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A New Yorker's guide to Rome

Rome, a truly magical city where the odds of stumbling upon ancient ruins could be likened to those of passing a Starbucks in Manhattan, is a non-stop feast for the senses.

With so much to do, taste and see, from historical masterpieces and fountain-adorned piazzas to eclectic shops and inviting restaurants, even New Yorkers may find themselves overwhelmed at where to begin.

But will yourself to slow down and wander a bit, and you'll soon find that walking your way through Rome's must-visit sites is doable-- and rather enchanting. The old adage that life is about the journey, not the destination, will ring true as you stumble upon an artist painting a flower-strewn balcony while en route to the Pantheon, or stop to listen in on a river-side, Andrea Bocelli-inspired serenade, in spite of your impending dinner reservation.

While standing in the shadows of the Colosseum, exploring the Roman Forum or making a wish in the (unfortunately under construction) Trevi Fountain are uniquely Italian experiences, many of Rome's distinct neighborhoods, ranging from upscale and reserved to unexpectedly edgy and bohemian, will have New Yorkers feeling right at home.

Unlike Manhattan, however, this is a city that's never too busy for a dose of "la dolce vita," and perhaps we could benefit from taking note. For New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Rome is eternal, and there's something to be said for the way it's taking its sweet time enjoying the ride.

Rome's Upper West Side: Prati

Proudly watching over the Vatican, Prati is an
Photo Credit: Flickr/Nicola since 1972

Proudly watching over the Vatican, Prati is an elegant neighborhood with grand avenues, stately architecture and an air that's not snobby, but noticeably more composed than the rest of the city. Shoppers enjoy frequent trips down Cola di Rienzo for stylish clothing and home decor, while white collar workers report for duty in elegant offices and imposing government buildings.

Once you've had your fill of the Vatican Museums and perhaps climbed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica for the striking view, take in the beauty of Castel Sant'Angelo from Emperor Hadrian's Ponte Sant'Angelo, a bridge adorned with stone angels commissioned by Bernini, and then embark on a picture-perfect stroll along the Tiber River.

Stop at Pizzarium (Via della Meloria 43) for creative pizza-to-go and melt-in-your-mouth supplì (Rome's answer to Sicily's arancini, or rice balls), or at Duecentogradi (Piazza Risorgimento 3, duecentogradi.it) for some of the city's most popular paninis. While Prati isn't the city's top nightlife destination, you could easily spend hours basking in the ambiance at one of Piazza Del Risorgimento's outdoor cafes.

Rome's Fifth Avenue: Via Condotti

Starting at the foot of the Spanish Steps,
Photo Credit: Flickr/Greenzowie

Starting at the foot of the Spanish Steps, a perfect place to sit in the evening, people watch and marvel at your surroundings (as anyone who has ever perched themselves on NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art steps could guess). You don't have to speak Italian to notice that Via Condotti is a parade of home-grown fashion royalty, jam-packed with designer boutiques from Gucci and Valentino to Prada and Ferragamo.

If your wallet only allows for window shopping, get your fancy fix at Caffe Greco (Via Condotti 86, anticocaffegreco.eu), where your cappuccino comes with a side of old-school glamour. Arguably the most famous cafe in Rome, Caffe Greco opened in 1760 and has hosted scores of brilliant writers and artists, from Goethe to Casanova.

If it's a top-notch wine selection and fresh antipasti you crave, it's just a few minute walk to Via della Croce, where you'll find L'Enoteca Antica (Via della Croce 76, anticaenoteca.com).

Rome's Central Park: Villa Borghese

A breath of fresh air overlooking the city
Photo Credit: Flickr/nucsfan604

A breath of fresh air overlooking the city center, Villa Borghese is easily accessible via steps leading up from Piazza del Popolo.

The beautifully landscaped park, once the vineyard of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, holds the Borghese Gallery, with masterpieces by Bernini and Caravaggio (reserve in advance at galleriaborghese.it), a lake with paddle boats, bicycles for rent, intricate fountains and countless green spaces ideal for enjoying a sunny afternoon.

There's also the Bioparco, a zoo that is one of the oldest in Europe, and Villa Medici, with elegant gardens and an art gallery of its own.

Rome's Union Square: Campo de' Fiori

Campo de' Fiori was once a meadow (as
Photo Credit: Flickr/Giuseppe Moscato

Campo de' Fiori was once a meadow (as its name, "Field of Flowers," suggests) and an execution site (one of its victims, philosopher Giordano Bruno, is immortalized with a statue), but today it's a bustling marketplace by day, and a hangout spot for the young and restless by night. Come by Monday through Saturday before 2 p.m. and shop the stalls of fresh fruit, flowers and spices, or grab a piazza-side table for an aperitivo and watch a pick-up soccer game before the rowdy crowd starts spilling out of the Drunken Ship pub. For tasty Roman "street food" in a cozy setting-- think fried balls of pasta Carbonara and chickpea soup-- stop by Supplizio (Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 143, supplizio.net).

While you're in the area, head to nearby Piazza Navona, the site of the Stadium of Domitian. Though you won't catch any chariot races in modern times, you will get an eyeful of some of the city's most beautiful architecture and fountains, including Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Stroll lively Via del Governo Vecchio, just off the piazza, and enjoy a memorable meal at Pizzeria Da Baffetto (Via del Governo Vecchio 114, pizzeriabaffetto.it) or a creative cocktail at Fluid (Via del Governo Vecchio 46, fluideventi.com).

Rome's West Village: Trastevere

Sitting just across the Tiber River over the
Photo Credit: Flickr/Michiel Jelijs

Sitting just across the Tiber River over the Ponte Sisto bridge, Trastevere mixes old-time charm and local flavor with culinary delights and low-key but vibrant nightlife. Its vine-covered buildings, winding cobblestone streets and classically Italian Piazza Santa Maria make it one of Rome's most picturesque spots.

After you've toured the streets and peeked inside the Basilica di Santa Maria, one of Rome's oldest churches, stop in trendy Freni e Frizioni (Via del Politeama 4) for a pre-dinner cocktail that comes with a bounty of salads and snacks. But save room, because you'll feel like you're at your Italian grandmother's kitchen table as you feast on a causal, multi-course meal of typical Roman dishes at cozy eateries Da Augusto (Piazza Dè Renzi 15, trattoria-romana.it/da/augusto/) or Da Enzo (Via dei Vascellari 29, daenzoal29.com).

Stop by Cioccolata e Vino (Vicolo de Cinque, 11A) for dessert with a kick -- liquor in chocolate shot glasses are their specialty. To keep the party going, head to Almalu (Via della Scala 77) for a creative cocktail or Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa' (Via Benedetta 25, football-pub.com) for an Italian craft beer.

For flea market aficionados, there's no Sunday morning better spent than digging through the seemingly endless stalls at Porta Portese (Via Portuense and Ippolito Nievo, portaportesemarket.it), Rome's biggest (and craziest) market.

Rome's Chelsea: Celio

Just beyond the Colosseum, Celio is surprisingly quiet
Photo Credit: Flickr/mazzle278

Just beyond the Colosseum, Celio is surprisingly quiet and not overly touristic during the day. Via San Giovanni in Laterano, formally designated in 2007 as "Gay Street," is home to sophisticated cafes, fun shops and gay-friendly bars that keep the music pumping late into the evening on weekends.

Coming Out (Via San Giovanni in Laterano 8) attracts both gay and straight clientele for a relaxed dinner and drinks, while Hangar Bar (Via in Selci, 69), Rome's oldest gay bar, is known for its strip teases. Wherever you choose to go, there's no better nightcap companion than the glowing Colosseum.

Rome's East Village: San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo is home to Rome's oldest and
Photo Credit: Flickr/Henrik Mayor

San Lorenzo is home to Rome's oldest and largest university, La Sapienza, and the neighborhood is largely defined by its student population. Though it's not as classically pretty as other areas, San Lorenzo is a colorful hotspot near Termini Station known for its funky art, thrift shops and buzzing bars. It's the place to go if you're looking to meet young locals, have an affinity for counter-culture or prefer a more affordable trip to Rome.

For well-priced vintage finds, take a stroll down Via dei Volsci, and then have pizza with the locals at Formula 1 (Via deli Equi 13) or Farinè (Via deli Aurunci 6/8, farinelapizza.it). Catch an Italian film at Cinema Tibur (Via degli Etruschi 36, cinemadiroma.it), or stop by Said (Via Tiburtina 135, said.it) for sweets and probably the city's best hot chocolate.

By night, start with people watching in Piazza degli Aurunci. As the bars spill out onto the streets, decide which calls your name, or for your karaoke fix, stop by Vecchio Franklyn (Piazzale delle Crociate 22, vecchiofranklyn.it). It's no Sing Sing, but it'll do.

Rome's Meatpacking District (by night): Testaccio

During daylight hours, the only thing working class
Photo Credit: Flickr/Eric Parker

During daylight hours, the only thing working class Testaccio has in common with Manhattan's Meatpacking District is the meat -- porchetta (pork) being their most famous. Off-the-beaten-path Testaccio is the definition of low-key, with food vendors, fresh fruit and vegetable markets, casual trattorias and children playing in quiet piazzas.

Foodies can't miss the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio (Via Galvani and Via Alessandro Volto), an updated version of the age-old local tradition, where stalls serve up pork paninis and Roman street food. For a sit-down meal, try Porto Fluviale (Via del Porto Fluviale 22, portofluviale.com), a hip but authentic restaurant housed in a renovated warehouse.

History lovers should make the trip for the Pyramid of Cestius, a remnant of Cleopatra's influence on the Romans, ancient chariot racing stadium Circus Maximus and the Aventine Hill, which offers unparalleled views of the city from atop an aromatic orange garden.

After dark, the young and chic roll in, and Testaccio comes to life as Rome's hottest nightclub destination. L'Alibi is the place for house music (Via di Monte Testaccio 44, lalibi.it), while Goa (Via Libetta 13, goaclub.com) hosts top DJs and is lauded as the most modern club in Rome.

Rome's Williamsburg and Greenpoint: Pigneto and Monti

Pigneto is a neighborhood in eastern Rome where
Photo Credit: Flickr/Max Schimke

Pigneto is a neighborhood in eastern Rome where artists, musicians, intellectuals and bohemian youth mix with elderly residents who have called the area home since long before it was trendy. Today, life centers around busy cafes, and interesting murals make old, unkempt buildings worth a second glance.

At once gritty and chic, Pigneto is the place to go for whimsical shops, alternative music and vegetarian grub. Cheeky eatery So What? (Via Ettore Giovenale 56-58) hosts a hip vegan lunch crowd, while Cargo (Via del Pigneto 20) keeps sociable locals happy well into the evening. When the sun goes down, check out the scene at the pedestrian-only "area pedonale," and then spend the night with live music-- and probably a quirky art demonstration or two-- at Circolo degli Artisti (Via Casilina Vecchia 42, circoloartisti.it).

Well-located Monti is mainly residential, but is becoming increasingly trendy while holding onto its authentic charm. Observe the locals in Piazza Madonna ai Monti, and dine on homemade pasta at La Carbonara dal 1906 (Via Panisperna 214, lacarbonara.it), while browsing the scribbled Italian graffiti that covers its interior.

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