An e-mail from Michael from the US, who found my blog while searching for some travel tips in Rome: Marlon, I saw your website via a Google search. Great! Kathryn and I are visiting Rome in early April. Two questions: Any tips for surviving Rome airport? Any tips for finding a low-cost-starving-student tourguide? Thanks
Hello, Michael! Thanks for visiting my blog.
Lemme see... there are two airports in Rome, if I'm not mistaken, Ciampino and Fiumicino. Most budget airlines within Europe go to Ciampino while the rest go to Fiumicino. Fiumicino tends to be crazier and more crowded especially in April because it's the Easter season. Be very careful with your bags in the airport. If you can, do travel with just one big luggage and one hand-carry bag for each of you. That way, you would have less things to think about while queueing in the Customs Office.
From the airport, you can take a cab or the special tourist bus to your place. I personally recommend the bus since it's cheaper and you wouldn't have to deal with a $~@! taxi driver. A ticket costs around 12 euros and you can buy it in the airport itself. A tip: most people fall in line to buy their tickets in the windows of the bus company. In Ciampino (I'm not sure in Fiumicino, but I'm betting it's the same), they also sell tickets in the information corner. No one knows about it, so if you get there first, you could save a lot of time.
All buses go to the Termini, the central train station of Rome (the other train station is called Tiburtina). From there, depending on the location of your hostel/hotel, you could walk, take a cab or take the public bus. Be very careful with the cab drivers and be sure that you have your valuables ( i.e., passport, money, mobile) safe. The Termini is famous for robbers since there are a lot of gypsies who prey on unsuspecting tourists. Be careful also with children who seem to innocently play within the premises. They're very quick and can spoil your vacation.
As for going around in the city, it's tempting to take the tourist bus that shows you around the main tourist spots, but I assure you that for 18 euros, it's too steep and not recommendable. A good option is to go outside the Termini station near the stalls and newspaper stands and look for the information office of the public buses. There you can get all bus combinations possible to explore Rome. It may be a good thing to plan ahead and list down all possible routes that you wish to take.
After that, go to any of the stalls and buy your bus ticket since you can't pay within the bus. Upon entering the bus, just insert the ticket in the machine that you can find in front, in the middle and at the back of the bus. A ticket costs around 1 euro and could avail you 1.5 hours in the bus. In other words, if for example you go from the Termini to the Coliseum for a quick snapshot and then you decide to go to some place else afterwards, if 1.5 hours hasn't elapsed yet from when you first inserted your ticket, then you don't have to plug in another.
I think there are also tourist tickets valid for three days. Again, a waste of money, since you would only use the ticket to transit from one enclave to the next. Most Roman sites are clustered in zones within the city so it's a good thing to group the sites that are near each other.
And, do prioritize the places that are free of charge (the Roman Forum, St. Peter's, St. Mary Major, the Palatino, the Tiber River, the Fontana di Trevi, the Piazza Spagna). And if you're entering paid sites, don't forget to present your student ID. In the Sistine Chapel, for example, you get to pay only about half of the regular rate.
In Italy, they charge extra for coperto (plates and silverware) so if you eat things that don't require them (read: pizza, sandwiches) you save a lot. Beverages skyrocket during this time, so the free drinking water within the city is a great help.
I hope this litany of do's and dont's helps. I'm still trying to remember some other tips and I do hope to get back at you ASAP. Rome is a wonderful city and the only way to get to know it is to feel it. As they say, When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Good luck and have a wonderful trip!