both welcomed by some people and taken advantage of by others. But that’s happened to me in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago – places I know well in my own country. One cannot always be vigilant. Or paranoid.

Mark Hinshaw is a retired city planner living in Le Marche with his wife. A former columnist for The Seattle Times, he contributes to journals, books and other publications.