Born and raised in Rome, Dino Margiotta has always been fascinated by the city’s winding cobblestone streets, famous sights and rich history. His love for his hometown inspired him to pursue a Ph.D. in history from the University of Rome. Today he shares his passion and extensive knowledge with visitors, working as a private Viator guide and creating custom tours for travelers interested in Rome’s food, culture and history. He wants to turn visitors on to the real Rome, taking them to sites they might not find in a typical travel guide.
We caught up with Dino to find out more about the Eternal City. Read on to learn what to see, when to visit, and which dish you absolutely must try before going home. (Hint: it involves lots of mozzarella cheese!)
What is one fact about Rome that surprises most visitors?
It’s impossible to experience the city in just a few days. Rome offers an endless list of experiences and sights. You can’t squeeze all its charms into a short visit.
Can you give us a tip to help visitors better understand Rome’s culture?
Live as the Romans do! Embrace local customs like eating the Italian breakfast of “cappuccino e cornetto” while standing at the bar, rather than sitting at a table. Use hand gestures when you communicate. And of course eat at family-run pizzerias and trattorias. The locals know these are the best places to taste our delicious cuisine.
If a visitor to Rome could only eat one thing, what should it be?
It’s rigatoni or spaghetti alla carbonara served with local pecorino cheese. It’s always a crowd pleaser. If you’re on the go and have no time to sit, try the suppli, a rice ball made with ragu sauce and a warm heart of stringy mozzarella.
If a visitor has only one day to spend in Rome, what can’t they miss?
The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Spanish Steps and the Vatican Museum. I think eating a gelato is also a must-do.
Rome is an ancient city. Where should travelers go to experience its modern side?
The cool new urban artist neighborhoods Il Pigneto and San Lorenzo. The first one is a trendy little village-like area just outside the Aurelian Wall, and the second is a spot popular with students and the young bohemian crowd. You’ll find underground cafés, bars, hip restaurants and live-music venues.
What is your favorite less-visited area or attraction in Rome?
It’s the Aventine, the so-called “hill of poetry.” It’s one of the Eternal City’s best-kept secrets. You can get a breathtaking view of the city from here.
What do you like to do on your days off?
I spend my time in the libraries and archives discovering new things about the bi-millennial history of Rome and working on my Ph.D. dissertation. In the evenings you can find me hanging out in a pizzeria or having a glass of good wine with friends.
What is your favorite restaurant in Rome?
It is the family-run Taverna dei Fori Imperiali near the Colosseum. I love their polpettone di vitello con pistacchi (veal and pistachio meatballs).
Rome is considered an expensive city. What are some ways to save money?
Take advantage of the wonderful Italian tradition called aperitivo. At most restaurants, the price of a drink also includes some pizza, bruschetta, salads and desserts. I am a huge fan of the aperitivo!
How do you beat the crowds?
Visit in May or November. You can get a better sense of the real city without dealing with huge crowds. Plus the weather’s perfect!
– Contributed by Helen Anne Travis