Situated south of Rome’s historic centre, the Ostiense district has undergone a transformation in recent years. Previously abandoned buildings have found new life as contemporary galleries and museums, and a wave of new restaurants and bars have turned the area into a lively nighttime hangout – though it still retains a gritty, working-class vibe. Renowned street artists have also chosen Ostiense’s industrial architecture as their canvas, cementing the area’s reputation as one of Rome’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. Check out these quintessential things to see and do in Ostiense.
Probably Rome’s most surprising monument, the Pyramid of Cestius is a 36-metre-high tomb built in 12 BC for Gaius Cestius, a Roman magistrate obsessed with all things Egyptian. This marble-clad memorial was later incorporated into the Aurelian walls and today marks the northern boundary of the Ostiense district. Access to the frescoed burial chamber is by tour only and reservations must be made online in advance. Dodge by the Protestant cemetery next door to admire the pyramid from a peaceful vantage point.
Dubbed the ‘Sistine Chapel of street art’, the vast mural that appears on a former military barracks on Via del Porto Fluviale was painted by Italian street artist Blu in 2014. This all-consuming artwork features 27 faces – with the building’s windows acting as eyes – and has become a bold and striking focal point of the neighbourhood. The building itself is now a centro sociale, straddling the line between a squat and a self-managed cultural centre.
Opened in 2012 in the old air termini of Ostiense train station, Eataly is a gastronomic megastore stocked with top-quality foods from producers across Italy. From Alpine Fontina cheese or prosciutto di Parma to southern delicacies like peppery Pugliese olive oil or rich Sicilian cannoli, you’ll find it here. As well as gourmet shopping, Eataly boasts numerous restaurants to provide sustenance for hungry shoppers.
In true Ostiense style, Centrale Montemartini is a public power plant repurposed as a classical art museum. Ancient Roman sculptures – many from the Capitoline Collection – stand alongside the now silent industrial turbines, boilers and engines that once powered the city of Rome, making this a truly unique space.
Natural food, beautiful design and a love of cats combine at the Romeow Cat Bistrot just a few steps from Ostiense station. The menu is exclusively vegan with an emphasis on raw and gluten-free food and every dish that leaves the kitchen is elegantly presented (accordingly, prices run higher than average). The main attraction though is the six resident cats that roam the gorgeous interior and lounge among the tables.
Many of Rome’s monuments are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. At just 80 years old, the gazometro is a baby in comparison but is still an important part of Rome’s urban landscape. Built in 1937, this 92-metre structure once stored the city’s gas supply and has become a symbol of Rome’s industrious past.
When it comes to aperitivo, Doppio Zeroo offers one of the most appetising arrays of food in town. Choose from freshly baked pizza, grilled vegetables, an ample variety of pasta dishes and colourful, inventive salads – just get to this sleek bar early for the best pickings!
Don’t be surprised if there’s a line out the door of La Romana, the go-to gelateria for many in the Ostiense neighbourhood. The gelato here is worth the wait, though – it’s made with organic milk, free-range eggs and quality Italian ingredients. Year-round favourites – such as crema dal 1947, made with vanilla and lemon – are complemented by seasonal offerings such as menta bianca, with natural mint.
Despite being one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls remains off the radar to many tourists. The enormous golden mosaic that decorates the façade is an impressive spectacle, particularly on a sunny day when it gleams even brighter. Inside the basilica, a series of papal portraits are said to predict the end of the world – there are only six spaces left for future popes and when space runs out the apocalypse is, according to legend, just around the corner.