When your time is limited, and you have specific sightseeing interests and desire a memorable meal in Rome, here are some of our favorite places that we recommend.
Near the Spanish Steps: Assaggia Roma
Assaggia means “taste” in Italian, and that’s just what this stylish restaurant on pretty Via Margutta offers—tasting menus of Chef Daniele Ciaccio’s renditions of classic Roman dishes. It’s a novel concept for a city (and let’s face it, a country) used to homogeneous menus of pasta and meats, and it works, especially for those wishing to sample a little bit of several Roman favorites, instead of a lot of one or two. Small plates (6- or 9-course tasting menus are offered) feature updated versions of classics, such as saltimbocca, baccala, and fried artichokes. The best part? You’ll have room for the dessert tasting menu.
Near the Pantheon: Armando al Pantheon
Reserve well, well in advance for a table in this tiny, humble dining room in the shadow of the Pantheon, and dig in to classic Roman cuisine, from spaghetti alla carbonara (with pork cheek, pecorino cheese and egg) to trippa alla romana (stewed tripe). Vegetarians will find plenty of options here as well. With prices that belie its reputation and touristy location, it’s no wonder Romans and visitors alike have been clamoring for a table here since the 1960s.
Near Termini Station: Mercato Centrale
Adjacent to bustling Termini train station, this gourmet street food market gives a whole new meaning to grabbing a bite while you wait for your train. Market “stalls” wrap around a central seating area, and offer fare from some of Rome’s rockstar chefs, with emphasis on locally grown, organic and fair trade products. Try a slice of real Roman pizza, a stuffed trapizzino sandwich, fried artichoke hearts or artiginal gelato. Or try them all—we won’t judge.
In Trastevere: Spirito DiVino
Behind a charming brick facade, this intimate restaurant is all about Slow Food, and Chef Eliana Catalani uses only locally grown, organic ingredients for every dish, from beef carpaccio with caramelized onions to a braised pork shoulder recipe one favored by Julius Caesar. Vegetarians and those with food allergies will be well-looked after here, too, and oenophiles will swoon in the ancient wine cellar, which houses more than 5,000 bottles. Book a table here for a night to remember, and don’t skip dessert (lavender panna cotta? Yes please.)
Things To Do…
Rome for short-timers: If you’ve got a short time in the city and want to make the most of it, consider booking a private, early- or after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. Seeing Michelangelo’s masterworks when the chapel is filled with just a few dozen, instead of several hundred, other visitors is the experience of a lifetime. We’ve had great tours with The Roman Guy, though a handful of other operators offer similar tours.
Rome for foodies: It’s a little off the beaten tourist path and just a little bit gritty, but Testaccio is foodie central, thanks to the presence of both old and new elements. The old—restaurants, simple trattorias and wine bars dug into the Monte dei Cocci, a huge, ancient mound of broken Roman pottery. The new—Mercato di Testaccio, a covered market with streetfood galore, the most colorful local produce, plus clothing, housewares and handicrafts. To sample the best of this real Roman neighborhood, take a Taste of Testaccio Food Tour with EatingItaly.
Rome for first-timers: If this is your first trip to Rome you have to get two things off your bucket-list: The Vatican and the Colosseum. Gladiator Tours offers tours all day to fit your schedule, but do try to snag an early tour as the sites get so crowded (and in the summertime, very hot) during the day. These tours boast “skip the line” options and while you do skip the long lines for non-tour visitors, remember you’ll still have a wait to go through security checkpoints. This company has excellent guides, some of whom are history professors, fine arts scholars and archaeologists, so the tours are always full of insight and information and move along quickly. Headsets, entrance fees and guide are all included. Make your reservations before your trip to ensure you get your preferred tour date and time.
Rome for history buffs: To see beyond (and beneath) the jumble of stones that make up the Roman Forum, consider booking a tour (weekends only, reservations required) to visit the Domus Aurea, the Golden House of Nero. The underground tour of the active archaeological excavation—hardhats required—takes visitors through dozens of rooms of the once opulent-beyond-belief palace, which was above ground and included the site of the Colosseum, which was once an artificial lake in the Domus Aurea’s vast gardens. Nero was so hated after his death that subsequent emperors buried the palace under millions of tons of rubble. A spellbinding virtual reality experience is part of the tour.
Rome for art lovers: Entered through a quiet courtyard just steps from the chaos of Via del Corso, the private art collection of a family of Italian aristocrats is on display at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. The family rose to prominence when one of its members was elected Pope Innocent X in 1644. An avid art collector, Innocent’s collection was passed along and augmented through the generations, and contains masterworks from Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael, as well as Velazquez’s unflinching portrait of Pope Innocent. The free audio guide is delightfully narrated by a Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, who grew up in the palace and delightfully recalls roller skating through its ballrooms.