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The Roman Empire • Rome • 9 • Getting Around

by mythic44

Getting Around

Get a map from your hotel or go inside a hotel to ask for directions to a place. Every accommodation seems to have a stack of these sponsored by a variety of businesses. The roads can be confusing and directions can be hard to follow without a map to reference.

Roma Pass – If you’ll be staying in Rome for at least 3 days, consider purchasing the Roma Pass. It costs €36 (or €28 for a 48 hour pass) and entitles holders to free admission to the first two museums and/or archaeological sites visited, full access to public transportation, reduced tickets and discounts for any other following museums (that are included in the programme – e.g., the Vatican Museums are not included) and sites visited as well as exhibitions, music events, theatrical and dance performances.

By car – In a nutshell: don’t do it. Well, some people actually enjoy it. The traffic in the city centre can be chaotic, but it is possible to drive there; it will take a few weeks to understand where to drive, to get where you want to go. When driving in Rome it is important to accept that Italians drive in a very pragmatic way. Taking turns and letting people go in front of you is rare. There is little patience so if the light is green when you go into the intersection and you are too slow they will let you know. A green light turning to amber is a reason to accelerate, not brake, in part because the lights usually stay amber for several seconds. If you brake immediately when the light changes you are likely to get rear-ended. Parking is scarce. The city centre is plagued with people who demand money to direct you to a space, even on the rare occasions when there are many places available. While in Rome, it is better to travel by bus or Metro, or (in extremis) take a taxi.

If you’re driving in the city centre or in certain parts of Testaccio, note that many areas (limited-traffic zones or ZTL) are limited to residents, who have special electronic passes. If you go into these areas (which are camera controlled) you may end up with a fine, particularly if your car has Italian plates. Beware that when turning right across a pedestrian crossing you might have a green light at the same time as the pedestrians.

By taxi – Taxis are the most expensive way to get around Rome, but when weighed against convenience and speed, they are often worth it.

Roman taxis run on metres, and you should always make sure the driver starts it. Taxis will typically pick you up only at a taxi stand, which you will find at all but the smallest piazzas, as well as at the main train station or when called by phone. Flagging down a taxi (like in London) is possible but quite rare as the taxi drivers prefer to use the stands. When you get in the cab, there will be a fixed starting charge, which will be more for late nights, Sundays and holidays. An €1 supplement per bag will be requested for every piece of luggage the driver has to handle (however, if you carry only one bag you won’t have to pay the supplement). So, if you have a limited amount of luggage that wouldn’t need to go in the trunk, you may decline when the driver offers to put your bags in the trunk. Drivers may not use the shortest route, so try to follow the route with a map and discuss if you feel you’re being tricked.

Be aware that when you phone for a taxi, the cab’s metre starts running when it is summoned – not when it arrives to pick you up! Therefore, by the time a cab arrives at your location, there may already be a substantial amount on the meter. A major problem is that taxi drivers often leave the previous fare running on the metre. So you may find the cab arriving with €15 or even more on the metre. If you are not in a hurry you should tell him (there are very few female cab drivers in Rome) to get lost, but if you are desperate to get to the airport it’s a different matter. You can get a taxi pretty easily at any piazza though, so calling ahead is really not required. A trip across the city (within the walls) will cost you about €11 if starting at a cab rank, a little more if there is heavy traffic at night or on a Sunday. Taxi drivers may try to trick customers by switching a €50 note for a €10 one during the payment, leading you to believe that you handed them only €10 when you have already given them €50.

Fake taxis – Some private citizens dress up their cars to look like cabs. These people strategically locate themselves at airports and railway stations waiting for travelers. Beware of operators who don’t display a licensed meter and ID. Use only authorised taxis (white vehicles with a taximeter) that are available in the arrivals areas of the terminals. Also, some airport employees may direct you to a “taxi” driver if you ask where you find them when you are inside the airport terminal. The “taxi” could end up being a Mercedes limo, costing you double the fare of a real taxi and a tricky situation to get out as your luggage is locked away in the limo’s boot.

Note that it is possible to pay with credit cards! To do so, however, you will have to notify the driver before the ride starts.

On foot – Once you’re in the centre, you are best off on foot. What could be more romantic than strolling through Rome on foot holding hands? That is hard to beat!

Crossing a street in Rome can be a bit challenging, though. There are crossings but, sometimes, they aren’t located at signalled intersections. Traffic can be intimidating, but if you are at a crossing just start walking and cars will let you cross the street. While crossing watch out for the thousands of mopeds: as in many European cities, even if cars and lorries are stationary due to a jam or for another reason, mopeds and bikes will be trying to squeeze through the gaps and may be ignoring the reason why everyone else has stopped. This means that even if the traffic seems stationary you need to pause and look around into the gaps.

Beware that unlike in other countries where a lit “green man” indicates that it is safe to cross the road, in Italy the green man is lit at the same time as the green light for traffic turning right, so you can often find yourself sharing the space with cars.

By public transport – In Rome, all public transportation (comprising buses, trams, trolleybuses, the Metro network and the Roma-Lido, Roma-Viterbo, Roma-Giardinetti light railways) is managed by ATAC, whose site comes with a handy route planner. There’s also the route planner of Rome Mobility Agency. Android users can download the apps: Muoversi a Roma (with route planner), Probus Rome and Autobus Roma, all with menus translated in english.

Tickets – Tickets must be bought from a tobacconist – look for the big ‘T’ sign, these shops are plentiful – or from a newsstand before you board the bus, Metro or tram. Metro stops and bus terminals all have automated ticket kiosks, and major Metro stations have clerked ticket windows. Newer trams and buses have yellow single-ticket vending machines as well.

Bus – Roman buses are reliable, but can be crowded. They are the best way to get around the city, with the notable exception of walking. Free maps of the bus system are available, others can be purchased (€ 3.50 at Termini). Signs at the bus stop list the stops for each route. Ask for assistance (in Rome, there’s always somebody nearby who speaks English or tries his best to help you out). Some bus lines have arrivals every ten minutes or so. Less popular routes may arrive every half hour or less. If heading outside the centre beware that bus schedules can be seriously disrupted by heavy traffic; sometimes trips just get cancelled altogether.

HO-HO Buses – A popular alternative to city and pre-planned tour buses are the hop-on/hop-off buses… that is, open-top double-deckers. In the last few years there has been a veritable explosion in the number of such buses, and at the last count there were seven different companies. An all-day ticket runs about €18/20, can be purchased as you board at any stop, and provides unlimited access to available seats (the open-air upper deck highly preferable in good weather) and earbud headphones to plug into outlets for running commentary on approaching sights. Commentary is offered in nearly every European language. Most companies follow more or less the same route, starting in sight of Termini station but there are also two different tours of “Christian Rome” and the Archeobus, which will take you to the catacombs and along the Appian Way.

One good tactic for first-time visitors is to ride a complete HO-HO loop, making notes of what interests you. Then stay on until you arrive at each point/area you wish to visit, do so, then hop back on another bus (for that bus line) for the next point/area of interest. Even with a prompt morning start, seeing/doing all that’s available with some thoroughness can easily consume the whole day. If you’re there more than one day and like the approach, on subsequent days look for different bus lines that take different routes, e.g., most of the same points/areas but in different order.

Taking pictures from the upper-deck while in-motion is tricky but doable (but not recommended by the bus lines) by those with good balance who can also recognise approaching limits on camera and lighting angles. An early start will also help choice of seat location to help camera angles. Watch out for the sales guys hanging outside of the big train station Termini who have leaflets for all the companies, they often actually work for just one and drag you to a ticket office which is a waste of time as you can just get a ticket on a bus.

The different bus companies offer vastly different service levels. Please help by writing about them:

  • GLT, also known as the Green Line (but the buses are actually grey). No A/C on the lower deck and the audio of the tour is done by multiple different recorded voices (it’s not activated by GPS, too) – the narration feels very disjointed and random, sparse and unhelpful; for example, the audio will tell you too late of things you just went past. Also, they don’t seem to have many buses compared to the other companies.
  • Rome Open Tour: green and yellow livery. A “Bus ‘N’ Boat” combo is available during spring and summer, which lets you navigate the Tiber in addition to the bus sightseeing.
  • Roma Cristiana: yellow buses which stop at the main basilicas, including St. Peter’s.
  • City Sightseeing Roma: red livery with some yellow logos.
  • Trambus Open (ATAC-owned): 101 is the red bus and Archeobus is the yellow one dedicated to the archaeological tours.

Tram – In Rome, there are six tram lines: # 2, # 3, # 5, # 8, # 14 and # 19.

These are the remnants of a much bigger network (in fact, the biggest in Italy) which opened in 1877 but was largely dismantled during the 1960s in favour of a well-developed bus system, whose fleet soon developed a tendency to get stuck in traffic. There are currently three types of of tram cars in service – the oldest one dates from the 1940s and is prevalent on lines #5, #14 and # 19. These cars are not air-conditioned and it’s not possible to buy ATAC tickets aboard: they’re also considerably smaller, and thus prone to overcrowding, than their newer counterparts. Another type of cars entered service in the 1980s, but this one too is small and lacks both air-conditiong and ticket-vending machines; it can be easily recognised by its angular design. The newest of the whole lot are spacious, air-conditioned, have a ticket-vending machine aboard and – what is more important – they come with free Wi-Fi! They’re prevalent on lines # 3 and # 8.

The tram network follows the same timetable as the Metro and bus systems (5:30 AM – 11:30 PM): you should avoid rush hour (7:30 – 9:00 AM), especially on lines # 3, # 5, # 14 and # 19. Line # 8 gets rather crowded on Sundays, because there are fewer trams passing and there’s the Porta Portese flea market going on. Most evenings, lines # 5 and # 14 are jam-packed with commuters.

Metro – There are two-and-a-half Metro (short for “Metropolitana”) lines – A , B and B1 – crossing at Termini. A third, line C, is currently under construction.

Light rail – Rome is also home to an interesting light suburban railway network that may come in useful if you’re headed to some parts of city which are otherwise too impractical to reach via bus or taxi; but you can also use it to get to places such as Viterbo or Ostia Antica. Keep in mind that these lines are leftovers from a much older, extensive network and that the cars themselves are often antiquated: some of them actually look more like trams than proper trains. These railways are all managed by ATAC and are part of the public transportation network the same way as trams and the Metro do, meaning that you can ride them (with a partial exception, see below) by using ordinary ATAC tickets and passes.

These lines are very popular with commuters, so it would be wise to avoid peak hours (7:30 AM to 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM circa).

  • The Roma-Giardinetti line connects the city centre with Porta Maggiore – where you can change to tram lines # 3, 5, 14, 19 – and the south-western suburbs. Its main terminus, called Roma-Laziali, is located right next to the far end of Termini station (via Giolitti).
  • The Roma-Lido line connects Testaccio with Ostia Antica and the nearby Ostia district. The Roma Porta S. Paolo train station, which is located right next to the “Piramide” stop of Metro line B and near the “Roma Ostiense” train station, is this line’s main terminus; but it is also possible to board it from the “Basilica San Paolo” and “Eur Magliana” stops of line B, as both systems share part of the same route. To do so, just get off the Metro train and change side of the platform.
  • The Roma-Nord line connects the city centre with the Parioli district, the city’s northern suburbs and Viterbo. The line’s Roman terminus is almost hidden from the view as it is tucked in a corner of piazzale Flaminio, near villa Borghese; it’s called Stazione di Roma Piazzale Flaminio. Both the “Flaminio” stop of Metro line A and the terminus of tram line # 2 are located nearby. Note that ATAC tickets and passes only cover the urban stretch of the route, which ends at the “Sacrofano” train station: if you wish to continue the trip beyond the city limits, you’ll have to buy a dedicated ticket.

Note: these lines are not to be confused with the more extensive Regional train network (see below), which is managed by Trenitalia.

By Regional train – There is a network of eight railway lines – the Ferrovie Laziali or FL (also spelt FM or FR in outdated signage) – that mostly connect to the conurbations of Rome and other towns in the Lazio region; these lines are wholly owned and operated by Trenitalia. Tourists are unlikely to use them, except when arriving from Fiumicino or Civitavecchia, but they can be very convenient if you fancy a day-trip out of Rome (see Get Out) or need to get across the city quickly (these lines being a bit like the Metro in their urban stretch). You can ride them by using ordinary ATAC tickets for as long as you stay within the city limits: if you’re headed to any other destination that doesn’t lie within said boundaries you will have to buy (and then time-stamp before boarding the train) a ticket, which costs € 8 circa; there are no reserved seats, food carts or travel classes aboard. This kind of ticket doesn’t come with an expiration date, meaning that you can buy one and use it later.

On a moped – There is the possibility to hire motorcycles or scooters. Many Romans prefer this way of transportation and even in winter you can see them driving scooters equipped with raincoats, blankets, and rain boots. Motorbikes are not particularly safe in Rome and most accidents seem to involve one (or two!). Nevertheless, Roman traffic can be chaotic and a two-wheeled provides excellent mobility within the city. Scooter and motorcycle rental costs between €30 and €70 per day depending on scooter size and rental company. The traffic can be intimidating and the experience exciting, if a bit insane.

On a bicycle – There is the possibility to hire any kind of bike in Rome: from tandem, road bikes, children bikes to trekking bikes. Some shops are even specialised only on high quality ones while street stands will hire you cheaper and heavy ones. Bicycling alone can be stressful because of the traffic: the best way to discover how to move around and avoid it first is with a guide, thanks to the tours offered by almost all rental shops. There are different itineraries offered from the basic city centre, panoramic Rome tour to the Ancient Parks (€ 29 for 4h). The experience is well worth it and you would reduce also your impact on the city’s environment.

Even moderately experienced cyclists, however, may find that cycling through Rome’s streets offers an unparalleled way to learn the city intimately and get around very cheaply and efficiently. While traffic in the city centre is certainly chaotic to someone from a country with more regimented and enforced rules of the road, Roman drivers are – generally speaking – used to seeing bicycles as well as motorcycles and one may move throughout the city relatively easily. Should you find yourself in a car’s way, they will generally let you know with a quick beep of the horn and wait for you to move.

A particularly spectacular, and relaxing, cycle trip is to pedal out along the via Appia Antica, the original Appian Way that linked much of Italy to Rome. Some of the original cobblestones, now worn by over two millenia of traffic, are still in place. With exceptionally light traffic in most sections, you can casually meander your bike over kilometres of incredible scenery and pass ancient relics and active archaeological sites throughout the journey.

Bikesharing –  Rome’s public transport company, ATAC, operates a bike sharing scheme. The bicycles, which are green, are available at numerous locations downtown and further afield. Tickets cost €10, which includes a €5 inscription fee. Electronic cards can be obtained at the Metro ticket offices located in the “Termini”, “Lepanto” and “Spagna” stops. The rental costs €1 for an hour. Application is a bit cumbersome and you’ll have to give credit card details, but this is a good system if you want to move around Rome quickly and with minimal exhaustion.

By Segway – It is now possible to rent a Segway in Rome; it’s a fast, convenient, and eco-friendly way to get around in the city centre. In Rome, a person on a Segway is considered a pedestrian, not a motorist, so Segways are only allowed on the sidewalks, not in the streets with the other vehicles. Segway rental costs between €25-50 per hour, or between €70-100 for an accompanied tour of 2/4h.

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