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36 Hours in Rome for Second Timers

This is not a post for Rome virgins. On your first visit, you have to pay your dues. Itineraries planned, tickets pre-booked. That bucket list simply won't kick itself. So this is a write-up for, at least, second timers - when your objective is to simply wander around and soak up the Roman vibes. A little bit of la cultura, and a little bit of dolce far niente.

What you'll find in this post is:

  • A recommended local tour guide with an art history PhD

  • The best way to do the Colosseum

  • Restaurant recommendations with pre-made lists to save to Google Maps

  • Traditional vs 'Creative' Cuisine - with a few recommendations

  • Some great places to shop like a Roman

  • Where to get a traditional Italian shave

A recommended local tour guide with an art history PhD

Starting with a cultural activity allows you to feel smug and insufferably cultured for the rest of your trip, even if all you do next is gorge on gelato. We booked a guided tour of the insanely lavish Galleria Borghese, a marble-stucco-fresco-mosaic-fever-dream of Italian renaissance and Baroque treasures, bursting with Caravaggio masterpieces and Bernini sculptures. But don't book via the price gouging group tours, instead pay your tourist money directly to a citizen of Rome: Valentina Vacca is an Art Historian PhD and runs a number of tours - Galleria Borghese, the Vatican, St Peter's or an 'off-the-beaten-track' Rome tour.

Valentina achieved the impossible and was able to find us tickets to the Galleria Borghese at short notice thanks to her network of contacts, and gave us the colour and storytelling that brought our visit to life.

Valentina Vacca - Art Historian PhD



Golden Hour: The best way to visit the Colosseum?

The Colosseum requires a pre-booked ticket with a timed slot. The best place to pre-book is here - with thanks to Valentina Vacca for the tip:

Colosseum booking link:

For 18 Euros you get your timed slot to access to the Colosseum AND twenty-four hour access to enter the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, so you can tick off those two at your (relative) leisure without feeling like you're on too precise a schedule.

Bear in mind over the summer the Colosseum is open until 19.15 with latest entry at 18.05. So how about a golden hour visit? The heat will be less intense and visitors will have passed their peak numbers. That Golden Hour warm light will make everything more epic, an IRL Ridley-Scott-Oscar-worthy film grading. Then you can follow it with a sunset cocktail in one of the nearby rooftop bars. The Colosseum is near the brilliant rooftop bar of Rhinoceros Roma overlooking parts of the ancient Palatine Hill. It's a super-modern renovation of an old crumbling Palazzo - very Space Odyssey /Stanley Kubrick vibes inside. I highly recommend their Restaurant too which has an excellent value wine list.

Rhinoceros Roma

Via del Velabro 9

Pre-booking essential:

Other recommended rooftop bars - don't forget to pre-book - nearby here are:

47 Boutique Hotel

Via Luigi Petroselli, 47

+39 066787816

Hotel Forum

Via Tor de' Conti, 25-30

+39 066792446


Have a restaurant strategy

Unless you're happy to roll the dice, you need to pre-book your restaurants, especially on the weekend. Also, bear in mind that lots of places close on Monday. Even those relaxed trattorias, if it's good, it'll be booked out. Meal times are a serious business in Italy and in a city as busy as Rome, if it's empty with a table available right now, it's probably not a good sign. So if you want to stay flexible and see where the wind takes you, then just lower your expectations a little, you may still get lucky with a walk in table at your preferred place - either way you'll hardly go hungry and you might just strike gold. At least avoid places with pictures of food outside or advertising a 'menu turistico', or with a host/hostess trying to convince you to come in.

Otherwise, if like me, you suffer from severe FOMO, then get organised. What's wrong with planning your entire weekend around dinner and lunch reservations? Here are some places worth booking - great wine lists and authentic food where you'll find actual Roman's enjoying their lunch or dinner.

Add these Saved Lists to your Google Maps app so wherever you are, you can see what's nearby and call ahead to book a table:

Rome Trattorias - list for your Google Maps app:

Best Cacio Pepe - list for your Google Maps app:

Those lists are compiled from the brilliant travel and lifestyle blog by Roman resident Livia Hengel's Italy Edit

Near Piazza Navona:


Piazza Fiammetta, 10,

+39 06 6875777

Piazza Navona and around is tourist-central, (avoid the restaurants in the Piazza like the plague) so it's good to know there are some gems around. Fiammetta is a lively restaurant with a brilliant and reasonably priced wine list. Incredible Carciofi! Packed with Romans. Cosy inside and very atmospheric with its packed street-side terrace outside.


Osteria Da Zi Umberto

Piazza di San Giovanni Della Malva, 14

+39 06 581 6646

In trendy Trastavere (trast-aaah-veray) you will find the Osteria of 'Uncle Umberto' - a truly Roman experience. On the Sunday we visited it was full of joyous Italians enjoying the ritual of Sunday lunch con la famiglia.

A true Osteria - a casual, ever-revolving menu of specials, (known mainly in the mind of the waiter), house wine by the litro or mezzo litro. This is no tourist haunt, you will find spleen and other Roman offal-based specialties on the menu, so choose with caution. Noted for its Cacio Pepe and other Roman specialties.

Near the Colosseum / Palatine Hill / Forum

Rhinoceros Roma

Connected to the fabulous rooftop terrace is the restaurant of Rhinoceros Roma. Exceptional food and another great wine list with interesting bottle-aged choices at brilliant prices.

Via del Velabro 9


Traditional vs Creative Italian Food

It's no secret that Italians are proud of their food culture - but the flip side is a certain resistance to change and experimentation. After all, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. There is a certain way of doing things, like not putting parmesan on seafood-based pasta, or drink cappuccino after breakfast. Certain pasta shapes go with certain sauces - Trofie with Pesto, Bucatini with Cacio Pepe - and note how the sauces themselves are enobled with 'titles' and time-honoured ways of doing them. Amatriciana, Puttanesca, Alla Norma etc. Of course there are slight variations and family secrets and florishes - what proportion of Parmigiano to Pecorino in your Cacio Pepe for example? But on the whole there is utmost respect for what is, in essence, the traditional way of preparing something. Italy's food culture is so bountiful as well as regionally and seasonally nuanced that you hardly feel a lack of imagination or choice - far from it. But, this mentality gives context to why some restaurants are described as 'creative'. By this, don't expect anything zany - it simply means something 'non-traditional' - bearing in mind traditional is already a living, breathing, multi-faceted entity when it comes to Italian food.

Babette is a good example of this 'creative's style of cuisine. From The Galleria Borghese it's a lovely walk though the Borghese Villa gardens, descending down into Piazza del Popolo and into the busy streets of central Rome before nipping into their shady little courtyard away from the crowds; a perfect respite on a hot day.

Babete Caffè Ristorante

Via Margutta, 00187

+39 06 321 1559

Other 'Creative' Restaurants in Rome:


Via delle Zoccolette, 22

+39 06 8957 2296

Osteria Fernanda

Via Crescenzo del Monte, 18

+39 328 384 7924


Shop like a local

One of the enduring charms of Italian life is the specialisation of shops, a way of life that is practically lost in a Westfield shopping centre / Amazon Prime world. So I highly recommend a spot of shopping supporting some true Italian artisans:

Italian Shirts:

Bracci Camiceria

Via dei Funari, 18 00186

For the finest Italian men's shirts - truly an old-school shopping experience in this tiny little wood-framed shop. Guaranteed to instantly increase your levels of suave by a factor of 100.

Italian Shoes:

Mauro Leone

Via del Biscione, 8

For fabulous Italian ladies and men's shoes - Mauro Leone is a modern classic Italian brand which makes stylish but super comfortable 100% leather shoes, Made in Italy, in an array of styles and colours.

Italian Linens:

Stay Store

Via Dei Falegnami 63-64

Beautiful Italian textiles with a minimalist, scandi vibe to elevate your tablescaping game and bedroom linens. Linen, wool, silk in stylish muted colours.


Book an appointment at the Barbiere for a traditional Italian Shave

One for the boys. Also potentially a useful divide-and-conquer strategy for misaligned interests /energy levels.


If you're in the mood for a truly authentic Italian shaving experience, warts and all, this Barbiere is the real deal. Choose from a classic morning shave, (Rasatura Classica della Mattina) or a 40 minute 'Rasage a l'Ancienne' where the skin is prepared with hot towels and various potions, or maybe just go the whole hog with a 50 minute, 14-step extravaganza - the signature 'Genco shave' - with all the bells and whistles; hot towels, shave oils, cleansing mask, soaps - and emerge feeling reborn as a true Italian.

Appointment required - speaking a little Italian may help.


Via Dei Portoghesi, 17


Acqua de Palma

Piazza di Spagna, 27,

For a more tourist friendly, but still highly rated, experience this flagship shop by the Spanish steps is a true luxury, olfactory experience. A shrine to the sun-drenched, resinous scents of Italy. You can book a shave or treatment here, an homage to the traditional Italian Barbiere experience.


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