The Eternal City is a delight for visitors of all ages, and particularly for those of us who have a more “historical” perspective on the world. Here are some locals’ insights about how to get the most out of your vacation in Rome, which it turns out is something of a paradise for the older visitor.
Modern Roman culture remains one of the most traditional in Europe. Thankfully with this comes a great deal of inclusivity for one’s elders. The extended family is alive and well in Italy, so as an older person you will be included in people’s thoughts and treated well, particularly if you return the smiles and curiosity you’re offered.
Where to stay
Beware of booking a highly traditional Rome hotel! Accommodation in the baroque and medieval parts of the city is usually in ancient stone buildings that offset their undoubted charm with poor lighting, superannuated bathing facilities, and sometimes not even elevators! You can save time and hassle by booking your hotel a little further out from the “centro storico” (historic center) in an area like Prati, or around Via Nazionale where the buildings are much larger and more modern. Be sure to ask if there is an elevator in the property before making your booking, but also be warned that some elevators in Rome are truly tiny. If you have mobility issues ensure that the elevator is large enough to cope with a walker or a wheelchair.
Where to eat
Most restaurants don’t open until after 7.30pm and it’s quite normal to have dinner between 8.30 and 10. Multi-generational eating means this applies to everyone: seniors and children alike. Be warned when eating in Rome that while three or four courses are on offer in every menu, you’re only expected to eat one or two – and portions tend to be quite small, particularly for the “primo” – the pasta course. Watch out for tourist traps too: anywhere with someone outside it beckoning you in, or an English-language menu, should be avoided.
Early bird specials do not exist anywhere in Rome, but if that timing and value is something you crave we have a way round it: many “bars” (which is what they call cafés here) have an early evening tradition called “aperitivo” whereby you purchase one drink, pay a couple of euro extra, and either get served free finger food, or get access to an all-you-can-eat buffet. The more generous version is sometimes called “apericena”. This is often exceptional value for money and usually runs between 6.30pm and 8.30pm. The aperitivo at the Aristocampo chain all over the city is good value to look out for.
Discounts for seniors
The good news is that you don’t need to pay anything to see many of Rome’s most famous sights – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon are all freely accessible for example. The bad news is that senior discounts in Rome, while generous, are generally only offered to EU citizens. If you hold an EU-issued passport or ID and are over 65 you can get in at a reduced rate or even free. For example, senior tickets at the Colosseum are only €2. If booking online you should choose the “reduced” option, but when you get to the ticket office you must prove you are eligible by presenting your ID. Driving Licences are not acceptable.
Security and safety
Rome is plagued by uneven road surfaces so watch your step. Also pay attention to traffic when crossing the road, even at pedestrian crossings – be sure that the vehicle in question has seen you.
Thankfully Rome is a surprisingly safe city in terms of crime. The only real concern is pickpockets, particularly around famous monuments, so keep wallets, cameras etc. stuffed in your front pockets next to your body. If you’re plagued by annoying street hawkers, act as if they are invisible: if you make like they don’t exist they will give up in seconds and move on.
Avoid the crowds
Early to rise is the trick to visiting Rome. By doing so you avoid both the heat and the crowds. There’s nothing like getting to all the famous monuments between 7 and 8am and to have them completely to yourself, there to enjoy a fresh cappuccino and cornetto (Rome’s traditional light breakfast) in a near-empty piazza as the city awakes.