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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Art and Music in Concert at Rome’s Museums This Fall

Museums in Music ad from Beniculturali, ItalyArt is great, and music is great. But art plus music? Well, that's even better.

If you agree, then you're in luck this fall: A number of museums in Rome are hosting concerts and other nighttime events.

The most-touted is Rome's "Musei in Musica," offering free concerts at museums all over Rome on Saturday, November 20. (More details are forthcoming, so check back in a few days). (Click here for more information about the 47 different concerts occurring). But there's lots else going on, too — some mainstream, some quirky, all incorporating music and visual art.

This Sunday, the Museo di Roma hosts its last Aperitivo ad Arte. Go at 7pm for the aperitivo, take in a jazz concert (Alice Ricciardi and Enrico Bracco) at 8pm, and at 9pm, take the guided tour (in Italian) of the museum's exhibit "Il Risorgimento a Colori," featuring 19th-century paintings of patriotism in the time of Italy's reunification. The cost is €11, and the museum, at Palazzo Braschi, is located right on Piazza Navona.

Want more jazz? On November 27, check out Jazz Noir at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere. On November 27, jazz guitarists Fabio Zeppetella and Umberto Fiorentino will perform as actors read out noir literature. Admission to the concert is free with your €5 ticket to the museum. Reservations are recommended (call 060608).

If you want something a little less heavy, then try the Budapest Bar-Urban Gipsy concert at the Museo dell'Ara Pacis. On November 17, the band — which blends contemporary and traditional Hungarian music — will play, the elaborate, ancient monument in honor of Emperor Augustus in the background. The concert is at 9:30pm. Reservations are required (call 060608), and the concert is free.

The Museo dell'Ara Pacis is also hosting a multimedia show called "Dedicated to Sara…" on Nov. 26, 27 and 28. The show incorporates music, dance and images, along with poetic verses by Joseph Manfridi. The performance costs €12; you can book in advance by calling 06 70493826. The performance begins at 9pm.

For something even more imaginative, don't miss the Villa Torlonia's "A Bell from the Owls," a surrealist performance inspired by the Villa Torlonia's House of the Owls. The performance, which takes place Nov. 27 at 11am and 3pm and Nov. 28 at 11am, is included with your €3 entrance.

And, every weekend through December 17-18 (and again on Jan. 7-8), the Centrale Montemartini, Rome's former power station turned museum of ancient art (London's Tate Modern with a twist!), hosts its "Central Notes" concerts. They range from orchestral film scores (like Stelvio Cipriani's concerts on Nov. 12 and 13, or Nicola Piovani Cyrano's Film Quintet on Nov. 19-20), to blues (Paul Millns and Butch Coulter, Dec. 3-4), to rock (American Elisabeth Cutler plays on Dec. 10-11). The food and wine tasting, plus concert, costs €8. The showings are on Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10pm. For a full list of concerts, click here.

 

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Taverna Trilussa: Pasta Done Right, but for a Price

Review of the restaurant Taverna Trilussa, a well-known pasta restaurant in Trastevere in Rome, Italy.

Taverna Trilussa, restaurant in Rome

I'd heard many good things about Taverna Trilussa, tucked just behind Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere, before I went. Even from discussion boards on one of Rome's pickier, and (to chefs) more forboding, foodie sites.

I wasn't disappointed. Taverna Trilussa's pasta truly is traditional Roman, done the best it can be. But there's a price to pay.

First, there's the actual price. For a restaurant that touts itself as being "traditional Roman," the prices sure aren't. A pasta amatriciana, easily found elsewhere for €8, costs you €14 here. A bottle of wine, two pastas, and a secondo of oxtail, all on the cheaper-to-moderate side of the menu, rang the tab for two up to €73. That's without antipasti, dessert, or even coffee.

Second, there's the issue of atmosphere. This isn't a problem if you reserve a table outdoors: The large patio area is draped with ivy, romantically-lit, and a lovely spot for a summer meal. The interior, though, isn't nearly as charming. Big enough that its size seems warranted more for a cafeteria than a Roman taverna, its lighting was the real issue. It's not as bad as some Roman restaurants that seem to think flood-lighting and American 90s pop music are the keys to a Zagat-rated ambiance. But I did find myself squinting after coming in from outside, not the best introduction to a restaurant's interior.

Finally, there's the service. I was there on a relatively quiet Thursday night during ferragosto, and although the waiter took our order promptly, he didn't return for another half an hour. Neither did any of our food.  Coda alla vaccinara at Taverna Trilussa.

But if you don't get bogged down by the details,  the reward can be worth it. After our tummy- rumblingly-long wait, the pasta that emerged, brought out in the metal pans in which it was cooked (a little hokey, but hey, shows it's freshly made), was very good. I had pasta amatriciana, one of the restaurant's specialties. The sauce was just-right (not undersalted! yay!), with fresh, plump tomatoes and perfectly al dente pasta. My dining companion had the restaurant's apparently much-renowned ravioli mimosa. It was also yummy, although we had to laugh at how the menu had made it sound like it had a top-secret ingredient — really, it's just egg in the sauce. (Well. I think.) By the time our coda alla vaccinara (oxtail) came, piping-hot and falling off the bone, we were so stuffed we had to force ourselves to partake. Somehow, though, we managed. 

Taverna Trilussa. Via del Politeama 23, in Trastevere. For a map, click here.

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Roma Sparita: Eat in Trastevere, But Not With Tourists*

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I'm so glad to have just discovered Roma Sparita, a bustling restaurant and pizzeria in the heart of Trastevere. Like other tourist spots in Rome, Trastevere is packed with poor culinary choices. Roma Sparita, however, is not one of them.

Situated, with plenty of outdoor seating, on the broad, quiet Piazza Santa Cecilia, the restaurant was, at 10pm on a Wednesday, completely full of Italians. (That's always a good sign). Even so, the host hustled to get our party of two seated. Another waiter asked if someone was helping us. Within three minutes, our table had been cleared, reset, and a menu brought. For a restaurant in Rome–especially a popular, not-expensive restaurant in Rome–that kind of service is rare. Believe it or not.

*[Update, Oct. 2011: In the pursuit of honesty, I have to share that, sadly, this blog post is now completely, um, incorrect. When I wrote this more than a year ago, guidebooks, tourists and (most importantly!) Anthony Bourdain had yet to discover this place. But just a couple of months after this post, Bourdain went (rightfully) gaga for Roma Sparita's cacio e pepe in "No Reservations."

If you've caught this post on my blog about Rome restaurants almost always going south with newfound fame, you know what happened next. More and more tourists started eating here… and the food quality started to slide. The cacio e pepe is still good, but no longer great, and certainly not the best in Rome. Nor is this any longer a "local's place" by any stretch of the imagination. Even worse? Roma Sparita has started taking advantage of tourists who eat here. For excellent cacio e pepe at places that don't rip you off (yet), instead, head to Flavio al Velavevodetto, Trattoria Da Danilo or even Taverna dei Quaranta at the Colosseum. They might not have a fried-parmesan bowl, but they don't rip you off with a selectively-applied service charge, either.]

The food ranged from classic cucina romana to regional variations (beef carpaccio? you don't see that much in Rome). And it more than lived up to expectations. Popping the olive ascolane, a fried mixture of green olives, veal, pork, and breadcrumbs, became tough to stop doing–even knowing a pizza and pasta were on the way.

Then came the good stuff.

The pizza alla norma (shown above), a Sicilian dish with tomato, eggplant, basil, and ricotta salata (a salted, dried ricotta grated onto the pizza), was just right. And Roma Sparita's most famous dish, its tagliolini al cacio e pepe, deserved every accolade. Presented in a fried basket of parmesan, it was the best cacio e pepe I'd ever had. Truly. (To the uninitiated: a traditional Roman dish, cacio e pepe features pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. That's it. Simple, but delicious.)

Even with a good, €15 bottle of Sardinian wine, the bill came out to a little more than €20 per person. Not bad. But it left me with one lingering question: With restaurants with that kind of value in Rome, why would you ever eat here?

Roma Sparita. Piazza Santa Cecilia. Closed Sundays for dinner and Mondays all day. For more information, click here. For a map, click here.

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