Rome is a dream travel destination. Its most important sights -- Vatican City, the Colosseum, the Pantheon -- are destinations in their own right, some of the most significant historic spots in the world. A trip to Rome isn’t just a nice vacation. It’s a travel essential! And you’re going to want to soak up every moment of it. To fully enjoy the whole city, you’ll need a primer on how to get around Rome safely and economically.
Every year, millions of travelers pass through Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino International Airport. It is one of Europe’s busiest airports in terms of passenger traffic, and it’s home base for Alitalia's operations. My memories of Fiumicino are positive ones involving good cappuccino and high-end window shopping. But I didn’t want to linger there. I couldn’t wait to make my way into Rome, and I suspect you’ll feel the same way! Here are some options for getting to central Rome with costs, pros, and cons to help you make a decision.
A hotel shuttle bus from Fiumicino to your central Rome hotel will cost a minimum of 16.33 euros. For solo travelers arriving later in the evening, this can be a fantastic option. You’re brought directly to your hotel’s front door, and there’s no need to buy metro tickets or walk after dark. And it’s less expensive than a taxi!
On the downside, you have to book your shuttle in advance. You have to wait until all the other passengers arrive before your driver departs and, depending on the route, you might be the last person to be dropped off. Your destination must be a registered hotel (Airbnb guests are dropped off at the hotel closest to their destination). And the hotel shuttle is not always economical; for three people or more, a taxi is a cheaper and quicker option. The shuttle is best for those who need extra assistance getting to their hotel for the first time and aren’t in a rush.
The Terravision bus is the most economical of all the airport transportation options. It costs just 5.80 euros for a one-way trip from the airport to central Rome or 9 euros for a round trip. You’ll save a little bit by booking in advance online, and the departure times are flexible. The Terravision bus runs approximately every 45 minutes, and the trip to Fiumicino takes just under an hour.
Not only is it cheaper than its competitors, but Terravision is also the only bus company with a ticket office within Rome’s central station, Termini. It even has a waiting area at its café! It’s located on the east side of the station, while the competing bus companies are located on the side streets next to the terminal. The Terravision bus is cheap and convenient -- the only downside is that it’s not good for travelers in a rush.
The Leonardo Express train is a dedicated airport express train that takes 30 minutes to travel between Termini and Fiumicino. It departs every 15 minutes from platform 23 (occasionally platform 24) at Termini.
Tickets cost about 14 euros, which makes the express train significantly more expensive than other public transportation options but cheaper than taxis or the hotel shuttle buses. It’s quick and comfortable, and the consistent departure from the same section of Termini means that it’s easy to catch the train if you’re running a bit late in the morning! You can also purchase your ticket in advance. Note that you have to select a departure time, and while you can always use your ticket to take a later train, you can’t use it to travel earlier.
Despite the higher price, the Leonardo Express is my preferred method for getting to the airport, especially in the morning. A delayed hotel checkout one morning left me sprinting for Termini, extremely grateful that I had purchased my Leonardo Express ticket the evening before. I knew exactly which platform to dash to, and I knew that even if I missed my train, another would be along in a few minutes and would get me to the airport in record time
A slower but cheaper option is to take the public commuter train, known as the FL1. For 8 euros, you can get to the FL1 line from most metro stations (but not directly at Termini, though you can switch metro lines and connect later on). It takes about an hour to reach the airport. The FL1 is the best option if you’re staying near a major train station other than Termini, such as Trastevere, Ostiense, or Tiburtina. Taking the FL1 is easy, economical, and much more direct than making an unnecessary trip to the central station. But if Termini is indeed your stomping ground, you’re better off splurging on the Leonardo Express train or taking the Terravision bus.
A taxi from Fiumicino to Rome’s city center costs a flat rate of 48 euros for four passengers. The drive takes about 45 minutes, depending on traffic. For solo travelers or couples, this is the most expensive transportation option -- and it’s not even the quickest! Even the Leonardo Express costs less and takes less time. However, for families or people with lots of luggage, this is the best choice.
There are local alternatives that provide similar service at a similar price, including private car hires. This is a good option for parties of three or four, as it often includes little perks not found in taxis (like bottled water), and you can arrange to take an indirect route to your hotel, turning your car ride into a mini tour going past the Colosseum and the Pantheon.
Uber exists in Rome, but it’s not the inexpensive, carefree option that it is elsewhere in the world. Only Uber Black is permitted to operate, and surge pricing is often in effect. It’s not a great choice for airport transportation.
If you’re sticking to the city center and major attractions, public transit and the occasional taxi will serve you well. But if you’re hoping to take a number of day trips to areas not easily served by public transit, you should consider renting a car.
There’s a great scene in the Melissa McCarthy movie Spy in which the title character, Susan, is picked up by her local fixer in Rome, Aldo. Aldo proceeds to embody every exaggerated stereotype of Italian men, from the outrageous flirting to the daredevil driving. Susan is taken on a heart-stopping drive through Rome, arriving at her destination in record time -- albeit somewhat terrified.
Aldo’s “skills” certainly come to mind when people envision what Rome is like for driving. But rest assured, it isn’t that bad. As with any large city, you’re going to have traffic jams, the odd crazy driver, and some tight squeezes here and there. If you need to drive in and around Rome and are feeling slightly terrified thanks to Aldo and his movie brethren, don’t worry -- you’ll be okay!
Driving in Rome will be very different from what you’re likely familiar with as a North American motorist, however. You’ll have to have an international driving permit (easily purchased at any AAA office) in order to rent a car in Italy. New drivers in Rome should also be aware of the limited traffic zones, or ZTL, where only taxis and locals with special permits can go. If you’re not sure what’s permitted, look for the words varco attivo (active gate) or varco non-attivo (non-active gate). You can only enter when the virtual gate is non-active, or lifted. Otherwise, you can expect to be fined thanks to the extensive camera system that will nab your license plate even if you have only transgressed a few blocks.
You should also be mindful of the white pedestrian right-of-way stripes you’ll see painted on the roads. As a pedestrian, I personally never trusted them. Always look both ways, friends! But as a driver, you are responsible for letting people pass safely.
White is your friend when it comes to parking, however. A painted white spot is free! As any expat will tell you, finding an available parking spot is akin to spotting the Loch Ness monster. If you see one, take it. Don’t you dare circle the block hoping for something that’s just a bit closer!
Blue parking spots require you to pay a meter like you would at home. Finally, parking garages are a popular option, just like they are in other parts of the world. Renting the smallest car available is a good strategy to save money on rental fees and fuel and to squeeze into the tiniest of available spots!
Rome is a perfectly walkable city. Sure, there are some bumpy cobblestone roads here and there, but there’s nothing to stand in the way of a long, leisurely walk through the city. I would start out early in the morning, take the main drag to the first attraction on my list, and then weave my way back, popping in to little cafés and small churches along the way. When my feet gave out, I would hop on a bus headed back in the direction of a major tourist attraction, knowing that I could easily stroll home.
Rome is, of course, heavily touristed. This inevitably means pickpockets, especially in the streets around popular attractions and in the busiest buses. Pickpockets operate on stealth and opportunity, so don’t make yourself an easy target. Leave valuables at home, and ditch your open, over-the-shoulder tote bag for a cross-body bag that zips.
With just two main lines -- blue and red -- the Rome metro system is one of the easiest to navigate in all of Europe. It’s also the smallest system relative to the overall size of the city. This isn’t because Romans don’t love their Metropolitana -- it’s because drilling and digging in the Eternal City is fraught with difficulties. An ancient temple here, a priceless cistern there -- expanding the system isn’t exactly going to happen overnight!
Thankfully, the two main lines take tourists just about everywhere they need to go. The lines, which intersect at Termini, run every 7 to 10 minutes every day from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. (and until 3 a.m. on Saturdays).
Regular tickets and day passes can be purchased at the station ticket machines and from corner stores and newsagents. During one particularly memorable trip to Rome, the main ticket machine at Termini was acting up. It kept rejecting all my bills that weren’t perfectly flat. Finally, through exhaustive trial and error, I found the solution of counterfolding the creases in my euro notes and successfully collected my tickets. Little did I realize that a crowd had formed around me! At once, I was worried that the famous Roman pickpockets had decided to corner me. Thankfully, they were only frustrated locals and tourists who were eager to observe the miraculous touch of the machine whisperer!
A single-use ticket costs 1.50 euros and is valid for 75 minutes and one metro ride, as well as unlimited bus rides within that time period. Remember to validate your ticket before you enter the train.
A one-day pass costs 6 euros. Note that it expires at midnight on the day it was purchased, not 24 hours after purchase. You only need to validate it once to enter the metro or the bus. Metro usage is included in the 72-hour Roma Pass, which costs about 38 euros.
While it will be hard to pull yourself away from Rome, the city is a fantastic base for exploring the Italian countryside -- and even other cities.
Italy’s high-speed trains can take you from Rome to destinations like Florence, Pisa, Venice, Milan, and Naples in a short time. The ItaliaRail website offers great travel deals that can be tremendous bargains -- keep an eye out for fares as low as 30 euros. But be warned -- you absolutely want to book one of the high-speed express trains! Old-fashioned lines that stop at every town and village also exist and, while the scenery is lovely, it’s not worth it to spend 6 hours on the train only to turn around and head back.
Closer to Rome -- and easily accessible by train, bus, or car -- is the charming town of Orvieto. Located in the Italian region of Umbria, Orvieto is only about an hour from Rome, but you’ll instantly feel like you’re getting the authentic Italian hill town experience. Its proximity to local vineyards makes it an especially delicious destination, and this city is also known for its lovely ceramics. Just how gorgeous is the homemade pottery? I tossed a lot from my backpack just to haul home a set of dinner dishes and bowls -- heavy, but well worth the effort!
Pompeii is just a couple hours from Rome and is a popular and economical destination for group bus tours. You just need a few hours to take in the beautifully preserved historic site, a must-see for anyone who’s fascinated by the ancient world -- or volcanoes!
Closest of all, the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Tivoli are only 18 miles from Rome. Soak in the luxury of a posh Renaissance villa, spectacular gardens, and beautifully preserved frescoes -- and still be back in Rome in time for pasta and gelato.
If you’re dreaming of an incredible day trip from Rome, this list of 8 fabulous destinations is sure to inspire.