Here's some irony for you: Easter's the most important feast in the Christian calendar — but in the home of the Pope himself, it's also the toughest day of the year to find food. At least in restaurants in Rome.
Ironic or not, it, well, makes sense. Most Italians are at home on Easter, chowing down that feast with family. Even restaurateurs.
Whether it's ironic or not, though, one thing's for sure: For travelers to Rome, it's definitely inconvenient. So find out what's open in advance… and, since you'll be competing for dinner slots with lots of other hungry travelers (it's high season now, after all!), book your meals a few days ahead of time, too. Unless you don't mind eating microwaved spaghetti and meatballs on Tourist Alley every night.
"So then, where do I book?" you say. "Which of Rome's great restaurants are actually open on Easter? I'm so worried I won't experience that fantasticItalianfood I've heard all about!"
Like everything else, Christmas in Rome may not be quite what you expect. You won't see a Santa Claus on every corner or hear Christmas carols in every shop, and the city's Christmas markets are lacking compared to those in northern Europe. But Christmas spirit is alive and well in Rome — you just have to know where to seek it out.
And so, I give you: Twelve ways to get into the Christmas spirit in Rome. (Try humming along while reading. Believe me, it helps).
1. On the first day of Christmas, Rome gave to me… one Santa house. Over the next month, Rome's Auditorium transforms into a holiday extravaganza, with 40 Christmas trees, visits with Santa, a Christmas market, and an ice-skating rink. A full calendar of events includes a gospel festival from Dec. 19 to 26. The Christmas festival runs until Jan. 9; the Auditorium, located near Stadio Flaminio, is easily accessible by bus (the 910, 217 and "M" both go there from Termini) or the number 2 tram from the Flaminio metro stop. For more information, click here.
2. Two ice skates. Slipping and sliding Skating underneath the iconic silhouette of Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo, the ancient-mausoleum-turned-castle-of-the-pope, is a holiday tradition. Click here for more information on the Castel Sant'Angelo rink. Other skating rinks in Rome include those at Re di Roma, Tor di Quinto, and Villa Gordiani.
3. Three…thousand Christmas cribs. Along with its dozens of other museums, Rome even has one devoted to presepi. Featuring more than 3,000 scenes from all over the world, the museum — which is closed in the summer — is open every afternoon from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6, as well as during other limited hours throughout the winter. It's located under the church of Santi Quirico e Giulitta, nearby the Colosseum. For more information, call 06 679 6146.
4. Four (bites of) panettone. Rome's food traditions are incredibly seasonal — and if you want to taste some of the city's best cookies and cakes, Christmas is the right time to come. Try panettone, a traditional Christmas cake (although it tastes more like sweet bread) filled with candied fruits. Other sweets to taste include panforte (a much heavier, denser Christmas cake that's akin to fruitcake) and torrone (chocolate bars filled with nuts or nougat).
6. Six silks a-saving Sudan. It's a Christmas market with a twist: The goods include everything from Nepalese hats to Cambodian silks to Italian panettone, and the proceeds go raise money for the Pediatric Centre in Nyala, Sudan. The Emergency Christmas Market takes place this year at Palazzo Velli on Piazza Sant'Egidio 10, in Trastevere, until Dec. 23.
8. Eight (thousand) toys a-hanging. The goods at Rome's main Christmas market at Piazza Navona aren't anything to write home about — they're mostly mass-produced toys, decorations, and candies. Still, there's something about seeing Piazza Navona all done up for Christmas, and seeing so many Italian families out and about and in the holiday mood, that's worth making a stop. There's also a carousel for little ones.
9. Nine Lessons and Carols. To celebrate the 4th Sunday in Advent, St. Andrews' Presbyterian Church of Scotland is having its Service of Nine Lessons and Carols — followed by, the website says, "mince pies and mulled wine in the manse." Yum! (And, a "manse" sounds pretty cool). The Nine Lessons and Carols service, in English, is at 11 am on Sunday, Dec. 19.
10. Ten(-squared) cribs a-…cribbing. Now in its 35th year, Rome's "100 Presepi" exhibit of Christmas cribs — including both traditional cribs and the more creative, made out of every material from ostrich eggs to tea bags. The exhibit also has a crib-building workshop for children called "Nativity as a Game" (reservations required). The exhibit runs until Jan. 6 and is located at Piazza del Popolo's Sala del Bramanta. For more information, click here.
11. Eleven pipers piping. It's the time of year when sheepskin-clad bagpipers and flutists from Abruzzo and Calabria come to Rome, playing traditional Christmas songs in the streets. They're performing for free, so if the sheepskin didn't give it away, you'll be able to tell the difference between them and Rome's usual hordes of buskers! Look out for them around the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, and St. Peter's.
12. 12-and-unders singing. This (English) service will retell the Christmas story through activities and carols. It's at the All Saints Rome Church at 5pm on Dec. 24.
You don't realize how dire the dining situation is in Rome until you
call 20 places on your list in late August, the height of ferragosto, looking for a reservation
somewhere, anywhere, with edible food. But all that pulling out my hair
(and running up my phone bill) allowed me to, at the very least, come
up with a list of places that are open. Right now. And good, not like
those awful tourist places you see on the percorso between the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.
And thus, I reveal to you (drum roll, please!) my hard-earned list. Let
no man or woman in Rome have to wait seven more days for a good dinner
-Taverna Trilussa. Trastevere. I just wrote about this place;
it's slightly pricey, but the pasta, done the traditional Roman way, is
pretty darn good. Try to reserve a seat outside. +39 065818918.
–Asinocotto. Trastevere. It's next on my list for what I've heard about
its traditional-dishes-with-a-twist, like ravioli filled with salted
cod and marjoram or coconut mousse with gingered, dried fruits. +39 06
Campo dei Fiori. Overpriced and probably overrated, but also well-liked (at least by tourists) for
its classic Italian pastas, meat and fish. Another plus for visitors:
It's right in the heart of the centro storico. +39 066875287.
Trastevere. Modern, hip, and highly-renowned. I'm told it's hard to get
out of there for less than €50 a head, at the very least. I'm also told
it's well worth it. I'm saving up my money to find out. +39 0658335903.
Ghetto. I generally try to steer clear of the Ghetto, but I've heard
this is a gem (or at least, fairly good) in a sea of tourist traps.
Come here if you have a fried-food craving or need to nosh kosher. +39
-Lo Scopettaro. Testaccio. Boasts traditional (and cheap) cucina romana; I'm going tonight, so stay tuned. It's been on my list for a while. Update: Read about my experience at Lo Scopettaro here. +39 065742408.
–Le Tre Zucche.
Portuense. Off-the-beaten-path, but some locals say it's worth it for
the yummy, creative food; diners especially recommend the tasting menu.
-Bucatino. Testaccio. A favorite for classic Roman dishes like bucatini all'amatriciana and gnocchi. Cheap prices. +39 065746886.
–Osteria dell'Arco. Porta Pia. Creative Roman cuisine, moderate prices. +39 068548438.
None of those fit the bill? Ethnic restaurants (like Monti's Maharajah) and chains (like Insalata Ricca) are usually open during ferragosto, too.
If you've been wondering why more stores and restaurants seem to be closed than they should be in Rome, it's because ferragosto is nearly here.
Ferrogosto — the period when Italians go on vacation, officially starting August 15 — is rooted in ancient tradition. In 18 B.C., Emperor Augustus, Rome's first emperor, instituted the feriae Augusti, or Augustan holidays. Adding to summertime festivals already celebrated, like the Consualia on August 23, the holidays celebrated the end of major agricultural work. Horse races were held; work set aside.
Two thousand years later, the holiday's origins may have dissipated — but the tradition itself continues, under the only slightly-different name of ferragosto. Italians leave the cities and flock to the seaside, taking two, three, even four weeks off work. The result for those of us left in Rome, and for tourists? Seeing door after closed door on local shops, restaurants, and drycleaner's, all with the sign "chiusa per ferie."