Rome deserves a lifetime. Not a year, a month, week or day. It is possible to discover something new in la Città Eterna every day. Rome is magical that way. It is frustrating. It is enlightening. It is overwhelming.
While I try to avoid the tourist spots mid-tourist season, there are certain things you just can’t adventure to Rome to and not see. If you are traveling to Rome between April-September, be prepared for sun, heat, tourists and lines. If you are a person who likes to avoid the tourist spots, enjoy the “dolce far niente” and wander through Rome’s maze of winding cobblestoned alleys, eating and drinking as you please. No matter what time of year you venture to Roma, be prepared for food, art, and history that will sweep you off your feet and make you continue to come back for more.
Caffè ed Espresso: No other way to begin the day. If you are staying near the Vatican, stop at Sciascia Caffè 1919 (Via Fabio Massimo, 80/A) for the life changing gran cappuccino cioccolato and a cornetto for breakfast. If you are staying in the city center, meander through the cobbled street to Tazza D’Oro (Via degli Orfani, 84) for a cappuccino with the perfect amount of foam, or an espresso that needs no sugar to cut the bite. Oh yeah, while you are sipping away, you can peak through the main door at the Pantheon.
Pro tip: Coffee etiquette in Italy is extremely important. Cappuccini are only enjoyed before noon, and after noon the norm is a caffè (shot of espresso) or a caffè macchiato. When entering a bar (bar = coffee, not a place for drinks and dancing) it is custom to pay for your beverage first at the cassa (cash register) and then take the receipt to the counter where the coffee is made. Do not be surprised if there are no tables and chairs, coffee in Italy is meant to be consumed at the counter.
Il Vaticano: If you only have one or two days in the city, skip visiting the Vatican museums & the Sistine Chapel, and start your morning by seeing the Basilica di San Pietro. San Pietro is an architectural work of art that towers above everything else in the city and entrance to the basilica itself is free. Before gazing at the famous Pietà and the thousands of colorful mosaic tiles that line the walls and ceilings, pay the €6 to climb to the top of the cupola (dome) for a 360˚ view of the entire city.
Pro tip: The longest lines are between 10AM-1PM, so it is recommended to get to the piazza by 9AM or earlier to wait in the security line. Avoid visiting the basilica on Sundays between 10-1 because of the Angelus (unless you want to be blessed by the pope!), and Wednesday mornings because of the Papal Audience. If you have time for the museums and Sistine Chapel, buy your tickets online ahead of time. Give yourself 3-4 hours to enjoy the whole experience. This is the official website: https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/
Pranzo: Mangia bene! For a quick bite of deliciousness, stop at Duecento Gradi (Piazza del Risorgimento, 3) for a panino that will blow your mind. If you like spice, add the 200˚ sauce to your panino. Available to-go or eat-in, all of their products are fresh and locally sourced. I personally recommend the Monti!
Il giro della città: Walk down the Via Conciliazione towards the famous Castel Sant’Angelo. Cross the Tiber River on the Ponte Sant’Angelo (Bridge of Angels) and meander your way along Via dei Coronari. Cool off with a cup of artiginal gelato at Gelateria del Teatro. Must have flavors: Chocolate and wine, pistachio, or rosemary-honey-lemon. Continue on, gelato in hand, towards Piazza Navona. Enjoy the art stands and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers masterpiece, and ignore the vendors waving selfie sticks in your face. If you didn’t start by the Pantheon, head over that way to enjoy it’s afternoon splendor. Cross over through Campo de’ Fiori and then cross the river again on the Ponte Sisto. Stop at Freni e Frizioni for a tasty aperitivo (happy hour) and sit on the stairs or the ledge surrounding the piazza to feel extra Roman. Wind through the small streets of the ancient Roman neighborhood of Trastevere afterwards and enjoy a late dinner.
For dinner: La Villetta dal 1940 – Via Piramide Cestia, 53
What to order: To start, the Antipasto Misto – a platter with amazing cured charcuterie and a selection of cheeses (including a ricotta I would bathe in) & the pasta alla carbonara (the best in the city!)
Pro tip: Most restaurants do not open until 7PM or later for dinner service, and Italians typically eat around 9PM. It is advised to always make a reservation!
Il Colosseo ed il Foro Romano: Start your second day with your coffee of choice and your best walking shoes on your feet. Have your pre-booked tickets ready and head on over to the Colosseum. Take a full lap around the Colosseum to appreciate its true magnitude and beauty. After you tour the Colosseum you can use the same ticket to enter the Roman Forum across the street. Traipse through the ancient city center of Rome and try to envision what the heart of the massive empire once looked like.
Pro tip: Bring water and wear closed toed shoes and give yourself about 3-4 hours to see the everything. When buying tickets get the earliest option available before the heat and the tourists flood in. The best spot for the perfect photo is directly above the Colosseo metro!
Il giro della città: After exiting the Forum, head down the Via dei Fori Imperiali towards Piazza Venezia. There, towering over the roundabout traffic madness, is the Altare della Patria, the Altar of the Fatherland, also known as the “Wedding Cake” for its white layered appearance. If you have time, it is absolutely worth paying the small fee to take the elevator to the rooftop for an incredible view over the city and the ancient Forum. Next, take the famous Via del Corso north until you see the signs pointing the way for the Fontana di Trevi. Watch your purse and pockets as you fight your way forward to throw your coins in the fountain. A short walk from the Trevi fountain you will find yourself in Piazza di Spagna, surrounded by the massive staircase that Audrey Hepburn famously ate her gelato on while Gregory Peck flirted with her. Sadly, it is now against the law to eat on the steps. Don’t try. You will get yelled at.
Pro tip: At the Trevi Fountain remember to have the coins in your right hand and throw them over your left shoulder with your back to the fountain to ensure you will someday return to Rome.
Pranzo: For a delicious, ridiculously cheap, on-the-go meal stop at the Pastificio Guerra on Via della Croce, 8 just outside of Piazza di Spagna. At 1:00pm the doors will open and a line will have formed outside the delicious pastificio. There are only two types of pasta offered per day, normally one white and one red sauce. This is one of the few places you can take your pasta to go! If you would like somewhere to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine, go to Cantina Belsiana, Via Belsiana, 15.
Dopo Pranzo: The rest of the day is yours to do with as you please! Stroll along the Via dei Condotti and look in the luxurious Italian designer stores. Walk up the Spanish Steps and then over to one of the few green spaces Rome has to offer, Villa Borghese. A perfect spot for a picnic and to look out over the sprawling city. Take some time to meander through the winding alleys. If rooftops are your thing, check out these places during the fabulous golden hour: Albergo Cesari, Hotel Colonna Palace, or Grand Hotel de la Minerve.
Pro tip: Drink the wine, eat the carbs, ride the vespa. Throw away the return ticket.
La Vecchia Locanda – Vicolo dei Sinibaldi, 2
What to order: To start, the polpo e patate (octopus and potatoes), for pasta the gnocchi alla sorentina (gnocchi with a red tomato sauce, basil and cheese) or the trofie con guanciale e tartufo (a short twisted pasta with bacon and black truffle). Your taste buds will explode! If you still want more, try one of their filets.
Da Francesco – Piazza del Fico, 29
What to order: The fettuccine alla gricia con tartufo (fettuccine with bacon, black pepper, pecorino cheese and truffles)