TRAVEL / AN INSIDERS GUIDE TO ROME
I count myself very lucky to call Rome my second home. My Dad moved to Rome when I was around 7ish years old so I've visited regularly ever since and even now, almost 20 years later, I'm still in absolute awe of every single aspect of the city.
It baffles me when people say they've never visited because it truly is the most spectacular place. Rome is famously known as The Eternal City, and it certainly lives up to its name. Whether you’re staring wide-eyed at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, indulging in a plate of spaghetti at a local trattoria, or drinking water straight from an ancient street fountain, rest assured your experiences in Rome will stay with you forever.
Of course, the standard tour-guide sites like the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum are ones to visit but I thought I'd leave those to the books and talk to you about the 'real' Rome - the parts that locals frequent. Basically, the parts where you won't find people trying to sell you cheap magnets or fake Gucci bags or where you won't have to pay £20 for a pizza. Like every city, Rome definitely has its tourism aspect but there's definitely much more to boast about.
To give the city its best chance you need to take things in slowly - which for a Londoner like me is often a bit of a struggle but worth doing - and I've definitely learnt that it is often whilst lost down a cobbled back alley that you’ll stumble across the most wonderful bits of Rome. The strung out washing, the bottega (artisan’s workshop), the nun dashing across a pigeon-filled piazza, the evening light catching the terracotta-coloured walls, the classic Vespa all lined up. It truly is la dolce vita.
P.S. Just make sure to watch out for the crazy driving - whilst impeccable cooking definitely is, good driving definitely isn't a Romans quality.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE
Campo De' Fiori
Campo De' Fiori definitely has to be one of my favourite areas to visit whilst in Rome because it just has the most amazing vibe. It has so much to offer at any time of the day; a bustling marketplace in the morning (Monday–Saturday 8am–2pm) and a trendy meeting place the rest of the day and night, this piazza has plenty of charm.
For a typically Italian market, Campo De' Fiori definitely has it all; colourful arrays of fruit and vegetables, beautiful flower displays (hence the name), cured meats and cheeses, earthy spices, clothing and accessories as well as other bits and bobs. You will be spoilt for choice.
By sunset, all the fish, fruit, and flower vendors disappear, and this so-called piazza trasformista takes on another identity, becoming a circus of bars particularly favoured by study-abroads, tourists, and young expats.
P.S. It's also a fabulous stopping place to grab a cappuccino and people watch. However make sure you do so before 11am because Italy is notorious for not serving milky coffee after that time...
Trastevere is without a doubt one of my favourite districts of Rome and actually one of the first places my Dad lived so I'm very familiar with it. Stroll across the Tiber river via the stone footbridge, Ponte Sisto, to reach Trastevere and you'll instantly fall in love. Trust me, there's a reason why its one of the locals favourite hotspots.
Head towards Piazza di Santa Maria, the heart of this labyrinthine district, through the quiet cobblestoned side streets lined with washing strung up between buildings, plants and religious shrines brightening up the streets and colourful graffiti work. For such a small neighbourhood, it packs a hell of a lot of character and its so easy to lose yourself down the winding streets.
When (if haha) you reach the piazza, join the locals, tourists and buskers and take a seat on the steps of the fountain – a great spot for people-watching. Taking centre stage, and rightly so, is the Basilica di Santa Maria; step inside its dimly lit interior to see its beautiful altar and statues or take in its beauty from the outside with its glistening golden mosaics. Whether you're religious or not, it certainly is mesmerising and a sight not to miss when in the city!
By night, the piazza really comes into its own and is sprawling with diners, partiers and street performers. There are countless places to grab an early evening drink or after dinner cocktail; whether you feel like enjoying a glass of wine while marvelling at the people passing by at Piazza Santa Maria or you're looking for a little more lively action, Trastevere has something for all walks of life.
If you want to take some time out to just enjoy the sunshine whilst sprawled across the green grass... or maybe even have a picnic, I couldn't think of anywhere better than Villa Borghese. This enermous park is the most central and famous of Rome's green lungs, and is where true Romans go to walk their dogs or even rollerblade, cycle or scoot around. There are so many delights to see including an artificial lake with a temple, an aviary, an orangery, a zoo and much, much more.
There are various entrances, but the main one is from just outside the Piazza del Popolo, from the Pincio gardens along from the Spanish Steps and from the top of the Via Veneto.
WHERE TO SHOP
Rome has it all when it comes to fashion; you can walk with Roman fashionista's along Via dei Condotti (near the Spanish Steps) where you'll find all the big names like Prada and Gucci. But on the other end of the spectrum, it also has the more affordable, standard high-street shops like H&M and Zara on Via de Corso. The highlight for me and what's so interesting about Rome is all the quirky, independent little boutiques where you're forever surprised by what they have to offer. Unusual styles, colours and fashion at its finest - truly unique.
Overlooking the Colosseum, the ancient cobbled streets of Monti have morphed from the once red-light district into Rome’s edgiest shopping quarter, it's now a magnet for young fashionistas cruising the trendy boutiques and tiny vintage shops. I couldn't recommend it more!
For those on the lookout for second hand designer gear, take a trip to Mercatino del Borghetto Flaminio on a Sunday morning to scout for goodies.
WHERE TO EAT
Rome is as varied in food options as any other major city so whether you're looking for a Michelin-starred restaurant, trattoria, takeaway pizza joint or a gelato bar, there truly is something to satisfy everyone.
Its quite hard to find a bad place to eat in Rome however I would say that its probably best to steer clear of the real touristy places because not only will it be a heck lot more expensive but you won't get the same love, care and true passion that you'll get from a proper trattoria hidden down one of the side streets. Thats my one key piece of advice, always go off course and you'll find something spectacular.
Italian food isn't all about pizza and pasta, they also serve up some of the best meat and fish dishes I've ever tried in my life so I'd definitely recommend at least trying something other than our carby favourites at least once when you visit.
For the best pizza rossa in town, I recommend Forno Campo de' Fiori - it's a great 'slice on the go' jaunt too.
For a 'sit down', traditional pizza experience, I recommend Da Enzo.
For the freshest pasta dishes in the whole of Rome, I recommend Colline Emillane.
For innovative, contemporary dishes, I recommend Moma.
For a real good steak, I recommend I Butteri.
For the oldest, most traditional and I must say, most delicious gelato in Rome, I recommend Giolitti.
I hope you've enjoyed this snapshot of Rome. Of course there's much much more than what I've outline above but I hope its given you the inspiration to book a flight - and who knows, maybe I'll see you there!