Whether or not you go on a guided tour, there is so much to do, see, and eat in Rome. If you use a wheelchair, like myself, then getting around Rome can present some challenges. In this post, I will discuss some obstacles you might meet throughout the city, different transportation methods, accessibility throughout the places I visited, and things I learned along the way. If you’d like to read about some of the accessible tours I went on in Italy, check out Part One here.
Steps, Curbs, and More Steps
These may be innocuous for most people, but can be irksome for someone on wheels trying to simply cross the street or enter a restaurant or store. Such is the case in Rome, but don’t worry there’s usually an alternative.
In the touristy areas, crossing the street is less of an issue because most sidewalks have sloped curbs, but as you wander into less populated areas, small to high curbs abound. At some corners, there’s a sloped curb, and on the other there’s a step. When this happens, some backtracking is required. You might have to divert from the way you had originally intended and it’ll take longer to get there. Sometimes, what I ended up doing was if the curb wasn’t too high in some places I would just slowly drive down it backwards. That worked out alright without any mishaps.
It is hard to shop in Rome because many of the stores have a step to gain entry. Shopping was low on my list of things that I wanted to do while in Italy, but I did notice that nearly every store we passed had a small to large step. There were some stores that my chair could handle, but not many. When I did have the desire to shop at stores that weren’t accessible, I waited outside while my friend went in and showed me whatever it was that had caught my eye. It was a little awkward lurking outside the shop alone, but it was the best we could do and in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal.
Lots of the restaurants also have a step at their entrance, which made it impossible for me to dine inside. It worked out though because almost all the restaurants had an outdoor dining area that was accessible. I think, with the exception of eating at the hotel, we only ate inside a restaurant twice during our entire stay. If cigarette smoke bothers you then that could be an issue because it didn’t seem as though there were any restrictions against it. Maybe if someone does light up near you, you could politely ask them not to? All the same, I enjoyed eating outside.
When we weren’t going on a tour or if our destination wasn’t in walking/rolling distance, we usually took the bus or a taxi. Google Maps was very handy.
Not all, but many of the city buses are wheelchair accessible. There’s a ramp at the middle section and the driver unlocks it with a special key and lowers it to the sidewalk. If the first bus that came by that we were waiting for wasn’t accessible we just waited for the next one. We usually waited less than fifteen minutes for the next to turn up, and luckily it was accessible every time. Once on the bus, I parked backwards against a padded panel and the bus continued on its way. Next to where I was positioned there were a few buttons, all designed to get the driver’s attention. In the rush of things I forgot to take pictures of the bus, sorry!
Taxis were an interesting, oftentimes heart pounding experience. Before I explain that, I will say that it is fairly easy to get a wheelchair accessible taxi in Rome. We usually asked the hotel to call one for us and it typically came within ten minutes. And when the hotel staff booked a return cab for us, it came right on time. If you’re looking for a wheelchair accessible hotel in Rome, check out my review of Hotel Artemide.
The only exception to easily getting a cab was when we were at the Borghese Gallery and I asked one of the staff there to call one for me. The cab company wanted to know all sorts of details about my wheelchair; how much it weighed, how tall, how long, etc. After a few phone calls back and forth and forty minutes later, our cab arrived. I’ve waited much longer for a cab in my home city, so it wasn’t something I was unused to. However, taxis were an entirely new experience in Rome. This particular cab had a pull out ramp that wasn’t as steep as some that I would later need to navigate, but the space available for me to park was limited. If my chair was even one inch longer, it wouldn’t have fit, and that doesn’t include the length of the foot pedals. Not counting the foot pedals my chair is about 31 inches. My feet had enough room because the seat in front of me was placed down. However, between where I was sat and the next aisle was a step, so if my chair had slid forward even a little I would have tipped over. The driver strapped my chair down in the back, but still. That’s another thing I noticed, the drivers only strapped the back down and, somehow, my chair never once tilted backwards.
Okay, now for the fright-inducing feeling of trying to drive up into most wheelchair accessible taxis in Rome. Every cab that we ordered featured a slightly different ramp. Some had pullout truck ramps with two separate panels, while others had a single panel, but they were all steep. With one cab, it took three attempts to actually make it up the ramp without skidding back down and that was with the driver trying to help push me up. My heart was all a-flutter that I would fall off the side of the ramp. Through all my internal worries, nothing injurious, to my relief, ended up happening.
Another potential problem with taxis in Rome is that you are sitting about a foot or more higher than the other seats in the van, so there’s that much less space for you to sit up straight. Albeit, most of the cabs have a cut out in the roof to try and give extra space, but in some I still had to duck my head forward to avoid banging it. Speaking of ducking, in one cab after I made it to the top, I had to bow my head so I wouldn’t hit it on the roof. This probably sounds like a lot of complaining, but it was out of the ordinary. I suppose, even though these taxi experiences were new, they did promptly get me from point A to point B.
In between tours we visited a lot of museums and historical sites. Theoretically, the staff at these sites were supposed to ask for a certificate of disability and then upon proof, provide two free tickets, but in reality, they just handed me two tickets as soon as they saw me. I didn’t find this out until the tail end of my trip, but a single ticket is valid for three consecutive days and works for two other nearby attractions. So be sure you don’t discard them right away. Here is a list of all the wheelchair accessible sites I visited in Rome and Vatican City:
- Borghese Gallery
- Trajan’s Market
- Capitoline Museum
- Because there are steps at the main entrance, whoever is with you will have to go get the tickets for you and point you out in the crowd to one of the staff so that you’ll get them for free. Once you have the tickets you’ll have a to go along the right side of the museum, up a short road, and then you’ll reach the accessible entrance. PIC.
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
- Baths of Diocletian
- Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo
- We spent about three hours here. My favourite, and probably the star of the show here was Augustus as Pontifex Maximus.
- The Pantheon
- There is a ramp on the left side of the steps.
- Trevi Fountain
- Il Vittoriano
- At the top of this building is where you’ll get to see the best views of Rome. Once inside it is wheelchair accessible, but actually getting to the accessible door is another matter. On two different days we tried, unsuccessfully, to find a way to get to the accessible door, but a high curb surrounding the building prevented this. In the end, our driver, after our trip to Appian Way, offered to drop us off at the door and wait for us until we were finished, which was very nice of him.
- The Curia of Pompey
- Where Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March in 44 BC.
- Piazza Navona
- Museo di Roma
- It is located on one side of Piazza Navona, but the accessible entrance is around the corner.
- Campo de’ Fiori
- St. Peter’s Basilica
- Vatican Museums
Every one of these places are wheelchair accessible. The bathrooms were large enough to accommodate my wheelchair. Sure, there are stairs everywhere, but there is always an elevator or a stair lift around.
Well, that’s the end of this post. Stick around for my next one which will be about my whirlwind of a day spent in Florence.