ROME BY AREA
Everyone visits certain parts of the city – the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps – but a visit to some of the oft-overlooked areas of the city can be equally rewarding: full of little restaurants, ubiquitous churches, architectural marvels, and the inevitable Roman ruin, the many quartieri di Roma have something for every taste. A summary of what you can find in different parts of the city:
THE CENTRO STORICO
Pantheon and Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is one of the most famous and theatrical of Rome’s squares, best enjoyed in the morning, before the tourist hordes and junk vendors crowd the square, marring the dramatic beauty of Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers and Borromini’s church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. There are plenty of (rather expensive and not particularly good) restaurants on the square, strictly frequented by tourists, but the atmosphere is quite nice at night. For a more Roman experience, venture west of Piazza Navona to the small streets in and around Via di Tor Millina and Via del Governo Vecchio. This area has no shortage of popular cafes, restaurants, and hip nightspots. A short walk to the east of Piazza Navona is the Pantheon, the best preserved ancient Roman building anywhere in what used to be the Empire.
The square in front of the Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda, and its side streets have gotten fairly touristy in recent years, but eating dinner or sipping wine in front of the 1900 year-old facade is memorable. Those on a budget can avail of the McDonald’s on the square and get the same view.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Palazzo Altemps, Museo di Roma, Santa Maria della Pace, Sant’Agnese in Agone, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Sant’Ignazio, Galleria Doria Pamphilj.
Campo De’ Fiori
One of the last authentically Roman parts of the centro storico, this picturesque piazza is home to a bustling produce market in the morning, Monday through Saturday. By late afternoon, the rughetta leaves have been swept away, and locals and tourists alike crowd its many outdoor cafes and wine bars. By early evening when the weather’s good it’s time to pose outside the various bars. Lots of preening, telephoning and smoking goes on, good for studying the habits of the natives! Apart from the piazza itself, the streets leading off the “Campo” are lined with shoe stores and clothing boutiques (especially Via dei Giubbonari and Via dei Baullari), as well as some relatively inexpensive trattorie, pizzerie, and hostarie. Directly west of Campo de’ Fiori is Piazza Farnese, with the stately Renaissance Palazzo Farnese and a few high-end restaurants. North of the Campo, between Via di Monserrato and Via dei Pellegrini, are quiet, characteristic alleyways and craftsmen’s workshops.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Besides the aforementioned squares themselves, Galleria Spada, Via dell’Arco degli Acetari, Via Giulia.
Jewish Ghetto and Tiber Island
Stretching from Largo Argentina to the Theater of Marcellus along the Tiber banks is the area of the old Jewish Ghetto, where the Jews of Rome were confined from 1555 until Rome was snatched from the hands of the Popes in 1870. Nowadays it’s a charming area with delicious bakeries and the only kosher pizzeria in Rome. There are plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy home-style Roman cooking in an informal setting, and at other places, ranging in price from reasonable to very expensive, you can sample Roman Jewish cuisine with its specialties like carciofi alla giudia. The 1st century BC Ponte Fabricio goes from the Ghetto area to the Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina), whose history as a place for medicine goes back to the 3rd century BC. Walk down the stairs just upriver from the Ponte Cestio to access the lower level of the island, where sun-loving Romans go to catch rays on lunch breaks. On the Trastevere side of the island is Calata Anguillara, where the Tiber water shuttles have their southern terminus.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Synagogue, Theatre of Marcellus, Largo Argentina, Fontana delle Tartarughe, Tiber Island.
Still central, still historic, but not actually part of what they call the centro storico….
Monti and Colle Oppio
Sloping down from Via Nazionale and Via Cavour toward the Forum area is a charming neighborhood called Monti, full of characteristic narrow streets and local flavour, especially around Via dei Serpenti and Via Panisperna. There are plenty of good little Roman restaurants here (as well as a number of decent Indian places), and a generous quantity of pubs, making Monti a good place to get lunch (or a beer) after you’ve braved the ruins below. The area south of Via Cavour toward the Colosseum, Colle Oppio, has a more modern feel, more touristy restaurants, but also boasts such important sights as Michelangelo’s Moses.
Sights to check out while you’re here: San Pietro in Vincoli (Michaelangelo’s statue of Moses), Roman Forum, Trajan’s Markets, Trajan’s Column, and the Imperial Fora.
Spanish Steps, the Trevi fountain, and via del Corso
Also referred to by some as the Tridente, this difficult-to-define area of Rome starts at Piazza del Popolo in the north (just west of the Pincio Hill and Villa Borghese) and spreads south to include Piazza di Spagna and the Trevi Fountain to the southeast, and Piazza del Parlamento to the southwest. The 18th century Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Spagna) themselves are a striking monument, though by Roman standards not particularly rich in history, and best enjoyed before 10am, when hordes of tourists crowd the square and shoppers flood the side streets, home to designer boutiques like Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, and Valentino. South of the Spanish Steps, across the busy Via del Tritone is the Trevi Fountain, tucked away in a small piazza. Expect to find crowds at the Trevi Fountain all times of day and night, but the evening light, reflecting off the scuptures into the water, is gorgeous. Eating in this area tends to be more expensive than in other parts of town (and not necessarily any better-tasting), but Via della Croce, running east-west just north of the Spanish Steps, has some great little restaurants and wine bars where the atmosphere and prices are more down-to-earth. Across Via del Corso, Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina and its environs are great for experiencing the style and drama of the Roman bella gente eating lunch, toting Louis Vuitton bags, pushing strollers, or having aperitivi. Via del Corso, cutting south through this part of town toward Piazza Venezia, has all kinds of shopping, with goods of every type offered at prices for every budget. On weekends the upper part of Via del Corso is packed with Italian youth, strutting their stuff for other Roman teenagers.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza del Popolo, Santa Maria del Popolo, Keats-Shelley Memorial House, Pincio Terrace.
Celio and San Giovanni
Gently rising from the south side of the Colosseum is the Celio, yet another of the original seven hills of Rome. Just beyond the modern grid of streets defined by Via Claudia, Via San Giovanni in Laterano, and Via Santo Stefano Rotondo are some wonderful green, rustic areas with lovely, unique churches, including two of our favorites, San Clemente and Santo Stefano Rotondo. The gorgerous Villa Celimontana, west of Via Claudia, is home to nightly jazz concerts during the summer. South of the Celio, at the top of Via San Giovanni in Laterano, is the Lateran palace and the Church of St John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome. Opposite the church is the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, brought from Judea by St Helena in the 4th century AD and said to be the actual stairs that Christ climbed in Pontius Pilate’s house. The truly faithful climb on their knees, saying prayers at each step; the ascent takes about two hours. The neighbourhood around San Giovanni is modern-feeling, and aside from the tourist crowds at the religious monuments, fairly authentic. Via Sannio, a street south of the church, has a clothes and shoes market Monday to Saturday.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Colosseum, Ludus Magnus, San Clemente, Santo Stefano Rotondo, SS Giovanni e Paolo, St John Lateran, Scala Santa.
Derived from the Latin name of the neighborhood, trans tiberim, “Trastevere” simply means “across the Tiber.” Even though the river separates it from the rest of the centro storico, Trastevere is curiously one of the most Roman parts of Rome. Though there are a couple of excellent churches here, Trastevere is bereft of major monuments. Tourists have definitely discovered Trastevere, but it still has its authentic vibe. North of Viale Trastevere is busier and more international; south of Viale Trastevere is more local and quieter, though a bit less picturesque. Both halves of the neighborhood are full of maze-like streets and family-run restaurants that offer traditional Roman dishes. Trastevere is also home to a number of live music clubs and smaller, more relaxed pubs tucked away in back alleys. A good place to while away an evening.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia, Museo di Roma in Trastevere, plus local craftsmen and markets.
The Aventine and Testaccio
Above the Circus Maximus to the west is the tranquil and shady Aventine Hill. A well-to-do residential quarter, the Aventine doesn’t have many bars or restaurants, but it does offer a nice haven from the chaos of the city below, especially at the churches of Santa Sabina, San Anselmo, and Sant’Alessio. The view from the Parco Savello across Trastevere to the Vatican is breathtaking (see views p. 39). Just south of the Aventine Hill, the district of Testaccio is arguably the most Roman quartiere of Rome. The architecture is nothing special, but there is a sense of community and tradition here unmatched anywhere in the city centre. The morning mercato in Piazza Testaccio is a great place to get a bit of local colour. East of Via Galvani, between Via di Monte Testaccio and Via Zabaglia, is the neighborhood’s namesake, Monte Testaccio (“mountain made of pottery”) an artificial hill made entirely of broken ancient Roman wine and oil jars. The streets surrounding the mountain have all kinds of trendy restaurants, nightclubs, and discotecas.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Aventine: Circo Massimo, Santa Sabina, Parco degli Aranci, Keyhole of the Priory of the Knights of Malta. Testaccio: Piramide di Gaio Cestio, Protestant Cemetery, Monte Testaccio, and the market.
A little less storico….
Termini and Esquilino
Most tourists start here, many stay here, and though it’s not the most picturesque part of town, there’s a surprising amount to see here, including important churches and museums. Dining in this part of town tends to be budget-oriented (and beware grim tourist-traps), and you’ll get much better atmosphere elsewhere in the city. Directly south of Termini station lies the Esquiline Hill, one of the original seven hills of Rome, although not much is visible of the ancient period. The Esquilino is rather grubby, although definitely improving, and it’s where the city’s immigrant communities are concentrated, so in addition to Italian pizzerie and osterie, food options in this neighbourhood include Indian, Korean, and Chinese restaurants, grocery stores, and take-away places. The triangular area southeast of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the neighbourhood’s centre, is good for pub crawling.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Santa Maria Maggiore, Museo Nazionale Romano at Palazzo Massimo, Santa Maria degli Angeli (Baths of Diocletian), Museo Nazionale Romano Terme di Diocleziano, Fontana delle Naiadi in Piazza della Repubblica, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Porta Maggiore.
Quirinale and via Veneto
Just west of Termini station is the Quirinale, another of the original seven hills of Rome. Not particularly rich in restaurants, the Quirinale is full of businessmen and government people during the day and fairly quiet at night. Just north of the Quirinale is Piazza Barberini, a busy traffic circle with a defunct Planet Hollywood, a movie theatre that very occasionally shows films in English, a 24-hour internet café, and two fountains by Gianlorenzo Bernini. Ascending from Piazza Barberini are the s-curves of Via Veneto, a tree-lined boulevard once synonymous with la dolce vita but now littered with overpriced, glass-enclosed tourist trap sidewalk cafes. Still home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the city, Via Veneto is also the address of the Hard Rock Cafe, the American Embassy, and one of the most curious tourist attractions in the city, the Crypt of the Cappuchin Monks, with its thousands of artistically arranged bones. At the top of Via Veneto are the remains of Rome’s 3rd century fortification walls, which give access to the Villa Borghese, the city’s most central public park.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Santa Maria della Vittoria (Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa), San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, Scuderie Papali al Quirinale (travelling exhibitions), Palazzo Barberini, Crypt of the Capuchin Monks (underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione), Villa Borghese and Galleria Borghese.
Vatican area (the Borgo and Prati)
Across the river from the historical centre (but separate from and north of Trastevere), Vatican City proper, a country in its own right, is surrounded by high walls and guarded by the Swiss, but St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums are open to the public, as is the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo. The neighbourhood directly east of St Peter’s, the Borgo, still retains some of its medieval character despite being full of souvenir stands and restaurants. The 19th century quartiere to the north, Prati, is relatively untouched by tourists, a good place for shopping (Via Cola di Rienzo and Via Ottaviano) and authentic Roman cooking.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Vatican City (the museums, Sistine Chapel, and St Peter’s), Castel Sant’Angelo.
Located just east of the Termini area, along Via Tiburtina from the ancient city walls to the Verano cemetery, San Lorenzo is the university district of Rome, the only part of the city to be hit by (Allied) bombing, and virtually unpenetrated by tourists. There aren’t many churches or monuments to see here, but you will find an incredible number of good restaurants to suit all pockets, pubs, music clubs, lots of graffiti, and all manner of cultural circles frequented by the local students and professors. The greatest concentration of nightlife is around Via dei Reti.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Basilica di San Lorenzo, and part of the 3rd century Aurelian wall with medieval houses incorporated.
Pronounced “AY-yoor,” this three-lettered zone well south of the centre was built for the Esposizione Universale di Roma, conceived by Mussolini to be a showcase of all that Rome was in the past, and all that Rome could be under the Fascist regime. The big culmination, planned for 1942, never happened, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that construction was finished. The buildings here are a grandiose yet sterile take on ancient Roman structures and an absolutely fascinating example of architecture as propaganda. Not to be missed in EUR is the Museo della Civiltà Romana, with its many models of Rome as it was in antiquity (see museums, p. XX). There’s also an artificial lake here, surrounded by benches and green jogging paths.
Sights to check out while you’re here: Museo della Civiltà Romana, Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro (the Square Colosseum), SS Pietro e Paolo.