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Thinking about taking the leap and moving to the Eternal City? Congrats! Italy is amazing (duhh), and Rome is a wonderful city. It doesn’t come without its quirks, though, so if you want to be prepared for daily life, read on. Here’s the ultimate list of things to know before moving to Rome.
in a rush? pin it for later!
Table of contents
- things to know before moving to rome
- 1. riposo
- 2. bus tickets
- 3. maintain beginner brain
- 4. italian food here is not italian food there…
- 5. don’t waste money on bottled water
- 6. punctuality
- 7. cappuccino vs. espresso
- 8. days to stay away from the vatican
- 9. gli uomini di roma
- 10. try to find an apartment in trastevere
- 11. la passeggiata
- 12. gypsy bottles
- 13. suppli = life
- 14. permesso di soggiorno
- 15. italian post offices
- 16. thieves, scams, and roses
- 17. which gelateria?
- 18. leave the city for the month of august
- 19. la dolce far niente
- 20. love & hate
- 1. riposo
- pin it!
things to know before moving to rome
Riposo (or siesta, as you may know it) is a period of time in the afternoon taken for rest. Not much in the way of shops or restaurants are open during these few hours. It’s pretty much an extended lunch break – that goes on for hours.
Between roughly 1pm and 4pm, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything legit or authentic open for business. The tourist traps will likely have something to offer, but try to only use those as a last resort – more expensive and less quality!
It took me months to get used to this. If you eat multiple small meals throughout the day, adjust your eating schedule accordingly. This info might have saved a lot of poor souls from the wrath of my hanger, had I known before moving to Rome.
2. bus tickets
Public transportation in Rome isn’t quite as efficient as NYC or Paris. In fact, unless it was down-pouring, I always walked everywhere. But if you do have to take the bus, here’s some useful information.
- Tickets must be purchased before boarding – get them at a metro station or at a tabaccheria.
- That being said, the buses in Rome are kind of based on honesty policy. You don’t need to show your ticket to anyone on board.
- However, you must validate your ticket once on the bus. There’s a little machine on every bus to insert your ticket into to have it validated.
- From the time of validation, you have 100 minutes and can transfer from one bus to another if needed.
- You might see many people not validating anything – this is probably because they are locals and have a monthly pass, which doesn’t need validation. Don’t try to skip out on buying a ticket – they’re inexpensive, and you’ll get busted with a hefty fine if you’re caught without one that’s been validated – ticket inspectors sporadically come through to check. Playing dumb tourist doesn’t fly here.
3. maintain beginner brain
Beginner brain is the mindset we have when we first start to learn something – we are receptive, open to suggestions and change, and seeing things for the first time. Living in a place for a while, regardless of how initially foreign and exotic it may have seemed, can numb you to your surroundings.
Take advantage of living in this ancient city! Do the tourist things, especially if you never have before! Check out this self-guided walking tour of Rome to see some of the must-do’s for first-timers. Or, check out this guide to Rome off the beaten path if you’ve seen all the major sites!
Know this before moving to Rome. Think about it while you’re in Rome. Don’t realize it after you’ve already left.
4. italian food here is not italian food there…
If you’re American and come to Rome expecting to get heaping plates of chicken parm and meatballs, think again. These Americanized Italian dishes have no place in true Italian restaurants (however delicious they may be).
Not to worry, as the food in Rome is much better than anything you could have imagined eating back at home. Not necessarily something you must know before moving to Rome, but better than anticipating the best fettuccini alfredo in your life, only to be let down.
5. don’t waste money on bottled water
There are 2,500 nasone, or water fountains, spread throughout Rome. The water is cold, super-fresh, and very safe to drink. There is nothing at all added – it’s just water, and it’s frequently tested.
Keep a water bottle on you to fill up wherever you are and save some euro while you’re at it.
This is by far the biggest money-saving tip to know before moving to Rome.
Once you’ve gotten settled in and made some Italian friends, you’ll likely notice that none of them are ever on time! Arriving 15 minutes after the designated time is usually a good rule of thumb.
If you show up at a restaurant or shop that should already be open, go for a stroll and come back – they’re likely just running late.
Italians place a high value on leisure time, living the slow (good) life, and existing in the moment.
7. cappuccino vs. espresso
If you are easily embarrassed or don’t like attention, this tip will be especially useful to know before moving to Rome: If you order a cappuccino after noontime, you’ll probably get some strange looks, with a side of judgement.
This is because Italians drink cappuccino for breakfast only – the milk is said to disrupt proper digestion, so they’re not commonly consumed throughout the day.
In general, suitable options would be macchiato in the afternoon and espresso in the evening.
PSA – please note, there is no ‘x’ in the word espresso. ????
Not sure how to order your coffee in Rome? Click here.
8. days to stay away from the vatican
Without a doubt, the worst part of Rome is the crowds. And sadly, given that it is one of the top visited cities in the world, the crowds are never really gone.
But a helpful tip – STAY AWAY from Vatican City on Wednesdays and Sundays. On Wednesdays, the pope gives his papal audience at 10am. And he delivers the angelus prayer on Sundays at noon.
9. gli uomini di roma
Italian men are notorious for being experts on seduction and romance – this is true. Of all my travels, Italian men were by far the most forward (and the most persistent) – though I never felt unsafe.
The language and accent definitely don’t hurt their cause. ????
All joking aside, while the men of Italy do indeed have a reputation, they are generally sweethearts who will bend over backward to help a woman out.
Another thing to know before moving to Rome – while the Italian men have their reputations, you probably have one too. I’ve got the American woman stereotype to battle – easy, loud, and ignorant. Be aware of what labels may be projected onto you (regardless of whether or not they are accurate).
10. try to find an apartment in trastevere
Trastevere is the best of the residential neighborhoods of Rome, situated across the Tiber – I may be biased because it’s where I lived (my old apartment is pictured below). The vibe is pure community, more akin to a small town than to a major tourist city.
There are flea markets to explore, winding mazes of cobblestone streets, and plenty of small (but delicious) trattorie e ristorante to grab a bite to eat. I used to pretty much live at Galeassi in Piazza di S. Maria. You won’t find as many souvenir shops or menus with pictures in Trastevere.
And the best part? There are a mere fraction of the tourists on this side of the river!
11. la passeggiata
A traditional Italian custom is to take la passeggiata, or, the evening stroll. Whether it’s something in the air or just the draw to come out and be surrounded by their fellow countrymen, Italians love their evening walks.
It’s an enjoyable tradition to have, where one can see and be seen. People mingle, run into friends, or just slowly walk with their spouse. If you’re living (or staying) in Trastevere, try Via della Lungaretta or Via della Scala. If you’re unsure of where to go otherwise, head toward your nearest piazza.
12. gypsy bottles
Gypsies in Italy will sometimes arrange empty bottles or cans at the end of peoples’ driveways. This is like a secret code that tells others in the area important information about the house in question – i.e., woman home alone during the day or no one home on weekends. Pretty scary shit.
Disclaimer: I never saw any instances of this in Rome. It was only when I lived further north, in Vicenza, that I saw this regularly. But still. Better to know, than to not know, amirite?
13. suppli = life
Suppli are delicious little balls of risotto with a bit of tomato sauce and cheese stuffed inside – then deep fried.
They’re essentially Roman street food, but I used to get them at this little place, Caffé Gli Archi, every day. Suppli + their tacchino (turkey) con broccoli was basically all I subsisted off of in the time that I lived in Rome.
Caffé Gli Archi might be a source of comfort if you’re a native English speaker and are feeling overwhelmed with Italian – it’s a hangout for students of American University in Rome.
This little deli/café is delicious, and a great lesser-known spot to know about before moving to Rome.
14. permesso di soggiorno
Italy is one of the Schengen States, so if you’re American, you can stay here visa-free for up to 90 days. If you’re not American and you’re unsure of visa requirements, click here.
If you’d like to stay in Italy longer than three months, you need a visa – this will be done before you arrive. Once you get to Italy, however, the visa won’t be enough. You have to go to the local post office within eight days of arrival to apply for your permesso di soggiorno.
15. italian post offices
It seems like there’s nothing you can’t do at an Italian post office. Seriously. Bills, banking, utilities, mail, and matters of immigration. Just go to the post office and take a number.
Definitely one of the most useful things to know before you move to Rome!
16. thieves, scams, and roses
One of the number one pieces of advice you’ll ever hear about Europe is to watch out for pick-pocketers. Rome is far worse than Paris, NY, Barcelona – any major city I can think of, really. They do get props for creativity!
One night, my roommate and I were out to dinner, sitting at a table outside in one of the squares. A little while into our meal, a woman and young girl came to the table with a large sign (in English) asking for money. I don’t remember if we gave them money or not, but they then went on their way, presumably over to the next table.
It took a few moments for my roommate to realize her phone had been snatched up from off the table.
Also worth noting – there are often people offering roses in tourist areas or in restaurants. Don’t take one! If a vendor drops one, don’t even pick it up. The roses in Rome are like hot lava. Don’t touch the hot lava.
17. which gelateria?
So you live in Rome and want gelato! Of course, who doesn’t? But which gelateria (gelato shop) to choose? There are so many scattered throughout the city, sometimes right across the street from one another.
My method for choosing where to obtain the BEST of Italian gelato?
Choose the gelateria whose pistachio isn’t bright green. If the pistachio is more of a white or very natural green color, you’ve found a good one. That being said, you don’t have to order pistachio! But it’s the best way to gauge the quality of ingredients that go into making an establishment’s gelato.
Better ingredients = better gelato. It’s that simple.
18. leave the city for the month of august
August in Rome is pretty disgusting, if I’m being honest. August in any major city is pretty gross. The crowds and the heat make everything feel sticky, including the air. And don’t even get me started on public transportation.
August is also the month of Italian holiday (the actual holiday of Ferragosto is on the 15th), where many natives go on vacation. So in addition to the debilitating heat and the sweaty, smelly crowds, not much is even open during the month of August. Of course the big tourist attractions will be, as well as shops and restaurants that cater exclusively to tourists.
Do as the Romans are doing, and GTFO for the month! Hang out on the Mediterranean or swim off of the Amalfi Coast in Positano for a few weeks of bliss. Swim off of the Amalfi Coast in Positano. Or, if you can’t escape the city for an extended period of time, just escape for the day! Visiting Via Appia Antica can actually be done in less than a day, with plenty of ancient catacombs, churches, and temples to explore along the way.
19. la dolce far niente
If there’s one phrase that could capture the Italian way of life, it’s la dolce far niente, which translates to the sweetness of doing nothing. As is evident by their lax nature concerning punctuality as well as their ample amounts of free time, the Italians have certainly mastered this sweetness.
Coming from a hurried and rushed society such as in the United States, this can easily be misinterpreted for laziness – but it’s not. See what happens if you set the intention to slow things down for one full day. It’s hard! But a good lesson in mindfulness, nonetheless.
20. love & hate
I think it might be impossible to feel indifferent about Rome. For me, it was 100% a love-hate relationship. There were days that I wanted to leave and never return, and days that I never thought I’d be able to live anywhere else.
Rome will frustrate you, but it will also enliven you. It will test your patience. The entire city itself is one big, free, living museum of history and art. Regardless of whether or not you decide to live in Rome, it is a must-visit city for everyone, at least once in their lives.
Live in Rome but need to get out of the city? Visiting Italy and looking for memorable things to do? Check out 13 unique and unforgettable experiences to have in Italy! For an easy day trip from Rome and to experience village life, check out these hidden gems in Tuscia.
Are you an ex-pat or student living in Rome? What are some things you wish you had known before moving to Rome? Leave in the comments!