How to Do Rome the Non-Touristy Way
Everything to eat and see in the Eternal City.
Published Apr 7, 2018 5:05 AM
Paris has enjoyed notoriety as the quintessential European destination for chic travelers for quite some time—and while we don’t see our obsession with all things French evaporating any time soon, there’s another equally famous city that for whatever reason, seems to fly under the radar in comparison. We’re talking about Rome.
Actually, we can guess the reason: Anyone who has ever elbowed their way through crowds at the Trevi Fountain or stood in line for hours at the Colosseum was probably suitably turned off from the experience and warned all their friends to avoid the Italian capital in favor of quieter locales like Florence or Venice. But Rome is so much more than the tourist traps, and between the historic streets, the incomparable food, and the charm of each little shop, it might very well turn into your favorite European city if done right.
Planning a trip to Rome? Ditch the tour book and add these spots to your hit list. From local eateries to tiny towns perfect for a quick day trip, here’s what you need to know.
WHERE TO EAT
Smoothie enthusiasts and Gwyneth Paltrow disciples, be warned.
Via del Portico D’Ottavia 21/a Nestled in the Jewish Ghetto, this osteria has been around since 1923 and is a great spot to get a late dinner, Roman tavern-style. Be sure to order the fried artichokes as an appetizer (“carciofi”); you might not think you like the vegetable, but that’s because you haven’t tried these.
Via Marmorata 39 I’m still dreaming of the carbonara at this cozy little family-run restaurant. Trattoria Perilli is definitely more of a bustling environment—think: crowded tables full of multigenerational Italians animatedly gesturing over plates of meat—and the servers are all incredibly friendly. Just be sure to call ahead or try and get there early to pray to the Roman gods you get a seat.
Via di S. Maria de’ Calderari 38 Pretty much every dish on the menu is noteworthy at this classic Roman eatery, so come hungry. Start with the fried zucchini flowers, move on to any (or all) of the simple yet delicious primi dishes like amatriciana or cacio e pepe, and finish off with the saltimbocca and potentially a call to a medic to treat the food coma you’re sure to go into. Al Pompiere is closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly.
Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40 It’s hands down the most famous gelateria in Rome, but this is one tourist attraction actually worth going to. Conveniently located near the Pantheon, Giolitti is always busy—try to go late at night to avoid lines. Pro tip: Get the dark chocolate and raspberry. And of course, sample as many of the flavors as you can.
Via Sardegna 38/g Looking for a slightly fancier dinner? San Marco on Via Sardegna is a nicer, more upscale environment serving unpretentious and delicious food. It’s technically a pizzeria (and the pizza is not to be missed!) but the lasagne is also definitely noteworthy. Choosing between the two is basically Sophie’s choice, so we say get both and postpone rueing the carb intake until the plane ride back.
Piazza de’ Ricci 144 For a break from all the pasta and pizza, head to Pierluigi to sample some tasty seafood dishes. There’s an American-style cocktail bar for pre-dinner drinks, as well as a fairly extensive wine cellar you can dine in for a more intimate dining experience.
WHERE TO GET AN APERITIVO
A culturally sanctioned reason to drink more wine.
Piazza di S. Lorenzo in Lucina 29 This local (and tourist) favorite is also a cafe during the day—but if you want to grab evening drinks, it’s worth a visit. Go full summer cliché with a negroni on the terrace, which, incidentally, is a great place to people watch.
Enoteca Il Goccetto
Via dei Banchi Vecchi 14 Feeling something a little quieter? Head to this cozy wine bar. It’s tiny, but with over 800 wines to choose from at a variety of prices, it’s definitely a must for anyone remotely interested in Italian wine. Split a bottle and order from their menu of small plates for a light dinner.
Lungotevere Arnaldo da Brescia Not exactly what comes to mind when picturing a quintessential Roman bar, but Baja’s location can’t be beat. Situated directly on the river, it’s particularly great for an aperitivo in the warmer weather. The mellow environment—popular with the younger crowd, too—and waterfront views make for a unique way to experience Rome.
Via Luigi Settembrini 21 The coolest thing about Settembrini? The fact that it’s also a library. Worth going to for the space alone, this restaurant is also ideal for grabbing a glass of wine outside during the summer. And if you get hungry and want to extend your stay—the fully-functioning restaurant has tons of fresh food options to choose from.
Vicolo Cellini 30 Okay so technically, this isn’t the best spot if you’re after an aperitif as it doesn’t open till 10 pm… but we couldn’t not mention one of the most talked-about bars in Rome. If you can stand the slightly pretentious concept of needing a reservation, a password, and a “membership” (essentially a 5€ cover fee) to get in, this super cool speakeasy merits a visit based solely on novelty. It’s far from a traditional Roman bar, but the cool atmosphere, friendly bartenders, and tongue-in-cheek rules—which include “don’t ask for vodka, we don’t serve it”—all make for quite the memorable evening.
WHERE TO STAY
Accomodations so stylish you may be tempted to stay in (but don’t).
Hotel de Russie
Via del Babuino 9 If you’re okay with splurging a bit on your Roman holiday, check out Hotel de Russie. Sandwiched between Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps, this historical hotel dates back to the 19th century and is incredibly beautiful. The star of the show is easily the hotel’s sprawling outdoor space, which includes a courtyard with plenty of seating that leads up to a “secret garden” complete with palm trees.
Piazza di Pasquino 69 This 10-suite boutique hotel is somewhere between rustic charm and opulent luxury, and we’re here for it. Every corner is Instagram-worthy, and the attention to detail is sure to draw a design-focused crowd. It’s also a block away from Piazza Navona; the central location near a bunch of smaller bars and cafes is ideal for anyone looking for accommodations in the heart of the city.
Via in Arcione 94 If you don’t need the full hotel experience, book a stay in one of Casacau’s boutique apartments. This method is particularly great for anyone traveling to Rome for an extended period of time—definitely more upscale and reliable than Airbnb with a little more freedom than a hotel, Casacau’s apartments serve a variety of travelers’ needs. From a smaller studio to a spacious apartment suitable for a family, this option makes you feel like a true local.
WHAT TO DO
How to burn off all that pasta and gelato.
Check Out the Parks
If you’re visiting during the warmer months, you need to be sure to allot time for some of the city’s gorgeous sprawling parks. Two favorites are Villa Borghese and Villa Ada; rent bikes, take a leisurely stroll, or stop by a farmer’s market to pick up fresh treats for a picnic. Villa Borghese also is home to the Borghese Gallery, a lake, and even a zoo.
Indulge in Some Tourism
You’re in Rome, not some tiny town in South Dakota (no offense to South Dakota, which is actually a great place to visit). There is quite a bit to see here, and you could easily spend a week doing strictly touristy activities, but choose them carefully and space them out accordingly. The Pantheon and Roman Forum are definitely worth a quick visit each. Unless you’re really dedicated to Roman history, skip the Colosseum; the best view of it is from the surrounding streets, anyway, plus there’s no line there!
Take a Walk
Not to get all “not all those who wander are not lost,” but the best way to truly see Rome like a local is to ditch the map and spend a few hours in the early morning walking around the streets. There’s so much color and history in the doorways alone, you’ll get a much better feel for the spirit of the city doing this than you would standing in line for St. Peter’s Basilica. The top of the Spanish Steps has incredible panoramic city views, and the Trastevere and Monti neighborhoods are particularly great for people-watching. Bring your camera.
If only for the reason that Italian designers are, shockingly, far cheaper in Italy than they are in America. Start with Via Condotti, which may be crowded, but is great for a mix of upscale shops and little boutiques (find them on the side streets) alike. Via del Boschetto in Monti is less touristy and a must-see for any avid shoppers in search of smaller stores, and thrifters are sure to love the Ponte Milvio street market on the river for antiques.
WHERE TO GO FOR A QUICK CITY ESCAPE
Get a taste of small town Italy during your city vacation.
About a 45 minute drive from Rome, the little town of Nemi is one of the Castelli Romani, a collection of 13 small towns located in the hills outside of the city. Nemi sits above a volcanic crater lake, and is every bit the quintessential Italian village you’d expect. It’s known for its annual Strawberry Festival, the “Sagra delle Fragole” which takes place each year in the early summer. Head there for a day sampling sweet treats like strawberry tarts and jams and wandering the quiet streets for a welcome respite from the business of Rome.
Need something even quieter? Head to Castel Gandolfo. It’s also about 40 minutes from the city, and has some of the most picturesque little streets. Situated above a separate lake—Lake Albano, where you can rent a paddleboat for about 10€—this sleepy town has plenty of artisanal shops perfect for souvenir hunting. It also happens to be where the Pope has a summer residence; a pretty good endorsement, if you ask us.
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