I’ve written about Rome before, but that was a few years ago, and I’ve been back several times since. Each—for Rome is endless—brought about the discovery of something new. More churches than I can count, ancient neighbourhoods, ugliness, un-touristy bars, a disquieting rise in its neofascist numbers, Trastevere, local eateries, sudden vast midnight piazzas, old loves. This post is written in response to several requests for tips and recommendations—where to eat, what to see—and while there are many others who I’m certain could offer more extensive advice, I’m the only one with enough free time on my hands (freelancing, god bless) and a flair for procrastination (goodbye deadlines), to helpfully write this down. My Rome is not a posh Rome. My favourite pizza ‘place’ is a hole in the wall outside the Spanish Steps metro station. A slice topped with fresh tomatoes, mozarella, and basil for the princely sum of 1 euro. Basically, if you’re on a budget, read on.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Da Valentino (Via del Boschetto 37 – Quartiere Monti): Always busy but the staff are lovely and will find a place for you. Great for seasonal specials—artichokes and chicory in April, figs in September—and home-style pastas, but the star of the menu is their grilled scamorza. Don’t order anything too fancy—scamorza + apple + walnut, for example—and stick to basics for an insane burst of cheese-y flavours. And I mean that in a good way.
- Giggetto (Via del Portico D’Ottavia, 21): Nestled in the middle of the old Jewish Quarter, Giggetto is a local favourite. It’s more expensive than anything else on this list, but so worth it. They make the famous deep fried artichokes; it comes opened like a flower on a plate, and the best spaghetti all’Amatriciana In The World. The meat—pork jowls—is cooked to crunchiness, and drenched in a rich tomato based sauce. Swoon.
- Nonna Vincenza (Via dell’Arco del Monte, 98a): Near Ponte Sisto, from where you may cross to lovely Trastevere, this amazing place is dedicated to all things sweet and Sicilian. Which means luscious cannoli (fried pastry dough filled with ricotta), decent granita (with soft brioche) and cassata (compared to the stuff in Sicily, though, this one pales in comparison). Stick to the cannoli. It’s heavenly.
- Papageno Caffe (Viale Aventino 123): On your way back from the Protestant cemetery (free, and well worth a visit) where Keats, Shelley and Gramsci were buried (in that order), stop off at this delightful little bar. Good for long weekend evenings when the music and crowds spill out onto the sidewalk. Down the road there’s a bright, clean Greek eating join (whose name I’ve forgotten); perfect to mop up all that alcohol. Although they sell the fabulously named Mythos beer, so how can you not indulge?
- Piazza della Madonna dei Monti (or just Monti): For a beer and a chat around the fountain. It’s noisy and buzzing and has the feeling of a small neighbourhood. I love these piazzas.
- Le Mura (Via di Porta Labicana, 24): Set into a line of bars opposite the San Lorenzo wall (medieval and majestic after dark), Le Mura (creatively, The Wall), is small, hip, and off-beat stylish. Live music abounds, that’s true of many places in San Lorenzo—gritty, grimy, and multi-cultural—but Le Mura is especially chilled out. Try the Arehucas, a honey-rum liqueur. Yum.
Local snacks that are generally good anywhere include Olive all’Ascolana (olives stuffed with meat and deep fried), Fiore di Zucca (fried zucchini flowers wrapped in anchovies and mozzarella), Carciofi alla Romana (artichokes steamed and drenched in olive oil). Before a visit to Rome, though, check this site to see what’s in season. It’s tempting to try out only the classics, but be a responsible traveller and avoid out-of-season food. Also, food that is in season just tastes so much better.
What to see
- Galleria Borghese: If can’t afford to visit many museums (unlike the UK, they’re unfortunately not free in Italy), this would be my ‘if you only see one’ recommendation. It’s set just off Piazza del Popolo (Piazza of the people; such a lovely name, and truly a vast democratic space in the city; perfect at sundown), and holds within its walls a splendid Bernini collection. Daphne transforming into a tree, David crouching before attacking Goliath, Pluto abducting Persephone. He is the Cartier-Bresson of the classical sculpture world. Oh, and a host of Caravaggio paintings too. Seriously, skip the Vatican.
- Santa Maria del Popolo: As you might guess, this church is located at the northern edge of the same piazza. Lovely enough, but head straight to the Cerasi chapel to see Caravaggio’s crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul. The light on the canvases will make you weep.
- St Peter’s Basilica: For obvious reasons. The Pieta. The dome. The acoustics. The stone. It’s free (as are all places of worship), although worth paying a few euros to climb to the top of the dome. Head there in the evening, before five. It’s quieter. Avoid on Wednesdays when the pope pops out for a hello on the square.
- Fontana dell’Acqua Paola: Trastevere is a wonderful place to wander, albeit a little touristy now (think Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love), but walk up the hill to a quiet view point, topped by this amazing structure. Again, either visit Trevi and Navona very late at night or extremely early in the morning (else you won’t spot them for the teeming crowds), or languish here. It’s the fountain featured at the beginning of La Grande Bellezza. Golden at sundown, after which wander down forested paths to Trattoria ai Spaghettari. Slightly off the tourist Trastevere trail and filled with families. We ordered spaghetti all’Amatriciana, which wasn’t all that great to be honest, but perhaps we should have opted for something else on their vast menu.
- Other lovely neighbourhoods include the area around Campo de’ Fiori, in particular Via del Pelligrino, with its independent cafes, antique shops, and traveller’s bookshop.
I hope you find this small sampling useful, and have many ridiculously good meals and happy, tipsy times in the city. I’ll keep adding to this list; feel free to post your recommendations/tips below. As with all places, Rome is yours to discover.
Sketch from My Landscape Sketches