Visiting Roma this summer? Summer in Roma can be hot, humid, sticky and crowded. The temperature is usually >30° C (85°F) and the humidity can make it feel even hotter. I often hear people say ‘the worst time to go to Roma/Italy is in the summer-it’s too hot!’ Well…anytime is a good time to go. Whatever time works for you. You will just have a different experience depending on the season. Teachers, students, school employees and families with bambini in school can only travel in summer, so advising them to visit at another time is not helpful.
For those of us that go to visit family, especially in smaller villages, August is often the best time to be there. In my small mountain village in Puglia there are feste and concerts, my friends and relatives have time off work, and those who have moved away for work come back to visit. This is why I go in summer.
Roma will have a decreased amount of Romans for the 2 weeks around Ferragosto Aug 15th. Many Romans head to ‘la spiaggia’ so it will be less crowded with fewer cars on the road. Office and public workers are off or have decreased working hours. A lot of smaller businesses are closed as well. Do not worry, there will be more than enough restaurants open that nobody will starve. August 15th is a national holiday, so definitely avoid travel on that particular day. Public transportation will be reduced and nearly everything will be closed. Museums and cultural sites will be open. July is actually more crowded than August. For more info on this, read the post Chiuso per Ferie.
I visit Roma for a few days every summer at the beginning or end of my trip to Puglia and consider myself quite the expert on managing the intense heat and crowds. Here are my tips for surviving summer in Roma:
1-Schedule the day like an Italian! Quando a Roma, fai come i Romani/ When in Roma…..
A- Mattina/Morning Wake up early and do your stuff in the morning. Visit ‘non shady’ sites in the morning, as they will be too hot to do in the afternoon. These include the Colosseo, Foro Romano, Piazza Navona and Passeggiata all’Aventino.
B Pomeriggio/afternoon During the hottest part of the day-1-5 pm, participate in the riposo or ‘pausa pranzo’. (**Note that this is not known as siesta in Italian) This is a ‘rest period’ and many places are closed. This is not always the case in the larger cities or touristy areas, but it makes sense to follow when it is hot. Have pranzo-the main meal, at 1pm, enjoying the interior of a cool restaurant, then if your lodgings are close by, have a rest, take a nap or check email. Keep it dark with closed shutters/curtains while staying indoors, and also while you are out, so it stays cool.
If it is not feasible or you do not want to participate in the ‘pausa pranzo’ visit cool places during this time. For example:
1-Visit churches! Roma has >900 churches- they are dark, cool, free and may even have seats. Some, like San Luigi dei Francesi and Sant’Agostino even have their own Caravaggio works for you to drool over. For the full walking tour, go to Caffè con Caravaggio a Roma. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the Pantheon and Santa Prassede are 3 other favourites of mine. Smaller churches may be closed during pausa pranzo, but many are open. Sometimes you even find things by happy accident. I once stepped into Santa Brigida, a very traditional Scandinavian church in Piazza Farnese for a 3 pm Mass which included otherworldly sounding chanting and singing by cloistered nuns.
***Important Note about churches – Churches are primarily places of worship, so please be respectful. Dress appropriately, speak quietly-if the artwork does not render you speechless. Avoid Mass times, especially on Sundays. It may not be possible to visit unless you are attending Mass. There is no charge to visit most churches, but I always like to light a candle when I visit (€.50-€1).
2 –Visit museums Most are air conditioned and open until 1900 (7pm). My favourites are Centrale Montemartini and Palazzo Massimo alle Terme which is downright cold-especially the top floor where the fresco villas are.
Both of these museums are never crowded, even in high season. Galleria Borghese requires a reservation and you can only stay 2 hours. If you time the visit right, go to Villa Borghese afterwards and find shade under a tree.
Smaller museums might not have air conditioning. **A note on AC. Electricity is expensive in Europe. The AC is cool, but not cold like it usually is in North America. Read my amusing post Aria Pericolosa for more on this topic!
3- Go underground and visit the Catacombs of Domitilla, 12 km of cool underground tunnels from the 2nd to the 5th Century or the Basilica San Clemente which has 3 layers of churches, ending in a Mithrean temple.
C Sera/evening Get back out in the early evening, then stay out late enjoying the fresh air and longer days. Go for aperitivo! Pop up restaurants, wine bars and stands line the Tevere in summer near Ponte Sisto and Isola Tiberina.
Villa Celimontana holds an outdoor evening jazz festival from June-August. This is also a great time for a passeggiata in Piazza Navona or Trastevere. There is a Colosseo night tour as well as tour of the underground and the Forum. These can be booked online. Roma also has several roof bars including the Terrazza Borromeo, Hotel Pantheon and Hotel Minerva.
More hot weather advice:
2 Keep hydrated Bring a water bottle and drink from from the >2000 cast iron nasoni or ‘big noses’. These are running water fountains all over the city with SPQR stamped on the front. This one is in front of the Pantheon.
Nasoni were installed in 1874 to make cold drinking water from acqueducts free and accessible to all. Place your hand under the main flow and drink from the gush out the top. My favourite place to drink is La Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna. The water is absolutely freddissima!
3 Granita e gelato! Gelato will keep you cool. As if an excuse for more gelato is ever needed! I find the fruit flavors most refreshing, especially limone and pompelmo rosa (pink grapefruit). You must try a granita di caffè at Tazza d’oro near the Pantheon. Also refreshing are caffé Shakerato, affogato and Grattachecca. It is hard to find bad gelato. There is Gelato del Teatro, Grom and Fatamorgana has 9 locations. My favourite is Danielgelo, a small family run gelateria near where I stay in the San Paolo area.
4 Dress appropriately Wear a hat! Use sunscreen and dress lightly in layered breathable fabrics such as linen or cotton. Bring a light shawl or coverup if planning to visit churches, especially the Vatican. Walk on the shady side of the street, if possible. Buy a souvenir folding Roma fan. They are available at all the souvenir stands for 2-3 Euro.
Should you avoid going to Italia in August? Absolutely not! If that is when you are able to go-then do it! Hopefully my tips will help. Be sure to click on the post links. Also remember the positive things about summer in Italia-the long days and wonderfully cool evenings, sky so blue it does not look real, the cast shadows of the mid afternoon sun and the seasonal summer food 😋.
Buon viaggio, Cristina