In our 5 Shops series, we’ll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world's best cities. From food markets and bookshops to vintage and homegrown design stores, we’ve found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.

I remember the first time I visited Rome after moving to Italy a decade ago. I’m originally from New York but was living on a farm in the Italian countryside as I wanted to take a break from the boundless energy of big cities. Turns out I couldn’t stay away for long. Rome vibrated with possibilities. Tied in knots by tram and train lines, to overflowed with people going in every direction all at once. It was exactly what I needed. 

Rome is a terrible place to visit and a wonderful place to live. It's the impossibility of seeing everything in the space of a week or month. It's tempting to throw one's hands in the air and give up. Then, when it's time to eat, dress, or spoil ourselves, we choose the path of least resistance. It's all too overwhelming.

Stay the course, however, and Rome will reveal itself. It overflows with color and creativity and compassion. It's the small moments you will remember. The discoveries of corner shops and market stalls in places you might have missed otherwise. Here are my five favorite shops.

Close-up shots from a jewelry shop in Rome. Pictured are the jewelry designer at her desk, a close-up of a pair of earrings and a woman modelling bracelets

Best for souvenirs: Co. Ro Jewels

When on vacation, it's tempting to fill our luggage with cheap souvenirs. Like many other cities, Rome's streets are laden with ubiquitous items that are easy to buy – and just as easy to forget. If you want something special to take home, visit Co.Ro Jewels on Via della Scrofa, not far from Piazza Navona. This female-run shop specializes in architectural jewelry and wearable art that replicates famous city sights like the Colosseum, the Pantheon’s Dome, and the Gazometro gas tower in Ostiense. They cost more than a novelty magnet but will last a lifetime.

Close-up of people modelling leather bags, including a man with a shoulder bag and a woman with a bright handbag

Best for local design: Hang Roma

The vine-covered cobbles of Monti have made it one of Rome’s most Instagrammable neighborhoods. Hordes of visitors come here to have their moment immortalized against its picturesque facades. But Monti's tiny shopfronts are more than just a mood board. Largely independent, many are full of one-of-a-kind designs. The best of which is Hang Roma on Via degli Zingari. Owner Federica handcrafts leather bags, belts, and pouches onsite and also showcases a great selection of local artists. Grab an artistic print from Sara Paglia’, or buy a cheeky poster from Michele Mancaniello. Whatever you procure, it will be unmistakably Monti. 

Shots from a thrift market in Rome including a 70s-style sink, a collection of porcelain cups and a wooden antique drawer set

Best for thrift/vintage: Affare Fatto

Ah, the Aventino. Something of a non-place that connects the cavernous Circo Massimo to funky Ostiense. Hidden here in not-so-plain sight is Affare Fatto. one of the most entertaining second-hand shops in Rome. Thanks to its location near the UN’s FAO headquarters, Affare Fatto often overflows with little-used treasures from departing diplomats – ceramics, clothes and curios you can easily justify taking home. Almost as wonderful as the shelves of bric-à-brac is the impossibly sunny dispositions of the staff.

Close-up shots of a market in Testaccio, Rome, featuring olives, tomatoes and colorful fresh fruit and vegetables

Best for food: Mercato Testaccio

Rome is, almost by definition, a giant food market. The enticing smells of centuries-old aging, grilling, and smoking continue unabated. Still, Mercato Testaccio feels different. Perhaps it’s the aisles of local cheesemongers, breadmakers and butchers who know each other like family. Maybe it’s the smattering of non-food stands selling everything from shoes to leather bags and household products that makes you feel like this covered market is the only place you’ll ever need to shop. It might even be tiny treasures like da Corrado al Banco 18, a stall that will lovingly equip you for a moveable feast with its cheese and pastas, complete with the most unique natural wines in Italy.

Close-up shots of a bookshop in Rome, featuring staff stocking bookshelves, a cat asleep under a shelf of travel books and an exterior shot of the store

Best for books: Spazio Sette

I spend a lot of time in bookshops. The stranger and more esoteric the collection, the more at I feel home. There even more to be said for bookshops that retain their charm even with order. Take Spazio Sette, next to the Torre Argentina. If the frescoed ceilings and cozy cafe don’t win you over, the store's cat mascot (she came over from the sanctuary) will do the trick. I also want to give an honorable mention to Open Door in Trastevere, the Platonic ideal of a bookstore to get lost in.

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