The Rome Guide
For all its mythic history—about 2,800-years’ worth—the Eternal City has a way of making all who visit it feel like they’ve discovered something entirely their own, be it a local trattoria with out-of-this-world cacio e pepe or a famous Caravaggio in a seemingly average church (rule of thumb: walk into every church you come across, you never know what can be found inside). While so many culture-rich European cities require rigorous touring, Rome’s distinct neighborhoods are best explored by simply strolling around (navigating the cramped cobblestone streets by car is more trouble than it’s worth), as so many of its key sites sneak up on you in easily accessible piazzas. For those who prefer to explore with purpose and experience under-the-radar spots, we’ve polled a few locals for their best insider recommendations. For especially meaty landmarks—the Vatican and the Colosseum in particular—a private guide guarantees you get to see as much or as little as you wish: Your hotel will help with booking or you can DIY by using a touring outfit—we like this one, which employs many local art history students as guides.
Then there’s the food. From teeny mom-and-pops to trendy newcomers to slick hotel-backed cafés—arguably some of the best spots to stop for aperitivo with a view—a good meal is easy to come by in this part of the world, though there are some standouts, many of which are covered in this guide. Note: Though Naples gets all the pizza glory, Roman-style pies are crispier, more varied in terms of toppings, and just as exceptional, so feel free to sample with abandon.
The Jerry Thomas ProjectVicolo Cellini, 30, Centro Storico | +39.069.684.5937
While the clandestine cocktail bar concept is nothing new stateside, going to one in Rome feels entirely unique. Named after the original hipster bartender (he also authored a first-of-its-kind mixology book in the 1800’s), this speakeasy requires reservations, plus a secret password and membership card to get in (both can be arranged online). he ambiance is dark and moody with an elaborate drink menu to match: all manner of gin and whiskey cocktails, and a really good Negroni with house-made bitters, to name a few. Note: they don’t serve vodka or accept credit cards.
Harry’s BarVia Vittorio Veneto, 150, Ludovisi | +39.064.846.43
Harry’s big claim to fame is a starring role in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, making it a great pit stop while wandering Via Veneto. The food is good, but the drinks are better—best enjoyed al fresco and with a side of people watching. While it’s an “American bar” the waiters bring out little snacks with your drink order in a manner that’s decidedly Roman.
Stravinskij BarVia del Babuino, 9, Campo Marzio | +39.063.288.870
Many locals would agree that the leafy terrace at the Hotel De Russie, a Rocco Forte Hotel is one of the best bars in town, weather permitting—otherwise head inside. It’s definitely a scene, meaning that the people-watching is top-notch, though the cocktail menu—a dozen or so martini options, all the classics (sidecar, old fashioned, etc.), and the signature Stravinskij Spritz (don’t be fooled, it packs a punch)—totally carries its weight. Food-wise, there are fancy sandwiches, classic salads, and of course, pasta.
Bar del FicoPiazza del Fico, 34/35, Centro Storico | +39.066.889.1373
A stone’s throw from Piazza Navona, Bar del Fico is a fun spot frequented mostly by locals, which is nice if you’ve spent all day doing touristy things. At aperitivo-time, ordering a cocktail or a glass of wine will also get you access to bottomless snacks—or sit down for a full-on meal of house-made pizza and pasta (this is an excellent place for a mellow al-fresco lunch, too). The bar is open all day and well into the night (until 2am, actually), making it perfect for after-dinner drinks in a crowded-in-a-good-way, indoor-outdoor setting.
LitroVia Fratelli Bonnet, 5, Monteverde | +39.064.544.7639
Billed as a wine bar, this indoor/outdoor spot in Monteverde focuses on small-production Italian wines—plus an unexpected (though incredibly impressive) offering of tequila and mezcal cocktails. Come in the afternoon for coffee and stick around for aperitivo; to keep on theme with the wines, the plates of cheeses and cured meats, various toasts, and salads are all sourced locally. If you really want to stay put, the dinner menu is small but mighty and changes regularly.
Salatto 42Piazza di Pietra, 42, Colonna | +39.066.785.804
Tucked into the Piazza di Pietra and looking out at the stunning columns of Tempio di Adriano, Salatto 42 is the quintessential Roman bar: mellow and loungey for aperitivo (get the spritz—sure you can’t go wrong, but it tastes especially good here), which comes with a constant procession of passed snacks, then progressively rowdier the later it gets. Keep in mind that it tends to get a bit packed and loud inside, with the crowd often spilling out into the square.
Hassler BarPiazza della Trinità dei Monti, 6, Campo Marzio | +39.066.993.40
Technically, this is a hotel bar—many would agree, one of the most beautiful in the world—though its tufted-leather banquettes, gilded interior, and just-right mood lighting make it a worthy standalone destination. And the same can be said of the cocktail menu, which includes several signature cocktails like the pomegranate Veruschka and their own special spin on the spritz. The Hassler hotel has been sitting at the top of the Spanish Steps since the ‘40s, and the views from the outdoor areas can’t be beat. Note: The bar is only open during the winter.
Caffé PerúVia di Monserrato, 46, Centro Storico | +39.066.879.548
Even though Rome is one of the most-visited capitals in the world, the local way of life hasn’t changed and you’ll find authentic aperitivo spots in every neighborhood. Caffé Perú is an unassuming hole-in-the-wall next to a newsstand. This tiny bar is on prime real estate in the Piazza Farnese, but is totally unpretentious and so untrendy it’s actually trendy. Always full of artists and students, it's perfect for hunkering down on one of the stools outside with a drink and a panino any time of day—a true slice of old Rome.
Il GoccettoVia dei Banchi Vecchi, 14, Centro Storico | +39.066.864.268
Over four hundred different wines line the walls of this dark and cozy bar in the Centro Storico. Il Goccetto or ‘a little drop’ is the Roman insider favorite for aperitivo. The producers on the by-the-glass menu change monthly and bottles range from under twenty euro to the most high end. This quaint enoteca is one of Rome’s oldest wine shops and fills up quickly with locals stopping in for a quick glass of vino, some cheese, and rustic Italian bread. The perfect intimate bar to come with a friend or lover to chat, people watch, and primarily, drink.
Bar CamponeschiPiazza Farnese, 52, Centro Storico | +39.066.874.927
The beauty of having aperitivi at Bar Camponeschi is that you’ll also get a taste of the sister Camponeschi restaurant’s best snacks with your drink (think oysters and cold cuts). Sit outside right on the Piazza Farnese, order one of the four hundred wines offered, and people watch to your heart's content.
Bar at Hotel LocarnoVia della Penna, 22, Campo Marzio | +39.063.610.841
The bar at the retro Hotel Locarno is permanently packed with Rome’s most fashion-forward crew. This hotel has been feeding and watering the locals for nearly one hundred years, and does a particularly good aperitivo hour. The décor is dark and moody, metal outdoor seats and intimate round tables are offset by tons of greenery and wisteria that frame the low-lit courtyard. In a city filled with over the top baroque interiors, this more modern space is a welcome change of scene.
PanellaVia Merulana, 59, Esquilino | +39.064.872.435
A bakery by day, and bar by night, Panella, (on the route to Santa Maria Maggiore) has been giving locals their gluten fix for the last hundred years. In the morning stop by for espresso and the freshly baked sweet treats Italians love to eat early in the day. At dusk, the outdoor terrace fills up with people ordering their aperitivi and accompanying snacks—the busy, convivial atmosphere continues late into the night.
Giulio Passami L’OlioVia di Monte Giordano, 28, Centro Storico | +39.066.880.3288
This is the ideal spot to wander into after a day of sight-seeing at the Vatican. Giulio Passami l’Olio or "Giulio Pass the Oil" is a relaxed, traditional, restaurant with wooden tables, a small bar and no fuss. The wine list is over a thousand titles long and even better, the cacio e pepe comes with shaved truffles on the top.
Bar in Piazza della Madonna dei MontiPiazza della Madonna dei Monti, Monti
This little bar is so inherent to this piazza, it doesn’t have a name (much less a website or phone number). The Monti area of Rome is one of the few neighborhoods left that is still old-school Roman with few tourists. This bar is packed night after night with the young artists and creatives who live in the area, and for good reason: The owners’ serve up tasty, traditional Italian food and great regional wine, the coffee is excellent and the setting in the pretty square is out of this world. Photo courtesy of: italia.it photo by: Silvia Adalia