History and ancient architecture are quite obviously the biggest pulls to Rome. There’s an exceptional amount of Old Stuff here, and so much to see. Naturally extremely touristy and a relatively big city compared to other Italian counterparts given it’s the capital, Rome can feel a little overwhelming at times, but it is undoubtedly special and I personally cannot think of anywhere else that is like it. There’s a lot to pack in, so I would recommend a good three days in order to explore without rushing around from place to place, or leave some things for another visit. Queues are long and you’ll want to ensure you’re taking time to wind down with an Aperol or two without rushing off to the next tourist attraction. Whilst it’s unlikely you’ll eat badly in Rome, it is really worth hunting down places off the beaten track for specific recommendations, as that’s where you’ll find the really fantastic food. It’s easier to fall down a tourist trap in Rome compared to say Florence or Bologna, but hopefully this travel guide will be a start to point you in the right direction. Always try to look out for spots popular with the locals and you won’t go far wrong – do as the Romans do, after all!
Via della Paglia, 1, 00153 Roma
Tonnarello was a fantastic recommendation from a friend; proven instantly by the long and winding queue of Italian voices waiting outside the restaurant for a table at around 9pm. You know you’re onto a winner when the locals are queuing up. The line went quickly and to help pass the time the host was giving out tiny glasses of prosecco whilst you waited. Why doesn’t everywhere do this?! God, I love Italy. The food was superb, though I struggled to finish my carbonara due to plenty of grazing at aperitivo earlier, and the wine excellent and extremely well priced. But then, this is Italy, the cheap house wine is always superb. Highly recommend Tonnarello’s wonderful food, buzzy atmosphere and friendly staff.
Borghiciana Pastificio Artigianale
Borgo Pio, 186, 00193 Roma
More queues! In London my patience for no reservations and long queues barely exists but abroad I am far more likely to wait as I know I’m going to be getting something worth waiting for. I arrived at Borghiciana Pastificio Artigianale around 14.30 so I thought I may get lucky with a spot but with covers for around 12 people, I still had to wait around half an hour to be seated. Not a problem though! You can wander off and come back a bit later whilst still keeping your spot in the queue, or you can do as I did and hang around with a glass of wine whilst you wait. And it was worth it. The six euro plate of amazing beef ragu tagliatelle was my best meal in Rome, washed down with some excellent red wine at just 2.50 a glass. Don’t be put off by the fact that you’re given a plastic fork with which to eat – honestly who cares when the homemade pasta is this good? Give me a paper plate too next time, I don’t care. Excellent food and well worth hunting down.
Via Flavia, 98, 00187 Roma
I’m actually furious I didn’t make it to Pinsere for one of their individual grab and go pizzas as I have heard endlessly good things about them, and they’re cheap too! Pinsere was in an area of Rome I didn’t make it to on this trip but you know, they always say to leave something not done so you have an excuse to go back. The level of great things I’ve been told about Pinsere makes me confident in adding it in this travel guide though, so don’t make the mistake I did and hunt this one down.
Prosciutteria Cantina Dei Papi
Via della Scala, 71, 00153 Roma
Another place I missed that I must return for: Prosciutteria Cantina Dei Papi in Trastevere. Recommended by a friend who stumbled upon it and raved about their meat and cheese platters, which as we all know is all you really need from a meal. Unless you’re vegan, in which case, this is not the place for you. Sorry. I’ve heard someone describe this as a Pickles (Edinburgh) in Rome, which is reason enough for me to go – I am obsessed with that amazing little wine bar in Scotland.
PanDivino Street Food
Via del Paradiso, 39, 00186 Roma
This cash only spot was recommended by a friend and is rated highly on Trip Advisor, if you’re into that. Serves tapas style dishes and panini, very authentic and local. Owned by an Italian gentleman and his Spanish wife, food is cooked in front of you and it has a very cosy feel to it. The paella comes highly recommended.
Poldo e Gianna Osteria
7, Vicolo Rosini, 6, 00186 Roma
Highly recommended osteria serving traditional Italian food, with high accolades for their carbonara, Poldo e Gianna is tucked away down a side street – as all the best places are. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing excellent ingredients from local markets and shops.
Via del Monte della Farina, 28, 00186 Roma
Excellent pizzeria; best to make a booking for this one as gets very busy!
Trattoria da Lucia
Vicolo del Mattonato, 2, 00153 Roma
Trattoria da Lucia can be found in Trastevere, a bit off the beaten track. The place has been run by a family for generations, which for me is always a surefire hit in Italy. Cheap carafes of wine with indoor and outdoor tables.
Via di S. Francesco a Ripa, 154a, 00153 Roma
Fantastic wine bar with boards of charcuterie and cheese on offer. Also a good spot for craft beers! Super friendly and they clearly known their stuff, describing where all the meat and cheese I’d ordered was from. Great little spot.
Via dello Statuto, 60, 00185 Roma
There’s a Roman pastry called Maritozzo, a sweet bun filled or topped with an astonishing amount of cream, and Pasticceria Regoli on via dello Statuto is known to be the best place in Rome to get one, so head there first thing to not miss them. I can personally vouch for the Nutella pastries and espresso, too.
Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe
Piazza di S. Eustachio, 82, 00186 Roma
A Roman institution known for their coffee, this spot around the corner from the Pantheon is a must if you’re remotely into your espresso. Also serving great pastries, you can either stand at the bar like all good Romans whilst you drink your espresso, or pay a little extra to take a seat outside on the pavement. Be sure to grab a bag of their coffee in their iconic yellow packaging to take home with you. And if you’d like to bring extra back for me, please do go ahead.
La Gelateria Frigidarium
Via del Governo Vecchio, 112, 00186 Roma
I’ve been told this is one of the best places for gelato in Rome so I was of course devastated to find it was shut for a holiday during my trip. I have a bad track record with that in Italy. However I trust the friend who recommended this one implicitly, so it goes straight on the list.
Gelateria del Teatro
Via dei Coronari, 65/66, 00186 Roma
Another recommendation from a friend that turned out to be somewhere I had tried for gelato on my previous trip to Rome nearly six years ago and I’m happy to report that their pistachio gelato is just as good as it was then.
Family Cremeria Artigianale
Largo Guglielmo Bilancioni , 3/4, 00152 Roma
This gelateria is pretty out of the way, more of a neighbourhood place, but if you find yourself around these ends, I’m told the gelato is fantastic. It’s not showcased in big piles, rather covered in big silver pots, which I’m also told is the way to tell if it’s truly quality gelato, so that in itself is a good sign!
APERITIVO AND ROOFTOP BARS
Freni e Frizioni
Via del Politeama, 4, 00153 Roma
During my pre-trip research, Freni e Frizioni came up several times as a brilliant place for aperitivo in Trastevere. I did pop my head in but there was nowhere for me to perch as it was so popular, so I moved on – but a great sign that it was busy! There’s a terrace outside so this would be a particularly great spot during the summer months. There’s an aperitivo buffet and the cocktails are known to be good.
Hotel de Russie
Via del Babuino, 9, 00187 Roma
The courtyard of the stunning Hotel du Russie is the most beautiful spot for fancy aperitivo. I went here on my first trip to Rome about six years ago and whilst the drinks aren’t cheap, it was a great place to go for one as a treat. It’s truly gorgeous and feels very glamorous.
Via della Croce, 76b, 00186 Roma
Cited as one of the best wine bars in Rome, L’Enoteca Antica has a brilliant wine selection. A great place for people watching at the bar or outside. You are served hunks of Parmeggiano off of a giant wheel of the good stuff, along with meats and marinated artichokes and olives. Honestly I’m salivating just thinking about it.
Hotel Raphael Rooftop Bar
Largo Febo, 2, 00186 Roma
I went to Hotel Raphael’s rooftop bar after having had quite enough of sight seeing toward the end of a hectic weekend in Rome. Just around the corner from Piazza Navona, it was pretty dead but to be honest the weather was not great, though I imagine in the summer months it gets busy as the views are lovely. There’s also a restaurant at the top of the hotel which is noted to be very good, but take note – this place is not the cheapest.
Hotel Atlante Roof Garden & Bar
Via Crescenzio, 78, 00193 Roma
Open to non-guests all day and night from 10am for drinks, the roof terrace at the Hotel Atlante has panoramic views of the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica. A gorgeous spot for aperitivo, or for brunch in the summer months.
La Terrazza del Cesàri
Via di Pietra, 89/a, 00186 Roma
This rooftop spot at the top of a boutique hotel near the Pantheon is only open in the evenings, but is a perfect spot to go to for drinks before or after dinner.
Minerva Roof Garden at Grand Hotel De La Minerve
Piazza della Minerva, 69, 00186 Roma
Another roof terrace at the top of a beautiful hotel near the Pantheon, the Minerva specialises in martinis and is open all year round, opening up to be al fresco in the warmer months.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
In many cities Ubers are the easiest and cheapest form of taxis, but not in Rome. You are better off getting a local mini cab than an Uber – though remember to agree the price first so you don’t get stung with a tourist charge. As for getting a taxi from FCO airport into the city – don’t bother. It costs around €70 and takes just as long as getting the €14 train into Roma Termini. The trains in Italy are fantastic: clean, speedy and efficient. They’re easy to navigate so I wouldn’t bother paying the extra for a taxi from the airport if I were you. The metro system around Rome is also great, though I personally tend to go most places by foot during a city break. Journeys by metro and bus cost €1.50 each or €7 for the day – you can buy a ticket at any metro station (which you will need to do in advance of hopping on a bus!)
For just one person hotels can get a little pricey, so I tend to prefer finding a nice studio Air BnB for my solo trips if I can, and I found a lovely one in Rome to stay in. About five minutes walk from the Colosseum, my Air BnB cost me around £130 for 2 nights and had everything I needed. The host was very helpful and fixed a problem with the radiator almost immediately. Highly recommend this spot if you’re looking for somewhere modern, easy and with all the usual amenities you could want for a short city break.
THINGS TO DO
My favourite thing to see in Rome. It never fails to blow my mind that the Colosseum is still standing after 2000 years, and every time I walked past it on my recent trip back to my Air BnB I was all ‘sure sure, casual’. Breathtaking really, like walking over Waterloo Bridge and taking in the whole of London on either side of you, but really old and ancient and…not a bridge.
Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
Entry to the ancient Roman Forum and Palatine Hill is combined with the cost to explore the Colosseum. This space was where life in ancient Rome was situated; a wander around the ruins of the marketplace, religious and political centre will transport you back in time.
The Vatican, Sistine Chapel
I have divided The Vatican up here because it has divided my opinion. I’d always wanted to go to the Sistine Chapel. I’m not massively into art, though I can appreciate it and I loved seeing Michelangelo’s David when in Florence a few years back. So of course, I wanted to see his work on the Sistine Chapel – everyone harps on about it and surely that’s for a reason, right? It’s Michelangelo after all, and the Sistine Chapel is world famous. Well, to be honest, by the time I actually made it through the 684 other rooms and hundreds of people to get to the Sistine Chapel, I couldn’t have cared less about seeing it. I don’t know if I went at a bad time – it was a Saturday, though low season, and it was raining, but visiting was one of the most stressful tourist experiences I’ve ever had. I’d booked for a certain time slot, though these didn’t seem to be adhered to, with masses of people forming crowds throughout the museum. It was busy to the point that if anything had happened, I genuinely believe people would have been crushed. I’m not usually claustrophobic but I spent the better part of an hour trying to stave off a panic attack. So, honestly, unless you’re really fussed about seeing this part of the Vatican, I wouldn’t bother. For me it just was not worth it. Maybe going super early in the day or on a week day would help if you’re set on going, but go prepared for the masses.
The Vatican, St Peter’s Basilica
Now this part of the Vatican I’m a fan of! I am a sucker for climbing up to the top of a dome for a panoramic view of the city below, and the dome at the top of St Peter’s Basilica results in one of the most impressive views around. The church itself is the largest in the world and commonly regarded as the most important, not only for its role as the home of the Pope and Catholicism, but also the extent of the Renaissance art it holds. For me St Peter’s Basilica is absolutely worth a visit, and the inevitable queues.
Famous set of steps that join the Piazza de Spagna at the foot and Piazza Trinità dei Monti at the top, where the Trinità dei Monti church sits. In the summer dozens of people sit on the Spanish Steps in the sunshine, taking their time over a gelato.
Big fan of the Trevi Fountain, me. One of the most famous landmarks you expect to see whilst in Rome, it lives up to expectations with its beauty. A stunning piece of architecture, it’s probably much bigger than you’re expecting it to be, and wholly impressive. It’s unmissable in my eyes. Tradition cites you should throw some coins in the waters of the fountain to ensure you’ll return to Rome one day.
You’ll hear Trastevere get mentioned a lot as a cool area of Rome to hang in, and I’m here to bolster that view. Known as the cooler, bohemian area of the capital, Trastevere is popular with a younger crowd and full of great spots for aperitivo and to while away some time, as well as plenty of good spots to eat in my experience.
One of, if not the most famous piazza in Rome, Piazza Navona is a significant example of baroque Roman architecture, with three beautiful fountains including the Fountain of the Four Rivers, and an Egyptian obelisk in the centre of the square. The ancient Romans would go there to watch games, whilst a few hundred years ago the space was used for a market. Piazza Navona is now a public square with restaurants lining the sides, and is host to a Christmas market in the winter months.
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple dating back to 113AD and now serves as a church. It’s quite a feat of architecture given its age: the height of the dome and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres. The Pantheon stills holds the record for the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
The construction of Castel Sant’Angelo was completed in the year 139, intended as a mausoleum but swiftly becoming a fortress on the banks of the river Tiber. The castle holds beautiful Renaissance frescoes, rooms that have functioned as residence for the Pope and there is a large terrace which serves as a great spot to take in the view extending over Rome.
I very much wanted to visit Villa Borghese and see the gardens with views across Rome this time but to be frank, walking around a garden in the pissing rain with crap visibility is none of the fun. If you happen to visit Rome in good weather, this is a lovely way to spend a few hours – especially if you time your trip when wisteria is in season.
Wine Tasting in Frascati
A recommendation from a friend, this wine tasting experience about half an hour outside of Rome is a fantastic way to see the surrounding area and get your head around all those beautiful Italian wines. For €31 each you’ll try four different organic wines and have some charcuterie and cheese to go with it.
GOOD TO KNOW
The more I city break and in particular, opt for Air BnB, the more I realise how important it is to have somewhere to leave my bags after check out. There was a place just around the corner from my Air BnB which cost €5 for the day to leave my bag, but there are a few options around Rome with Stow Your Bags.
The ancient Romans built a network of thousands of drinking fountains across the city which are still fine to drink today. The water is clean, fresh and ice cold, coming directly from the mountains and piped via an aqueduct built by the Romans hundreds of years ago. A pretty impressive feat of engineering.
During my visit all of the museums in Rome were free on the Sunday as it was the first Sunday of the month, but from March 2019 the free days on offer will be determined by the individual museum instead. Worth looking into this during your planned visit to see if there are any of these free days falling in that period. I lucked out with a free visit to the Colosseum – goes without saying but on these days it’s probably best to get to the attraction earlier rather than later, as hopefully there will be less queuing time this way.
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