Rome is one of the few cities in the world that is constantly packed with tourists — year round, rain or shine. There are always huge crowds at monuments, to the point you can’t enjoy them.
Something positive that’s come out of the pandemic is that if you’re able to visit Rome, you can see all of the most famous sights with none of the crowds. You can take your time, take photos that have more in the background than crowds of tourists, and you can see everything because there are no lines.
The pandemic has also put a spotlight on one of the big nuisances of Rome, restaurants that serve horrible food to tourists. It’s now easy to identify which restaurants are worth your time: are there Romans there or not?
Most importantly, while the economic impact is staggering, the travel restrictions have given the city back to Romans and allowed people who actually live in there to enjoy places they might not visit on a weekend or at all due to the high volume of tourists.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Rome in March 2021, between lockdowns. Museums were open on weekdays, and restaurants were open until 6 PM. After 6 PM, hotel restaurants were open to hotel guests only. Masks were obligatory everywhere and a negative Covid test was required for entry into Italy — even from neighboring Switzerland.
Rome is an open air museum, and while it is admittedly not fun to walk 5-7 miles a day in nice weather wearing a mask, what we were able to see and do in a short time was incredible. We could wander into any church that was open, sometimes discovering original art by Caravaggio. We stood outside the Colosseum and booked tickets (here) for entry 10 minutes later on our iPhone. We were the first couple in the Vatican Museums at 8:30 AM and had the place to ourselves. It was so empty we walked both the short and long routes and saw the Sistine Chapel twice. Reservations were mandatory for the Vatican Museum and Galleria Borghese, but there were lines at neither. We found a medium size crowd on Sunday afternoon on a nice day at the Trevi Fountain, but on Monday night just a handful of people.
Dining was a little bit more challenging because some restaurants have understandably decided it is not worth it to be open for 6 hours in the afternoon, at least every day, so some were open certain days or closed altogether. We arrived at our favorite gelato spot one day to find it closed, but the next day open.
Below is a visual tour of what Rome looked like at the time of our visit. Unfortunately as of the time of this publication Rome and most other cities are back in a lockdown, but if you have the opportunity to visit (and it is safe to do so) before things “return to normal,” we highly recommend to do so.