The sights and monuments of the historic centre of Rome are instantly recognisable and most visitors base themselves around central areas such as Piazza Navona, the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. However, if you want to escape the tourist traps and get a taste of the real Rome just track down one of these trendy quarters of the Eternal City.
Situated just a short walk from the Colosseum, Monti is a charming enclave of winding cobbled streets with warmly-hued façades and picturesque piazzas. As the hangout of choice for arty, creative types there is no shortage of funky independent businesses, good local restaurants and intimate wine bars. For unique clothes and jewellery check out Mercato Monti, the neighbourhood’s regular weekend vintage market, or grab a beer and snag a spot by the fountain in the pretty Piazza della Madonna dei Monti where the cool kids go to chill out.
Once a somewhat seedy working-class surburb located east of the city, Pigneto is fast becoming the hipster capital of Rome thanks to its vast array of bohemian bars and trendy restaurants. Narrow roads are adorned with bright graffiti and the eclectic buildings are a mish-mash of architectural styles, giving the neighbourhood a slightly shabby charm. Do as the locals do and order a lazy breakfast in the tranquil garden of the historic bar Necci, or hit the pedestrianised Via del Pigneto at aperitivo-hour to people-watch before trying some craft cocktails in one of the area’s fashionable speakeasies.
Known as Rome’s studenty, alternative district, San Lorenzo is tucked away near the university of La Sapienza just north of Termini train station. Although perhaps not as alluring as some other parts of the city (the area was heavily bombed in World War II), San Lorenzo nevertheless offers plenty of interesting boutiques, vintage clothing stores and contemporary art galleries. After-hours, the vast array of cool clubs, cheap pizzerias and late-night drinking dens clustered around Via dei Volsci and Via dei Sabelli attract a younger clientele of alternatives and hipsters.
A revamp of the neighbourhood market and the repurposing of the city’s old slaughterhouse complex have helped to put Testaccio on the map in recent years and the area has gained a reputation as a food lover’s paradise. Old-school trattorias and hip street food joints sit side-by-side along the straight, grid-like streets while the pristine Mercato Testaccio is now home to a sensory mix of esteemed produce vendors and funky takeaway places. The slaughterhouse is now home to cultural sites such as the MACRO (contemporary art museum) and the Città dell’ Altra Economia, a 3,500 sq ft space dedicated to markets, events and exhibitions.
The Ostiense district lies south of Testaccio where Rome’s distinctive old gasworks dominate the skyline and the vibe is gritty functionality. Previously abandoned buildings have been repurposed as contemporary galleries, cocktail bars and restaurants, or repainted by renowned street artists giving a splash of colour to the industrial architecture. Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Centrale Montemartini which sees ancient marble statues intriguingly displayed among the machinery of Rome’s first public power plant, while for movers and shakers some of The Eternal City’s best-known clubs and music venues are situated along Via Giuseppe Libetta.
The whimsical, ivy-draped neighbourhood of Trastevere is conveniently located just a quick hop over the river from the chaos of Rome’s city centre. By day there is a sleepy, village-like vibe as the local trasteverini go about their business at the many independent shops and delicatessens, but once the sun sets the neighbourhood is transformed into a thriving social scene as young Romans and foreign students flock to the area around Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere to hang out in the wide variety of bars, or rendezvous in one of the numerous restaurants creating an electric atmosphere, particularly during the warmer months.