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.
In 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.
June 7:20am. 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.
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.)
Enjoying a nice long Roman lunch inside Da Carlone, where it's cool
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 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.
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, 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 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?)
In summer, you can also get treats that are not available the rest of the year. Specifically granita di caffè and grattacchecca.
Granita di caffèis 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 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 the ice for grattachecca
Adding the syrup to grattachecca
You will see these stands pop up on street corners around Rome, only in summer.
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!
in the park
along the street
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. Or, bring this cool collapsible travel water bottle with you!
This handy fountain in piazza del Popolo has two spigots so more people can quench their thirst at once!
Yes you can (and should!) 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.
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 (or bring your own powder.)
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
Oh my gosh I just discovered this chill towel and it has changed everything!
You wet it once, and it will keep you cool for hours. Amazing!
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.
The 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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