How to Survive August in Rome
I'm not going to lie to you. Being in Rome in August is no picnic. And I should know: I've done it many many times. The city is at once empty and crowded: empty of locals and crowded with tourists. It's unbearably hot and humid, and air conditioning is not guaranteed. Your favorite restaurants are closed, you can forget about going shopping anywhere but international chain stores. Public transport is even worse than usual (and that's saying a lot). Did I mention it's ridiculously hot? And miserably humid?
So yeah, I'm not going to sit here and tell you August is the ideal time to be in Rome, and all those people in Sardegna or on the Amalfi Coast don't know what they're missing. But if you do it right—and you follow my advice—you can make it a pretty awesome month nevertheless. So without further ado, here are my five insider tips on how to make the most out of August in Rome:
1. STICK TO THE CENTER
The neighborhoods on the fringe of the city are naturally the most deserted. Fewer tourists go there, so merchants and restaurant owners have less incentive to keep their doors open, since the majority of the locals won't be there either. If you’re looking for a place to chow down or buy a new pair of sandals, keep to the more touristy areas of Piazza Navona, Trevi, Campo de' Fiori, and the Spanish Steps, where merchants are more likely to stay in town. Just in case you're having trouble finding a place to eat, here's a very comprehensive list of quality restaurants that are open for all or part of August.
2. HIT THE BEACH
You’d probably think that August would be the most crowded month of the summer at the seaside, and in the resort towns this is definitely the case, but the beaches around Rome are actually less overrun now than they are in June or July, exactly because so many Roman residents are far away. If you don't have wheels, the easiest beach to get to is Santa Marinella, a quick train ride north from St. Peter's station. The beach is just a short walk from the station. It is one of the more crowded beaches around simply because it's so easy to get to, so keep that in mind. Other options are Ladispoli (on the same train line as Santa M but a little further north and slightly less convenient once you're there) and Ostia. Ostia is a 20-minute commuter train ride from Piramide station, south along the coast. Once there, it's advisable not to head to the first beach you find, but to hop a bus for the "Cancelli," free as well as pay beaches heading further south. Naturally, the farther south you go, the less crowded the beach. If you have wheels, you have more options. Local favorites include Santa Severa, Marina di San Nicola, Fregene, and Maccarese. (Editor's note: the water at Fregene is dreadfully dirty. I wouldn't even put a toe in. However, the little town has some really lovely clubs that host aperitivo, dinner, and sometimes even live music right on the beach. So if you're looking to socialize rather than swim, Fregene's your best bet.)
3. BECOME A CULTURE VULTURE
One thing that you can count on staying open all month are the city’s museums. The air-conditioning will be a refreshing bonus as you admire the works of art in museums much emptier than you would find in other months. And—bonus—no lines! The one glaring exception to this rule is the Chiostro del Bramante (my personal favorite place to attend an exhibit), which will be closed all of August. The MAXXI (Rome's Museum of 21st-century Arts) on the other hand, will not only be open all summer, but the entrance will be reduced to 5 euro, which is really a bargain.
4. BE A NIGHT OWL
There’s something delicious about traipsing through the deserted city in the middle of the night. The center of town is relatively safe after dark (just steer clear of Termini Station), so wander the crooked cobblestone streets to your heart's content. Get lost along the romantic, deserted backs streets, but not so lost you can't find the Trevi Fountain. If you get there late enough, you’ll have the whole thing to yourself. Many (many) moons ago, I was out very late with a group of friends in late July or early August. To be honest, the night is a bit of a blur, although I can distinctly remember riding bikes around Piazza di Spagna well past 3am, singing Do, A Deer for some reason. But one thing I'll never forget is coming across the Trevi Fountain completely deserted. It was probably 4am by then, and my friends and I sat for at least an hour on the stone bench just in front of that magnificent water show, entirely alone. It was mesmerizing. Especially considering, during the day—in all seasons—you have to elbow and fight your way just to get close enough to throw your coin in.
5. GET UP BEFORE THE SUN
If the thought of staying up until 4am is laughable for you, do the opposite and get up early. In the muggy and sometimes miserable month of August, the air at 7am is decidedly fresh and pleasant. Not only that, but the diffused early morning light gives the city a glow that rivals the afternoon light the city is famous for, but without the baking heat that accompanies it in summer. Best of all, without the noise, traffic, and pollution of the city’s commuters, a 7am walk will make you feel like you have the entire, golden city to yourself. Once, just before an 8:30am tour, I found myself standing at the base of an absolutely deserted Spanish Steps. It was magical. Be sure to take a camera and capture Rome’s most famous sights with out a single other person to mar the shot.