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6 Things to See in Rome
Rome: Beyond the Top Tourist Stops
The top must-see things in Rome include the Colosseum, Vatican (not technically in Rome), Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum, and Spanish Steps. Most tourists grab over-priced gelato in the center of the city and eat some extremely expensive – though delicious – pizza while they’re there.
But there is so much more to see in Rome, once you break away from the central and "popular" activities. Much of the magic of Rome isn't found on the cover of travel guides. It's hidden in side streets and across the Tiber river in Trastevere. You could live in Rome for a lifetime and never experience everything the city has to offer.
I spent five months living in Trastevere, a historic neighborhood across the Tiber River from Rome. During this time I explored as much of the city as I could possibly see. I found those hidden side-streets, visited the lesser-known attractions, ate some of the most delicious food the city has to offer, and found the best bars. I did not, unfortunately get to see everything the city has to offer, which I'm viewing as cosmic permission for me to keep visiting Rome every few years... forever.
First I want to say something important – do go see all those amazing things that everybody knows about Rome. They’re beautiful, one-of-a-kind, and a truly unique experience. Just be sure that those front-of-the-booklet attractions aren’t all you do during your next visit.
Where to Eat in Rome
The absolutely worst places to eat are next to monuments. If a restaurant tries to tempt you inside by offering special deals or tourist menus skip it. They aren't offering you an authentic Roma food experience. To find the best food in Rome venture across the Tiber to the restaurants in Trastevere.
These are the cafes and bars most frequented by locals. They offer the best prices in Rome (not that they're inexpensive) and the most authentic experience. The restaurants are often family owned and delightfully quirky.
Bonus recommendation - always buy the house wine. You'll get a different experience at each restaurant, it's delicious, and the wine is cheap, cheap, cheap.
Eat Well on Your Roman VacationClick thumbnail to view full-size
1. Cioccolata e Vino (00153 Vicolo de' Cinque, 11A 00153 Roma Italy)
This bar was hands-down my favorite. In Italian its name is “Chocolate and Wine” — which pretty clearly sums up the whole experience. If you’ve never had a shot in a chocolate shot glass with whipped cream on top you’re missing out. All the flavors have deceptively dirty titles (in Italian) and are incredibly delicious. You just drop the whole shot glass into your mouth and try not to choke on the most delicious experience you’re likely to find anywhere.
Chocolate + alcohol + whipped cream = a delightful post dinner desert or a fantastic start to a night of bar hopping and drinking.
2. Hostaria del Moro da Tony (Vicolo del Cinque, 36, 00153 Rome, Italy)
Where should I go to eat in Rome? In a city this big it's a conundrum that keeps people on their toes – there are just so many choices. But Hostaria del Moro da Tony is my #1 recommendation.
It never opens without it's owner, Tony. He's on stage at all times – keeping an eye on employees, charming customers, cooking, and delivering truly delicious wine. The food here is fantastic (in my few months in Rome I must’ve tried half the menu) and you get the true Roma family-owned dining experience. If you’re looking for a great first night meal this is my recommendation.
Great prices, delicious food, incredible house wine, located in Trastevere, and an all-around authentic family-owned Roma eatery experience. You won't find restaurants like this across the river.
Tony's Restaurant in Trastevere
One of Rome's Best Restaurants
3. Dar Poeta (Vicolo del Bologna, 45 00153 Roma Italy)
Three words. Nutella. Ricotta. Calzone. It will change your life.
This was my favorite place to buy pizza or calzones during any time of the day. The food must’ve been filled with something addictive because I couldn't possibly stop buying it. I would go as far as to say this is one of the best restaurants in Rome.
This place was recommended to us by a local and you'll often find whole Italian families feasting inside, and a long line snaking around the building outside (made up of a combination of study abroad students, tourists, and Italians). While the wait at dinner time (which is closer to 8 than 6pm in Rome) can be long, in my experience, it is always worth it.
The pizza is inexpensive, filling, flavorful, and unique. Give it a try, you won't be sorry.
Where to Go in Rome
Rome is a bustling city of over 2 million people, with thousands of tourists at any given time. During Easter weekend there were 3 million additional people in the city. During the Canonization of Pope John Paul II in April of 2015 there were 5 million additional people in the city. Naturally this means that everything gets very crowded.
Luckily there is a lot to see in Rome that you won't have to wait in two hour lines for. I've listed my top-three back of the travel guide (or not even in the guide) recommendations for the top things to see in Rome.
Cat Sanctuary in Rome's RuinsClick thumbnail to view full-size
1. Largo di Torre Argentina (Largo di Torre Argentina 00186 Roma Italy)
This was once the site of four Roman victory temples, each one incredibly unique, giant, and gorgeous. It also was the site of at least part of Pompey's Theatre. Along the victory route these temples used to be a gathering place to celebrate Roman victories. It’s still a gathering place, but for cats instead of humans.
Not too long ago Rome had a significant stray cat problem. To solve this problem they took these famous ruins they couldn’t destroy or build over in the middle of a city block, and filled them with cats. A creative solution.
Now Largo Argentina is a cat colony where over 200 cats are taken care of, fed, adopted, and seen lounging in the sun all day. In the middle of an extremely busy – and central – Roman street this cat sanctuary is a great place to play a fun game of count-the-cats. If you’re lucky a couple of them will come out and play with you in the sunshine.
Plus it’s near where Caesar was possibly murdered.
I would rate this among the top places to visit in Rome. When I lived in Rome I would grab lunch or gelato (or gelato for lunch) and sit and watch the cats at least once a week. If you're a cat lover you can also go into the building along the inside of the ruins (though you can't actually go in the ruins) and play with disabled cats or make a donation.
The Cat Sanctuary in Rome
2. The Aventine Keyhole (Clivo di Rocca Savella, Rome, Italy)
This non-descript door holds one of the best views in all of Rome. Whether it was planned or accidental the keyhole in this door aligns directly with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a rather long, but beautiful, trek through the city to get to but the view is worth it. The whole area features stunning parks and the occasional beautiful church, which I recommend you stop and visit on your way through.
It sounds fairly unexciting, a pretty bland green door with a view of the Vatican, but it certainly has it’s charm. This is one of those places the locals often bring their tourist friends for a unique perspective of the city.
Through the Aventine Keyhole
Best View in Rome
3. The Gianicolo Hill (Villa Lante al Gianicolo, Passeggiata del Gianicolo, 10, 00165, Roma, Italy)
Back to Trastevere! If you’re looking for a beautiful view, day or night, this is the place to find it. This is one of the best places to go in Rome to get a great view (beat only by the top of St. Peters and Aventine Hill). Those who don’t venture far enough out of the center of Rome miss out on the bird’s-eye view of its magnificence.
South of the Vatican this hill offers a sweeping view of the whole city across the Tiber river. Visit by day and spot the Colosseum, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Roman Forum. Go up by night and you’ll be dazzled by the city lights. If you’re with a significant other bring some flowers and a camera for a great date spot. If you’re with friends wander up here before visiting the bars below and take a moment to absorb the sheer size and history of Rome.
Rome Off the Beaten Path
Dar Poeta - Delicious Pizza and Calzones
A beautiful view of St. Peter's Basilica
One of the best views of ROome
Delicious shots in chocolate shot glasses. Dessert and a drink all in one!
Delicious pasta and wine at a family-owned restaurant
Central street in downtown Rome and beautiful ruins filled with cats.
So next time you find yourself trying to figure out what to do in Rome try something recommended by a local, or off the main city streets. Explore. You might like what you discover.
I love Rome and I love to talk about it. If you want more recommendations (I have them), other ideas, or just random comments let me know! I spent five months barely sleeping in the city and I still have so much I didn’t see. Here’s to future visits.
Travel Guide to Popular Roma Landmarks
For the Top 10 Rome attractions (not including mine of course) check out this excellent travel guide.
I Never Leave Home Without a Travel Guide
Rick Steves is a personal favorite. While his book doesn't mention everything on this list, it does give you a lot of important advice for visiting the city.