“Roma. Andiamo, andiamo, andiamo. Roma!” Watch Talented Mr. Ripley or every other Audrey Hepburn movie and we probably don’t need to explain why to visit Rome.
So instead we’ll tell you why we heart it. Rome has a population similar to Paris, but where Paris is hearts-in-eyes romantic, Rome is bolder-than-bold. And Rome’s ancient history and massive ruins influence everything to be brazen from the food to the people.
Walk around and there’s the scent of espressos spilling out of cafes; the sound of traffic weaving about, and life down every last alleyway. There’s also pretty much everything we love—street food, high-end food, history, culture, shopping, cocktails, coffee—and lots of it.
Why The Historic Center?
When it comes to the oldest of the old “historic city centers,” Rome wins—it’s been since 735 BC after all. And, yes, we are unapologetic about our inner history dork. But that’s not the reason we’re talking about Rome’s historic city center (aka Centro Storico or the area from Villa Borghese to the Colosseum from the river to the train station).
This part of the city has so much going on that you could explore for days and never leave. There are landmarks like the Trevi Fountain, ruins like the Colosseum, to window shopping Via Del Corso. It’s very doable on foot but there’s also plenty of public transport and taxis if that’s more your speed.
Here are a few highlights:
Before You Go
Luxe: J.K. Place Roma
Seriously, J.K. Place is one of our favorite Italian boutique hotel chains. Sure, the properties can be a little over-the-top in terms of design and decor but, hey, it’s Italy so that’s kinda standard.
Via di Monte D’Oro, 30 (Spagna)
Chic: G. Rough Suites
There are a lot of really apartment rentals available in Rome, but sometimes we want the best of both, as in a place with service that’s not a hotel. That’s why an all-suite building like G. Rough is our pick.
Piazza di Pasquino, 69 (Navona)
Budget: Relais Monti
We’re crushing on the Monti neighborhood—it’s close to all the major sites but not too touristy—that we’d live there if we ever moved to Rome. Until that dream comes true, setting up at the no-frills, super affordable Relais Monti is the next best thing.
Via Urbana, 20 (Monti)
What To Cook
- Cacio e Pepe pasta – Yes, it’s just pepper and cheese, but it’s a study in simplicity and one of the most classic kinds of pasta in Italy
- Caffe Shakerato – our go-to iced coffee drink in the hot summer months
- Pizza Bianca – a focaccia-like bread that should be crispy, light, and salty
What To Read
- The Awful Mess On The Via Merulana – a classic crime story set in Rome
- Eat Pray Love – to get a taste of what it’s like to live in Rome as an ex-pat
What To Watch
- La Dolce Vita – Get a look into 1960s Italian cinema (and Rome) at its best
- The Talented Mr. Ripley– For a bit of mid-century Italy, Gwen, and (creepy) Damon
- The Great Beauty – Watch to get a look into modern-day Roman decadence
- Suburra – Dive deep into the true-life story where organized crime, corrupt politicians, and the Vatican are involved
Once You’re There
Where to Dinner
There are way fancier places with many Michelin stars in Rome but, when it comes to high-end, we’ll stick to the classic service and exceptional seafood at Pierluigi. Piazza Dè Ricci, 144 (Campo de’Fiori)
By no means a secret, Roscioli has been praised by everyone from Bourdain to the New York Times. The wine list is exceptional and the food great but it can be pricey so order wisely (we’re a fan of the appetizers and primi). If you’re in search of classic Roman pasta in the city center, it is one of the best places for quality Amatriciana and Carbonara.
Via dei Giubbonari, 21 (Campo de’Fiori)
Chill: Emma Pizzeria
When you want to get fancy with your pizza (i.e. eat it with a fork and knife and sit down), Emma Pizzeria is a great option in the city center. Made with premium ingredients, the menu has excellent pizzas and a lot of other options if you’re not all feeling pizza.
Via Monte della Farina, 28/29 (Campo de’Fiori)
Where to Lunch
Chic: Caffe Propaganda
Visiting the Colosseum is pretty overwhelming (the crowds, the lines, the massiveness of it all), so we like to head to the quieter streets to the south afterward. Caffe Propaganda is a chic modern bistro setting that feels right out of Manhattan but with excellent Italian food and some of the best cocktails in the city.
Via Claudia 15 (Colosseum)
Classic: Osteria dell’Ignegno
If you’re on a mission to tour the city center, it can be easy to just eat at the closest trattoria. For rustic Italian food that’s reliable and quick enough you can get back out touring in a few hours’ time, check out Osteria dell’Igngeno.
Piazza della Pietra 45 (Pantheon)
Quick: Ciao Checca
We discovered Ciao Checca on a trip to Rome when we wanted something fresh, fast, and healthy. It’s all that and a dose of creativity and, if you go during the weekday, you’ll be surrounded by locals who are on their lunch break.
Piazza di Firenze 25/26 (Corso)
Where to Street Food
Rome knows how to do street food really well so it can be hard to narrow down what to eat (see below). Here are a few must-try street foods:
Pizza Bianca: Forno Roscioli
People either love or hate the Roscioli family of restaurants and bakeries and we’re firmly on the love side. There is a lot of great Pizza Bianca in Rome but you have to try the version at Roscioli at least once. If you’re in the neighborhood of Trastevere, be sure to try the version at Forno Prelibato.
Via dei Chiavari, 34 (Campo de’Fiori)
The suppli at a Supplizio is a must-try.
Via dei Banchi Vecchi 143 (Via Giulia)
Word is more than out on this legendary pizza shop north of the Vatican so expect a line. It doubled in size a few years ago and went very organic and veggie-focused (with heirloom grain dough and vegetables from local farms) so this is a heaven for vegetarians.
We’ve already told you how much we like the Monti neighborhood and one reason is that it’s where we first tried Fatamorgana gelato. There are now a handful of shops across the city so look out for it no matter where you head.
Gelato: Come Il Latte
Look, there’s a lot of good gelato in Rome but there’s probably even more processed mediocre stuff. You want a place that focuses on gelato, makes it fresh and uses real ingredients. Gelateria Corona and Come Il Latte are both great examples of that (but we won’t judge if you get your fix elsewhere).
Largo Arenula 27 (Campo de’Fiori)
Where to Coffee
When we’re in Italy, we’re all about espresso drinks all day. Here are a few solid places in the city center for a coffee and a pastry for a break or breakfast:
Luxe: Antico Caffe Greco
This place is known for being one of the oldest cafes in Europe so it can be a bit pricey. But, going there you get to drink in a bit of history and it does have great coffee. If you find yourself near the Spanish steps and need a pick-me-up, this is a great option. Via dei Condotti, 86 (Spagna)
Classic: Tazza D’Oro
Along with nearby Sant’Eustachio, Tazza D’Oro is one of the most classic cafes in Rome. But, whereas Sant’Eustachio has super dark roasted (too much so for us) beans, Tazza D’Oro is a bit less aggressive.
Via del Pastini 11 (Pantheon)
Coffee + Cocktails: Barnum Cafe
The most casual of these cafes, Barnum is open pretty much all day and is a great stop to grab a coffee in the daytime or some cocktails, if that’s more your speed. Speaking of cocktails, Barnum Cafe is credited with helping bring modern mixology to Rome’s city center.
Via del Pellegrino, 87 (Campo dei Fiori)
Sweets: Roscioli Caffe
Recently opened by the team behind all things Roscioli (and around the corner from their bakery), we can’t wait to check this out next time we’re in town.
Where to Drink
Great Beer: Open Baladin
ICYMI, the Italian craft beer scene is in full swing and well worth exploring. For a well-curated collection with lots of options, head to Open Baladin. Via degli Specchi, 6 (Pantheon)
Fancy Apero: Bar Stravinskij
We’ve got a bit of chichi in us, we’re not gonna lie. And the best place to bring it out in Rome is during aperitif (our favorite time of day in Italy) at Hotel de Russie’s Bar Stravinskij. There are classic drinks along with some beautifully executed bites.
Via del Babuino 9 (Spagna)
Local Wine Bar: L’Angolo Divino
We discovered this local wine bar thanks to Katie Parla and we like to go back because of the variety of local wines.
Via dei Balestrari, 12 (Campo de’Fiori)
Speakeasy Style: The Jerry Thomas Project
In any other city, we might be annoyed by a bar with so many rules, secret passwords, and reservations required but hidden gems like this cocktail bar are what we love about Rome.
Where to Shop
Luxe: Gente Roma
This local, high-end shop has a handful of locations around the city and we always hop in when we’re in town. It’s an expertly curated boutique with chic fashion labels (that we can’t always afford but do love looking at). Via del Babuino, 185 (Spagna)
Charming: Moriondo e Gariglio
You guys know that I don’t joke around when it comes to cocktails, coffee, and chocolate so, when I say this is the best chocolate I’ve had in Rome, I mean it. Granted I don’t live there and I will continue to “research” on my next trip, but everything from the chocolates to the hot chocolate here gets my stamp of approval. Via del Pie’ di Marmo, 21/22 (Trevi)
Make Sure To…
- Check the view of the Vatican from the Aventine keyhole
- Enjoy the city’s green space at Villa Borghese or Villa Pamphili (with views of the city)
- Visit the non-touristy more local neighborhoods of Monti, Trastevere, Centocelle, and Pignetti
Rome’s central location on the Italian peninsula means you can get anywhere pretty quickly. Here is a few easy day trips that we highly recommend:
- Check out these seaside Ruins of Ostia
- Head to the Tivoli gardens
- Visit the Pope’s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo
More Rome on Salt & Wind
For even more Rome, check out our other coverage:
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Photo Credit: Opening Image by Lumina
Updated February 2022