There are Rome cafes on just about every corner. These are actually called "bars." A bar in Rome is where you can get a sandwich, breakfast, coffee, fruit salad, etc. Usually, you stand. (It costs more to sit.)
My favorite way to have a coffee is to just go in, have my coffee and then move on. That is indeed how most Romans have their coffee (although if they are with someone, they will turn a quick coffee into a longer chat, but even then, usually standing at the bar.)
But if you want to sit and linger and watch the world go by...see below for some great cafes in Rome.
There are lots of great Rome cafés for sitting and soaking up the atmosphere. These are where I go when I want this type of experience (other than in my ‘hood, Porta Metronia, where I go to my local bar, Mezzo Pieno which has a lovely ambiance, and tables on the square. It’s a very relaxed and relaxing place to just sit and hang out and watch the people and their kids and dogs go by.)
Caffe Greco is a Rome institution. They have been here for 250 years. And indeed, when you step inside, you do feel as if you are stepping back to another age.
Over the decades, painters, artists, writers (Keats and Shelley), have all spent time in this caffe.
It's not inexpensive to sit and soak up this lush and very Roman scenery (this tea was 10€), but you can stay as long as you like, and enjoy watching the Roman men have meetings and talk with their hands, or the waiters in their long-tails elegantly carrying trays of espresso to patrons. via Condotti 86, just off the bottom of the Spanish Steps (and thus a perfect stop when you need a break from shopping!)
Any time I am strolling behind Piazza Navona, usually shopping on via del Governo Vecchio, I like to stop here, even if only for a cup of coffee. But if I can manage a mid-afternoon snack, they have the most gorgeous array of pastries, including the types of pear/chocolate cakes, or apple cakes with cream sauce, that you normally don’t find in Rome. They also make a lovely iced tea, brewed on the spot. It is not cheap to sit here and have a pastry and coffee, but it makes for a wonderful treat. Via del Governo Vecchio, 12
This unassuming little café between the Pantheon and via del Corso is a quiet, peaceful retreat. It seems to be from another era and indeed it is. For me, Caffe Doria is a great spot in colder months, because it’s so cozy. This is not a Rome café with tables outside, so people-watching is limited. But there is a different kind of treat: From the café, you can enter the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and view some of the amazing artworks of their family collection there. Via della Gatta 1A
I love Ciampini in piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina. It is a classic Rome see-and-be-seen hangout, but it’s still a basic old-fashioned Rome café. (In the photo above, Ciampini is the one on the left.)
They serve coffee, food, aperitifs and most importantly, some of Rome’s best gelato!
If you happen to be enjoying the Monti neighbourhood, in particular, via del Boschetto, don't miss a coffee stop at this cafe. It is the local hangout spot in via del Boschetto, perfectly placed right in the middle, making it the go-to coffee bar for all the local merchants up and down the street.
But that is not the only reason to go there of course. The coffee is excellent! They have won many awards for their coffee, so for me, it's a perfect break spot, but I also really look forward to having their coffee. It's never bitter, and they always seem to take great care in making each one just right.
Er Baretto is Roman, meaning "the little bar." Via Del Boschetto, 132
Finally, and probably most famously, there is Cafe Sant’Eustachio, also near the Pantheon.
They are famous because they got written up in the New York Times, but also because they have this mystique about their coffee: you cannot watch it being made. In the photo below, the coffee machine has a partition on one side and a kind of dark wing on the other.
It comes with the sugar already in it (unless you tell them otherwise), and the coffee itself is all foamed and creamy on the top. I personally think the trick is a touch of baking soda but this is just a guess on my part.
Anyway, things you need to know about Cafe Sant’Eustachio:
It’s important to note the difference in price you will pay when you stand up in a Rome cafe or sit down at a table. Bar prices are usually around 80 cents for an espresso and around 1 Euro for a cappuccino. Once you sit down, you will pay for table service. In theory, and by law, every bar needs to have these prices posted clearly.
I can never find them but I don’t look that hard. It has nothing to do with your being a tourist. It’s just that once you sit, you need to pay for the service. Hence, you don’t need to tip. Expect about a 200-300% markup from bar prices for the privilege of sitting down, depending on where.
As a caveat, this is not the case for Rome cafes in local neighborhoods, especially when they know you.
You may also be interested in these pages:
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