A view from the reconstructed arena floor.
The Colosseum.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Rome at many different stages in my life, first as an 18-year old fresh out of high school, then as a backpacker during college, on my honeymoon and, most recently, on a girls trip with four generations of my family. I can still vividly recall my first visit. After studying Greco-Roman history during my senior year, I was enthralled by the remains of ancient civilization that I was able to see. The city was a highlight of my trip to Europe and it remains one of my favorite European cities. Rome is often criticized for being dirty. I simply do not see this when I visit. I can only surmise that, when some people go to Italy, they’re imagining beaches and vineyards and noisy, bustling Rome isn’t quite what they expected. With ancient history around every corner, there is no end to what you can see and do in Rome. Neighborhoods like San Lorenzo and Pigneto are exploding with cool new bars and restaurants so there’s plenty of new to compliment the old.

Travelproper Tip: Restaurants in Rome prefer if you have dinner reservations. Since meals can last several hours, tables are often seated only once a night and empty tables don’t necessarily mean openings. However, this doesn’t mean you have to make reservations weeks in advance. We’ve gotten positive responses (and tables) by simply calling ahead or by stopping by a restaurant we want to try earlier in the day to see if they have availability that evening.

Restaurants

Angelina A Trevi

With its overflowing buffet of antipasti and other Italian specialties, this restaurant near the Trevi Fountain is ideal for lunch. During the week you’ll notice many well-heeled Romans discussing business over dishes of thinly sliced steak and arugula during their lunch break. While indoors, the light and airy restaurant with high ceilings and white brick walls is meant to evoke a garden. Potted plants dot the walls and seating is at simple garden style folding tables and chairs. If you just want coffee and a quick bite, the restaurant has a cafe next door.

Via Poli 27, Rome
06 67 97 274

 

‘Gusto

This eatery includes a pizzeria, a wine bar and a restaurant all located in a sleek loft-like setting. Gusto is massive but different areas are well placed and still manage to feel intimate. We sat in the wine bar and ordered salads and small plates, but the pizzas looked delicious.

Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9
06 32 26 273

 

L’Asino d’Oro

This restaurant, which evokes the traditions of central Italy, is a true gem. Located on a quaint street in Rome’s hip Monti neighborhood, it is unpretentious and delicious. Creative peasant dishes include tender wild boar in chocolate sauce and caramelized pork ribs. Portions were ample and prices very reasonable. We were so blown away by the affordability of the wine list, at first we thought prices were by the glass. We decided to splurge on a bottle of Brunello. At 25 euros, it was still a steal. To guarantee a good table, preferably outside on a warm night, make reservations.

Via del Boschetto 73
06 48 91 38 32

 

Moma

Metropolitan Moma is part café, part upscale restaurant. Downstairs you can grab stand-up espresso and delicious pastries at the sleek modern counter top. The upstairs dining room serves creative cuisine in an upscale setting. I like Moma for breakfast. The berry filled muffins and croissants are delicious, and there are tables outside if you don’t feel like sipping your espresso standing up.

Via San Basilio 42
06 420 11 798

The dining room at Pastificio San Lorenzo.
The dining room at Pastificio San Lorenzo.

 

Pastificio San Lorenzo

Sleek Pastificio San Lorenzo is a worthwhile destination in newly revitalized and still somewhat gritty San Lorenzo. Located in an old pasta factory, the restaurant has an industrial feel, complete with white subway tiles and low hanging lights. The wine list is superb and includes some great wines from the Lazio region. We loved the creative twist on Roman cuisine and the happening bar, which would have been a great place to grab dinner if you wanted to pop in without a reservation.

Via Triburtina, 196
06 97 27 35 19

The lunch rush at Pizzarium.
The lunch rush at Pizzarium.

Pizzarium

This tiny shop near the Vatican serves mouthwatering rectangular slabs with creative toppings. The restaurant promotes seasonal local ingredients and offers local beer and wine. Seating is extremely limited, basically a bench and counter outside, so expect to eat standing or sitting on the curb or get your order to go.

Via della Meloria 43
06 39 74 54 16

Urbana 47

This restaurant in the Monti neighborhood also emphasizes local ingredients and only sells food and wine from the Lazio region. The owner started a successful home delivery business selling newspapers and food, before opening the restaurant. The ingredients at Urbana 47 can all be purchased or delivered to your home and the producer of each ingredient is listed on the menu.

Via Urbana 47
06 47 88 40 06

Bakeries

Pasticceria Andrea De Bellis

This modern patisserie makes French inspired pastries like Paris brest, croissants, and profiteroles lacquered in chocolate.

Piaza del Paradiso 56/57
06 68 80 50 72

Il Gelato Di San Crispino makes a great stop after a visit to the Pantheon.
Il Gelato Di San Crispino makes a great stop after a visit to the Pantheon.

Gelato

Il Gelato Di San Crispino

There are no cones at this gelateria, known for incredibly fresh, seasonal flavors. Considered one of Rome’s best, Il Gelato Di San Crispino takes itself very seriously. The interior is meticulous and offerings are stored under stainless steel lids. Portions are not very big, but flavors like honey and melon are fresh and pure. The gelateria has several locations throughout Rome. The original is by the Trevi Fountain and there’s another near the Pantheon.

Via della Panetteria 42
06 679 39 24

Piazza della Maddalena 3
06 97 60 11 90

 

Giolitt's iconic sign.
Giolitt’s iconic sign.

Giolitti

Another contender for best gelato in Rome is Giolitti. The shop has been serving heaping portions of delicious gelato for decades and is famous for being Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s pick during the filming of Roman Holiday. Giolitti is definitely on the tourist track, but the gelato doesn’t disappoint and flavors like dark chocolate and hazelnut are rich and indulgent.

Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40
06 69 91 243

Bars

Co.So

Co.So stands for Cocktail Social.
Co.So stands for Cocktail Social.

This cocktail bar in Pigneto has lots of playful touches like coasters made of bubble wrap, bean bag chairs, and a secret room (ask to see the shower) and while it might all seem a bit kitsch the drinks are serious business. Try their delicious house mojito with a hint of licorice that comes overflowing with mint sprigs and a Carbonara Sour made of pork cheek infused vodka, lemon juice, egg whites and ground black pepper.

Via Braccio da Montone, 80
06 45 43 54 28

Salotto 42

This slinky lounge bar serves clever cocktails and looks out on to a pleasant square backed by 11 Corinthian columns. The bartenders know what they’re doing. Drinks like the Spicy Basil– vodka, strawberry, chili, and basil and a twist on a mojito that included rum, basil and muddled tomato were delicious.

Piazza di Pietra 42
06 67 85 804

The Stravinskji Bar

This open air bar in the five star Hotel de Russie is a splurge to be sure, drinks run about 20 euros a pop, but the courtyard setting backed by steps leading up to a leafy tree filled terrace is gorgeous and the bartenders are meticulous. Watching them make an old-fashioned is truly like watching someone put the finishing touches on a work of art. The Vina del Mar with pisco, lime juice, agave, egg white and Abbot’s bitters is the perfect choice is you want something that is refreshing, but not too sweet.

Via del Babuino 9
06 32 88 81

Activities

When in Rome, there are certain things one must do even though they are extremely touristy like see the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, and the Mouth of Truth. Although, for the latter, I say just walk by and take a peak through the iron gate rather than waiting in the long line just to get a hand in the mouth photo. The details of these sites are in every single travel guide. I won’t bore you with those, but here are a few lesser-known activities I recommend.

Borghese Gallery

This museum housed in a villa is well worth the hassle of a mandatory prebooking. Cardinal Scipione Borghese was one of the most ruthless art collectors of his day and the collection, which includes works by Caravaggio, Bernini and Raphael is among the best in Italy. Borghese built the villa to house his ever expanding art collection. Located in one of Italy’s most loved parks, it’s a beautiful setting. Make it a day trip and pick up fixings for a picnic lunch.

Piazzale del Museo Borghese
06 84 13 979

Circus Maximus

About a .5 mile walk from the Colosseum, what was once a chariot racing stadium during the time of Julius Caesar is now mostly just a long rectangular field. It’s still impressive to imagine the scale of the stadium that at its height could have accommodated 150,000 spectators.

Via del Circo Massimo

 

Casa Augustus.
Remnants of Casa di Augusto.

Palatine Hill

Considered the birthplace of Rome, the Palatine is home to some of Rome’s most storied ruins. Ancient Rome’s most wealthy residents called the hill home. Sandwiched between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, visitors can now visit the restored Casa di Augusto, home to Augustus before he became Emperor of Rome or stroll through the 16th century Orti Faranesi gardens. Archeologists also claim to have found a pillar belonging to Nero’s fabled rotating dining table beneath a terrace on the hill. Some findings are still under dispute, but there’s no doubt the Palatine is a breath of tranquility in the city. Tickets include admission to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Via di San Gregorio 30
06 39 96 77 00

 

Looking down from inside the cupola.
Looking down from inside the cupola.

The Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica

When you go to Saint Peter’s, I think it’s worth a few extra euros to climb up into the massive dome designed by Michelangelo. Not only will you get some exercise (it’s 551 steps unless you opt to take the elevator, which saves you about 300), you’re rewarded with a chance to see the inside of the cupola, a vertigo inducing look down into the nave and once you make it to the very top, a 360 degree view of the city as well as the Vatican Gardens and the Sistine Chapel. I don’t recommend this if you are afraid of heights or claustrophobic as the sloping stairs get extremely narrow at the top.

At the entrance to the Basilica, after the security check, look for signs that direct you to the right of the portico where you can buy your ticket and begin your ascent. It costs 7 euros if you take the elevator and 5 if you walk the whole way.

 

The Pantheon's spectacular dome.
The Pantheon’s spectacular dome.

The Pantheon

This temple turned church is  one of my favorite attractions in Rome and it’s free. Built by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD where Marcus Agrippa’s original temple stood, the domed temple never ceases to take my breadth away. A perfect semisphere, it’s considered the ancient Romans finest architectural feat. It also holds the remains of some very notable Italians including famous artist Raphael.

Piazza della Rotonda
06 683 00 230

The Underground Tour at the Colosseum

The Colosseum is truly an amazing ruin to behold because of how it’s been both preserved and reconstructed. There is plenty to see on your own, but I really recommend booking the Underground Tour. You’ll be taken to areas you can’t go otherwise like underneath the arena where you will get a sense for the unique and highly ingenious mechanisms and trap doors that were used to get animals and gladiators to appear on the arena level and for the narrow passageways and dangerous conditions slaves had to navigate to put on the complex shows. The tour ends with a visit to the third level where you get a great view of the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. You must call and prepay by credit card to book.

Piazza del Colosseo
06 399 67 700

The Trevi Fountain at 2:30 am.
The Trevi Fountain at 2:30 am.

Visit Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps Late at Night

During the day and even into the evening these two famous attractions are so swarmed with people, it’s almost impossible to soak it all in. The Eternal City’s candle burns bright well into the night, though, and I suggest visiting after midnight. Basking in the street light’s orange glow viewing the Trevi Fountain with just a handful of others is truly magical. Be forewarned the fountain is currently undergoing restoration work.

Visit the Trastevere

During the day, Rome’s left bank is swarming with people spilling out of cute cafes and languishing the day away in picturesque squares. At night, young Romans and expats take to the bars which rock well into the night. Some of my favorites bars include Freni e Frizioni, a cool lounge located in an old garage and Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa, a small beer bar offering one of the best beer selections in town.

Stay

Casa Howard

More of a guesthouse than a hotel, Casa Howard is a stylish home away from home. Split between two guesthouses, each room is uniquely decorated and ranges from the quirky Flower room to the more modern Zebra room. I like the Indian room complete with a rich yellow and red color theme and a beautiful tiled bathroom. Rates at Casa Howard are around 200 euros a night, reasonable for Rome, and the location by the Spanish Steps can’t be beat.

Capo le Case Guesthouse-Via Capo le Case 18

Via Sistina Guesthouse-Via Sistina 149
06 69 92 45 55

Hotel Palazzo Manfredi

This Relais and Chateaux property occupies a 16th century villa that stands on what used to be a training site for gladiators. Rooms offer crisp, contemporary decor and Bulgari bath products. There’s also a terrace top bar and restaurant with a spectacular view of the Colosseum.

Via Labicana 125
06 77 59 13 80

Relais Orso

Rooms at this hipster hangout feature distressed concrete, bare brick walls and stark white bedding. The 17th century townhouse also has fascinating history and is believed to be a holding facility for enemies of the Catholic church. Relais Orso enjoys an extremely central location near the Piazza Navona and important sites like the Vatican, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps are all within walking distance. There’s also a restaurant and a rooftop garden.

Via Dell’Orso 88
06 93 57 95 70

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