Paces West Travels: Guide to Rome
Sitting down to write this Rome guide has been a struggle. Aside from Atlanta (my hometown) and New York City (where I basically live part-time), Rome is the city where Max and I have spent the most time. For a few years, we were traveling back and forth from Rome for work A LOT, and we would spend weeks at a time there. Trying to put all of that experience into one guide would be like writing a novel, one which you probably wouldn’t be very interested in reading. On the other hand, I didn’t want to oversimplify things and thus leave out key recommendations! Notice, I don’t yet have a guide for Atlanta or Manhattan due to these very challenges!
Hopefully I’ve found a happy medium here! You’ll see that there are a few more recs in each category than my other guides, and perhaps a few extra personal anecdotes. I think I ultimately stayed far far away from novel status, though.
Just here for the outfits? No judgement girl, I got you! There’s a ‘Shop the Post’ feature at the end!
As with any city, deciding where to stay in Rome is key. While the city is very walkable in some areas, it’s still a large city, and some of the best areas aren’t exactly right next to each other. If you want to see a variety of what the city has to offer, you’ll definitely have to taxi or take public transportation between different neighborhoods, restaurants, tourist attractions, etc. So, I find it best to pick an area to stay where you know you are walking distance to at least some attractions you want to see and restaurants you want to try, but also central enough that you are close to a metro stop or a short taxi ride away from everything else.
One of the most important things to know about hotels in Rome is that you’re visiting one of the most historic cities in the world, and many of the local hotels are, shall we say, historic. I have stayed in more hotels in this city than I could possibly count, and if you stay at one of the non-branded places, it can be a bit of a culture shock if you don’t know what to expect. This is not to say that these hotels are not charming and nice in their own way, they are just different than what you might be used to.
One of the first places we stayed in Rome was the Hotel NH Collection Roma Centro (previously known as NH Roma Leonardo da Vinci). The NH Hotel Group is an international brand and this hotel is updated, comfortable, and reasonably priced. It is also about a 20 minute walk to St. Peter’s Basilica, which if you take the route along the Tiber and past Castel Sant’Angelo, is delightfully picturesque.
Another hotel in the same category is the Star Hotels Metropole Roma. Star Hotels is also a well-known brand and this location is only a few blocks away from Termini (the main train station in Rome), and a roughly 20-25 minute walk from the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Venezia, respectively. There are also a number of good restaurants in the immediate vicinity.
On our more extended stays, we usually stayed in one of these Airbnb’s. The owners are our good friends and all of their apartments are renovated and modern, clean, well-cared for, and centrally located. You can also find them on sites like Hotels.com and Booking.etc, not just Airbnb. Just google “Domenichino apartments Rome”. The owners are beyond helpful and knowledgeable, and if you’re looking for apartment-style accommodations rather than a hotel, you will be so happy you found these!
Photo Courtesy of Domenichino
On our most recent trip, we spent the majority of the nights in the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri. This was our first time staying at this hotel and we absolutely loved it! The service is impeccable and the breakfast is one of the best we’ve had at any hotel. Not to mention, if you have a room on one of the higher floors, the view is unbelievable. The only drawback to this hotel is that it’s not walking distance to anything because it’s on top of a high hill. However, there is a convenient taxi stand onsite and it’s a short ride to any of the major attractions.
One quick note on taxi since I’ve mentioned them a lot in this section. In Rome, you cannot just hail a taxi on the street like you would in New York City. That’s not to say it never happens, but I would say 99% of the time you will need to find a taxi stand nearby or use an Uber-like app to call one to you. If your hotel does not have a taxi stand nearby, the front desk or concierge will call one for you when you want to leave. Aside from that, I’ve found the taxis in Rome to be safe and the drivers knowledgeable, although they usually do not speak English.
Terrace at the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri
EAT AND DRINK
The food in Rome is just as amazing as you’d expect it to be! The only real places you can go wrong are the tourist traps. If there is someone standing in the street trying to lure you into the restaurant, and if the menu is largely made up of pictures, RUN! The food at any of these places will be overpriced and terrible, not to mention completely inauthentic. You’ll usually find these places near the main tourist attractions.
Two of my absolute favorite things to eat in Rome are Cacio e Pepe and Mozzarella di Bufala. The first is my favorite pasta dish in the entire world and the second is the best mozzarella you will ever have. Seriously, you will never eat mozzarella in the states ever. again. Mozzarella di Bufala is the most flavorful, delicious cheese you will ever put in your mouth, and even though you can technically buy it in the states, it does not taste the same. It’s like how they say bagels in NYC are better than anywhere else because of the water or some other unknown variable, it’s the same with Mozzarella di Bufala. Seriously, do NOT miss out!
Below I’ve listed some of our favorite restaurants and bars, not in order of favorites, just alphabetically. This is the section where I reallllyyy had to pare myself back. I could go on and on about random places in Rome we’ve tried, but that would not be helpful. I limited myself to the places we’ve been over and over again, most of which were originally introduced to us by our Italian friends. These places are authentic enough that locals eat there, but also not so authentic that you can’t request an English menu if you need it. You get me?
L’Archetto: Located on a quiet side street, L’Archetto is a small Spaghetteria which boasts 100 different sauces for their spaghetti. My favorites are the truffle and mushroom sauce and the four cheese sauce, but you can also find the classic cacio e pepe or pomodoro sauces. The décor is quaint with no frills, just the natural historic beauty of their location. I personally love sitting outside, but they also have a great indoor space as well. This place is extremely affordable, with the spaghetti dishes averaging 10-12 euros. After dinner, I love to walk over to the Trevi Fountain (just a 2 minute walk away) for a gelato and some people-watching!
Campo de’Fiori: Translated to English as “Field of Flowers”, Campo de’Fiori is a large square with numerous bars and restaurants. Most of the establishments have walk-up bars where you can order a drink and then take it into the square. The restaurants here can get a bit touristy, but I’ve enjoyed my times at La Carbonara nonetheless. This square will be busy well into the night, but if you go in the summer expect to find a lot of college students on their study abroad programs!
La Matriciana: Just around the corner from the Star Hotels Metropole (see “Stay” section above), we first ate at La Matriciana with one of our good friends who lived next door. Of the places I’m mentioning here, this is probably the least touristy. The menu is large and reasonably priced, and the wine list is extensive. Due to its proximity to the Teatro dell’Opera, the atmosphere has a more elegant vibe, but not so upscale that you feel out of place if you want to dress casually. My favorite dish is the Fettucine con Tartufo Nero, but they’re of course famous for their Bucatini alla Matriciana.
Pizzeria San Marco: This one is one of my all-time favorites. It’s about a 5-minute walk from the NH Hotel (see “Stay” section above), and we stumbled upon it during one of our earliest trips to Rome. We never visit Rome without visiting this restaurant. During our most recent trip, even though we hadn’t been back to Rome in over 2 years, the waiters still remembered us and greeted us by name! I will caveat this recommendation with the fact that I love it because it’s a special, memory-filled place for me, but the food and atmosphere are still excellent! Make sure you go to the Via Tacito location, and if you go for lunch be sure to sit outside!
Outside seating at Pizzeria San Marco
ReCafé: Another favorite! Located just off the main shopping street (Via del Corso), ReCafé is in a great central location and is perfect for lunch in between sightseeing stops. Max and I order the exact same dishes every single time we come here, whether it’s lunch or dinner: Two mozzarella di bufala (or 1 treccia di bufala if they are not out of it for the day), pizzelle di donna maria, trenette con datterini gialli e rossi, pizza margherita, 1 bottle of Livon sauvignon blanc, and lemon sorbet for dessert (which is liquid and comes in a martini glass). In case you’re wondering, YES this is an obscene amount of food for two people. They always look at us like we’re crazy!
Photo Courtesy of ReCafé
Salotto 42: This is a great place for after-dinner drinks! It’s super chic and intimate, and it has somewhat of a speakeasy vibe with craft cocktails and Frank Sinatra-style music. The bar itself is really tiny with limited lounge-type seating, so on weekends there’s usually a crowd spilling out the door. It’s located in a secluded little square and faces the Temple of Hadrian, which is beautiful at night!
Photo Courtesy of Ted McGrath
Via Urbana: This is a street rather than an actual restaurant, but what a picturesque street it is! We once stayed in an apartment here, and it’s just so dreamy and Italian! There are several cute restaurants along this street, two of my favorites are Sciue Sciue and Urbana 47.
Rome is home to some of the most famous historical spots in the world, all of which you’re probably well acquainted with. I am not going to give you a rundown of every tourist attraction in the city because, well, if you don’t know what the Colosseum is, you probably shouldn’t be starting your trip research with this blog post anyway! I will, however, give you some quick tips for navigating the attractions based on my experiences!
Going back to the Colosseum, this will always be one of the most crowded spots in Rome. Think never ending masses of tourists from all countries, people constantly harassing you to buy their express pass to cut the line to go inside, and souvenir vendors by the hundreds. The Colosseum is obviously magnificent and a can’t miss spot, but listen to someone who has baked in the hot Roman sun while waiting in line to go inside, don’t. do. the. tour. Trust me, the Colosseum is much more spectacular from the outside. Go in the early morning, walk around it, get your fantastic pics for the ‘gram, and then get the hell outta there.
The difference between the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani), the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica tends to confuse people. The Vatican Museums are exactly what they sound like, museums, and the Sistine Chapel is included within the museums. I have been through the Vatican Museums twice, and while the Sistine Chapel is amazing, museums just really aren’t my thing.
Aside from the Sistine Chapel, a lot of people really just want to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica (the big domed church that people associate with Vatican City). If you purchase tickets for the museums, you can also access St. Peter’s as part of your tour. You can do self-guided tours or book a tour with a professional guide. I have done both, and if you’re going to go the museum route I do suggest using a guide, it really does make it so much more interesting!
Anyway, if you’re not into the museums, you can also just opt to go straight to St. Peter’s Square and enter the basilica there. You will still have to go through security, but entrance to just the basilica is free and the lines are much short than the museum entrance lines. Plus, St. Peter’s Square is breathtaking! Going into the basilica itself is unbelievable, but if you’re up for it I also highly suggest paying 5 euros for access to the Cupola. The Cupola is the dome at the top of the basilica!
Fair warning, the stairs to the top are pretty daunting and cramped. These stairs and hallways were built ages and ages ago, and if you are claustrophobic I seriously don’t suggest it. I also wouldn’t suggest doing this in the summer because it would be very easy to overheat. I’ve gone to the top three times, all in the winter months, and it is well worth it if you can get past the climb. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
These were taken in 2013 and though they’ve added some additional guard rails since then, the view is still unparalleled and you can still get pretty spectacular photos.
Last note on this, don’t get suckered into paying 2 extra euros for the “elevator”. It only goes part of the way up and this the easy, modern-day part!
I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to the Eternal City! If you have any lingering questions, drop a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them for you!
As always, thank you for reading and sharing! XOXO