In Italy, we say meglio solo che male accompagnato—“better to be alone than in bad company.” And while we’re sure your friends are nice, solo travel in Rome is something you shouldn’t shy away from.
A lot of people, especially when it comes to foreign vacations, seem to have a fear of traveling alone. Which is a shame, because solo travel can yield some of the most unexpected and unforgettable moments.
Being a solo traveler in Rome is no different. Yes, a trip shared with friends is always lovely. But don’t be afraid to wander the Eternal City by yourself, even if it’s just a day before or after your friends arrive. Take these five simple rules as a starting point, and hit the pavement (well, cobblestones really).
1. Don’t over-plan
When traveling with a big group of friends, it’s often necessary to make pre-scheduled, pre-reserved plans, in order to make sure everyone is happy and occupied. When you’re by yourself in Rome, take advantage of your flexibility and allow yourself to wander.
One of the great things about Rome is the number of things to see that are either free or don’t require any pre-booking. For example, it’s hard to believe that in the center of Rome, there are three (!) churches which have Caravaggio paintings and cost nothing to enter: Sant’Agostino, San Luigi dei Francesi and Santa Maria del Popolo. When you’re with five friends, that’s a good time to get tickets to the Vatican Museum and plan your morning around it. When you’re alone, pop into one of these churches, gaze at the paintings for as long as you like, and then get back out on the streets.
2. Go native
The temptation is understandable. You’re alone in Trastevere, you haven’t spoken English all day, you pass a pub and suddenly your ears fill with the sound of English. “Americans! Brits! People who won’t scrunch up their faces when I try to talk to them!” You go in.
Resist the urge.
As enticing as it might be to socialize with other English speakers while traveling alone in Rome, it’ll ultimately limit your enjoyment of the trip. When you’re out and about, don’t be scared of bars where there don’t seem to be any non-Italians. Chances are that A) the bar will be better than the one all the Americans are at, and B) it’ll be a great opportunity to meet and hang out with some locals.
Romans may appear a bit standoffish at times, but we are really some of the most generous people on earth, and like nothing more than showing a newcomer around our beloved city. As comforting as it might be to spend the night at an Irish pub in the center of town, it’ll be way more memorable if you find some Romans to take you on a nighttime tour of the city’s hidden spots.
3. Eat snacks early and dinner late
Now, we’ve told you in other blogs that you must reserve a table if you want to be guaranteed a good dinner. Which, when traveling in a group, is absolutely true. However, when traveling alone, you’re a little freer.
Romans usually have dinner around 8:30 or 9 p.m., and have a slow drink and an aperitivo beforehand. If you’re a solo traveler, you can take this schedule and prolong it for the whole night. Spend the evening drifting among bars, snacking, drinking and chatting with locals. Then, around 10, if you’re still hungry, walk into a restaurant (I’ve done this many times at Pommidoro in nightlife-heavy San Lorenzo), and ask if they have a table for one.
Many restaurants, especially on weeknights, are happy to accommodate a solo diner for a quick meal. They might even tell you, in that inimitable Roman way, “We can make you a plate of pasta, nothing else,” at first, only for you end up with an artichoke to start, “just a taste” of some apricot pie and a free limoncello with the owner as he sweeps the floor around midnight.
4. Use common sense
Obviously, any solo traveler, especially solo female travelers, will have safety concerns. But Rome is, by and large, a very safe city, and to keep yourself safe here, follow the same rules for being by yourself as in any other city: Keep your phone charged and cash on you, don’t drink too much and walk by the river, and know how to get a taxi if there’s no public transportation around (download the Free Now app, which will hail you a licensed cab).
The vast majority of Romans are lovely people who are glad to help you with anything you might need: directions to a pharmacy, a primer on how to buy metro tickets, a gelato recommendation. However, there will always be some people who try to take advantage of visitors. Some are dangerous, but most are merely frauds: unlicensed taxi drivers at the airport, rip-off tour guides around monuments, owners of over-priced and poor-quality restaurants who seem intent on dragging you in off the street. If someone seems way too eager to sell you something or take you somewhere, just politely say no and be on your way.
5. Go off the beaten path
Imagine, for a second, that you’re from New York. Someone from Rome tells you all about their visit to The Big Apple, and how all they did was go to Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. A good start, you might think, but they missed so much of the wonderfully ordinary, non-tourist stuff.
That’s how most Romans feel about tourists in Rome. They seemingly flock to the Vatican and the Colosseum, frequent the restaurants around the Trevi fountain, and consider Trastevere to be “out there.”
Rome is a really big city, and if you’re by yourself, you’re utterly free to explore the less-known parts. Go to Garbatella and see the octagonal houses. Go to the Riserva Monte Mario for a walk. Hike out to Tor Pignattara and have lunch at Osteria Bonelli (and discount my previous advice: here, you’ll need to reserve even as a solo traveler.) Explore Centocelle, Parioli, even the beachside area of Ostia. When you only have to answer to yourself, roam these places that none of your friends will recognize in the photos you take.