I will never forget studying abroad in Rome for the first time as an undergraduate. The experience completely changed me and I fell in love with the city. Every year when I return to Rome, I step off the train and I feel a sense of happiness and excitement as I return to the city where my love affair with history and Italy began.
I am usually dumbfounded when I hear students in Florence or Americans traveling in Italy say that they either didn’t like Rome or that they found it overwhelming (most will say they prefer Florence). But I realized during my most recent trip to Rome last week – as I explored winding cobblestone streets and hunted down cute cafes – that Rome is actually made up of two completely different cities.
The first is the city that most short-term visitors or tourists experience – a crowded and massive city exploding with things to see, wide streets with busses and cars trying to run you over, packed and sweltering museums, and an unrelenting sun as you try to explore ancient ruins. They spend their short stay in the city taking busy and less attractive main streets in an attempt to see as many sights as possible in the quickest amount of time. And because of this, they are often forced to endure over-priced and sub-par food in the name of convenience. From this perspective I get why many don’t fall in love with Rome.
Rome, however, has another side. One filled with medieval cobblestone streets, perfectly aged pastel plaster walls engrossed in ivy, and quaint restaurants serving up delicious Roman delicacies. I was fortunate that my first trip to Rome lasted several weeks and I was able to enjoy both sides of the city. While it is imperative to see all of the incredible and important sights in Rome (you can read my advice on conquering the city in two days here), you might also want to slow down a bit and enjoy the more magical side of Rome.
So I thought I should share my favorite areas of the city to roam, shop, and eat in. There are three neighborhoods in particular that I recommend and next week I will also give some suggestions on where to stay and eat in these areas.
Start your wander down one of Rome’s most beautiful streets, the Via Giulia. This Renaissance road, built by Pope Julius II, is full of beautiful palazzi turned hotels, chic housing, and ivy-covered walls. There is even a bridge designed by Michelangelo. North of Via Giulia are three streets (Via dei Pellegrini, Via di Monserrato, and Via dei Banchi Vecchi) teeming with independent artists, great (and eclectic) shopping, and photogenic little streets. On the south side of this neighborhood lies the bustling Campo di Fiori, which lacks the calm and elegance of the previous streets, but is a must for flower and market lovers.
North of the main (and unattractive) road - Via del Corso - is another great shopping and strolling neighborhood. At the center of this area is the imposing but gorgeous Piazza Navona. While this Piazza is a must see, the winding roads that emanate from it are equally beautiful and much calmer. Just behind the Piazza is the ivy-covered hotel Raphael, which has an incredible rooftop bar. Another great shopping and strolling street is the Via del Governo Vecchio, which turns into Via di Pasquino and ends at the Café Eustachio – the perfect stop for an afternoon café. Afterwards explore north of Piazza Navona along Via dell’Orso for picturesque medieval streets.
The area of Trastevere is my by far my favorite neighborhood in Rome. This charming medieval neighborhood has some of the best food in the city, not to mention gorgeous churches and charming streets. Cross over the Tiber River and head north along Trastevere’s main street – Via della Lungaretta. No need to avoid the main streets in this neighborhood, most tourists never make it to this area of Rome. Don’t miss the piazza and gilded church of Santa Maria in Trastevere before continuing north on Via della Scala.
While I would never advise skipping the Sistine Chapel to wander Rome’s less-traveled streets, I would definitely recommend devoting some of your time to enjoying the softer side of Rome. Remember, you can roam if you want to (ha ha sorry couldn’t resist)!
What was your first impression of Rome?