As some of you recall, I went to Europe with my mom in September and had the most exceptionally beautiful and memorable trip together. After we cruised through London, Paris, and Nice, we visited our fourth and final city: Rome.
I broke this guide down into “eat,” “play,” and “explore” with a heavy emphasis on eat. I’ll also detail what I packed and wore at the bottom! Spoiler: adidas stan smiths make yet another appearance on this list. Buckle up . . . there’s a LOT of ground covered here.
My usual travel rules mandate that you never go to the same place twice so you can try as much as you can within a short window of time. This simply wasn’t possible in Rome! We fell so madly in love with the eateries here that we couldn’t help but go back two times . . . or three!
Of all the places we planned to travel in Europe, I was most excited to eat in Italy. You know — pasta, gelato, pizza. All my favorites. How could you NOT be excited? And as it’s the land of my ancestors, I figured I’d feel a deep, spiritual connection to the cuisine. I was not incorrect. Here are all the places we stuffed our faces and made my great grandparents proud.
Obicà Mozzarella Bar
After a delayed flight from Nice, we got into Rome pretty late. It was dark, we were tired and starving, and I had quickly realized that I spoke approximately ZERO Italian outside of “buon Natale Nonna,” which wasn’t very helpful.
We wandered just a few paces outside our Airbnb and decided we’d just stop in wherever looked good. We saw a charming outdoor patio within 45 seconds of leaving our apartment, and decided that was good enough for us.
The restaurant ended up being a chain (Obicà Mozzarella Bar) — a concept that was disappointing to me at first, but that disappointment dissipated immediately upon first bite. This place has some of the best pasta we’ve ever had, and we literally just stumbled upon it. I’m a HUGE mozzarella fan as well, so going to a mozzarella bar was a dream come true in and of itself.
We ate a lot — and I mean a lot. We couldn’t stop. I got the black truffle tagliatelle and I swear to you I saw the face of an angel with every bite. I think tears were streaming down my face. I had to pace myself so I could savor it but my body was begging me to inhale it. We wrapped the meal with a passionfruit panna cotta that I will dream about until the day I die.
Yes, it’s a chain, but it’s a chain worth visiting. Of note: the staff was so sweet, too! We came back twice — you bet your ass I couldn’t stay away from that truffle pasta for long —and they all remembered us and treated us so, so well.
Another place we ended up twice was Ginger. My bestie Hailey recommended this place to me for a place to get a healthy bite, and after eating so much pasta to the actual point of pain at Obica on the first night, we needed some SERIOUS debloating and digestive help. Ginger to the rescue!
This was another spot with great service and sweet staff who remembered us upon our return. Seriously, the people in Rome were incredible. That alone makes the dining experiences special, but this food was on another level.
Ginger is decidedly LA/Southern California health-nut chic, but with a cool Italian flair and inspired menu. The incredible menu boasts fresh pressed juices, smoothies, and smoothie bowls that were better than anything I’ve had in the US, and the blends were intelligently designed — the ginger-pineapple-fennel-apple juice was the PERFECT digestion aid, and it was freakin’ delicious. Essentially we ate our way to equilibrium so we could go hard in the gelato paint shortly thereafter.
We’d recommend the smoothie bowls, fresh juices, and salads there. SO so tasty and wholesome. I love seeing international takes on health food, and Italy really nailed it with Ginger.
There are a few Fornos sprinkled throughout Rome, including one just below our apartment. These sweet little bakeries are well-loved, and create some of the most delicious pizza you’ll ever have. It’s not a sit-down place; you order at the counter and carry-out your (enormous) slice in a paper wrapper. Grab napkins! We grabbed a slice for lunch at the location in the farmer’s market area, Campo de’ Fiori. More on that later. Thank you to Hailey for another 5-star recommendation!
Osteria del Pegno Roma
My childhood bff and her fiancé told us that if we were to eat anything in Rome, it was the steak at Osteria del Pegno: “Filetto di manzo flambato al cognac con crema di Senape di Digione.” At 23 euros, it was the most expensive item on the entire menu, but absolutely worth every penny. I realized recently that I don’t eat red meat often, so this was a rare treat and the preparation was immaculate. We — of course — paired it with pasta and split everything. The wine was great, and they give you a limoncello cocktail at the end to treat yourself.
To me, this was a quintessential Italian dinner spot. Charming, hole-in-the-wall, down a dim alley, totally unsuspecting, with a sweet older man who runs the whole place. Quiet but still lively with a warm energy, and a mix of locals and travelers alike. All the good feels. Highly recommend.
A little backstory: this was the one dinner restaurant that really felt like a hot spot, but not in the way we think about hot spot in the US. This was our last dinner in Roma, and at this point I had pieced enough broken Italian together to string “potremmo avere uno tavolo per due per favore” — to the amusement of the otherwise surly manager (owner? who can say) manning the front podium — and scored us a table with my embarrassing yet earnest attempt to assimilate into the culture.
Mere moments before I had asked for a table (with no reservation, mind you), this man was annoyed on the phone with someone who was speaking pretty loud and obnoxious English, and he told them there were no tables available. He hung up, and immediately gave us a table. Moral of the story: either have a reservation or practice your Italian for this place.
Alright so the food. Salumeria Roscioli — another recommendation from Hailey — is a carnivore’s haven and a prosciutto paradise. Per recommendation, we ordered the cacio e pepe, which was supremely delicious, but the star of the show was the aged meats. Absolutely divine. This is a must-try when you’re in Rome.
Every morning that we were in Rome, we got cappuccinos at this little place called Friends. It was just outside our Airbnb, and the guys working the espresso bar were really funny and nice. They also really helped me with my Italian. The cappuccinos were only a euro a piece (literally just one euro) so we went as much as we could, sometimes more than once a day. I have no shame.
I was going to factor gelato spots into the eating list but I figured this deserved its own category. Wouldn’t you agree? Here are some places I’d recommend (two of which were recommended to me by Hailey, yet again).
Fatamorgana is a really popular chain in Rome, and the Corso location in a fantastic spot near Piazza del Popolo. The Punch Paradise sorbetto was my favorite and paired perfectly with white chocolate gelato.
Gelateria del Teatro
With gourmet flavors like rosemary honey & lemon, Sicilian pistachio, lavender and white peach, and white chocolate basil, this is a really special gelato experience. I’m salivating looking at pictures of the flavors.
GiolittiHoly. Shit. I cannot emphasize this enough. When you go to Rome, GO TO GIOLITTI. We very very unfortunately did not know of this place — for reasons I’ll never understand — despite it being a ONE minute walk from our Airbnb. 550 feet. Seriously.
ANYWAY. If you’re looking for the *ULTIMATE* gelato experience of all time, you absolutely MUST go to Giolitti. It is worth the line. No matter how long it looks (it moves quickly). Once we went back thrice in the same day. It’s worth it.
Play & Shop
One of my all time favorite if not THE best part of the trip for me was walking around and relaxing in the Borghese Gardens, and renting little paddle boats on the pond. You can grab a scoop of gelato or a cappuccino (or both, if you’re me), laze about in the sun-dappled fields by rows of purply pink bougainvillea, and soak in the most peaceful part of the noisy, hectic city.
The paddle boats were amazing, and very inexpensive. Bring some cash and get ready to spend a little time working your arms as you float about in the sweetest little pond.
Plan to spend some hours in the gardens and take it nice and slow — it’s a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle, plus there is an amazing view of the Piazza del Popolo from up there! Walk to Terrazza del Pincio to get some gorgeous photos of the city.
Campo de’ Fiori
The farmers’ market plaza is surrounded by restaurants (including the must-try pizza bakery, Forno), and bursting with fun little vendors with fresh produce, colorful and unique pastas, mediterranean treasures like olive oil, and different Italian liqueurs like limoncello.
Y’all know how much I’m obsessed with Christmas. Well, at one story in Italy, it’s ALWAYS Christmas, and I’m absolutely here for it. Near the Pantheon, stop by this sweet little shop for gorgeous blown glass ornaments. I picked up a cannoli for my dad and a St. Peter’s Basilica for myself. Seeing their website now for the first time as I’m writing this and realizing they have a mermaid that I didn’t even see, and now I feel like I f*cked up.
Shops Near the Spanish Steps
If you’re into luxury shopping, you’re going to want to head to Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps and wander that general area. Everything from Chanel to Versace to even the Illy Espresso store with Emilio Pucci collectors cups.
The key to all things Rome is to do everything touristy — and I mean everything — as early in the morning as possible. If you trust me on this one, not only will you get incredibly well-lit photos with no people in them (you’re welcome), but you’ll get to experience a certain kind of eerie magic when this crazy, loud, ultrapacked, hot, sweaty, insanely hectic city stands completely still for just a couple hours in the pin-drop quiet and calm of morning. It’s like hitting a pause button.
OK so here’s the thing. You can’t go to Rome and NOT go to the Colosseum. It’s like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, or going to San Francisco and not seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. You just don’t do that. Anyway. That being said. . . am I the only one who feels REALLY odd about the whole concept of the Colosseum? Like….. cool…. here’s this old decrepit arena, where humans used to pay to watch other humans brutally murder and mutilate OTHER humans and sometimes animals and vice versa. Amazing. Murder. WOOO!
Sorry, getting a little dark over here. But the idea of it is less majestic and reverent and more… macabre I guess. The vibe weirded me out. However, it was pretty radical to be in such a historic spot, so I do give it that. There are about a thousand and one tourist vultures pretending to give information on how to get into and pass the line, but they’re tour guides and they want your money. They will be nice to you until you say no thank you, and then they get mean. Just ignore them all, unless you enjoy being a part of a tour group.
Another place with a thousand and one tourist vultures is the Vatican. I can’t tell you how freaking insane it is just to try to get information. Mom and I went to see Papa Frank — Pope Francis — at the papal audience, which happens weekly and is free. You have to get your free tickets just outside St. Peter’s square which ironically is a circle (if you’re looking at the Basilica, go right). It’s hard to explain directions, so here’s where you’ll find the Swiss Guard. Just ask for papal audience tickets and boom: you’re in. Show up hours early. When I say hours, I’m not kidding. I believe we arrived at 7am for a 9am audience and there were already hundreds of people. It’s WILD.
You don’t have to go to the papal audience to check out the Vatican, though if you’re Catholic I’d highly recommend it. Even if you’re not, it’s seriously surreal. Papa Frank has a lot of really good things to say.
We did the Vatican Museum tour and saw the Sistine Chapel. I won’t lie to you, I fully had a panic attack inside because of all the people. I’ve never been so overwhelmed in my life, and I had a Disneyland annual pass for three years. I’ll have to do a separate post on Vatican City, but this post is so long I’m getting a headache so this should be enough to hold you over, yeah?
Chiesa di San Luigi
This one is a hidden treasure! If you’re into art, architecture, or theological history (or you’re Catholic!) you HAVE to visit here. There are NO lines, and you can see beautiful ORIGINAL Caravaggio paintings. Plus, the inside of this place is freakin’ STUNNING.
The Spanish Steps are one of the top tourist attractions in Rome, but we honestly didn’t spend too much time there because of the crowds. There’s a beautiful plaza and fountain, but unfortunately it was just so packed we went for a few minutes, snapped some pictures, and left. Then we went to Dolce & Gabbana to laugh at the pricetags.
Fontana di Trevi
Our first attempt to see the Trevi Fountain was one for the books. With at least a thousand people crammed around the outer rims trying to elbow their way forward to get a selfie, my mom decided to capitalize on my size and use me as a way to get closer to the front and center so we could see the thing up close. We ended up teasing a woman who was even tinier than me (I know, impossible) for taking a selfie with a McDonald’s cup, and that woman ended up being Kristin Chenoweth, and my mother and I proceeded to have a mini stroke after we both registered what had just happened at the same moment. We’re big Wicked fans. It was cool.
We went again at 7am on our last day (after getting cappuccinos at Friends, of course) — literal night and day when it came to switching up the time. In the morning, there were perhaps five people around us, as opposed to no less than a thousand the day before. It was so peaceful, so clear, and so lovely to get to see this beautiful monument without elbows in your face.
Rad history, breathtaking architecture and fountains, tons of cute restaurants, and dozens of sweet little shops with really cool and authentic souvenirs to take home. This is a great place to spend the afternoon on a leisurely stroll. There are also a ton of places to sign up for a guided tour here if you’re into guided tours.
Rome is scorching in the summertime, but I didn’t want to look like a full blown tourist in Nikes and Norts, namsayin? I was looking for a little bit of European chic without breaking the bank (and without feeling horridly overdressed) — all while staying cool and comfortable — and landed on colorful day dresses (they transitioned nicely for dinners) and full tea-length skirts. Keep in mind that when visiting the Vatican and many churches, you’ll have to be somewhat covered up — no tank tops and no short skirts! If you’re wearing a sleeveless dress or blouse, you’ll want to bring some sort of light cover up like a scarf/pashmina, kimono-style wrap, or cardigan.
Dresses: the Gap has so many styles that are ideal for this trip; that’s where my red and pink ones were both from! This one is awesome and under $100. These are so easy-breezy to just toss on; you’ll stay cool, and feel awesome, and never have to worry if you’re dressed appropriately.
Sandals: Sam Edelman makes my go-to sandal, the Gigi, in about a dozen colors every season. It’s an awesome transitional shoe for so many outfits, and it’s pretty affordable at $70.
Sneakers: adidas Stan Smiths are on the feet of every tween across the globe but they work for me and I like wearing them with dresses so here we are. I got mine from the kids section.
Sunglasses: Quay is Instagram’s favorite sunny from Australia, and I wore my mother of pearl shades all over Europe, Rome included. These are similar (and on sale!).
That’s all, I think!! I didn’t do a section on where to stay because we rented an Airbnb, and that all comes down to personal preference, right? I’ll definitely do a separate post on Vatican City. If you have questions, I’m happy to answer in the comments :)