Welcome to the "A Day In..." series! Even if you can't come along on a Wanderful Retreat, I want to share some of my favorite places and spots throughout Italy and other locations around the world!
I remember the early days of my travels through Italy and the frustration I would feel over choosing a place for dinner. Back when my Italian wasn't that good and Trip Adviser or Yelp weren't as popular, this was doubly frustrating trying to find a decently priced place without the tourist crowds with a local stamp of approval. Che palle!
Luckily over the past decade my Italian has improved, and my list of favorite spots around Italy has grown! So, to kick off this first post in the "A Day In" series, let's start with one of the top destinations in Italy and my personal favorite...Rome!
As with any touristy city, it's always best to start your day early. If you're also fighting jet lag or the summer heat of Rome, this is even more crucial! Rome is notorious for the blazing summer heat so getting an early start to your day to beat the heat is always a good idea. And what better way to start your day than with coffee!
Sant'Eustachio is one of my favorite coffees in all of Italy. It can be a crowded bustling cafe filled with locals but it's worth the craziness. They're known for brewing the espresso with the sugar already in your cup so when you get your cappuccino it's already perfectly sweet and delicious. Their pastry selection is also rather good! And their tiny boxes of chocolate covered espresso beans are a great gift for friends back home.
The other great thing about Sant'Eustachio is the location. It's just over a block away from Largo Argentina, a major bus stop and nice spot to visit. It's also just conveniently around the corner from one of my most sketched spots in Italy, the Pantheon! If you get there early, there's a chance you'll have the whole piazza just to yourself and a couple other early risers.
Within a couple blocks from the Sant'Eustachio are TWO of my favorite churches in all of Rome (shhh...don't tell Saint Peter's Basilica). San Luigi dei Francesi is home to the Contarelli Chapel which houses THREE Caravaggio paintings. Back closer to Largo Argentina you'll find Il Gesu, which houses one of the most incredible tromp l'oeil ceilings I've ever seen. Seriously, it's worth a stop.
Depending upon where you are in Rome around lunch time (or how ambitious you are with walking) you'll have quite a few options. For the lunch and dinner portions of this guide, I'm going to break it down by areas within Rome. Especially with how easy it is to take a bus, metro or taxi around Rome, it's certainly possible to have lunch in Trastevere and dinner up by Piazza del Popolo!
Piazza Navona/Pantheon/Campo dei Fiori area:
By this time of day, I'm sure gelato will also be on your mind! A fellow Italophile recommended this gelateria to me years ago and it's a staple of every Rome visit for me now. Gelateria del Teatro has some of my all time favorite flavors...lampone e salvia (raspberry and sage) and pesca bianca e lavande (white peach and lavender) are pretty damn incredible. Grom is a well-known gelato chain in Italy but also a solid option when you're not sure on the quality of the gelato. I'll explain more about how to tell if it's good gelato in another post.
A great spot for lunch is Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina. If you're in this area and planning on going there for lunch, pop in and make a quick reservation before continuing on with your exploring. It's very popular so tables fill up this tiny place quick. Luckily once you make your reservation, you can go cruise through Campo dei Fiori and the market to shop for fresh produce, flowers, spices and plenty of meat and cheeses!
If you happen to be across the river touring the Vatican, there are some delicious options if you're open to walk away from the crowds (hint: be open to walk away from the crowds, it's crazy expensive and crowded right next to the Vatican). A few blocks away from St. Peter's is Hostaria Dino e Tony. It can be packed with locals and they offer a sort of all you can eat lunch so it's a great budget option. Past Dino's a few more blocks is Gallobrillo, a fun local spot with chalkboard menus and daily specials. We discovered this place by accident after Dino e Tony's was closed and it was worth the hangry trek.
This neighborhood of Rome is darling to wander through and pretty easy to access if you were already exploring Vatican City. Tucked on one of the main streets is Donkey Punch (yep, that's the real name) and it's an awesome and quirky sandwich spot! All the sandwiches are named after classic rock bands and they're ALL delicious.
Piazza del Popolo/Spanish Steps:
If you're up in the northern end of Rome, there's a great spot for lunch called 'Gusto. I stumbled onto this place during a long full day hike around Rome to fight jet lag and it was the perfect spot to recharge. They have a lunch buffet for €10, and it's freakin' delicious. I also went back there for dinner on the pizzeria side of the restaurant and it was also good! While you're up in this area, you should pop up to Villa Borghese! The Borghese Gallery has my favorite sculpture of all time, Bernini's Apollo and Daphne. Santa Maria del Popolo is another great church to see some Raphael, Caravaggio and Bernini masterpieces, and get a break from the heat!
Termini Train Station:
If you're just passing through Rome or heading somewhere else via train or the metro, Mercato Centrale is an AMAZING lunch option. There's a couple of these around Italy, including the larger one in Florence, and it's a very fun spot for lunch if you want a lot of options. I usually opt for the salad bar to combat all the pasta I've been eating but don't be afraid to try the Arancini (fried and stuffed rice balls) or ask for it to go (a portare via) if you have a train to catch! There's an upstairs area where you can eat in quiet and people watch from above too. The free wifi is also a nice perk!
One thing I LOVE about Italy is their love of aperitivo. An aperitivo is usually a bitter cocktail paired with some sort of snack before you head to a late and long dinner (it's not unusual for Italians to not eat dinner until after 7 pm). The idea is to wake up your appetite before dinner but it's also just a lovely day to cool down after a long day in the sun. My favorite aperitivo cocktail is an Aperol Spritz or a Hugo (Italians say it like Yugo) but most bars will let any cocktail or soda count as your ticket to the buffet. Some places have a large enough aperitivo spread that it can substitute as dinner! Other places will give you some tiny sandwich bites, peanuts, olives or chips to tide you over before dinner.
A friend of mine got this suggestion from a travel agent and it was a really delicious and hidden gem. Il Gabriello is a block or so away from the Spanish Steps but it's hard to tell you're that close to a tourist trap. Tucked down below off the street, it's a tasty escape from the heat and crowds. I passed by it a couple times before realizing the glass door was the restaurant! They have a subtle dress code so plan accordingly and maybe even make a reservation. I mentioned 'Gusto in the lunch section but it's also a great option for dinner and not too far from the Spanish Steps either.
Piazza Navona/Pantheon/Largo Argentina:
Old Bear is an old favorite of mine and almost a tradition for my last dinner in Italy. It's affordable, somewhat touristy but a reliable place to grab some dinner. Another great spot is Enoteca Corsi, a tasty spot with an epic wine selection!
Jewish Ghetto: Probably my favorite place for dinner in Rome (one I'm willing to walk all the way across Rome from Termini for) is Giggetto al Portico d'Ottavia. One of my favorite Italian food bloggers mentioned this spot and I've been hooked every since. It's a really popular spot so definitely snag a reservation first and then make sure you try the fiori di zucca and the carciofi alla giudia (stuffed zucchini flowers and fried artichokes in the Jewish style).
Happy Rome exploring! If you have a favorite spot that I've missed, please feel free to leave a comment below! I'm always up to check out a new place!