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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
(Ginevra Sammartino)
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Rome

(Ginevra Sammartino)
  • By Erica Firpo
  • Photos by Ginevra Sammartino
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Rome is beautiful chaos and contradictions, and this should absolutely be expected from a city whose thousands of years of history and personalities have formed its pulsating present. You first get a hint of its noncommittal nature while driving into the city from the airport, passing fields with roaming sheep. The highway flows into an austere neighborhood designed in the 1930s, where every building was intended to be a monument. And then the chaos begins: Congested neighborhoods snake up the Tiber River leading to the centro storico (historic center), where Baroque palaces and churches fight with ancient monuments for a little elbow room.

There is no patience, and there shouldn’t be. This is Rome, where anything goes. The energy can be overwhelming. Keep walking around; eventually, you’ll realize that Rome is not quite as big as you thought — geographically and socially. Everyone knows everyone. If you visit the same places and piazzas a few times, you’ll find that they know you, too.

Meet Erica Firpo

Erica has lived in Rome since 2004, but she has been visiting the Eternal City since she was a child, thanks to her Roman mother and grandparents. Philly is her hometown, L.A. is where she started her career and Rome is the end-all, be-all. She loves piazza life but misses barbecues. She's the founder of Ciao Bella, a site on Italian culture.

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Email bytheway@washpost.com
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IN THE ACTION
Monti
Monti is the perfect mix of busy bars, great restaurants, trendy stores and some of the most recognizable historic sites. This is where you’ll find cool, chic and even quirky boutique hotels and some of Rome’s best Airbnbs. Don’t expect brand names, but don’t worry about it. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Villa Borghese
Villa Borghese, specifically, is the city’s prettiest park and sits quietly between the historic center and Parioli, a residential neighborhood. The few hotels lining its perimeter have panoramic views and hidden pools. It’s just close enough to the center to feel in the know and just far away enough to be a breath of fresh air. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Roscioli Caffe
After they cornered the market on pizza and bread at Antico Forno bakery for four generations, the Roscioli brothers opened a neighborhood coffee bar and pastry shop, which, despite little standing room, never fails to please locals. Along with spectacular coffee drinks (hot ones come in heated cups), the pastries are divine. Many are old-school, hard-to-find Roman dolci. If you don’t do sweet, the selection of salati (savory sandwiches) is big and creative. Go for the thinly sliced pastrami on homemade cornetto and the club sandwich with an over-easy egg.
BTW: Come before 9 a.m. to get a place at the counter. The back table is bookable, too.
Roscioli Caffe, Piazza Benedetto Cairoli 16, Rome
BREAKFAST
Pasticceria Regoli
As the centurion of pastry shops, Regoli is timeless. For more than 100 years, the multigenerational pastry shop in the Esquilino neighborhood has been serving its faithful customers cappuccinos and caffe with classic Italian desserts such as mostaccioli, profiteroles and mignons. Wander in and be mesmerized by the display cases filled with cakes, tarts and delicious seasonal treats such as the Easter colomba, frappe and bignè di San Giuseppe.
BTW: Regoli’s maritozzo, a cream-filled bun, is a national treasure. But you need to line up early or else you might miss it.
Regoli, Via dello Statuto, 60
LUNCH
Mercato Testaccio
This local market’s 100-plus vendors (produce, cheese, meat, fish, specialty foods, housewares) make it a great community hangout. Lunch standouts include fresh pasta of the day at Le Mani in Pasta (Box 58), vegan burgers and tacos at Sano (Box 3), mini pizzas at Da Artenio (Box 90) and fried delicacies at Mastro Papone (Box 96). In other words, every kind of eater can dine here all afternoon. Make sure to bring cash.
BTW: Stop at Mordi e Vai (Box 15), the sandwich stand where the nonni line up at 9 a.m. for Sergio Esposito’s panini. They include Roman dishes stuffed into bread, including trippa (tripe), allesso di scottona (tender slow-cooked beef) and picchiapò (braised beef with onion and tomato).
Mercato Testaccio, Via Beniamino Franklin and via Aldo Manuzio, Rome
LUNCH
Suppli
The supplì — a deep-fried rice ball in ragù with a piece of melted mozzarella in the center — is a beloved Roman delicacy. For nearly 50 years, Suppli in the Trastevere neighborhood has been the spot for supplì and pizza al taglio. Fresh out of the oven and crunchy, you eat them street-side, no questions asked. The shop also has delicious pizza al taglio (square pizza), including pizza piccante with spicy red sauce and no cheese, and it has more fried options such as mozzarella in carrozza, which is breaded and deep-fried mozzarella.
BTW: Check out Suppli’s daily specials such as gnocchi and lasagna.
Suppli, Via San Francesco a Ripa 137, Rome
DINNER
Luciano Cucina Italiana
Luciano Cucina Italiana is a next-generation trattoria, thanks to chef Luciano Monosilio. He’s known as the King of Carbonara, a title he rightfully deserves since elevating the typical Roman dish to Michelin-star status. The restaurant, with an absolutely-not-rustic, very contemporary design, features an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen and a menu with his award-winning (and must-try) carbonara and other traditional favorites. But the fun is in his creative Contemporanee (contemporary) and Ripiene (stuffed) pasta dishes: fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — his version of pasta sauteed with garlic, pepper and olive oil and topped with cured fish roe.
BTW: Contrary to what you’d think, reserve no earlier than 9 p.m. It’s when Luciano gets lively.
Luciano Cucina Italiana, Piazza del Teatro Pompeo 18, Rome
DINNER
SantoPalato
Welcome to the next evolution of the Roman trattoria. Though SantoPalato’s vibe is retro with its sun-kissed orange walls, worn chairs, chalky chalkboard and vintage-inspired posters, chef Sarah Cicolini is cooking up the future in a menu grounded in tradition. Her polpette di coda alla vaccinara (oxtail meatballs) are a spherical dream, and the offals (organs) are amazing. If innards aren’t your thing, Cicolini has won awards for her carbonara and amatriciana.
BTW: You definitely need to book your table well in advance.
SantoPalato, Piazza Tarquinia, 4 a/b, Rome
LATE-NIGHT
Drink Kong
Patrick Pistolesi is one of the world’s best bartenders and a fan of “Blade Runner,” which he brings together in Japanese-inspired Drink Kong. Ranked on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2021 for its drinks as well as design, Drink Kong is both a hangout and art space where counters and booths come together in dark hues and neon. The “New Humans” menu is almost conceptual, with drinks based on complex flavors. Behind the scenes is a wood-paneled shoji-inspired room for private tastings, and you can check out vintage arcade games on the way to Rome’s most Instagrammed bathroom.
BTW: Tell the bartender what you like, and they’ll mix a cocktail just for you.
Drink Kong, Piazza di S. Martino Ai Monti, 8, Rome
LATE-NIGHT
L’Angolo Divino
L’Angolo Divino is the enoteca (wine bar) of your dreams: a rustic corner spot with low lighting, lots of great labels and an owner, Massimo, who has something to say about every single bottle. The wine list includes the usual suspects (yes, you can try a Super Tuscan, Amarone or Barolo), as well as unexpected bubbles, natural wines and hard-to-find producers. The list may be heavy on Italians, but international wines are represented.
BTW: Ask Massimo about his favorite Lazio wines. A world of conversation and tasting will start, and you may make a friend for life.
L’Angolo Divino, Via dei Balestrari 12, Rome
(Rome illustrators Blend Studio for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Nobody nurses their morning caffe. Drink it fast, and then go.
  2. The word “piacere” (or “pleased” to meet you, pronounced pee-ah-CHAIR-ray) and a smile go a long way.
  3. Once you sit down at a restaurant (and unless told otherwise), the table is yours for the rest of the evening. Basta.
(Rome illustrators Blend Studio for The Washington Post)

Do

Bike the Appia Antica
Loving Rome means getting out of the city, so we’re lucky the Romans built amazing streets crossing the country. The oldest and longest is the Via Appia Antica, and you need to travel only a tiny stretch to feel like you’re in the country. From just before exiting the ancient walls to, heading southeast, the edge of the Parco Appia Antica, most of the road is still original basalt stone and is one of the prettiest bike rides the city has to offer. The ride is lined with ancient monuments, tombs and Roman pines along fields of green. Expect to pass flocks of meandering sheep.
BTW: You can rent bikes at Appia Antica Caffe, a fine starting point, and have a great home-cooked meal there.
Via Appia Antica 175, Rome
Galleria Nazionale
Where Italy’s national collection of modern and contemporary art is held. A walk through the neoclassical building is a visual lesson in Italian art as told via magnificent paintings, sculptures and videos by era-defining artists like Canova, Modigliani, Manzoni, Clemente and Penone. The collection also includes non-Italians, such as Twombly and LeWitt. The exhibition is not in chronological order, making for a bemusingly fun art adventure.
BTW: The best location for art selfies, especially because La Galleria is the last place anyone ever visits.
Galleria Nazionale, Viale Belli Arti 131, Rome
MURo and street art in Quadraro
For art history in the making, take a 25-minute drive southeast. Quadraro, a small enclave embedded between ancient history — aqueducts, Roman villas, case popolari (1930s low-income housing) — and Cinecittà is the city’s first outdoor museum dedicated to urban art (Museo Urbano di Roma, a.k.a. MURo). Walk around, and you’ll come face to face with murals by artists including Gary Baseman (his gray-toned piece is a nice starting point), Diavu, Alice Pasquini, Ron English and more.
BTW: MURo (founded by Diavu) offers artist-led tours of the neighborhood in Italian, English, Spanish and French.
Largo dei Quintili, Rome
Dario Alfonsi
One of the few leather artisans in Rome’s historic center, Dario Alfonsi has been handcrafting leatherwork with custom dyes since 1970. La Tripolina is his signature piece, a colored, leather, foldable chair based on a 19th century design. Browse the workshop and you’ll also find some meticulously restored vintage pieces by artists such as Mies van der Rohe and Eames, as well as accessories such as handbags and belts.
BTW: If you find a chair you like but can’t fly home with it, Alfonsi ships overseas.
Dario Alfonsi, Via dei Chiavari 40, Rome
Villa Doria Pamphilj
The largest landscaped park in Rome, Villa Pamphilj is a favorite afternoon hangout and workout area. If you want to run, bike, play volleyball, soccer or informally TRX out in the open, this is where you want to be. It’s open until 9 p.m. in the warmest months.
BTW: Back in the day, Moammar Gaddafi, the longtime ruler of Libya, loved its beautiful, bucolic vibe so much that he set up camp here with his entourage.
Villa Doria Pamphilj, Via di San Pancrazio 13, Rome
Villa Farnesina
Villa Farnesina is probably the best-kept art secret in Rome. The two-level stand-alone villa was originally a vacation home for one of the pope’s financiers who had the foresight to invest in architect Baldassarre Peruzzi and his friend, the up-and-coming artist Raffaele Sanzio, a.k.a. Raphael. The entire ground-floor fresco cycles are painted by Raphael, while the first-level frescoes are by Renaissance greats Il Sodoma and Sebastiano del Piombo.
BTW: Most days, the museum is quiet, and you’ll have Raphael’s masterpiece Galatea fresco all to yourself.
Villa Farnesina, Via della Lungara 230, Rome
Erica Firpo
Erica has lived in Rome since 2004, but she has been visiting the Eternal City since she was a child, thanks to her Roman mother and grandparents. Philly is her hometown, L.A. is where she started her career and Rome is the end-all, be-all. She loves piazza life but misses barbecues. She's the founder of Ciao Bella, a site on Italian culture.
ericafirpo
Ginevra Sammartino
Ginevra is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Rome.

CITY GUIDES