First, the good news: you’re finally on vacation in the breathtaking Eternal City. The bad news? Roman summer is hot. Really, really hot. Sweltering, even. Temperatures in July waver between the low 80s to mid 90s, and hotels, restaurants, and public transportation aren’t always air-conditioned. Anita Ekberg’s iconic dip in the Trevi Fountain suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Luckily, with a bit of creativity and planning, it’s not impossible to savor the city and keep cool at the same time.
The summer heat is a great excuse to eat plenty of Italy’s famed gelato. However, beware: many gelaterias in Rome use powdered mixes instead of fresh, natural ingredients. For a perfect taste of authentic gelato, look for flavor colors that are found in nature (hint: mint gelato should be white, not bright green) and that lay flat in their container (industrially made gelato will be piled high in the display case). If you’re in the historic center, stop by Gelateria del Teatro (Via di San Simone, 70) near Piazza Navona. The gelato extraordinaires here whip up delectable flavors with pistachios from Sicily and lemons from the Amalfi coast. Those with a more adventurous palate will delight in the quirky rosewater-and-black-rice or basil-and-honey concoctions at Fatamorgana (Via Roma Libera, 11) in Trastevere. If you’re near St. Peters, skip tourist traps and head to nearby Gelateria dei Gracchi (Via dei Gracchi, 272)—their pear-and-ricotta gelato is divine.
When thrist calls, head straight for a nasone. These convenient bronze public water fountains (called literally “big noses” for the shape of their spigots) deliver clean, cold, and delicious water that comes directly from mountain springs via the repaired ancient aqueducts. Fill up your water bottle or block the end of the spigot with your thumb to let the water shoot out the hole on the top—a quick and easy water fountain. There are 2,500 nasoni in Rome, but in case you have trouble finding one, download the handy app, I Nasoni di Roma, on your smartphone.
Sick of the sun? Consider going underground. Over 50% of ancient Rome still lies buried beneath the modern city, and much of it is open for exploration. Visit the early medieval church directly underneath Basilica San Clemente (Via S Giovanni in Laterano) as well as the 1st-century Roman domus and mithraeum on an even lower level. Lose yourself in the winding ancient catacombs of San Calisto (Via Appia Antica, 110/126) where the early Christians were buried. Or join Real Rome Tours (www.realrometours.com) for an unforgettable glimpse into the city’s ancient past on the Colosseum Underground Tour. Visitors are escorted beneath the arena to hidden spaces closed to the public until recently, including the gladiators’ dungeons and animal cages where competitors paced before battles.
If you’re looking to cool off the old-fashioned way, pack your bathing suit and head to nearby Santa Marinella beach, a 30-40-minute ride from Termini, Trastevere, or St. Peter’s train stations. A swim in the Mediterranean beats elbowing through tourists any day. Lake Bracciano is another local favorite. Formed by a volcanic eruption an estimated 40,000 years ago, Bracciano is considered one of the cleanest lakes in the country thanks to its strict regulations against pollution-causing motorboats. Tourists and locals are drawn to the lake not just to swim, but also to scuba-dive, canoe, and sail. Inspired? Take the Metro B to the Piramide stop and hop on a regional train to Bracciano.
Don’t leave the city behind without exploring it after sunset—Rome is illuminated at night and can transform even the most die-hard skeptic into a romantic. Wander through Piazza del Popolo (located at the city’s ancient northern gate) and slowly make your way down to the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Navona, where you can marvel at Bernini’s magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers by moonlight. If you prefer a guided tour, Presto Tours (www.prestotours.com) takes small groups to the most iconic sites of the city by sunset, and can also book night visits to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Got all your sightseeing accomplished in the daytime hours? Eating Italy Food Tours (www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com) offers twilight excursions through the quaint, cobblestoned neighborhood of Trastevere where they will spoil you with a wine tasting in a cellar older than the Colosseum, a plate of homemade ravioli, and a sampling of Rome’s best biscotti. La dolce vita indeed.