La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local’s Guide to the Eternal City

Post Published October 17, 2023

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La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local’s Guide to the Eternal CityLa Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Experience Rome's Famous Cuisine and Coffee Culture

No trip to Rome would be complete without indulging in the city's world-famous cuisine and coffee culture. As a local, I can tell you that Roman cuisine is all about high-quality seasonal ingredients prepared simply to allow their natural flavors to shine. Must-try dishes include cacio e pepe (a simple yet delicious pasta with pecorino romano cheese and black pepper), carbonara (pasta with crispy guanciale pork, egg, pecorino, and black pepper), amatriciana (pasta with guanciale, pecorino, and tomato), carciofi alla romana (tender pan-fried artichokes), supplì (fried rice croquettes), and if you visit in the spring, you absolutely must try carciofi alla giudia (fried artichokes, Jewish style).

And let's not forget pizza! While Naples may have invented pizza, we Romans perfected it. You'll find pizzerias on practically every corner serving up piping hot, thin and crispy pizzas topped with high-quality ingredients. The classic is pizza margherita with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil, but you should also try pizza bianca (white pizza without tomato sauce), and pizza con patate (with thin slices of potato).

A key part of experiencing Roman cuisine is doing as the Romans do - take your time and savor a long, leisurely meal with friends and family. Sit outside at a trattoria and watch the world go by while you enjoy an aperitivo (aperitif) like a Spritz or Negroni. Don't rush your food - Roman meals are meant to be savored over several hours with multiple courses. This is the epitome of La Dolce Vita!

And finally, you can't talk about Roman food culture without mentioning espresso. Romans take their coffee very seriously. Stop at any bar in the morning and you'll see locals crowding the counter for a quick caffè (espresso) or cappuccino before starting their day. An afternoon or post-dinner caffè is also an essential Roman ritual. Savor your espresso like a local - drink it standing at the bar and resist the urge to sit down. The key is drinking it right away while the crema is still perfectly fresh.

Coffee may have originated in Ethiopia, but Italians perfected the espresso machine, and Romans have elevated coffee drinking into an artform. There are countless neighborhood bars where you can go to observe the rituals and etiquette around Roman coffee culture. This alone is reason enough to visit this incredible city!

What else is in this post?

  1.  La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Experience Rome's Famous Cuisine and Coffee Culture
  2. La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Wander Through Ancient Ruins and Historic Sites
  3. La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Discover Rome's Vibrant Arts Scene
  4. La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Shop at Local Markets and Boutiques
  5. La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Relax in Rome's Beautiful Parks and Gardens
  6. La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Enjoy Rome After Dark - Bars, Clubs and Live Music
  7. La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Getting Around Rome - Walk, Bike, Bus or Metro
  8. La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Day Trips from Rome - Pompeii, Florence and More

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Wander Through Ancient Ruins and Historic Sites

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local’s Guide to the Eternal City

No visit to the Eternal City would be complete without wandering through the iconic ancient ruins and historic sites that have made Rome famous worldwide. As a local, I'm endlessly fascinated by the way that structures from Ancient Rome seem to appear randomly on street corners and piazzas - constant reminders that you're walking in the footsteps of Caesar and the great Roman emperors.

One of my favorite areas to explore is the Roman Forum near the Colosseum. As you stroll along the ancient stones, you'll see the Temple of Saturn, Temple of Vespasian, Basilica Julia and the Arch of Septimius Severus rising majestically around you. I love that you can get up close to these ruins and really feel like you're experiencing what day-to-day life was like at the heart of the Roman Empire.

For breathtaking views over the Forum, head to the Capitoline Hill and Piazza del Campidoglio. Designed by Michelangelo during the Renaissance, this piazza overlooks the ancient centers of religious and secular power in Rome. Snap that perfect photo of the Roman Forum from the piazza's granite steps.
Of course, no trip to Rome is complete without visiting the iconic Colosseum. As you explore the interior of this massive amphitheater, envision gladiators battling lions and chariots racing around the arena floor. Check out the underground dungeons and corridors to understand how the elaborate backstage operations brought the spectacles to life.

Nearby Palatine Hill is another must-see archaeological site. As you walk among the ruins of imperial palaces, temples and houses, you'll gain insight into how Rome's emperors lived in unimaginable luxury. Don't miss the stadium where the fabled assassination of Emperor Domitian took place.

Travel back even further in time at the Baths of Caracalla, a sprawling ancient bath complex that gives you a vivid sense of what social life was like for everyday Romans. Marvel at the immense domed ceilings in the tepidarium (warm bathing room) and caldarium (hot bathing room). You can spend hours exploring the various pools, fountains, gyms, massage rooms and libraries that made up this prominent locale for social gatherings.
Of course, ancient Roman history is not just limited to the city center. Venture a bit further afield to Ostia Antica to wander through the excavated port city, or journey outside Rome proper to places like Tivoli, with its UNESCO-listed Hadrian's Villa and Villa d'Este.

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Discover Rome's Vibrant Arts Scene

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local’s Guide to the Eternal City

Rome's arts scene is as vibrant as the city itself. As a center of culture for centuries, Rome boasts world-class museums, galleries, theaters, and music venues that rival any major metropolis. Exploring Rome's thriving arts and culture helps you understand what makes this city so dynamic.

One of the best ways to tap into Rome's creative energy is by visiting its treasure trove of museums. Of course, you have iconic institutions like the Vatican Museums and their Sistine Chapel, the Borghese Gallery with its sculptures by Bernini, and the National Museum of Rome. But don't restrict yourself solely to the major museums - Rome has a wealth of small niche museums celebrating everything from pasta to silk embroidery to vintage cars. Wandering through Rome's museums lets you discover the city's diverse history and artistic heritage.

Beyond museums, Rome has a scintillating performing arts scene. Teatro dell'Opera di Roma is a must for opera lovers, while the Teatro Argentina and Teatro Valle host cutting-edge theater and dance productions. Check listings at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome's state-of-the-art concert hall, to catch spectacular classical concerts by the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia orchestra. Many churches also regularly host free classical music concerts.
For film buffs, Rome has a lively indie cinema scene with theaters like Nuovo Sacher and Cinema Farnese showing arthouse and classic films. In summer, head up to Piazza Trinità dei Monti to lounge on the steps and watch free outdoor movie screenings surrounded by Rome's glittering nightscape.

Rome's arts scene extends outdoors through its vibrant street art. Wandering around neighborhoods like Ostiense, Pigneto and San Lorenzo, you'll discover colorful murals and graffiti that showcase Rome's abundant street art talent. Stop by local galleries like Wunderkammern and 999 Contemporary to see more urban and contemporary works.

To experience where Rome's arts scene converges, spend an evening bar-hopping through the Monti and Trastevere neighborhoods. Sip a spritz at an outdoor table while local musicians strum folk songs, student bands play jazz standards, and amateur opera singers belt out arias. Soak up the bohemian vibe in Trastevere's Piazza di Santa Maria, dubbed "the drawing room of Rome" for its constant bustle of buskers, mimes, painters, and street performers until the wee hours.

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Shop at Local Markets and Boutiques

For an authentic taste of Roman life, nothing beats wandering through the city's lively local markets and boutiques. As a Roman, I find these bustling marketplaces embody the city's vibrant energy. Beyond buying unique goods, they also offer a valuable chance to mingle with real locals and understand what makes Roman culture tick.
One of my favorite pastimes is strolling through Rome's outdoor street markets. The most famous is Campo de’ Fiori, dating back to the Middle Ages, where you’ll find tantalizing spices, prized cheeses like creamy burrata and sharp pecorino romano, and the figs, grapes and pomegranates that grow abundantly around Rome. Watch as animated vendors call out deals in thick Roman accents, their booths overflowing with artichokes, fava beans, cured meats, olives and other seasonal specialties.

Don’t miss the Sunday-only Porta Portese flea market, where you can rummage for vintage clothing, antiques, handicrafts and other treasures among stalls that span almost a mile. The atmosphere here encapsulates Rome’s lively chaos, so keep a close eye on your wallet in the jostling crowds.
For a distinctly local vibe, head to the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio where working-class Romans have done their shopping for decades. Peruse pastas, olive oils, cheeses, cured meats and nifty kitchen gadgets, then grab lunch at one of the market’s no-frills food stalls. This is the place to try Rome’s famed cucina povera (peasant cuisine) like coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew) and pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas).

Beyond food, Rome’s markets also sell irresistible fashion and home décor. For vintage apparel, jewelry, furnishings and curios, don’t miss Mercatino Monti in the hip Monti district, open weekends only. Bargain hunters love Mercato di Via Sannio in San Giovanni, which overflows with new and used clothing and accessories every Saturday and Sunday.

When you want a break from hustling market crowds, duck into Rome’s independent boutiques for curated fashions, artisanal crafts and gourmet eats. The Tridente district around the Spanish Steps brims with elegant shops selling everything from designer shoes to bespoke fragrances fit for an emperor. Or head to artsy Via del Governo Vecchio for antiques, art galleries, and adorable indie boutiques.

For the ultimate Roman shopping experience, spend an afternoon wandering along picture-perfect Via Margutta near Piazza del Popolo. Since the 1950s this quiet cobblestoned lane has been Rome’s enclave for artisans and antiquarians. Browse high-end art galleries, find unique handmade jewelry and crafts, or pick up gourmet provisions at niche food shops. Watch artists at work in open-air studios tucked along the tranquil passage.

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Relax in Rome's Beautiful Parks and Gardens

No Roman holiday is complete without spending time relaxing and rejuvenating body and soul in the city's exquisite parks and gardens. As a local, I find Rome's green spaces to be heavenly oases of tranquility amidst the energetic chaos of the city streets. Exploring these urban Edens immerses you in the beauty and history that make Rome so enchanting.
One of my favorite places to escape the crowds is the secretive Orange Garden on Aventine Hill. As you amble along curved paths beneath mature bitter orange trees, you'll feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Rome. Classical statues and fountains add to the Garden's old-world charm. It's the perfect spot to savor a picnic lunch on the grass while gazing over peaceful rose bushes and exotic citrus trees.

For postcard-worthy panoramas, head to the Janiculum Hill Gardens near the American Academy. Meander through fragrant rose gardens and shady groves overlooking the Tiber River winding through the city. Pause to appreciate views of famous monuments like St. Peter's Basilica in the distance. The Janiculum Hill Gardens are especially lovely at sunset when the Eternal City glows in the golden hour light.

Nature lovers shouldn't miss a stroll through Rome's Botanical Gardens tucked behind Circus Maximus. Wander curving pathways past burbling fountains and beds bursting with medicinal plants and rare exotic species collected from around the world. Seek out the garden's gigantic Japanese maple and 300-year-old palm trees. Don't forget to visit the tranquil Chinese garden with its zen-like rock formations. The diversity of flora at the Botanical Gardens demonstrates how Rome has been enriched by cultures from across the globe.
For a taste of the Renaissance, explore the intricate landscaped gardens of Villa Borghese. This sprawling urban park houses the Galleria Borghese museum and plenty of leafy spaces perfect for reading or picnicking. Peacocks roam freely as you walk past fountains and sculpture-filled ponds. Inside the Casina Valadier pavilion, frescoes and intricate mosaics add to the fairytale-esque surroundings. The manicured gardens of Villa Borghese capture Rome's essence as a living museum.

Travel back to ancient times while exploring Villa Celimontana on the Celian Hill. These tranquil gardens incorporate the ruins of Roman houses, baths, temples and milestones in a unique blend of nature and archaeology. The juxtaposition of crumbling columns and statues with blooming flowers and palm trees is striking. Villa Celimontana exemplifies how Rome seamlessly fuses its illustrious past with vibrant present.
Of course, no discussion of Roman gardens is complete without mentioning the monumental Villa D'Este in nearby Tivoli. Its world-renowned Italian Renaissance garden features spectacular fountains, waterfalls and pools that demonstrate how human ingenuity can complement natural beauty. The Cyprus trees, flowering oleanders and aquatic plants at Villa D'Este form a palatial green wonderland just a train ride away from Rome's city center.

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Enjoy Rome After Dark - Bars, Clubs and Live Music

When the sun goes down, Rome transforms into a lively tapestry of bars, clubs, and live music venues that keep the city's nightlife pulsing well into the wee hours. As a Roman, I consider our after-dark entertainment scene to be a top attraction rivaling even the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel! There's simply no better way to experience Rome's vivacious energy and passion for life than by joining the locals for a night out on the town.
No Roman night out is complete without beginning at an enoteca (wine bar) for an aperitivo. My favorite is La Barrique near Campo de' Fiori, where you can sample artisanal wines and craft beers alongside an unlimited buffet of appetizers like bruschetta, cheeses, salumi and little sandwiches. For less than 20 euros you can eat your fill while mingling with a trendy local crowd. Other excellent aperitivo options include La Mescita in Trastevere and Freni e Frizioni in the grungy Testaccio neighborhood, located in a former auto garage.

After your appetizer and drinks, it's time to experience Rome's world-class club and music scene. If you want to rub shoulders with models and celebrities, check out Art Café and Piper Club near Via Veneto. For live indie rock, head to Monk Club in the student-filled San Lorenzo district. Watch for flyers around Pigneto advertising pop-up warehouse raves and underground techno parties. My favorite place to catch live jazz is Gregory's Jazz Club, with intimate shows in a sophisticated setting.

And you can't talk about Roman nightlife without mentioning the explosion of craft beer bars and pubs in recent years. For artisanal brews in a laidback environment, don't miss Birra Più, Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà, and Open Baladin. Order an Italian craft IPA or sour and make new friends with locals and fellow travelers as you discuss life, philosophy, and your favorite things about Roma.

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Getting Around Rome - Walk, Bike, Bus or Metro

Getting around Rome is part of the adventure! With its manageable size and wealth of walkable neighborhoods, Rome was made for strolling. As a pedestrian-friendly city, the best way to experience the true rhythm of Roman life is by meandering the picturesque streets on foot. Arm yourself with a map and comfortable shoes - then lose yourself wandering through the city center's labyrinthine vicoli (alleyways), stumbling upon charming piazzas, fabulous fountains, and hole-in-the-wall trattorias along the way.

Walking also allows you to appreciate Rome's stunning architecture and car-free piazzas up close. From the storied cobblestones of the Jewish Ghetto to the Belle Époque boulevards of Prati, each neighborhood reveals its unique charms when explored on foot. Don't forget to look up to admire façades, cornices, and wrought-iron details that are easily missed speeding by in a taxi or bus.
When your feet need a break, hop aboard one of Rome's ubiquitous buses or trams. The routes are numerous, with many stopping at major sights like the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and St. Peter's Square. Validate your ticket onboard, then sit back and soak up views of Rome's monuments and piazzas through the window. If you get lost, no worries - there's always another bus coming along shortly. Watching the hustle and bustle of Roman traffic whiz by is entertainment enough!

For a quicker cross-town trip, Rome's metro system provides reliable public transport, with three main lines (A, B, C) that cover many top attractions and neighborhoods. The frequently running trains make it easy to zip from sight to sight without losing precious time or energy. Purchase tickets at newspaper kiosks, tobacco shops, or metro stations before boarding. Remember to validate your ticket to avoid those pesky fines.

Biking is another excellent way to cover more ground while getting healthy doses of Roman sunshine and fresh air. The city's bike sharing system offers inexpensive rentals with stations around major landmarks. Cycling feels less daunting thanks to bike lanes and calmer traffic in the historic center. Just remember to watch out for wayward Vespas and streetcars! Some top two-wheeled sightseeing routes include the Villa Borghese Gardens loop and riding along the Tiber River from the Vatican to Trastevere. Don't fear looking like a tourist on those cherry red shared bikes - locals love pedaling around too!

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Local's Guide to the Eternal City - Day Trips from Rome - Pompeii, Florence and More

While Rome certainly offers more than enough sights, sounds and flavors to occupy any vacation, the Eternal City is also a phenomenal base for day trips that provide an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Thanks to Italy’s efficient high-speed train system and the close proximity of destinations like Pompeii and Florence, you can wake up in Rome and be exploring a different city or UNESCO site within just a few hours. With so many choices, planning day trips from Rome can be overwhelming. Here’s my advice as a local on the very best options.
Topping nearly every visitor’s Roman day trip wish list is Pompeii, the incredibly preserved ancient city buried by the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Archeological wonders like the Forum, Temple of Jupiter and Villa of the Mysteries offer a thrilling glimpse into daily life during the Roman Empire. Wandering the eerily empty stone streets flanked by cafes, houses, and even an ancient brothel will send shivers down your spine. Ascending to the crater rim drives home the true destructive power of Vesuvius that simultaneously preserved this snapshot of antiquity.

A key day trip tip: Purchase your Pompeii entrance ticket at the excavation-owned Pompeii sites in Rome to avoid ticket lines and get early entry via the Piazza Anfiteatro entrance. Then explore at your leisure before the tour bus crowds arrive. End your visit with lunch and wine tasting on Mt Vesuvius’ fertile slopes.

For culture lovers, an easy day trip from Rome is Florence, the Renaissance capital of Italy. Take a morning train through bucolic scenery to arrive in under 90 minutes. Begin by getting your fill of artistic masterpieces at the unmissable Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery. Climb to Piazzale Michelangelo for stunning panoramas over Florence’s jumbled terracotta rooftops. Wander medieval cobblestone lanes like those Dante once strolled. And of course, don’t miss the iconic Duomo with Brunelleschi’s gravity-defying dome. With so much art and history packed into a compact area along the Arno River, you’ll see why Florence enthralls visitors for much longer than a day.

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