But you know what? Things change. (Even in Rome!). And for 2014, it’s time for an update.
For one thing, I Caruso is no longer a hidden gem. (I’ll take some of the blame for that). And on a recent visit, I found its gelato, while still good—and way better than the fake junk you’d get at most of Rome’s other gelaterias—not quite as flavorful as I remembered.
Meanwhile? Just up the street and around the corner, another gelateria, opened two years ago by a former I Caruso employee, blows I Caruso out of the water. At least if you prefer your gelato rich and decadent. Like I do. (Hey, go big or go home, right?).
‘Tis the season… when you’re more likely to experience rain in Rome. And in a city where so many of the sights are outdoors, and so much is meant to be explored on foot, a rainy day in Rome can feel like a deal-breaker.
Sure: There are always the Vatican museums. And if you’re lucky, maybe you booked your Borghese Gallery or Palazzo Valentini tickets for exactly the day the skies opened up.
But let’s go beyond the obvious, shall we?
Here’s what I’d call the perfect rainy day in Rome: one that takes advantage of the weather to hit up spots that are cozy, indoors and interesting. And off-the-beaten-path — so that they’re located in neighborhoods that, while charming, aren’t so cobblestoned-street-picturesque that you’ll be upset to miss the chance to photograph them at their sunny best.
So get your umbrellas ready. (By the way, one good thing about rain in Rome is that, as soon as it starts, umbrella-sellers pop up all over the city. So it’s okay if you’ve forgotten yours. Just, please, barter the sellers down to 2 or 3 euros for a small one; it’ll fall apart by the end of the day anyway!).
No matter where you’re staying in Rome, the neighborhood of Testaccio is easy to get to: You can take the metro (get off at Piramide, then walk five minutes) or a number of buses (including the 3 and 75).
Looking for food near the Vatican… that’s quick, cheap, and delicious? Although eating in the Vatican food desert neighborhood can be tough, it just got a lot easier, thanks to Mangia!—a stylish new sandwich shop that uses organic and Slow Food ingredients.
Traditionally, much of Rome shuts down in August. (Thank Emperor Augustus for that). That’s less the case every year, with businesses trying to stay open for more of the summer, thanks to a little something known as the economic crisis.
Even so, lots of independent stores and restaurants still close for much of August. And, when it comes to dining, that includes some of the best spots.
The Mafia is a seriously insidious problem across Italy, including Rome. So I was thrilled to write about establishments making a stand against organized crime for the New York Times.
The article, which highlights spots in Rome where tourists can eat and support anti-Mafia causes (like Libera Terra, which I’ve written about before), ran in the print travel section of the Sunday Times this week. But you can also catch it online here.
For the May issue of National Geographic Traveller (that's the U.K. version of the magazine), I was asked to write about how to explore Rome like a local. If you're based in the U.K., check it out to find out more about my favorite restaurants, bars, stores, and neighborhoods in Rome. Not in the U.K.? Here's the online version.
Want to know the best things to do in Rome—beyond seeing the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum? Then put away your guidebook. When they go beyond the main sites, too many books (and magazine articles, and television shows) provide the same tired, touristy list of things to do and places to go in Rome.
The problem: These places aren’t only overrun with tourist crowds, but often just don’t tick the box they’re supposed to.
Here are five of Rome’s most overhyped activities—and what to do instead.
1. Instead of having a coffee at Piazza del Popolo…
Don’t get me wrong: The large, obelisk-topped Piazza del Popolo is worth a stop. (Don’t miss the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, with its Caravaggio paintings). But it’s not where to go for a cup of coffee. The couple of cafes on the piazza are scams expensive (think €4.50 for an espresso) and the service is terrible—which is why you won’t see any locals there.
There’s nothing quite like spring in Rome. And coming from someone in love with this city no matter the season, that should mean something.
In Rome, spring brings that sliver of time (seriously, just a handful of weeks) when it’s no longer cold and rainy… but not yet boiling hot. You have to duck tour groups around the Colosseum and Vatican, but it’s not quite the human bumper-car game it becomes by June. And as people take to terraces and piazzas—whether kids kicking a soccer ball or friends meeting for a glass of wine—the atmosphere gets cheerier (and the people-watching better!).
Here are 5 reasons I love the spring in Rome, in pictures.
In search of the best gelato in Rome? You’ve come to the right place. Here’s my list of eight go-to stops for the best gelato in Rome.
First, though, there are a couple of things any gelato lover has to know…
Note: This post was last updated in May 2017.
Good gelato tastes way different than ice cream — for a reason
Gelato isn’t just the Italian word for ice cream. It’s different than ice cream. And that means when eating gelato… you can expect a different flavor, and texture, than you would from ice cream back home.
First big difference: There’s less butterfat (4 to 8 percent, compared to 14 percent for ice cream). Result: Gelato freezes less solidly and is more melt-in-your-mouth.
Secondly, ice cream makers often increase the weight of their product with water, and its volume with air (an easy way to sell more, from less!). But according to E.U. regulations, that process, called “overrun,” isn’t allowed — meaning gelato is higher-density, and the flavor higher-impact. That also means that if ingredients are high-quality, you can really tell. Because you can really taste them. (Wild, I know!).
Finally, ice cream is made for long-term storage. Gelato isn’t. It’s frozen quickly, in small batches, so has to be eaten fresh.
Keep two gelato tips in mind
That li’l gelato primer might give you more of an idea of why I’m about to say the following.
One: Steer away from places with the pretty, puffy clouds of gelato. The fluffiness comes from artificial thickeners. (Or maybe overrun? Hmm…). And those huge mounds mean that they’re making lots of gelato in advance and reusing the leftovers each day (so much for freshness!).=
And two: If the colors are too bright, the gelato ain’t right. Those high-octane colors mean lots of chemicals were used in the process. (Ever tossed an apple in a blender, or a banana? Then you know they don’t come out bright green and bright yellow). So steer clear.
Just want to know where the best places are?
Without further ado, here they are! (And here’s a handy map to make your gelato-stalking even more successful!).
Ciampini, the best old-school shop for gelato in Rome
When it comes to gelato, Ciampini, an elegant little cafe on Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, isn’t trendy. The gelato isn’t organic. The flavors aren’t crazy. The foodies don’t (always) flock there.
So why do I find myself coming back for a scoop, week after week year after year? Because it’s just. So. Good. The mostly-classic flavors, like pistacchioand coffee, are done as they should be: all high-impact flavor and creamy texture. (No graininess or iciness here!). But what really keeps me coming back is the marron glacés (see up top), where bits of chewy, candied chestnut are mixed in. Pair it with the cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), and it’s a match made in rich-gelato-flavor heaven.
Ciampini is located at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina 29, in between the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.
Gelateria dei Gracchi, one of the best gelato stops near the Vatican
After a visit to the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo, reward yourself with this homemade gelato made from all-organic, fresh ingredients. Ignore the stark atmosphere and focus on the gelato instead: I especially love the chocolate-and-rum (made from chocolate fondant, not cocoa powder) and pistachio (made with fresh-roasted Sicilian pistachios) flavors.
Dei Gracchi is located at Via dei Gracchi 272, about a 10- to 15-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica or Castel Sant’Angelo. (Il Gelato, and Fatamorgana, below, are two other Vatican options).
Il Gelato, a top stop for creative gelato in Rome
Il Gelato, and its gelato master/owner Claudio Torcé, already had attracted foodie fame for the shop’s all-natural ingredients and wild flavors. There’s something here for everyone, from classic flavors (hazelnut, chocolate) to crazy ones (chocolate and chili pepper, gorgonzola). The ingredients are very high-quality, so no matter what you go with, my money’s on the fact that there won’t be any surprises: gorgonzola does taste like gorgonzola.
Il Gelato di Claudio Torcé’s most central locations are at Viale Aventino 59, near Circus Maximus, and also at Piazza del Risorgimento 51, near the Vatican.
Fatamorgana, for the best natural gelato in Rome
Finally, Monti has a top-notch, artisanal gelateria! That’s thanks to Fatamorgana, which opened a new location here about a year ago. With fresh ingredients, and without colorings, gluten, or chemicals, Fatamorgana’s gelato is the real deal. It’s also delicious. (There’s another convenient location for visitors not far from the Vatican).
Fatamorgana has several locations; its most convenient are at Piazza degli Zingari 5, a 10-minute walk from the Roman forum, and Via Leone IV 50, near the Vatican.
Carapina, the best gelato in the center of Rome
Update: Carapina closed in 2017. Such a bummer! Check out Vice for another central option instead.
Carapina opened in May 2015 around the corner from Campo dei Fiori, and it quickly won my heart (and stomach). Fresh, with the batches made in the store, and without preservatives, synthetic chemicals or thickeners, it’s delicious gelato that bursts with flavor. On a recent visit, I found myself blurting out, just like a kid from a Willy Wonka factory tour, “The persimmon tastes just like persimmon! The chestnut tastes like chestnut!” Which is, of course, how it should be — but often isn’t. (Here’s more about why I love Carapina).
Carapina is located at Via dei Chiavari 37, next to the Roscioli bakery.
Vice, another great gelato option in the center of Rome
Vice is another all-natural gelateria that’s quickly taking over Rome. Its most convenient (and popular) location, by far, is right near the Largo Argentina bus stop (not far from the Pantheon) — it’s nearly always packed. Fight the crowds, though, and you’ll be rewarded. Their gelato is the real deal.
Vice has several locations, but the most convenient are Corso Vittorio Emanuele 96 (near Largo Argentina) and Via Gregorio VII 385 (near the Vatican).
Come il Latte, for the creamiest gelato you’ll find in Rome
Another relatively new addition to the Rome gelato scene, Come il Latte opened a couple of years ago around the corner from I Caruso (below) — which means, what better excuse to do a compare-and-contrast taste test?! Recommended to me by none other than gelato master Claudio Torcé, it serves up delicious, super-creamy gelato (as you might expect from the name, “Like Milk”). Dairy not for you? No problem. Eight flavors come sans any milk whatsoever — all are just as flavorful. (Here’s more on my love affair with Come il Latte).
Come il Latte is located at Via Silvio Spaventa 24/26, a 5-minute walk from Piazza Repubblica (and just around the corner from I Caruso).
I Caruso, for some of the most flavorsome gelato in Rome
I’ve sung the praises of I Caruso before. In brief, here’s what I like: They make their gelato on site (you can even watch them do it!) from all-fresh ingredients. The panna, whipped fresh right there, is delicious (go for the zabaglione flavor). Their fondente, a super-creamy dark chocolate is particularly good, as are the fruit gelatos, which burst with flavor. (If it’s in season, try the mandarin orange). The secret’s out on this hole-in-the-wall gelateria, though, so if you’re here in the height of summer, be prepared to wait.
I Caruso is located at Via Collina 13/15, about a 10-minute walk from the Termini or Repubblica train stations.
Hey, those all sound great! But aren’t you missing a couple of spots?
Not really. These are my personal favorites, so not everyone will agree with me. But some of Rome’s most beloved gelato shops just don’t do it for me. Giolitti? Sure, the atmosphere is fun, the location is right near to the Pantheon, and even many Romans confused by their nostalgia count it as one of Rome’s best shops. But I often find their gelato icy (the sign it’s not very fresh). In general, it strikes me as one of those Rome places banking more on its past than on turning out high-quality food right now.
Then there’s San Crispino, which is equally meh. I feel the same way about it that I do about Eat, Pray, Love, and that’s not a good thing. (Also, I find the gelato grainy and low on flavor). Grom is okay, but strikes me as little soulless.
One previous favorite that I’ve taken off my list, meanwhile, is Gelateria del Teatro. Although it wins serious points for location (see below), it no longer does, in my book, for its gelato. The size of the shop expanded a couple of years back along with its reputation, and today it’s not only always completely packed with tourists, but the gelato itself has just lost some of its flavor.
And don’t even get me started on Blue Ice. Forget about the best gelato in Rome. That’s not even gelato.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not always that easy to just "happen" on good food in Rome. Which is why I'm a fan of Testaccio. This fascinating—and increasingly trendy—neighborhood sits just southwest of the Aventine hill and Circus Maximus. It also happens to have some fantastic restaurants and bakeries, not to mention a couple of kick-ass markets.
That's why I wrote about Testaccio for Travel + Leisure's April 2013 food issue. (Now online here).