One of the most beautiful and romantic places to spend the holiday season is Rome. The city is bursting with a festive spirit, from the Piazza Navona Christmas Market to the traditional Christmas mass and the supposed 100 nativity scenes that sit out in front of churches big and small. St. Peter’s Square lights its own gorgeous Christmas tree; ice skating rinks pop up near the Castel Sant’Angelo; and kids can breathlessly explore Italy’s biggest toy store, Little Big Town, near the Piazza Venezia. The cold, wintry weather adds to the cozy, intimate feeling of a classic Christmas holiday spent like the Romans.
Breakfast: Romans are quick and easy with their breakfast — it usually just includes an espresso, enjoyed standing up, and maybe (on special occasions) a small paste, or pastry. Sant’Eustachio’s has long been considered some of the best coffee money can buy you in Rome, while Pasticceria Mondi draws lines for their small, savory sandwiches and perfect pastries. Sit inside the library at the cozy and sleek Via Settembrini, where the walls are lined with books and there’s a large communal table made of marble. This is your top spot for a chic and leisurely morning meal. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Mulia)
Lunch: Step downstairs into the classic trattoria, Checchino dal 1887, which has been serving authentic and hearty Roman cuisine, as its name would indicate, for almost 125 years. The room is quaint, simple, and elegant, with white tablecloths and the feel that very little has been updated, and certainly not recently. Situated somewhat away from the main tourist drag, Checchino is commonly filled with local food lovers, business people on lunch break, and in-the-know visitors dining on eggs with vegetables, homemade pastas, oxtail stew with tomato sauce and pine nuts, and a whole repertoire of offal dishes. If you’d like to just sit back and soak up the traditions of the place and its flavors, order the “historical tasting menu.”
Dinner: Choosing a restaurant for dinner in Rome is much like choosing one in New York City. You’ll dine incredibly well, but there are any number of places of all shapes and sizes to recommend for stellar experiences. The only Michelin three-star restaurant in Rome, La Pergola, is in one of the city’s most beautiful settings, the Rome Cavalieri Hotel. This is the pinnacle of fine dining in the city, whether you go with the multi-course Gourmet Menu, or choose dishes like poached eggs with white truffle or medallions of lamb with artichokes and Italian herbs from the à la carte menu.
Or, for a more informal and typically Roman experience, stop into Trattoria Al Moro — designer Valentino's favorite Roman restaurant — for their signature spaghetti alla carbonara. Tucked away behind the Trevi Fountain for more than 80 years, Al Moro is famous not only for pasta but for such other local specialties as roasted goat and pan-fried artichokes.
Drinks: Go to Freni e Frizioni, which translates to “brakes and clutches,” in the morning and you’ll find delicious coffee and a too-cool, hip vibe. Saunter into the converted ex-garage, overlooking Politeama Square, in the evening and you’re met with a trendy and Bohemian atmosphere, with incredible cocktails and a buffet of pizzas and salads to loyal imbibers that spread out into the square throughout the evening. eclectic art on the walls.
Hidden Gem: Shopping for food is an experience unto itself in Rome, where stores are chock-full of delicious gourmet items and wafting scents. Volpetti is no exception. It is lined, with no space to spare, with cured meats, cheeses, freshly baked breads, locally sourced olive oils, a large selection of red and white wines, dry pasta, caviar, vinegars, preserves, and aromatic coffee beans. Stroll through and just try to tear yourself away without a full cart of mouthwatering Italian goodies. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/seventyoneplace)