On a recent sunny Saturday, Rome was absolutely overrun by tourists. Despite myself, I made my way to the Trevi Fountain, like everyone else in the city seemed to be doing, where a decade ago I’d tossed a coin into the water, wishing myself back there, as is the custom. Only, 10 years ago, I remember sitting right on the edge of the exquisite sculpture, dragging my fingers along the water’s surface. I opened my book and read for a while. On this recent Saturday, an overwhelming throng some 25 bodies deep stood between the fountain and me. An acquaintance who lives in Rome bemoaned the crowd. I went to Il Pigneto. For lack of a better description, it’s the Williamsburg of Rome.
For all the people in the Capitale, especially on a sunny Saturday in June, Romans still find a way to inhabit their city. Sometimes they escape the tourists to hidden pockets that lie beyond swarming landmarks. Other times, they simply navigate the chaos, as surefooted as sherpas. And they always know where to get a great bite to eat.
- Near the Colosseum: Who can guess where the 50,000 spectators who could fit in this ancient arena ate 2,000 years ago after a killer gladiator match. Nowadays, if you happen to head over to the Colosseum with a local, it’s likely you’ll end up at 0,75 afterward. This stylish yet unpretentious bar serves up great Roman-style pizzas, piadine (flatbread sandwiches) and giant salads alongside international beer and wines. The sparkling water is on tap, so fizzy that the bartender usually tempers it with flat.
- Near the Roman Forum: It’s amazing that this ancient marketplace sits in the center of the city like any other landmark. Romans drive past it on late-night cab rides home or on their way to work. It would have been the center of public life during the height of Imperial Rome. It’s nearly as improbable to have a different kind of marketplace, namely Il Farmer’s Market della Capitale, just across from it. This indoor market is a great place to pick up fresh produce, meats, cheese, honey, bread, and olive oil from the surrounding Lazio region. You can even make arrangements with certain vendors to visit their farms.
- Near the Sistine Chapel: If there is an exercise in tolerance for Romans, it’s navigating the circus outside the Vatican. Not only is there a relentless rush of tourists going in and out of the holy headquarters, but there are also shockingly persistent tour guides to evade. Seek refuge with a slice of real Roman-style pizza at L’Isola della Pizza. Thin crispy-chewy crusts are topped with excellent tomato sauce, sweet with gentle acidity, and all the best things Italy has to offer, like mozzarella di bufala from Campania and Prosciutto di Parma. Truly divine (no sacrilege intended).
- Miles from the Pantheon: Ducking tourists around the Pantheon is like sport for Romans. They inevitably have to be in the neighborhood, whether it’s to hit the shops or enjoy a cup of their favorite coffee (at either Tazza d’Oro or the more precious Sant’Eustachio). But after any time spent amid this ruckus, they must head for the hills — or, at least, the hoods most tourists don’t venture out to. Il Pigneto, just past the imposing ruins of Porta Maggiore, is a gritty little district that has roots as an anti-fascist stronghold and artist colony, and has since morphed into a hipster foodie Mecca. The main strip comes complete with the requisite craft beer hall (Birra +), cheap and cheerful pork-centric eatery (I Porchettoni) and no shortage of restaurants proclaiming the locavoric origins of their ingredients. The enoteca L’Infernotto, for one, offers simple dishes of clean, wholesome twists on hearty Roman staples.
- High above Trastevere: The charming medieval neighborhood on Rome’s left bank is not exactly a secret anymore. It may still have excellent, if not at all thrifty, vintage shops, geek-chic book bars and crunchy health-food stores. But amid the locals you see jogging, smoking, cavorting (sometimes all at once; this is Rome, after all), there are curious young travelers seeking out a dose of authenticity. The more fastidious ones might even discover Freni e Frizioni, a cool, bare-bones operation best known for its fantastic spread at aperitivo time. A stellar Negroni will set you back 7 euros; with it you get a plate of cold pasta, couscous and bean salads. Or two: no one is counting.
Been to Rome lately? What are your go-to spots in the Eternal City? Let the world know in the comments.