Welcome to Backpacker’s Boutique. Every Sunday, this spot will feature a new travel blogger. Some weeks it will be a really fun interview about packing, fashion, and fitness so you can snoop inside their bags & lives a little bit and other weeks it’ll be a detailed luxury guide to a city the featured blogger/expat knows very well. E-mail me if you’d like to be featured.
feature image: Moyan Brenn
This guide is all about how to spend a more luxurious time in this iconic city. Whether you’re in Rome for 3 days, a week, or more, here’s all you need to know!
A Luxury Guide to Rome
Tell us a little about yourself and tell us why you’re an expert on luxury travel in Rome.
After I finished my degree in English Literature at Oxford I decided to follow my dream of moving to Rome and writing novels. I’d been to Rome several times as a tourist, but during an internship at Keats-Shelley House I fell in love with the city, and was determined to come back for good.
Over the past two and a half years I’ve got to know Rome really well, exploring the streets and visiting the best bars and restaurants, and my work with Through Eternity Tours has led me to discover another side of the city. My “expertise” isn’t limited to where to go shopping, or where to get the best gelato – I’ve also got an endless supply of random trivia about Rome. For example, did you know that there’s an elephant buried under the Vatican? Or that there’s an Ancient Roman fire station in Trastevere?
What makes Rome a perfect destination for travelers seeking a glamorous trip?
This is the city of La Dolce Vita – Rome is always glamorous! Well, not so much the area around Termini (the main train station), but everywhere else…The city centre is so breathtakingly beautiful, from the piazzas to the hills. You’ll find Roman history and Renaissance art on every corner, along with some of the best designer shops and most luxurious hotels and restaurants.
What 5 star hotel is the best in Rome?
I’ve never personally stayed in any, having only experienced a cheap hostel as a student, and then my apartment in Testaccio, but there are lots of excellent five star hotels in Rome. The St Regis is one of the grandest, and the Cavalieri is famously luxurious, with the only three star Michelin restaurant in Rome.
What about boutique hotels in Rome, of them all, which would you send your friends or family to stay at?
I’ve heard good things about Babuino 181, a boutique hotel located near the Spanish Steps, and the Kolbe Hotel looks lovely – it’s in a fifteenth century palazzo (and former convent), right near the Roman Forum.
If you’re on a tighter budget but want comfort and a bit of peace and quiet after a long day of sightseeing, I’d recommend the Beehive Hostel.
Are there any fun activities for the adventurous traveler?
It depends on your definition of “adventurous”, but exploring the ruins of Rome always feels like an adventure to me. Many of my most memorable days in Rome have been spent cycling down the Appian Way, a Roman road that used to go all the way to Brindisi. It’s such an atmospheric place, surrounded by catacombs, statues and the ruins of Roman villas.
I also recommend visiting the Domus Aurea – the remains of Nero’s pleasure palace. It’s not always open to the public, but if you’re lucky enough to go on a tour, you’ll be given a hard hat and taken into the dark hallways of the most haunting place in Rome.
If you’re looking for a meal to remember, have dinner with a local through BonAppetour. You can even dine on the terrace from Roman Holiday!
Where are the best hang outs during the day?
The Villa Borghese is a huge, shady park full of umbrella pines and peaceful places to sit with a book. Visit the Galleria Borghese – an incredible art gallery with masterpieces by Bernini and Raphael – and then relax in the park.
In the summer, escape the heat of the city and go to the beach for the day – Santa Marinella or Sperlonga.
If you have a big date night, what are the most delicious restaurants in Rome and what are their best dishes?
My neighbourhood, Testaccio, is home to many of the best restaurants in Rome, including Da Felice, Da Bucatino, and Flavio Al Velavevodetto. My ideal meal – cacio e pepe (a traditional Roman pasta dish made with pecorino cheese and black pepper), cicoria ripassata or puntarelle (two very distinctive chicory salads) and tiramisu. And wine, of course!
Another personal favourite is Osteria al 16 in Monti. The pasta section of the menu is never-ending, and everything I’ve eaten there has been delicious.
Let’s talk desserts- what place makes the best?
For tiramisu, Pompi wins hands-down. The main branch is near Re di Roma, but there’s also a small takeaway branch near Piazza di Spagna. Their traditional tiramisu is excellent, but the strawberry or pistachio versions are also worth a try.
The best gelato in Rome is definitely a question of personal taste, but I think the best is Fassi, a gelateria which used to serve Hitler and Mussolini. The gelato is creamy and delicious, and portions are generous. I also love my local gelateria, Panna & Co, which only uses natural, seasonal ingredients. Try the mango and ginger.
Tell us all the hot shopping spots; who’s carrying the trendy local designers?
Monti is the place to go. This lively neighbourhood is only a five minute walk from the Colosseum, but it’s refreshingly un-touristy, and there are lots of cool clothes shops. You’ll find boutiques run by up-and-coming designers, as well as a good selection of vintage shops. Visit at the weekend and check out Mercato Monti, which has lots of stalls run by young local designers.
What are a couple of the best salons and spas in Rome?
There’s a hammam tucked away in the Jewish Ghetto. After soaking in the pool at Acquamadre you can have a massage or a facial. For an even more luxurious experience, try one of the hotel spas, such as the Hotel de Russie.
If you want a haircut and you’re nervous about something getting lost in translation – I know I was, when I visited an Italian hairdresser’s for the first time – visit Noi. The staff at this smart salon in Piazza del Popolo speak English.
Time for a great sunset view… where would you go?
You’ll get a spectacular sunset from any of Rome’s seven hills, so it’s hard to choose. A personal favourite is the view from the Giardino degli Aranci on the Aventine Hill. It’s particularly romantic at dusk, and you have a stunning view of St Peter’s. The view of the Forum from the Capitoline Hill or the Palatine Hill is also unbeatable. Gazing at the ruins of the Ancient Rome, listening to the swallows as the sun sets…there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Now that the sun’s gone down, fill us on the best places to go for some evening drinks or a great pre-gaming spot.
Trastevere is a beautiful neighbourhood with a great choice of bars. It’s getting a bit too touristy, but there are some lovely places in the side streets, like my favourite bar Chakra. It always feels really relaxed and cosy, and they play great music from the 70s and 80s
Overall I prefer Monti, which has a healthier local to tourist ratio. The piazza is always really lively at night, with lots of young Italians drinking on the steps of the fountain. I enjoy having an Aperol spritz in the café in the piazza, but in Monti you’re really spoilt for choice. It’s one of the few places in the centre of Rome where you’re bound to find something new every time you visit, and there are still so many places on my “to try” list, such as the cocktail bar Suburra 1930.
If you want to well and truly escape the tourist trail, take the tram to Pigneto. Compared to the centro storico it feels like another world, and it reminds me a bit of Camden in London, but sometimes it’s nice to see another side of Rome. It’s cheaper too.
For more practical tips on Rome, check out this post.
If you end the night at a fancy club, which one do you head towards?
I’m really not into clubbing, which is a shame, given that I live so close to some of the most famous clubs in Rome! There are lots of clubs huddled around the base of Monte Testaccio, an artificial hill formed of broken Roman pottery. L’Alibi is a popular gay club. Try Caruso Café for samba, or Akab for electronic and dance.
Alexandra Turney grew up in London and now lives in Rome, where she works as the content editor for tour company Through Eternity. She loves Rome and travelling around Italy, and writes about expat life on her blog Go Thou to Rome. She also writes novels. Her latest, In Exile, is about Dionysus corrupting teenage girls in 20th century Rome.
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Pizza, now I want good pizza. Rome, I will have to visit you again!
Yeah, me too!
Super post. I love it. It reminded me of magnificentRome.We were there in may. Just perfect!