Five Most Overrated Things to Do in Rome… And What to Do Instead

What to do in RomeWant 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…

Tourist trap in RomeDon’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.

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At the Spanish Steps, a Shop Selling (Handmade!) Leather Jackets in Rome

Leather jackets in Rome
Why just grab a leather jacket off the rack… when you can pick the color and design yourself?

Just in time for the first day of fall: a workshop near the Spanish Steps that makes leather jackets. (And fur coats!). (Update, December 2016: Agostino’s store moved in November 2016. He’s now at Via dei Maroniti 13, near the Trevi Fountain—and only slightly further from the Spanish Steps. The store’s name is now Crisafulli Leather Fashion).

I discovered the Sistina 26 Crisafulli leather workshop a couple of months ago, and the owner, Agostino—a friendly Sicilian with a passion for all things artigianale—was more than happy to give me a tour. He and his wife, Elisa, not only run the shop, but design all of the jackets. And, as is always one of the best things about getting something handmade, they’re happy to alter the designs to suit anyone’s particular preference. And yes, they’re happy to ship abroad.

The cozy workshop in the back was everything an artisan’s workshop should be, included cluttered and humming with a current creation.

Leather workshop at Sistina 26
In the works: a blue leather jacket

The store in the front has a number of jackets already made, in every color and type of leather imaginable, for both men and women. The styles range from classic to funky to, well, frankly outrageous. (Please see: green-and-yellow jacket, below).

Here are just a few of the leather jackets Agostino showed me:

Leather jacket in rome
Agostino models one of his men’s jackets
Sistina 26 leather workshop
For the very bold!
Leather goods in Rome
My favorite jacket in the store—an absolute classic

And if fur’s your preference, they’ve got that too.

Fur coats in Rome
Fox, and beaver, and rabbit, oh my!

So if you’re thinking of splashing out this fall on a leather jacket that’ll last for years, check out Crisafulli. Because the only thing better than a leather jacket from Italy… is a handmade jacket made just for you.

The Crisafulli Leather Fashion store is located at Via dei Maroniti 13, near the Trevi Fountain.

Also: one of the loveliest little leather shops in Rome and 50 signs that Rome is really home.

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Christmas in Rome: Some Serious Lights

Christmas lights in Rome

This year, Rome is celebrating Christmas with some of the glitteriest, prettiest lights I’ve seen. Ever. And since that includes the decorations that glitter-bomb American shopping malls and cul-de-sac neighborhoods every year, that’s saying quite a bit.

Here, just a few twinkly tastes of the most Christmas-sy corners of Rome. Photos—and even a couple of short videos—to follow.

Prepare to be dazzled.

Christmas tree and decorations at Piazza Venezia, Rome    Piazza Venezia


Rome Christmas lightsVia dei Coronari

Christmas lights in RomePiazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

Christmas tree at the Colosseum, RomeColosseum Christmas tree

Lights for Christmas in RomePiazza Sant’Eustachio

Christmas lights in RomeNear Piazza Navona

Presepio or nativity scene in RomePresepio at the Church of Sant’Eustachio

Christmas in RomeVia dei Baullari, toward Campo dei Fiori

Christmas lights in Monti, RomeVia Urbana in Monti

Piazza Venezia during Christmas in RomePiazza Venezia, looking toward the Vittorio Emanuele monument

Via del Corso, with Christmas lights in RomeLooking up Via del Corso from Piazza Venezia

Christmas lights in Rome for the holidaysVia dei Condotti

Spanish Steps decorated for Christmas in RomeNear the Spanish Steps

Christmas decorations in RomeThe Fendi store on Via del Corso

Via dei Coronari with Christmas lights in RomeVia dei Coronari

Via dei Condotti on Christmas in RomeVia dei Condotti, looking toward the Spanish Steps


Christmas lights in RomeVia dei Condotti



Christmas-lights-for-web-1
Via del Corso

Church of Sant'Eustachio at ChristmasPiazza Sant’Eustachio, with the Church of Sant’Eustachio in the background

Via Tomacelli at ChristmasVia Tomacelli

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Looking for Leather in Rome? Head to Armando Rioda

Leather workshop in Rome, Armando RiodaIt’s the perfect gift from Italy: a handmade leather wallet. Or purse. Or passport-holder. But in Rome, figuring out where to go for an artisanal leather souvenir can be tough. There’s not even a leather market here, like there is in Florence (not that most of the leather there even seems to, ahem, be from Italy).

Enter Armando Rioda.

Although it’s in the heart of the Spanish Steps neighborhood, Armando Rioda is a molto local secret. It’s hidden on the second floor of a residential palazzo, and you have to ring the buzzer to enter; its name doesn’t even hang outside the building’s door. But it’s where leather-lovers in the know go.

Since 1949, the workshop (above… and below) has been turning out handmade leather goods by request. As proof of Armando Rioda’s craftsmanship, well-heeled Romans come here to get their Gucci purses and Prada jackets repaired (talk about trust!).

For 50 euros and up, you can get a wallet handmade here; for 100 euros and up, a purse. They also do luggage, tote bags, even jackets. Pricey, perhaps—but for a unique, handmade leather gift, hardly unfair.

Making a leather tote at Armando Rioda, Rome
Snakeskin purse at leather workshop, Rome
Leather and snakeskin at Armando Rioda leather workshop, RomeI first ventured there last year, looking for a Christmas gift for my father: a leather passport holder. I wasn’t satisfied with the machine-made ones I’d seen in stores, so decided to give an artisanal shop a try.

I can’t remember how I found out about this place. But I was glad I did. The guys inside, including the owner, were friendly and passionate about their work. (I’m not sure, however, how much English they spoke, so if your Italian is zilch, you might want to call first to ask).

Although there were some already-(hand)made passport-holders, wallets and purses for sale, I decided to have one made from scratch. I got to pick the leather (smooth or pebbled, brown or black—and, for that matter, leather or something zanier, like snakeskin) and the monogram (I went for a gold stamp). As well as being on a money budget, I was on a time constraint: I was leaving for the U.S. at the end of the week.

In three days, I came back to pick up a beautiful, handmade passport-holder. The cost? Fifty euros.

Leather gift from Rome workshop, Armando RiodaNeedless to say, my dad loved it.

Armando Rioda is located at Via Belsiana 90. Like lots of traditional shops, they have traditional hours: from 9am-1pm and 4pm-8pm. Call +39 0669924406 for more.

Update, April 2017: The artisans behind Armando Rioda have parted ways, meaning that Armando Rioda is now basically two locations.

One location is at Via delle Carrozze n.16, on the second floor; ring number 6 on the bell “Pelletteria Nives”. Call Nives (one of the owners) at +39 3385370233 or  Vinicio (the other owner) at +39 3333370831 to double-check their hours before stopping by.

The other location, which is called Rioda, is at Via del Cancello 14/15. To double-check their hours, you can call them at +39 066784942 or email them at rioda1950@gmail.com.

 

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Where Famous Movies Were Filmed in Rome

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, shot in Rome

“Cinecitta Shows Off,” the new exhibit at Rome’s famous movie studios, isn’t the only way to delve into Rome’s cinematic past.

The other way: Simply walking around Rome.

Many famous movies, including many of Fellini’s, were, of course, filmed here. Want to go on a cinema-themed walk? Here are some top stops. (Note: Obviously, I can’t take credit for any of these movie-still photos).

Piazza del Popolo. The piazza is one of the first clues in Tom Hanks’ Angels & Demons.

Talented Mr. Ripley at the Spanish Steps Spanish Steps. This staircase is so famous, it’s shown up in lots of films. Some of the most famous, and most recent: Roman Holiday, where Hepburn enjoys her gelato, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, where Ripley arranges for Meredith, Marge and Peter Smith-Kingsley to meet (above). 

Via Margutta, near the Spanish Steps. Number 51 is where Audrey Hepburn spent that fateful night in Joe Bradley/Gregory Peck’s bed (without him — we’re talking 1953 here) in Roman Holiday. In real life, Fellini himself lived here at number 110. 

Via della Stamperia, near the Trevi Fountain. Here, at number 85, is where Audrey got her (oh-so-shocking!) haircut in Roman Holiday. 

 

Trevi Fountain. It’s the location of one of the most famous scenes in Rome movie history: Anita Ekberg wading through the waters, getting Marcello Mastroianni to come join her, in Fellini’s 1960 blockbuster La Dolce Vita . (If you haven’t seen it, now’s your chance, above). Hepburn and Peck had a scene here, too.

Via Veneto. The slick shopping street where Ekberg and Mastroianni meet, before driving to a castle, in La Dolce Vita.

Pantheon. One of the pivotal clues for Tom Hank’s character in Angels and Demons; Hepburn and Peck come here, too.

Via dei Fori Imperiali. Here’s where Hepburn passed out on a bench in one of Roman Holiday’s first scenes, only to be roused by Peck. At the nearby Forum Hotel’s rooftop bar, The American Bar, the characters from the 1991 rom-com Only You (played by Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei) share a romantic dinner.

Piazza Navona. In that moment recreated on movie posters worldwide (although it looks like they changed the background for it… hmm), here’s where Julia Roberts sat on a bench in front of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and ate her gelato in Eat, Pray, Love (below). Hepburn and Peck had a scene here. This is also the final clue, and culminating scene, in Angels and Demons. And it’s where Faith and her sister-in-law hunt for Faith’s “soul mate.”Eat Pray Love at Piazza Navona

Via dei Portoghesi. Here, at number 7, is where Julia Roberts stayed as Liz Gilbert in Eat Pray Love. At nearby Ristorante Santa Lucia (Largo Febo 12), Liz shows off her Italian to her friends by reeling off the Italian on the menu.

Colosseum. Shots of the famous theater play a part in Roman Holiday, Eat Pray Love, Only You, and many others.

Audrey Hepburn at Mouth of Truth at Roman Holiday movie in Rome “Mouth of Truth.” Here’s where Hepburn stuck her hand, much to her fear and delight, in Roman Holiday… a scene recreated in Only You nearly 40 years later.

Castel Sant’Angelo. Where all the dancers fell into the water in Roman Holiday; the exterior was shot for Angels and Demons, too.

St. Peter’s Basilica. Used in TThe Godfather Part III. And the piazza was part of that pivotal last scene in that instant classic… Eurotrip.

Santa Maria in Trastevere. The church here served as a backdrop in a pivotal romantic scene between Tomei and Downey, Jr. in Only You. The nearby Trastevere restaurant, Galeassi Ristorante, is where they eat.

Porta Portese. Key scenes from Bicycle Thieves were filmed at this Sunday market in Trastevere.

Also: the most idyllic island escapes from Rome, 11 etiquette mistakes not to make at an Italian meal and one of the loveliest little leather shops around.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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For Free Family Fun, Carnevale Returns to Rome

Piazza del Popolo at carnival 2010, Rome Carnevale

Ever since a series of accidents forced Rome to relinquish its once-raucous celebrations, Rome's colder and canal-filled sister has had the claim on Carnevale. But in recent years, Rome's been trying to change that.

Back in the day, Rome did Carnival up right. So right that everyone from Dickens to James to Dumas wrote about the festivities. So right that it went (sometimes dangerously) wrong — and, by the early 20th century, the city had put the kibosh on it altogether.

But that's changing. Two years ago, the city threw huge festivities to try to restart the tradition. And, budget problems aside, it's going for it again this year. Like last year, the main events all have pretty horsey themes. (Above: The crowd at Piazza del Popolo during last year's horse show; below: people watching a street performer at the Spanish Steps, also during Carnevale 2010). Crowd watching a street performer at the Spanish Steps, Carnevale 2010, Rome

The festivities (all free!) kick off on February 26, running through March 8. The highlights:

Opening parade. The parade will kick off from Piazza del Popolo at 5:30pm. Look out for dancers, opulently-costumed performers, horses, and military fanfare.

Day of Cowboy Pride. Yes, Americans, you read that right. On Saturday, March 5, from 10am-1pm and 3:30pm-5:30pm, there will be a cowboy-inspired equestrian show.

Italian cavalry show. It's like an equestrian show… only with the pomp and ceremony that can only come from military splendor! Check it out on Friday, March 4 at 7:30pm. Piazza del Popolo.

The BIG horse show. This is the one not to miss (well, if you like horses, or costumes, or acrobatics): On Saturday, March 5 at 7:30pm, some of the biggest names in equestrian sport perform at Piazza del Popolo. Look out for everything from acrobatic vaulting to Renaissance costumes to a dressage champion.

Spanish Steps during Carnevale 2010, Rome Daily street theatre, parades and other performances. Every afternoon until March 3, from 3pm-7pm, the whole Piazza del Popolo neighborhood will explode with fun, family-friendly activities. Look for a myriad of entertainments, including comedies, equestrian shows, and costume parades, at Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps (above: during last year's Carnevale celebrations), Piazza Navona, and along Via del Corso.

Latin American Carnival. Yeah, it's not all about you, Rome. On Sunday, March 6, from 2pm-5:30pm, Latin American dance and music groups take over from Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum.

Via Tiburtina's Great Roman Carnival. Yes, it's a bit farther out — but it's also 1.5km of floats, costumes, dancers and musicians in a massive parade! It's on Sunday, March 6 from 3pm.

Carnival Village. Lots of activities will take place at Piazza del Popolo until the carnival's end. There will be refreshment stands offering food and wine from both Lazio and Tuscany (the home of Rome's "twin" city, Viareggio). And a replica 16th-century theatre will be set up with the help of Rome's Teatro dell'Opera, who will also provide the elaborate costumes.

Exhibit on the rebirth of the Rome carnival. If you're curious about where the carnival tradition came from in Rome — or, more accurately, where it disappeared to — check out the exhibit "Roman Carnival: The Birth of a Tradition," which displays photos and images of Rome's carnivals from the 19th back to the 15th centuries.

Fireworks! Hey, you can't end any celebration without 'em. Check the display out, which takes place above the Pincian hill, on the night of March 8.

 

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Pasta for 4 Euros? Yes, Please

Pastificio on Via della Croce, Spanish Steps, Rome

It might surprise you if I told you you could get a heaping bowl of fresh-made pasta, plus as much water and house wine as you want, for 4 measly euros.

It might surprise you even more if I told you where you could get it: in the overpriced and often-touristy Spanish Steps neighborhood.

But that's where the pastificio is.

From 1pm-2pm (that means "1pm" Italian time, so if you get there at 1pm sharp, be prepared to wait a few minutes for the first batch of pasta!), the pastificio has a "tasting." Its pasta of the day (there are usually two options, but if you come too late, you might be stuck with just one choice), wine and water cost, yep, just €4.

If you're looking for fancy ambience, this is not the place. As the price range, of €4 to €4, should tell you already. Forks, cups and bowls are plastic. Elbow-room is impossible, seating scarce. And don't dilly-dally over your choice between the gnocchi or the spaghetti alla carbonara: Rushed Italians, from schoolkids to businessmen, are lined up behind you, anxious to get one of those bowls before it all runs out.

But for a fun, big, quick, and, yes, yummy pasta lunch, the unnamed panificio is your best bet in the Spanish Steps. Or, probably, anywhere in the center.

Just don't tell anyone. Because as soon as you do, that €4 price tag is sure to vanish. So, shhhh. Keep your mouth closed. Unless you're shoveling steaming amatriciana inside.

DSC_0026

This guy agrees.

Unnamed pastificio. Via della Croce 8. I'm not giving you a map, because you should have to sing at least a tiny bit for your supper. Or lunch. Whatever.

Want to find out about Rome's other hidden gems? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!


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