Travel guide to visiting Rome

it was always a question of politeness. We’d already tested the phrase on Mauro, the Sardinian owner of The Good Bear Café in Bath. He’d reacted with nods of approval, so we knew it would work, even if the accent still needed a bit more espresso.

“Possiamo portare il cane?” (sort of: ‘can we bring the dog in?’). The answer was nearly always, “si, certo!”.

Cafes, restaurants, even some supermarkets were clearly open to the obvious charms of our miniature Golden Doodle dog Riley who seemed to smile at every opportunity.  

We’d arrived in Rome in late February, after a two-day drive through France, Switzerland and then Italy. Riley had taken the long journey in her stride, curling up in the back or occasionally propping herself up, to look out of the window. She did this for most of Switzerland, clearly enjoying the snow-topped mountain views.

Cafes and culture 

One of our favourite restaurants in Rome is Il Margutta, an arty vegetarian and vegan restaurant on the beautiful Via Margutta, between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo. We’d almost assumed Riley would not be allowed and prepared ourselves to eat alone but the reality was very different.

Like all restaurants and cafes we visited in Rome, Riley was very welcome. From Origano on Largo dei Chiavari to the Buddy Italian Restaurant Cafè on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, from Solo Crudo on Via Federico Cesi to Etabli on Vicolo delle Vacche, Riley was always allowed in and often provided with water and a lot of local love.

One exception was the historic and touristy Caffe Greco on Via dei Condotti but that didn’t matter because Rome is not short on great cafes. We spent most mornings drinking a cappuccino in the tranquil caffe at the Chiostro del Brumante, either sitting on the old seats looking over the cloisters or in the adjoining room with sofas and a small window that looks onto the neighbouring church and a Raphael mural.

For a rooftop view of the city, we took Riley to the veggie/vegan Mater Terrae bar and restaurant on top of the Raphael Hotel on Largo Febo. The staff here were exceptionally friendly and loved Riley. We drank Vecchia Romagna Italian brandies overlooking Rome’s terracotta rooftops, with views of St Peter’s Basilica and the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.

One place where Riley was allowed to explore with us was San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini, a church by Piazza dell’Oro, where you can see a religious relic, a shrine supposedly containing the foot bones of Mary Magdalene. It’s also home to a couple of Bernini statues. We also took Riley into two other churches without any trouble, the Oratorio dei Fillipini, and the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace.

Shopping

We managed to take Riley into all non-food shops, with the majority of owners or shop assistants keen to say hello. The exceptions were supermarkets, such as Coop and Carrefour Express, although we did take Riley into a Pam Local on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. The staff here seemed to enjoy the novelty of Riley and were warm and friendly.

After a few days in the city, we started to make assumptions. We no longer asked if we could take Riley into a place, the only exception being food shops. We did meet one local young man who was walking a Romagnolo near Piazza Cavour, who said that this was the best approach to take in Rome. Assume you can enter until told otherwise.

To be honest, Riley’s not a massive fan of shopping. She was much more at home being totally petted by one of the owners of the excellent rugby bar, Pub Uno Due on Largo del Teatro Valle. A Six Nations game on the big screen and Guinness on tap, she, or at least I was very at home.

Walking

There’s a chaotic rhythm to Rome, a sort of theatre that is rough around the edges but embracing and enchanting. Well-dressed Romans of all ages, walk the cobbled roads around the Centro Storico, mixing with tourists, embracing, kissing cheeks.

The bars and cafes spill out onto the streets. There’s a hustle, traffic, taxi drivers gesticulating, scooters weaving, priests in Ray Bans strutting the pavements, all against an architectural backdrop that spans the centuries.

Walking around Rome is a must. During the course of our stay, we managed to clock around seven miles a day minimum. From dedicated sightseeing walks to evening strolls, it’s not actually that difficult.

Staying in the centre, it was easy to stroll and take in a variety of sights and scenes. We tended to walk in three directions, towards Borghese via the Spanish Steps, towards Circo Massimo, via the Jewish quarter and Campidoglio and towards the Vatican or Piazza Cavour via the iconic, statue-lined Ponte Sant’Angelo.

Longer walks took us to Piramide di Caio Cestio and back via Giardino degli Aranci with its view over the city. We also walked out to the Catacombs on the southern edge of the city, taking in Quo Vadis chapel and the Appia Antica.


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