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How to Recreate a Day in Rome at Home

By Sara Button

Apr 30, 2020

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The Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762 and is one of the most popular landmarks in Rome.

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The Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762 and is one of the most popular landmarks in Rome.

Though it may be a challenge to replicate the bustle of Termini Station or the beauty of a sunset seen from atop the Spanish Steps in your apartment, there are still plenty of ways to recall the dynamism, history, and swagger of Rome in your own home.

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As a lifelong classics nerd and recovered archaeology student, Italy has always been the country my spirit connected to most. And though I studied abroad (and later lived in) the Umbrian town of Orvieto, Rome was my first urban love. It was the first international city I flew to on my own as a teen tasked with tutoring English; I lived there with local family friends for part of a summer and ever since, I have managed to return time and again.

Of course, the last time I stepped off a plane at Fiumicino Airport in February 2019 and sat in a taxi as it whisked me past ancient walls and long-standing ruins feels like it was a million years ago. Now, I’m not sure yet when I’ll get to go back. But thanks to the help of some local residents, the following itinerary is my best approximation of how to recreate a day in Rome from home. Andiamo!

Left: Patrons sit alfresco at Ciampini, a classic Roman café where visitors can get coffee, gelato, and other fare; Right: a shot of espresso from Gran Caffe Santos in the Prati neighborhood of Rome.

8 a.m. Fare colazione like a local 

Buon giorno, buon giorno! Mornings in Rome mean having some proper coffee, especially at the neighborhood bar. Quarantining coffee drinkers can do the next best thing: invest in a Bialetti Moka Express and make a stovetop brew. The iconic Italian coffee maker’s cool art deco design has been basically the same since its invention in the 1930s, and the aroma will take you right to a morning in the Eternal City. 

If you prefer a cappuccino and you don’t want to mess with one of these, simply heat up a cup of milk until it’s almost boiling (1 minute and 20 seconds in the microwave will do, too) and then whip it with a whisk or in a blender until it’s nice and frothy. Pour your coffee first, and then top it off with the milk. 

By the way, breakfast foods aren’t really a big deal in Rome (or the rest of Italy, for that matter). A cornetto semplice (a sweet, croissant-like pastry) is the norm at the bar, but I’m way too lazy to make that from scratch. My favorite at-home breakfasts in Rome were when I got to eat cookies for breakfast (!) and slather apricot marmalade or nutella onto fette biscottate, which are essentially an Italian version of Melba toast. 

9 a.m. Groove to the sounds of Rome

The hum of traffic, the beeps of Vespas, and the periodic clang of church bells are part of the soundtrack to a day in Rome. Today, as you finish your breakfast, turn up the volume on AFAR’s Rome at Home playlist, which features a compilation of classic and emerging artists hailing from Rome and beyond. For extra street cred at your next karaoke night in Italy, memorize the lyrics to “Grazie, Roma,” a tune Rome native Antonello Venditti wrote for the city’s soccer team when it won its second annual championship scudetto in 1983.

9:30 a.m. Cut a bella figura

“Romans always manage to look put-together no matter what,” says Laura Itzkowitz, an AFAR contributor and Rome resident. “Normally, everyone spends a lot of time hanging out in public view, gathering in the piazzas, dining and drinking alfresco, and zipping around town on scooters, so Romans dress to be seen.” But you don’t have to go to Via Condotti (or even get out of your comfy pants) to add a little bit of Italian style to your day. 

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Itzkowitz recommends adding a bold red lipstick (this Red Satin from the Gucci collection will do the trick) and some glam sunglasses. A classic pair of oversize Fendis or aviators will always be in style, even if it’s just in your backyard.

The most important accessory to pull your Roman lewk together, according to Itzkowitz? “Confidence!” 

The Spanish Steps are a typical stop during a walking tour of Rome—including one you can follow from home.

10 a.m. Go for a “stroll”

With all its classical ruins and Renaissance palazzos, Rome is a city best seen on foot. Thanks to YouTuber 4K Urban Life, you can get the sights and sounds of Rome on a crowded summer day during a high-resolution virtual walking tour, all without the blistered feet and sunburned nose. Be sure when you get to the Trevi Fountain (27:50), you throw a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand. According to superstition, if you do so at the real Trevi Fountain, you’ll return to Rome. 

12 p.m. Attend a cooking class

What’s a trip to Rome without learning a bit of Italian cooking while you’re there? Rome resident, cookbook writer, and AFAR contributor Katie Parla has been digging Mirko Rizzo’s tutorials on Instagram @MirkoRizzoRoma. The owner of pizza by the slice takeaway joint Pommidoro and pizzeria 180g Pizzeria Romana is taking to IGTV to show viewers how to make “all sorts of bready and yeasty things,” Parla says. “Pizza bianca [the city’s classic flatbread], Easter bread, bruschette, as well as some of my favorite things featuring melted cheese like supplì [mozzarella-filled rice croquettes] and gnocchi alla sorrentina [gnocchi baked with tomato and mozzarella]” have been on the menu. Though the IGTV videos are in Italian, with a little help from Google Translate, home cooks can try one of the recipes on their own.

And for those who prefer to skip the translations, chef Massimo Bottura, of Osteria Francescana fame, offers a couple of options. Tune in on Instagram Live @MossimoBottura for informal lessons of #KitchenQuarantine, or sign up for his MasterClass on modern Italian cooking

Enjoy the fruits of your labor for lunch! 

2 p.m. Visit the Vatican

A trip to Vatican City is one of my favorite things to do in Rome, even though it’s always rampant with tourists. So when I found out that there were virtual tours of the Vatican Museums—including the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s Rooms, I was psyched. No waiting in line, jostling from fellow travelers, or being shushed by cranky guards. You can take all the time you want to admire the opulent 16th-century paintings by such Renaissance legends as Michaelangelo and Raphael. If you have a VR headset, the experience can get even more immersive. 

4 p.m. Learn about Rome’s more ancient history

At more than 500 years old, the Sistine Chapel might feel ancient, but the historic layers of the city run much deeper: Rome dates all the way back to 752 B.C.E. If you’ve forgotten all you learned about the ancient Romans in school, don’t sweat; instead, download an episode (or three) of The Partial Historians podcast. Drs. Peta Greenfield and Fiona Radford give listeners a light-hearted look at the foundations of Rome, including its history, its politics, and its most intriguing personalities. Who were the Vestal Virgins? What’s the deal with Romulus and Remus? Did Hadrian really build a super long wall? Anyone with a special interest in how ancient Rome is depicted on film may especially dig this podcast, too.

To indulge in a Roman-style aperitivo, make an Aperol Spritz and pull out the bar snacks.

6 p.m. Aperitivo time

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From the Latin word aperire, “to open,” the aperitivo—the Italian version of cocktail hour—is supposed to pique your appetite. Add some bar snacks, a group of friends via Zoom, and, ideally, an alfresco setting, and presto: aperitivo! “The ritual of aperitivo is really strong in Rome, maybe as strong as in Milan [where the tradition is thought to have started],” says Giovanni Vergineo, founder of Roads to Rome Private Tours. “Rome has much better weather, so in the end it’s easier to find a place to have an aperitivo.” Enjoy with marinated olives, nuts, or potato chips (my favorites are the classic San Carlo ones, but Pringles are also quite popular in Italy). 

A number of classic aperitivo cocktails are trending in the bel paese, such as a Negroni, gin and tonic, or a Bellini, but a popular option is the Spritz.

For the recipe, I talked to Antonio Parlapiano, bartender and cofounder of Rome’s Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, one of the World’s 50 Best Bars.) “In a high-end bar, nobody is willing to focus on the Spritz because it’s viewed as a cheap drink . . . but I don’t think so,” says Parlapiano. “I’m a strong defender of the Italian culture and traditions, and for me it’s a great drink to respect.”

Because traditional Spritz recipes depend on the city where they’re made, bartenders lean on local amaros. In an international city like Rome, Parlapiano says travelers can find all kinds of Spritz variations. That helps for drinkers at home—your variation can add to the authentic diversity of the cocktail. 

Recipe for a classic Spritz

Ingredients:

  • 45 ml (1.5 oz.) Aperol
  • 90 ml (3 oz.) extra dry prosecco
  • Ice
  • Seltzer or soda water
  • Orange or lemon slice or zest for garnish

Fill a Collins glass or bordeaux wine glass with ice cubes. Add the Aperol and prosecco, then top with the seltzer. Garnish with an orange slice and/or lemon and orange zest.

“If using a liqueur with more bitter notes or amaros and vermouths, two olives are a nice touch,” according to Parlapiano.

For some extra aperitivo ambience, Katie Parla suggests hitting play on Renato Zero’s 1978 Zerofobia album. “He’s my favorite Italian artist and this 1978 album is from his best years. It’s a funk-rock-pop-soulful ballad trove.”

The Untapped Region Where Italy’s Oldest Culinary Traditions Live On

Try your hand at making a classic Roman dish for dinner.

8:30 p.m. Dinner and dessert

Now that you’ve sufficiently stimulated your appetite, it’s time for the main event. If you’re still inspired by one of the chefs you took your cooking lesson with earlier in the day, head back to the cucina with him or her. For something new, brush up on your Italian (or get some help from Google Translate) and try your hand at one of the pasta all’Amatriciana recipes that Rome’s only Michelin-starred female chef, Cristina Bowerman, shared with La Stampa last month. Pair it with a montepulciano d’abruzzo red wine (or, honestly, whatever wine you have on hand). 

If you want to stick to a multi-course Roman menu, check out Parla’s 2016 book, Tasting Rome, in which you’ll find recipes celebrating Rome’s rich culinary past. 

For dessert, it’s gelato, of course. U.S. residents can order a six-pack of Nancy’s Fancy, made by chef Nancy Silverton, co-owner of the Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Osteria Mozza. And since the American outposts opened in the last few years, Los Angelenos can make everyone else in the country jealous by getting some of Rome’s famous Fatamorgana Gelato delivered via Postmates or UberEats. 

A Cinema Lover’s Guide to Rome

10 p.m. Cinema night

You’ve indulged in many eras of Rome by now, and it’s time to end the night in 1960 with Federico Fellini’s triumph, La Dolce Vita. Follow paparazzo Marcello Rubini through seven days and nights in Rome as he restlessly pursues the titular “sweet life,” Trevi Fountain swimming fantasies included. (See? That over-the-shoulder coin toss earlier in the day worked!) 

Whatever you do at home, remember this: Rome has withstood the reign of Nero, the Antonine Plague, sackings, and lots of gladiatorial games—and the Eternal City will be ready for you to visit again, too. 

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