I was in Rome four years ago. I stayed in an expensive and dirty no-frills hostel and swapped my entire Friday to stand in line for the Colosseum. Let me get something straight – I think the Colosseum is brilliant and definitely worth seeing if it tickles your fancy.
This time around, I saw the city in a completely different light – and it was far better than I could have imagined.
A friend of mine who lives there shared with me a huge list of generously curated tips. Those tips were our portal into authentic Roma. I won’t share the full list publicly in a bid to keep these gems authentic and local – but feel free to message about it, I’ll be happy to share them with you.
Your location depends on what you want out of Rome. We stayed in Ostiense, which turned out to be our dream location for exactly what we wanted (local neighbourhood, good public transport connection and budget prices).
Ostiense is located just outside of the touristic centre of Rome. We saw only a handful of tourists in our neighbourhood and found most people didn’t speak English (win, win). We were walking distance (around 2km) to Testaccio, which we discovered was the food centre of Rome.
I highly recommend staying near or around Testaccio if good, cheap and local food is high on your list. Here’s a quick rundown on the best neighbourhoods to stay in Rome if you’re looking to dive into the local scene:
Stay in OSTIENSE if you:
- Are after a budget stay (message me for an Airbnb recommendation – 25 euros for 2 people / night)
- Want to avoid tourists and tourist traps (we only saw tourists a handful of times)
- Are looking for good, cheap and local food
- Don’t mind walking (though there is adequate access to metro, bus and tram)
- Are willing to try to converse in Italian (we found majority of people in this area didn’t speak much English)
Stay in TESTACCIO if you:
- Value good authentic food for cheap
- Are after a cheaper stay
- Don’t mind walking (although there is access to tram and buses)
- Are looking to experience local nightlife
- Want to try good authentic pizza at your doorstep
Stay in MONTI if you:
- Want to be surrounded by ancient Roma
- Don’t mind loud nights or want to enjoy nightlife until the early hours of the morning
- Don’t mind the extra expense for staying (Monti’s claim to fame is the Colosseum- so you pay for it!)
Stay in TRASTEVERE if you:
- Want to enjoy Roman and international nightlife
- Are a heavy sleeper or like to stay up until early hours
- Like crowds, tourists and the risk of tourist prices
- Want to see authentic Roma gentrified – there are lots of tourists, but Trastevere still hides some of Rome’s best hidden gems
- Don’t mind walking or catching the tram or bus (there is no metro)
Stay in CAMPO DI FIORI if you:
- Are short on time
- Don’t mind paying extra
- Don’t mind crowds
- Are looking for good gelato
- Like to walk (no access to metro- but trams and buses)
Before we visited, I scoured the internet searching for cheap eats. Though I found a few, the consensus was this: Rome is expensive for food and you’re going to spend at least 20 euros per head if you want to eat out.
This is SO wrong. We found Rome to be one of the cheapest cities in Europe to eat out in- you just have to know where to look and where to avoid.
Testaccio claims a good chunk of Rome’s best pizza – and we can see why.
Pizzeria da Remo is Testaccio’s cult classic favourite, but be prepared to wait for your impersonal yet delicious dining experience. The staff aren’t rude despite the hounding reviews- they’re just busy and vacant. They don’t take reservations, so make sure you head there before 8.30pm if you don’t want to wait a long time. For 3 appetisers, pizza, a beer and a glass of wine, we spent around 22 euros.
Nuovo Mondo is Testaccio’s dirty little secret. This little gem is still busy, but it’s a bigger establishment and the staff are ultra friendly – so we enjoyed the experience more. We dined here three times and never had to wait even if it was bustling. They specialise in traditional thin Roman pizza but leave room to try their tiramisu and the fried artichokes. Their suppli are also vegetarian! For 3 appetisers, a pizza, dessert and one litre of wine, we spent around 23 euros for 2 people.
Pinsere is your best bet for lunch if you’re near Termini. Their pizzas are pinsas, a traditional thick oval shaped Roman delight with delicious toppings. The service is quick, kind and comes at a bargain for around 5 euros per pizza. Hot tip: head to Come il Latte gelato around the corner. Delicious and cheap at 2 euros for 2 scoops in a cone. Possibly the best gelato we have had in Italy to date.
We didn’t eat much pasta in Rome, (CRAZY, right?) but I highly recommend Trattoria Da Enzo al 29 – we missed out on eating here because we weren’t organised enough to make a reservation, but if you get a chance, the reviews point to DO IT.
Tonnarello also kicks up a storm on Google reviews. Go for it.
Rome’s favourite sandwich is at home in Testaccio (have I convinced you to stay here yet?). Trapizzino is DELICIOUS. Get ready to drool: it’s a sandwich, except the bread is pizza. Yep, you heard me right. They’re at a bargain 4.50 euros and their suppli are damn delicious, too.
While you’re in the area, check out Mordi e Vai too, for a carbonara sandwich. Kade last minute switched his mind when ordering and didn’t enjoy the sandwich he chose, but I’ve heard rave reviews about the carbonara sandwich.
I only have one panini recommendation but I’m not going to share it publicly. It’s in Testaccio, is authentic, cheap, local and delicious- and they serve one euro cups of wine! Feel free to message me if you’ll be in the area and I’ll send you the name of this dreamy little gem. We literally went there every day.
Let me just warn you right now: this is the BEST budget Italian tradition you don’t know about. If you’re sticking to a budget in Italy then get acquainted with the humble apértif. It’s basically the happiest hour of all – traditionally, it’s a pre-meal drink designed to fuel your appetite. Basically, you buy a drink and then snack your little heart out, depending on what the set up is like at the bar you’ve chosen.
Some places go all out with an endless buffet stuffed with pasta, pizza, antipasto, sweets, meat and salads, while others are more traditional with one plate of light appetisers. The goal isn’t to replace dinner, but it’s totally acceptable if that’s how you do it. It’s the perfect storm if you’re on a tight budget like we were.
I highly recommend Doppiozeroo if you’re on the Testaccio side of town. We ate there twice, and it’s a steal. Drinks are 10 euros and you get access to an all you can eat buffet full of delicious pizza, salads, pasta, roasted vegetables and sweet pastries.
Apértif here lasts from 6-9pm, and I recommend you get there very early to claim your spot. It gets busy!
The latest hot spots for apértif chop and change all the time, so you can also use the websites below to find the latest gems:
Get out of the tourist traps and go local. After all, nobody knows the city better than the Romans do.
Know of another Roman gem I haven’t mentioned? Let me know in the comments below!