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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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TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break

Planning a trip to the Eternal City? Here, The Local's reporter in Rome shares some pointers on making the most of your stay.

TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break

Familiarise yourself with the concept of aperitivo

If the aperitivo originated in Milan, it’s been wholeheartedly embraced in Rome.

For those unfamiliar with the custom, aperitivo is a kind of Italian happy hour – except instead of discounted or two-for-one cocktails, you get food along with your drink.

This can be anything from a small plate of crisps or bowl of peanuts to bites of sandwiches and pizzette to a full-blown all-you-can-eat buffet (in which case it’s more likely to be referred to as an apericena), ideal for travellers looking to fill up on a budget.

Some of the popular Rome bars that used to serve buffets ended the practice for good during the pandemic, but a number of others have now started up again.

Regardless of whether or not you want to substitute an apericena for an actual dinner, sitting down for an aperitivo can be a good way to keep your energy levels up if you’re planning on waiting till 9pm to eat like an Italian.

People enjoy an aperitivo in downtown Rome.

People enjoy an aperitivo in downtown Rome. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

On weekends, book in advance for restaurants

After several years of living in Rome, this one still catches me out: most popular restaurants will be fully booked on Friday and Saturday evenings and for Sunday lunch.

You’ll always eventually find somewhere that will take you in – but if you want to avoid being snorted at derisively and turned away from multiple establishments, it’s wise to book in advance, especially if you have somewhere well known on your list.

People eat a lunch in a restaurant in Campo dei Fiori square in downtown Rome.

People eat a lunch in a restaurant in Campo dei Fiori square in downtown Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

…And museums

Foreign visitors have started returning to Rome en masse, but some Covid restrictions are still in place: meaning that now more than ever, it’s important to book visits to the major attractions and museums in advance to avoid being disappointed.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travel to Italy this spring

This has always been true for the Vatican Museums, where you can expect to queue for hours if you’ve not booked ahead of time (even if you have booked, you can still expect to wait in line for staff to check tickets and conduct security checks).

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome.

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

If you’ve left it too late to secure a time slot for the most famous attractions, don’t assume your trip’s a write off – Rome is packed with numerous lesser-known museums and churches that are still worth visiting. 

Pick your gelato wisely

There are a lot of great gelaterias in Rome – and a few mediocre ones.

The first time I visited the city, such distinctions were meaningless to me, and I was irritable with an Italian who tried to instruct me otherwise: ice cream is ice cream, and if I want to get one from somewhere right next to the Trevi Fountain, why shouldn’t I?

I maintain that food preferences are a matter of inviolable personal taste, and if bright blue bubblegum flavoured gelato is what you like best in the world, then you do you.

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

When eating gelato in Rome, it's worth seeking out a quality gelateria.

When eating gelato in Rome, it’s worth seeking out a quality gelateria. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.

But after consuming many, many gelati, my tastes have regrettably and against my will become more refined than they once were.

If you want a good quality gelato that a Roman would eat, avoid bright artificial colours, places where the ice cream is piled high without melting (it means the gelato is high in vegetable fats and emulsifiers), and shops that are really going out of their way to advertise themselves with a lot of garish signposting.

Do your research on where to eat

In a similar vein, it can be tempting to assume that every restaurant in Rome serves good food just because it’s here.

The one time I was persuaded to eat at a place without indulging my neurotic compulsion to first check its ratings on various review platforms, it was bad.

When we looked afterwards, my suspicions were confirmed: it was poorly reviewed online.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

People eat at a restaurant by the Pantheon in downtown Rome.

People eat at a restaurant by the Pantheon in downtown Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

This might not happen to you; but if you’re only here for a few days on holiday, why risk not checking that the place where you’re about to eat has at least decent reviews?

Restaurants accredited by the Slow Food Association (which was founded in Rome) are a good start: they use only local, seasonal ingredients, so the food tends to be very fresh and flavourful.

READ ALSO: What are the rules on tipping in Italy?

Wear comfortable shoes

Rome is a very manageable city to visit as a tourist, with most of its major cultural and historic sites within walking distance of one another.

That said, the sampietrini cobble stones with which much of the city centre is paved are not kind to wearers of high heels or other stylish but impractical footwear.

If you’re planning on strolling around the city for any length of time, make sure to wear – or at least bring with you as a back up – some shoes that won’t punish your feet.

A tourist cools off at the Barcaccia fountain by the Spanish Steps in central Rome.

A tourist cools off at the Barcaccia fountain by the Spanish Steps in central Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Buy several bus/metro tickets at a time

You can’t buy a ticket on the bus in Rome, and the machines that distribute them at metro stations can’t necessarily be completely relied upon to work.

The only other place you can buy them is from tabaccherie (tobacconist shops) – but these are often closed in the afternoon and on Sundays.

You’ll be stung with a €50 if caught without a validated ticket (time stamped using the small yellow machines you’ll see on the buses), so it’s important to have one on you. If you’re in town for a few days, it’s wise to buy several tickets when you get the chance so you won’t be caught out.

People stand by a bus stop in front of the Colosseum in central Rome.

People stand by a bus stop in front of the Colosseum in central Rome. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

An alternative is the Mycicero app, which allows you to buy and virtually validate Rome bus and metro tickets on your phone. 

Budget some time to wander aimlessly

With so much to see and do in Rome, it can be tempting to pack your itinerary till it’s bursting at the seams.

But one of the best ways to appreciate the city is by simply meandering around its streets getting lost.

Trastevere, with its shaded alleyways and vine-covered, terracotta-hued arches is an ideal place to soak up some of the city’s beauty as a tourist.

Testaccio, just across the river, is a historic Roman neighbourhood where you’ll find a thriving food and artisanal products market open every day except Sunday, as well as a 2000-year-old artificial hill made entirely from broken amphorae, once the site of an ancient Roman rubbish dump.

A fruit and vegetable seller picks artichokes at the Testaccio market Rome.

A fruit and vegetable seller picks artichokes at the Testaccio market Rome. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

Don’t get too hung up on niceties

You’ll often see online reviews that complain about waiters’ rudeness in Italian restaurants and bars.

Sometimes, this is fair – there really are places that are particularly rude and dismissive, especially to tourists who don’t speak Italian.

But a lot of the time, it’s just the way the city is. Being a bit brusque and short with customers is normal – after all, there’s a lot of tables to wait and a lot of caffe to serve.

Eating at a bar or restaurant in Rome may be a different experience to what you're used to.

Eating at a bar or restaurant in Rome may be a different experience to what you’re used to. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP.

You’ll also find that many less-formal restaurants or trattorie allow people selling roses or sometimes even singers of traditional Roman folk songs to go around customer’s tables and ask for change – and diners will often give it to them.

You might find this irritating, but it’s good practice to throw your hands up, accept that you’re in a foreign country with different customs to your own, and follow the example of locals.

There’s some kind of saying about that…

Staying in Rome for longer? Here are 15 simple hacks that make living in the city easier.