One of the major highlights in visiting Italy is its wonderful food, and Italians pride themselves on creating the most savory dishes using fresh, local ingredients. The thought would never cross my mind to eat at a McDonald’s while visiting Italy – it just seems wrong.
Yet, many tourists do it and I just scratch my head. Not for the food, but for its architectural design, one McDonald’s in Italy is worth visiting, because it is the most elaborate McDonald’s anywhere in the world. Of course it is the McDonald’s at Piazza di Spagna 46, near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Close to 30 years ago, this was the first McDonald’s to open in Italy amid protests from groups which later became known as the Slow Food Movement. Not your typical McDonald’s this one opened in 1986, and is defined by such features as marble walls, fountains, mosaics and frescoes on the walls.
Upon entering the fairly small and unassuming entrance doors I walked through a hallway with marble walls and up several wide flights of marble stairs to enter the actual restaurant. It was worth taking the time to enjoy the paintings on the walls and get a feel that this is definitely a one-of-a-kind McDonald’s.
I just couldn’t bring myself to order anything except something to drink but I enjoyed the novelty of being in this now famous, Rome McDonald’s. The other unusual feature of this McDonald’s is the separate gelato bar and the “Coffee and Sweet” bar, where you can have an espresso or cappuccino and brioche for a little over one euro. Only in Italy! Not only does this McDonald’s serve the typical fare that Americans know, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes, but they also cater to the Italian customers with caprese salads (tomato and mozzarella) and the il Mac (hamburger on a Panini bun).
When it was built it was the world’s largest McDonald’s seating 435 customers and some reports today say that it holds 800. In typical Italian style, it is noisy and always crowded, due in part to tourists as well as local teenagers.
American tourists with families assume that eating here will be cheaper than at Italian restaurants but this is not the case. An average meal runs 8-10 euros, and depending on the conversion factor that may be as high as $14 or $15. The local young people are used to the euro as their currency so the conversion factor never weighs into their decision about prices. The appeal to them is that they can buy a hamburger and fries, not easily found anywhere else in Italy.
The other plus is cold air-conditioning, clean bathrooms, free wi-fi, and free seating if you just order a coffee or cappuccino.
Today there are many more McDonald’s restaurants in Rome and other cities in Italy. Locations in Rome include Piazza Barberini, Via del Corso, Piazza della Repubblica, Trastevere, in the Termini, and the beach, Ostia Lido.
I think a visit here is worth it at least once, only for the atmosphere and art, not the food.