No city is quite as captivating as Rome. From the buzz of mopeds to the tempting coffee aromas that sift heavily from a host of classic espresso bars, to the startling sprawl of ancient Roman ruins that pierce the city and halt its modernity, Rome is a treasured hotbed of fervent passion and restless culture.
Narrow streets uncover hidden, buzzing enotecas, whilst cosy trattorias and charming pasticceria entice with their delicious wares. Luckily, Rome has been thoroughly unpicked by a tangle of guidebooks and visitors – there are clear bucket-list wonders, like the sublime majesty of the Trevi Fountain or the breathtaking archaeology at the Forum or Pantheon. To walk on the ancient paving slabs once betrodden by Caesar, Augustus and Mark Antony, makes any history buff weak at the knees. Yet all this is well covered. So we’ve set to bring you the undiscovered Rome – the best food, bars, heritage and oddities that will allow you to really get the best out of your visit.
Largo di Torre Argentina
In the heart of frenetic Roman life, next to a row of bus stops, is this imposing archaeological site made up of of four Republican era (2nd to 4th centuries BC) temples. Only uncovered during Mussolini’s vast building phases, the site also reveals Pompey’s long-lost theatre (still partially covered by the streets above) which Plutarch tells us is the site of Julius Caesar’s untimely death. Marked by a tree, the site is now a serendipitous stray-cat sanctuary.
A treasure of a gallery, Centrale Montemartini is an awe-inspiring curation of Ancient Roman artwork in a setting that juxtaposes its classical collection. Set within an old power station, the silky marble curves of the local statues are offset by the sharp lines of the industrial building, offering a remarkable experience that turns its subjects on their heads.
Anyone coming to Rome for the history will know this towering column, but for those traipsing to the Colosseum, be sure to stop off on the way and marvel at its intricate carvings and sheer scale. Commemorating Trajan’s victory over the Dacians, the spiralling artwork that adorns the column is a sight to behold, if not a propagandic image of war.
Trattoria Vecchia Roma
Owned and ran by the same family since 1916, this is traditional trattoria feasting at its best. The highlight here has to be the amatriciana, a glorious mix of bucatini pasta, tomato and guanciale which – and here’s the secret – is mixed in a hollowed Parmigiano Reggiano that has been set alight inside. As authentic and wholesome as it gets.
Ristorante La Veranda
For opulent dining in Rome, La Veranda is unbeatable in its inspiring location. This former 15th century palace is adorned with intricate frescos and an impressive vaulted ceiling, serving up a rotating menu of fine Roman fayre. Sunday brunch is a winner for a slightly cheaper option at this beautiful restaurant.
This traditional pasticceria is rumoured, amongst locals, to serve up the finest tiramisu in Rome. High praise indeed, and with a variety of versions to choose from, plus a startling array of other sweet treats, neck an espresso and treat yourself.
A true gem, Pastificio is a local’s fave when in the luxury (read: expensive) area around the Spanish Steps and Villa dei Condotti. Their lunchtime special offers two choices of freshly-made, delicious pasta dishes, for just €4 – or, as the sign states, one pasta, one fork, one napkin, one water, and for those that deserve it, one drop of wine. Cues can be long, but they shift fast and the pasta never seems to run out!
Trastevere Craft Beer
Trastevere is a bonafide student hangout, offering great bars and a sumptuous foodie scene. Where better, then, to check out Italy’s craft beer offerings? Head over to Bir & Fud or Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa for a vast selection of Italian craft beers, and incredibly knowledgeable staff that’ll guide you through. Cheers!
The sweet smell of this bakery has Trastevere hepcats hooked – a firm local’s favourite after a few beers. Serving up famous pizza slices, along with a host of other goodies, its secret potentially lies with its 140 year old ovens that burn day and night – rather uniquely, burning hazelnut shells.
Theatre of Marcellus
One of the oldest theatres in the world, work started under Caesar in 13 BC (until he was murdered, and Augustus finished it off), making this the largest and most important amphitheatre of ancient Rome. More remarkable is that you can still catch a show there, with its crumbling edifice serving as a dramatic backdrop – check out the famous Tempietto summer concerts that it’s renowned for.
Discuss the finer points of Vittorio De Sica’s cinematography whilst sampling a north Italian stout. This bookshop, which shares a penchant for books relating to cinema, hides a super-cool craft beer bar in its basement. Hipsters alight – be sure to check the wide range of events, including poetry slams, film screenings and live music.
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane
St Peters may be the obvious choice for divine splendour, but there are a host of other churches in Rome that deserve a look-in. San Carlo is a prime example. Its unassuming size is surpassed by its sheer beauty, from the glorious facade to the stunning interior, finished with an intricate dome. An oft overlooked Borromini masterpiece.