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How to Keep Cool in Rome in Summer

Rome summers can be brutally hot. So how do you keep cool in Rome if summer is the only time you can come? Check out my top 15 tips on what to do - and what NOT to do - to beat the heat in Rome.

drinking fountain with dog fountain tooIn the dog days of summer in Rome, you have to stay hydrated!

15 ways to Keep Cool in Rome

Timing is everything

1) Set your alarm clock

If you are visiting Rome in the torrid summer months, there is no time like 6-9am to go for a walk (or run) around Rome. It's still "cool" enough to be enjoyable, plus, you will have many sites, plazas and fountains to yourself.

coliseum early morning in summerJuly 2015 7:40am. Great time to see the Coliseum.

Yeah, you are on vacation, and part of that means getting some rest. Bear with me. I suggest getting up really early, enjoying the city and even doing sight-seeing as early as you can....then see tip #2 below.

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The Coliseum and Roman Forum open at 8:30am. If you can get there by 8:15, you will have almost no line, and will enjoy these amazing ruins without feeling like you are going to pass out from the overhead sun.

Saint Peter's basilica opens at 7am. At any time of the year, I highly recommend this as the best time to visit the Vatican. No lines, no waiting, no crowds.

Want to take a private driving tour of Rome in the comfort of an air-conditioned car, with English-speaking driver? Another great way keep cool in Rome while enjoying the sites!

2) Adopt a Mediterranean lifestyle

Get off the streets by noon. The sun is right above you and there is no shade.

Go have a siesta in your air-conditioned room. Go inside a big air-conditioned shopping mall or department store. Or enjoy a long, late lunch (inside where it's air-conditioned - see tip #9 below.)  

da carlone eating insideEnjoying a nice long Roman lunch inside Da Carlone, where it's cool

Go back outside around 5pm. Grab a cold coffee or better yet, granita di caffè, and then continue your sight-seeing. Have dinner around 8:30/9pm, so if you sit outside, you can get a hint of a breeze (hopefully.)

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A word about air-conditioning in Italy

Basically three words - don't expect much. Many Italians firmly believe that air-conditioning is bad for you. And sometimes you don't find it on very strong even when it's on at all. 

Before booking a hotel, make sure they have air-conditioning you can control. If you have your hotel call a taxi for you, have them ask for "servizio gold", which means the cab driver doesn't smoke, uses a/c and can accept credit cards.

And if you really want to be someplace inside that's as cold as you are used to, your choices are supermarkets and large department stores or malls.

See the Sights and Still Keep Cool in Rome

3) Go to an opera

A friend invited me to an opera one July in Terme di Caracalla. She said to make sure to bring a stole. I said what? It's so hot and humid out! She said, you will see. And indeed, it was chilly. And I needed my stole.

opera at terme di caracallaOpera at the Caracalla Baths. Photo credit: Opera di Roma

My friend explained it this way (not sure if it's true but it makes sense to me): Since there is no asphalt and no stone flooring at the Caracalla Baths, only grass and soil, there is nothing to absorb and hold onto heat. And at night, it miraculously cools down in there. Plus, you can see an opera in a wonderful setting! What a great way to keep cool in Rome.

Visit TicketOne for tickets to opera and other shows and concerts in summer at Terme di Caracalla.

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Avoid visiting the Coliseum and Roman Forum during the middle of the day. There is no shade anywhere and no place to sit down.

You can however visit the Palatine Hill during the middle of the day, where there are plenty of shady spots and some benches.

4) Get down under

Some of the best things to see in Rome are underground. In particular, I recommend the mithraeum under the Basilica of San Clemente, the Roman houses at Celio, and the Domus Aurea.

domus aureaInside and underground at the Domus Aurea

In hot summer months, going underground can be a great way to keep cool in Rome, as long as the space is ventilated and fairly spacious.

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It is however, NOT a good idea at all to visit the scavi at the Vatican (Saint Peter's tomb and necropolis) during summer. I once booked my family and me for this in August, thinking, "it's underground, what a great way to keep cool in Rome." Wrong!

First, you have to have knees and shoulders covered at all times. Second, the necropolis is very delicate and to keep it from deteriorating, each compartment is hermetically sealed, so as you walk from tiny room to tiny room, doors close behind you. This is already not for the very claustrophobic. But in summer? Fuhgeddaboudit!

5) Visit a church

With nearly 1000 churches in Rome, there is respite from the heat all around you. And, oh yeah! You get to look at some beautiful art and architecture too. And...bonus! There is someplace to sit down. 

santa maria in domnica in romeSanta Maria in Domnica - one of hundreds of churches in Rome where you can escape the heat and enjoy some amazing art and architecture too!

Just remember, you should be modestly dressed (knees and shoulders covered), which is one reason I suggest carrying a scarf with you, even, especially, in summer.

Eating and Drinking to Keep Cool in Rome

There is evidence that on a hot dry day, drinking something hot will cool you down. To me, that sounds unappealing, and it turns out that since Rome summers are beyond humid, this would be a bad idea anyway. So go with your instinct and have cool things to eat and drink.

6) The three G's: gelato, granita and grattachecca

granita di caffe bar vittiGranita di caffè

One of the pleasures of summer (for me at least) is getting to eat even more gelato than normal (do I need an excuse?)

Check out my page about gelato in Rome

In summer, you can also get treats that are not available the rest of the year. Specifically granita di caffè and grattacchecca.

Granita di caffè is sweetened coffee that's been kept in the freezer just long enough to form ice crystals. Want to know more about coffee drinks you can find in Rome? Check out my page about coffee in Rome.

You can also get granita di limone and sometimes other flavors. You will usually find granita in a gelateria. 

granita di limoneGranita di limone at Caffè Ciampini in Rome

Grattacchecca is an old-fashioned summer treat in Italy. You can kind of compare it to Italian ices (which are American and which you otherwise don't find here in Italy.) Take a huge block of ice. Scrape it until you have enough shavings to put in a cup. Pour one or more flavored syrups over it. Voilà! Grattacchecca.

scraping ice for grattacheccaScraping the ice for grattachecca
adding syrup to grattacheccaAdding the syrup to grattachecca

You will see these stands pop up on street corners around Rome, only in summer.

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One "g" not to look for: "ghiaccio." Don't expect lots of ice for your water, juice, tea or soda drinks. It's just not part of European culture.

Drinks are served cold but almost never with ice. And if you ask for ice, be happy if you get a cube or two.

There is another thing you can eat in summer to keep cool: watermelon, or cocomero in Italian.

And the best way to eat this is at one of the local neighborhood stands that set up only in summer.

You'll have to get away from the touristic center to do this. It's not just a summer thing to do in Rome, it's a very local, off the beaten track thing to do:

7) To drink or not to drink?

aperol spritz in romeAperol spritz - Aperol, soda water and prosecco, a lovely combo!

One way to keep cool in Rome is not to drink alcohol.

Alcohol dehydrates you but if you do want a drink, why not try an Aperol spritz?

It comes with ice (hurrah!), has less alcohol than wine, and is refreshing to sip on.

Plus you will seem like a hip Roman.

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8) Drinking water is another matter

It should be common sense that to keep cool in Rome, you need to drink plenty of water. Luckily for us, Rome is literally bursting with it! And no, I don't mean the big Bernini fountains (well yes they do have water but it's not for you!)

I am talking about the drinking water fountains all over Rome that we call nasoni. That water comes from the mountains, over the aqueducts, and is safe, clean, cold, and delicious....and free!

drinking fountain quirinalein the park
drinking fountain near santa maria maggiorealong the street
nasone with birder nasone

The word "nasone" means "big nose." One of the simplest and most common kinds of drinking fountain in Rome looks like this (the last one on the right above.) But the word "nasone" refers to all the drinking fountains around Rome.

Want a map of where to find these in Rome? Acea (our water utility) has kindly produced this map. But really they are not hard to find.

So to keep cool in Rome, buy one bottle of water (at a bar or grocery where it costs less), and just fill it as you go.

drinking fountain outside santa maria del popoloThis handy fountain in piazza del Popolo has two spigots so more people can quench their thirst at once!

Or drink from the fountains as the Romans do: if the spigot has a hole on top, stop the water from coming out the bottom, so it shoots out the top hole. 

making water come out nasoneI love the wolf fountains!
drinking from nasoneNow I can drink all I want!

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It is one thing to drink from the appropriate drinking fountains in Rome.

It is another entirely to put your feet or any other part of your body into any fountain in Rome - a big no no. Please don't get into the fountains in Rome. I'm sure you'd like to avoid becoming one of those headlines that pop up inevitably during summertime "Tourists Behaving Badly"...

9) And speaking of water - put your salts in there too

If you are out walking around in the sun all day, sweating, you are going to need to put all those salts back in your body. At some grocery stores, you may find some Gatorade or Powerade. 

Even easier, pop into any pharmacy and get a box of MG-K or Polase. These are packets of mineral salts that you can add to your bottle of water. You will be amazed at how much better you feel when you drink this while walking around in the heat.

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10) Eat inside

I know, you'd like to ignore this one. I find everyone visiting Rome in summer wants that "eating outdoors" experience. I am a big fan of eating indoors, especially in summer. For one thing, it's (usually) air-conditioned, at least to some degree.

If you really want to eat outside in Rome, I'd suggest saving that experience for dinnertime when the air is a little less stuffy and sticky.

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What to wear to keep cool in Rome

11) Dress to be cool - literally

dressed for summer sightseeing in romeMy mom and I are comfy and cool in cotton summer dresses and (matching!) walking sandals. Note the scarf also in my mom's hand...perfect for spontaneous church visits!

Cottons and linens are the coolest materials you can wear. Avoid synthetics and anything tight-fitting. Also, when it's super hot and sticky in Rome, leave your jewellery at home or at least in your hotel room. 

I find the most comfortable clothes to wear to keep cool in Rome are breezy cotton sundresses (I suggest knee-length which allows your lower legs to get some air, but are long enough to allow you to pop into a church if you want to), bermuda shorts and loose-fitting cotton tops.

Bring really comfortable walking sandals or cotton tennies, that allow room for your feet to swell a little. Don't wear flip-flops which have no support and can easily break. Having to cut your sightseeing short because of painful feet is no fun.

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I don't want to sound like I am lecturing here but try to avoid dressing like you are at the beach while sightseeing in Rome. Romans are used to seeing scantily clad tourists, but that's not the way they dress around town.

If you want to dress "as the Romans do", save the short shorts, tank tops, bare midriffs for a beach town instead.

12) Listen to your mother

My mother is always telling me to wear a hat in the sun. Of course she is right. So invest in a good sunhat (hopefully with sunblock) before you leave home.

You will not only keep cool in Rome during summer, but you will save your skin!

me in my hat in summer on the palatine hillI love my Wallaroo hat that has sunblock built in

Try to avoid having to buy a cheap straw hat from a street vendor in front of the Coliseum. Chances are good these are not going to protect you from the sun.

I suggest in investing in a quality sun-hat you can keep, before you come!

Splish Splash - Keep Cool in Rome by Taking a Dip!

13) Go to the Beach

Probably the most popular way that Romans keep cool in Rome is to leave it! Especially on weekends in summer, you won't find many Romans in town. They are all at the beach.

There are lots of options for beaches near Rome. The easiest one to get to, especially with public transportation, is Ostia Beach

beach at ostiaThe beach at Ostia is only a half-hour train ride away. Ahhhhh!

Take the metro blue line to Piramide. At Piramide, get off the metro train and cross the tracks to get the train to Ostia. It's the same ticket as your metro ticket so you don't even need a new one. So for only 1.50€ you can get all the way out to the beach. Get off at Ostia Lido and walk just a bit to the beach.

Most of the beach is covered by establishments where you pay a fee to get in, then have access to bathrooms, options for lunch, beach chairs or beds, and an umbrella. There are also a few parts of Ostia beach that are free (with no services.)

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14) Go to a Pool

There are quite a few pools around Rome. Some are in posh hotels, others are part of sports clubs, and still others are simply pools that open only in summer, and to which you pay an entry fee.

pool at rome cavalieri waldorf-astoriaThe pool at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria is a divine place to visit in summer. It's pretty expensive but there are some other options around Rome too.

Find out where to go by checking this blog with a very complete list of Pools in Rome.

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Parks and Recreation

15) Keep Cool in Rome By Having a Nap, a Stroll or a Picnic in a Park

We have a lot of beautiful parks in Rome. They are full of shady trees and often, benches. You will find plenty of Romans with the same idea.

villa borghese parkRelaxing in the Villa Borghese park

Bonus tip! The lovely restaurant Gina offers picnic baskets complete with straw rolled-up mat for a picnic in the Borghese park.

For a complete list of Parks in Rome, visit this page of the Rome Tourist Board.

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