5 Classic Rome Cafés | Andrew Harper

Many European cities have classic cafés, places that have been interwoven with society and culture for decades or even centuries. Some, like Demel in Vienna or Caffè Florian in Venice, are now chiefly tourist attractions, the locals having long since departed for somewhere quieter and less expensive. But others, like Café de Flore in Paris, still retain much of their authenticity, despite the year-round throngs of visitors. Here are five of our favorite classic cafés in Rome.

Antico Caffè Greco

Rome has innumerable cafés, but the oldest is Antico Caffè Greco on Via Condotti. Established in 1760, it is famous as the former haunt of literary and musical titans such as Stendhal, Goethe, Liszt and Wagner. Today, foreign visitors form the overwhelming majority of the clientele. However, I am sometimes tempted back in winter, when the elegant salons, with their formally attired waiters, velvet banquettes and fascinating art collection, can still summon the ghosts of the 19th-century Grand Tour.


A short stroll away, on the lovely pedestrian Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, Ciampini attracts affluent, designer-clad Romans, many of whom work in the fashion houses and upscale boutiques that line the nearby Via Frattina. The atmosphere is lively, the staff are friendly and hospitable, and on a sunny day it is a joy to sit beneath one of the café’s large white umbrellas, watching life pass by. I have lost track of the times I have arrived midmorning for a coffee, eventually succumbed to a glass of wine and then stayed for lunch (inevitably concluded with one of Ciampini’s famous gelati).

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè

A very different establishment, the tiny Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè lies a brief walk to the south on the Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, adjacent to the Pantheon. This is the most celebrated venue in Rome for a breakfast caffeine fix — it is said that the Romans have invented a near-endless number of ways to drink coffee — and at the beginning of the working day people often stand three deep at the stainless steel counter. I prefer to arrive a little later, when the crowds have thinned, and to sit at one of the small tables outside, with an espresso and a pastry. Arabica beans have been roasted on a wood-fueled, hand-calibrated coffee roaster here since 1948.

Canova and Rosati

Arguably, Rome’s two most glamorous cafés are both to be found on the Piazza del Popolo, the exquisite neoclassical square that lies just inside the Aurelian Walls, at the starting point of Via Flaminia, the principal Roman road to the north. On the southeastern corner of the piazza, Canova is a grand café and restaurant, much favored by guests at the adjacent Hotel de Russie. In Rome, you tend to be either a habitué of Canova or its art deco rival, Rosati, on the opposite (southwestern) corner of the square. Personally, my loyalty has always belonged to the latter. Dating from 1922, Rosati was once regarded as a literary café, frequented by luminaries such as Italo Calvino and Alberto Moravia, but nowadays it is principally Roman businesspeople and foreign tourists who fill its tables beneath the cream-colored awning. (As the evening wears on, the ratio of Romans to visitors tilts progressively toward the former.) The prices are predictably high — some might say ridiculous — but the people-watching is peerless. And the setting is not just aesthetically exquisite but animated until the early hours of the morning.

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Avoiding the Crowds in Rome

Avoiding the Crowds in Rome | Andrew Harper


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Things to Do in Rome | From My Notebook

St. Peter’s Cathedral with Ponte Sant’Angelo – ThinkStock/bhidethescene

January 30, 2017 | By Andrew Harper

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Eternal City is its historical continuity. The Ponte Fabricio, which spans the Tiber to the Isola Tiberina, dates from 62 B.C. and remains in daily use. And 2,000 years after it was built, the Pantheon still has the world’s largest unreinforced dome.

With so many layers of history and architecture, it could take a lifetime to discover all of Rome’s riches. I suggest visiting during the particularly beautiful ottobrate, from mid-September to the end of October, and savoring rather than devouring all that the city has to offer.

Climb the Capitoline Stairway

Capitoline Stairway in Rome

Thinkstock/Andrea Calandra

On my first evening back in Rome, I like to climb Michelangelo’s Cordonata Capitolina (Capitoline Stairway) to the Capitoline Hill. There’s a spot where you can lean on a wall and look out over the Forum. Piranesi made etchings of this view, and it’s the place where Gibbon decided to write The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In the evening, when most of the crowds have gone home, it is supremely atmospheric.

Tour the Vatican Necropolis or Museums

Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome


Few people are aware that it is possible to explore the Vatican Necropolis directly below St. Peter’s Basilica, which contains the tomb of St. Peter. Visitor numbers are limited, and requests for the guided tours must be submitted to the Excavations Office. The Vatican Museums, in contrast, are known to everyone. Reserve a tour guide, who can help you bypass the daunting entry line.

Visit the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi

Church of St. Louis of the French in Rome


While strolling from the Piazza Navona to the Pantheon, be sure to visit the lovely Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. There, in the Contarelli Chapel, you will find a superb trinity of works by the Baroque artist Caravaggio dedicated to the life of St. Matthew. (Other stunning Caravaggios are to be found in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.)

Order Ice Cream at Giolitti

Ice cream counter in Giolitti


A mandatory stop in Rome is Giolitti, steps from the Pantheon and the city’s oldest ice cream parlor. Try the fruit-flavored varieties, the essence of each season. And for some of the best coffee and people-watching in Rome, make it a point to spend an interlude at Sant’Eustachio il Caffè, a favorite gathering spot for the Roman literati.

Via Uffici del Vicario 40

Sant’Eustachio il Caffè
Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82

Go Shopping

Leather handbag from Del Giudice - Del Giudice
Scarf from Claudio Cutuli - Cutuli

Whenever we visit Rome, Mrs. Harper never fails to purchase a discreetly stylish scarf or two at the Claudio Cutuli boutique near the Pantheon. She also loves the striking leather handbags at Del Giudice, a couple of blocks to the north. The handmade totes and purses look effortlessly chic.

Cutuli Store
Via Delle Colonnelle 10

Del Giudice
Via Delle Stelletta 24

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Andrew Harper is the editor of the Hideaway Report, a luxury travel newsletter that first appeared in 1979. He travels anonymously and pays his own expenses in pursuit of unique properties that offer unusually high levels of personal service. Hotels have no idea who he is, so he is treated exactly as you might be.

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9 Best Restaurants in Rome | From My Notebook

9 Best Restaurants in Rome | From My Notebook | Andrew Harper


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