With ancient ruins dating back thousands of years, picturesque architecture, stunning art, and a dynamic atmosphere, Rome is one of the most magical cities in the world.
But the city has also become of the most overcrowded.
Like many spots in Europe, Rome has seen the damages of overtourism—meaning that a city has so many tourists, it negatively impacts the local population. A heavy influx of tourists without restrictions can increase the cost of living for residents, tarnish the culture with “tourist traps” like mega-chain restaurants and hotels, and cause long-lasting environmental damage that travelers can escape but residents must live with forever.
Does this mean we should we all stop going to Rome?
Rich in history, culture, and some of the best food you’ll have in your life, Rome is a destination of a lifetime. The Eternal City remains one of my favorite cities in the world that I’ve visited, and I imagine it will be for many others.
So no, I don’t believe that anyone has to miss out on seeing this enchanting city. Plus, Italy is heavily dependent on tourism, with the industry contributing $207B, or 11% of total GDP, to the Italian economy.
However, as visitors, we must be conscious of our impact on the culture and the environment of this beautiful Italian city. In this post, I’m breaking down some tips for how to travel responsibly in The Eternal City.
When To Go
To help curtail the detriments of overtourism, avoid going during Rome’s peak travel season. From mid June to mid September, the city is jam-packed with international tourists—meaning long lines, congested streets, and busy restaurants and stores.
Traveling during “off-times” allows for more opportunities to interact with locals, less time waiting in lines and it helps even out business for local shops during slow times.
Not to mention, summer in Rome can be brutally hot (as I learned the hard way). I’d highly recommend spending time within October – April in Rome for more space and cooler weather.
Pro Tip: If possible, try to plan your stay over the first Sunday of the month when many museums and historic sites have free admission, including major spots like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Castel Sant’Angelo
No matter how you slice it, air travel is seriously damaging for the environment. To reduce your carbon footprint though, there are some ways to make your flight more green.
If you’re traveling from outside of Europe, you’ll fly into the Leonardo Da Vinci (Fiumicino) Airport. Hopefully you packed light, and can opt for public transit to your accommodation instead of a (very pricey) taxi. The Leonardo Express Train is the most efficient mode of transit, taking just over half an hour to get into the city’s central train station, Roma Termini.
You’ll likely be hungry for some Italian food after the long journey, so be sure to check out Mercato Centrale Roma located right inside Roma Termini. The indoor marketplace has a variety of independent food vendors selling pasta, pizza, sandwiches, gelato, sushi, numerous vegetarian options, and even a few vegan choices—and it’s all fresh and reasonably priced.
While you’re there
Public transit is a good option for a more immersive travel experience and to save emissions. Something to be aware of, though, is that there are often considerable delays and frequent strikes that stop transit from running completely. Be prepared by staying up to date with local news about upcoming strikes and allotting for extra travel time to and from your various Roman adventures.
In many cases, you may find it easier to just walk. During my time in Rome, there would be days I’d check my health app on my phone and see that I had walked over 10 miles without even realizing it. It’s certainly a way to build up an appetite for some extra pasta…
(Speaking of food, be sure to keep a lookout for my upcoming Where to Eat Vegan and Vegetarian in Rome post!)
Where to Stay
Since I studied abroad in Rome, I stayed in a student dormitory during my time there, which was not eco-friendly (other than the fact that maybe they saved some energy by not having air conditioning).
But to find a sustainable spot for a conscious stay in Rome, Ecobnb is a great resource. They have many different accommodation types sorted by service and ecological criteria (uses 100% renewable energy, uses ecological cleaning products etc.). Each place is ranked on a scale of 1-10 in eco-friendliness so you know just how green your stay will be.
If hotels are more your style, EcoHotel Roma is a pretty good option. The three star hotel has waste reduction efforts, operates with renewable energy from solar power, uses recycled rainwater, and serves local, seasonal produce.
What to do
Walking and biking tours
Full of narrow passageways and winding roads, Rome is the ideal city to just wander and get lost. My favorite thing to do in Rome was to stroll down streets, uncovering quiet streets and hidden gems.
If this kind of meandering the streets sort of traveling is not quite up your alley, there are also many walking tours available. Keep an eye out for locally-run tours or find one with the peer-to-peer marketplace, WithLocals.
There are so many wonderful food markets in Rome with fresh fruit, garden-grown vegetables and occasionally you can find more unique goods, such as honey and organic wine! I reccommend the Testaccio Market, Nuovo Mercato Trionfale, and the Mercato di Market de’Fiori, but there are many more to explore.
Again, searching for local is key! BonAppetour has a sizable online directory for cooking classes, wine tastings, at-home dining experiences, and food tours with locals. Gnammo is another site where you can find courses taught by locals and opportunities to dine in a local’s home.
Gardens and parks
Take a walk on Rome’s greener side at one of the beautiful gardens of parks this city has! A few of my favorites were Villa Borghese (which also has a museum inside, Galleria Borghese), Orange Garden (a romantic spot full of couples where you’ll find one of the best views of Rome), and the Botanical Garden.
What to Pack
Of course your clothing and accessories will depend heavily on which season you’re traveling, but these items are a few year-round essentials you’ll need for a trip to Rome.
- Reusable Bags|| There are plenty of markets and small produce shops you’ll want to shop around at!
- Sturdy shoes || While sensible footwear isn’t always glamorous—most of the sidewalks in Rome are cobblestone and they will tear up your shoes. (Perhaps check out one of the sneaker brands in my vegan + eco-conscious shoe guide!)
- Reusable water bottle || There are fountains all around Rome where you can get fresh water without having to buy plastic bottles. Pro tip: Do not drink from the bottom of these fountains like you may be tempted to! Cover the bottom with your hand and the water will come out on the top like a regular water fountain. If you don’t quite know what I mean, just watch first!
Rome is undeniably an incredible city—with awe-inspiring ruins, cobblestone streets, and a romantic atmosphere, being in this city feels like a fairytale. That’s why it’s of the upmost importance to be as conscious as possible during your stay in Rome to preserve the Eternal City’s special magic.