To experience the real Roma – the one where cappuccinos don’t cost €8, the pasta isn’t served with powdered parmesan, and awkward, costly photos with menacing young men dressed as Roman gladiators complete with wooden swords aren’t foisted upon you, there are a few things you need to know. When in Rome…!
Don’t spend all day queuing for the Colosseum. The Roman amphitheatre in the centre of Rome was the site of incredible spectacles including mock sea battles in which it was filled with water for the viewing pleasure of up to 80,000 spectators. Dating back to 72AD, it’s a must-see. Less enjoyable is the hours-long queue that can build up outside the site – especially since you can get around it in several clever ways.
The queue for the Colosseum is always long. Image via iStock.
Instead, avoid the queue in one of three ways. The first tip is to buy a ticket for another Rome must-do, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (€12). The Forum often has no queues at all and the ticket, which is valid for two days, includes entry to the Colosseum. The following day, you can breeze past the rabble like an emperor, leaving socks-and-sandalled German tourists gaping in your wake. Another way to skip the queue is to buy tickets online ahead of time and print them out. They cost €2 more but it’s worth it to bypass sweaty queuing. The third option is to book a special tour. No only will you get an insider’s look at fresh excavations, but you’ll swan in without waiting.
Don’t take a photo with the gladiators outside the Colosseum – unless you really want to pay up to €50 for the privilege. They can be notoriously pushy and according to news reports, some make up to €12,000 a month duping tourists.
We're not sure that jumper is authentic. Image via iStock.
Instead, say ciao to the faux fighters and head to Aventine Hill for one of the most wonderful sights in Rome. There, you’ll find the doorway to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, a small, 18th-century church, its keyhole shiny from the touch of millions of fingers. Peer through it to see the priory garden and, right in the centre, the dome of St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in the distance. A well-placed iPhone can capture a pretty good impression of the view.
The magical view through the keyhole at Aventine Hill. Image via iStock.
Don’t expect to find the world’s greatest pizza in Rome. You’ll really need to go to Naples for that. Italy is a nation of regional cuisines and while you can find a really great Roman-style slice (thin-crusted and topped with things like fresh uncooked tomato, artichokes and anchovies), pizza isn’t what Rome is famous for.
Instead, focus on the specialties of the Lazio region: stuffed, fried zucchini flowers, baccalà (salted cod), trippa all Romana (tripe cooked in wine, tomato and garlic) and pasta dishes such as spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all’Amatriciana and cacio e pepe. If you see a menu touting spaghetti Bolognese with meatballs, keep moving.
Cacio e pepe is a local dish that looks simple but takes great skill. Image via iStock.
Don’t eat at restaurants close to major tourist attractions. They’re likely to be overpriced and disappointing. Apart from their proximity to sites such as Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, you can tell a tourist restaurant from the English language-only menus, the pictures of dishes displayed in the window and the overly ingratiating waitstaff trying to entice you in.
Instead, head off the main drags to discover Rome’s real restaurants. For example, enjoy the beauty of Piazza Navona, then keep walking south for another few minutes until you arrive at the charming Campo de’ Fiori where there’s a daily market and plenty of smaller, well-priced restaurants. Essentially, the further away from a tourist attraction the more authentic, reasonably priced and delicious your meal will be.
Don’t go looking for a big breakfast in Rome – the locals find the idea of eggs for breakfast baffling at best and bacon downright disturbing.
Instead, break your fast the Italian way. The traditional way to start the day in Italy is with a strong espresso or cappuccino and a sweet pastry, and this repast is generally taken standing up at the bar of the local caffè.
Don’t go shopping on the Via del Corso. Take a stroll down it – it’s a very popular spot for the traditional evening passeggiata and runs for 1.5 kilometres from the Porta del Popolo (the city’s northern gate) right to the centre at Piazza Venezia. In terms of shopping though, this is the place for big brands like Zara, H&M and TopShop – all of which can be found lining the high streets of Australia.
Piazza del Popolo. Image via iStock.
Instead, check out the beautiful wares at small boutiques along Via Urbana and Via del Boschetto in the Rione Monti district, located not far from the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Here, you’ll find artisanal pieces, vintage clothing and small designer ateliers. Try Kokoro for handmade clothing, Pifebo for vintage and Le Gallinelle for colourful pieces by designer Wilma Silvestri. The area also hosts a weekend market.
Don’t do your people watching at Piazza Navona. We’re not saying Piazza Navona isn’t a place to see, though: the square is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian (1st century AD) and became a city market in the 15th century. Here you’ll see incredible Baroque Roman architecture such as the church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Just know that thanks to its beauty and history, Piazza Navona is a big drawcard and most of the people you’ll see wandering its crowded cobbled pavements are going to be tourists.
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Baroque Piazza Navona. Image via iStock.
Instead, go to the Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. This little city square in trendy Monti has fountains, outdoor cafés and bars, and it’s where locals congregate and socialise, espresso and glasses of wine in hand, depending on the time of day. In the summertime, the party extends way into the balmy evening. Bring a bottle and fit right in.