I didn’t mean to fall in love with Rome. I was a skeptic. After all, how could the real Rome live up to the romanticized, Fellini-esque version of the iconic city that lived in my head? The Eternal City is home to historic art and architecture, fabulous food, fashion, and luxury lodgings, and my recent Roman holiday put all hesitations to rest. Here’s how to see and have it all, without falling into the tourist traps.
Palazzo Naiadi & Trastevere
We arrived at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport and were ushered into a taxi by a man we thought was our driver. Already on the freeway when we realized the mistake, we could do little but sit back and hope for the best. Our young driver’s eagerness to share his love for Rome put us at ease, though nothing would have prepared us for the insanity of driving in Rome. Our driver laughingly referred to the streets of Rome as “God’s race track” and promised to get us safely to our hotel while providing the best tour of the bustling city that money could buy. He did not disappoint. When we arrived at the Palazzo Naiadi Roma, the parting advice he gave shaped the rest of our trip: “Eat like a Roman, not a tourist.”
If our first foray into Rome was a shaky one, any concerns diminished upon entering our stunning hotel. Set in a former nineteenth-century palace, the Palazzo Naiadi Roma evokes simple elegance in a grand setting. The staff was incredibly gracious, sending our luggage up to the room while we met with the concierge team. After speaking with them for only a few minutes, we scrapped all but two of the restaurant reservations we’d made and put our cuisine planning into their hands.
After a tour of the ancient property, essentially a twenty-first-century neoclassical museum, we toasted our good fortune at the hotel’s rooftop terrace—aptly named POSH—before we jumped in a (real) taxi for a casual dinner at Taverna Trilussa in Trastevere, a charming medieval neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber River known for its nightlife.
After dinner, we strolled the neighborhood’s cobblestone streets and enjoyed the street performers on the enchanting Piazza di Santa Maria.
The Pantheon / Trevi Fountain / Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers / Piazza Navona
We awoke with the sunrise and drank coffee on our balcony overlooking Rutelli’s Fountain of the Naiads and Michelangelo’s Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Eager to see the sites but avoid the crowds, we took the concierge team’s advice to “walk in Rome, walk everywhere in Rome.”
Rome is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city with nearly 3,000 years of art, architecture and culture on display—making it impossible to see every ancient ruin during our short stay. Knowing that, we opted to see fewer sites per day, on foot. It became a treasure hunt of sorts, as we had the flexibility to stop by any church, museum, shop, or café that enticed us along the way. The best part was find-ing ancient ruins tucked into unexpected corners; getting lost became part of the fun.
With fresh coffee and pastry in hand, we strolled to the nearby Trevi district of Rome to see the Fontana di Trevi, an iconic 86-foot fountain, one of 1,352 that stood in fourth-century Rome. According to legend, visitors who toss coins into the fountain over their right shoulder will return to the city.
Not willing to leave our return to chance, we threw coins in at the foot of Oceanus, a statue by Pietro Bracci, and headed towards the Pantheon, one of ancient Rome’s best-preserved monuments. The spectacular design and proportions are a striking reminder of the Roman Empire’s architecture. While its exact age is not known, it is thought that the original structure was built in 27 BC as a temple to the gods of pagan Rome. The existing structure, including the famous 140-foot oculus, was built in 120 AD by Emperor Hadrian. While the Pantheon contains the tombs of the artist Raphael and several Italian kings and poets, it was the first pagan temple to be turned into a church.
We wound our way back to Piazza Navona, taking our time exploring shops, ancient ruins, and market stalls. We braved the growing crowd to see Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers before grabbing lunch at Salumera Roscioli, a deli and restaurant with only seven tables and a killer wine list.
Once sufficiently stuffed, I headed to the hotel spa for a little pampering and then relaxed until our car picked us up for dinner. If you are looking for an under-the-radar taste of Rome, consider dining in Parioli, a wealthy residential area a few minutes from the city center. We strolled through the Borghese Gardens just before sunset and arrived at Gallura, a candlelit restaurant perfect for a romantic dinner. We sat on the garden terrace to enjoy the warm October evening, and feasted on seven courses, including sea urchin, lobster, artichoke, and pasta, each arriving with an accompanying flight of wine and a colorful story of its preparation from the waiter.
Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele / The Roman Forum / Shopping & Spanish Steps / Dinner overlooking the Colosseum
We packed a lot of exploring into our third day, but the proximity of the sites made it easy to see major monuments within a short time. Leaving before the morning rush hour, we walked through the Monti and Celio neighborhoods to the Roman Forum and then across the street to climb the steps of the Altare della Patria, an enormous monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. Then we grabbed a cab to do some shopping and see the Spanish Steps. (Rome’s fashion districts can be overwhelming, so if you see something you love, get it then. I can’t tell you how many shops I tried to get back to but couldn’t find.)
Via del Corso is a must-see for those looking to invest in Italian leather or linen. Part of the street is pedestrian only, making the shopping even more enjoyable. If you are looking for famous Italian fashion houses and prestigious brands, Via dei Condotti is the place to go. Well-known international brands, wonderful Italian menswear, and leather shops fill Via Borgognona (parallel to Via dei Condotti). While wandering Via dei Condotti, stop at the Antico Caffè Greco for lunch or a cappuccino. The oldest bar in Rome, the celebrated eighteenth-century café has long been a haven for writers, composers, and artists—including Byron, Keats, Mendelssohn, and Wagner.
We had reserved a table months before at the elegant Hotel Eden’s rooftop restaurant and bar, Il Giardino, and enjoyed the last hours of our Roman holiday languishing on the terrace, feasting our eyes on the panoramas of the Eternal City. Rome was no longer a romantic vision that lived in my imagination; it had woven its way into my heart with its chaotic heartbeat, legendary past, and awe-inspiring charm.
/// Taverna Trilussa
Via del Politeama, 23, 00153 Rome RM, tavernatrilussa.com, + 39 06 581 8918
/// Roscioli Salumeria Con Cucina
Via dei Giubbonari, 21, 00186 Roma RM, salumeriaroscioli.com, + 39 06 687 5287
/// Antico Caffé Greco
Via dei Condotti, 86, 00187 Roma RM, anticocaffegreco.eu, (no reservations)
Via Giovanni Antonelli, 2, 00197 Roma RM, ristorantegallura.it, + 39 06 807 2971
/// Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar
Hotel Eden, Via Ludovisi, 49, 00187 Rome RM, + 39 06 4781 2761
/// Palazzo Naiadi Roma
Piazza della Repubblica, 47, 00185 Roma RM, dahotels.com/palazzo-naiadi-roma, + 39 06 489 3821
/// Fusion Spa
Piazza della Repubblica, 47, 00185 Roma RM, dahotels.com/palazzo-naiadi-roma/wellness-spa-rome, + 39 06 4893 8465