Rome. The Eternal City. It might be called this because honestly it would and could take an eternity to see everything this beautiful Italian capital has to offer — but let’s be serious, no one has time for an eternity, not even Romans. Luckily for me though, I had one month. An entire month (thanks to a combination of work opportunities and a generous boss), and at 34, with a busy career and a life based in New York City, it was a gift. A rare chance that once you have a career or reach a “certain age” people don’t or can’t take, and certainly aren’t really given. And if you get the chance, you’re usually giving something else up. But for me, what I lost (hello heartbreak) or maybe gave up, gave me an opportunity to embrace and immerse myself in an unfamiliar culture, language, and experience as an adult. And as it turns out, you can really learn a lot about a city and yourself in 30 days!
So I’m sharing my advice and tips on how you can lap up the la dolce vita lifestyle and truly enjoy Roma. Some of these are expected and in your guidebooks and some hopefully will be hidden gems and in my personal book, worth seeking out.
1. See the sights at sunrise
By far the best idea I had during my time in Rome was to head out before sunrise and walk around the sleepy city as it woke or stroll the city streets after midnight while it slept. Whatever kind of person you are, (you know who you are) these are the ideal times to see places like the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, the Pantheon or any piazzas before they are packed with crowds wielding selfie sticks, jostling for pictures, and queuing for entry. And the early morning or late night times give you an advantage many don’t experience.
2. Walk the walk
This may sound like a ridiculous or obvious tip, but Rome really is best seen by foot. And I know I live in NYC so I walk everywhere, but walking is one of Rome’s greatest treasures. Everywhere you turn is a beautiful street scene with Italians living their life, or an ancient ruin or monument. Walking also lets you see all the beautiful churches that are free to enter, house world-class art, and have breathtaking architecture that anyone can appreciate. You really get a feel for the vibe of this city by walking, and luckily most Romans are never wearing heels so you don’t feel underdressed. Leave the heels behind and embrace the streets and sights by foot.
3. Breakfast bliss at Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria
Please go to Roscioli Caffe Pasticceria. I mean it, this place is a dream. And I’m sad I only decided to go the last 2 weeks I was in Rome. Hidden behind its unassuming (and easy to miss) exterior is a tiny, sometimes hot and vibrant coffee bar packed with both Romans and tourists alike. If it’s crowded (and it will be) squeeze your way into a place at the marble bar like a true Italian. Before you know it, you’ll be given ice-cold flavored water and asked what you’re having. Order a cappuccino (it’s the only time of day you can really have one) and a cornetto salato. A croissant that rivals Paris’s version, this one is made with just French butter and egg. It’s then stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella or cured salmon and cheese with coriander seeds on top. It’s the perfect start to any day and while you won’t stay long you will leave on cloud nine from your breakfast bliss.
4. Feast al forno
Do yourself a favor and when you see the word “forno” on an awning, go inside. Al forno means cooked in the oven and these bakeries always have the best, quickest take away food options. It’s hard to really get a meal to-go in Rome, so al forno is Rome’s alternative to a New York slice or (dare I say bagel). Order by weight — it’s a fun experience from start to finish.
Some of my favorites included Forno Campo de Fiori, which is a great spot for grabbing a few different kinds and then going outside to walk around the bustling Campo dei Fiori market. Also you can’t miss the porchetta at Antico Forno Roscioli. Yes, it’s the same group as the breakfast suggestion, but I give credit where credit is due and Roscioli’s pizza does not disappoint. Baked in five-foot-long slabs, you also order by weight and whatever freshness comes out of the oven. Some is seasoned simply, like the pizza rossa, which is brushed with a bright tomato sauce, that’s it. But, the true star is the porchetta. Equal parts crispy and just enough salty fat, the porchetta is layered onto their crispy focaccia topped with thinly sliced roasted potatoes and fried pieces of rosemary. It is out-of-this-world delicious, and you will thank me later.
5. Experience the art of aperitivo
If you normally eat dinner around 7pm, you will be out of luck while in Rome. In fact, most restaurants won’t even be open yet. Generally, Italians start dinner around 8:30pm — or even later, which is why aperitivo is so important! Do as the Italians do and enjoy an aperitivo and all the salty chips, olives, and roasted nuts that accompany them. For a fancier one check out Hotel de Russie’s gorgeous garden bar. The drinks are a splurge, but the aperitivo is plentiful and has a good variety of options.
Otherwise meander in the Monti neighborhood, which in my opinion is a cooler version of Trastevere, which is also worth visiting but can be very touristy and very crowded at night. In Monti, wander the hip cobblestone streets and head to Piazza della Madonna dei Monti for some of the best people watching. The best part is its central proximity to sites, such as the Roman Forum and Colosseum, which are also beautiful at sunset.
6. Check out the Capitoline museums
Museums in Rome are not hard to come by. From the Vatican museums and Galleria Borghese to the National Museum of Rome, there are numerous collections that are worth a visit — but I’m here to tell you that the Capitoline Museums are also worth a visit. Located on the Piazza del Campidoglio, up on Capitoline Hill, the museums are made of two buildings facing each other with the impressive piazza in the middle. It houses an incredible collection of ancient Roman bronze and marble statues, medieval and Renaissance art, and many elaborate frescoes – but the best part is that it has one of the best views of the Roman Forum. And because you have to pay an entry fee, it’s never that crowded. Head over for “magic hour” when the museum offers a reduced entry rate and the sun hits the Roman Forum with an unbelievable golden glow. Be sure to follow signs for the Tabularium, which is the underground tunnel that links the two buildings and where the view is. Then head up to the cafe order a prosecco and sit in the gorgeous park right across the way.
7. Venture out to a villa
If you have an extra day or need a break from seeing ancient ruins and museums venture outside of Rome to Tivoli which is only a 30 minute trip if you manage to catch the fast train (and an hour if you find yourself on the slow version). The little Lazio town is beyond charming and full of history, stunning gardens, and gorgeous natural vistas — it’s like you’ve been transported into a dream.
Tivoli is also home to Villa D’Este, a 16th-century villa famous for its terraced hillside Italian Renaissance garden, and especially for its profusion of fountains. It is now an Italian state museum, and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Be sure to give yourself some time, there’s lots to see and many Instagramable photos to be taken. Have lunch at Ristorante Sibilla, which dates back to 1720. The restaurant is perched on a cliff next to the entrance to the Villa Gregorio reserve and literally up against the Temple of Sibilla. Sit under the breathtaking pergola and enjoy the view and some delicious food.
8. Gelato, gelato, gelato
You’ll want to end each and every meal with gelato, and in my opinion you can never go wrong with gelato as you stroll the streets. But when you’re looking for a really special experience, head to Giolitti. Truth be told, I can’t take credit for this because it was actually my boss who took me there the first time and it’s his favorite. It’s super old school with table service (waiters in white tuxedos) as well as a take away counter, but the gift is when you sit outside for service. Make sure you visit the original location near the Pantheon.
9. Ditch your diet
Again, this may seem like a ridiculous, and maybe even obvious tip — but it’s an important one. Food plays a major part in discovering the best of Rome, so when you’re there, embrace it. Try the local specialties like spaghetti carbonara, cacio e pepe, involtini, and saltimbocca alla romana. Go outside of your comfort zone. And always when dining out, order the house wine over a bottle of wine. Not only does it taste just as good, but also it’s much cheaper, and it’s usually served by the liter and comes in cute carafes. I could write an entire novel dedicated to where to eat so for now here are a few great finds:
There are just 14 tables at this cozy little place, located near some major tourist attractions — think Pantheon and Piazza Navona so be sure to book ahead and trust me when I say its worth it given the tourist location. Try the spaghetti carbonara and lemon pasta with arugula, and finish off with veal saltimbocca alla romana. All are traditional and amazing.
The best time to come is during warmer days so that you can enjoy their beautiful terrace outside. It can be a little touristy because Eat, Pray, Love was filmed there, but who doesn’t love a little film action. Prosecco, prosciutto, and mozzarella are things I’ll never leave without, and a simple macaroni with butter, mint and Parmesan really blew my mind.
Venture over to this restaurant in the historic district of Testaccio, an area that may not be Rome’s prettiest neighborhood, but its rich history more than makes up for it. The service is great and inviting. Order the zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. They also have a great selection of cured meats and cheeses. And I know I’ve mentioned porchetta already but this is also a great one, served with piping hot salty focaccia. For pasta, try the spaghetti with chicory, a very delicious green topped with melty pecorino perfection.
10. Live like a local
Forget the hotels and stay in an apartment whenever you can. With so many options it’s easier now than ever to find places to stay that aren’t hotels. I think you truly get a sense of the culture when you’re able to live in an apartment, go to the grocery store to pick up some local favorites, and make coffee at home when you first wake up. One of my favorite memories is waking up everyday in my apartment and using the Italian coffee maker (which isn’t anything like American ones) and watching the neighbors get up. It’s a new routine you can embrace no matter how long you’re staying. Speak Italian when you can — a ciao, or grazie mille goes a long way, and Italians truly embrace you trying to speak their language.