There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a tourist; on the contrary, first-time visitors to a city are courageous souls who have chosen to overcome overheated airports, long lines and unfamiliar languages all in the name of exploration. So congratulations, and welcome! Of course, as a tourist, you risk a particular type of international malady: the tourist trap. In Rome, this means everything from eating soggy spaghetti in front of the Pantheon (don’t do it) to taking tour buses (also, don’t do it) – and it happens for a reason you simply can’t help, which is that an unguided newcomer simply cannot know better. But have no fear! Like A Local’s Rome expert and founder of the Young in Rome blog, Flavia, is here with some tips and tricks to help you avoid the pitfalls of the Eternal City, so that you can focus on what’s important: falling in love with Italy’s capital and eating amazing food.
1. Eat in the general vicinity of a historical landmark
You’ve been ruin-hopping all day, you’re tired and cranky, and you’re hungry. I hear you, I do. This doesn’t mean that the answer to your woes is to plop down at the first bar or restaurant closest to your last-visited landmark, particularly if the proposed eating establishment has a server outside whose sole function is to woo you in. Don’t do it. Follow your gut on this one, not your rumbling tummy: either do your research beforehand on places to eat (hello, Like A Local reviews!) or, if you’re caught unawares, use the trick of walking away from Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, etc. The general rule is that most places in direct line of sight of major tourist attractions are a tourist trap (restaurants around Piazza Navona, I’m looking at you in particular). More than likely, you’ll be overcharged and you won’t be blown away by the food – and this is Italy, so you need to be blown away by the food. Get adventurous. The more unobtrusive the place, the better off you’re likely to be. If you’re not shy, stop at a corner store and ask the staff to recommend a good spot – use the locals!
As always, there’s the exception to the rule, and the first one that comes to mind is Armando al Pantheon – this restaurant is about a minute from the Pantheon and has some of the best carbonara in the entire city. They normally require reservations, but if you’re walking by, it’s worth a shot.
Photo credit: Lorenzoclick
2. Think Trastevere is the only area to grab a drink in the evening
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge Trastevere fan and so are most locals and expats, so it’s a great neighbourhood to have a saunter at night and meet locals as well as people who probably speak your language. That being said, don’t limit yourself! My personal favourite neighbourhood is Monti, the perfect area for an evening aperitivo and stroll. If you don’t feel like planning ahead, start at Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, where you’ll find people milling about (assuming the weather is nice), and pick one of the many locales dotting the roads that fan out from the piazza. Don’t forget dessert – Fatamorgana has a gelato shop right in Piazza degli Zingari.
If you’re more into the late-night bar life, you can start with dinner at Flavio al Velavevodetto in the Testaccio neighbourhood and then walk over to the main road, which is lined with bars and clubs. And if you don’t mind going a bit out of the centre, the Pigneto neighbourhood has a merry pedestrian island (in the ‘no cars’ sense of the word) full of bars.
Photo credit: Michiel Jelijs
3. Hop on tour buses (or, hop-on tour buses)
Guys. I know open tour buses are convenient, but you’re not only just skimming the very surface that way, you’re also only going to see the major tourist attractions, and miss the heart and soul of the city: its bustle and chaos, its silence and views, its hidden side streets. If you want a tour, there are lots of cool options (you can check out my favourites here), or lace up your walking shoes and go exploring – this city, like your boots, was made for walkin’!
Photo credit: RosieTulips
4. Go to the Colosseum or the Terme di Caracalla only by day
Okay, this is a seasonal tip, but it’s such a game-changer that I had to include it in my list. These are two of my favourite major landmarks in general, so you clearly can’t go wrong with a regular daytime visit, but if you’re visiting during the warmer months, then firstly, you must book a night-time tour of the Colosseum. These tours are offered by the city of Rome both in English and Italian, and when they’re available, you can book directly online. The summer schedule varies, so give it a google, but this past year ran through the summer until early October.
Now, Terme di Caracalla. Every year from May through August (the schedule also varies), this Roman treasure hosts the Opera di Roma, which picks up its skirts and moves from the opera house to the centre of the ruins. They put on an array of shows every year, from traditional opera to concerts to ballet, and I’ll be honest – whatever you go and see, the ambiance will stun and enthral you.
Photo credit: Flavia Brunetti
5. Don’t get lost
This takes us back to point three, but I can’t stress it enough: Rome rewards its wanderers. Obviously, you cannot miss the main attractions, but in this case, the edges and the blurry in-between are just as crucial. Get up early and see Piazza di Spagna before it’s full of people, then grab an espresso at the Antico Caffè Greco (Via Condotti 86) and walk all of the side streets, including (and maybe most importantly), Via Margutta, the street of the artists. Walk around Trastevere and San Giovanni when the sun is setting and bathes the ochre walls. Take a stroll through the Giardino degli Aranci, and from there head up towards the Keyhole of the Knights of Malta (for details on this and other free things to enjoy in Rome, check out my article on just this topic!) Soak it all in. And when you’re done for the day, have a delicious meal. After all, with all that walking, you’ve earned it!
Photo credit: Elwin van Eede
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