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 around every corner. 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’s where you can eat, shop and live like a true Roman.
Rome’s Tridente is home to many of the city’s beloved sights, including the Spanish Steps, 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’ve wanted to splurge on Gucci, Fendi and Valentino, do it here.
Many of the city’s most glamorous hotels are in this neighbourhood, and it remains an incredibly desirable place to be. Not only are you within walking distance of most of Rome’s main attractions, you’re 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. However, Tridente comes at a cost, and you’ll want to ensure your pockets are full to get the best out of staying in this neighbourhood.
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 in which to spend the evening. 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 are far from the only draws to these areas. 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 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 of Rome gather to eat, drink and socialise; sit on these scenic streets with a drink to fit in with the Roman partiers.
Trastevere has always been a home to the city’s rebels and nonconformists; in the time of Ancient Rome, freed slaves, sailors and soldiers settled here, separate from the city’s ‘polite society’.
Although it’s now one of Rome’s most beautiful, and most beloved, neighbourhoods, modern Trastevere hasn’t lost its wild streak. Come here to soak up the atmosphere at some of the city’s best bars (including the historic and rowdy Bar San Calisto, which residents lobbied to keep open) alongside native Romans, students and adventurous tourists. You’re guaranteed a great night.
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 – both a vibrant residential and commercial area, 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 your drink 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.
Pigneto has a history as fascinating as the characters who gather here today. Arrive at 6pm to catch the older generations lining the neighbourhood’s benches, watching as Pigneto’s nightlife warms up. Once a centre of the Roman resistance during World War II, in the post-war years, the area was a major source of inspiration for Italian Neo-Realist cinema.
Today, Pigneto has once again reinvented itself. The area is full of co-working spaces for the creative set, bars for pre-dinner drinks and restaurants that host the best of diverse international cuisines. If you have a taste for Ethiopian food, Brazilian, Greek or simply want a stiff drink, a trip to Pigneto has you covered. Public transport to and from the area can be a bit of a nightmare, so be prepared to call a taxi.
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.
Running alongside the Tiber River, Ostiense is where industrial and historic Rome collide. On the steps of one of the four major basilicas of Catholic Rome, St Paul Outside the Walls, you’ll hear the faint beats of electronic music coming from bars and clubs that wouldn’t be out of place in Berlin or New York.
Ostiense is also home to a thriving countercultural art scene; don’t leave without seeing the ancient Roman sculptures at Centrale Montemartini, a former power plant. Walking through this neighbourhood street, make sure to look up and check out the street art – the pieces that decorate this area have won Roman graffiti artists worldwide recognition. Ostiense is far from the centre on foot, but well connected via the metro’s Line B.
Rome’s young and creative 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 clearly 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.