The 3 best areas to stay
Rome. For seven biblical years it's been my favourite city now, and every time, with every visit, it grows a little more on me. Not necessarily because so much new happens in the eternal city. Maybe it's because I just don't make the same mistakes I made years ago. Like choosing the wrong neighbourhood.
Here are the 3 best areas to stay in Rome:
- Best Neighborhood N° 1 Centro Storico
- Best Neighborhood N° 2 Trastevere
- Best Neighborhood N° 3 Tridente & Via Veneto
- OH NO! Maybe not
Centro Storico – cradle of western culture
Think of Rome. What comes up first? Probably the Vatican (yes, let's just say it is a part of Rome!), some seven hills story and the historic center, even if there are thousands of definitions what the "Centro Storico" actually is. Let's agree on: everything 500 yards around Piazza Navona – deal?
A little lower than other parts of the city, Centro Storico seems to duck into a turn of the Tiber river – although it has absolutely nothing to hide. It feels like THE Rome, cradle of western culture. Narrow alleys here, markets and baroque fountains on big squares there, and a building of historic importance at every corner.
With all the visitors, all the incredible sights and everything that comes with it, Centro Storico can be a bit overwhelming, no doubt about it. But if you want to explore Rome by foot, there is no better area to stay!
You will get:
- more architcture and art than you can handle
- narrow streets, lively during the day, empty by night
- the possibility reach everything by foot
- guys trying to sell you umbrellas and fake LVs
That's due to the central location, exactly between the Vatican and the seven hills of Rome. You basically stay in the middle of everything which means you can – actually you must! – walk the whole area. There are so many columns and sculptures still buried in the ancient grounds below the historic center of Rome that nobody ever dared to build a metro here.
Speaking of old stones: The Romans live with and in between their ruins, especially at Centro Storico. You will drink coffee next to the remains of temples that are there for 2,000 years and should try not to damage anything that is on the UNESCO World Heritage list when illegally parking your car on the sidewalk.
Apart from all the sights like
- the Pantheon,
- Piazza Navona with
- Bernini's Four Streams Fountain,
- „Il Gesú“, the mother baroque church architecture,
- Campo de' Fiori and its markets ...
... for me it's more about the less famous spots, like:
- Via Guilia behind Palazzo Farnese,
- the stairs up to Santa Maria in Aracoeli,
- Piazza di Sant'Ignazio
- and the quarter of craftsmen and antiquarians in the northwest of Centro Storico.
God, I have to get back to Rome again.
Don't damage anything that's on the UNESCO world heritage list!
That's the motto when illegally parking on a sidewalk here.
Practical tip for Centro Storico
It's never a very good idea to bring your car in Rome (that's why everybody uses scooters), even more so in Centro Storico. Sure, you can rent one of the nimble Car2Gos, but even the smallest car becomes a liabilty when it comes to finding parking space. Sometimes it is virtually impossible to solve that problem in under 30 minutes in a legal way. And who wants to spend that time. That's three espressi you couldn't drink!
And, as much as it hurts to write that: High heels are probably no good idea for the cobbled streets of ancient roman streets.
Trastevere – shabby chic
Trastevere, the neighbourhood "over there" across the river, is a bit like a rockstar's crib: it always smells a bit of cold cigarettes and the long night before, but it has a nice view somewhere in the hills. During the day there are people with sunglasses sitting somewhere, speaking to each other with lowered voices. And somehow you miss the old days when not everybody in town was invited to the party.
Trastevere has been an insiders tip for way too long to still be one. That the district just one bridge away from Centro Storico still did not arrive in the mainstream completely is due to the fact that it kept its shabby chic and a certain roughness during the day. Not everybody likes that, but nobody seems to be indifferent about Trastevere as well.
- picturesque sceneries during the day
- an idea of roman nightlife
- narrow cobbled streets (near the river)
- parks and views
(in the hills)
- insider tips that almost everybody knows
You either like things districts that are full of contrasts or you don't. And contrasts are a recurring theme in this area, it started centuries ago when they named it "Trastevere", which means across the Tiber river, the opposing side if you will.
Life has always been a bit cheaper here than across the bridge and that attracted marginal groups of society: jews, immigrants from all parts of the Roman Empire, artists and expats later on in history. In the narrow labyrinth hat are the streets of Trastevere an indipendent culture of the Trasteverini, the residents of the neighbourhood, emerged and stayed ever since.
Today, two contrasts are the most obvious: the one between night and day and the one between shabby and gorgeously beautiful. While few areas of Rome can be as romantic and charming as Trastevere on a sunny saturday afternoon, the streets fill up quickly when night falls: people looking for good food, cheap alcohol and a wildly gesturing flirt.
The next day you leave the sticky streets of the transtiberian flats, recover with a coffee to go and enjoy one of the best views on the Eternal City in the hills and parks of Trastevere. Don't forget your sunglasses.
Day vs. night, shabby vs. gorgeous.
Trastevere is full of contrasts.
Practical tip for Trastevere
The hills of Trastevere provide some of the best views on Rome. Try walking alongside the street that leads up to the children's hospital "Ospedale Pediatrico Bambino Gesù".
Should you decide on going outin Trastevere on a friday or saturday evening, better don't try to get there by car or taxi. Even after midnight there are traffic jams on the street at the Tiber river. Seems like thousands of people have similar ideas sometimes.
Tridente & Via Veneto – Jet Set & Dolce Vita
Tridente – the triangle – and Via Veneto: Strictly speaking those are no districts and they aren't even completely connected in a formal sense. But there is an always present undercurrent between the two: It is the playground for Jet Set and Dolce Vita in Rome.
Both neighbourhoods have very different intensities though: A typical day in Ludovisi (that is the district Via Veneto meanders through) might end by looking out of the window of a dark car, watching trees silently passing by before stopping at your hotel to get rid of your shopping bags and disappearing for Aperitivo.
A typical day in Tridente on the other hand might end by overcharging your credit card some 30 minutes earlier and the wish that this part of the city wasn't that popular.
- all the luxury Rome provides
- Fellini feeling
- stressed out if you are not into big crowds (Tridente)
- afraid of opening your credit card bill when back home
Tridente is a triangle, formed by two streets: Via di Ripetta and Via di Babuino. The area south of Piazza del Popolo is one of the lively ones in Rome since decades. Young people making selfies on the Spanish Stairs, olde ones throwing coins into the Trevi fountain and making a wish. Girls without money asking Carabinieri leaning on their motorcycles for directions, girls with money getting Bulgari jewels delivered to their hotel.
If you are more into hurly-burly, shopping and luxury than into the authentic roman life, then Tridente is the quarter of your choice. I personally need a little more quiet after a day here.
Quiet is easier to get in the area around Via Veneto, where the wealthy and the Fellini nostalgics live and reside. Wider streets, trees, fewer people. You can breath here. Even better: walk uphill to the end of Via Veneto to find Porta Pinciana, the gate to the park of Villa Borghese, which is without doubt one of the most beautiful, quiet and relaxing spots in Rome. Espacially shortly before sunset. Believe me.
Hustle and bustle, shopping and Luxury.
A day in Tridente can be exhausting. Relaxation is around the corner at Villa Borghese.
Practical tip for Tridente & Via Veneto
If you really want to see the Trevi Fountain, bring patience, strength and nothing that can get nicked. Pickpockets and overwhelming crowds are a real thing here.
You can either go there coming from Piazza del Popolo or from the other side, out of the park of Villa Borghese, it does not matter. But you need to see the sunset behind Saint Peter's Basilica standing on Terrazza del Pincio once in your lifetime.
While some other areas are quite good for visitors as well (such as Vatican and Prati) there are definitely a couple of districts and neighbourhoods that are not as suitable:
- Although there are hundreds of hotels around the main train station "Termini", there is no real reason to stay there. It is a classic mistake for people visiting Rome for the first time. It's loud there, not pretty and the amount of weird and scammy people is way higher than in the rest of the city.
- In my opinion also the whole area around Colosseum, Forum Romanum and Circus Maximus is not an ideal choice because it is crowded with tourists and overall just feels a bit like an open field.
- You could argue that everything more than 2 miles away from Pantheon (e.g. the district EUR = Esposizione Universale di Roma) is too far out for visitors. Rome is very focussed on it's city center, you would spend hours and hours on public transport.
How is Rome structured?
- Rome is devided by the Tiber river. In the eastern part there is the historic Center and the seven hills on which the city was originally built. In the western part you will find Vatican City and Trastevere, amongst other districts.
- You could argue that the Pantheon is exactely in the center of Rome and thereby reference point for orientation. Almost everything that is interesting for visitors lays in a 1-mile-radius from the Pantheons.
- The Tiber river itself is not very wide and is crossed by many historic bridges. Between Centro Storico and Trastevere there is a picturesque island in the river.
- Few cities have as many systems as Rome for naming and organising their districts and neighbourhoods. The official district names for example are not really part of every day's life, instead centuries old nomenclature for quarters are still in use. There are also dozens of opinions on what belongs to the "historic center" in a city almost 3,000 years old.
How do I get from the airport to the city of Rome?
Rome has two airports: Rome-Fiumicino (also called "Leonardo da Vinci", FCO) and Rome-Ciampino (also "Giovan Battista Pastine", CIA)
Rome-Fiumicino (FCO) is by far the bigger airport and 20 miles away from the city.
- If you prefer to take the train you can either take the "Leonardo Express" or the trains of the line FR1. Leonardo Express will take you to Stazione Termini in about 35 mins for 14 € per person. The trains go every 30 mins. If you need to go to Trastevere, the FR1 line is the better choice, getting you there for 8 € (but not to Termini).
- The budget alternative are the Terravision buses that get you to Termini Station for only 5.80 € but take almost an hour for it.
- A taxi ride from FCO to the city costs a flat fee of 48 €.
- The Car-Sharing service ShareNow (formerly Car2Go or DriveNow) is operational in Rome and recently there are also cars available at the airport (Terminal 1). For journeys from the airport to the city an extra 10 € is charged. Furthermore, a ShareNow car is one of the best ways to tackle the last mile to your hotel or apartment, e.g. if you arrive by train in Termini!
Rome-Ciampino (CIA) is nearer to the city (10 miles) but not a lot of airlines fly to CIA.
- The Terravision buses get you to Termini Station in about 45 minutes for 5.80 €. The interval is 20 to 45 mins. There are other bus companies as wells, such as CoTral, Atral or Schiaffini, that offer basically the same.
- Taking a taxi from CIA to the city will cost you a flat fee of 30 €.
How safe is Rome?
Rome has an average european security level and is thereby considered pretty safe. You should be aware of pickpockets and scammers though, especially if you are near one of the big sights (such as Trevi Fountain, Spanish Stairs, etc.) or near Termini train station. Important: never cross the street without looking for scooters, especially in the first two or three days of your visit. There is a certain learning effect after that time.
What are typical rookie mistakes to avoid in Rome?
- You are visiting Rome at the wrong time, namely in summer (July/August), when it is brutally hot, many places are closed and there are actually only tourists in the city. Or at Easter and Whitsun, unless you come to Rome especially for these holidays. Then the city of the Pope is also full of (catholic) visitors.
- You want to see ALL the sights. Forget that. There are just too many of them in Rome and the stress of sightseeing will only ruin your stay. Better pick out a few things you really want to see and spend the rest of the time walking through the streets and markets, drinking espresso and having a good time. At some point you will come back to Rome anyways.
- You go to St. Peter's Square or the Vatican on Wednesday of all days. If you are not here especially for the public papal audience, it just means endless crowds of people, eternal waiting and ungodly stress.
- You queue up for hours at sights. In my experience, it's never worth the trouble. If you come to the Vatican Museums or the Colosseum after 4 hours of queuing - how much will you get out of this visit? Better come another time or get tickets online where possible.
- You go to the Circus Maximus and are surprised that this is not much more than a meadow with a below average level of cleanliness.
How do I get around best in Rome?
- Let's be honest, you will walk a lot in Rome. That's due to the fact that both public transport and driving a car is a bit difficult here. Also the distances between the most interesting spots for visitors are not that big, so walking often is the best alternative.
- Bringing your own car might not be the best idea in Rome. Driving can be quite stressful for foreigners not used to the loose interpretation of rules by most local drivers. Let alone finding parking space, which sometimes is nearly a mission impossible. The average Roman car is pretty damaged as a consequence.
- The car sharing service ShareNow (formerly Car2Go) might be the better alternative. Why? Because the small Smart cars are easier to park and also easier to navigate through the borderline chaotic traffic of Rome.
- There is no Metro in the inner city of Rome, so that option does not exist in many areas of the city relevant for visitors. There are many bus lines available, but those are not the most comfortable alternatives at least in the hot months of the year.
- Officially licensed taxis (white with a TAXI sign on the roof and the city's crest on the doors) are reliable. But there are numerous unlicensed Taxis as well where the chances you might get overcharged are quite high.
- Uber works in Rome. Apart from that there is a fun new service working in a similar way, just that you get picked up by a Roman scooter (Scooterino).
What are the opening hours in Rome?
Opening hours of shops in Rome are quite mediterranean: They rarely open before 9am but stay open until 8pm or longer. Between 1pm and 3pm some shops that are not directly in the city center close their gates. While most shops are open also on saturday afternoons, most shops not located in the city center stay closed on sundays.
Restaurants usually serve food between 11am and 2pm and then again from 7pm to 11pm. In the afternoon on the other hand it can be hard to find places that are open sometimes.
Many museums close their gates on mondays.
What's the best time to travel to Rome?
- The best months to visit Rome are the transition times between the seasons: April and May, September and October. In these months it's warm but not too hot. But try not to come here exactely at Easter time or Pentecost: the Pope's city is crowded with visitors then.
- Beginning in June it starts to get really hot in Rome, and prices are also on the rise. This increases throughout July and August, where it feels like only tourists trying to get from one shadow to the other are the only ones left in the city. Many restaurants and institutions close for August. Therefore you should probably avoid the summer months.
- An interesting off-season alternative: November and December (apart from the Christmas holidays): It's still pleasantly warm in Rome then, there are less tourists and the prices are a bit lower. Plus: You can observe the millions of birds building their spectacular formations in the sky.
- January and February are not wetter than the autumn months, but they are much cooler. For fans only.
How is tipping handled in Rome?
In Rome there are two special items on restaurant and bar bills that are often confused with a "forced" tip, but which actually have nothing to do with it:
- On the one hand, the "coperto", a kind of basic fee of 1-3€ per person, which is charged for place settings, bread etc. in restaurants regardless of your consumption. But coperto does not end up in the waiter's purse.
- On the other hand "servicio", a service fee, which is charged in bars and cafes where you also have the possibility to consume your snacks and drinks directly at the bar without service. Servicio is also not handed down to the waiters.
So if you were satisfied with the service and would like to tip, that is welcome (around 10%), but is not expected. Italians themselves tend to tip less in international comparison. It's best to leave your tip on the same tray as the bill and your change after you've received it.
What are faux pas to avoid in Rome?
- React stressed if a waiter doesn't bring the bill to the table by himself, although you have already finished eating (in Italy this would be rude from the waiter). You must ask for the bill.
- Order a cappuccino in the afternoon. This will at least immediately expose you as a tourist, Italians only drink milk coffee in the morning.
- Ask for something like Pizza Hawaii, or ask for Parmesan with seafood pasta. Also eating spaghetti with fork AND spoon will reveal you as a beginner, cutting pasta as highly uncultivated.