Modern Rome has two distinct characters: the historic centre and the city beyond it. Most travellers stay in the historic centre, a web of 17th-century orange townhouses, marble fountains and majestic ruins. The Italian capital’s other side exists beyond the boundary of the Aurelian Walls, where 1960s tower blocks reign supreme. Here, you’ll still find ancient archways and early Christian necropolises, five minutes from your local shop or bar.
Both sides of the city promise amazing experiences for adventurous travellers. Here are the top areas where you can eat, shop and live like a true Roman.
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Rome’s Tridente is home to many of the city’s beloved sights, including the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the magnificent churches of the Piazza del Popolo. Next to these Italian baroque icons are Rome’s most glamorous high-fashion boutiques; if you want to splurge on Gucci, Fendi and Valentino, do it here. Many of the city’s most glamorous hotels are in this neighbourhood too, and it remains an incredibly desirable place to be. Not only are you within walking distance of most of Rome’s main attractions, but you’re also surrounded by marble wonders and historic townhouses. Step out of your accommodation and you’ll find yourself on scenic squares lined with palm trees and some of the city’s most elegant restaurants.
Most travellers find themselves in Parione at night; as dusk falls, a mass of suit-clad business people, students and tourists relocate from the historic centre’s other neighbourhoods to this Roman nightlife hub. Here, you’ll find two of Rome’s most vibrant squares, Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori, both bursting with small, intimate bars. Expect to find some of the best cuisine and wine the capital has to offer between these two squares. The party atmosphere is constant from 11am to 2am, but Parione is well worth a visit during the day, as the excellent choice of food and drink is far from the only draw. Piazza Navona is home to sculptural masterpieces by baroque geniuses Bernini and Bramante, and Campo de’ Fiori has a statue of Giordano Bruno, the scientist and mystic who was executed here in 1600. Parione also has the best collection of independent boutiques and vintage shops in Rome, making this stylish neighbourhood the perfect place for picking up a unique souvenir.
Only a brisk five-minute stroll from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum is vibrant Monti. Head straight to Piazza della Madonna dei Monti (in this neighbourhood, this buzzing square is the place to be) for a reasonably priced Aperol and to admire the sight of the imposing amphitheatre against the skyline. Monti offers everything you’d expect from a Roman neighbourhood; ivy dangles from electric cables, creating curtains between orange townhouses. As well as being almost surreally beautiful, Monti is the place where the young and hip people of Rome gather to eat, drink and socialise; sit on these scenic streets with a drink to fit in with the Roman partiers.
Unlike the rest of the city (which could be described as an urban planner’s nightmare), Prati was developed at the end of the 19th century. It’s one of modern Rome’s most affluent neighbourhoods – a vibrant area that’s both residential and commercial, and well connected to the city centre by the metro’s line A. During the day, Romans make money in Prati. At night, they spend it, lounging in restaurants and bars with St Peter’s Basilica towering above them. Among neat rows of gleaming townhouses, you’ll discover some of the city’s can’t-miss eateries – including the legendary Pizzarium Bonci, which serves up Rome’s tastiest pizza slices.
Few places in Rome are as authentically hip as Testaccio. Where else in the world can you find the last surviving ancient Roman pyramid, a food market that keeps international foodies talking and an art gallery in what was once Europe’s largest slaughterhouse? Plenty of families live alongside all these wonders; expect naughty children to run around you and in the area’s piazze. Arrive at Testaccio hungry – most of modern Roman cuisine has its origins in this neighbourhood, which is still among the best locations to sample authentic dishes. Although quite far on foot from many of the centre’s best attractions, Testaccio is well connected via the tram and the metro’s line B.
Roman tastemakers are in agreement that if you want to try the most creative interpretations of traditional Roman food, you should head to this distinctly unpretentious neighbourhood far beyond the Aurelian Walls. You’ll find a wealth of delicious dishes from Asia alongside all the Italian innovation, particularly Bangladeshi cuisine, and endless combinations of fusion food. Don’t be surprised to find restaurants offering inventions as surprising (and delicious) as Kurdish-Neapolitan cuisine. After eating, head to a party in the CSOA Forte Prenestino, the area’s squat and social centre, where you’ll hear diverse sounds of the periferia (outskirts of the city). Although Centocelle is a concrete jungle, the ancient Roman Aqua Alexandrina cuts through it, reminding you that this too is Rome proper. A visit to Centocelle may involve reckoning with the metro’s unreliable line C, but it is more than worth the journey.
Rome’s young and creative residents live in Garbatella’s mock-ups of the historic centre’s townhouses, built during the era of Mussolini. However, these days, the neighbourhood’s political affiliations are distinctly left, as you can see in the graffiti daubed around the area. During the day, sit back and relax in many of Garbatella’s beautiful parks, which include the impressive Appia Antica, with an ancient Roman road above and an early Christian necropolis below. By night, bearded and bespectacled residents drink in the many artisanal alehouses; join them to dance the night away in a centro sociale, a legalised squat, and indulge in some of Rome’s most creative takes on traditional cooking. Just a short trip from the historic city via the metro’s line B, Garbatella is a world away from the crowded tourist hubs.
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