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Is Rio Carnival Worth it? A Complete Guide to the World’s Biggest Party

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Welcome to one of the most chaotic and exciting events in the world- the carnival of Rio de Janeiro! Is Rio Carnival worth it though? We've had a bunch of mixed opinions on this one.

I've been to Rio de Janeiro 5 times, and clearly have fallen in love with it. I've also been to Brazil on 4 separate occasions for carnival, in multiple locations across the country. So after all of the different experiences, I can confidently give all the proper tips and info for experience the carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro.

In this guide I'm going to outline everything you need to know for visiting Rio Carnival, what to expect, and whether or not Rio Carnival is worth it. Let's party!

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Is Rio Carnival Worth it, and What is it Exactly?

Carnival is one of the world's biggest celebrations in the world, and Brazil has the biggest parties out of all of them! We like to think of it as a mix between Mardi Gras and Halloween, where there are endless parties on the streets, and everyone is dressed up.

The most famous carnival is the Rio Carnival. It is quite different than the other carnivals in Brazil though, which is why we're going to explain the difference, and to see if Rio Carnival is worth it for you.

Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Is Rio Carnival Worth It?

Rio Carnival is an annual celebration with big parties and parades.

When is Rio's Carnival?

Rio de Janeiro actually has the longest carnival out of the whole country! This is important to know, because if you plan on experiencing other carnivals in Brazil, then you may want to save this on for last, since it ends after the rest of the celebrations throughout the country.

Rio's carnival dates are dependent on the religious calendar, ending each year the week of Ash Wednesday, and starting the weekends before. The celebration in Rio begins on a Friday, and goes for a week, going through the weekend after. In 2024 carnival will start on February 9th.

How to Get to Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most popular cities in Brazil, so it's actually quite easy to get there from other places in Brazil, as well as plenty of other international cities.

Flying to Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro has two different airports. The biggest one is the Rio de Janeiro/Galeão Airport (GIG), which is a half hour to the center of Rio de Janeiro, and about 45 minute- an hour away from the main beach area. The other airport is RJ Santos Dumont, which is located right next to the city center of Rio de Janeiro.

What Cities Fly Direct to Rio de Janeiro?

RJ Santos Dumont has direct flights from Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Campinas, Campos dos Goytacazes, Cuiaba, Curitiba, Florianopolis, Goiania, Jundiai, Macae, Navegantes, Porto Alegre, Recife, Ribeiro Preto, Salvador, Sao Paulo, and Vitoria.

Rio de Janeiro Galeão has many of the same domestic flights as the other airport, but is where you'll also find all of the international arrivals.

Domestic cities that fly to Rio de Janeiro include Aracaju, Belem, Brasilia, Campinas, Fortaleza, Foz do Iguacu, Joao Pessoa, Maceio, Manaus, Natal, Porto Seguro, Recife, and Sao Paulo. International Cities that fly direct to Rio de Janeiro include Amsterdam, Atlanta, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Dubai, Houston, Lima, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Mendoza, Miami, Munich, New York, Panama City, Paris, Porto, Rosario, and Santiago.

Flight Tip: Using Skyscanner you can use the calendar option to see which are the cheapest dates to fly to Rio.

Search for a flight to Rio de Janeiro:

Getting from the Airport to the City of Rio de Janeiro

There are a number of ways to get from the airport to the city of Rio de Janeiro. If you are flying into Santos Dumont you can easily grab a taxi, Uber, or 99 (which is the local Uber). If you are flying into Galeão than you can also opt for taking the metro, which goes into the city center.

Other Ways to Get to Rio de Janeiro

If you're already in Brazil, you can easily get to Rio de Janeiro from a number of destinations by bus! If you decide to go last minute to Rio Carnival than this may be the choice for you.

Here are a few bus routes that you can take to Rio de Janeiro:

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Entry Requirements for Brazil

Before traveling to any new destination, it's important to put into consideration any of the requirements that you may need to meet in order to visit. Here are both the visa and Covid requirements to keep in mind when traveling to Rio Carnival.

Visa Entry Requirements For Brazil

The first time that I traveled to Brazil I actually had to have a visa to visit. The last time I went though, I brought my visa, only to find out that US nationals no longer actually need them.

The different nationalities that are exempt from tourist visas in Brazil include AndorraArgentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Canada, ChileColombiaCosta RicaDenmarkEcuador, Finland, France, GermanyGreece, Japan, Iceland, IrelandItaly, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, The Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, San Marino, South Africa, SpainSuriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United StatesUnited Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Another thing to note is that those from the Mercosur region don't need to bring their passport to enter Brazil, as they can simply carry their ID card. The countries which are included in Mercosur are Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

Covid Entry Requirements For Brazil

All visitors who are over the age of 12 must present either a Covid vaccination card, or a negative RT-PCR test before flying. If you aren't vaccinated, you'll have to take a test within one day of traveling, and the results must be in either English, Spanish, or Portuguese.

In addition, certain airports make require you to still have a mask. While we were traveling in Brazil we found that a few different airports made us purchase masks, even though we ended up not needing to wear them. We suggest having one in advance, in order to avoid needing to purchase one.

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Local Adjustments for Rio Carnival

Whenever traveling somewhere new there may be certain things that differ from the place that you are coming from. Here are a few of the local adjustments to keep in mind when traveling to Rio Carnival.

What Language Do They Speak in Rio de Janeiro?

The official language in Brazil is Portuguese. While Rio is a very touristic place, we were surprised about the number of people that did not speak any English at all. We learned some of the basics, and speak Spanish, so we got by just fine. However, my siblings struggled more as most taxi drivers and street vendors only spoke Portuguese. We definitely suggest learning some of the basics of Portuguese to get by, as you may be able to haggle better while on the streets.

Currency in Brazil 

The currency used in Brazil is the Brazilian Real. Currently (June 2023) the exchange rate is 5.14 Brazilian Real for every 1 USD or Euro, and 6.34 Brazilian Real for every British pound.

We found that most taxis, hotels, restaurants, and shops did take credit card. However. there were some stands around the street parties that were cash only.

We do suggest having some cash on you for the street parties, for tipping, or other small expenses. If you do use a credit card on the streets be careful with who you buy from, and always check exactly what they are charging you.

Is Rio Carnival Expensive?

Carnival is the most expensive time to visit Rio de Janeiro, especially when it comes to accommodation. Overall, Brazil isn't that expensive of a country, but it certainly isn't as cheap as the first few times I visited for carnival (2017 and 2018). We highly suggest booking everything as far in advance as possible so that you don't have to pay a fortune for hotels or flights.

Electrical Outlets in Brazil

Brazil is interesting because it actually has a mix of different outlets depending on where you go. The majority of the outlets have two round prongs and a grounding pin, which are for plug types C & N, but we also did find quite a few places with international outlets. 

Brazil operates on a 127/220V supply voltage and 60Hz, so make sure to check your electronics to make sure they comply, or if not make sure to get a travel adapter.

Is the Water Safe to Drink in Rio de Janeiro?

The water isn't really safe or advised to be drank in Rio, and buying small bottles of water can add up quickly. We suggest buying large jugs of water, and refilling an insulated water bottle so that you can always stay hydrated (which is super important during Rio Carnival!).

We like using the insulated one as it holds the temperature, since it gets super hot in Rio de Janeiro.

Tipping in Rio de Janeiro

The tipping culture in Brazil is pretty similar to many different countries around the world. We suggest tipping an average of 10% while in restaurants, and to do so in cash.

It's also important to note that many restaurants in Rio will actually add a service charge, sometimes even 12 or 13% in nicer establishments. Ensure to double check your bill, so that you don't end up double tipping.

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Is Rio Carnival Worth It? Here's What to Expect

Now that you know almost everything you need to know about getting to Rio de Janeiro. Here is where we share everything you should expect, and to decide for yourself- is Rio Carnival worth it? Keep reading to learn more.

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Is Rio Carnival Worth It?
Is Rio Carnival Worth It?
Is Rio Carnival Worth It?

So what exactly should you expect during carnival? Well, the city is full of people, and parties are pretty much happening everywhere. It can be quite overwhelming to go to Rio Carnival, as you actually need to be more in the know than you would think!

Sure, there are parties all over, but the parties are actually constantly moving, and there is a mix of private and public parties to choose from.

Is Rio carnival worth it?

During carnival the streets are packed with people partying.

What Time Do Parties Start During Rio Carnival?

Parties are practically 24 hours a day during Carnival! However, we did find that the best public blocos started very early in the morning (7 or 8:00 am), while some of the best private parties were ideal for late nights, and would go until early in the morning.

Visiting the Sambadrome During Rio Carnival

When people think of carnival, they usually imagine girls with extravagant costumes dancing samba, loud music, and huge parades. The truth is that this is actually only a small part of carnival, but is certainly what makes Rio's carnival unique from the rest.

Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival
Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival

The Sambadrome in Rio before the parade starts

The Sambadrome is an arena which is actually only used once a year, and it's for the famous carnival parade. The parade happens inside the Sambadrome, with the best groups performing.

Tickets must be purchased in advance, and they range from affordable to celebrity-style pricing. The seating is bleacher stye at the top, and has VIP booths underneath with food and drinks, and then the bottom has floor seating, with exclusive perks.

The sambadrome is an all night event actually! We got there early and watched a 45 minute long parade, only to find out that it was 1 out of 8 different parade groups. The Sambadrome starts at 8 pm, and goes until early the next morning. If you're going to Rio Carnival, then make sure not to miss out on this unique event that everyone prepares all year for.

Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Is Rio Carnival Worth It?
Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Is Rio Carnival Worth It?
Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Is Rio Carnival Worth It?
Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Is Rio Carnival Worth It?

The Samabdrome is the number one reason that Rio Carnival is worth it.

Public Blocos During Carnival

Outside of the Sambadrome parade, there are huge street parties to look forward to in Rio de Janeiro. They happen all over the city, and each neighborhood has a "bloco" during different hours of the day. If you don't know which bloco to go to, or aren't feeling too adventurous (there are some very dangerous areas), then you can always stay near Copacabana, as there are always people (mostly tourists) drinking in the streets in this area.

The public blocos are free of charge to go to, and can get pretty wild. There are normally big speakers with blaring music, and hundreds to thousands of people eating, drinking, and dancing around them. 

The public blocos can be truly hit or miss experiences, as some can attract rather sketchy crowds, while others are a messy, but super fun time. Some blocos last as little as an hour or two, while others start in one point and keep moving.

Some are completely random, some are secret, and others are planned well in advance. In order to stay in the know, we suggest following the official Instagram pages, or joining Facebook or Instagram groups where people share the party lineups the night before, or share how parties are in the moment.

If you want Rio Carnival to be worth it, then we definitely suggest being proactive, rather than reactive. The first couple of days we ended up missing so many parties, as we would arrive too late, or not know the right blocos to go to. Speaking with your locals also helps, so get social!

Private Parties During Carnival

While there are a ton of public street parties, another option is attending one of the private parties. The pros of attending the private parties are that they are more organized, cleaner, and safer. The cons of the private parties are that they are more expensive, and the crowds can sometimes be either very young, or not as fun. 

We attended one private party that we hated. We had to wait in line to get in, wait a ton for drinks, and then we hated the music. Meanwhile, some of the other private parties looked epic (of course we missed those ones) like the boat party, or nightly parties on top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Many people only believe Rio Carnival is worth it if they attend the most premium events. We honestly think that it's nice to experience a little bit of everything. Our suggestion would be to plan a few private parties (only the unique ones), and then planning to attend the public ones in between. We found the public blocos to be more ideal early in the morning, while the private ones were more ideal (and safe) going through the night.

Amenities at Rio Carnival

Are there food and drinks at Rio Carnival? Where can I go to the bathroom in during Carnival? Can I buy costumes on the streets? Here are all your questions answered!

Food & Drinks at Rio Carnival

Anywhere you go in Rio de Janeiro during carnival, you will find food and drinks. The blocos normally have kiosks set up with vendors selling drinks and street food. While most vendors just sell beer, you can also find a ton of different kiosks making Caipirinhas, or any variation of this drink. This was our go-to drink during carnival, and you'll even find people adding fresh fruits to mix such as watermelon or pineapple.

If you like a particular liquor, or want a special type of drink, we suggest bringing drinks with you. This is also a great way to save money, and is completely normal to see amongst Brazilians. Also have as many fresh coconuts as possible! They'll keep you hydrated and are very affordable.

coconut in Rio de Janeiro
drinks during Rio Carnival

When it comes to food, don't have any crazy expectations. The majority of what you'll find will include fried snacks, hotdogs, and other greasy, questionable foods. The one thing we do recommend though, is to get the Yakisoba if you get a chance. These stir-fried noodles can be found in certain neighborhoods, and are the perfect food to have while drinking. 

Eating at Restaurants During Rio Carnival

If you're looking forward to some good food while visiting Rio, then you'll have to do a little planning, or have a lot of patience.

Being that Rio de Janeiro has over a million people visiting for carnival each year, it's no surprise that the wait for top restaurants is extensive.

If there are special restaurants that you'd like to try, then we highly suggest calling for a reservation in advance, and if you plan on having a sit-down meal, just know that wait times can be extremely long, and it can take an hour for food to come out.

Eating at Restaurants During Rio Carnival

If you're looking forward to some good food while visiting Rio, then you'll have to do a little planning, or have a lot of patience.

Being that Rio de Janeiro has over a million people visiting for carnival each year, it's no surprise that the wait for top restaurants is extensive.

If there are special restaurants that you'd like to try, then we highly suggest calling for a reservation in advance, and if you plan on having a sit-down meal, just know that wait times can be extremely long, and it can take an hour for food to come out.

eating at restaurants during Rio carnival

If you want to eat at a nice restaurant you'll have to get a reservation or wait a while.

Make sure to be respectful when going out to eat during Rio Carnival, and keep in mind that restaurants really struggle at this time due to high demand and intoxicated guests.

Bathrooms at Rio Carnival

If you are going to a private party, you'll most likely have nice bathrooms. However, expect long lines, and be prepared with some of your own toilet paper. We suggest bringing a small pack of tissues in your purse or pocket, as well as some hand sanitizer.

Another reason you'll want tissues and hand sanitizer is for the outdoor parties. At the outdoor parties you'll find a ton of Porta potties, and most of the time in extremely poor condition. You'll also find people peeing on the streets, but we really urge you not to do this!

If going to portable bathrooms skeeves you out too much, then there are people that offer there bathrooms normally for around 2-5 Real. These will be much cleaner, and there's a much higher chance you'll find toilet paper, and potentially a sink with soap to wash your hands.

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Getting Around During Carnival in Rio

Rio de Janeiro is an enormous city, and one thing that can be quite frustrating is trying to party hop. As blocos are spread around the city, there are also a ton that move around, and even a lot that are spontaneous. This means that streets are filled with people, making it very hard for drivers to navigate the streets, and the transportation very unreliable.

Is Rio Carnival worth it?

With the blocos many streets will be blocked.

There are actually a ton of ways to get around Rio during carnival, and even extra vans going to the most popular areas. We took one of these vans once, and found them to be pretty convenient, but they were almost $4 USD/ride.

We personally found Uber and taxis to be the most efficient way of getting around, and pretty affordable at around $5-$10 for average rides, or $15-20 to cross the city, or get from one place to another late at night.

Make sure to give yourself ample time to get places if you want to arrive to a party on time, have a reservation, or need to get to the airport, as driving times can be completely unpredictable.

There were even a bunch of times where drivers had to leave us a few blocks from our destination, as areas were constantly getting blocked off. Have patience, and only take reliable rides like official taxis or Ubers you've ordered.

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Where to Stay in Rio de Janeiro During Carnival

Booking accommodation during Rio Carnival is much different than trying to book a place to stay during the rest of the year.

Prices sky rocket, and Airbnb requests get denied left and right. Many will claim they didn't change the rates and that you'll have to pay from double to even 10 times the price of the listing! For this reason we suggest booking extremely far in advance (several months out), as well as sticking to regular booking sites (not Airbnb).

Not let's talk about where to stay in Rio de Janeiro during carnival. While we usually like to stay along the beach areas like Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leme, we found that visiting during Rio Carnival is actually completely different.

Ipanema, where to stay during Rio carnival

Ipanema is one of our favorite areas to stay in Rio de Janeiro.

Where to Stay During Rio Carnival for the Best Parties

The majority of the best parties are located in neighborhoods close to the center like Santa Teresa and Lapa. Normally we wouldn't suggest staying in these areas, but since there are parties all day and night, there are plenty of people around, so you can feel safer than normal.

This is one of the top places to be located if you want to experience more Brazilian blocos, local food, and cool street art.

Find a place to stay in the center of Rio de Janeiro:

Places to Stay During Rio Carnival Near the Beach

If you'd like to stay near the beach, a great option is Botofogo, as it is conveniently located between the center and the popular beaches. This will limit your taxi rides, and also allow you to be near a beach.

Botafogo, where to staying during Rio Carnival

Botofogo is conveniently located near the main beaches, and the center of Rio de Janeiro.

Stay in Botofogo:

A great traditional option is to stay at Copacabana. While these aren't considered the "best parties" by locals, it is definitely an area that is always busy, and is more comfortable for many tourists.

Find a place to stay in Copacabana:

We also love Leme, and think that it's perfect since it's next to Copacabana, Pao de Azucar (which has nightly parties), and nearby Botafogo. When it comes to Rio Carnival, it is definitely one of the best places to be located, as it's not too far from the biggest blocos, and is also right on the beach near the tourist friendly zones.

Look for accommodation in Leme:
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Is Rio de Janeiro Safe During Carnival?

Is Rio Carnival worth it? Well, safety truly does have a big part in this. While I adore Rio de Janeiro, I can also understand why some people hesitate on visiting.

Rio has high crime rates, and there are a ton of favelas. It's certainly a place where partying all day & night and staying safe can be a challenge. However, we definitely still think Rio de Janeiro is an amazing city, if you are very aware of your surroundings.

My brother got his phone snatched out of his hands while in a cab, and we found tons and tons of tourists that were robbed on the beaches, at the street parties, and pretty much all over.

Unfortunately, crime during Rio Carnival is much higher, as there are so many people, a lot of alcohol, and people trying to take advantage of this. We don't say this to discourage you from visiting, but to let you know that safety is something that is VERY important during  Carnival in Rio.

How to Stay Safe During Rio Carnival

Here are a few ways to create a safer environment for yourself during Rio Carnival:

  • Refrain from wearing any valuables.
  • Limit what you carry around with you.
  • Use secret pockets, and always be aware of your pockets and bags.
  • Hold on to your phone, and make sure to take it out as little as possible.
  • Keep the windows up while in public or private transportation, or keep your valuables close and secure.
  • Invest in a small fanny pack (called "Anti-robot") to go under your pants or dress (this is super common for Brazilians to do!)
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Other Things to Know About Rio Carnival

Now you know almost everything you need to know for visiting the carnival in Rio! But here are a few other things to keep in mind.

Weather in Rio During Carnival

Carnival is in the height of summer in Brazil, and the weather is extremely hot and humid. The sun is super strong, even in the early hours of the morning. The area is also prone to storms, so don't be surprised is it rains a bit when you are there.

The weather forecast usually shows thunder storms for weeks straight during this time of year, but take it with a grain of salt! Every time I go I have this forecast and it usually only rains for a little one or two days.

weather in Rio de Janeiro

Rio has tropical weather during carnival.

How to Dress for Rio Carnival

Now this is the fun part! During carnival everyone dresses up, so if you like wearing costumes, then this is your time to shine. Don't worry- people are not dressed in the glamorous outfits you are thinking of. Those are just for those that are performing in the carnival.

Getting Costumes for Rio Carnival

When it comes to dressing up for Rio carnival you actually don't have to go too crazy at all. While some people do group costumes, the majority of people just dress minimally and buy some basic accessories from the streets or beach. You'll see a ton of tutus, crowns, wings, and hats, that you can just purchase once you get there.

Costumes during carnival in Rio
Costumes during carnival in Rio
Costumes during carnival in Rio
Costumes during carnival in Rio

You can find all different types of costumes at Rio Carnival.

People go a bit crazy in Brazil, and pretty much people go with as little clothing as possible. You'll see girls of all shapes and sizes with thongs, fishnets, and nipple tassels. You'll see me in G strings, and with wigs. Pretty much anything goes during carnival! So dress in whatever makes you comfortable.

Glitter, Glitter, and More Glitter

Did you even go to Brazilian Carnival is you aren't covered in glitter? Another thing you'll notice is that carnival is all about the glitter. You'll see people selling glitter everywhere, and many people covering their bodies from head to toe in glitter (sometimes in hardly anything else!).

is Rio Carnival worth it? What to wear

Glitter and tutus are very popular during carnival in Rio.

What Shoes to Wear For Rio Carnival

As far as footwear goes, you're going to want to wear shoes that are comfortable, closed-toed, and ones you are willing to throw out after. The streets are filthy, and chances are you'll get stepped on quite a bit, especially when people start dancing and doing random mosh pits.

If you're going to the Sambarome or a private party at night, you can of course wear shoes that are a bit nicer, but make sure they are comfortable. I usually stick to my Havaiana flip flops.

Packing For a Trip to Rio Carnival

When it comes to packing for Rio Carnival, here are some things that you should definitely pack (or buy once you get there):

  • Sunscreen (the sun is super strong, and you'll spend a lot of time outside)
  • Reusable Water Bottle- don't forget to stay hydrated! (we use this water bottle from Cafago because it holds the temperature)
  • Flip Flops for the beach (we personally always get Havaiana flip flops, as they are comfy and long lasting)
  • Comfortable old shoes (for the blocos)
  • Sneakers (for the hikes in Rio if you decide to do them)
  • Fanny Pack
  • "Anti-Robo" (small fanny pack that goes under your clothes- you can get it in any pharmacy)
  • Power Bank (we use Anker power banks, as they are super long lasting and sturdy)
  • Travel Adapter (we use Insignia travel adapters as they are affordable and reliable)
  • Bathing Suits (FYI Brazilians pretty much all wear thongs)
  • Accessories such as tutus, crowns, capes, hats, wings, etc.
  • Glitter
  • Brazilian Canga (thin towel for the beach- you can also find them sold all over)

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Tips for Visiting Rio Carnival

Now that you know pretty much everything you need to know for visiting Rio Carnival, let's recap. Here are some of the important things to keep in mind when attending the carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

  • Book as far in advance as possible! (This refers to flights, hotels, restaurant reservations and event tickets.)
  • Make sure to get insurance on all of your valuables, and back up your phone and memory cards regularly.
  • Leave expensive jewelry at home (even [especially] your wedding ring!).
  • Follow the Instagram accounts for Rio Carnival and join groups to stay in the know.
  • Decide which blocos you will attend the night before, and plan accordingly.
  • Don't miss out on the Sambadrome!
  • If you want to go sightseeing, go as early as possible, or expect crowds
  • and most importantly, Have FUN!