Rome Neighborhoods: How to Know Where to Stay (Updated for 2018)

The most romantic places in Rome

Figuring out the neighborhoods of Rome can be a little confusing. Even though it’s a big city, most tourists spend most of their time in the centro storico — and that’s where most hotels are, too.

But simply looking for accommodation in Rome’s “historic center” isn’t enough. That’s because the center is divided by neighborhoods, some of which feel pretty different from the next.

So you’ll need to know not only that you want to stay in the historic center… but which neighborhood to stay in in the centro storico, too.

What is the centro storico?

If you want to stay in the centro storico, you first need to know… what is the centro storico.

Technically, the centro storico is the area of Rome that’s bordered by the 3rd-century Aurelian walls and by the mura gianicolensi, which include the Vatican walls. There aren’t many good maps online that have the walls clearly delineated. This is one of the best I could find.

Centro storico of Rome and how to know what neighborhood to stay in
Map of the historic center of Rome and the Aurelian walls

The thin, black line running around the entire center is the Aurelian walls. (You can find it by looking at the square marked “Castro Pretorio” in the upper right-hand part of the city). Although the neighborhood and monuments are all ancient Roman, you can get some perspective by looking for the Colosseum (a little ring almost right in the center), Circus Maximus (to the southwest of the Colosseum), and the Tiber.

This area—which includes not only the Colosseum and forum, but the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, and Vatican — is the historic center. And if you’re staying in Rome, this is where you’ll probably want to stay. (Nota bene: There are, of course, many other, perfectly pleasant neighborhoods in Rome outside of the historic center. But I’m sticking to the centro storico here just because it tends to be most conveneint for most people).

Now, for the neighborhoods. (I recommend opening a tab with Google maps and keeping it handy so you can refer back and forth!).

The neighborhood where… everyone stays: the heart of the centro storico

What neighborhood to stay in in Rome
The Spanish Steps: in the heart of it all

This isn’t technically a neighborhood, but I’m using it as shorthand for the central area that most people think of when they think “Rome”—the triangle with Piazza del Popolo in the north, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain to the east, and the Pantheon and Piazza Navona to the west.

This stunning area is home to cobb where most people want to stay. Of course, it’s also where hotels are the most expensive, where the streets crowd with tourists and shoppers, and where 99% of restaurants are overpriced and mediocre. On the other hand, every corner looks like a postcard. Hey, you win some, you lose some!

A street in the historic center
In the streets around Piazza Navona, every corner looks like a postcard

The neighborhood where… it feels most big-city: Via Veneto, Piazza Barberini and Repubblica

This northeastern corner of the historic center is home to the winding Via Veneto. The street is famous for its hotels—although most seem, at least to me, to be huge and overpriced. Meanwhile, the rest of the area, especially near the Barberini and Repubblica metro stops, feels like a big city.

For the most part, forget cobblestones and quaint churches. This is where the buildings are tall, the streets wide, and the passersby businesslike.

Come il Latte best gelato in Rome
Then again, the Repubblica area is home to my favorite gelato shop, Come il Latte, so… there’s that.

Termini and the Esquiline

Although some hoteliers diplomatically call this neighborhood “Monti,” anything from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele to Santa Maria Maggiore and northeast to the Termini train station is, more properly, the Esquiline hill. In general, the neighborhood here tends to feel gritty and look grungy. This is where you’ll see immigrants hawking counterfeited purses, homeless people huddling in corners, and garbage littering the street.

It’s also home to many of Rome’s cheapest hotels, hostels and B&Bs.

The area tends to be perfectly safe. Rome is, as a whole, much safer when it comes to muggings and violent crimes than pretty much any city in America, as well as Dublin, London and Paris. But it may not be what you imagined when you first pictured Rome. Also keep in mind that, while it may seem very convenient to stay near the train station, and while that means this area is well-connected by metro and bus, it’s not within easy walking distance of most of the major sights, like the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.

Monti

Monti, a neighborhood in Rome
A classic street corner in Monti

In ancient times, this rione was the red-light district, home to gladiators and prostitutes (Julius Caesar even moved there to show he was “one of the people”). Today, it’s a gorgeous little neighborhood filled with medieval palazzi, cobblestoned streets, and an eclectic mix of traditional trattorie and hip boutiques.

If you want to stay here, look at the area bordered by Via Nazionale (to the west), Santa Maria Maggiore (to the north), the Colle Oppio park (to the east), and the Roman forum and Colosseum (to the south).

Piazzetta in Monti neighborhood of Rome
This little piazzetta in Monti is where all the locals hang out — and where Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin and all the rest filmed some key scenes from To Rome with Love back in 2011

Celio

 

Celio neighborhood Colosseum
The Celio neighborhood, near the Colosseum: my home for four years

Further southwest of Monti is Celio, another rione with a strong history. The couple of blocks right around the Colosseum tend to be touristy and busy during the day, but the rest of this area, which stretches southeast to the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, feels quiet and residential. I lived here for four years, and I still think it’s one of the most underrated areas of the city.

Aventine

This hill, just south of the Circus Maximus, is home to some of the loveliest streets and homes in Rome. Its small size and exclusivity mean there are few hotels and B&Bs here. It also doesn’t feel like it’s “in the middle” of anything, thanks to its greenery and the fact that it’s at least a 15-minute walk to most of the major sights.

Forum Boarium

This neighborhood is really a sliver, tucked just to the south and west of Circus Maximus. The neighborhood has some wonderful sights — including the Church of San Giorgio in Velabro, the Arch of Janus, and the Church of San Nicola in Carcere — and it’s just a three-minute walk to the Jewish Ghetto and Piazza Venezia. It’s also tranquil, lovely and off the beaten path.

Campo dei Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto

What to see in JEwish Ghetto the synagogue
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto: lovely and convenient

From Piazza Venezia to the Tiber, you’ve got beautiful ancient ruins, the Jewish Ghetto, lively Campo dei Fiori, and my favorite piazza in Rome, Piazza Farnese. This district has the atmosphere (and history) of the area around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, with half of the people.

Trastevere

Trastevere
A very typical scene in Trastevere

Just over the Tiber from Campo dei Fiori and the Ghetto is Trastevere, an atmospheric district that, today, is as likely to be home to American study-abroad students, expats and wealthy Italians as the working-class and bohemian Romans who once lived here. Still, the neighborhood remains charming. There are plenty of corners and tiny streets where life is still lived much as it would have been decades ago.

Prati

Prati neighborhood
A street in Prati

If you find the center of Rome’s centro storico too confusing and chaotic, consider Prati. This area around the Vatican, just over the river from sights like Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo, was laid out in the 19th century, so its grid system and wide boulevards look more continental and, well, organized than the rest of Rome.

Prati neighborhood of Rome with St. Peter's Basilicaa
If you want to see this view frequently during your trip, pick Prati

The area right around the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s is extremely touristy. But once you get a little farther away, authentic restaurants and the rhythm of daily life in Rome abound. It’s also easier to find cheaper accommodation here.

Testaccio

Monte Testaccio
Monte Testaccio, which gives its name to the neighborhood here

Just south of the Aventine, the Testaccio quarter is one of the least touristy in Rome — and has some of the best restaurants and bakeries in the city. The ancient area, which gets its name from “Monte Testaccio,” a hill that literally was created because it was a dump for ancient Roman amphorae, can feel more modern and gritty than the center of the city. But it’s perfectly safe, cheaper than the center, and convenient: Thanks to the metro and lots of buses here, you’re just 5 to 15 minutes away from Trastevere, the Colosseum, and the heart of the historic center.

Also: six of the best trattorias in Rome, how to act like a local and where to find that perfect souvenir or gift in the city.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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Rome’s Best Cannoli — and Other Sicilian Goodies

Ciuri Ciuri cannolo, Sicilian cannoli, Rome
It wasn't until I moved to Rome that I learned something very, very important: The sign of a fresh (read: good) cannolo is that the tube is only filled with that delicious, just-cloying enough ricotta mixture when you order it. Not before.

That's just one of many things that Ciuri Ciuri, the Rome-based Sicilian pastry shop, does right.  

You may have had cannoli before, but — unless you've been to Sicily — you probably haven't had cannoli like these. I once met a Sicilian girl living here who swore that Ciuri Ciuri's cannoli were the only ones she would touch between flights home. And, as a confession, I usually find Italian sweets not-quite-sweet-enough. (Hey, I'm American: More is better, baby). That's never a problem with Ciuri Ciuri. (That, combined with the fact that one of their stores is right across the street from me, makes this shop very dangerous indeed).

But no need to stop at a cannolo (with orange slice, pistachios, or chocolate chips, as you prefer). How about something Sicilian and savory, like an arancino? Or something that looks savory but isn't… like this marzipan? (I swear the corn cob tasted like corn. No, I wasn't sure how I felt about that).

Marzipan from Ciuri Ciuri pastry shop, Rome

Ciuri Ciuri isn't Rome's cheapest pastry shop. A cannolo is (if I recall) €2.50, and those three chunks of marzipan above set me back some €8.

But when it comes to tasting a little slice of heaven, who's counting coins?

Ciuri Ciuri has four Rome locations: Monti (Via Leonina 18/20), Celio (Via Labicana 126/128), Largo Argentina (Largo Teatro Valle 1/2), and Trastevere (Piazza San Cosimato 49b). (Click the link for maps). And, by Rome standards, they're open strangely late — till midnight at all locations but Celio, where they're open till 11pm.

Verrrrry dangerous.

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Trattoria Luzzi: At the Colosseum, a Good Option Among the Bad

 

Pizza capricciosa at Luzzi, a trattoria near the Colosseum, RomeEveryone seems to love Luzzi, a trattoria just down the street from the Colosseum.

Tourists love it because it has checkered tablecloths, waiters who speak English and are (gasp!) friendly to them — but who still yell at each other across the room in Italian, and an earlier opening time for dinner than most other 8pm-and-after restaurants.

Locals love it, although a little less, because the waiters are nuts but (usually) fast, and the
menu's cheap: €6 and under for most pizzas and pastas.

The only people who don't love it is foodies. That's because Luzzi is not for those of us who pick apart whether the guanciale tastes smoky or if the pasta is fresh, or who want a wine list (you won't find one here). Luzzi doesn't serve some of the best food in Rome. It doesn't even serve some of the best cheap food in Rome. (For that, see: places in San Lorenzo and Testaccio, including Il Pommidoro and Nuovo Mondo, and some in Trastevere, including Roma Sparita).

But Luzzi fits a certain need. That need is for a place that's fun, cheap, and reliably okay within a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum, an area where you can't throw a guidebook without hitting a terrible, touristy, overpriced place that caters to, and is filled with, people with their noses in the same guidebook. And some of its dishes are pretty good, including the amatriciana or fettucine alla bolognese (both €5.50), and starters like the octopus grigliata or the antipasto that you get yourself. Help yourself to the array of veggies and other goodies in the back, and you'll be charged depending on the size of your plate — this big plate cost about €4 (below).

Antipasto at Luzzi, RomeIn the evening, though, your best bet at Luzzi is the pizza (shown at top). It doesn't hold up to the pies coming out of Luzzi's neighbor Li Rioni, but then again, Li Rioni is a dedicated pizzeria, no pastas on the menu. Luzzi isn't. And even so, their pizza's pretty darn reliable, always with a proper thin Roman crust and fresh ingredients.

(Well, almost always. Never, ever order their pizza at lunch; it seems Luzzi's pizza chef is only on at dinner. So what you'll wind up with, instead, is a kind of undercooked, floppy monstrosity that scares away all the other pizzas on the playground).

So am I recommending Luzzi or not? If you're in the Colosseum neighborhood and are at risk of winding up in one of the other myriad and awful places in the area, if a friendly, bustling atmosphere is more important to you than if every dish is perfect, or if you're used to places where guitarists sing "That's Amore" to you and where spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu and you want to try something a little more authentic, then yes. If you're the type who likes to reserve dinners in advance and eat the very best of what Rome has to offer…mmm…probably not.

(That doesn't mean I don't love you, Luzzi!)

Luzzi. Via di San Giovanni in Laterano 88. Open for lunch and dinner daily except for Wednesday. 06 7096332‎. For a map, click here.  

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Il Tajut: For Italian Food that’s Far from Rome

Dish from Friuli served at Il Tajut, Rome 

When Il Tajut, my local cultural association, restaurant and wine bar, moved to the Parco degli Acquedotti this summer, I was despondent. When I wanted Italian food — but couldn't face another night of pasta amatriciana, gruff Roman service, and loud, packed restaurants — where would I go?

Thankfully, Il Tajut has returned from exile. And for a restaurant experience unlike Rome's usual offerings, it's as reliable as ever.

From the start, your experience at Tajut will be a little, well, different. Its door will be closed. You won't be sure if it's really a restaurant, or open, or not. Sometimes, you may have to ring the buzzer. And if it's your first time there, you'll also be asked to fill out a membership card with your name and details. That's because Tajut is a cultural association. (More on what that means in an upcoming post). Everyone who dines here has to be a "member."

The good news is, it's a good club to be in…even if, looking around you, you might notice few other members. On a recent Saturday when the restaurant had just reopened, only half of the tables were full. Usually, I take this as a bad omen. In Tajut's case, though, I think the place hasn't really been discovered yet. (Except for a review in Corriere della Sera last year that ripped them apart, particularly for not having many of their dishes on the menu. Oops).

So why recommend them? Because the food is reliably good, if not perfect. (And yes, the limited staff — the owner's always the chef, a blond woman's always the server — is often out of dishes). Most importantly, though, Il Tajut is different. 

Frico from Il Tajut, a Friulian restaurant in RomeThe menu features cuisine from Friuli, a small, northern Italian region that borders Slovenia and Austria. There's no amatriciana here; instead, specialties include frico, a flat cake made with potatoes, onions, and cheese (€9), shown at left; spatzli, a kind of pasta well-known to Swiss and Germans (€9); canederli, dumplings that here are made out of bread and mixed with butter and ricotta (€10); and goulash, that hearty stew usually credited with Hungarian origins (€10). The last time I was there, I had a delicious tagliolini with venison ragu and ricotta affumicata (€10). And the wine list is extensive, boasting a number of northern Italian wines that are hard to find elsewhere in Rome.

The place isn't perfect. A dish of sausage and potatoes (shown at top) was swimming in even more oil than you'd expect, most of the food is fairly heavy, and the prices are a little high for what's essentially peasant fare. The service (as in, the one waitress) isn't always particularly fast.

But for super-friendly, personalized service, a quiet, whimsical atmosphere, and a taste of something different, Il Tajut is just right.

Il Tajut. Via San Giovanni in Laterano 244, in Celio, near San Giovanni in Laterano and a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum. Dinner only; open from 7pm daily. For a map and more information, click here.

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Santo Stefano Rotondo, for Strong Stomachs Only

Santo Stefano in Rotondo, Rome
If you get nightmares — or nausea — easily, don't visit the Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo.

Think you can handle it? Then welcome to some of the most graphic frescoes of 16th-century Rome.

First, though, there's more to this church than its frescoes. Built on top of the remains of a 2nd-century Mithraic temple (currently being excavated), the church was built in the fifth century A.D. to hold the body of Saint Stephen, which just had been brought to Rome from the Holy Land. The church's architecture is particularly unusual. As Rome's first circular church, it was modeled after Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Back then, with another entire ambulatory besides the two there today, it would have been much larger).

Santo Stefano in Rotondo also holds some odd treasures: a 6th-century mosaic of St. Primus and St. Felicianus; the tomb of Irish king Donough O'Brien, who died in Rome in 1064; a chair of Pope Gregory the Great from 580.

But if you go to the church, you could miss all of this for its frescoes.

Spiraling around the circular walls, the paintings depict 34 different martyrs — each being killed in gruesome ways. (Molten lead poured down the throat? Check. Breasts cut off? Check. Boiled alive? Check!) Commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII near the end of the 16th century, the paintings are naturalistic in their graphic displays, making anyone who looks closely enough wince. The peaceful expressions on most of the martyrs' faces go somewhat toward mitigating the"ouch ouch OUCH" effect… although in all honesty, I find that eerie calm a bit more disturbing than convincing.  Scenes of martyrdom at Santo Stefano in Rotondo.

Charles Dickens may have put it best, writing of his visit of the "hideous paintings" that cover the walls. He wrote,

…such a panorama of horror and butchery no man could imagine in his sleep, though he were to eat a whole pig raw, for supper. Grey-bearded men being boiled, fried, grilled, crimped, singed, eaten by wild beasts, worried by dogs, buried alive, torn asunder by horses, chopped up small with hatchets: women having their breasts torn with iron pinchers, their tongues cut out, their ears screwed off, their jaws broken, their bodies stretched upon the rack, or skinned upon the stake, or crackled up and melted in the fire: these are among the mildest subjects.

So, what do you think: Can you handle it?

If you can, remember that Santo Stefano Rotondo is closed Mondays and Sunday afternoons; otherwise, it's open from 9:30am-12:30. It's also open 3pm-6pm in the summers, and 2pm-5pm in the winter. The address is Via di Santo Stefano Rotondo 7, about a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum or from San Giovanni in Laterano, and right nearby the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati. For more information about the church, click here. For a map, click here.

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The Medieval Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati

Chapel of St. Sylvester of the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome
The Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati boasts a 12th-century church (with 4th-century origins), a lovely cloister, and beautifully-preserved 13th-century frescoes (above). And it’s only a short walk from the Colosseum or San Giovanni in Laterano. But I’ve yet to see more than a handful of visitors there.

I’m not complaining: The basilica does, after all, include a convent, and it’s nice to see it all undisturbed by hordes of visitors. But. The church is a gem — and a must-see for anyone interested in Rome’s off-the-beaten-path sites.

The first church here was founded in the 4th century. Its name, “four crowned saints,” comes from its original dedication to the four soldiers who were martyred by Emperor Diocletian after they refused to sacrifice to a pagan god. But in 1084, the Normans burned the church to the ground during their sack of Rome.

Pope Paschal II built the “new” version of Santi Quattro Coronati in the early 1100s, but at only half the size of the original. (Imagine!) Still, the structure remains impressive, particularly for the lesson that the pope seems to have taken from the Norman sack: If you’re going to build, might as well build fortified. Even today, Santi Quattro Coronati has the appearance, looming from atop the Celian hill and surrounded by thick walls, of a military fort.DSC_0138

There are two parts of the basilica that you shouldn’t miss — but would if you didn’t know what to look for. One is the Romanesque cloister (right). Once in the main basilica, ring a bell on the left wall. One of the Augustinian nuns will come to let you into the peaceful, lovely space. (Donations are requested, though not required, for the upkeep of the convent and the basilica. These churches aren’t so wealthy anymore, and much of their art is suffering. If you can, give a euro or two).

Once you’ve exited both the cloister and the basilica and are in the main courtyard, you’ll see a door to your left. That leads to the Chapel of St. Sylvester. Glorious but intimate, the chapel highlights the incredible narrative power of medieval frescoes, even those done by artists whose names have been forgotten. Don’t miss it.

To enter the chapel, ring the little bell on the left after you’ve walked in. A nun will appear behind the grate and ask how many you are. The fee is 1 Euro per person. Once you’ve paid, she’ll buzz you into the chapel. There, you’ll find an entire 13th-century cycle of frescoes commemorating the life of St. Sylvester (below); they’re charming (they hadn’t quite figured out perspective yet!), but breathtaking, too. Not to mention that they’re incredibly rare for their state of preservation, giving you a chance to see 700-year-old frescoes largely as they’re meant to be seen — vivid with color and detail.

It’s not all that often that you get to see medieval frescoes in Renaissance art-laden Rome. Especially not alone, as you’re likely to be. Enjoy it.DSC_0171

The Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati is located at Via dei Santi Quattro 20; click here for a map. The basilica is open daily from 6:15am-8pm, but 6:45am-12:30pm and 3pm-7:30pm on Sundays and holidays. The Chapel of St. Sylvester is open from 9:30am-12pm and 4:30pm-6pm daily and from 9am-10:40am and 4pm-5:45pm on Sundays and holidays. In the Basilica, as in all churches in Rome, remember to bring some kind of covering for your shoulders and wear knee-length skirts or trousers; even if it’s not enforced, it’s a sign of respect for the church.

 

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Summer Jazz Concerts at Rome’s Villa Celimontana (Updated for 2013)

Jazz band at the Villa Celimontana summer series, Rome
If Rome's other summer events—including its festival on the banks of the Tiber River and its outdoor pool near the Colosseum—aren't enough for you, make sure you check out the nightly jazz concerts at Villa Celimontana.

[Update, 2013: In a total travesty, the historic festival was canceled last year and not renewed this year. The reason: lack of funds.]

Villa Celimontana is one of Rome's loveliest public parks. Once the 16th-century estate and villa of the Mattei family, it's also strewn with the remnants of ancient temples and palaces, including columns, statues and a temple altar. There's even an Egyptian obelisk inscribed to Ramses II that came from the
hill's Temple of Isis (and, originally, from Heliopolis' Temple to the
Sun).

Issues of archaeological sensitivity aside, there's no better place for summer concerts. The venue is small enough to get a good glimpse of the band and has excellent sound and lighting, not to mention a handful of restaurants and bars. (They're a little pricey, but not insane). As the sun sets over the cyprus trees, the breeze kicks up, and the music begins, there might be no better way to enjoy a Roman summer night.

Doors open for the concerts at 9 each night, and the music begins at 10:10. To get your ticket for one of the more popular concerts, or to grab a seat at the table at one of the venue's restaurants (which lets you order snacks, drinks and even a meal), be there on the earlier side. The concerts will run every night until September 4. Tickets usually cost €9 to €12, but more popular bands can cost up to €25 — check in advance. The schedule for upcoming concerts includes the Brazilian band Toquinho (July 31), pianist Aaron Goldberg (August 3), Italian blues band Blues di un Re Minore (August 20), and American singer Diane Schuur (August 30).

For more information about the concerts, click here (official website is in Italian). For a map, click here. Entrance to the concert is on Via della Navicella, number 12.

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