Stroll through local markets, eat a damn good slice of pizza, and cap it all off with a bottle of red wine—the best itinerary in the Eternal City is remarkably simple.

By Dan Q. Dao
Updated January 21, 2020
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With no less than two-and-half millennia of venerable history, Rome is a city that’s been immortalized through the ages in art, music, and film. And while the Eternal City immediately conjures images of landmarks like the majestic Pantheon or the sacred Sistine Chapel, what could evoke the spirit of Rome more than the zest lingering on your lips after a red-sauced meal or the din of conversation at a bustling sidewalkcaffè?

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There’s something to be said for keeping things classic when eating your way through Rome. Stroll through markets for slices of eggplant parmigiana and twirl your way through time-honored pastas like cacio e pepe or carbonara. But don’t discount the fact that the city remains a culinary capital today, with plenty of modern, design-oriented trattorias, burgeoning cocktail scene, and—gasp—fancy craft coffee spots. Here’s an old-meets-new guide to the most delicious day in the Eternal City.

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9 a.m.: Wake up like the Italians do—with bitter espresso—at Antico Caffè Greco

Opened in 1760, this landmark café is Rome’s oldest. And it looks the part, with oil paintings, bust sculptures, and velvet furnishings galore. Sitting amidst new retail shops on Via dei Condotti, the cafe has, however, kept up with modern times: the crema caffe and fresh cannoli are still very much in demand. Don’t expect too much from the bowtie-clad baristas—the scowling and brusqueness is all part of that old-school charm. Fun fact: Antico Caffè Greco was once a popular standby for notable writers and artists including Keats, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway.

11 a.m.: Eat a fried artichoke in the Jewish Ghetto

On your way to the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon, pass through the nearby Jewish Ghetto, established way back in 1555. Here, you’ll find plenty of reminders of the hardships faced by Rome’s Jewish population from classic to modern times. But you’ll also find a lively scene of kosher restaurants and bakeries. Stop at Franco e Cristina, known for the fried artichokes and zucchini flowers that are characteristic of Jewish-Roman tradition. And, if you’re feeling ambitious, try to find the unnamed, unmarked bakery at the corner of the central Piazza delle Cinque Scole square. We hear it’s home to some pretty legendary Jewish pastries.

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12:30 p.m.: Embrace the Italian market experience at Mercato di Testaccio

Lose yourself in one of Rome’s largest indoor markets, and one of the only ones with a dedicated dining area for stands selling cheap eats. Arrive at one of the building’s western entrances and seek out brisket sandwiches at Mordi e Vai, eggplant parmigiana at Artenio, and pizza by the slice at Casa Manco. Beyond snacks, you’ll find stands hawking fresh produce, meat, and fish—plus, tons of awesome people watching opportunities.

2 p.m.: Get more than your fill of pizza at Pizzarium Bonci

After some sightseeing, fuel up with classic Roman-style square pizzas at this famed counter. Overseen by Rome’s “pizza emperor,” Gabriele Bonci, the pizzas here come with a critically acclaimed crunchy-chewy base made of slow-leavened dough. Choose from dozens of “flavors” and toppings both traditional and nouveau, like persimmon, pumpkin, and black cabbage. And if that doesn’t convince you, noted Rome expert and food writer Katie Parla has called Pizzarium the best by-the-slice pizza joint in town.

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5 p.m.: Indulge in a scoop (or two) at Otaleg

Yes, the name of this award-winning Trastevere ice cream shop is gelato spelled backwards. If you thought that was fun, wait till you see the flavors. The seasonally-changing selection ranges from ricotta and cheesecake to Tuscan chocolate and a fantastic chocolate granita. While you can’t go wrong with those decadent dessert classics, the sleeper hit here may be the super-fresh fruit flavors, including a plum, which comes studded with chunks of berry, and a peach sorbet made with real slices of peach.

7 p.m.: Sip an aperitivo at Mezzo Vermuteria

To work up an appetite before dinner, it’s worth visiting Rome’s nightlife epicenter, called Pigneto. The self-proclaimed “first vermuteria in Rome,” this narrow bar sits on the neighborhood’s pedestrian-only main street, serving a global range of fortified wines and aperitivos along with a selection of cocktails made with the stuff. Upgrade your Aperol Spritz with Cynar or a rosolio, or check out the concise but serviceable selection of natural wines.

8 p.m.: Enjoy a meat feast at Santo Palato

Romans usually won’t sit down for dinner until 9pm, and, when in Rome...you get the idea. Even so, reservations are generally encouraged in Rome, where the top dinner spots typically get booked up well in advance. Such is the case with Santo Palato, chef Sarah Cicolini’s new-school trattoria set in Rome’s Appio-Latino quarter. Cicolini has earned attention for her nose-to-tail ethos, that is to say, she utilizes what’s known in Rome as quinto quarto, or off-cuts. That means veal tongue terrine for an antipasti and a rigatoni that nestles intestines of suckling calf.