Rome’s public transport system has plenty of critics, but for most tourist purposes the network is satisfactory enough. The central area and most attractions are covered by buses, trams and underground Metro lines. The most impressive aspect, however, is the price – UK travellers will be pleasantly surprised.
Tickets and the basics
The company ATAC runs public transport services in Rome, and within the city ‘Metrebus’ combined tickets are valid across the full range of services. Tickets, from single tickets to versions valid for several days, can be used on any form of transport – but including only one metro journey.
You could consider buying an all-inclusive tourist card – called the Roma Pass – which lasts 3 days and includes public transport, a map and also a couple of museum admission tickets. A second version, the Roma&Più Pass, covers a wider area and may be of interest if you’re planning to explore the Province of Rome, outside the city itself.
Tickets must be bought before you travel – if you are relying on single tickets, purchase a supply to last a while. You can buy them at most news-stands and bars. There are also machines in stations which sell tickets… but these aren’t always terribly reliable, so it’s wise to purchase in advance. Stamp your ticket when you enter the metro or board a bus or tram. There are two shapes of ticket and consequently two types of validating machine on every vehicle. Inspections are quite frequent and you’ll be fined or even escorted to the police station if you don’t have a valid ticket. If you ever find yourself on a bus with a broken validating machine, the correct procedure is to write the date and time on your ticket in pen.
Routes, geography and timetables
ATAC have a reasonably good website, which includes the latest news on public transport in Rome including station closures and the timing of scheduled strikes. See our links panel on the right.
The hub of Rome’s transport system is Stazione Termini, the main train station. Rome only has two underground train lines (although more are planned), Metro Linea A and Linea B, and these two routes cross at Termini. Outside the station are bus stops serving most city destinations. It’s a good idea to obtain a public transport map of Rome before you go, or on arrival – maps of the centre, of the whole city, and of nightbus routes can be downloaded from the ATAC website and are available free, when in stock, from ATAC’s head office close to Termini Station.
The Metro (short for Metropolitana; linguists will note it is called la Metro) is a convenient way to travel longer distances but its scope is limited for tourists since it bypasses the historic heart of town. Buses are often a more direct way to travel from one site to another. For example, to travel from the Colosseum Metro stop to the Spagna (Spanish Steps) stop, you would have to return to Termini and change lines. The most useful stretches of Metro for tourists are Linea A connecting Termini, Spagna and the Vatican (Ottaviano stop), and Linea B connecting Termini with the Colosseum (Colosseo) and Piramide.
Buses and trams provide a more comprehensive network and confident travellers – prepared with tickets, maps and a glance at the bus stop – will find them a convenient way to hop around town. If you’re travelling around the heart of town, it’s useful to note that there are small electric buses which buzz down streets too small for regular traffic. Bus stops are easy to understand in Rome; they list the stops in the order of travel.
Timetables are rarely published on bus stops, and given the traffic in the city centre, are rarely adhered to. The last Metro trains depart at 11:30pm (12:30 on Saturday nights); most buses run until midnight. After this there is a much thinner nightbus coverage. Nightbuses are indicated by the picture of an owl.
Taxis are white with lights on the top to indicate whether they are available for hire. They’ll generally stop when hailed; and there are strategically placed taxi ranks around town. If you are brave and aspire to that Roman Holiday moment, you could hire a Vespa from one of the many rental outlets in the town centre, and see Rome from two wheels. Have a good look at the traffic (and possibly check your travel insurance) before you make your decision. A more environmentally-friendly, though similarly scary, option is to try a pedal bicycle – the City of Rome has recently launched ‘Roma’n’Bike’, a bicycle-hiring scheme, at a fairly low cost, with pick-up / drop-off points across the city centre.
Will you need to use public transport?
Driving yourself within Rome is not at all advisable, and if you are touring Italy by car, we’d recommend returning your hire car as soon as possible once you arrive in Rome (or picking it up only on your departure). One-way systems, restricted zones and the lack of car-parking make driving an impractical enterprise.
Most of the central historic sites are manageable on foot, though you’ll need comfortable shoes and plenty of energy. The archaeological areas of the Forum, Colosseum and Palatine are all adjacent to one another, and are a short walk from Stazione Termini. The Centro Storico (historic centre), another short walk from the Forum, is compact and the narrow lanes can only really be toured on foot. The Vatican, again, is a short walk onwards from the Centro Storico.
However, although walking is the most interesting way of seeing Rome, most tourists will get tired from time to time. Some of the busier streets, filled with heavy traffic and lined with less historic buildings, aren’t particularly enjoyable to tread repeatedly. Buses or the Metro can save your legs when travelling between the more distant parts of the centre, and I’d particularly advise public transport when heading from the Stazione Termini towards the Centro Storico or Vatican. If your hotel is outside the central area, then you may be very reliant on buses or the Metro.
Travellers on crowded buses – particularly the 64 and 40 connecting Termini with St. Peter’s – should be very careful of their possessions and personal space. Pickpockets (often children) and gropers frequently ride these services – kick up a big fuss if you encounter any trouble, shouting loudly to alert others and any nearby police officers. You should also be wary on nightbuses, particularly if you are heading towards the emptier end of their route. Generally, though, the public transport is fairly safe and efficient, despite the fact that many scooter-and-car-obsessed locals scorn it.
There are various tourist bus services, which are more expensive than the ordinary routes, but offer advantages to the tourist. The 110 (tickets and departure from outside Termini; more information on the ATAC website) provides an open-top bus tour of the city. This can be a good way to get an overview or to hop from one attraction to another, but be aware that many of the prettiest lanes and corners aren’t accessible to big buses. The smaller Archeobus, as its name suggests, takes travellers between archaeological sites including the Via Appia Antica (Appian Way).
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