McDonald’s Italian Style – Rome’s First McDonald’s

McDonalds's in Rome Gelato and CoffeeOne 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.

McDonald's in Rome in Piazza di Spagna 1st floorUpon 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.

McDonald's sign in Trastevere
McDonald’s sign in Trastevere

I think a visit here is worth it at least once, only for the atmosphere and art,  not the food.

29 Responses

  1. psjrwells

    Just to add to my comment above that the official McDonalds website says that their first restaurant in Italy opened in Bolsano in 1985 and so it seems my recollection is flawed. This has baffled me because I don’t recall returning to Rome in 1986 but it was a long time ago so maybe I did. 🙂

  2. Peter R

    FWIW, I recall that McDonalds opened by the Spanish Steps in 1984 and not 1986. I lived in Rome from 1983 until 1985 and I remember the protests when it opened.

  3. Raymond Peter

    BTW They no longer serve milkshakes. I went to three different Mccy D’s around Rome and they looked positively flabbergasted with the very idea of what a milkshake was. Not on the menu, and when we tried explaining what it was, one cashier nodded and pointed to the soda machine…

    • margieinitaly

      Oh! That’s good to know thank you for sharing. I don’t go to McDonald’s when I’m in Italy so I appreciate your perspective. Thank you for stopping by my blog

  4. Saana

    My sister told me she visited this Mc Donald’s a few times when she lived in Rome and told me how fantastic the place is. But it is indeed sad to eat McDonald’s while you’re in the country of perhaps the best food in the world, especially if you’re only visiting! The funniest thing is that they really do seem to attract a lot of tourists. What on earth are they thinking??

  5. timelessitaly

    I was inside this one but only because I was sick and needed to use the restroom. I don’t remember much of anything i’m afraid to say…but I was thankful it was there and clean!

  6. Sharon, Ticket to Travel

    I think data shows that the majority of customers is not American, but primarily locals and not just teenagers. The food is Italian, cooked by Italians. I’m not saying it should be a 1st choice, but the snobbery of never eating there is off putting for sure. The real tragedy is that more Italians, young and old love coke or soft drinks. I have covered most all of Italy and encountered families sitting in nice trattorias with a liter of coke on the table.

  7. Penny Sadler

    I’ve not been to this McDonald’s. I’d love to see more photos of the interior. I went to the McDonald’s in Milan to try to use their wifi, now that was quite swanky.

  8. Andrew Petcher

    McDonalds are everywhere but I think we have to give them credit for generally improving their appearance and having greater respect for the environment.

  9. connie saylor

    dear margie; it sounds like you really liked rome. i did when i was there in 1969. and the sisteen chapel was neat too. yours truly, connie

  10. Debra Kolkka

    I often see people going into MacDonalds in Florence and exiting with a soft serve ice cream. I could scream…in the home of gelato! I wouldn’t eat MacDonalds anywhere but I can see its appeal.

    • margieinitaly

      Thanks Debra. I cannot imagine someone choosing ice cream from McDonald’s over gelato. But to be fair this Rome McDonald’s had a gelato bar with real gelato.

  11. Susanna Dame Duffy

    I was disappointed to see the MacDonalds on Palermo Station, I thought somehow that Sicily would be free of such horrors. Every time I was waiting for a train, I saw only noisy teens but I suppose that’s the case anywhere in the world. As for me, I ate only Italian (Sicilian) food in my 4 month stay but, then again, I’ve never been into a MacDonalds in any country, even my own.

  12. imarancher

    I think it was clever of Mickey D’s to substitute the decor in place of changing the diet. Good marketers. And teens will always gravitate to sites that the adults avoid. But it is hard to argue that McDonald took a risk here. The so called Med-diet is the number one recommended diet by doctors around the world for its wholesome, fresh and strangely enough, delicious components. It is rare that healthy foods taste edible, let alone so very good. I am not sure why anyone would take a mystery meat burger over any Italian dish but I suppose that when you are far from home you might be more inclined to want something that reminds you from home.

    Thanks for the pic and the details Margie. You are, as always, a font of information.

  13. Francis

    Starbucks have failed to make an impact in Italy. MacDonald have to make a Better effort than most other countries to capture some of the market here.

  14. lee

    this location has a feature i saw in Southampton uk also: order from a video screen mounted in the wall and then pick up your order……does NOT shorten the line.

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