Five Favorite Places for Food Near the Vatican

Pizzarium, great food near the Vatican

Wondering where to eat near the Vatican… especially when you need something fast? Don’t flop down at one of the osterie you see just outside the Vatican walls—I don’t care how pushy nice the host trying to lure you inside seems to be. And don’t (please, don’t!) go to the Subway that’s opened up in the area.

Look: There are tons of terrible food options in this touristy area. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to avoid them.

As always, here’s help.

Here are the five best spots to have lunch on the go—in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. (All are within a 10-minute walk of one sight or the other, if not both).


Fa-Bio, one of the best lunch spots near the VaticanIf a steady diet of pasta and pizza has left you craving a soup, salad, sandwich, or smoothie, then head to this hole-in-the-wall around the corner from the Vatican museums. Grab a quinoa or a pasta salad (€5-€5.50), or have a sandwich or salad made fresh from the long list of ingredients to choose from, including lots of vegetarian-friendly options. No matter how many ingredients, sandwiches are €4 and salads are €5, making this one of the best deals in town. (P.S.: My love for Fa-Bio and its super-fresh, organic ingredients runs so deep, I’ve even put them in the Fodor’s Rome 2012 edition, on sale from September!).

Via Germanico 43, a 6-minute walk from the Vatican museums entrance/exit and a 10-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica.

Duecento Gradi


Although Duecento Gradi has gotten pretty popular since its opening right at Piazza Risorgimento, the prices—starting at €4.50 for a huge panino—remain fair, and the ingredients pretty good. Make your own panino from a long list of toppings including fontina cheese, artichoke sauce, spicy salami, and more, or pick from the list of suggested creations. Salads are available, too, and for everything, you can either grab a table, eat at the counter, or take it to go.

Piazza del Risorgimento 3, a 5-minute walk from the Vatican museums entrance/exit or from St. Peter’s Basilica.


Best pizza near the Vatican
The best pizza you can eat near the Vatican, hands down, is served up at famed pizza chef Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium. Located right at the Cipro metro station, this foodie haven is renowned for its perfectly chewy dough (thicker than the classic, thin-crust Roman pizzas), high-quality ingredients, and creative concoctions. Can’t choose between the classic buffalo mozzarella and tomato, or something like the taleggio with zucchini and sesame? Have both: You always tell the guy behind the counter how much you want and you’re charged by weight, so you can try a bit of everything.

Via della Meloria 43, a 7-minute walk from the Vatican museums entrance/exit and a 15-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica.


Since its 1925 opening, this market has been a Prati institution. As well as meats, cheeses, oils, and other Italian delicacies you’ll be tempted to buy up and bring back home, Franchi has a number of good tavola calda options—suppli and arancini, fried baccala, porchetta, even roast chicken or lasagna. Eat at the counter, or take your goodies to go. This is a popular place, so don’t be afraid to be aggressive firm to get your order taken over the crowded lunch hour.

Via Cola di Rienzo 24, a 12-minute walk from the Vatican museums entrance/exit and a 9-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica.

Mercato Trionfale

Mercato Trionfale, a place to eat near the Vatican museums
For something really different—and at authentic as you can get—forgo all of the restaurants in favor of… a food market.

Located a 5-minute walk from the entrance/exit of the Vatican museums, Mercato Trionfale is the main market for the Prati neighborhood and, with some 275 vendors, one of the biggest markets in Italy. Vendors sell it all: fresh fruit and produce, cured meats, cheeses, breads… Grab a few items to make your own picnic to go (mozzarella di bufala? prosciutto? melone?), or have one of the sellers put a panino together for you (porchetta, perhaps?). Forget spending €12 for a small buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto antipasto at one of the area’s rip-off restaurants; here, that much money will get you the same food, and more.

Just remember that the market is open until only 2pm on Wed., Thurs., and Sat. (until 7pm on Tues. and Fri.), and is closed Mon. and Sun.

Via Andrea Doria, a 4-minute walk from the Vatican museums entrance/exit and a 14-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Also: six of the best trattorias in Rome, my favorite new gelato shop and 11 etiquette mistakes you won’t want to make.

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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Coming to the Beatification in Rome? Here’s What to Expect

Beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II, Rome
Whether you’re one of the brave souls coming to Rome for the beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II on May 1, or someone who will just happen to be here anyway, be warned: You’re not the only one. It’s been estimated that 2 to 3 million pilgrims will alight on the city — doubling Rome’s population.

Obviously, we won’t know if that happens till it happens. But it’s probably smart to plan ahead. So anything you can book far in advance, whether hotel or Vatican or walking tour or restaurant, do. And bring your walking shoes: If this many people will really be here, that means cabs will be full and the bus and metro systems, already full during rush hour, will be packed all day along. But even if you’re all booked,  remember that even the best-laid plans can go awry. That’s true on the best of days in Rome. It’ll be even more true now.

One thing that you should be able to count on, though, is the schedule of events for the beatification ceremony itself. The detailed schedule was just announced a couple of days ago. Here it is:

Saturday, April 30

8pm. Prayer vigil, Circus Maximus. Speakers will include Pope John Paull II’s closest aide, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and his  spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls; Pope Benedict XVI will recite the final oration and bless the people.

Sunday, May 1

9am. St. Peter’s Square. Hour of preparation, when the faithful pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together.

10am. The liturgy of the beatification, followed by a mass. At the end, a tapestry of Pope John Paul II will be unveiled. After, the Pope and cardinals will pray before John Paul’s body in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Evening. John Paul II’s remains will continue to be in front of the basilica’s main altar (known as the “Altar of Confession”), and pilgrims are welcome to venerate there.

Monday, May 2

10:30am. St. Peter’s Square. A thanksgiving mass will celebrate John Paul II, with music by the Choir of the Diocese of Rome, Choir of Warsaw and the Wadowice Symphony Orchestra of Poland.

Here’s a more-detailed schedule of events from the Vatican.

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Travel Virtually to Rome’s Top Sites

School of Athens by Raphael in the Vatican museums Memories fade, and photographs don't always do justice to Rome's top attractions. Now, though, a spate of virtual tours allow travelers to explore some of Rome's most popular buildings and art, from the Sistine Chapel to the Capitoline Museums — all from the comfort of home.

Below, some of the best of the virtual lineup. Prepare to want to start planning your next trip to Rome!

St. Peter's Basilica, now visitable virtuallySt. Peter's Basilica. Gorgeous virtual tour by the Vatican itself. Highly professional and stunning.

The Sistine Chapel. Also by the Vatican.

The Vatican Museums, including the Pinacoteca (below), Raphael Rooms, Etruscan Museum and Egyptian Museum.

San Giovanni in Laterano, or St. John Lateran, the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope) and the mother church of Catholics.

St. Paul Outside the Walls, founded in the 4th century on the burial place of St. Paul and one of Rome's four papal basilicas.Raphael's paintings at the Pinacoteca, Vatican museums, Rome

The Capitoline Museums. They're the oldest public museums in Rome and boast some of Italy's best ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Now, you can visit all 45 of their rooms… digitally.

The Pantheon. Rome's single best-preserved ancient building; the tour isn't as professional as the previous virtual tours, but still pretty great.

Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a beautiful example of the blending of the Baroque and Renaissance styles of architecture. It's famous for its Caravaggio paintings — which, bummer, you can't see in the tour — but also for its Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael, which you can.

The Ara Pacis, the altar made from 13-9 B.C. to commemorate Emperor Augustus' victories and the Pax Romana. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Ara Pacis").

Circus Maximus, where ancient charioteers once raced (make this full-screen for a better image)

Largo Argentina, with the remains of four ancient Republican temples

And, yes… the Colosseum! Colosseum, Rome
Finally: Yes, virtual tours of what actually exists are all well and good — but virtual tours of what ancient Rome would have looked like? Maybe even better.

UCLA's Digital Roman Forum includes both modern and ancient views of the forum, including the basilicas Julia and Aemilia. Pick a time between 700 B.C. and 500 A.D., click on the map, and see what that spot looks like in 360 degrees today — and an image of what it would have looked like then rotates with you.

It's a work in progress and only shows you what the sites look like today, but this other virtual tour of the Roman forum features 360-degree views of a dozen different spots in the ancient landscape.

Now, if only you could also virtually enjoy the taste of pasta alla gricia or the feel of the warm Roman sun on your neck…



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The Hagia Sophia of Istanbul: A Stunning Roman Ruin

Interior of the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

There’s a reason why the Hagia Sophia (or Hagia Sofia) is so evocative of all of Istanbul. It’s a microcosm of the city’s entire history, from Roman origins to Ottoman Islam to today’s (relatively) secular nationalism. 

DSC_0235The site initially held an ancient temple, some remnants of
which remain in the current structure — like the dolphin design on the column to the right.

The first Christian cathedral was built
on the site in 360 A.D. It was rebuilt twice, both times after being destroyed by riots. (To see what the older Hagia Sophia(s) would have looked like, check out Byzantium 1200’s digital reconstructions).

The current building, which dates back to 537, was the largest church in the Roman empire. It also remained the biggest cathedral in the world for almost a millennium, beat out only by the Seville Cathedral in 1520.

In 1453, with Constantinople’s seizure by the Ottomans, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque. And in 1935, at the height of Turkey’s secularization under Ataturk, it became a museum.

See what I mean about it being a microcosm of Istanbul — and Turkey — in general?

You could write a book on the Hagia Sophia. (Many have). But among the many treasures not to miss are its gorgeous Byzantine mosaics, which date back as far as the 9th century. Also
make sure you check out the seraphim (above) who was only recently uncovered. Although
his three compatriots are still plastered over, his face was revealed in 2010 after
being hidden for centuries by the Ottomans.

Coronation disk of the Hagia Sofia, IstanbulFor a clear tie to the city of Rome, meanwhile, look no further than the gray granite disk set into the floor, on the right of the middle of the church (left). Placed here by Justinian in the 530s, this is where the Byzantine emperors knelt to be crowned as early as 641. If you’ve visited St. Peter’s Basilica, you know that the Roman basilica boasts a similar disk in red porphyry. That’s the rota porphyretica, set into the old St. Peter’s Basilica and the spot where the pope crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800.

The similarity in the two stones is no mistake. Charlemagne was setting himself up in direct opposition to the “other” successors to the Roman empire, the Byzantines. By crowning him, Pope Leo III was showing that the papacy had wriggled from Byzantine control and was choosing the Holy Roman Empire as its protector instead. It’s also no mistake that the St. Peter’s Basilica disk is red porphyry, a precious stone that “one-upped” its sister stone in the Hagia Sophia. (Take that, Byzantines!)

On a broader, architectural note, of course, it’s no surprise that the Hagia Sophia looks — almost — reminiscent of that seemingly divinely-inspired building in Rome: the Pantheon. Both structures innovated in setting a circular dome on a square, rather than circular, shape. And both awed contemporaries by building domes on such a large scale. The Hagia Sophia’s original dome, which collapsed in 559, was thought to be slightly bigger in diameter but shallower than the current one, built in 563. Even so, the Hagia Sophia’s dome today is 102 feet in diameter — just 40 feet smaller than the Pantheon’s. (Check out the difference between the two in the images, below).

Don’t miss the garden of the church, either. There, in an unassuming tumble that reminded me of abandoned bits of column in Rome’s Forum, lie several marble blocks from the second church, dating back to 415. The most striking among them depicts twelve lambs, each symbolizing one of the twelve apostles. Many more remnants of the ancient church remain in the area — but they’re still buried underneath the ground, excavations ending in the 1930s after it was realized that continued work could harm the current structure.

Even without that, though, there are enough treasures in the Hagia Sophia to keep a history or archaeology geek satisfied — and maybe a little bit awed.

Dome of the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
Dome of the Pantheon, Rome


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