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Episode #136: How to Enjoy Your Time in Rome When it’s Super Hot

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Rome is an incredible city to visit, but when the temperatures rise, it can become quite stifling which can be a challenge for those not used to, or who don’t enjoy the heat. We share some great tips on how to organize your day and activities to deal with the heat, as well as ways to cool off. 

Show notes
Untold Italy founder Katy’s recent trip to Rome was during a heatwave and Italy doesn’t show signs of cooling down anytime soon, so she shares some fantastic strategies and tips on how to cope with the heat and still have a fabulous time in the Emerald City.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. It’s not so easy to rely on the seasons and expected temperatures these days, with temperatures rising. As Katy found on her trip to Italy in June, it’s no longer just July and August that can find you in extreme heat. You need to be prepared for heatwaves and high temperatures in June and September as well, with temperatures reaching the mid to late 30s Celcius – that’s 95 to the early 100s in Fahrenheit. Some people, of course, love or are used to these kinds of heat, so no problem for them – they can go and enjoy Rome and actually August would be an ideal time, as because it’s expected to be so hot then, many avoid the city at that stage, so the crowds can lessen
  2. Rome is a city made of stone and so when you’re talking temperatures of 30C/95F with15 or 16 hours of sunlight – the stone is retaining all that heat. There are also not many trees around for shade
  3. The air conditioning in Rome (and Italy generally) is probably not as powerful as we are used to in some other countries, particularly the United States and Australia, where the air con is used to cool rooms right down. Katy actually had a situation in one hotel where they had set the air conditioning to a non-changeable 25 degrees – which could actually be considered heating!!!! This is likely due to the issues they are having in  Italy at the moment, with rocketing fuel prices and therefore power prices (having risen up to 50%), so understandably, businesses are trying to deal with those costs and the government also has concerns on usage so there could be potential restrictions. Just keep in mind that you’re not likely to find the kind of aircon you might be expecting, apart from in the 5-star hotels
  4. When you are sightseeing and out and about, your day and time is likely structured differently from how you might do things at home, in normal life. At home on a hot day, you might do things early in the morning, hunker down inside in the air conditioning as the day heats up, and then go out later in the evening. It’s great if you can organize your days like that but if you only have a few days in a location, you’re going to want to fit in your sightseeing and experiences – so you have to find some kind of balance

Here are our top recommendations for dealing with hot days in Rome:

Choose your accommodation wisely

  • Try to find a place to stay that’s not too far from everything because you want to be able to either walk or grab a taxi when you need to. For most people visiting Rome, and especially for first-time visitors, it’s really best to stay in the more central areas of the city – around the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and around Campo de’ Fiori where you can walk to pretty much anything you’re going to want to see. If you stay in the old town (Centro Histórico) you’re really able to move around fairly easily and get back to your accommodation quickly when you’re tired (and hot!)
    See our recommendations in these key areas:
    Best Accommodation near the Pantheon
    Best Accommodation near the Colosseum
    Best Accommodation in Trastevere
  • The air conditioning may not always be perfect/what you’re used to but in summer you really do need to make sure there’s air conditioning when you’re choosing your accommodation. We often recommend booking.com and Katy used it solely on her last trip to Italy booking.com. You can easily use their search engine to check for accommodation with air conditioning
  • Unfortunately, there aren’t too many hotels with pools in Rome. They’re generally confined to the five-star hotels and they may also be a little bit further out of the city – because in an ancient city like Rome, there’s simply no room for swimming pools in most hotels. Do expect to pay quite a bit more if you want a swimming pool in your accommodation
    Rome hotels with pools

Plan your days carefully

  • It is definitely worth getting up very early to do some of your sightseeing, then rest in the middle of the day and head out again in the evening. By early we are talking about 6.30/7am – maybe even earlier if you can. This is going to give you some of the best experiences of the various sites that you need to see on foot. Sights like the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps get incredibly crowded and very hot during the day, so if you can get up early, not only will you likely get those coveted crowd-free photos, but you can use up your energy in the day when it’s cooler and you can get all your walking out of the way, and then maybe sit down in a beautiful cafe and have breakfast
Colosseum
  • The Colosseum gets very, very hot. It’s a stone structure with the sun beating down on it and it has very little shade. If you do a tour there, you’ll find out what the Romans used to do for shade, which is fascinating and involved a series of sails being rigged up – but this tells you how it’s always been exposed and gotten hot. If you’re going to the Colosseum, try and go as early as possible (opens at 09:00 am). Lots of people aim to do the same, which means those tickets are in hot demand so book as early as you can. You can buy your tickets about 3 to 4 weeks in advance. You can also book an early tour or an evening tour (but those are very limited).
    Find out more about booking tours and tickets in How to buy tickets for the Colosseum
  • Make sure you have hats and take a lot of water with you. You can refill your bottles at some of the fountains there. Katy witnessed quite a few people with heat exhaustion when they were there, so do take care!
  • Colosseum entry usually includes access to the Forum and the Palatine Hill, which are amazing sites, but again, they’re also completely exposed – so hats and water are key
The Vatican
  • The Vatican is a huge site and it’s not generally not very well cooled. There’s no air conditioning in most of the galleries t- with the Sistine Chapel being a notable exception. Once again, go as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat that’s generated by those crowds. If you have skip-the-line tickets or a tour, you can actually avoid standing outside for too long, but you will need to stand outside for a little while to go into St. Peters – to pass the security line. So possibly around 20 minutes – but there’s not a lot of shade so lots of water and a hat is, once again going to help
The Pantheon
  • When it is really hot, be aware that you may need queue to enter Pantheon. Currently, on the weekends, you do need to pre-book tickets to enter the Pantheon anyhow. But even when it is not, it’s worth pre-booking a tour so you don’t have to stand outside in a hot queue waiting to get in

Choose suitable activities

A Golf Cart tour
  • When Katy met with one of our Untold Italy partners, Liv Tours, she was asking about the golf cart tours which seem to be hugely popular in our Facebook Italy Travel Planning Community. Katy admits she’d been under the mistaken assumption that the golf cart tours were a bit lazy – but she now stands fully corrected by Liv Tours’ Kristin! It’s actually a fantastic way to see parts of the city that you couldn’t generally reach without a vehicle – particularly on foot. You get taken to amazing viewpoints in Trastevere and other neighborhoods that you can get around quickly and see a lot. What is especially great is that, because someone else is driving and you don’t have to worry about the traffic – you can fully concentrate on what you are seeing around you. So of course, in terms of the heat, as you are on a vehicle, you get that cooling breeze and you’re not expending the energy of walking in the heat, so it’s ideal. They run throughout the day and Liv Tours also has a great one later in the day that includes aperitivo. Liv Tours offers our listeners a lovely discount. With the code Untold you get 5% off
    Liv Tours Rome Golf Cart Tours
    Liv Tours Evening Golf Cart Tour
A Segway tour
  • Another type of tour that doesn’t involve lots of walking, is a Segway tour. These are a lot of fun and a great way to cover a lot of ground with minimal exertion. Getting around on Segways really saves a lot of energy in the heat of the day and although they are not super fast, they are speedy enough to pick up a bit of a breeze. And again, you can cover so much more ground than you can when you’re on foot
Night tours
  • Night tours, so walking tours, food tours, or doing any kind of activity late in the day is a good idea to avoid most of the heat of the day. It doesn’t even have to be a tour, you can just go for a lovely walk along the Tiber and just watch the lights flickering against the rive. In fact, in summer they have pop-up cafes and bars set up along the river near Trastevere, so it’s a lovely place to wander, soak up the atmosphere and maybe stop for a drink

Hydrate

  • When you’re sightseeing in Rome you can easily be doing 10s of thousands of steps per day so hydration is vital. 
  • Carry a refillable water bottle. It’s much more environmentally friendly than buying countless plastic bottles of water and you’ll be doing your bit for the environment. You can fill it up at free public fountains all around the city. These free drinking water fountains can be found across Rome (and Italy) and are called Nasoni.  This fresh water system has been around for centuries, dating back to Roman times and now with the help of technology you can find the fountains as you walk through Italy’s ancient cities with the app on Android and iOS

Dress appropriately & essentials to carry

  • We can’t talk enough about the importance of a hat. Ideally make it something with a wide rim to shade your face and neck
  • Loose and light clothing is also really ideal. Everyone’s different, but if you wear jeans, you’re most likely going to swelter. Even if you’re used to wearing them in summer where you are from, anything that’s really heavy like jeans in the humidity of Rome, means you’re not only getting hot but feeling heavy. Dressing in loose and light layers is probably going to be your most comfortable attire. There are lots of clothing brands that create fabrics that are great in the heat. For more ideas, check out our Packing for Italy podcast episode. You can find some good brands to look out for in the episode show notes
  • The other thing that is good to carry, is a small hand fan. Either an old-fashioned manual one or one of the small battery-operated ones you can buy. 
  • A great little tip is to carry a small spray bottle of water. Spraying your face can be wonderfully cooling
  • Always make sure you’ve got plenty of sunscreen. If you forget, it’s available in any of the little supermarkets around the city (though it will be a bit more expensive)

Stop for rests

  • Rome is rull of great places to stop and enjoy delicious Roman food stuffs – everything from pizza, maritozzo (a cream-filled bun) and many other delicious foods that you will find in Rome. You will find that many of the cafes and restaurants are air-conditioned. It’s just a great excuse to just have a little break, have a nice, refreshing drink and you can sit and recuperate for the next part of your outing
  • Shops, often, also have great air conditioning. Rinascente is a great, historic department store which is a lovely place to spend some time and cool down

Indoor activities 

  • There are some indoor activities you can enjoy that will be less crowded than some of the more well-known attractions. A few in particular that you might want to schedule into your time or have them as a backup if you’re just getting too hot and you just want to have a break (as well as wander around somewhere lovely)
Capitoline Museums 
  • The Capitoline Museums can be found just behind the Roman forum and next to Piazza Via Venezia
  • They are full of amazing artifacts that have been pulled from sites all over Rome. You can just wander around the galleries, you’re out of the sun, it’s cool and not crowded. It’s got the famous statue of Romulus and Remus – the She Wolf mother suckling the babies – the founding twin brothers of Rome
  • What most people don’t realize is that you can go underground, below the main piazza and you get to the other side of the museums, where there are some huge and fantastic marble statues and fountains that are worth exploring
Doria Pamphilj Gallery
  • The galleries here that are open to the public are absolutely stunning. There’s also usually barely anybody there. There’s a hall of mirrors and it’s all very opulent and beautifully decorated. You can spend several hours wandering around and it is, all importantly – cool
  • They also have a really lovely cafe there where you can even grab a nice aperitivo
The Galleria Borghese
  • You have to pre-book your tickets to the Borghese. They strictly monitor the numbers there and move people around so that you have a lot of space to enjoy the art.
  • They monitor all the traffic going around the gallery and if they feel one part has gotten to full, they’ll tell a tour guide, that they have to take their group go and start at a different room. So that they might be starting on Floor 1 in the first room, for the first tour and then the next tour they might be starting on Floor 2, in the final room. So they have to completely change their delivery of the tour which is really a phenomenal skill
  • Katy went with Liv Tours and her guide Marco was incredible,  with amazing storytelling skills and he was one of the highlights of her trip to Italy in fact. He did an incredible job of bringing the story of the artwork in the Borghese Gallery to light – weaving in the tales of the owners of the paintings, the intrigue, and mysteries around how the pieces came to be in the gallery, and who the collectors were
  • If you’re interested in baroque art, it’s a wonderful gallery and a calm and cool place to visit

Have Patience

  • Everyone (pretty much) gets a little bit grumpy when they’re too hot. You need to have patience because when it’s hot and it’s crowded, everyone is a little bit on edge. Try to relax about situations and not get stressed and consider the people you are dealing with
  • Consider your tour guides – they are working hard in the heat themselves. One guide Katy had in the Colosseum had done a 3-hour tour with them in the extreme heat and was set to do another 3-hour tour straight after. She was so kind and careful, making an effort to make sure everyone was hydrated, finding bits of shade (which is tricky), and adapting the tour for the situation. Big respect to the tour guides – it’s already been a long summer and they’ve got a lot ahead of them
  • Remember the tolerance levels that (most) of us adults have may not be the same for others in the group – children, teens and older members of your party might struggle a little more, so show patience and tolerance to the tour guides but also to other people on your tour
  • Heat aside, staffing in the service industries in Italy (as much of Europe) is a problem right now and people being off work with Covid is obviously not helping. If someone is working with less staff than usual, they are rushing around more and getting hot and may not be as on the ball or as quick as you would like, but please be patient. Just relax and take the time to take in and your surroundings and enjoy the delicious food and refreshing drink, when they arrive

Gelato!!

  • You’re in Italy, you’re in Rome and we believe you can never eat too many gelatos in the summer. It’s delicious and it’s cool – just go for it!
Giolitti
  • We recommend Giolitti for fantastic gelato. It’s an amazing old-school ice cream parlor, not far from the Pantheon. I will put a link into the show notes for you. You need to go to the bar first – you tell them if you want a cone/tub and with how many two scoops, and then you pay at the bar. You then take the ticket they give you up to the counter and you choose your flavors. You can actually sit down inside, too, it’s lovely and cool inside

Places mentioned in the show

  • Piazza Navona – beautiful, central piazza in Rome
  • Campo de’ Fiori – literally  meaning “field of flowers”, it is a square south of Piazza Navona famous for its market
  • The Pantheon – former Roman temple and, since 609 AD, a Catholic church in Rome
  • Via del Corso – main shopping street in Rome
  • Rinascente – department store in Rome
  • Capitoline Museum – a single museum containing a group of art and archaeological museums in Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of the Capitoline Hill
  • Doria Pamphilj Gallery – The Doria Pamphilj Gallery is a large art collection housed in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome
  • Borghese Gallery –  art gallery in Rome, Italy, housed in the former Villa Borghese Pinciana
  • Giolitti – a historic cafe that serves up some of the finest gelato in Rome. Don’t be deterred by the long lines of waiting customers – staff work fast and the flavors are also well worth the wait.  Make sure to place your order and get a ticket at the front of the store before moving to the gelato counter to choose your flavors

Food & Drink

  • Nasoni – the free drinking water fountains that can be found all over Rome
  • Tiber pop ups – alongside the River Tiber in summer there are lots of pop up cafes and bars
  • maritozzo – a cream-filled bun with the name derived from the word for husband

Resources

  • Romulus and Remus –  the twins whose story tells of the events that led to the founding of Rome. The sculpture is the image of a she-wolf suckling the twins in their infancy

Resources from Untold Italy

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