Rome: TravelEater’s Field Notes
UPDATED January 2012
My field notes on what to eat and do in Rome, organized by neighbourhood. (See end of page for general info and explanations of codes used here).
For more info on travelling in Italy, see my piece on non-tourist eating in Venice on Mallory on Travel’s site HERE, and my article in the summer 2011 issue of Taste & Travel International magazine (subscribe online HERE or on Zinio.com).
Spanish Steps and The Tridente
• As a tourist in Rome, you really must climb the Spanish Steps and check out the view from the top (preferably at sunset). Try to avoid stepping on the teenagers lounging. Church at the top has some nice art. Late in the evening (or, I’d imagine, in the winter), when there are no crowds, both the steps and the fountain at their base are quite lovely.
• Gusto. Piazza Augusto Imperatore (#s 7, 9, 16, 23, 28). A kitchen shop, cheese shop, wine bar, restaurant, pizzeria etc. All in the same building (keep walking around it). Hip and modern. Kitchen shop had some unique things at ok prices. We ate in the osteria (#16) which had good food at not bad prices, and a nice seat on the patio. Getting the bill took 4 requests of the spacey waiter and a very long wait though. Downstairs pizzaria has great pizza and well-priced lunchtime buffet (E8/person weekdays); upstairs resto more upscale.
• L’Enoteca Antica. We ate here 3 times I think. Good, fast, friendly, well priced, big enough that you’re unlikely to have to wait for a table. Technically a bar but you wouldn’t know it. Some tables outside in the alley at night (for the same price as inside).
• Hostaria Romana. 1 via del Boccacio at via Rosella and dei Giardini (100m E of Via del Trafere car tunnel, E of Spanish Steps). Excellent carbonara. Good prices for what you get. Locally recommended (see above guide rec). Very friendly customers!
• Le Baguette. Via Tomacelli 24-25. Organic bread, sandwiches, salads, soups. Good place if you need to rest your feet and eat something fresh and healthy. Prices ok. Tables downstairs too.
• Otello alla Concordia: Via della Croce 81. Outside or in. Some friends who travel to Rome often recommended it highly, however the night we were there was extremely crowded, slow, and the food reflected it. Try it on a slower night! Frommers recs: spaghetti alle vongole veraci (with clams), Roman-style saltimbocca (veal with ham), abbacchio arrosto (roast lamb), eggplant parmigiana. Mains 9€-22€ ($14-$35); fixed-price menu 25€ ($40).
• Gina. Via di San Sebastianello, 7. Fresh salads, sandwiches, etc. Cute and chic.
• Shaki food shop (Via Mario de Fiori 62) and wine bar (same street #29/1).
• Via della Croce: nice shops, incl. beautiful specialty shirt stores.
• Sermoneta Gloves. Piazza di Spagna 61. Famous old shop, gloves bought by celebrities and tourists alike. Huge range of colours (and smaller range of prices) of leather gloves for men and women. Buy 4 pairs and save the VAT. Also in Milan, Venice and NYC. I wear mine every day October-April. Stock up!
• La Rinascente department store. Largo Chigi 20. Lots of variety in clothes. Well-priced unique Christmas ornaments on top floor (October).
• Pineider. Via Due Macelli 68. Expensive, but gorgeous paper and leather. R’s second favourite cufflinks (gemelli) are from here. Take a business card to use as a beautiful bookmark.
• Vertecchi. Via della Croce 70. Big art supplies store which has great selection and even better prices on gorgeous Tuscan stationery and wrapping paper (neither of which I can resist). R had to drag me, and my large bag of purchases, out of the store.
• Frette. Piazza di Spagna 11 and other locations, Gorgeous linens, with prices to match. Check out the sale area.
• Since you’re in this neighbourhood solely to get gelato, you might as well have a look at the Trevi Fountain and throw 2 coins over your shoulder to ensure your return to Rome (but beware pickpockets). If you’re lucky enough to experience it without crowds, rejoice.
• Il Gelato di San Crispino. Via della Panetteria 42. Michelin-recommended ice cream shop. Closed Tuesdays. Expensive, but worth every euro. Owners are extremely particular – each flavour stored at different temp to a 10th of a degree, use only best and in season ingredients, zero additives (colour, stabilizer, perservative etc), refuse to serve in cones because it could mar the flavour …. (We’ve tried honey, barolo (red wine), zabaione (which uses such a high quality madeira wine they lose money on every scoop!), armagnac, whisky, ginger & cinnamon, pear, lime, grapefruit, meringue, caramel, hazelnut, vanilla, valhrona chocolate …. I need to try the wild strawberry, available only in June). Other locations supposedly, including airport.
• Antico Forno. Via delle Muratte 8. If you’re hungrier for more than ice cream (if that is possible), and are near the Trevi Fountain, this is your best choice. Grocery store, fresh pizza, sandwiches, fruit, salad, bakery. Even open Sundays.
• Da Michele. Via dell’Umitta 31. Your other Trevi choice. Pizza (even kosher) to go and other snacks.
Pantheon / Piazza Navona and North to River Tiber
• Pantheon. Beautiful! Amazing! Free!
• Bernini’s elephant statue. Behind the Pantheon. I need a good photo of this charming little statue.
• Piazza Navona. A pretty little rectangle with lovely fountains. Dripping with tourists, street performers, and restaurant touts believing you would actually pay their ridiculous prices. Do not eat here under any circumstance!
• Church of Saint Ignatius (Chiesa di Sant Ignazio), in Piazza Sant’Ignazio: spectacular ceiling that you have to see to believe.
• Caffe Sant Eustachio. Piazza Sant Eustachio. One of several places in Rome known for the “best” coffee. 5 people deep at the bar. Line up and pay first, get your chit, then go to the bar. Traditionally served sweet. You can ask for it without sugar but they’ll look at you funny. You can slip into the bathroom easily if needed (although it isn’t up to Western standards ….)
• *** Gelato di San Crispino. Supposedly here too, but we haven’t found it. Piazza della Maddalena 3.
• *** Della Palma. Gelato. Via della Maddalena, 20-23. Very near steps of Pantheon. 150 flavours, including Mars Bar mousse and kalamansi (citrus fruit from Philippines).
• *** Gino. Vicolo Rossini 4, in a tiny alley off Piazza del Parlamento. Cult trattoria, famous for carbonara and dessert. Frequented by the Italian equivalent of PCO and PMO. Reserve ahead (walk by a day or 2 before, also so you’re sure you can find it … we found it only on our last day…)
• *** Volpetti. 31-2 Via delle Scrofa. Buffalo mozzarella …. swoon now.
• El Sostegno. Via della Colonnelle 5, in a little alley. Great reviews.
• Teichner. Piazza san Lorenzo. Food shop.
• *** Ai Monasteri. Corso Rinascimento 72. Family-run drugstore since 1894. Traditional products made in monasteries – cosmetics, remedies, incredible candy, chocolate, jams. Online store (they deliver!) at http://www.emonasteri.it
• La Cravatta su Misura. Via Seminario 93. Ezio Pellicano’s or his daughter’s handmade ties, to order or already in the shop. Including 7 fold ties. Surprisingly good prices for unique Italian silk ties.
• 41 Via Campo Marzio. Cool pens.
• Il Papiro. Via del Pantheon 50. Tuscan stationery chain. Go to the art store near the Spanish Steps (above) for better prices on many of the same items.
• Maga Morgana. Via del Governo Vecchio. Original women’s clothing.
Campo de Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto
• Campo de Fiori is one of the nicest squares in Rome. Good market where locals shop in day time, and tourists and locals hang at night. History buffs: Caesar was stabbed near here.
• Il forno di Campo de’ Fiori. #22, in the corner. Bakery with amazing pizza, their pizza bianca is a Roman legend. If you’re still hungry afterward, get some bocconcini from the cheese shop opposite.
• *** Vineria Rosciolli. Via dei Giubbonari 21 (S&E of campo). Travel & Leisure magazine’s recommendation for best pasta alla carbonara in the world. Lucy Waverman says is best food enoteca in Rome (“intense caponata, finest salume plate, pasta with butter and anchovies, creamiest burrata w/olive oil”). Chef Nabil Hassan uses cultish ingredients. Food shop (meat, cheese) in front, resto in back. Epic wine list.
• Caffe Farnesse. Piazza Farnesse 106. Popular with locals, and not expensive. Free seating at the window bar. Pizza, sandwiches highly recommended.
• *** Al Galletto. Piazza Farnesse 102. Beautiful piazza. Locals love this resto – traditional Roman food. Very good prices too.
• Grapppolo d’Oro. Piazza della Cancelleria 80. Imaginative Roman food, traditional trattoria atmosphere, moderate prices.
• *** Dar Filletaro a Santa Barbara. Largo dei Librari, 88. Cult fry shop. Romans know their fritti.
• Sora Margherita. Piazza delle Cinque Scuole 30. A hole in the wall place in the ghetto which served a Conde Nast Traveler writer the best lamb shoulder he’s had in years. Pasta, gnoccho, artichokes. No sign outside, look for the doorway on the N side of the square.
• Dar Pallaro. Largo del Pallaro 15. Set 4-course daily menu for E21, including wine. No credit cards.
• *** Alberto Pica. Gelato. Via della Seggiola 12, S of the campo. Famous for spinach gelato, flavour base is rice.
• Ibiz. Chiavari 39. House designed and made leather goods.
Ancient Rome (SE of Capitoline Hill)
• So much history here it is overwhelming. Even I (who R says will visit any ruin on the planet) got tired of ruins. If you come on a Sunday there is no traffic on Via dei Fori Imperiali (well, there will be pedestrian traffic, but that is unavoidable in Rome).
• Palatine Hill. Where Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus. Look for the wolfy statue outside. Museums here too.
• Forum. Free. From the top of the Palatine Hill, you can walk above and beside the Forum – a good way to judge the crowds and the heat shimmering above all that marble, and decide if you feel like entering to look close up. You need a pretty good imagination and historical knowledge and/or a guide to really understand what you’re seeing.
• Colosseum. It is essential to at least walk by it while in Rome. Going inside is dependent on the crowds, how much time you have in Rome, and how much of your time you’d rather spend eating gelato. It is a marvel though – the building was designed to hold 60,000 seated and 10,000 standing, and for all 70,000 to be able to enter and be seated in minutes.
• Come to Ancient Rome fed and watered, because there is not much aside from carts selling Coke products. The surrounding neighbourhoods have options though.
• *** Ara Coeli. Gelato. Piazza Ara Coeli, 9-10, W of Capitoline Hill. NY Times: “Light enough to have for breakfast; simply, unexpectantly delicious”.
Santa Maria Maggiore Area and Monti
• Santa Maria Maggiore. One of Rome’s 5 great basilicas (and R’s favourite), and it is so much quieter than any other you can get a really good look at the Byzantine interior (binoculars helpful for the archway and comic strip ceiling mosaics). Ceiling gold was partial payment by Spain’s Queen Isabella for a loan to finance Columbus’s voyage to the New World – i.e. most of us North Americans wouldn’t exist were it not for that gold! Bernini’s tomb is here. and after 2 days in Rome you will worship him. Neat story of miracle snow determining where the building was first built (420 AD).
• *** The Domus Aurea. Check if is open again following restorations. This was Nero’s, infamous for his excesses, Golden House. Built around 64 AD, supposedly the dining room showered flower petals on guests, the baths had hot and cold running water, and the facade was coated in solid gold. Raphael and other Renaissance artists were inspired by the frescoes.
• Streets around Via Cavour (especially W), between Via dei Serpenti and Via del Boschetto, are nice to wander in.
• Trattoria Monti. Via di San Vito 13a. Our favourite place to eat in Rome. Family run (daughter comes “home” from school for lunch), relaxed (resto was closed at noon because everyone who worked there was eating lunch … they suggested we come back at 1:00 for our lunch…), frequented by regulars (everyone at the tables surrounding us), and very friendly (when R asked what our neighbours were drinking, the owner grabbed their bottle off their table and poured him a glass! (It was Sicilian muscato dessert wine – yum)). Specializes in Marche region cuisine. I doubled my lifetime truffle consumption in one dish here – heavenly linguine with butter and mountains of black truffle. R flipped over everything he ate, especially the grilled radicchio.
• Antico Caffe di Braselle. Via del Serpenti 23. 100 year old cafe for great coffee and snacks. Police officers eat here, so you know it is good (and well priced).
• You can get to the Vatican very easily by subway, with an 8 or so minute walk from the station. Lots of interesting places near by (N and E) to wander to after your tour, or walk down to Trastevere.
• Consult Vatican website for best days to visit because of events.
• Bring binoculars for the Sistine Chapel.
• The tombs underneath St Peter’s a worth a look. Don’t forget to buy a postcard and Vatican stamp as you head out past St Peter’s, and see if it beats your Italian postcard to its destination. And check out the Swiss Guard ….
• Vatican museum tours: My Vatican Tour http://www.myvaticantour.com/ Well-organized skip-the-line (and most of the crowds) tour with surprisingly well-informed guides. You will be fascinated by the art and the stories behind it. We did the early morning “semi-private” tour for E89 each (8 people total) and thought it was well worth the money (and we generally despise guided tours of all kinds). Also group and private tours. Need to book in advance online. We learned so much (and forgot half of it) that we’d do the tour again. Raphael Rooms are simply incredible (more stunning than the Sistine Chapel, imho).
• Good place to stay for a subsequent visit. Fun to get lost in, few tourists or tourist sites, better priced hotels and restos.
• Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere: mosaics
• Saint Cecilia: beautiful church with access to some of the best preserved ruins in Rome, and an adjoining convent that has a 13th-century fresco in the nun’s choir. Ring doorbell to the left of the church entrance and take a funky little elevator up to the loft to see the fresco. Often empty of other visitors. Sometimes can hear an organ thundering away in the church above.
• We found the flea market (Porta Portese) to be not worth going to. Too much junk and stolen goods, nothing unique. Seems to be aimed at new immigrants, not travellers.
• Bold, italic: we’ve been, and would go back regularly (but note time has passed since our last visit).
• Italic: we’ve been, and thought it good enough to remain on the list.
• Plain text: I heard about this place from any number of contexts (friend, guidebook, newspaper, etc … ), it sounded good enough to put on the list (interesting and/or good-priced-for-what-it-is, even for Canadians, regardless of exchange rate). No guarantees that it still exists though, my info may be out of date …..
• *** Planned for our next trip.
Please let me know of corrections and new finds!
• How to travel in Rome: Rome is best for wandering, getting lost and discovering what you discover. However, if you want to find anything specific, including your way back to your hotel, a top quality map (eg Rough Guides) is essential (the map you can buy on the street corner is crap and out of date). Mark on it some of the places you want to go – will make your day easier (and yes, I’m trying to figure out a way to turn my notes into Google Maps or something! A compass is also very helpful in the twisty turny streets. Pick a neighbourhood and something you’d like to see in it. While you’re walking around to find it, use this list to help pick a street to take, or to find something interesting near by. Neighbourhood borders are just an approximation….. trust your map. Essential in Rome – keep your eye out for the incredible Bernini sculpture pretty much everywhere (while one can grow bored of lesser sculptors, one never tires of Bernini!).
• Shopping: food, of course (pasta, sauces, dried mushrooms, spices (FYI it is illegal to bring truffles back to Canada (jarred sauces are ok)); leather purses and wallets (many house made and designed), ties, Italian stationery). Most clothing I found too expensive for what you got.
• Eating: We could find little difference between what is classified as a restaurant v. a bar, so ignore the definitions. In most cafes, you will pay less if you stand at the bar, more if you sit at a table (maybe 2x), and highest prices if you sit outside on the terrace. At the bar, and sometimes at a table, you pay first, then present your chit to the barperson and place your order. People are friendly and will tell you how it works in their place. There will often be a service charge (10-15%) or coperto/pane (E2/person) for bread, check when you are deciding whether to add a tip (waiters are paid well, so rounding to the nearest 5 or 10 is normal, not adding 15%). Wine is cheaper than pop and beer. Specify whether you want sparkling, flat (acqua minerale frizzanteor naturale) or tap water (there is a campaign on to reduce bottled water consumption, so you may not get the cheapo looks you would have in the past for ordering acqua semplice). Gelato: there are shops everywhere and surprising differences in quality. Go out of your way for the good stuff.
• Safety: Watch for pickpockets in crowded areas, especially in the summer. Romans are generally friendly and helpful when you need directions or advice.
• Arrivals & departures: You can fly direct to Rome from Toronto, but we prefer to avoid Toronto if possible (if there is any weather problem anywhere in Canada, you will be delayed; and there are always baggage issues if you change terminals (ask me about related Pursued by Police in Phnom Penh story!)). We flew Ottawa-Frankfurt-Rome (2x) and found it very easy. If you want to get your VAT back, keep in mind it will probably take you about 25-30 minutes at the airport (Rome if you have a direct flight to Canada, likely Frankfurt if you are transferring). Ask at the Frankfurt airport where to stand in the short line to get your refund. You MUST have the goods on you (not checked bag) – they ask to see them. They also charge an administration fee. Avoid the early morning (7am) flight out of Rome, because the transit system will not be operating yet to take you to the airport. You will need to get a car/taxi (approx $100 Cnd, book through your hotel, fast and nice) or take the night bus (which we didn’t do, but looked very lengthy). I hear regular daytime bus is easy though. If you do take an early flight, not much will be open in the airport when you arrive – including food and the VAT office. Bring a snack. If arriving my train, Termini station is easy to negotiate but be very wary of pickpockets.
• Timing: June: wild strawberry ice cream; Sept/Oct: grape harvest, start of truffle season. July & August: sweaty and crowded.
Accommodations (and 2 Guides)
• Apartments are a good option, especially if you want to stay in the centro storico area where there are few hotels: http://www.romanreference.com/ (We tried to rent apt 340 in 2009, but it wasn’t available for our dates).
• Hotel Doge. Excellent location a block E of the Spanish Steps, but a little shabby and loud. Some rooms are hotel, some are apartments with locals loudly living their lives. We stayed here October 2009. € 160/night incl ok breakfast in room. http://www.hoteldogeroma.it
• Daphne Inn. 2 locatons 3 min apart; Daphne Trevi and Daphne Veneto. 150 night low season, 450 high. Veneto slightly higher. They also design custom walking itineraries: an Ottawa Citizen writer said the walking tour with Steve was the best $80 he spent on his trip.
• Another guide: While at a wonderful restaurant, a guy at a neighbouring table chatted with us as he waited for his guests. He told us the resto we were at (Hostaria Romana, see below in Spanish Steps area) was the best in Rome in terms of value. He also said he gives guided tours and gave us his card. Name: Eros Francesco Giansanti. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Address: Via Rasella, 13 – 00187 Roma. Cell: 0039 335 5275267. Home/fax: 0039 06 4883686.
• Hotel Lancelot. Via Capo d’Africa 47, E of the Colosseum (probably too far outside of centro storico for your first visit, unless you plan to spend your whole visit in Ancient Rome, but excellent for future visits). My uncle recommends it. E 86 bed and breakfast or E 222 half-board. http://www.lancelothotel.com
• Le Finestre sul Vaticano. City centre near vatican. Large clean rooms, comfortable beds, great breakfast, helpful owners (NY Times rec).
• Aventine hotels (there are 4). Central but secluded neighbourhood, great breakfast, good prices (low season 100 euro).
• A few accom recs by a friend of a friend who lives in Rome:
⁃ B&B run by some very nice nuns. “Don’ t freak out, it is not weird, you can come and go as you wish, etc etc.” Aventino neighbourhod, good bus to centro storico right across the street. Not the Villa Rosa that comes up in Google search. Several restaurants in the neighbourhood. After the lobby, you walk up 5 or 6 steps to the elevator. Contact: email@example.com
⁃ Hotel Santa Prisca. Aventino neighbourhood (around corner from above B&B). Phone 39 06 5750469 or 39 06 5750009.
⁃ Due Torre. Small, charming place in the centro storico.
⁃ Hotel Forum. Up-market in centro storico.
⁃ Raphael near the Piazza Navona. Very upmarket.
Day Trips from Rome
Calcata medieval hill town and cool artist village
Ostia antica, ancient port
Please = per piacere (PAIR PIACHERAY)
Thank you = Grazie (there are local variations on pronounciation … grazie, grazia …)
Good day = Buon giorno (BWON JORNO) – good day
Good night = Buona notte (BWONA NOTTE) – good night
Good afternoon, good evening = Buona serra (benna serra) (extremely useful phrase!)
How much = quanto è? (KWANTO AY?)
How much is this = quanto è questa (…KWESTA)
How much is that = quanto è quella (…KWELLA)
Delicious = è dilizioso (AY DEELITZ-EEYOSO)
What kind of meat is that? = que tipo di carne è questa? (KAY TEEPO DI CARNAY AY KWESTA?)
Is there pork in this? = c’è maiale in questa? (CHAY MY-ARLAY IN KWESTA?)
Can you recommend a restaurant that you really like? = puo suggere un buon ristorante che verramente piace a Lei? (POWO SUGGAIRIRE UN BWON RISTORANTAY KAY PIACHE A LAY?)
Can I take your photo? = scusa – mio marito è fotogrofo – pou prendere uno foto di Lei? (SCOOZA – MEEYO MAREETO AY FOTOGROPHO – POOWO PRENDERAY OONO FOTO DEE LAY?)