Only a local could really show you where to shop, eat, and drink in the Eternal City, so don't even think about using that guidebook in your back pocket. A travel journalist who counts the National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times, BBC, and others on her list of Rome credits, I've also lived in Rome for four years. And these are some of my favorite spots that remind me of just how unique, and special, Rome really is.
Every weekend in the heart of the hip rione of Monti, trendsetters flock to Mercato Monti, a small but well-edited market of local designers, artisans and vintage clothing sellers. Vendors change frequently, but you can expect to find everything from sleek, handmade leather totes, to vintage sunglasses, to handcrafted notebooks. Prices tend to be fairly good, too (I had my eye on a handcrafted leather tote last weekend that was 70 euro, which I left behind, but I did walk away with a 1970s red vintage coat for 50 euro). The market runs until 8pm, but go in the morning to get the best picks.
Since 1924, this bar in the edgy Pigneto neighborhood has been a Roman institution. In fact, in the 1950s, Pier Paolo Pasolini--the famous Italian film director, writer, and poet--was one of the bar's most frequent clients. Today, it's a retro-chic spot that still attracts a crowd of hip Romans, now with offerings like brunch, aperitivo, or late-night drinks (it's open all day, every day, from 8am to 1am). There's an outdoor terrace, too.
Run by Campagna Amica, a national association that promotes "0km" (local) produce, this covered market is one of Rome's best local secrets. Held every Saturday and Sunday just around the corner from the Circus Maximus, the market sells goods directly from producers who hail from Rome's Lazio region. (Producers who are more than happy to talk to you about just how their olive oil or salumi is made!). Come to taste the goods, to watch locals shop, or to scoop up "souvenirs" or gifts to bring back home (homemade jam? biscotti? porcini mushroom spread?). You can also have a meal here, since the market often has a stand serving hot food and, the last time I was here, had a whole wine-tasting-and-snacks area set up.
Whenever I need something leather, I head here. You'd never know it from the outside, but this workshop--located near the Spanish Steps on the second floor of a residential palazzo (you need to buzz to get in)--boasts some of Rome's top leather-makers. (The studio has been handcrafting leather since 1949). I've had both a wallet and a passport holder made from scratch here, and the process makes it truly special; you can design exactly what you want alongside one of the artisans and choose your own leather, embossing style, and hardware. They tend to have a fast turnaround, but everything is handmade, so if you can't wait a few days, no worries--they can also ship abroad. Shockingly, for all this, the prices are great, at least compared to the swanky Spanish Steps boutiques (where you don't even get to have any design input!), with wallets starting at about 80 euro for the simplest version.
This hidden gem of a park is on the Celian hill, next to the Colosseum (no, not the Palatine hill; the one across from it). With umbrella pines, fountains, 16th-century villa (during the Renaissance, the area was the property of the noble Mattei family), and ancient Egyptian obelisk, it's the perfect Roman escape from the busy nearby attractions.
At this little boutique/workshop, every item of clothing is either handmade or vintage. The handmade items are made by the artisans at Le Gallinelle themselves, who both design and sew the blouses, dresses, sweaters, trousers and jackets right there. Like something, but it's not fitting quite right? No worries--the benefit of having in-house seamstresses means they'll alter it for you right there, at no extra cost. Given that everything's handmade and the materials top-quality, the prices are good, too (think 50 euro for a sweater).
Check out the Roman sayings and old photographs hanging on the wall of this wine bar and restaurant--if, that is, you can make them out through the crowd. But don't let the bar's Roman pride make you think it's old-school. With its long list of small plates (ranging from eggplant parmigiana to couscous), great wine list, good prices, and friendly servers, Ai Tre Scalini is where young, professional Romans flock to when they're heading out for an evening with friends in Monti. Walking down the cobblestoned Via Panisperna, look for the crowd spilling outside a door--the sure sign you're in the right spot.
Since 1931, this bakery and cafe in the heart of the Ostiense district has been a Roman institution. Locals flock here for the handmade treats, from the sweet (including cornetti, maritozzi and crostate) to savory (they even now have an aperitivo).
At this lovely B&B in the heart of Trastevere, you're the guest of Marco and Gianna Paola Fè d'Ostiani, a friendly, and noble, Italian couple (and yes, they live in the medieval palazzo, too). Each of the six rooms is decorated with antique furniture that's been in the family for generations, the three terraces are available for guests to use, and breakfast comes home-cooked. Make sure to pick the friendly owners' brains for suggestions of what to do and see.
Hidden in the heart of Rome, near the top of the Spanish Steps, this jazz bar is easy to walk right by. Don't. Cozy, intimate, and with an elegant old-school style, from the wood paneling to velvet couches, Gregory's is a lovely place to spend an evening. The jazz and swing bands that play here are some of the best in Rome. Just be aware that the cover, which includes your first drink, is 15 euro, and that there isn't much seating upstairs in the actual performance area, so it's advised that you reserve or come early. Music usually starts at about 11pm.
Amanda Ruggeri is a journalist and blogs about the Eternal City at RevealedRome....feeling inspired? Compare prices on Rome hotels here, or download the Rome City Guide for Android.
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