Rome isn’t just ancient art & history, but is actually quite cool. And it’s got a bit of a hip reputation, too. (It’s a capital city, remember?) These are some of my favorite things to do in Rome, whether it’s getting a bit off-the-beaten track and visiting the outlying neighborhoods, or just diving right into to Rome’s most popular touristic places such as Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona. Even though the city can sometimes feel a bit like a theme park, there’s still a lot to see and do here. And if you’re in the right places with the right people, you might just never want to leave!
People-Watching in Rome
This is probably the easiest city in the world for people-watching. Rome is famous for all its public spaces where kids, students, families and young couples always seem to congregate. From the Spanish steps to tiny piazzas hidden between streets, if there are any sort of steps or stairs you’ll likely see someone sitting on them. Fountains are particularly popular—especially in the summer. Head to Via del Pignetto and the surrounding area where you’ll find the coolest locals — plus some great mens fashion shops, wine bars and some small live music clubs.
Nightlife in Rome
- Trastevere – Viccolo de Cinque street between the Ponte Sisto and Ponte Garibaldi bridges is crowded and lively on the weekends. Cheap food, people drinking on the bridges, on the church steps — you’re sure to have some fun if you hang out in Trastevere. Try the Akab Club for electronic and occasional indie rock nights.
- San Lorenzo – Just a ten minute walk down via Marsala. It’s near the University so lots of young trendy folks around. There is a club or two and plenty cheap foods. Try the pizza at Formula One!
- Pigneto – This neighborhood (just further south from San Lorenzo) is one of thew newest hotspots for Rome locals. Wine bars and restaurants are the main fare here.
- Madonna dei Monti – The Monti neighborhood is probably THE hipster area of Rome. There are some great mens fashion shops and cafes worth visiting during daytime, but visit the plaza at night to see the real fun. There’s a local drink shop where most people just buy a cheap beer to enjoy while sitting at the fountain.
- Campo de Fiori - Lonely Planet describes this plaza as the place where you’re most likely to find drunk Romans. With street buskers and heaps of restaurants, it was a cool area to hang out in the evening but it still felt a bit too touristic. Better to visit this square to mark it off your “been there, done that” list, and then head over to Trastevere where all the real locals are.
Who knew Rome could be so gay-friendly?! Sure, this is the city that gave us bath houses and the ancient Romans were never really shy about homosexuality. But it was still surprising to find so many cool, gay parties happening in the Eternal City
- Glamda – weekly gay/straight-friendly party during the summer. It’s at an outdoor club and the music is better than what you’d usually get at a gay club night. Drinks are kind of expensive, but the atmosphere is fun.
- Qube Disco - Friday nights at this huge club is the weekly gay party.
- Gay street – There’s an entire street of gay bars and clubs. Coming Out is a popular one. I didn’t get the chance to visit and heard mixed reviews about the bar, but the street is a quick and easy way to find some gay nightlife in Rome.
Eating Out in Rome
Italy is easily one of the world’s most delicious countries, and their capital, Rome, sure knows how to make some great food. Traditional Roman food includes things like carbonara and cacio e pepe, but that doesn’t mean the other Italian food you’ll find in the city isn’t just as good.
- Take a food tour — I went on a 3-hour walking tour through Testaccio—a great little neighborhood south of the Colosseum. It was one of the best food tours I’ve had and was the best way to get introduced to the city that loves to eat!
- Cantina & Cucina — Full of hipsters, no joke. Vegetarian-friendly menu.
- Formula One pizza in San Lorenzo — best pizza in Rome? I thought so! Plus the whole place was packed full of students at nearly midnight.
- 0km market near the Roman forum — Get lunch at one of the stands! There are hot meals in the back corner, otherwise cheese and fruit sampling throughout.
- Testaccio food market — One of Rome’s oldest markets, this place is so spectacularly hyper-local with some of Rome’s oldest Italians :)
- Water is everywhere. And thank god for it, because it is HOT. There’s even an app for finding the nearest free water spout!
- Fileta di Bacala — near Campo de Fiori, grab a fileta di bacala (fried cod fish) for just 4.50. You’ll see the giant line/queue outside or else just walk in and go straight to the back near the kitchen and ask the woman standing over the giant vat of boiling oil for some fried fish!
Gelato in Rome
I don’t think I need to tell you just how delicious gelato is, but just in case, I’ve shared a few of my favorite gelaterias below.
- Learn to tell the difference (3 steps) – Best way to do this is by asking people (or take the famous Testaccio tour)
- Gelateria de Teatro – Arguably one of Rome’s best gelatos. They’ve even got some unique flavors like “chocolate with red wine.”
- Sora Mirella la Grattachecca – Tired of gelato? Get shaved ice (a sno cone) at this Roman institution. It’s at one end of the Ponte Cestio bridge. The shaved ice comes with a bit of fruit on top and the ice is made fresh. So refreshing in the summer!
Public transportation in Rome is easy to use, though be warned that it doesn’t always run on time!
- Bus 64 is useful if you’re staying near Termini – it’ll hit the major destinations and save you a lot of time
- Buy a metro card. It gets very hot in Rome during the summer and you won’t want to be outside for long periods of time.
Sightseeing in Rome
Rome has a LOT of tourist attractions and considering most people just spend a handful of days in the Eternal City, you’ll probably only have time to catch the best of the best. But rather, I recommend hitting a few of the major sites and then spending your time exploring the less-visited parts of Rome. Rome isn’t one of my favorite European cities for nothing. There’s a lot of life and energy flowing through the city, even with all the ancient monuments. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Take a walking tour through Rome with Eating Italy Food Tours. I took the tour on my first day visiting Rome and it was without a doubt one of the best things I did in the city. It was a brilliant introduction to Rome and I highly recommend it! View their website and just try not to get hungry—I dare you!
- Take a tour of the Vatican Museums. There are a lot of companies offering tours or else it’s possible to visit on your own, though you’ll have to wait in long lines. I went on a tour with When in Rome Tours which was decent. There wasn’t a lot of time for exploring on our own, but it was a good introduction.
- St Peters is amazing, breathtaking and a million other words impossible to describe its massive beauty. (And I mean massive, the building is gigantic). I didn’t take a tour but instead wandered around myself, slowly taking it all in. The highlights are Michelangelo’s Pieta & Bernini’s Baldacchino. I really wasn’t expecting to be so taken in with the building, but it was hard not to come away impressed.
- The Pantheon is a must-see. It’s free and the dome is amazing on the inside. Plus it doesn’t take much time to visit and the architecture truly is spectacular.
- For something a bit more alternative, try visiting the Protestant Cemetery in Testaccio. There you’ll find John Keats’ grave, though there’s also a Keats/Shelly Memorial near the Trevi Fountain (closed Sundays, though).
Cool Souvenirs in Rome
- Trast Clothing — T-shirts and other silly souvenirs, but not as cheesy as the other stuff you’ll find in Rome
- Sexy priests calendar — For some reason, most of the souvenir shops enjoy showcasing oxymoronic things, such as sexy Vatican priests. Also: everywhere in Italy they seem to love to put Michaelengelo’s David’s genitalia on just about everything from magnets & boxer shorts to kitchen aprons
- Don’t take the ancient artifacts!
- Food! Trust me on this, go to Volpetti (a gourmet food shop) and sample the fine cheeses and balsamic vinegars until you find just what you didn’t know you ever needed! It’s so worth it and it’s my absolute favorite souvenir from Rome!
Useful Resources & Travel Tips
- Heart Rome — Blog by my friend Maria which includes some great foodie tips
- Browsing Rome — An insider’s look into life as a Roman
- Use Trenitalia.com for buying train tickets…which is often cheaper if you buy online!
- The Yellow Guide — This hostel near the train station provides a customized map of Rome (which is also available online!) and had some amazing travel tips that I’ve used in the past