With masking and vaccination requirements largely dropped in Italy and summer approaching, crowds of travelers have begun to return to Rome’s Centro Storico — the area most dependent on tourism and the hardest hit by the pandemic — according to hoteliers and others working near Rome’s iconic spots.
“Trevi Square and the whole center of Rome is full of tourists again,” said Fabrizio Rezza, reservations manager for the Hotel Fontana, referring to the throngs around the storied monument in front of the hotel, Trevi Fountain. “It seems like no one is afraid of COVID any longer.”
And so the Eternal City continues to live up to its name, boosted by some long-awaited reopenings and a crop of new restaurants, hotels and cultural spots all over town.
Museums, ancient sites
Under renovation since 2007, the distinctive circular Mausoleum of Agustus (5-euro admission) began welcoming the public again last year, and the Casa Romana, a fourth-century dwelling beneath the free Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco, has also reopened after an even longer hiatus.
Among Rome’s fledgling cultural venues, the new Museo Ninfeo offers visitors the chance to admire the ruins of a former hideaway and pleasure garden for emperors like Claudius and Caligula. (The museum is open Saturday and Sunday only. An adult ticket costs 14.30 euros and can be purchased through Vivaticket.) The just-opened and free Garum museum, named after an ancient Roman fish sauce, traces the history of Italian cooking and eating. Housed in a 16th-century palazzo, the new museum showcases centuries-old utensils, vessels, molds and other cookware, as well an extensive library of books and prints related to the culinary arts.
Italy has also reintroduced free admission for state museums and archaeological sites the first Sunday of each month. At all other times, certain tourist hot spots, notably the Colosseum site (which includes the Forum and Palatine Hill; 16 euros) and Galleria Borghese (13 euros; free for those 17 and under), require tickets to be purchased online.
Buffet of restaurants
Over the past two years, many beloved restaurants in Rome were forced to shutter, such as Michelin-starred Metamorfosi, the panoramic hilltop Lo Zodiaco, and Doozo, considered by some to have been Rome’s best Japanese restaurant.
But fittingly for a food-centric city, Rome’s red-hot dining scene is serving up a vast buffet of new restaurants, from thin-crust pizzerias awash in craft beer (L’Elementare), to gourmet delis abounding in prosciutto platters and grilled meats (Aventina), to natural-wine boutiques with an ace selection of Italian dishes served from an open kitchen at the back (Enoteca l’Antidoto).
Some of the most-sought new tables are at Romane, the new restaurant from celebrity chef and restaurateur Stefano Callegari, famous as the inventor of the trapizzino, a conelike bread container that can be filled with anything from eggplant parmigiana to beef tongue in green sauce. Loud, friendly and unpretentious, Romane serves up reverent and occasionally embellished takes on classic Italian cuisine, including crackly fried artichoke, spaghetti Amatriciana and “the best chicken cacciatore I ever ate in my life,” in the words of food journalist and olive oil specialist Luciana Squadrilli. Expect to pay around 60 euros for a three-course meal for two people.
The lack of tourists also hurt the accommodations sector, which has suffered some of the worst losses. According to Giorgio Palmucci, president of ENIT, the national tourism agency, around 400 regional hotels have closed during the pandemic. They include giants like the Sheraton Hotel Roma and Conference Center and the Selene, which had hosted luminaries like former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Despite significant losses, the hotel sector is starting to rebound, thanks to recent arrivals like the luxurious W Rome (rates in May from 720 euros) and the kitsch-cool Mama Shelter Roma (rates in May from 289 euros), with its roof bar, coworking space and plant-draped restaurant. The Maalot Roma (rates in May from 423 euros) is a hushed townhouse blending contemporary artworks and historical furnishings (tufted couches, Oriental carpets) that has been earning raves for the plush Don Pasquale restaurant.
While waiting for your table, you can sit at the intimate two-seat bar and sip the excellent signature cocktail, Almost a Classic Drink (14 euros), which enlightens a traditional Vieux Carre with a dose of grappa.
For slimmer billfolds and more Scandinavian tastes, the new 55-room Camplus Hotel Roma Centro (rates in May from 123 euros) is a haven of clean lines and muted colors near the city’s central rail station, Termini.
Summer festivals are set to unfold around Rome, with some returning after a pandemic-era pause. In late May, around 60 master pizza chefs will knead, toss and bake their way into the hearts (and stomachs) of those attending the free La Citta della Pizza. The festival celebrates Italy’s most famous food in its many permutations — Neapolitan, Roman, folded, fried — as well as bread and olive oil, and a free “pizza school” will offer further indoctrination into the art of the pie. You can then wash it all down in mid-June with some of the 2,500 Italian and international vintages on hand at Vinoforum (admission 20 euros), the city’s big annual wine and spirits gala.
On the musical front, the citywide, multiweek concert series known as Rock in Roma (most shows 20 to 40 euros) makes its return in June after a two-year hiatus. Held at large venues around town — notably the ancient Circus Maximus — this year’s series will feature Italian and international performing artists like Patti Smith, Massive Attack, Herbie Hancock, Suicidal Tendencies and Maneskin.
The Italian government has lifted the country’s state of emergency and recently eliminated many of the former regulations, though proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 is still required to enter Italy from a foreign country. Within Italy, such proof is no longer required to enter nearly all venues, and masks are no longer mandatory in the vast majority of indoor spaces.
The notable exceptions are public transportation and enclosed entertainment venues — including movie theaters, playhouses and concert halls — which require FFP2-type masks (similar to N95 and KN95 models). Current health guidelines can be found on the official Italia tourism website: italia.it/en.