Traveling to Rome? Lucky you. Want some advice? Well, you found the right spot, here is my guide to finding the magic that is Rome.
Last year I fell in love. I fell in love with Rome. I fell in love with the untouched buildings painted with graffiti and the quaint streets that are lined with locally owned restaurants and gelato shops. I fell in love with the coffee that is poured into tiny cups on even tinier plates that are to be drank while standing up next to the bar. I fell in love with the passion for food. The food that represents Roman pride and local ingredients. I fell in love with the ability to take morning walks and smell nothing but freshly made croissants and hand-picked fresh vegetables that fill up market booths. I fell in love with live music on every corner and old men eating gelato before noon. I fell in love with a city that is stuck in time and sees nothing wrong with that.
Rome is unique and is unapologetically itself. You won’t find any commercial restaurants or hints of globalization. Rome is as authentic as it gets.
While I did not have enough time to fully immerse myself in the Roman culture, I did gain an incredible appreciation for the city that is rooted in history and tradition.
So, if you find yourself lucky enough to visit this beautiful and magical city, here some of my recommendations.
My favorite neighborhood by far was Trastevere (tra-sta-ver-e). While it might take you your whole vacation to learn how to pronounce it, Trastevere is located on the outskirts of the city center, across the river from most of the tourist attractions. Trastevere is filled with endless amounts of restaurants, live music, and roads that will inevitably lead you to getting very VERY lost. Wine corks fill the gaps in the cobblestone, the waiters aren’t nearly as aggressive as other neighborhoods and no matter where you end up choosing to eat, you won’t dare spend more than 3 euros on a glass of wine.
One of the best parts of Trastevere is that it doesn’t feel like a never ending tourist trap where English is almost more common than Italian, like some places in the city. Trastevere immediately will make you feel at home in a city that is big, loud and a little hard to understand at first.
And if you’re lucky you’ll stumble upon some of the best food I had in Rome.
WHAT TO EAT (in Trastevere)
If you want pizza, head over to Dar Poeta and make sure to get the pizza with buffalo mozzarella and rocket salad because there is certainly nothing better. While this place can be a little touristy and busy at night, it is a great place to grab lunch and share a liter of wine with the best of friends.
If you want a little taste of Rome, Cajo e Gajo has some of the best Cacio e Pepe. Cacio e Pepe is a traditional Roman pasta dish that is just wow. It is all sorts of perfect because what is better than a combination of pepper, cheese, and pasta served in a bowl made out of more cheese. It is so simple, yet so mesmerizing. Also, if you’re feeling fancy, make sure to get the rosemary bread and some fried squids to start.
If you are craving a picture perfect Italian dinner with red checkered table cloth, liters of house red wine and good old fashion spaghetti pomodoro (that means tomato in Italian) then look no further than Popi Popi. I would only recommend going here when the weather is nice enough to sit outside. The aesthetic is perfect and if you’re lucky there will be live music playing in the distance. This was the first restaurant we went to in Rome and is still one of my favorites. I highly recommend the rice balls as an appetizer because in one bite the hot mozzarella will literally be melting in your mouth. 10/10 for Popi Popi, it gives me the feels just thinking about it.
There are two great gelato places in the neighborhood. If you are wandering around Trastevere looking for your traditional gelato fix, head over to Old Bridge. My favorite flavors were always pistachio and coconut. Nothing quite like it. However, if you want something a little different (or want a vegan/organic option) head over to La Fonte della Salute. I was always a fan of the coconut and dried fig flavor, it’s perfect for a light after dinner dessert. Bonus points if you go to both in the same day because in Rome that is celebrated rather than frowned upon.
Quite quickly after you’ve been in Rome, you’ll notice that “breakfast” means a croissant and cappuccino. If that doesn’t exactly satisfy your American needs, there are two places that have iced coffee (iced coffee in Rome? Yes, it exists I promise!) and American breakfast options. The first is Meccanismo Bistrot where the iced coffee is big, amazing, and available to go (woah! Game changer I know) and the eggs, pancakes and fresh orange juice will satisfy your breakfast craving. Plus, the outdoor seating is great for people watching. The second American breakfast option is the Baylon Cafe. There are similar breakfast options at both places. The Baylon Cafe also has great dinner options that range from veggie burgers, margaritas and caesar salads.
WHAT TO EAT (outside Trastevere)
While Trastevere will forever have my heart, there are places outside of Trastevere that are equally as magical.
If you want the best spaghetti pomodoro (in my opinion) then you’ll have to go to Campo de’ Fiori (which has a great outdoor market on the weekends). My all time favorite was Ristorante Campo de’ Fiori. The spaghetti pomodoro has fresh cherry tomatoes which make for a perfect pasta dish. If you’re splurging on dinner, I recommend the cheese plate to start which pairs perfectly with a bottle of red wine (no house wine here unfortunately but hey you can’t win them all). Despite the cute orange drink in the picture, I personally do not recommend the spritz drink. Spritz is a popular drink throughout parts of Italy and is a combination of prosecco and a bitter liqueur. I think it’s too sour and artificial tasting but if you love it, I won’t yuck your yum.
Still craving gelato? No worries. It’s addicting. One of our favorite gelato places ended up being Gelateria Della Palma which has over 150 flavors (yes, it is insanely overwhelming). It feels quite touristy but it is honestly some of the best gelato we had while in Italy. Be ready for a major sugar overload but don’t worry because you can walk it off since it’s all the way by the Pantheon. My favorite flavors were cappuccino and cinnamon! 10/10 recommend.
If you have a big group and want something a little more low-key after wandering around the city all day then La Focaccia is the place for you. It’s right by Piazza Navona and sits right next to Santa Maria della Pace which is beautiful. Anywhere near Piazza Navona (the most famous, crowded piazza in Rome) is going to be more expensive and often a tourist trap. La Focaccia is great because compared to the other restaurants nearby it is cheaper, not touristy at all (real Romans actually eat there) and most true to an authentic Roman meal. From the outside, it looks a little sketchy but that’s just the nature of a small locally owned restaurant in the midst of the craziness that is Rome. Again, I don’t recommend the Spritz here but I do recommend the pear pizza and the black truffle rice balls.
WHAT TO DO
Now, while you could spend your entire time in Rome just eating, you might eventually get full and want to do something else (not sure why but I won’t judge).
Of course, you’ve probably already budgeted time for the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese gardens and the Pantheon, there are a few other attractions that you should make time for.
First, the Garden of Oranges. The Garden of Oranges on Aventine Hill is a bit of a hike if you are staying in the city center but the unique view of Rome makes it definitely worth it. Also, there is a door on top of the hill, known as Rome’s keyhole, where the keyhole perfectly frames the St. Peter’s Basilica. I recommend going at sunset and bringing some wine before going into the city center for dinner. Usually, there is live music at the main lookout point around sunset so you’ll get all types of romantic feels once you’re there.
Second, wine tasting. But can’t you only do wine tasting in Tuscany? Nope. While your options are limited, Rimessa Roscioli, is a great option. You can either do a casual wine tasting OR if you want the full experience you can do a full dinner paired with a wine tasting. We did the two-hour wine tasting and each wine was paired with a cheese or meat. The people that worked there were nothing but amazing! They taught us amateur wine tasters everything from how to go about tasting wine, the difference between prosecco and champagne to teaching us about where each wine came from. We also had the most magical fresh buffalo mozzarella of our lives, so you really can’t go wrong here.
Third, very touristy but an amazing view is the top of the Vittoriano monument at Piazza Venezia. It’s a little pricey but it is one of the best views of the city. Another amazing view is the top of the Castel Sant-angelo. Both are beautiful so it’s a win-win either way.
Fourth, if you want to get out of the city and see sports through the eyes of a true Roman sports fan then head on over to the Stadio Olimpico to catch a soccer or rugby game. The stadium was once used for 1990 world cup and is now home to both the Rome and Lazio soccer teams. Make sure to get their early to see the statues outside the stadium and stay until the end to fully experience the after-game songs. It’s easy to get to via different buses and the tickets range from 20-50 euros. Beware that the soccer games are a little rowdier than we are used to in the states, my Italian teacher said she doesn’t take her 12-year-old son because the games are too dangerous. My favorite part of going (I went to both a rugby and soccer game) was that we were the only foreigners there which is sometimes a rare experience in such a popular city for tourists.
Lastly, if are traveling in the warmer months and you want a quick adventure/day trip, I would definitely recommend taking the train to Castel Gandolfo. It’s a quick train ride from Rome and there you will find a very cute town with great food and a giant lake. We decided to rent paddle boards which ended up costing us 10 euros each and we had them for 4 hours. The family that we rented them from watched our stuff and we ventured out into the lake to explore. It is a pretty low-key spot saying that we were some of the only tourists there in the beginning of September. I highly recommend this day trip, it is the cutest little town and there is plenty to do at such a low cost. I mean our train tickets were 3 euro… roundtrip!
BEST ADVICE FOR ROME
If you are going to listen to ANY recommendation I have about Rome, listen to this. At first, you might be confused as to, “Where is the cute/aesthetically pleasing Rome everyone is talking about? All I see is graffiti and boring buildings.” My advice? If you are on a main street, go down an alleyway. The most magical parts of the city are never easy to spot so go down the streets less traveled. The best food, the best bars, and the best shops are never on busy streets, they are hidden away on the little streets that make up most of the city. The easiest way to see Rome is to put the maps away and just simply walk, I promise you’ll stumble upon only amazing things. Also, Google Maps or any map on a phone will not work well in Rome since the alleyways never show up correctly so study where you are going before you leave the house/hostel/hotel and don’t be afriad to ask for directions!
Other advice for thriving in Rome: always carry euros, don’t use a credit/debit card (most places won’t accept it) don’t tip your waiter/waitress, don’t eat at restaurants near monuments, only get a taxi at a taxi stand, only order a cappuccino before noon, don’t ask to take home leftovers, wear comfortable shoes (you will walk everywhere) and expect dinner to start around 8 pm and last at least two hours.
Like I said before, I am no expert on Rome. I did not have nearly enough time to fully embrace all the magic that is embodied in Rome HOWEVER I do hope these suggestions will make your visit a little tastier, a little easier and a little less overwhelming.
I hope you find the magic that is hidden all over Rome, because as someone once said, “For someone who has never seen Rome, it is hard to believe how beautiful life can be.”