Whether you’re a fledgling newbie to the Eternal City, or a long-term expat, there are some experiences in Rome that are downright unmissable. We’ve put together a list of the things that no one should leave Rome without doing.
GRABBING BREAKFAST ALLA ROMANA
Breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day in Italy, but it’s certainly the sweetest. A classic Italian colazione eschews savory fare and opts instead for a flaky pastry, such as a cornetto. This crescent-shaped delight can be ordered plain, or filled with custard, honey, jam, or—for those who like to kick their morning off with a sugar rush—Nutella. Enjoy it with a caffè or cappuccino standing at the counter with the locals.
TAKING AN EARLY MORNING STROLL IN VILLA BORGHESE
A sprawling park modeled after an English landscaped garden, Villa Borghese once belonged to Italian aristocrat Scipione Borghese before it was opened to the public at the turn of the last century. The lush, green grounds provide a striking contrast to Rome’s frenetic urbanity: head here early in the morning and you’ll be rewarded with utter peace and quiet. Our favorite corner is Giardino del Lago, a tiny lake with a classical temple dedicated to Esculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, at its center.
SEEING THE POPE
Whether a lifelong Catholic, or passionate atheist, or anywhere in between, almost anyone would get a thrill out of seeing His Holiness up close. Every Sunday at noon, Pope Francis appears at a window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s square to lead the Angelus Prayer and thousands crowd the piazza to catch a glimpse of him. The Papal Audience, which includes a full mass, is held Wednesday at 10:30am. Both events are free, but you’ll need to pre-order your passes to the audience online at papalaudience.org
BROWSING CAMPO DE’ FIORI MARKET
Campo de’ Fiori’s market takes the crown as Rome’s oldest mercato, and arguably its most popular. And although it’s become a frequent stop for tourists, the market still successfully maintains its rustic charm. Shop September’s seasonal produce (such as cachi, eggplant, zucchini, and figs), browse the catch of the day, or pick out some blooms at one of the flower stands, stunning floral paradises that will literally have you stopping to smell the roses.
NOSHING ON STREET FOOD
Rome’s culinary canon stretches beyond sit-down meals, encompassing a wealth of delectable street food best savored on the go. Try supplì (fried rice balls filled with ragù and mozzarella), or fritto di baccalà, salt cod filets battered and deep-fried. Dar Filettaro (Largo dei Librari, 88) makes the best baccalà around.
THROWING A COIN IN THE TREVI FOUNTAIN
In the post-pandemic travel boom that has hit the city, the Trevi is thronged with tourists as never before—thanks in no small part to its role in iconic films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Still you can’t risk leaving Rome without a visit, as legend has it, a coin tossed in those famed waters will guarantee you a return trip to the Eternal City. Our suggestion is to go as early in the morning as possible, (as early as 5 or 6 if you want the whole place to yourself) or in the wee hours, ideally after 1am. Then turn your back on the fountain and toss the coin over your left shoulder with your right hand.
HUNTING FOR TREASURE AT PORTA PORTESE
Immortalized in cult films like The Bicycle Thief and Sciuscià, Rome’s Porta Portese flea market in Trastevere was inaugurated shortly after WWII and has prospered ever since. Here you’ll find hundreds of vendors hawking just about anything you can think of, from vintage luggage, newspapers, books, and vinyls, to furniture, toys, clothing, watches, and soccer jerseys. Ready, set, bargain!
INDULGING IN AMATRICIANA
Hands down Romans’ favorite pasta dish, the traditional amatriciana consists of bucatini or rigatoni tossed in a rich tomato and guanciale (pork cheek) sauce. A dusting of pecorino cheese tops off this swoon-worthy primo. Are you an herbivore? Order cacio e pepe, another Roman classic, composed of tonnarelli pasta, pecorino, and freshly-ground pepper.
HAVING A MOMENT WITH THE MOUTH OF TRUTH
Made famous worldwide for its cameo in the iconic 50s film Roman Holiday, The Mouth of Truth, or La Bocca della Verità, is an enormous marble ancient drain cover sculpted with a man-like face, and can be found in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church. The Bocca della Verità is best known for its role as an ancient lie detector—according to myth, if you tell a fib with your hand in its mouth, it’ll be bitten off. Test it out for yourself!
TAKING IN THE SUNSET ATOP OF ONE OF THE CITY’S HILLS
Bidding the day farewell at the very peak of one of Rome’s legendary hills, with the entire city at your feet, will stir something in even the most jaded of us. Our favorite spots to soak up Rome’s world-famous golden glow are Parco Savello, also known as the Orange Garden, on the Aventine Hill; Piazzale Garibaldi atop the Janiculum Hill, and the Pincian Terrace perched above Piazza del Popolo.
BIKING AROUND ROME’S ANCIENT SITES
Forget the Vespa. For a greener way to explore the city, make your two-wheeler the kind you have to actually pedal. Explore the sites that earned the city its title of Eternal, like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. You cycle the day away at your own pace by renting a bike from Bici Baci (bicibaci.it), or if you’d prefer some guidance, take a tour with Bicicletta Italiana.
ADMIRING ST. PETER’S IN MINIATURE
The Villa of the Priory of the Knights of Malta isn’t famous for its architecture or gardens, but rather its unusual entrance. Put your eye to the keyhole of the massive main entrance, and you’ll be rewarded with a miniaturized view of St. Peter’s dome, perfectly framed by the hedges of the garden beyond the doors. Often wrapped in an ethereal mist, the basilica seems to rest at the very end of the garden instead of miles and miles away. Get there early as the line can be epic. Sadly, this is no longer a hidden gem!
SIPPING APERITIVO IN PIAZZA S LORENZO IN LUCINA
An elegant square in the heart of Campo Marzio, Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina is where the well-heeled go to see and be seen. Grab an aperitivo (pre-dinner snacks and a drink) at the swanky Vitti in Lucina and revel in the sheer opulence of Roma.
SHOPPING ON VIA DEI CONDOTTI
A chic street boasting luxe, big-name brands like Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada, Bulgari, Ferragamo, and Louis Vuitton, Via dei Condotti is to Rome what Fifth Avenue is to New York or Rodeo Drive to LA. If you’re on a strict budget, the eye-catching window displays are still worth checking out. It’s okay if you fog them up a little. We understand.
EXPERIENCE RUBENS’ SYNDROME AT GALLERIA BORGHESE
Museum hopping is for lovers, apparently, and a tour through Rome’s treasured Borghese Gallery is certain to spice things up. Dubbed “Rubens’ Syndrome,” a term derived from the sensuous works painted by Peter Paul Rubens, works of art are said to have the capacity to invoke spontaneous complicity and even amorous arousal between gallery visitors. Ready to be the judge?
STROLLING THROUGH PIAZZA NAVONA AT NIGHT
Take a page from Oscar-winning film The Great Beauty and wander through Piazza Navona after dark. Get comfy on a bench overlooking Bernini’s magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers, take in the chatter of local vendors, and enjoy a few minutes of dolce far niente (sweet idleness).