Rome is the capital of Italy and the Lazio region, and the fourth most populous city in the European Union. It’s the only city in the world which contains a whole country – Vatican City – and is considered a global city, as well as being one of the most visited cities in the world. It is also called the Eternal City, spanning 28 centuries of history since its founding in 753 B.C.
Rome offers an exceptional artistic heritage as a glorious evidence of its great past. Besides the rests of its magnificent history from the period of the Roman Empire and up to the Renaissance, with artists such as Botticelli, Bramante, Michelangelo and Raffaello, the city is also full of palaces, villas and fountains made by master architects such as Bernini and Borromini, with their Baroque style. An endless series of masterpieces of Italian – and international - greatest artists can be found in the famous museums and art galleries of the city and in the Vatican as well.
Moreover, Rome is rich in libraries - such as Biblioteca dell'Accademia dei Lincei, Biblioteca Angelica, Biblioteca Casanatense, Biblioteca musicale di San Cecilia, and Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale – and in prestigious cultural institutes and artistic academies as well: Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Accademia Nazionale di Arte Drammatica, Accademia dei Lincei, Accademia di San Luca and many others.
Graffiti all over the place
Street art is almost everywhere in Rome, from metro stations to buildings and bridges. The amount of graffiti is over growing, from established works that have been in the city for many years now, to more recent works created in the time of a single day. For this reason, Rome is now becoming one of the centers of contemporary and urban art.
From Pigneto to Ostiense, in Tor Marancia as well as in San Lorenzo and alongside the Tiber in the Trastevere area, there are over 150 streets and 330 works to be seen – making roman streets an open-air museum.
The typical Italian breakfast is light and fast – if you decide to have it at a typical Italian Bar (in Italy a “bar” is a place where you can have a coffee, breakfast or a light lunch – and is often open from early morning to late night). In most bars you will have a lot of options in terms of coffees you can choose from, teas, juices and pastries (usually a cornetto – or the typical pastry of Rome, the maritozzo). Italians usually have their breakfast very quickly, standing directly at the bar’s bancone (counter). If you’re staying at somebody’s house or in a bed and breakfast, you will probably be offered fette biscottate (hard packaged toast) with jam or Nutella, or biscuits (the term biscotto includes all types of cookies) or plain cornflakes.
There are many ways to move around the city of Rome, especially by public transport. Rome has three subway lines (A, B and C), tram lines, a lot of buses and train lines that cross the city. Ticket prices are low, and if you get a monthly or annual pass they’re even lower. Buses and metro trains are often crowded, mostly in peak hours and, moreover, buses are quite often late, but they can literally take you everywhere in the city.
If you don’t want to wait for a bus or a metro, you can also use the bike sharing service (oBike) or one of the many car sharing services available around the city (Enjoy, Car2Go, Share’nGo). Uber is also available, but not really used by the Romans and quite expensive – more or less as taking a taxi. Taxis are available in front on the main train stations and in a series of squares and area of the city – or can be contacted through the dedicated phone numbers, such as 96 3570 – the taxi main service. A taxi or a car sharing service is surely the best way to reach non-central areas of the city or to enjoy the nightlife without worrying about timetables.
Crossing the road
Crossing the road can sometimes be a hazardous task for visitors in Rome, and it pays to stay alert. Traffic is often heavy from the early morning to late night, therefore if you’re waiting at the crosswalk hoping for a traffic break, you risk waiting for long before being able to pass. The best choice is to cross with a native – natives cross the streets without waiting, and sometimes without looking right and left, with the firm belief that the drivers will stop to let them pass. In any case, make sure that the drivers in approaching cars have seen you and that they have a reasonable stopping distance - and walk. You should always remain alert, particularly in wet weather when slippery roads make life even more hair-raising.
Walking shoes is a must
Rome is a city meant for walking, so you’d better wear a pair of comfortable shoes when roaming around the city, through its streets full of cobblestones. There is little point in trying to wear high heels in Rome - unless you’re taking a taxi from door to door, you run the risk of getting caught between the cobbles and falling! Save your ankles and go for flat shoes.
Aperitivo is the Italian version of happy hour, a trend originating in Milan and then spread all over the country. Taking place before dinner, it represents a moment to relax with friends and have a drink together – such as the typical Spritz - before dinner. The aperitivo is intended to whet your appetite, including in the price of your drink a few snacks, but some bars literally offer a wide buffet with pasta, pizza, nibbles, vegetables and sometimes also a dessert, becoming a perfect occasion of socializing in good company while tasting delicious Italian food.
Tabaccheria: the Italian bazaar
When walking around Rome, you’ll see many shops with a blue “T” sign – that’sa tabaccheria, a shop where you can essentially buy anything. There you can find not only tobacco products, but also pens and notebooks, duty stamps (which you might need for a transcript issued by the Student Office), top-up cards for your mobile phone, bus tickets and monthly passes, snacks, and many other things. A tabaccheria is more or less a small drugstore where you can find stuff you might need in your daily life in and outside the university.
Pizza is just the beginning
What comes to mind when you think about Italian food? Of course, pizza is the first dish you think of. But that’s just an aspect of Italian cuisine, and every part of Italy has its specialties, and Rome is not less than other cities! First of all, Italians are used to divide their meals in “primo” and “secondo” (first course – usually pasta, rice or a soup – and a second course - made of meat, cheese or fish - accompanied by a side dish of vegetables). As for the first type of dish, Rome has its own typical recipes: amatriciana, carbonara, gricia and cacio e pepe are the must-try (note that the first 3 options contain meat). As for the second course, meat is the one who rules, with saltimbocca alla romana, pollo ai peperoni or porchetta – a fatty and moist roast. Another Roman custom when at the restaurant is to order some fried finger food as a starter, such as supplì – a fried ball of rice stuffed with mozzarella and tomato sauce.
The king of coffees is the espresso – that Italians simply call “caffè”. Other varieties you must try are the following:
- Caffé ristretto: an extra strong espresso
- Caffé lungo: the opposite of a ristretto - watered-down espresso
- Caffé americano: a really watered-down espresso
- Caffé macchiato: a regular shot of espresso with a spoonful of milk and milk foam
- Caffé corretto: a regular coffee with an addition of brandy or grappa
- Caffé latte: coffee with lots of milk, but without foam
- Cappuccino: a medium size cup with coffee, hot mild and milk foam on top
- Café or cappuccino decaffeinato (or simply “deca”): decaiffeinated coffee or cappuccino
- Caffè marocchino: every barista has his own recipe - basically it's coffee on top of a taste of dark bitter chocolate, with milk foam and chocolate powder on top
Dinner with friends and restaurant etiquette
Italians are not famous for their punctuality, and this is true for Romans as well. If you organized a dinner out with some local friends, don’t be surprised if they’ll be 10/15 minutes late – and even when you reserve a table at a restaurant, if you arrive a bit late it’s no big deal – restuarateurs know it as well.
Romans and Italian in general like to relax and chat with their friends and families when dining out, therefore they don’t like to rush over meals. For this reason, there’s always some time left between a course and another – in order to enjoy a glass of wine, smoke a cigarette, or simply chat.
When the bill arrives at the table at the end of your meal, it’s a standard custom to pay “alla romana” – splitting the bill in equal parts amongst all participants.
Lastly, you are not expected to tip on top of restaurant service charges but you can leave a little extra if you feel service warrants it. If there is no service charge, the customer should consider leaving a 10% tip, but this is not mandatory.