In search of the best gelato in Rome? You’ve come to the right place. I just had my first gelato of the season… and now, I clearly have everyone’s favorite frozen Italian treat on the brain.
But first? There are a couple of things any gelato lover has to know.
Good gelato tastes way different than ice cream — for a reason
Gelato isn’t just the Italian word for ice cream. It’s different than ice cream. And that means when eating gelato… you can expect a different flavor, and texture, than you would from ice cream back home.
First big difference: There’s less butterfat (4 to 8 percent, compared to 14 percent for ice cream). Result: Gelato freezes less solidly and is more melt-in-your-mouth.
Secondly, ice cream makers often increase the weight of their product with water, and its volume with air (an easy way to sell more, from less!). But according to E.U. regulations, that process, called “overrun,” isn’t allowed — meaning gelato is higher-density, and the flavor higher-impact. That also means that if ingredients are high-quality, you can really tell. Because you can really taste them. (Wild, I know!).
Finally, ice cream is made for long-term storage. Gelato isn’t. It’s frozen quickly, in small batches, so has to be eaten fresh.
Keep two gelato tips in mind
That li’l gelato primer might give you more of an idea of why I’m about to say the following.
One: Steer away from places with the pretty, puffy clouds of gelato. The fluffiness comes from artificial thickeners. (Or maybe overrun? Hmm…). And those huge mounds mean that they’re making lots of gelato in advance and reusing the leftovers each day (so much for freshness!).=
And two: If the colors are too bright, the gelato ain’t right. Those high-octane colors mean lots of chemicals were used in the process. (Ever tossed an apple in a blender, or a banana? Then you know they don’t come out bright green and bright yellow). So steer clear.
Just want to know where the best places are?
Without further ado, here they are! (And here’s a handy map to make your gelato-stalking even more successful!).
Ciampini, the best old-school shop for gelato in Rome
When it comes to gelato, Ciampini, an elegant little cafe on Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, isn’t trendy. The gelato isn’t organic. The flavors aren’t crazy. The foodies don’t (always) flock there.
So why do I find myself coming back for a scoop, week after week year after year? Because it’s just. So. Good. The mostly-classic flavors, like pistacchio and coffee, are done as they should be: all high-impact flavor and creamy texture. (No graininess or iciness here!). But what really keeps me coming back is the marron glacés (see up top), where bits of chewy, candied chestnut are mixed in. Pair it with the cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), and it’s a match made in rich-gelato-flavor heaven.
Ciampini is located at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina 29, in between the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.
Gelateria dei Gracchi, the best gelato stop near the Vatican
After a visit to the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo, reward yourself with this homemade gelato made from all-organic, fresh ingredients. Ignore the stark atmosphere and focus on the gelato instead: I especially love the chocolate-and-rum (made from chocolate fondant, not cocoa powder) and pistachio (made with fresh-roasted Sicilian pistachios) flavors.
Dei Gracchi is located at Via dei Gracchi 272, about a 10- to 15-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica or Castel Sant’Angelo.
Gelateria del Teatro
Among other things, Gelateria del Teatro wins for most charming location: It’s tucked just off the beautiful Via dei Coronari, not far from Piazza Navona.
Of course, its gelato is also top-notch. The ingredients are all-natural and high-quality, and the flavors creative — think white chocolate and basil or garden sage and raspberry. If you’re in the mood for something even more refreshing, you can’t go wrong with a granita, Italy’s answer to the slushy.
Update, May 2016: After a recent visit, I regret to say Gelateria del Teatro no longer does it for me. The size of the shop expanded a couple of years ago along with its reputation, and today it’s not only always completely packed with tourists, but the gelato itself has just lost some of its flavor. If you’re looking for great gelato in the center, head to Carapina instead.
Gelateria del Teatro is located at Via di San Simone 70, right off Via dei Coronari.
Il Gelato, a top stop for creative gelato in Rome
Il Gelato, and its gelato master/owner Claudio Torcé, already had attracted foodie fame for the shop’s all-natural ingredients and wild flavors. And then Il Gelato opened its most central location yet—just a short walk from Piazza del Popolo, right off Via del Corso. Which is dangerous amazing, because now it means it’s wayyyy too easy to pop in for a bite. Update, May 2013: This location of Il Gelato has just closed. (Noooo!) Check out the other location below for a bite.
There’s something here for everyone, from classic flavors (hazelnut, chocolate) to crazy ones (chocolate and chili pepper, gorgonzola). The ingredients are very high-quality, so no matter what you go with, my money’s on the fact that there won’t be any surprises: gorgonzola does taste like gorgonzola.
Il Gelato di Claudio Torcé’s most central location is located at Viale Aventino 59, near Circus Maximus.
I Caruso, for some of the most flavorsome gelato in Rome
I’ve sung the praises of I Caruso before. In brief, here’s what I like: They make their gelato on site (you can even watch them do it!) from all-fresh ingredients. The panna, whipped fresh right there, is delicious (go for the zabaglione flavor). Their fondente, a super-creamy dark chocolate is particularly good, as are the fruit gelatos, which burst with flavor. (If it’s in season, try the mandarin orange). The secret’s out on this hole-in-the-wall gelateria, though, so if you’re here in the height of summer, be prepared to wait.
I Caruso is located at Via Collina 13/15, about a 10-minute walk from the Termini or Repubblica train stations.
Fatamorgana, for the best natural gelato in Rome
Finally, Monti has a top-notch, artisanal gelateria! That’s thanks to Fatamorgana, which opened a new location here about a year ago. With fresh ingredients, and without colorings, gluten, or chemicals, Fatamorgana’s gelato is the real deal. It’s also delicious.
Fatamorgana is located at Piazza degli Zingari 5, a 10-minute walk from the Roman forum.
Hey, those all sound great! But aren’t you missing a couple of spots?
No, I’m not. Giolitti? Sure, the atmosphere is fun, the location is right near to the Pantheon, and even many Romans confused by their nostalgia count it as one of Rome’s best shops. But it’s not for me. I often find their gelato icy (the sign it’s not very fresh). In general, it strikes me as one of those Rome places banking more on its past than on turning out high-quality food right now.
Then there’s San Crispino. Meh. I feel the same way about it that I do about Eat, Pray, Love, and that’s not a good thing. (Also, I find the gelato grainy and low on flavor).
And don’t even get me started on Blue Ice. Forget about the best gelato in Rome. That’s not even gelato.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.