How to navigate Rome like a pro

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 06.06.2024

So, here’s the thing. Though undeniably romantic, Rome is also very, very hectic. Even crossing the road can feel akin to undertaking a gladiatorial challenge, and its labyrinthine historic areas can be confusing to navigate. All of which means, it can feel like it might take an eternity to get to grips with getting around the Eternal City. I learned this the hard way during my first trip to the city. For example, getting lost in Trastevere ahead of meeting some Roman mates for lunch wasn’t my finest hour. To save you from making the same mistakes, read on to find how I navigated Rome like a pro (eventually).

Pre-trip preparation

As any seasoned traveller knows — whether you’re heading to a remote village in a far-flung tropical destination, or a closer-to-home city — it’s advisable to do plenty of pre-trip prep before you hit the road. Says the person who failed on that front when it came to navigating Trastevere. Anyway, moving on!

Do your research

In terms of pre-trip planning ahead of travelling to Rome, I found a bunch of travel blogs useful in terms of figuring out what I most wanted to see and do in a limited time, and working out how I was going to get around Rome to fit everything in.

Rome Toolkit is pretty great when it comes to insider intel on how to get around, along with detail on airports, sightseeing, and top trips to take from Rome.

If you want to wise-up on local events and concerts, check out Romeing and Romewise. The latter also shares tips on the likes of non-touristy places to grab a coffee, gelato or full-on authentic food near stacks of top attractions. 

Last (but by no means least) on the pre-trip reseach front, you might want to read our travel tips for Rome, and get your hands on The Rough Guide to Rome

Yep, I’m definitely biased, but it’s packed with info on every area that’ll help you decide where you want to stay in Rome, and the top things to do when you’re in town. 

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to give more thought to start how to get from A to B once you’ve arrived. The Rough Guide will help you do that, too, by the way (it’s also packed with maps), but back to more personal pre-trip planning tips before I share tips on getting around.

Night view over fountain di Trevi in Rome ©  trabantos/Shutterstock

 Fountain di Trevi in Rome ©  trabantos/Shutterstock

Arm yourself with navigation tools and apps

I could have done with following this advice I first time I visited Rome — they definitely helped my subsequent trips.

In terms of handy transport apps, check out ATAC Roma — the official app for Rome's public transport authority. You can use it to plan routes and buy tickets.

MyCicero also helps with trip planning and public transport schedules, while Roma Mobile provides real-time info on public transport, including routes, schedules, and delays.

As for maps, it goes without saying that Google and Citymapper will be your best friend — look to download offline maps where possible. That certainly came in handy when my phone battery died on me in the middle of the Forum and I had no idea how get across town to meet a friend for lunch.

Another tool that’s come in massively handy when planning countless trips around the world is Rome2Rio. You just have to plug in your desired start and end destination and it’ll give you the lowdown on every mode of transport, with estimated journey times and estimated costs.

Learn from locals

While you’ll certainly have no trouble navigating Rome with little-to-no Italian, I found having a few phrases in my armoury pretty useful. That way you can at least ask for directions politely even if you struggle to understand the reply!

Oh, and ahead of travelling, a native Roman friend advised me to forget pricey taxis, and take a bus from the airport to the centre of town — more detail on that below.

Piazza del Popolo (People's Square) in Rome © Shutterstock

Piazza del Popolo (People's Square) in Rome © Shutterstock

First impressions and challenges

On arrival in Fiumicino Airport (Leonardo da Vinci), I already knew to look for the bus stop to get into the centre. On my first trip, I didn’t know I needed be at Terminal 3 — the departure point for most buses — which left me frustrated trying to figure out where the buses were in a busy airport

So, save yourself the time and hassle of aimless wandering by buying your bus ticket in advance and checking the departure point so you can head straight there after collecting your luggage. 

A few companies run shuttles from Fiumicino Airport to the centre of Rome e.g. Terravision, SIT Bus Shuttle, TAM Bus and Cotral. Do your research to check costs and routes to pick the service that’ll get you closest to where you need to be. 

Most services end at Termini Station — the central railway station. It’ll take around 45 minutes to an hour to get here. Being a major transport hub, Termini is very, very hectic, so it’s advisable to pre-plan your onward route from here. 

To avoid get caught in the craziness of crowds and confusing signs, figure out which metro or onward bus you need to take before you arrive. This certainly saved me a whole lot of time and stress when I reached Termini. 

Landing in Ciampino Airport? You could take a 10-minute bus to Ciampino Train Station and jump onto a 15-minute train to Termini from here.

Alternatively, a few bus companies operate direct services to the centre. This might be the best option if you’re loaded down with bulky bags  — lugging luggage on and off buses and trains multiple times isn't much fun!

Rome Metro sign © Shutterstock

When it comes to getting around Rome, do your research and plan routes in advance Rome © Shutterstock

While Rome is a wonderful city to wander on foot (once you’ve got used to the traffic and have your bearings — more on that later), you’ll almost certainly want to explore further afield and make use of public transport. Here’s an overview of exactly that.


Compared with other European cities, Rome’s metro system has limited coverage — three main lines that don’t extend to all the key tourist areas. 

That said, Line A (orange) runs from Battistini to Anagnina and serves lots of major attractions, including the Vatican museums (Cipro), Spanish Steps (Spagna) and Trevi Fountain (Barberini).

Line A intersects with Line B (blue) at Termini, and runs from Laurentina to Rebibbia/Conca d'Oro, with stops near the Colosseum (Colosseo) and Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo). Meanwhile, Line C (green) runs from Monte Compatri/Pantano to San Giovanni.

Iconic view on Vatican Gardens from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica © Shutterstock

Vatican Gardens from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica © Shutterstock


Running from early morning until midnight, with handy night buses available on certain routes (look out for the “N” prefix), Rome’s bus network covers areas not serviced by the metro or trams. 

Termini, Piazza Venezia, and Largo di Torre Argentina are major bus hubs to have on your radar.


Generally less crowded than buses and the metro, six tram lines cover scenic routes that complement the bus and metro networks.

Most tourists find themselves becoming familiar with Tram 8, which runs from Piazza Venezia to Trastevere. Another route worth having on your radar is Tram 19 — it connects areas like San Lorenzo, Villa Borghese and the Vatican.

The gardens at Villa Borghese in Rome © Shutterstock

Villa Borghese, Rome © Shutterstock

Tips and tricks for using public transport in Rome

It’s fair to say, buying tickets for public transport in Rome can be pretty confusing. Knowing the best tickets to buy depends on how long you’re in town, and the specific journeys you intend to make. 

For example, I’d have been better off buying a CIS (Carta Integrata Settimanale) ticket offering unlimited travel for seven days. I was only there for five days, but that would have worked out cheaper — and more convenient — than buying BIT tickets (Biglietto Integrato a Tempo), a single ticket valid that’s valid for 100 minutes.

Another option is to get a Roma 24H, 48H or 72H ticket, which gives you unlimited travel for (you guessed it) 24, 48 or 72 hours.

Whichever ticket you decide is best for you, remember to validate it as soon as you board a bus or tram — look out for the machines. Being distracted by busy crowds, or simply forgetting, is a common pitfall, and fines can be hefty.

Spanish Steps Piazza di Spagna, Rome © Shutterstock

Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, Rome © Shutterstock

Walking the streets like a local

One thing I was aware of before visiting Rome was that fact that many areas I wanted to visit are also easy to get lost in — hello Trastevere, Centro Storico and the Monti District! So, it’s best to plan your walking routes in advance.

I also found it useful to orient myself using major landmarks, and to try to remember how turns I’d made while wandering around. No easy feat when one maze of alleys and piazzas leads to another and before you know it, you’re lost!

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to download offline maps with your intended walking routes mapped out. While few things beat going off-piste as a result of making discoveries along the way (in my case, seeing signs for a vintage market in Trastevere), it’s worth having easy access to tools to get you back on track.

That way, freed from stress around the possibility of getting lost, you’ll be able to embrace “La Dolce Vita” with more verve, taking time to linger in cafés, and live in the moment. 

Related, it’s worth not trying to pack too much into your daily plans and walking routes. While you won’t want to miss seeing the city’s celebrated top tourist attractions, allocating extended stretches of time to explore specific districts on foot is the best way to really get to know Rome.

For example, I’m so glad I devoted an entire day to the Monti District during my second trip to Rome. Sitting between the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Termini station, Monti is hardly off the beaten track, and yet it somehow feels a million miles from well-trod tourist trails. 

Loaded with vintage shops, indie boutiques, and cute little trattorias, with the Colosseum looming large over the Via degli Annibaldi, it’s charming, laidback and understatedly cool.

Rione Monti - cityscape of Monti district in Rome © Tupungato/Shutterstock

Rome's Monti district © Tupungato/Shutterstock

Dealing with traffic and crowds

As I said at the start, Rome is rather hectic at the best of times, so you’ll want to avoid using public transport or taking taxis during peak hours. 

This means not using buses, trams or the metro from 7.30-9.30 and 17.00-19.30 if you can help it. If you’re travelling by car, the busiest times extend from around 7-9.30, and 16.30-19.30.

As a general rule, visiting top attractions — the Colosseum and Roman Forum, the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon — is best done as soon as they open, which is usually around 8.30.

In the case of the Trevi Fountain, after passing it a few times during the day, when it was nigh impossible to see it, let alone get a decent photo, I decided to make a special effort to head there very, very early in the morning.

I then had enough time to walk on to the Forum (it took around 20 minutes) before crowds descended there, too. 

Another general tip is to check out buying skip-the-line tickets for the likes of these very popular sights. Also bear in mind that some attractions offer evening tours, which can be less crowded.

Planning to visit Rome on a family trip? Check out our list of things to do in Rome with kids.

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 06.06.2024

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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