Updated: Dec 31, 2019
You may not need to take the Rome Metro, but it’s useful to know it’s there in case you do – especially at the end of a long day of wandering in one of the greatest cities on the planet.
We help our guests on our Best of Italy escorted group tour to learn how to use Rome's Metro system. If you have any other questions, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rome, like most Italian cities and towns, has grown around its centro storico or 'old centre' and it’s this part of the city that attracts the vast majority of tourists who venture there daily to tick off the main sights. And the centre of Rome is very walkable, and – for me – that’s the best way to explore it.
But beneath the streets where the tourists groups trail behind their leaders like well-trained ducks, Rome has a Metro system which is really quite useful for reaching places a little away from the centre; such as the old port at Ostia Antica, the famed Testacchio markets or Mussolini’s stark EUR (really worth least a few hours to see some of the Fascist architecture out there). It also comes in handy if you don’t want to walk to the Vatican, or if your feet really aren’t up the walk back to your hotel towards the end of the day.
It’s not difficult to use either, however there are some things to be aware of, so here’s an overview of how it all works so that you can make the most of it if you need to the next time you’re in the Eternal City.
The locals call Rome’s Metro or subway la Metropolitana. You’ll know you’re near a Metro station by the sign, which has a large white ‘M” inside and you do need to look carefully for a half-hidden sign.
The system opened in 1955 and has only expanded a little since then. It currently operates about 60 km of track across three lines and is one of the smallest metros in Europe. There is work underway for a fourth line, but Rome faces a somewhat unique challenge to expanding their network: each time a new tunnel is built, they discover more archaeological remains which need to be carefully analysed.
In any case, the lines are conveniently labelled A, B and C, and intersect at several points; meaning that – as in other large cities - you can navigate your way around using multiple lines to your destination. That said, Rome’s Metro doesn’t cover the entire city so if you do need to get about using public transport, it’s likely that you will need to use a combination of Metro, bus, tram and your own feet to get where you want to go. They use an integrated ticketing system so you can use your tickets on any of these modes of transport.
Rome's urban public transport network consists of buses, trams, rapid transit lines, light rail lines and suburban railways. ATAC (formerly an acronym for Azienda del Trasporto Autoferrotranviario del Comune di Roma (or "Company for rail and road transport of the city of Rome"... you know you wanted to know what it stood for....) is the municipally-owned company that operates most of the public transport lines in the city.
You can buy tickets for any ATAC services – including the Metro - at vending machines in any Metro station, or in local convenience stores or newsagents, which are called Tabacchi (look for the blue signs with a capital ‘T’). The vending machines don't give more than €6 in change and they don’t always accept credit cards, so be aware of that. It pays to have have some smaller notes on you when buying tickets.
The best ticket for you will be dependent on how long you are in Rome and how frequently you will be using public transport. For most tourists, the best choices are:
One-way ticket (BIT): The BIT ticket lasts 75 minutes from its first validation and allows for unlimited transfers between the Metro, buses, trams and urban trains. The only transfer that is not allowed is to leave the Metro and return even if it’s in the 75 minutes of validity. As at January 2019, the BIT ticket costs 1,50€.
Day pass (BIG): The BIG ticket allows unlimited public transportation from whenever the ticket is validated until midnight of the same day. The BIG day travel pass costs 6€.
3 Day Tourist Pass (BTI): The 3 day tourist pass (BTI) gives you unlimited use of public transportation from whenever on the day it is first validated plus the following two days. The BTI costs 16,50€.
Week pass (CIS): Similar to the BTI card, the CIS is valid for seven days instead of three and costs 24€.
Children under 10 travel free and do not need a ticket.
There are other types of ticket but they are really suited to locals. Some tourist cards also offer free use of public transport, but I’ve never found these cards to present great value unless you don't mind racing around to see a plethora of sights each day and - to be honest – that’s not the way I prefer to travel. (One museum/art gallery/church every few days is about my fill. Mind you, I'm not against doing the same thing every day when on tour. I'm up for an aperitivo every afternoon, as an example...)
The Metro in Rome offers good service and runs approximately every 7-10 minutes, from 5:30am until 11.30pm every day (and until 12:30am on Fridays and Saturdays).
Using the system
Once you have your ticket (if you don't have a ticket before you get on any public transport in Rome you can be fined... truly...) you first must decide which line you need to use and in which direction you need to travel. It's not difficult, though. The train direction is based on the terminal station at the end of the line. Look at the Metro map above. If, for example, if you want to go from Termini to the Vatican, you need to take Metro A in direction Battistini.
To access the Metro, you need to pass through a ticket barrier - much the same as those found at similar systems anywhere in the world. You put your ticket in the slot and – so long as it’s valid - the barrier will open and your ticket will be returned. (You also need to put your ticket into the ticket barrier leave the Metro station at your destination.)
If you've purchased a public transport pass, the first time you use it the date and time is recorded on it. That’s referred to as validating your ticket. You must always validate your ticket on public transport in Italy or risky a hefty fine.
On buses and trams you will find ticket validation machines. If you have a single ticket you simply enter the ticket into the machine. If you have purchased a pass, you put the pass into the machine on your first journey. This stamps the date and time from which the pass or ticket is valid.
It is relatively common for groups of ticket inspectors to appear on a bus or platform to check tickets, and they have no interest in hearing you play the innocent tourist. They’ll just shrug as they fill out the ticket before handing it to you anyway.
Apart from the potential for a fine for being careless and not validating your ticket, Rome’s Metro does have a few other things to consider.
While some of Metro trains have been upgraded to sleek and modern cars with air-conditioning, some can be a little run-down and covered in graffiti. And like any big city, the trains can crowded during rush hour and at some other times as well. Occasionally you might find you can’t get on the train at all – especially if there is a group of you. But the next one is only a few minutes away, so if that happens we just grin and wait a little. We’ve never had to wait too long.
And of course public transport - especially when busy – offers the opportunity for pickpockets to ply their trade, but provided you take care (don’t have valuables in a bag or carry a wallet – leave them in your hotel and carry just what you need and where you can keep it safe) and keep a sensible (not paranoid) eye out, you should be fine.
So, overall Rome’s Metro provides a useful service for those whose legs are getting a little weary, if you need to get across town in a bit of a hurry or if you are headed to see some sights away from the old centre. It isn’t expensive and is really quite efficient and gives you the opportunity to rub shoulders with the locals. Next time you are in Rome, give it a try!
We help our guests on our Best of Italy and Roman Adventure escorted group tours to learn how to use Rome's Metro system. If you have any other questions, drop us a line at email@example.com.