Like Rome’s ‘Eternal City’ moniker, it would take more than a lifetime to see all that Italy’s ancient capital offers. Each day, new cafes, wine bars, and restaurants open their doors to the hungry, thirsty, and enthusiastic masses, while older ones take their final bow.
So, whether it’s your first or twenty-first time to find yourself on streets where Caesar, Hadrian, and Francesco Totti (recently retired A.S. Roma footballer and local god) have stood, you’re in for something new, memorable, and, let’s face it, covered in cheese.
Since there’s already a sprawling library worth of info on traditional Roman outings- the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, etc- I thought I’d take you on a random amble through my favorite neighborhood, Trastevere. After a brief cycle of course.
Pedaling Roman art.
It took me four visits to Rome to realize how integral street art, murals, and graffiti are to the city. Now, I’m far from an art aficionado. I’d struggle to name four artists that didn’t feature in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Still, though, I do love a good ol’ piece of street art.
Biking is a phenomenal way to get familiar with a new city, and Rome is perfect for this. So, why not kill two birds with one stone?
Cyclamine. Its street art and graffiti tour allows you to zephyr through the backstreets of Rome’s districts for four hours, with occasional pit stops for local food and wine.
Unscrupulous landlords actually up the rent in their buildings once anything resembling art appears on it. Under this mural an ill-tempered local has written ‘Your art is upping my rent’. But what’s a little bit of gentrification compared to a killer Instagram story?
If the usual waiting-in-line, selfie-stick-in-your-face tours feel as appealing as watching paint dry, then get your backside on a bike saddle and out of Rome’s tourist trap. Our street art and cycling tour began at 9:30 am on the dot. And by ‘on the dot’ I mean around 15 minutes after: This is Rome, people.
Roman food Russian roulette.
You’ve been cycling all morning, now it’s time to eat. You earned this! Sora Margherita is a local favorite in Trastevere. And while it’s always great to experience local culture in general, this family-style place is an ‘experience’ in itself.
We were the only non-Italians in Sora Margherita when we pushed through the doors of this unassuming building. It’s always heartening to be surrounded by locals upon entering an unfamiliar restaurant. So far, so good.
Our waitress arrived promptly and in a sassy, yet not unfriendly way asked my wife, Rach, our French friend, Thierry, and I what we wanted to drink. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water and a bottle of red in what, to me, sounded like impeccable Italian. Everything was going according to plan until she followed up, in English, with:
“I’ll bring you out a selection of dishes.”
Note the period ending the above sentence; this was not a question. And who were we to argue? Thus began our Roman food Russian roulette.
It started out great: Some fried artichoke hearts, followed by Roman classic ‘Cacio e Pepe’ (a tasty al dente pasta with Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper). We devoured both plates in no time flat. But then our waitress planted the next dish on our table.
It was tripe. As she went off about her business we all froze, ogling this ragù-covered lining of a cow’s stomach.
We remained staring suspiciously at the local delicacy sitting untouched before us until our waitress returned. Without a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed a fork, scooped a large forkful of tripe and literally put it into Thierry’s mouth. I was in stitches laughing, until she dipped the fork again. This time the tripe appeared in front of my mouth. I opened obediently, and in went the cow’s stomach. I’m vegetarian.
The locals at the table beside us found this hilarious. They told us how much they love tripe. In moderation. We asked if they wanted the remaining four-fifths of the plate. They gladly accepted. In fact, they wanted to pay us for it, while we wanted to pay them to take it off our hands (and keep us out of trouble with our assertive server).
From there, the rest of the meal went without incident. The food was lovely and there was considerably less force-feeding. All jokes aside, Sora Margherita is unique, adored by locals, and you can even, y’know, order the specific dishes that you want from the menu. But where’s the fun in that?
Time for a tipple.
If you ramble down any street in Trastevere for more than 30 seconds, you will find a cafe, restaurant, or bar. And after a month researching wine bars in Trastevere- yes, researching- three wine bars stand head and shoulders above the rest:
VinAllegro is a little hidden-away, in as much as you can be in central Trastevere. Vines cover the outside walls and bottles of wine line the inside ones. The interior is dark, intimate, and romantic.
When it comes to the wine itself, they have a book to choose from. Although my wine consumption is up there with the best of them, my wine knowledge is remarkably average. No problem, their staff will guide you through selection until you’re holding a glass of something magnificent (for the price you want).
The second is Antico Caffè del Moro. Like VinAllegro, they have a wide array of wines- or whatever you fancy- and a lovely staff to guide your decision. Their Aperitivo is top notch, too.
From 6-9, you can buy a drink for €8, and eat from a tasty spread of dishes for free. What’s better than discussing your day over a glass of wine, some bruschetta, fried zucchini, chips, polenta cubes, potato croquettes, Bolognese, or whatever else they have that day?
Last, but not least, is Ferrara. This warmly-lit narrow space can only hold maybe 15 souls, but thankfully it’s never too crowded. In fact, my wife and I happened upon this place late one Friday night and were the only people there for the final hour.
We got chatting to the bartender, Marko, and as we paid the check he gave us both a glass of wine on the house. And I literally mean a glass of wine. He sent us on our way, down Trastevere’s cobblestones, with two fancy wine bar caliber glasses filled with tasty Sangiovese.
“Just bring them back next time,” he told us nonchalantly.
But weight, there’s more.
Pizza in Italy is simply better. And, given the sheer amount I consume here, the idea of paying for it by weight sounded like a bankrupting idea. From my experience of lunchtime eateries in NY, if you’re paying by weight, you’re going to get stung. Not in Rome.
Much like with my wine adventures, I have also ‘researched’ most of the pizza establishments in Trastevere. My life has become an accidental Man vs. Food.
La Boccaccia is the best in my humble, pizza-comatose opinion. Like Sora Margherita, an encouraging number of locals descend on this place, especially during lunch hour. It’s easy to see why.
Immediately after you enter this small pizza joint you’re confronted by a long glass counter filled with about 15 different steaming pizzas. The crust is medium thickness and scrumptiously crispy. Flavor-wise, there’s something for everyone: From a cheese-free tomato, basil, olive oil (my favorite) to alllll the cheese. People rave about the pepperoni. You can get a sliver of this, and a chunk of that, until you’ve tailor-made your perfect plate.
They even had pizza with fried potato as a topping. It’s in my genetic make-up as an Irishman, okay? The decision was out of my hands.
From cycling, to walking, to waddling.
So there you have it: A day of Roman indulgence, completely canceled out by your morning bike ride. Or so I tell myself. With such a sky-high standard of food, coffee, and wine, it would be rude not to overindulge.
In fact, if you return to your apartment or hotel feeling like you could keep eating- or you can walk comfortably, even (see above pic where I can’t)- you probably did something wrong.
Aside from the food, this city, and Trastevere in particular, is stunning year-round. Whether you take in a late summer sunset from one of the bridges overlooking the Tiber, or pop open an umbrella for a scenic stroll over the rain-glistening streets in winter, there’s truly no place like Rome.
Keith Bohan is an Irish writer, who travels full-time throughout Europe. Follow his adventures and misadventures at instagram.com/keithbohan