Staying cool in Rome

by Alexandra

trevi fountain la dolce vita

I think I’m writing this as advice for myself, as much as for anyone else. This year I’ll be experiencing my first true summer in Rome (the previous two summers were spent working in London) and I’m trying to prepare myself for soaring temperatures and intense humidity.

Apparently it’s going to reach 37 degrees this week, so I’m buying a bigger fan for my bedroom. No, my flat doesn’t have air conditioning. It was one of the many complaints of my mad Parisian sub-letter, who rented my room last summer. According to her, the greenhouse effect from the skylight in the hallway – the hallway outside the apartment – made the bedroom hotter. I didn’t really know what to say to that, but I think her complaints demonstrate the importance of staying cool during the Roman summer. If you overheat, you go slightly deranged.

WHAT TO DO

Hang out in museums. Rome has some incredible museums, so you should visit them anyway, regardless of temperature, but they’re also good for escaping the heat. Go to Palazzo Barberini for Caravaggio and air conditioning, or Palazzo Massimo for Roman statues and air conditioning, or Villa Giulia for Etruscan art and air conditioning…You get the idea. I wrote a list of the best museums and art galleries in Rome , but visiting the Vatican Museums in August is for masochists only.

Find a shady spot in the park. When I was a tourist in Rome, suffering in the September heat, I spent a lot of time sitting on benches in Villa Borghese. Anywhere with trees is good. See also: Protestant Cemetery, Giardino degli Aranci, Villa Doria Pamphili, Via Appia Antica.

Have long, leisurely lunches. Hot weather is a perfect excuse for making lunch last for 2-3 hours. It’s too hot to go for a walk, so you might as well linger over a plate of pasta and a bottle of white wine in a shady trattoria. La Torricella in Testaccio is ideal for this kind of meal, as it’s on a quiet residential street and there are plenty of outdoor tables. I also have fond memories of a lunch at Lo Scarpone in Monteverde, which has an outdoor area sheltered from the sun by an overgrown trellis.

Go swimming. But of course, not straight after lunch. As every Italian knows, swimming after eating = instant death. There are more swimming pools in Rome than you might expect, but they tend to be quite expensive, especially in the centre. Wanted in Rome has a good list of swimming pools in Rome.

The Cavalieri Hilton costs €85 at the weekend, but once you’re in the pool, no one will be able to see your tears. There are some cheaper options. I’m planning on checking out Sporting Club Ostiense (near Marconi), where the prices are less eye-watering – something like €6-8.

Stay hydrated. Nasoni (drinking fountains) are everywhere, so take advantage. Once you’ve got a bottle of water, just keep filling it up.

Eat as much gelato as you want. Check out my handy gelateria guide. If you want something less filling, try grattachecca, a fruity icy syrupy thing that’s very refreshing on a hot day. I also wrote a grattachecca guide.

Take refuge in churches. Any church will do. If you’ve been walking for ages on a hot day, resting for a while in a cool church can be quite rejuvenating. And it’s free!

Go to the cinema. Mmm, air conditioning. There are also some open air cinema events in Trastevere and on Isola Tiberina, which usually start around 9pm. I haven’t been to any screenings yet, but I imagine it’s particularly pleasant watching a film on Isola Tiberina, with the river breeze. Here’s the Facebook page.

Spend your evenings by the Tiber. During the summer lots of shops, bars and restaurants pop up along the banks of the river. It’s a nice place to hang out, and it’s cooler down there.

Stay out late. You can’t really do anything in the middle of the day, so make up your lost hours at night. Have dinner later – 9pm or 10pm is normal – and then go for a walk when the temperature is bearable. I love warm nights in Rome, wandering around Trastevere or the centro storico, hanging around in a piazza, or drinking beer on my terrace.

Get out of Rome. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and get the hell out of Rome. Head to one of these beaches near Rome, or Lake Bracciano, or somewhere in the Castelli Romani. Anywhere that’s cooler than Rome, basically. If you get really desperate, the Dolomites are only 7 hours away!

WHAT NOT TO DO

Plan anything between 1pm-5pm. If the plan involves eating, drinking, sitting in the shade, sleeping or air conditioning it’s okay, but otherwise forget it.

Visit the Forum. Or if you do, do it first thing in the morning before it gets really hot. There’s very little shade, and as I’ve mentioned before, there are stories about tourists being carried out on stretchers during the summer.

Use public transport. In theory the metro and buses are supposed to be air-conditioned, but I’ve had some very unpleasant experiences. Being stuck in a bus on a hot day when the air conditioning’s not working is hell. I would try to avoid public transport where possible. Travelling by car or motorino is definitely preferable, and I would rather walk for 40 minutes than spend 15 minutes on a bus where the air conditioning is broken.

Go for a dip in the Trevi Fountain. Everyone has the Anita Ekberg fantasy, and the water looks particularly tempting on a hot day, but try to restrain yourself. Climbing in the Trevi Fountain (or any other fountain in Rome) will result in a fine. If, like me, you have a thing for the Carabinieri (or rather the uniform), getting in trouble with the police might seem appealing, so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it.

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