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Venture beyond the traditional tourist things to do in Rome. There’s much more to explore in the vibrant neighbourhoods of the Eternal City

An overhead view of a European city. In the foreground there are trees and bushes, and in the background there are city buildings.

Courtesy of Stacey Brandford

Twenty-five years ago, I arrived in Rome with an oversized knapsack, a fanny pack of traveller’s cheques and a brand-new art history degree—primed for the wonders of this city. Now, I’m back and I notice that familiar look of determination on the faces of (so many more) tourists crowding the squares. 

I, too, had an itinerary that stretched from the Vatican to the viaducts. I came, I saw, but was conquered by that checklist. Rome, with its millennia of history and culture, is not a place you can cover in one trip. This time, instead of queuing to tour ancient sites, my plan is to wander through some of the city’s many districts. 

There are 22 historical regions, or rioni, in Rome, plus more neighbourhoods in the outskirts, each with its own rich history, traditions and cuisine. Five days are not enough to see them all, but one can comfortably walk through one or two neighbourhoods per day, with plenty of stops for aperitivi and gelato.

Monti (Rione I)

One of Rome’s oldest districts, Monti was once home to criminals, commoners and poor nobles (Julius Caesar was born here, when it was still known as Subura). These days, Monti draws a young, creative crowd that frequents its many lively bars, trattorias and vintage boutiques. There are plenty of hotels here, too, well suited to tourists who prefer a less busy spot within walking distance of the sights.

A narrow, cobblestone street with bushes lining the path.

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One of Rome’s four major basilicas, the majestic Santa Maria Maggiore sits at the top of Monti. From there, saunter along Via Panisperna, past Monti’s narrow, winding streets and charming storefronts festooned with trailing ivy and sweetly scented jasmine.
 
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Veer slightly outside of Monti to visit Santa Maria della Vittoria. This 17th-century church houses one the most famous sculptures by Bernini, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Although he was renowned for his intensely emotive art, the artist’s rendition of Teresa of Ávila’s mystical episode was perceived by some as too sensual. The cool, hushed interior of Cornaro Chapel offers the opportunity to enjoy his work without the typical crowds.
 
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Bars and trattorias abound in Monti, but the good ones fill up fast, so make a reservation. Dine at La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, which serves up superior home-style Roman classics and warm, attentive service (not a given in Rome), as well as excellent views of the street this restaurant was named for. Go for an after-dinner stroll for glimpses of iconic ancient sites, such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Trajan’s Market.

A cream-coloured pyramid in front of a cloudy, blue sky.

Testaccio (Rione XX) and Ostiense (Rione X)

For dinner, Romans and tourists alike visit Testaccio, where the food scene is both classic and cutting-edge. But it’s worth spending a full day in this neighbourhood. Once an industrial district for slaughterhouses and butchers, Testaccio has many restaurants that maintain a traditional nose-to-tail approach to food, but you’ll find classic pasta and pastries here, too. 

LANDMARKS 
Shop for local produce and traditional Roman snacks at the lively 100-stall Testaccio Market. Then, sample a scoop at Giolitti, one of the city’s oldest gelaterias. Head toward Via Ostiense for a look at Piramide Cestia. Rome’s sole remaining pyramid may seem out of place, but it’s an example of the Roman fascination with all things Egyptian during and after the reign of Cleopatra VII.

A statue of a woman inside a museum. In the background, there are other statues and busts.

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Tour Via Ostiense and its side streets to view colourful murals by internationally acclaimed artists, including Italy’s own Blu. The street art extends all the way to Centrale Montemartini, an abandoned power plant that’s now a museum for artifacts from the Capitoline Museums. Here, ancient statues (some unearthed during the rapid industrialization of the early 20th century) are posed against a backdrop of diesel engines and steam turbines, which are also relics of a past era.

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Many contemporary restaurants have been popping up in Ostiense—including Altrove, with its multicultural menu and an internship program for young Italians and new immigrants to train with executive chef Barbara Agosti. 

Or stick with the classics, say, the renowned cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) pasta at Flavio al Velavevodetto, located on the slope of Monte Testaccio, which was formed by an ancient trash site where Romans piled millions of discarded clay vessels. View the excavated cross-section of the terracotta fragments from the restaurant’s windows. 

A tall, wooden clock in the middle of a garden, surrounded by trees and greenery.

Quartiere Flaminio and Villa Borghese 

An outskirt north of the city centre, Flaminio has become a hub for contemporary architecture and art. Southeast of the Flaminio metro stop is an entrance to Villa Borghese, a heart-shaped public park spanning almost 200 acres. 

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Enjoy a picnic in the Villa Borghese gardens amid a plethora of sculptures and fountains. Book ahead to visit the site’s crowning glory, Galleria Borghese. Situated in a lavish Baroque building, it showcases the Borghese family’s exquisite art collection, comprised of masterpieces by Bernini, Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Caravaggio, alongside numerous classical antiquities. 

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Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI) is housed in a sculptural concrete building designed by the legendary architect Zaha Hadid that’s as much of a draw as the art itself. 

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Consider indulging in a candlelit dinner at Mirabelle, at Hotel Splendide Royal. Or just splurge on an aperitivo at the Adèle rooftop bar. Both venues provide panoramic city vistas that include Villa Borghese and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The side of a building lined with restaurant seating and patrons dining.

Trastevere (Rione XIII) 

Cross the Tiber River by way of Ponte Sisto to spend a day meandering through the romantic streets of Trastevere. It’s a popular place, so bars and restaurants get lively at night, but it’s still peaceful in most spots. 

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Just before sunset, make the long, winding trek up Via Garibaldi to Janiculum Hill, where vendors sell wine, beer and snacks to enjoy while savouring expansive views of the city. 

An ornate window frame; the window is open and the view is of another building.

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Visit the palatial Galleria Corsini for its priceless artworks from Italy’s national art collection, including pieces by Caravaggio, Rubens, Fra Angelico and Van Dyck. Across the street is Villa Farnesina, a riverside pavilion with an elegant citrus garden. The interior is adorned with Renaissance frescoes, which include Raphael’s famous Triumph of Galatea

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Sample Rome’s street food—at Supplì, named for the fried rice balls stuffed with cheese, or, at Trapizzino, famous for their doughy pockets filled with eggplant parmigiana or chicken cacciatore.

An overhead shot of a plaza; there is a tall pillar in the centre and buildings surrounding the edges of the plaza.

Campo Marzio (Rione IV) and Parione (Rione VI)

Three major streets in Campo Marzio—Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso and Via del Babuino—radiate from Piazza del Popolo to define the popular Tridente shopping area. Follow Via di Ripetta into Parione, a historic neighbourhood next to the Tiber River. 

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Flanked by the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, Tridente is always bustling, and yet, it’s easy to escape down a side street when you need a break from the crowds. 

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Via Margutta, tucked behind Via del Babuino’s luxury shops, is so quiet you can hear the water burbling in the Fontana Degli Artisti, which commemorates the artists who have resided and worked here. 

Now populated with high-end boutiques and art galleries, this picturesque street became quite exclusive after scenes were filmed here for the 1953 movie Roman Holiday. There’s a marble plaque marking the spot where filmmaker Federico Fellini once lived.

Nearby is Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini. Formerly the studio of a 19th-century neoclassical sculptor, this eclectic caffè is packed to the rafters with his casts and sculptures. Enjoy coffee with a cornetto (the Italian rendition of a croissant) at a table wedged between the busts of several dignitaries and an oversized archangel. 

Now populated with high-end boutiques and art galleries, this picturesque street became quite exclusive after scenes were filmed here for the 1953 movie Roman Holiday. There’s a marble plaque marking the spot where filmmaker Federico Fellini once lived.

The bottom of a staircase covered in a rainbow-striped rug.

Nearby is Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini. Formerly the studio of a 19th-century neoclassical sculptor, this eclectic caffè is packed to the rafters with his casts and sculptures. Enjoy coffee with a cornetto (the Italian rendition of a croissant) at a table wedged between the busts of several dignitaries and an oversized archangel. 

Walk along Tiber’s banks and into Parione and get lost in this neighbourhood’s maze of narrow lanes. Then, retreat into Chiostro del Bramante to admire the contemporary-art installations cleverly integrated into the site’s Renaissance architecture. 

A storefront; at the top of the image, there's a sign with the name of the business and under the sign is an open doorway where there are shelves. On the ground in front of the doorway are chairs.

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Parione has many outstanding restaurants and bars. Luciano Cucina Italiana draws crowds for the creamy carbonara of chef Luciano Monosilio, who was awarded a Michelin star when he was just 27 years old. La Pace del Palato—a welcoming family-run trattoria highly recommended by the locals—features creative twists on Roman cuisine and innovative dishes such as a ruby-chocolate sphere with a negroni filling. Grab a late-night gelato from Frigidarium for your walk back to your hotel.

When in Rome

Italians practise lo struscio—the art of slow living—which is not so easy to do when you’re a tourist with only five days to explore. When I catch myself rushing, I turn off Google Maps and wander. Surprises beckon around every corner in Rome.

Live like the locals do.

A CAA Travel Consultant can help you find your new favourite spot in Italy, plus book flights, hotels and car rentals. Visit caasco.com/travel to learn more.

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