Many of you girls ask how I came to live in Rome for these last three years. Here is a little background:
Growing up in a small town in Northern California, traveling abroad was a far away dream. Even in college, the idea of studying abroad seemed impossible and unrealistic. I was working full time in order to put myself through college, so if I were to study abroad, how would I begin to pay for it being that I would need to take time off work?
It wasn’t until I was in my first class of my Sophomore year at University of San Diego when a speaker came in to talk about study abroad programs. Knowing I was the most unlikely candidate, I half listened, day-dreaming if anything. While scanning the handout, a three-week program in Rome caught my eye. I wasn’t going to hold my breath but I thought I would ask my manager if taking a three week leave from my job was anywhere near a possibility.
To my surprise, he said yes, but I needed to ask my District Manager. He said yes, but I needed to ask HR. I asked our HR manager and she said, “If it’s okay with your manager and district manager, it’s okay with us!” A three week study abroad trip to Rome was becoming even more of a reality. I seriously wanted to pinch myself.
A few months later, I was off to Rome for three weeks with a handful of students and professors from my University. It was on this trip when I met my now-husband, Luca. For the story of how we met, click here and here.
Fast forward a few years and what was once a dream, visiting Rome for a few weeks during college, became my every day reality. Luca and I moved to Rome in 2013 and was bittersweet when we decided to move to Los Angeles November 2016. We had a beautiful three years in Rome and while we don’t live there at the moment, it will always be our second home. Our future plans are to spend summers in Rome with Luca’s friends and family – fingers crossed. 🙂
Since I was an American living in Rome with a native Italian, here are my top local and tourist recommendations for your visit:
P.S. This is the list I sent out to my wedding guests when they came in town so there is a bit of extra info. Hope it helps and hope you enjoy your visit to Rome! 🙂
RECOMMENDED PLACES TO EAT
DELICIOUS ITALIAN FOOD
In Trastevere – Order the Cacio e Pepe. If you like cheese, you will love this. This is a traditional Roman pasta served in a crispy parmesan bowl!
Near the Pantheon and Piazza Navona: Order the Carbonara. It is another traditional Roman pasta made with Italian bacon (pancetta).
In Trastevere: Order the Ravioli Mimosa, which is a pumpkin filled cheesy ravioli dish. They have won awards for it, it’s amazing. This is probably my all-time favorite in Rome.
For good Italian in a non-touristy area where locals go, ILocale is a mix of a restaurant/wine bar. One of the owners is a sommelier and gives great wine recommendations. For an appetizer get the cheese and salami platter with honey on the side. Entrees are traditional Italian and very good.
La Pergola has three Michelin stars and is ranked the second best restaurant in all of Italy (Number one is in Milan). You can choose between ordering individual courses or the set menu. You can choose between a 5 or 7 course menu, and each course has its own wine pairing.
On average, dinner is $250 per person.
Aroma has one Michelin star as well as one of the most beautiful views of Rome, placed right in front of the Colosseum. If you don’t want to have dinner, you can book just dessert and experience the beautiful view. 🙂
On average, dinner is $150 per person.
If you like seafood, this restaurant gets their fish fresh every day from the Italian Island, Ponza. It’s the best seafood in Rome. I personally don’t like seafood, but Luca does, and he highly recommends this place. I want to add that the reviews seem to say they aren’t super friendly…I can’t vouch for that, but I can vouch for Luca saying their seafood is the best in Rome!
On average, dinner is $120 per person.
King of Salads
In Piazza Istria for salads
In Ponte Milvio and has salads, panini and juices.
On Via Messina for pressed juices
In the center, for smoothies or acai bowls. They do offer a full menu, but personally, I would only recommend their smoothies or acai bowls.
In the center, offers a full menu and was one of my favorite restaurants for healthy options.
A note about healthy food in Rome – most Italian food is actually healthy; much more fresh (and free of preservatives) than what we are used to – many people come to Rome and enjoy all the pasta and pizza they want and don’t really gain weight. Of course everyone is different but this is the majority and I experienced it myself. The way they cook things is much healthier and portions are naturally smaller. I highly recommend if you are visiting Rome, to ENJOY the food. There will be a time to eat healthy when you get back home. 🙂 But of course if you want to have a good salad or lighter dish, the above are my recommendations.
For the best Sicilian Cannoli, there is a place called “Nonna Vincenza” with two locations in the center. They have funny hours so be sure to look them up ahead of time.
In the center, a five minute walk from the Pantheon. A great traditional gelateria with a ton of flavor options and outside seating.
Gelateria della Palma
In the center, a two minute walk from the Pantheon. They have a TON of options and non-traditional flavors – all of which taste amazing!
For real Italian gelato, avoid the gelato places you see that the gelato is stacked high like a mountain. This is NOT real gelato, but instead made with powders.
FUSION / NON-TRADITIONAL ITALIAN FOOD
A place with a gorgeous view walking in and a really cool atmosphere is Madre at Largo Angelicum 1A. It’s right in front of the church called “Chiesa dei Santi Domenico e Sisto”. To find the entrance walk up like you’re going to the church and you will see the sign for Madre on the right. Recommended for drinks!
In the center: If you would like a vegetarian place, this is one of our favorites. While it’s vegetarian, it’s not necessarily healthy 😛 but it’s delicious.
If you’re looking for a place that serves American breakfast (or as close as it gets to American breakfast in Rome), there are two Bakery House locations, both serve American breakfast and lunch. I would recommend coming here if your hotel doesn’t offer a continental breakfast. Italian breakfast consists of a croissant, usually filled with jam, creme or nutella, and an espresso, which can be found at any corner bar throughout Rome. P.S. “Bar” in Rome simply means a cafe where you can get snacks, coffee and soft drinks.
For restaurants I recommend calling ahead for a reservation. If you are staying at a hotel, the concierge should be able to help you make reservations. Most places don’t open until 7:30-8pm for dinner. Italians eat late. 🙂
TOURS / SIGHTS TO SEE
This is one of our favorite tours in Rome and we recommend it to anyone visiting. It is an underground tour of an Ancient Roman Villa. There is a limited number of English or non-Italian tours and they get booked fast.
Cost: 13 euro
Time: 1.5 hr
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. Construction began in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD. Throughout the years, it’s seen damage from earthquakes and looters looking to re-purpose the materials but still stands today.
Cost: 12 euro (buy tickets at the Roman Forum for shorter lines)
Time: 1-2 hours
The Roman Forum
In its heyday, The Roman Forum served as a sort of cultural epicenter for Roman citizens and was used for all kinds of events ranging from elections, gladiator matches, judicial hearings and public speeches.
Cost: included with Colosseum entry
Time: 1-2 hours
Built between 118 – 128 AD, the Pantheon is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and was the first pagan temple to be transformed into a Catholic church.
Time: Pantheon: 15 – 45 minutes on average, depending on your interest
Piazza Navona and Campo Dei Fiori are piazzas where you can walk around, sit at a café for an aperitivo (the Italian version of tapas) or just stroll.
Time: As long as you’d like to walk around
Campo Dei Fiori
An open piazza you can walk around or visit the farmer’s market while it’s open from 7am to 2pm.
The Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Campo Dei Fiori are all within walking distance and can be visited on the same day.
Time: As long as you’d like to walk around
The Vatican Church
The Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo are across from each other so they should be done in the same day. You can go to the very top of the Vatican dome and it has a beautiful view.
Cost: Free for general entry, 7 euro for the dome
Time: 1-2+ hours
Was used as the fortress for the Pope when the city came under attack in medieval times. There is a secret passageway from the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo, which you can actually see from the street Lungotevere next to the castle.
Cost: 10 euro.
Time: 1-2 hours
The Vatican Museum is 15 minutes walking from the Vatican Church. Extensive collection of some of the most important pieces of Renaissance art collected by different Popes, dating all the way back to the year 1506.
Cost: 16 euro
Time: 1-2+ hours
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is inside the Vatican Museum, its ceiling features Michelangelo’s painting The Last Judgment, which is widely considered to be one of the most important works of art in all history.
Cost: Included with entry
Time: 1-2+ hours
Please be aware that there are often scammers trying to sell tickets to get inside the Vatican. Ignore them or anyone else trying to sell you things on the street. P.S. Rome is very safe, but there is a lot of petty theft. DO NOT bring your passport out with you or leave your wallet in plain view, or in an open purse. I personally have had my wallet/purse stolen twice, both times with my passport inside.
Altare della Patria
In Piazza Venezia is the “Altare della Patria” which means the Altar of the Fatherland. It’s a monument built in honor of the first king of a unified Italy, Victor Emanuel. Inside, you can see works of art and sculptures. Once you walk inside, at the top of the third staircase, you can go outside and around the back for a gorgeous view of the Roman Forum. There is also an elevator you can take to the top of the Altare della Patria for one of the most beautiful views of Rome. (Cost is roughly 7 euro per person)
Tip: One of our favorite cafes is behind the Altare della Patria, next to the church Basilica Santa Maria in Ara Coeli (where Luca and I got married :)) The cafe is called Terraza Caffarelli. It’s a little difficult to explain how to get there but if you can use google maps it will show you exactly where to go. It has a gorgeous view and relaxing atmosphere, best experienced from the outside dining area.
Via Del Corso
After visiting the Altare della Patria, walk across the piazza (Piazza Venezia) to Via Del Corso which is the shopping street in the center. Through Via Del Corso, you can make your way to the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna (after doing any shopping of course!)
Piazza di Spagna
At the foot of the Spanish steps, Piazza di Spagna is one of the most famous squares in Rome. From the Spanish Steps, I recommend going up and walking towards “Il Pincio” which is a beautiful view of Rome. This is also an entrance to Villa Borghese.
Great to see any time of day or night. It’s tradition to throw a coin, using your right hand, over your left shoulder into the fountain. This means you will one day return to Rome. 🙂
Time: 15 minutes
This is Rome’s biggest park where the royal family, the Borghese’s, used to live. Now it is open to the public where you can walk, ride bikes, paddle boat, etc.
Time: As long as you’d like to walk around the park 🙂
Trilussa Palace Hotel: Moon Spa
If you are visiting when the weather isn’t too great, there is a beautiful spa at the Trilussa Palace Hotel. It’s a one of a kind spa in Rome, great for couples, families, or even groups of friends. There are two spas and each are private use only, meaning a reservation is required. There is another spa called the Domus Spa, but in the few times I visited, I found the Moon Spa to be the most relaxing.
This information is just the tip of the iceberg with what to do in Rome. You could spend weeks here and still have things to see! For the things listed above, I recommend at least 2-3 days. If you have any of your own tips about Rome, feel free to share below!