Ever wish you could text the most stylish people in the world to ask them for their lists of things to do in the places they know best? Here are insider travel tips for those who would never be caught dead in a tourist trap. Bon voyage!
Four impeccably stylish and knowledgeable Romans share their insights for navigating the fabulously enigmatic city: Delfina Delettrez Fendi, founder and designer of her eponymous jewelry line and artistic director for jewelry at Fendi; the tailor Michele Am Russo, co-director of the boutique and bespoke clothier Atelier Bomba; the artist F Taylor Colantonio; and Marie-Louise Sciò, CEO and creative director of Pellicano Hotels Group. Fendi, Russo, and Sciò all grew up in Rome, Colantonio has lived there for seven years.
What to Bring
Rome is best experienced on foot, and most of the streets in the historic center are paved with cobblestones known as sampietrini, so flat, comfortable shoes with non-slippery soles are a must. A shawl or scarf to cover your shoulders when visiting churches is also good to have on hand.
Fendi recommends bringing a water bottle along, which you can refill at the many drinking fountains in the city. “It’s a true Roman gesture as Roman water is one of the purest and best waters in the world,” says Fendi. “And you truly connect with the ancient Romans, because it comes directly from the original old aqueduct”.
The most important accessory? “A good Roman friend who can show you all the shortcuts and the unusual side of the city,” says Fendi. If those are in short supply, “the best alternative is booking a guide from IfExperience—they are the keepers of all the keys of Rome.”
What to Leave Behind
Ditch the shorts. “True Romans will not wear them in the city even during the hottest months,” says Fendi. Adds Russo: “It’s generally respectful to avoid wearing them, especially if you plan on dining at elegant, old school restaurants or visiting any church or religious site.”
And if you want to avoid getting pegged as an American tourist, avoid “big sun hats, maxi dresses and espadrilles,” says Colantonio. “Stylistic critiques aside, you may find yourself subject to arbitrary surcharges in shops and taxis.”
What to Keep in Mind
Italians can be a traditional bunch, and certain cultural norms are considered sacred. “Be aware of the fallout which may occur if disregarding food orthodoxies such as mixing seafood and dairy or ordering a cappuccino after midday,” says Colantonio. “Alla fine, do as you please, but you should know the rules before you break the rules!”
The city center is notoriously mobbed with tourists, so the best time to explore is in the off hours. “Early morning and late night walks or rides are the only time to see Rome,” says Russo. “Walk the center, become lost, you may discover something beautiful as you find your way.” Colantonio is a fan of taking visiting friends and family on middle-of-the-night bike rides: “I took my parents once. We met at 2:30 AM with a six pack of beer in the bicycle basket. We raced around the perimeter of the Colosseum because there was no one around.”
At the most basic level, it’s helpful to know a little bit of vocabulary. “Greetings go a long way,” says Sciò. “Start your day with buongiorno and switch to buonasera after 1 PM. When in doubt, you can use salve.”
Where to Stay
Hotel Locarno is a favorite among the stylish set for its “unique character, charm, and excellent location,” as Sciò sums it up. Located just off Piazza del Popolo, it has elegant historic rooms, a lovely rooftop and an intimate courtyard that’s the perfect place for a chic breakfast. Another classic is the Hotel De Russie, which is especially great during warmer months when you can enjoy its beautiful garden. And the Hotel Eden, near the sprawling Villa Borghese park, got a fresh renovation in 2017 that didn’t diminish its warm, old school feel.
Over the past year, there have been some notable newcomers to the luxury hotel scene. Six Senses, known for its unique blend of high luxury and top notch wellness amenities, has minimalist rooms and rooftop yoga a few steps from Piazza Venezia.
This summer, Bulgari finally brought its signature hospitality to the brand’s hometown with a hotel in Piazza Augusto Imperatore. The Bulgari Hotel Roma is housed in a fortresslike 1930s building that makes the ultra-glam property feel ensconced from the outside world.
Fendi is partial to her family’s hotel, Villa Laetitia, which is just across the river from the center in the Della Vittoria neighborhood. “Not only because it’s ours, but because you enjoy a true Roman experience—it feels as if the five Fendi sisters invited you into their private home.”
Where to Start the Day
“In Italy il bar is a café,” notes Russo. “They also serve alcoholic drinks but this is where you have your cappuccino e cornetto in the morning.” He’s partial to Bar Romoli, off the beaten path in Trieste, for its iced cappuccino and iced tea. Near Piazza Navona, Fendi loves the nearby Pasticceria 5 Lune for its delicious maritozzo con panna, or Antico Caffè Greco on Via dei Condotti. “It’s more than a coffee shop, it’s a museum,” she says. “They have a collection made up of over three hundred works of art and historical relics.”
For the best early morning people watching, Colantonio loves Bar San Calisto in Trastevere. “Historically it’s where the thieves of Trastevere used to hang out, not pickpockets but the guys who would break into your apartment in August while you were in Porto Ercole for the month,” he says. “You’ll point to a regular and ask, ‘What does that guy do?’ And they’ll tell you ‘houses.’”
Where to Eat
Rome is a dinner reservation kind of town. Even if you’re looking for something on the day of, it’s best to call to prenotare at least a few hours in advance. If it’s warm enough to eat outside and that’s an option, it’s almost always the best move—the ambience tends to be better, and it’s a big part of the culture. If you’re ever wandering without something pre-booked, follow Fendi’s advice for finding local spots: “Restaurants that are family run generally write the date they were founded on their sign.”
Sciò’s picks are Da Enzo al 29 (“their carbonara is amazing”) and Da Cesare al Pellegrino, “where the pasta aglio, olio, and peperoncino is outstanding, and the daily specials are fabulous!” Russo is a fan of the elegant 1920s stalwart Trattoria Al Moro, and Piatto Romano in Testaccio for its “genuine and unique menu and very fresh quality produce. To my knowledge the only restaurant in Rome that doesn’t own a freezer. Trust me, this says a lot.”
Russo also recommends Trattoria Monti, where you’ll find “refined cuisine from the Marche region. Have their tortello—basically one oversized raviolo ricotta e spinaci with an intact raw egg yolk inside—elegantly served with just sage and butter.”
For a quick snack on the go, there’s pizza al taglio—sliced pizza sold by weight in bakeries and topped with a variety of delicious toppings, from super simple tomato sauce to thinly sliced meats and veggies. Two classic spots for this treat are Antico Forno Roscioli or Forno Campo de’ Fiori. Russo loves Pizza Rustica on Via Flaminia, which has been owned by the same family for half a century.
Where to Shop
Via dei Condotti is well known as the luxury thoroughfare, but the chicest boutiques are found along Via di Monserrato. Says Sciò: “It boasts Hollywood tutto sul Cinema, a must-visit for cinephiles like myself that offers a wide array of cinema-related treasures; LabSolue Perfume Laboratory, an olfactory paradise worth experiencing; and L’Archivio di Monserrato, for unique fabulous pieces.” It’s also where you’ll find the Delfina Delettrez flagship, and the eclectic concept shop Chez Dédé.
The best vintage shops can be found in Monti, a chic residential neighborhood with plentiful boutiques. Pulp Vintage has an eclectic mix of modern consignment pieces and high quality vintage at great price points.
If you’re in the market for something custom made—or the most incredibly special knits or tailored basics—stop by Russo’s Atelier Bomba on Via dell’Oca. Russo himself recommends the Porta Portese flea market. (“Get there early!”)
For the literary minded, Colantonio recommends The Almost Corner Bookshop in Trastevere, which stocks English language titles, or Antica Libreria Cascianelli near Piazza Navona. “Its a bookstore but more of a dusty 19th century wunderkammer, mixing rare and antique books with grand tour souvenirs,” he says. “They also sell fantastical vitrines by Valentina La Rocca that are like miniature opera sets.”
Where to Look at Art
Galleria Borghese is mentioned in every guide book for a reason. “Just imagine this as a privately owned collection,” says Russo. “It’s a real feast of Bernini and Caravaggio, and much more.” Book your tickets well in advance and finish your visit with a stroll through Villa Borghese park. For more Art History 101, head to Doria Pamphilj Gallery, the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, Centrale Montemartini, and the Roman Forum. If you really want to do a deep dive, Sciò says to consider a guided tour of the magnificent Bernini sculptures scattered around the city.
Churches are everywhere, and they’re filled with spectacular art: Santa Maria della Vittoria, San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, San Luigi dei Francesi and Sant’Andrea al Quirinale are just a few not to miss.
Rome is all about living history, and one of the best examples of that is Castel Sant’Angelo. “It’s one of my favorite buildings of all time because you can visualize the most important eras of Rome, layered one on top of the other, very succinctly,” says Colantonio. “Beginning with the 2nd century AD mausoleum of Hadrian—gay icon—it then became a medieval fortress with cannons made from melting down the original bronze doors looted from the Pantheon, and then finally a renaissance Papal palace.”
Where to Get Some Fresh Air
“Villa Doria Pamphili, just outside the city center, is perfect for walking, running, and biking,” says Sciò. Colantonio is also a fan: “I love to run up there at dusk. You pass some of the best views of the city and then up through the parkland of the villa, full of umbrella pines and cement copies of the classical sculptures that were moved inside Palazzo Doria Pamphilj when the park became public in the ’60s.”
Where to Have an Aperitivo
The casual, pre-dinner drink is an essential part of Rome’s social scene. For a glass of wine and an aperitivo, Sciò recommends Antica Latteria, near Campo Di Fiori. Russo likes Enoteca il Piccolo, on Via del Governo Vecchio; Il Vinaietto, on Via del Monte della Farina; and Al Vino Al Vino, on Monti’s Via dei Serpenti.
For a taste of the local creative scene, head to Bar Boronato, which was recently reopened by the artist Emi Maggi and his band Salò. “It’s only open on Tuesdays and Salò performs a live set every week in costume,” Colantonio says. “The drinks are cheap and I made the lamps!”
Where to Stay Up Late
A lot of Roman social life takes place behind closed doors—clubs are considered the domain of teenagers. But for a sophisticated night out, Sciò enjoys the jazz bar Alexanderplatz, and the theater and dance performances that take place during the Romaeuropa Festival every September to November.
When to Visit
“Spring and autumn are the best times to visit,” says Sciò. “The light in autumn is beautiful, while the air in the spring is unbeatable.” If the arts are what you’re visiting for, consider January: “It’s very serene, the sky is often crisp blue, and it’s a good time to see museums because there aren’t many tourists,” says Colantonio.
“Rome is special because it’s a mess!” says Colantonio. “But Rome allows people to live in a vibrant, improbable, theatrical way. If you slow down and forget about the tourist itinerary for a moment and really notice the characters that fill each neighborhood, you’ll see that life is performed in a way that gives beauty and order to the chaos.”