Rome Neighbourhoods: A Comprehensive GuideApril 27, 2017 10:00 am
Explore your way around the city with our comprehensive guide to the best of Rome neighbourhoods!
The best way to plan your visit to the beautiful Eternal City is to divide your time across the various Rome neighbourhoods, or rione. Each has something unique to offer as this guide, brought to you by the team at the Rome Pass, sets out.
Ancient Rome – Celio and Campitelli
This is where it all began, the ancient heart of Rome and the Roman Empire. Perhaps the most impressive of the city’s landmarks is here: the Colosseum. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, it dominates the piazza del Colosseo. Commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian and completed in AD 80 by his successor, Titus, it’s the largest amphitheatre ever built, holding between 50,000 and 75,000 spectators in its heyday. It’s now the most visited tourist site in Italy, so booking tickets in advance (online or by phone) is recommended.
The standard admission ticket to the Colosseum also includes entry to the neighbouring Palatine and Roman Forum. In Roman mythology, the Palatine is the birthplace of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. It is now an open-air museum offering a fabulous panorama of the archaeological remains below. In the adjacent Roman Forum – marketplace, business district, civic centre and seat of power of Ancient Rome – you can see the supposed burial place of Romulus, the remains of temples and law courts, and fragments of pottery, mosaics and sculptures. A guided or audio tour will help you get the best out of the site.
Had your fill of history? Take a stroll to the leafy residential area of Aventine Hill just beyond the Circus Maximus and take in the fantastic panoramic city views.
The Centro storico (historic centre) comprises a number of different rione and contains some of the most iconic of Rome’s sights. The piazza Navona is at its heart, a lively square with street artists, buskers and plenty of cafés. Built over Emperor Domitian’s stadium in the 15th century, it features some of the city’s most beautiful Baroque art and architecture, such as the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and three splendid fountains. You can also take a fascinating underground tour of the remains of the original stadium.
Just to the east is the Pantheon. Originally built around 25BC as a temple to all of the Roman gods, it was given to Pope Boniface IV in 609. The Pantheon has functioned as a Christian church to St Mary and the Martyrs ever since, with mass held every week. This continued usage has helped keep the ancient building in an excellent state of repair.
Further east again is the Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the city. A dense and impressive mass of sculpture and carving, the fountain is over 26 metres high and ejects 80,000 cubic metres of water every day. Legend has it that a visitor who throws a coin into the fountain is guaranteed to return to the Eternal City.
A stroll northwards through the narrow lanes will take you to the Scalina Spagna, or Spanish Steps. Built in the 1720s, the 138 steps are a mixture of curves and straight flights, vistas and terraces overlooked by the Trinità dei Monti church. The steps were a popular gathering place for artists and poets in the 18th century, and there are still artists plying their trade at the top, ready to paint visitors’ portraits. At the foot of the steps is the house where John Keats lived and died, now a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets. This area around the Via dei Condotti is also where you’ll find some of Rome’s most upmarket boutiques, restaurants and hotels.
Vatican City & Prati
Technically, Vatican City is a sovereign state, but for sightseeing purposes it is just another of the Rome neighbourhoods. Official residence of the Pope for centuries, it is also home to eleven museums and, of course, Michelangelo’s beautifully painted Sistine Chapel.
There are no paintings in St Peter’s Basilica, the largest Roman Catholic church in Italy, but plenty of statues and some breathtaking architecture. Michelangelo’s sculpture, Pietà, is at the head of the right nave and the only work he ever signed. If you have a head for heights, you can climb the 551 steps to the top of the dome and be rewarded with fabulous rooftop views.
Catholic or not, mass in St Peter’s Basilica is an experience not to be missed. It is celebrated Monday to Saturday in the various chapels of the Basilica. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Rome at the same time as the Pope himself, you can even book tickets (free) for a Papal Mass either in the Basilica or St Peter’s Square.
Don’t stay indoors the whole time though: take a tour of the Vatican Gardens. A wonderful place for quiet meditation since 1279, the gardens now cover a large proportion of the site and contain grottoes, fountains, monuments and the heliport. Advance booking only, the tour lasts two hours.
If visiting the Vatican is the main purpose of your trip to Rome, you’d be wise to stay in Prati, just to the east. Affordable hotels, good shopping and plenty of decent places to eat all within walking distance of Vatican City, and there are two metro stops with good links to the Vatican as well.
A medieval working-class district, Trastevere has gradually been gentrified since the 1970s and is now very popular with visitors. Wander the cobblestoned streets, relax in the University’s botanic gardens and watch the world go by from the steps of the fountain in the piazza di Santa Maria.
As you’d expect from one of the more up-and-coming Rome neighbourhoods, there are some excellent restaurants and bars and a really buzzing nightlife. It’s also a good place for funky boutiques, plus there is a huge flea market on Sundays at Porta Portese selling everything from antiques and books to clothes.