Though famed as the eternal city, there’s always something new — even if it’s old — to discover in Rome.
Just a short stroll in and around central Piazza di Spagna, here are many great things to see and do. And, when in Rome… do like the Romans and pop into a café to stand at the counter and down an espresso shot before heading out for more fun immersion in one of the most majestic cities in the world.
Antico Caffé Greco
Since 1760 this landmark café has served the likes of Lord Byron and Keats. In the small room tucked away in the back you’ll find original 18th century artwork. Famous for coffee (and coffee bean candy) as well as afternoon aperitifs with “free” mini-sandwich trays, a trip to Rome would be incomplete without stopping here. Of note, in a truly notable menu, is the superb hot chocolate. Right in the heart of it all, there’s an outdoor café area too where you can peruse elegant shoppers who throng the world-renowned streets.
F.lli Pinci Hardware Accessories
A couple of minutes away from Piazza di Spagna is a hardware and accessories shop founded in 1920 and run by the original owner’s kin. Produced in Italy, there’s nothing generic about the hardware, much of it hand cast, that ranges from floral giardinetti clothes hooks to putti ensconced towel bars — or ornate brass letter openers, because they’re not extinct yet. And in case the power grid fails, you’ll be prepared with brass wall sconces holding real candles — though in this case, opt for French Cire Trudon tapers in white just because Marie Antoinette used them too. (On that note, dust off the chess set and play by candlelight, so you can step back a few centuries until the lights switch back on.) It’s easy to cash & carry the exquisite hardware, sure to be a long lasting reminder of Rome when you’re back in your own domain.
Il Baco Da Seta Clothing
Made from irresistible fabrics, the well-designed garments in this shop are classic, but never boring. No wonder, because this is an excellent Italian and French collaboration — truly the best of both sartorial worlds. Clothing ranges from fine floral print cottons to sumptuous corduroy ensembles to accessories like Bensimon bags from Paris. The look is current, tasteful, and sprezzatura all rolled into one. One of the best shop assistants I’ve ever come across, Elena lets you know when things look good and when they could look even better. A favorite destination, indeed.
There are a gazillion places to stop for food and drink in the Piazza di Spagna area. L’Antica Enoteca, a rustic bar and restaurant housed in an 18th century building is tops when it comes to sampling Italian wines, whether sitting at the bar in the baroque inspired restaurant or the pleasant outdoor café. There’s always a great music soundtrack in the background from jazz to Leonard Cohen to Italian hits.
Zappia Cornici d’Arte
Since 1956 this family run shop has been producing hand crafted frames that would look right at home in any palazzo. The frames range from authentic ormolu gold leaf to ready-made photo frames, as well as custom made ones in a rainbow collection of colors. Outstanding was a small gold leaf rococo mirror that looked right out of Jean Cocteau’s film Beauty and the Beast, and would add fairy tale glamor to any boudoir. There are plenty of choices here that fit right into a carry-on bag.
Vertecchi Roma Stationery Store
Founded in the 1940s, the word stationery doesn’t do this store justice. It’s a must-stop when in Rome for people who won’t give up paper and pen. There’s an excellent assortment of home and office supplies, for instance, this writer’s recent purchase of a candy pink Italian style stapler — to arts and craft supplies, to charming and somewhat goofily illustrated trinkets for children. Almost everything is designed or made in Italy whether it’s a document folder, calendar, stencil sheet, or computer bag. This is a great place for gifts — or stocking stuffers like a 1 euro box of rainbow colored paper clips or a glue tube encased in a design of Rococo swirls.
Giorgio de Chirico House Museum
There’s something about house museums — the hauntingly voyeuristic thrill of peering into the physical life of a noted person… the chair they sat in, their books, even the cologne they wore still arranged just so on a dressing table. De Chirico’s (1888-1978) house with his art studio, just a couple of buildings away from the Piazza di Spagna, is a rare find, and we had a tour all to ourselves given by a very informed guide and former art history major. So intriguing is this residence and the art, that I ordered De Chirico’s memoir, and it sure doesn’t disappoint. He describes his life in Rome with daily breakfasts at Antico Caffé Greco, conversations with pals like Jean Cocteau, art world machinations, and Rome the way it used to be.
Bruschini Tanca Antiques
About a half hour stroll away is Piazza Navona and one of the finest antique stores in Rome. If price is no object, you can buy museum quality jewelry and antiques here, knowing they’re the real deal. Though not to everyone’s taste, antique jewelry has increased in popularity recently, perhaps because Alessandro Michele, Miuccia Prada, Kate Moss, and Mark Jacobs, to name just a few fashionable folks, are devoted collectors. The shop has Grand Tour micromosaics, cameos, and lava carved jewelry that is becoming rarer and increasingly valuable every year.
Villa Borghese Park
Some say the best things in life are free, and if you agree, a stroll in a beautiful park is a prime example. The magnificent Villa Borghese Park is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Here you can join content looking locals, families walking about, people eating ice cream or riding bikes, and joggers traversing the landscaped gardens that harken back to the 17th century. The park brims with positivity, abundant flower beds and laurel trees right out of a Renaissance painting, and people of all ages soak in the peaceful atmosphere. In the heart of the park is the Galleria Borghese with masterpieces that include Bernini statues and the once scandalous sculpture by Canova of Napoleon’s sister Paolina, who posed in the nude for her likeness, her legendary beauty preserved for generations of admirers.
Rinascente Department Store
Romans still prefer small stores. They’re often loyal to the shops their grandparents frequented. In fact, it’s a bit unnerving if you haven’t experienced it before to have a shop assistant follow you into the dressing room and then stay there. Not because they’re afraid you’ll boost the garments, but to help you unzip or pull clothes off and on, so you can experience traditional old world service at its finest. None of the aforementioned ever happens at Rinascente, a sleek and modern department store. With finely curated departments and an excellent café for that espresso shot and a biscotti or three, it’s easy to spend the afternoon here and then head to the lower level where there’s a handy Global Blue desk for your duty-free purchases.
IALS Center of Dance and Musical Theatre
There’s nothing like a dance class to smooth out the travel kinks of an overnight flight. Italian dance classes are deeply musical and somehow looser than others. Dancers often chat with each other at the barre in between exercises (basically, unheard of elsewhere), and jetés are somehow more joyous. IALS offers all kinds of movement classes — contemporary, yoga, floor barre, classical ballet, and musical theatre dance. The studio is a short bus ride from Piazza de Popolo, which is a short bus ride (one stop) from Piazza di Spagna. Icing on the cake: the public transit system works well and buses come regularly.
And outside the city…
Serious shopping — Worth a day trip
Some of the best dressed Romans we know can’t resist taking a car trip to the luxury outlets near Florence. Hence, a Roman friend who favors Brioni suits and bespoke shirts, gets a kick out of picking up discounted Church loafers at the outlet. All the expected big name Italian luxury brands make for super shopping, that is, if you like shopping. For starters, check out these three:
The Space Outlet (specializing in all Prada lines) in Levanella, Montevarchi
The Mall Firenze just outside the centre of Leccio
Barberino Designer Outlet in Barberino di Mugello
Sightseeing — Worth an overnight trip
Perugia. Yes, this ancient town is the home of the Baci chocolate factory where, of course, tours and tastings are offered. But it’s also home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, and worth taking a train ride for an overnight sleep or two to gaze at still standing Etruscan walls. The old city is a marvel of handcrafted stone and nearly lost craftsmanship. The interior of a former bishop’s palazzo, free and open to the public, looks like Piranesi drawings come to life.