Thinking of traveling to Rome on tour? Between all the Roman ruins, art museums, and amazing Italian cuisine, there’s so much to do (and love about) the Eternal City. Here, our Copywriter Jamie shares some of her favorite free-time tips for what to do in Rome.
Explore the Roman Forum
This wasn’t my first time in Rome—I’d been on the Grand Tour of Italy a couple years ago! So, I’d had the chance to visit the Colosseum, see the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, and explore a little bit already. But there was still so much left on my list! So, suffice to say I was super jazzed at the chance to go back.
First, The Roman Forum. I’d gotten the chance see it on tour, and learned a lot about the history of Rome from our guide, but there was still more to discover. This time, I went as soon as it opened in the morning, which meant it was a little less crowded for the first hour or so we explored.
Visit the Borghese Gardens
Another spot I wanted to see was the Borghese Gardens. Now a public park, the Borghese was once the sprawling estate of an Italian noble family. While you’re there, you can take tours of the Villa Borghese, or visit the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, which showcases a huge array of work of artists from Italy and around the world.
Try local cuisine
Of course, eating in Italy is like nowhere else. On our trip, I had the opportunity to do both classic Roman cuisine, and a few local spots.
One of the best restaurants I visited was also the simplest—Dar Filletaro. They only have one main dish: fried bacala, or salt cod, served in a paper wrapper. Sides like anchovies, pickled mushrooms, and mozzarella with prosciutto were perfect for sharing with the table. Plus, I felt like we were really doing as the Romans do; everyone around us spoke Italian.
In Trastevere, I stopped at another local favorite: the family-run Trattoria da Augusto. The line outside belied its popularity, but the wait wasn’t long—and was worth it. The menu is full of simple Roman classics, with specials depending on the weeknight.
Get an aperitivo
Need a break after an afternoon of sightseeing? Enter the aperitivo, the Italian answer for a midday pick-me-up. Sit down to a plate of salumi and cheese, a glass of wine, Aperol spritz, or even a Negroni (that’s equal parts vermouth, Campari, and gin) and spend an hour or so snacking and enjoying your drink.
When the hour strikes, I’d recommend getting away from the main squares and seeking out a quieter spot for your aperitivo break. I really liked the atmosphere at Ai Tre Scalini and Fafiuche, which were both in the neighborhood of Rione Monti.
Go off the beaten path
Getting out of the city center is a great way to see Rome. We stayed in the neighborhood of Monteverde Vecchio, which is atop the Janiculum Hill behind Trastevere. There, I came across incredible views from the Janiculum Terrace, admired the neighborhood’s stunning villas and parks, and even found one of our Roman colleagues’ favorite restaurants: Il Focolare.
I also got the chance to uncover Testaccio, where I met up with a friend for a seriously delicious lunch (think: fresh mozzarella, homemade pastas, and veal) at La Tavernaccia. The neighborhood is also home to a slaughterhouse-turned-art museum, a huge local market, and arguably the oddest ruin in the city—the Pyramid of Cestius. (It was built after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C. when Egyptian culture became sort of trendy. The pyramid was built by a rich Roman resident, who wanted a final resting place just like the pharoahs.) Later, I soaked up my last night in Rome at The Tram Depot, an outdoor cafe and bar anchored by a repurposed streetcar.
Still, one of my favorite ways to explore any city is to just walk around for a few hours. It’s the best way to make discoveries—and Rome is a place that feels like it really rewards wandering.
How do you spend free time while traveling? Tell us about it in the comments!