There are so many iconic sites to see in Rome: The Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City, the Caravaggio triptych at the San Luigi dei Francesi church, to name a few. “The Eternal City” has a lot to offer. But as the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So here are five ways to experience Rome like a Roman.
1. Wander in the Centro Storico
The Centro Storico is the historic heart of Rome, just north of Piazza Venezia. It’s a great place to take your time and experience Rome at your own pace, just as the Romans do – la dolce vita, the sweet life! While the Pantheon and Piazza Navona are the big attractions, you can have a wonderful time getting blissfully lost in the tangle of narrow, medieval cobblestone streets, Renaissance palazzi, colourful piazzas, churches with Baroque art, quaint cafes, boutiques, restaurants and chic bars.
2. Meet friends for aperitivo
What Romans like to do after the workday is done, is to meet for aperitivo, the Italian version of happy hour, which usually involves meeting for a drink and a light snack before dinner. The classic Roman aperitivo is an Aperol spritz (Aperol and sparkling water), though some prefer it made with white wine, Prosecco or Campari. Fragolino, a sweet, strawberry-tasting sparkling wine, is also very popular. Snacks on offer can range from chips and peanuts to exquisite finger foods or even full-scale buffets. At ‘Gusto, an industrial-chic restaurant and winebar, you’ll get a variety of cheeses, mini pizzas, salads and arancini, which are all included in the price of the drink.
3. Hang out in Trastevere
The Tiber River is Rome’s main watercourse, and entering the city’s hip Trastevere (“across the Tiber”) neighbourhood is like arriving in a different place once you cross the river. In Trastevere, you can take your time and meander the cobblestone streets, exploring the shops and boutiques selling jewelry, handicrafts and fragrances. When night falls, the bars of Trastevere come alive with people drinking, chatting and taking in the atmosphere. Try Freni e Frizioni, which serves cocktails made with fresh fruit and offers a fantastic aperitivo.
4.Get fresh market produce for a meal or a picnic
For lots of Romans, a central part of everyday life is stopping in at the mercato (the market) to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of the city’s neighbourhoods boast their own markets, with lots of very high quality produce that can be great for picnic sandwiches or for a fresh and healthy meal anywhere you choose. One of the city’s most popular markets is the one at Campo de’ Fiori, which comes alive every morning (except Sunday) with the convivial commotion of vendors and shoppers. Even if you’re not looking for a meal, visiting a local market can give you a taste of the local culture.
5.Eat gelato at a gelateria
Gelato is quintessentially Italian, and Rome, naturally, has an abundance of top-notch gelaterias. In fact, many Romans have their favourite, to which they are unwaveringly loyal. Just a short stroll from the Pantheon, you’ll find Giolitti, established in 1900 – one of the best of Rome’s old-school gelaterias. It offers dozens of flavours to choose from, and a small gelato consists of two flavours with whipped cream. Tip: If you order yours to go, it’s less expensive, but you’ll need to line up at the cashier and pay prior to ordering.
Bonus: Scale the Spanish Steps
It might be a little more touristy than some of the other entries, but lots of Romans visit the Spanish Steps, too. These legendary steps ascend steeply from the Piazza di Spagna to Piazza Trinità dei Monti. At the top, as you’re greeted by the Trinità dei Monti church, you can look back and take in the fabulous view of the boat-shaped fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia. Next to the church, the Villa Medici offers amazing views of the Centro Storico. The Piazza di Spagna is also where you’ll find some of the city’s toniest boutiques, on its famous shopping street, Via dei Condotti.
A little to the south of the base of the Spanish Steps, and east of the Piazza di Spagna, you’ll find the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, one of Rome’s best hidden-gem museums. It houses one of the most wide-ranging collections of memorabilia, letters, manuscripts, and paintings relating to the Romantic poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as others such as Oscar Wilde, Byron, Wordsworth, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
But even though many people like to hang out at the Spanish Steps, don’t plan to eat your lunch there; there are laws forbidding it.
What about you? Did you do as the Romans do when you were in Rome? Tell us in the comments below.