9 Places Designers Will Fall in Love with in Rome

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One word: ROME. You don’t have to be a designer to appreciate the artistry of this ancient city, but if you are, I guarantee it takes on a whole new level of meaning to you. Today I want to share some of this incredible, life-changing city with you. (Literally, it changed my life 3 years ago.)

Whether you’ve seen Rome in person or seen it in photos, my goal is to share at least a few things — FOOD included — that you might not have encountered before. To do so, I’ve been helped by my husband D., a native Italian and amateur historian, who helped me see (and taste) Rome from a different point of view this time.

So without further ado, let’s get inspired!

1. The Roman Forum (Foro Romano)

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The Roman Forum is located right next to the Colosseum and is INCREDIBLE. For some reason, though, I have never seen or heard it mentioned when people talk about Rome. Yes, I know the Colosseum is gigantic and impressive (you should see it at least once), but I found the Roman Forum to be far more transportive and breathtaking.

Imagine wandering the sprawling remains of an ancient city and marketplace: temples and streets, where people really lived, breathed, prayed, worked, sold their goods, plied their trades, and more. Real people. Like us. More than 2000 years ago.

It will blow your mind.

Pro Tips

  1. Go when it opens if you want this magical place to yourself.

  2. If you’re planning to go to the Colosseum, buy your tickets for the Colosseum AT the Roman Forum entrance. The line is significantly shorter. When we got to the Colosseum, we bypassed hundreds of people who were waiting in line and walked right in.

2. Piazza Venezia

piazza venezia venice plaza behind colosseum design inspiration

Piazza Venezia is behind the Roman Forum (opposite direction from the Colosseum). Pictured left is the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument. It is HUGE. Massive. Gargantuan. Words cannot describe the size of this palace and pictures do not do it justice. Just promise me you’ll go…

Pictured right is the Santa Maria di Loreto church, picturesque in the setting sun with warm tones, birds circling overhead, and right next to…

3. Trajan’s Market (Mercati di Traiano)

trajan market rome inspiration designers

Trajan’s Market is believed to be the first multi-story, covered market in history. Built almost 2,000 years ago in 100 A.D., the market was (is) 6 stories high and held more than 150 shops and apartments.

In fact, I did some reading, and it turns out that Trajan’s Market isn’t so different from the markets we enjoy today. They sold spices and food, wool and textiles, even luxury goods. Can we call it an ancient High Point Market? Maybe, maybe not… but it sure is interesting!

They host tours within the structure, but this grassy area you see is off-limits to all but caretakers… and surprisingly enough, a community of calico cats!

4. Capitoline Museum

capitoline museum roman history design inspiration interior designers

If you’re fascinated by Roman history, stone sculptures, intricate interior design work, and Renaissance paintings, Capitoline Museum will not disappoint. Located at the far end of the Roman Forum (opposite the Colosseum), this museum is any artist’s or designer’s delight!

capitoline museum roman statue marble sandals

I think we could all use pair of sandals like these! 😉

5. The Pantheon

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Built in 113 A.D., the Pantheon is one of the few churches (initially Roman, later Catholic) that has continually been in use. You’ll notice that Rome has hundreds, if not thousands, of churches, but this one struck me as one of the oldest.

The large granite Corinthian columns have a darkness to them that feels old yet ageless. Inside, gorgeous marble stretches across the floors, internal columns, and much of the walls in shades of ochre (couldn’t resist), garnet, rose, charcoal, white, and grey.

Above it all, a dome and oculus shine light down into this massive space. In fact, I read that the Pantheon holds the record for the largest unreinforced concrete dome. So if you love natural stone and are willing to take the risk (kidding), the Pantheon will be a treat!

6. Piazza Navona

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Built in the 1st Century A.D., Piazza Navona is one of the more famous plazas in Rome. Back in the day, townspeople would gather here to watch games. Now, it is full of shops, restaurants, lively music, the occasional theater performance, and visitors from all over the world.

7. Piazza del Popolo

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Piazza del Popolo is stunning up close, and if you take the stairs located across the plaza from the buildings pictured above, you can walk on up to get a great view of the city. Yes, you will be assailed by folks trying to sell you water, wares, or photos with them in their gladiator costumes, but the view is worth it!

There’s also a really great sandwich shop just around the corner here. But I’ll include a food list at the end of this post.

8. Vatican City

vatican city design inspiration guide to rome

Whether you’re religious or not, the Vatican is a design wonder to behold. The architecture, stonework, and sheer size of the city is worth the visit. I wish I had gone to see the Sistine Chapel, but alas, I have zero patience when it comes to standing in lines, so… please go see it for me and tell me what you think!

9. San Clemente Church

Imagine 3 LEVELS OF HISTORY on top of each other! You walk into an expansive and impressive 12th Century basilica, but then you walk down a flight of stairs, and there’s another basilica from the 4th Century! And THEN, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you walk down another flight of stairs, and there’s a pagan temple from the 1st Century!

I’m of the opinion that if you’ve seen one basilica you’ve seen them all (or at least most of them), but this place was extremely memorable.

Funny story… I visited this church before D. and I had ever met, so when we were there together, I spun my most convincing tale to get him to see it again with me. The only problem… I got the name wrong. We ended up in the Capuchin Crypt instead, which is exactly what it sounds — a crypt — where everything from chandeliers to tables to chairs was made from… human bones. Safe to say, he no longer takes my suggestions without a little research first. Poor guy!

Which is all to say that I don’t have any photos of this one, but you can check Google photos here to get a taste!

Bonus: Random Side Streets

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My last bit of advice is to just wander around! The architecture in Italy is so different from what we’re used to seeing in the U.S. You could pick any random street, start walking, and find something that takes your breath away, from surprising colors to natural terrazzo. So go on and explore!

3 Non-Touristy Places to Eat in Rome

We can’t talk about Rome without talking about food, am I right? There are a lot of places in Rome, especially in the city center, that cater to tourists and the food is good, but not great.

If you’re looking for an authentic Roman experience, here are my suggestions. Okay, here are D’s suggestions, because let’s face it, without him and his well-trained Italian palate, I would have had no idea where to go!

1. Coffee: 089 Zer0ttoNove Café et Caffé

Delicious coffee, made with a real Neapolitan coffee machine. We even saw a famous Italian politician sipping his daily brew here, so you know it must be good. I ordered a café macchiato (like a creamy espresso shot) and it was so smooth!

2. Panini To Go: La Vita è Un Mozzico

This sandwich shop is incredible and right near Piazza del Popolo. This is another spot that was filled with Italian locals go on their lunch break. And I trust the locals. As we left, I also saw a photo of Bobby Flay eating at this place — need I say more?

Definitely order the focaccia for the sandwich bread. For the inside, I loved mortadella with fresh ricotta, while D. loved the porcetta with ricotta. If you’re looking for veggies (I walked in looking for an eggplant and bell pepper panini), this is definitely not the place for you.

3. Dinner: Ristorante Grano

Confession: We ran out of time and didn’t end up eating here, but I feel that it’s my solemn duty to help you avoid the tourist traps and eat at a real authentic Italian place. THIS was the one we had our eye on. They offer traditional dishes and some delicious looking creations of their own. Definitely feeling regret right now, so please do go and tell me how it is.

3 Distinctly Roman Dishes to Order

1. “Pinsa”

Pinsa is the Romans’ version of pizza. It’s rectangular, a slightly thicker crust, and a teensy bit smaller than a traditional Italian pizza. I was also told that it’s a “lighter” version of pizza. In case you’re wondering, I thought they were digestively similar. Lol.

2. “Cacio e Pepe” or Carbonara

This dish is a combination of pecorino cheese “cacio” and black pepper “pepe”. I’m not a huge fan of plain pecorino, but I tried this combo on pinsa and pasta, and both were delicious! You can also up-level this dish to carbonara (also a specialty of Rome’s) if you’re not opposed to the addition of guanciale bacon.

3. Amatriciana

This dish is like the “red” version of carbonara. The ingredients are similar (pecorino, guanciale) but with the addition of tomatoes. As a tomato lover, I preferred this one. SO MUCH FLAVOR!

And that’s a wrap! I hope you found some surprises, some inspiration, and a colorful guide to bookmark and reference for your next trip.

And in case you missed it… you can also find design inspiration from Japan here, from Mexico here, and from Switzerland here. Happy travels! 😉

Xo,

Jaquilyn

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