No flowery sentences needed. This is Italy in all it’s messy, crumbling, gelato-eating, pasta-twirling glory. You want to know Italian culture? There are a lot of places to visit. But Rome must be atop the list.
€1 = $1.09
Editor’s Tip: The one Italian phrase you need to know is a simple one, “Io non parlo (bene l’Italiano) ma chi provo.” It means “I don’t speak (good Italian) but I try.” Even the truncated “Io non parlo, ma chi provo” will make a huge impact on the denizens of Rome. It’s the fact that you’re trying that’s so important and opens the door for locals to say “You’re doing great!… But let’s speak in English.” — ed
WHERE TO SLEEP
Stay in Trastevere. It’s the slightly bohemian neighborhood just over the Tiber River from all the main attractions of the ancient city. You can access everything easily with a five to ten minute tram ride or you can walk pretty much anywhere of interest within 30 minutes. Still, you don’t really have to leave Trastevere if you don’t want to. There are great street markets with all the food you’ll need. The avenues are lined with cafes, bars, restaurants, barbers, bakers, and tailors — offering that old-world feel that western visitors crave. And it’s cheap. A lunch with a bottle of wine will set you back around €20 in a restaurant, or about €5 in cafe for a sandwich and drink.
AirBnB options abound in Trastevere. It’s really your cheapest option in the area for quality and comfort. Plus you’ll be able to self-cater if money is tight. You can get an old school private room in a flat for around €40, or you can get a whole apartment for about €10 more. If you’re not down with AirBnB, expect to pay upwards of €80 a night for a hotel.
WHERE TO EAT
Editor’s Tip: One of the best meals you can ever have in Rome is salami, cheese, olives, olive oil, balsamic, pickled peppers, tomatoes, basil, and bread. The key here is to assemble the meal slowly, throughout the day. Get your cured meat in one shop and your cheese in another. Find the bread just as it’s coming out of the oven and grab tomatoes from a street vendor. This will give a spine to your explorations and allow you to wander with a purpose and a plan. Obviously you need a bottle of vino, too. — ed
Breakfast — Any cafe on the street. Seriously. Just look for a coffee shop. The classic Roman breakfast is a cup of coffee (usually a cappuccino) and a sweet pastry. This can be a jam-filled croissant or a creme-filled doughnut. It’s the perfect fuel for a day exploring Rome. Don’t be afraid if you don’t speak perfect Italian — espresso, cappuccino, and latte are all Italian words anyway. And you can always point at the doughnut or croissant you want.
One of our favorite breakfast spots in Trastevere is Giselda. The pastries are on point and a coffee will set you back about €1. You wouldn’t go amiss grabbing a sandwich for a picnic in a park later in the day, either. Remember to pay first at the cash register station and then take your receipt to the counter to order your coffee and food.
Lunch — It’s not the worst idea to have a big lunch and light dinner in Rome. Restaurants are generally open for a lunch rush between noon and two or three pm and then close down for a few hours. Most restaurants will reopen around 7:30. So plan for an afternoon of lounging around and resting, or sightseeing.
With that in mind, Ristorante Roma Sparita on Piazza di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is a must. Grab a bottle of the vino della casa and order their Cacio e Pepe. That’s a spaghetti tossed with cheeses and black pepper, and at Roma Sparita its served in its own cheese bowl that you can then eat. You’ll definitely need a nap on the Spanish Steps.
Dinner — If you have a big appetite, then there are almost endless options for eating dinner. One option we love is the happy hour culture of Rome. Often when you order a drink in the evening you’ll be offered plates of “snacks” — mini sandwiches, slices of pizza, bread sticks and hummus, and olives. You can get a meal with a cocktail for around €10.
It’s probably best to err on the side of a lighter dinner, especially if you’re planning on kicking back a few beers later. A fast, cheap, and delicious option is to get a slice of Pizza al Taglio. These are huge rectangular sheets of pizza in pizza joints peppered throughout the city. If you’re over in the touristy bit of town, then Bonci Pizzarium is your best option. If you’re slumming it around Trastevere, Pizzarius — just off Piazza di Sant’Apollonia — will do the trick (their sausage, potato, artichoke, and fontina slice is wonderful).
If you can stomach a full dinner after a day of wandering, head over the river and hit Matricianella. It’s a fantastic Roman kitchen with great service, lively crowds, and iconic food. Try the truffle and artichoke pasta and some cheese stuffed zucchini flowers for a real taste of Roman cuisine. It’s worth waiting for a table.
One Can’t Miss Spot — La Prosciutteria in Trastevere is a hole-in-the-wall meat, cheese, and wine joint and it’s the jam. Order a board and savor the cured, smokey, and cheesy wonders made in country. This is everything a great charcuterie spot should be. It’s about €20 for a board for two and €8-€15 for a decent bottle of wine.
Dessert — You kinda have to hit Gelateria Giolitti at least once. It’s the ice cream spot made popular by Roman Holiday. You’ll find an equal measure of tourists and locals jostling for a massive array of ice cream flavors. Pay at the cash register for however many scoops you want, then stand in line for one of the best selections of ice cream in the world. Try the Champagne and raspberry sorbets paired together, it’s a delightful combo.
WHERE TO DRINK
Beer — Rome has a fantastic craft beer scene. Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà is probably one of the best beer bars in Europe. That’s not hyperbole. They spend the year sourcing the best kegs, bottles, and casks from all over Europe and bring them to their hole-in-the-wall pub. You’ll never really know what’s on tap until you walk in the place. There’s a little room with tables out the back, a small bar with stools in front of the taps, and plenty of room to stand outside and drink the night away.
Sunset Drink — There are few cities better to sit on a rooftop and watch the sunset. The end-of-the-day light bathes all the domes, towers, piazzas, and terracotta roofs in warm light.
Hotel Raphael is a great (albeit quiet) option to kick back with a nice Negroni and watch the sun dip below the horizon.
Cheap Drinks — You won’t really break the bank drinking in Rome if you stay away from the tourist bars and big restaurants. Go to corner convenience shops and grab a beer from the cooler for one or two euros a bottle (yes, you can drink on the streets). Likewise hit cafes with bottles behind the bar. You’ll be able to score a decent Negroni or Gin and Tonic for around €4 or €5 a pop. If the cafe has bottles on the walls, they’ll have cheap drinks.
Party — If you want something with a little higher energy where you’re likely to see a band and jump around a little, then hit up Fanfulla in Pignetto. Black Market Art Gallery is another good bar/music venue to wile away the evening listening to locals strum. The third option would be to bar hop through Trastevere. There are plenty of bars on almost every street. Find one that suits you and pop in. If it’s not your thing, hit the next one a few steps down.
In the Club — Late night hangouts like Anima are a good option to meet locals. The tiny two-story bar turns into a dance party most nights, the booze is cheap, and music pulsates.
TOURIST FOR A DAY
It’d be a waste to go all the way to Rome and not see some of the sights. But let’s not fool ourselves. The lines to get into the Colosseum and the Vatican during the summer season are f*cking insane.
You have two options to avoid these lines: 1) Go in the low season when the lines will be markedly shorter (but still there), or 2) pay for a tour. Tour guides like City Wonders offer “cut the line” access to all the places you don’t want to spend two or three hours just waiting to get in, much less walk around. You’ll pay anywhere from €30-€100 for a skip the line tour depending on the depth. Another advantage is that you’ll get a ridiculously qualified guide (in the Colosseum you might get a professor of ancient history, seriously). Also everyone gets headsets so you can always hear your guide — which is nice for those of us who don’t like cramming into a group to listen.
For the rest of Rome’s historical wonders, just follow the crowds and street signs to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, or any other tourist attractions.
MOVIES TO WATCH BEFORE YOU GO
Rome is a cornerstone of cinema. Some of the greatest directors of all time came from the streets and suburbs of the city — Pasolini, Leone, Argento, Fellini, and Rossellini just scratch the surface. Here are a few “must see” films to watch before you hit the streets.
Roman Holiday – William Wyler
You could find worse tour guides than Hepburn and Peck. Watch for the gelato, if nothing else.
Rome, Open City – Roberto Rossellini
The film takes place during the waning days of the Nazi occupation in 1944. The wonder of the film is that it was made in 1945, just as the war was ending, and offers a firsthand glimpse into what living under Nazi occupation was truly like.
Mamma Roma – Pier Paolo Pasolini
A generation after the war, Pasolini takes a deeply realistic look at life for the working class in Rome’s suburbs as a mother tries to put her prostitute past behind her.
La Dolce Vita – Frederico Fellini
Across town from Mamma Roma, the bourgeoisie of Rome were busy over-dosing, chasing heiresses, and lamenting the ennui and nihilism of city life in this moment of cinematic brilliance from Fellini.
Gladiator – Ridley Scott
This film still holds up for the most part. It’s also the best modern glimpse into ancient Rome we have on film. So it’s worth a re-watch before hitting the Colosseum at the very least.
MUSIC TO LISTEN TO BEFORE YOU GO
With a city as old as Rome picking tracks to listen to is a neigh on impossible task. This playlist touches on music made about Rome and music made by Rome’s citizens — like Ennio Morricone. Enjoy!
MORE ROME PHOTOS
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