Rome fights a constant battle with Paris and London for my favorite European city. It’s big, but walkable, full of incredible historical sites, has a lively buzz from people and scooters, and serves up consistently delicious pastas.
While you should definitely hit sites like the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's Pieta, I also encourage you to discover your favorite version of the four pastas of Rome: Cacio e Pepe, Gricia, Amatriciana, and Carbonara.
The real beauty of these pastas is in their simplicity. Cacio e Pepe, for example, is made with pepper and pecorino. Gricia adds pork. To the pepper, cheese, and pork, Carbonara adds an egg while Amatriciana adds tomatoes. And yet these are some of the most delicious pastas you will find.
There are so many tasty foods to try in Rome - artichokes, stuffed zucchini blossoms, suppli, fresh truffles, porchetta, cured meats and cheeses, chestnuts roasting on an open fire. If you can spare a week for Rome, you will be rewarded richly with food, wine, and culture!
An Introduction to the Four Pastas of Rome
La Carbonara - Monti neighborhood; go early in your trip in case you want to go again; they only take reservations by phone 24 hours in advance and it’s called “La Carbonara” for a reason
Da Robertino - down the street from La Carbonara in case you need a backup that also offers excellent versions of the Four Pastas of Rome; has outdoor seating and you can get a table without a reservation
Casolina Osteria Kosher - restaurant in Jewish quarter with outdoor seating; takes online reservations; highly recommend their fried food platter and cacio e pepe
Prosciutteria Cantina dei Papi - when you’re tired of pasta and want excellent cured meats and cheeses; have a location in Trastevere and near the Trevi Fountain
Checco Er Carettiere - old school Italian feeling place in Trastevere; very large indoor space would be great if you have a larger group; good place to try Amatriciana
Aroma - Michelin starred restaurant overlooking the Colosseum; one of the best dining views you will have in life and if it’s truffle season also some of the best pasta you’ll have in life
One thing I’ll say about Rome, and really Italy as a whole, is I haven’t had a bad meal here. Even when the restaurant you want to get into is full, walking around the corner and picking a random place has always worked out for me.
Sightseeing: The Vatican, Cats, and Pepper
Do an early morning tour at the Vatican
Walks of Italy offers a tour that gets you into the Sistine Chapel an hour before it opens. I’ve gone on the early tour and at a regular time, and the difference in the crowd size early in the morning makes a tremendous difference in how you experience the space. It is worth it to get up early (and I do mean early, you meet at 7:15am). The tour ends at St. Peter’s Basilica where you see Michelangelo’s Pieta, my favorite piece of art.
Check out the cat sanctuary on Roman ruins
Torre Argentina operates a cat shelter at Roman ruins in the center of town. When I went by in 2022 their shelter area was open and they gave us a tour of the work they do to TNR and save cats who couldn’t survive on their own. If you hate cats (??) maybe this won’t be of interest, but there’s something I love about seeing the cats chill on thousand year old ruins.
Grab some cacio e pepe pepper at the Campo de Fiore market
A short walk from the Jewish quarter or cat sanctuary, the spice vendor at the Campo de Fiori market sells cacio e pepe pepper so you can make an authentic version when you’re back home. Other vendors sell dried pasta, olive oils, truffles, and other goods that make nice gifts. Some of the vendors are quite pushy, but it’s worth it to me to get the pepper. (Note to DC folks: please bring me some back if you go!)
Where to Stay
I love the Trastevere neighborhood - it’s full of happy people and good food. The square at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of my favorite places in Rome to grab a café table for coffee or wine and people watch. At the pharmacy nearby you can purchase decongestant if you get Covid while traveling (you noticed all the outdoor restaurant recs, right?).
UNA Hotel - a brand new hotel (as of fall of 2022) that is an easy walk to all Trastevere has to offer; decent sized rooms and bathrooms; cute interior courtyard
Hotel Santa Maria - situated right in the middle of the heart of Trastevere (not always ideal for cabs); a renovated cloister organized around an orangery where you can enjoy breakfast in nicer weather