If I lived in Rome I would probably always be eating. I have a carb tooth (if there is such a thing) and this is a problem when you visit an Italian city that deals in carbs. But oh what carbs they are – Roman trattorias churn out freshly made pasta at every turn, pizzerias fling crispy bases your way and with every whiff of the bread-scented breeze, you are led to another Italian eatery. But there is much to do besides eating here. On Rome’s streets, ancient ruins bump into renaissance palazzos, grand churches and baroque fountains… you’ll barely notice walking off those carbs. The city has also had an influx of fresh culture, so there are plenty of cool new places to discover alongside the classics.
City break in Rome | a captivating cultural wonder
SEE | majestic classics to modern marvels in Rome
Rome is a museum outdoors. At every turn you’ll find something to gawp at, and then there’s the modern sights popping up in this changing city too.
I got in a head spin when it came to choosing what classic sights I could fit into a city break in Rome, because, the truth is, if you’re a fine art fan like me, there are too many. The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel were a non-negotiable, but even they are packed with so much. The museums are filled with ancient Egyptian relics to Roman sculptures, and then there’s the Sistine Chapel. It is as breathtaking as they say; a ceiling designed by Michelangelo, accompanied by Botticelli paintings and Raphael tapestries. I simply don’t have enough superlatives to describe it.
The Colosseum is another must-see. It’s impossible not to picture scenes from The Gladiator when you walk through here. Then there’s the Spanish Steps, which lead up to the huge, ostentatious Trevi Fountain, Palatine Hill, an open-air museum with so many sights from the Roman Empire, and fine art stuffed museums like Capitoline Museums and Galleria Doria Pamphilj. I could go on…
The perfect antidote to Rome’s crowded sights and tourist groups are some of its local neighbourhoods. It’s also where you’ll find some of the best restaurants and bars. Southern districts like Garbatella and Testaccio hide everything from modern art studios to local markets brimming with colourful produce – I like to eat my way around places like this!
Local talent and cultural space
Mattatoio di Roma is a fine example of Rome’s modern side. Once a slaughterhouse, it plays host to art shows, often opening until midnight, which is a perfectly Italian way to take in some culture, especially if you grab a bite to eat or a drink in between.
Centrale Monte Martini in Via Ostiense is an eye-opener. Once Rome’s first power station, it is now filled with statues and sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome. Just imagine Aphrodite posing against a steam turbine and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about…
STAY | from classic Roman townhouses to stylish city boltholes
There’s nothing quite like dragging your suitcase along a cobbled city side street to start your Roman holiday.
Classic | the pretty pastel townhouse
Arco del Lauro feels like the quintessential Roman holiday dream. It’s set in a pink-hued townhouse on a beautiful cobbled piazza in medieval Trastevere, it has just six bedrooms and it is packed with antiques and art, all collected by its culture vulture owners. Books about Rome are dotted around the hotel, but the owners and housekeeper are also never short of local tips. Bedrooms are classic country chic, with parquet floors, fresh white linen and an eclectic mix of old and new furnishings.
Classic | the beautiful dame
Stroll to all the sights from Le Quattro Dame, a stylish Italian palazzo in the heart of the city. Each room is self-catering, so you can bring all your local deli finds back for breakfast in bed and midnight feasts here. The bedrooms are chic and beautiful, with soft tones of dusky pink, sage green and cream, parquet floors and a Lux City Guide at your bedside. My favourite part? The little lobby lounge with a gallery wall of Renaissance paintings.
Contemporary | Modern Monti
Found in Rome’s stylish Monti neighbourhood, The Fifteen Keys Hotel is just moments from the area’s chic cafes, restaurants, vintage shops and boutiques. Just 15 rooms sit in this elegant townhouse, each is decorated with modern restraint, with parquet floors, muted walls, exposed brickwork and minimalist furniture. The staff know everything about the surrounding neighbourhood, so make sure you ask for recommendations. Or you can spend a perfect Italian afternoon in the hotel courtyard, whiling away the hours and living la dolce vita.
Contemporary | a creative’s dream
Perched on the edge of Monti and just a short walk from the Colosseum, Nerva Boutique Hotel is a perfect base for exploring the city. Sitting on a pretty Roman street, it’s a chic boutique bolthole with beautiful rooms. Each is decorated with contrasting crisp white and dark inky walls, houndstooth headboards and lovely little touches such as art books by the bedside. Fresh flowers, paintings and photographs are found across the hotel; this place feels like home, but more stylish. They’ll also greet you with a lovely welcome basket, filled with fruit, macarons, chocolates and champagne.
EAT | lazy Roman lunches
Rome is a culinary capital, with lots of family-run, traditional trattorias as well as some new and exciting dining ventures.
You cannot go to Italy and not eat pizza. And you must go to Italy and eat the finest pizza you can find. We wrestled with the locals to grab a slice at Pizzarium, the potato and mozzarella (pizza alle patate) was the best, and it’s perfect for a grab and go lunch. La Pratolina is a great place for cheese lovers, as they source cheese from across Italy for toppings, while Cesare al Casaletto is extremely popular but with good reason, they excel at paper thin, crispy pizzas and fried starters (which are another thing you must try when in Rome).
Felice a Testaccio has been in business since 1936, and there is something to be said about a local restaurant that lasts that long. Try the cacio e pepe with tonnarelli if you want a beautiful simple pasta dish with an indulgent cheesy sauce, or go for authentic big flavour dishes like pajata, or rigatoni in an oxtail sauce.
Roscioli is another Roman great. The restaurant serves up classic Italian dishes using the finest ingredients – it’s all about simplicity here. I quickly learned in Rome that it’s the simple things done well that are the most delicious. There’s also a cafe, delicatessen and bakery here – just try and resist taking a few Roman treats away with you.
Once a big industrial warehouse, Portofluviale is now a trendy food spot that is just perfect for a late lunch. The space is split into four sections, a pizzeria, serving ‘Roman style’ and ‘Napoli style’ pizza (get two and decide for yourself which is better), a bar, a lounge and a street food kitchen. It’s a great place to grab lots of different dishes to bring back to your table, whether you want a long lazy lunch or your dining with a group. Mercato Centrale, in Rome’s Termini station, is another fab food hall with local artisans ranging from an artichoke stand to a wine specialist. Grab your food first, then visit the wine specialist as they’ll pair your dish with the perfect vino.
We were told to sit at the counter when visiting Retrobottega, and what a great place to eat lunch it is. This zero waste restaurant is an example of modern Roman cuisine, comparable to some of the best restaurants in London and New York, and with a seasonal menu that’ll surprise you with its flavours and ingredients. Pick the tasting menu with wine pairing for the ultimate experience.
Al Ristoro degli Angeli
Romans don’t often mess with tradition when it comes to food, but Al Ristoro degli Angeli puts a small (and locally accepted!) twist on the classics. Before visiting Rome, I thought I’d found heaven trying a plate of cacio e pepe in a great London pasta restaurant, but then I came here. Expect a lovely rich dish of cheese and pepper cooked to perfection, with a cheesy wafer to top it off, a very welcome modern addition.
When in Rome, start the day as the Romans do, by wolfing down a coffee and a croissant (caffè and cornetto) while standing at a bar. Linari serves the best.
DRINK | the finest negronis in the city
Aperitivo to digestivo, in Rome, you take your time to drink.
Bar del Fico
The beautifully retro Bar del Fico was recently renovated, but it still retains its classic charm. Here, locals sit and play chess under the fig tree, tourists often pop in for a coffee and workers stop for an early evening aperitivo on the way home. Join them at nighttime to try a classic Negroni.
Hotel de Russie
I definitely had heart eyes for the colourful Hotel de Russie as soon as I saw it. It sits on the edge of the Piazza del Popolo, and its Stravinskij Bar courtyard is the perfect place for martini sipping and people watching. It’s a typically Roman setting, surrounded by pastel walls with shuttered windows, lots of botanicals and bordering the hotel’s secret garden.
Even though it sits just footsteps from the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona, Liòn isn’t filled with tourists. Set in an old, revived building, it’s beautifully decorated with a modern nod to the art deco era, with lots of brass details and maximalist bright velvet furnishings. They serve some fine Italian cocktails with flair, ask for the signature Liòn cocktail to start with.
VyTA Enoteca Regionale del Lazio
Wine lovers must visit VyTA Enoteca Regionale del Lazio, a bar specialising in local wine and with the kind of setting you’d expect from an expensive, luxurious Italian. Sit at the long copper bar to chat to the sommelier and they will find a perfectly suited glass of vino, or grab a barman to make you an equally delizioso cocktail.
If you like your coffee, you have come to the right place. Here are a few tips to help you fit in like a local: order a "caffe latte" not a "latte" (a "latte" will see you served with a warm glass of milk), a cappuccino is a "cappuccio" and macchiatos and espressos are really the only coffee you should be ordering post-lunchtime.
DO | getting lost in Rome
Rome is best explored on foot (and not just because the driving is a little hairy). Wander off to discover Rome’s traditions and its exciting modern life.
Rome is a walker’s paradise. Stroll through this city and you never know what you will find, whether it’s an ancient artsy fountain, a Roman ruin, or even a panetteria breathing it’s freshly baked bread smell onto the streets. Our wanders took us to Mercato Monti, a market that hides so many treasures, from vintage clothes and LPs to art and jewellery. The surrounding streets are filled with interesting boutiques, try LOL for some local designers and Pifebo for vintage streetwear, and make sure you stop at a gelato bar on the way.
You might think afternoon tea is reserved for holidays in England, but Rome also excels at the tradition, nowhere more so than the Caffe Canova Tadolini. Once a sculptor’s studio, this museum cum bar serves afternoon tea amongst a beautiful collection of classical sculptures. It’s the perfect blend of coffee, culture and of course, some cake.
Rome’s ancient architecture often gets top billing, but there are actually lots of contemporary buildings to see too. Places like the Ara Pacis Museum and the Jubilee Church jut out of the archaic cityscape with their modern angles but somehow, they still fit in. MAAXI is also worth seeking out, it’s a modern art museum inside, but the building was designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, and it’s real work of art itself.
What’s a throwaway magnet or cap when you can bring home something that is actually useful? Foodies should head to c.u.c.i.n.a for some Italian kitchen specialities (utensils, not food, I’m hoping the locally handmade espresso spoons I found will bring a bit of Italian flare to my kitchen).
If you want to explore the streets quickly, consider a vespa tour. You can hop on the back of a local's scooter, and they will show you all the best sites in a fraction of the time it would take to walk.
It's impossible to explore all that Rome has to offer on one trip, but that is what makes it such a delight - no matter how many times you visit, you'll always want to go back.