As you know, I’m desperately in love with life here and one of the primary reasons is because Rome is a city that hides secrets down every alleyway. Ugh, that sounds so trite and travel writers say this about virtually every major city, however, I promise you, I’ve discovered a new place every single day of my two years living here. Beh, diciamo che faccio tantissime passeggiate! Charming as this labyrinth of concealed posti may be, it also means that as an expat you can live here for years oblivious to some of the greatest finds. And in my quest to convince every straniero to stay longer in Italy, I’ve created this list of basics. In fact, many of my Italian or even Roman friends are frequently surprised by bars, stores or piazzas they never knew existed. This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, it’s a good start if you’re new to the city or a seasoned straniero feeling restless.
Cookies when you’re over hard biscotti and craving the soft chewy choc-chip kind packed with milk, dark and white chocolate chips?
Forno Argentina Di Simona E Alessandra Garofoli on Via di Torre Argentina, 3. Hidden behind the Pantheon is a bakery/patisserie that bakes these giant cookies fresh every day.
A great hairdresser that can cut and colour and understand English and make you feel beautiful?
Valenti&Co. Via Metastasio, 17. Ph: 06.96045205. Valenti-co.it. Ask for the brilliant Pamela Truoccolo, who cuts, colours and does a fantastic blow-wave with curls. Just near the Pantheon and Piazza Firenze.
A cosy spot to check my emails with free wifi?
Barnum Café Via del Pellegrino 87. www.barnumcafe.com. Sexy interior, cool atmosphere, comfy couches, cheap good food, local Italian crowd. What’s not to love?
A cheap vegetable/fruit juice when you’re feeling like you’ve overdone it with carbs or you’re on a detox?
Bottega Di Gelato Da Quinto, Via di Tor Millina, 15. This is without question the freshest, best value-for-money centrifuga in Rome. It comes in a supersized milkshake cup and this liquid meal on the run will fill you up for only €4. Conveniently located just two seconds from Piazza Navona.
A place that stocks cheap hair products like blowdryers, hair straighteners, a big range of cosmetics etc.
Lovascio Dario. Via dell’Arancio, 55.
A great bikini wax?
Centro Olistico Day Spa. Piazza Pollarola, 31. Ph: 06.68192347. These guys are just around the corner from Campo dei Fiori and very reasonably priced. Ask for Anastasia. She’s fast, super friendly and apparently also gives a great massage. Now that we’re coming into swimming season, get yourself liscia.
A buttery delicious croissant not like the dry cornetti most bars serve?
Obika. Piazza Firenze. This is officially a mozzarella bar but I go for the croissants and the coffee. They usually bring them out of the oven around 10am on weekdays. Unfortunately they don’t bake on weekends.
A supermarket open on Sundays and after 8pm?
Despar supermarket between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Via dei Giustiniani, 19. It’s open from 9am until 10pm – two whole hours later than almost every other supermarket – and in this gloriously central location.
A place that sells cheap second hand bikes?
Build your own bike (with the help of these serious cyclists) and they’ll let you take one away for free! Located in Monti and other locations around Rome. www.ciclonauti.org
A cool clothing and accessories market?
On a Sunday check out Mercato Monti – entrance through Hotel Palatino.
A delicious carb-free dish when you’re trying to slim down for summer?
Il Desiderio Preso per la Coda in a ridiculously romantic piazza in Vicolo della Palomba, 23. www.ildesideriopresoperlacoda.com.
A great place to meet a friend for a filling lunch under €6?
Just between Piazza Navona and Via del Corso is Fandango Incontro on Via dei Prefetti, 22. Go past the bookshop at the front and you’ll find a bar, go past the bar and on the right you’ll find a wonderful space with a giant green wall of plants and skylight. Their couscous and chicken is delicious.
A substantial aperitivo that allows you to skip dinner?
Gusto (Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 9) or Freni e Frizioni (Via del Politeama, 4) both offer a great range of more than just the standard pizza slices.
A spot to pick up a cheap souvenir?
De Sanctis Italia. Via di Monserrato, 11. If you want to pick up something local but high quality, a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil costs only €4 or a tiny jar of local honey a mere €2.50.
A cute fruit and vegetable market that’s not as touristy as Campo dei Fiori?
Piazza delle Coppelle.
Every morning until around 3pm except Sundays. Tell Marco I sent you.
A bar to meet Italians on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday night?
Bar del Fico. Piazza del Fico. But you already knew this one, right?
A phenomenal gelato?
Gelateria del Teatro. Via di San Simone, 70. Most romantic side alley ever. My favourite flavour: ricotta, almond and fig. (No, maybe white chocolate and basil!)
A reaaaaaally delicious pizza Napolitana that’s thick but made with high quality ingredients that don’t bloat you.
Pizzeria Margarì in Pigneto. Via Marco Vincenzo Coronelli, 30. It’s worth the trip out of the centre to Pigneto. Don’t even go near tourist traps like Da Baffetto.
A beautiful library to study in with free wifi and a secret courtyard filled with orange trees and sunshine and lots of uni students?
Casa delle Letterature in Piazza dell’Orologio, 3. My idea of study heaven. Even foreigners can sign up as members. www.casadelleletterature.it
A hearty plate of authentic carbonara?
Zi’ Mberto in Piazza della Malva, 11 in Trastevere.
A market where I can buy affordable vintage gifts for special friends?
The permanent antique market in Piazza Borghese just down from the Fendi store at the end of Via dei Condotti. Watches, cameras, black and white prints, vintage postcards, jewellery, trinkets.
A fantastic cobbler for all those stiletto heels that have been ruined by cobblestone?
Messino Giuseppe Vicolo della Torretta, 6. The little man who works here is slightly deaf and slightly mad but if you explain what you want done loudly and clearly he is adorable and charges hardly anything for any type of shoe repair.
A company that does great Vatican tours when my family/friends come to visit and I don’t want to wait in line all day?