How to be a local in Rome

How to be a local in Rome

What kind of experience are you hoping for when you visit Rome? The standard tourist itinerary, or something a little more authentic?

Here’s our advice for making the most of your trip to the Eternal City: when in Rome, do as the Romans do!

From sightseeing recommendations to tips on tips, this guide covers everything you need to know for when you visit Rome.

Visit Rome like a local – sightseeing

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that sites such as the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums are not just for tourists – locals visit too!

But long-term residents also tend to favour a different kind of sightseeing. It’s less about ticking off specific attractions, and more a case of slowly soaking up the atmosphere through a relaxed passeggiata.

You’ll see many Romans enjoying a stroll in the streets of the historic centre (in the areas around Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori, for example), or enjoying the buzz of Trastevere in the evening. The Aventine Hill is another popular destination because of its tranquil, leafy atmosphere, and the stunning views from the Giardini degli Aranci – one of the most romantic spots in the city.

When you visit Rome, you should also take inspiration from locals who head to less famous galleries, museums, churches and archaeological sites. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Domus Aurea – the sprawling subterranean remains of Nero’s palace, located right next to the Colosseum
Visiting the Domus Aurea should definitely be on your to do list while in Rome (Source: Wikimedia Commons - Tyler Bell)
Visiting the Domus Aurea should definitely be on your to do list while in Rome (Source: Wikimedia Commons – Tyler Bell)
  • The Mausoleum of Augustus – the monumental remains of Augustus’s tomb, recently re-opened to the public for the first time in years
  • Palazzo Massimo – underrated archaeological museum near Termini station with an impressive sculpture collection
  • Villa Farnesina – spectacular Renaissance villa in Trastevere with frescoes by Raphael
  • Case Romane – the evocative underground remains of Roman houses on the Caelian Hill

Do as the Romans do – food and drink

It’s pretty easy to eat and drink like a local in Rome, and you’ll find delicious food everywhere. But here are a few extra tips so you can enjoy the true Roman experience:

  • Coffee culture. Order a caffè (espresso) any time, and a cappuccino in the morning only. To consume your coffee like a Roman, gulp it down while standing at the bar. Find out more in our Italian coffee guide.
  • In the early evening you’ll notice bars filling up with Romans enjoying aperitivo – usually a cocktail, beer or glass of wine accompanied by some snacks. The popularity of the Aperol Spritz has now spread beyond Italy, leading to some confusion about how and when it’s supposed to be drunk. We once saw a group of tourists in Rome drinking Aperol Spritzes at 10am – eccentric behaviour by local standards! If you want to do as the Romans do, enjoy your Aperol or Campari at aperitivo time, not in the morning or with a meal. Learn more about Italian aperitivo in our guide.
Enjoy a nice aperitivo after a day of strolling through the city
Enjoy a nice aperitivo after a day of strolling through the city
  • Stay hydrated. Carry a bottle with you and top it up at one of the 2,500 nasoni (water fountains) in Rome. Unfortunately, at restaurants you’ll have to order a bottle, as no one drinks tap water…even though it’s drinkable! Italy is one of the highest consumers of bottled water in the world.

Going to a restaurant

  • Avoid tourist trap restaurants. Identifying a tourist trap is usually quite simple – they’re generally located right next to a famous attraction (like the Colosseum or Trevi Fountain), the menu is extensive and translated into multiple languages, and a waiter tries to usher you inside. Avoid places like this and you should be fine. Check out our list of recommended restaurants in Rome for some of the best places to eat when you visit Rome.
  • Tipping etiquette. Yes, you can (and should) tip. Romans generally round up the bill or leave at least 10% as a tip for a sit-down meal. Many waiters have low salaries, and restaurants are struggling after months of closure due to Covid.
  • Dining times. Locals usually have lunch at around 1-2pm, and rarely sit down for dinner before 7.30pm. A side note – Italians generally consider pizza (when eaten at a traditional pizzeria, rather than by the slice) an evening meal. Many pizzerias are closed or nearly empty at lunch time.

Other local experiences to try when you visit Rome

  • A walk in the park. When the weather’s nice (which is almost always!), you’ll see Romans strolling through beautiful parks like Villa Borghese or the Aqueduct Park. Find inspiration for your passeggiata in our guide to parks in Rome.
  • Hit the shops. The main shopping street in the centre is Via del Corso, but Romans also tend to go shopping a little further out, in more residential areas. When you visit Rome you’ll probably want to stick to the centre, so as well as Via del Corso, try Via del Governo Vecchio and the surrounding streets, the shops and market in Monti, and the second-hand market Porta Portese.
  • Watch a football match at the stadium. Cheer on one of the local teams (A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio) at the Olympic Stadium, which is easily reached from the centre. It’s hard not to feel like a local when you’re surrounded by 70,000 Romans!
Spend an afternoon or evening at the Stadio Olimpico
Spend an afternoon or evening at the Stadio Olimpico
  • Go to the cinema, theatre or opera. It’s hard to find English language plays in Rome, so if you go to the theatre you’ll need to understand Italian. But regardless of your language skills you can enjoy the opera (at the Opera House or the Baths of Caracalla in the summer months), and there are a few cinemas in the centre that show films in English with Italian subtitles, including the Nuovo Olimpia.
  • Visit an exhibition. Many locals have already visited the collections in the main museums and galleries, so they go to temporary exhibitions instead, at galleries like the Scuderie del Quirinale, or the Chiostro del Bramante. This is what’s on in Rome at the moment.

Outside of Rome

  • Have lunch in the Castelli. At the weekend Romans often leave the city to enjoy an indulgent lunch in one of the towns in the nearby Castelli Romani, such as Castel Gandolfo, Frascati and Ariccia.
  • Spend a day at the beach. If you visit Rome between June and September, do as the Romans do and head to the beach. Ostia, Fregene, Santa Severa and Santa Marinella are some of the most popular and accessible options. Learn more in our guide to beaches near Rome.

And of course, when in Rome, who better than a local to show you around? Book a tour with Roads to Rome Private Tours and explore the city with an expert local guide!

Read more: A local’s guide to Rome (Washington Post)