The central part of Rome developed organically over 2,000 years, so an ordered, grid-like pattern of streets and clear city planning was never in the cards. Still, there is a bit of method to Rome’s madness: The city center is surrounded by the Aurelian Walls built around Rome’s seven fabled hills between 271 and 275 CE. Similar to the spiraling arrondissements of Paris, Rome comprises 22 numbered rioni, or districts, that define the city’s central neighborhoods.
It is hard to resist the postcard-perfect cobblestone streets of the historic center — the tried-and-true circuit between the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon — but Rome’s most interesting areas lie slightly outside the Centro Storico. That makes Rome an ideal Airbnb city, where renting an apartment can give you access to less-touristy Pigneto, San Lorenzo, and Centocelle — or offer the chance to crash in the upscale corners of the Eternal City, close to Campo de’ Fiori or around Piazza di Spagna, for a fraction of the price of a suite.
Whether you want to overlook the Colosseum or escape the tour groups by exploring further afield, here is the lowdown on the best neighborhoods in Rome — plus, what to see and eat in each.
CAMPO DE’ FIORI
Campo de’ Fiori is one of Rome’s most beloved public squares, thanks to its daily market and flower stalls; the name literally means “field of flowers.” Unfortunately, the once-traditional food stalls are ceding space to souvenir stands hawking novelty pasta (including phallic options!) — but the area remains one of Rome’s most characteristic and exclusive neighborhoods. Sunburnt terra-cotta walls and cobblestone side streets make the area look like it stepped straight out of a movie set.
The Coffee Shop: Roscioli Caffè
Just up the street from another much-loved Roscioli restaurant, Roscioli Caffè serves a perfect cappuccino made with beans from small Italian roasters and whipped up on a custom-built espresso machine. Try the mini-maritozzi, or the apple-filled danish topped with toasted almonds. Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 16, 00186 Rome
The Attraction: Arco degli Acetari
As a major tourist draw, the morning market with its mix of food and souvenir stalls is still a must. But to escape the crowds, walk down Via del Pellegrino and slip under the arch marked “Arco degli Acetari.” On the other side is a beautiful medieval courtyard that’s the stuff Roman house-hunting dreams are made of. Via del Pellegrino, 19, 00186 Rome
The Must-Eat: Forno Campo de’ Fiori
There is no shortage of good eats and tourist traps around Campo de’ Fiori, but when in Rome, eat pizza bianca. This historic forno bakery right on the square sells the olive oil-brushed pizza hot out of the oven. The just-right give of crunchy top and chewy center makes this one of the best versions of the quintessential local snack. The bakery closes for a few hours after lunchtime, but their annex across the alley (Vicolo del Gallo, 14) sells cookies and sandwiches made with sliced-open pizza bianca. Campo de’ Fiori, 22, 00186 Rome
Where to Stay:
This palace-turned-modern luxury hotel on posh Via Giulia has chic rooms that incorporate original architectural details. The hotel is well-located for scoping out everything from wine bars to artisan workshops, all within a 15-minute walk of the Pantheon. (average $370 to $500/night) Via Giulia, 131, 00186 Rome
A home away from home for design lovers, this upscale boutique hotel has tasteful mid-century furnishings, Smeg mini-fridges, Murano chandeliers, and a lounge-y bar around the corner from Piazza Navona, the stunning 15th-century public square built over the first-century Stadium of Domitian, once used for chariot races. (average $550 to $700/night) Piazza di Pasquino, 69, 00186 Rome
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA/PIAZZA DEL POPOLO
The central area around Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo is one of the swankiest in Rome. Its denizens are well-heeled and its shops offer prices to match. Known for its designer boutiques and art galleries, the cobblestone alleyways echo with the sound of stilettos and the clink of prosecco glasses around aperitivo time.
The Coffee Shop: Antico Caffè Greco
Rome’s oldest coffeehouse is an elegant stop that once hosted literati but now attracts well-dressed businessmen willing to pay a small premium for their espresso. Via dei Condotti, 86, 00187 Rome
The Attraction: The Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese
Fully restored by luxury jewelry brand Bulgari in 2016, the Spanish Steps are a meeting point and a place to rest weary feet during a day out in Rome. To escape the tourist crush, keep moving toward Villa Borghese for green spaces, bike trails, and plenty of picnic spots.
The Must-Eat: Da Gino Al Parlamento
Food choices around the famous squares are questionable, so cross Via del Corso and walk past Parliament to Gino’s — a charmingly kitsch restaurant with a classic Roman menu. Note: It’s also known as Trattoria Dal Cavalier Gino. Vicolo Rosini, 4, 00186 Rome
Where to Stay:
The First Hotel
This art-filled boutique hotel houses 29 rooms, contemporary art exhibits in the lobby, and a killer rooftop with views for days. (average $385 to $500/night) Via del Vantaggio, 14, 00186 Rome
Hotel de Russie
Here are exceptionally classy digs up the street from the Spanish Steps with a private interior courtyard filled with style-conscious Romans sipping cocktails. (average $550 to $750/night) Via del Babuino, 9, 00187 Rome
Once a deserted marshland, Prati is now one of Rome’s most elegant districts. The white-collar neighborhood can feel buttoned up by day when the corporate types and lawyers from the Supreme Court prowl its wide tree-lined avenues. Look behind the veneer or come back at sunset to experience the unique charm of the area, which showcases a mix of upscale boutiques and trendy bistro-style wine bars set on the ground floors of elegant turn-of-the-20th-century city blocks.
The Coffee Shop: Pergamino Caffè and Sciascia Caffé
Head to Pergamino — home to the best third-wave coffee in the neighborhood — for an espresso made with single-origin beans on a state-of-the-art La Marzocco machine. It’s hard to resist the old-school charm of Sciascia Caffè, a classic wood-paneled Roman cafe dating back to 1919 (and in its current location since 1938) that serves a mean coffee spiked with a chocolatey cocoa mixture. Piazza del Risorgimento, 7, 00192 Rome; Via Fabio Massimo, 80/a, 00192 Rome
The Attraction: Vatican Museums
Technically in Vatican City, which borders the Prati district, the Vatican collections cannot be missed. They include Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished St. Jerome, Caravaggio masterpieces, and Michelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel frescoes. Book tickets in advance to skip the line. Viale Vaticano, 00165 Rome
The Must-Eat: Pizzarium
This popular spot is master pizza maker Gabriele Bonci’s original shop, where Roman pizza al taglio is topped with everything from octopus to spicy ’nduja. The toppings change daily, but the pizzas piled with seasonal veggies and classics like potato and mozzarella are always winners. Go ahead and order small slices of several flavors, but keep in mind that the price per kilogram can reach €40 for pizzas with truffles or other gourmet ingredients. And remember that people here eat standing up, since there is no space for tables inside the tiny shop. If the line is out of control, find a limited selection nearby at Panificio Bonci (Via Trionfale, 36), in zona Flaminio, and at Mercato Centrale at Termini Station — but Pizzarium will have the widest selection and most interesting flavors. Via della Meloria, 43, 00136 Rome
Where to Stay:
Fabio Massimo Design Hotel
An intimate nine-room hotel inside a typical 19th-century building a short walk from the Vatican. The hotel may be small, but the individually designed rooms feature modern decor and big, comfy beds. (average $120 to $200/night) Viale Giulio Cesare, 71, 00192 Rome
Hotel Atlante Star
The rooftop bar is the real appeal of this hotel because of its garden setting and its impressive view of St. Peter’s Basilica. The classic rooms are filled with gaudy, dated tapestries, but there are some modern suites with a better contemporary look, and the hotel’s facade is getting a makeover in May 2018. For now, the terrace and prime location between the Vatican Museums and Castel Sant’Angelo make up for the interior design choices. (average $340 to $500/night) Via Giovanni Vitelleschi, 34, 00193 Rome
This charming and unique quartiere on the right bank of the Tiber was once home to artists and artisans and now draws throngs of Instagramming tourists. Sometimes, crafters can still be spotted in workshops hidden away down the warren of medieval streets strung with ivy, but the most ubiquitous residents these days are college students and Airbnb guests — which helps explain the explosion of tacky cocktail menus that appear around aperitivo time.
The Coffee Shop: Bar San Calisto
This classic Roman coffee shop straight out of the 1960s has a nice outdoor seating area. Come for the coffee served in a piping-hot cup, as local custom dictates. If you are feeling brave, opt for a caffè corretto (espresso with a slug of grappa) or go for the drink that draws the crowds of true bohemians here: extra-large bottles of Peroni for just €3. Piazza di San Calisto, 3, 00153 Rome
The Attraction: Villa Farnesina
There is nothing wrong with an aimless wander down the picturesque cobblestone streets, but don’t miss the overlooked Villa Farnesina — a Renaissance villa with original frescoes by Raphael. The ornately decorated mansion was built as a summer escape for a rich banker in the early 1500s, when Trastevere had more of a countryside vibe. Via della Lungara, 230, 00165 Rome
The Must-Eat: Seu Pizza Illuminati
Tourist traps abound in Trastevere, so head toward Porta Portese for excellent pizza from Pier Daniele Seu, a young chef who counts Gabriele Bonci as a mentor and gained a dedicated Roman following after stints at Gazometro 38 and Mercato Centrale. This is his first solo pizzeria and the menu is divided between classics like margherita, old-school favorites like spicy salami-topped diavola, and his own original creations, including burrata, tuna tartare, pistachios, and lime zest. Via Angelo Bargoni, 10-18, 00153 Rome
Where to Stay:
This three-room bed-and-breakfast with a garden patio is managed, designed, and decorated by Luisa Longo, a free-spirited textile artist living and working in the heart of the neighborhood. (average $250 to $340/night) Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 83, 00153 Rome
Relais Le Clarisse
A 900-year-old convent turned small hotel, Relais Le Clarisse has rustic decor and an interior courtyard that feels secluded even though the building is conveniently located just off Viale Trastevere. (average $120 to $250/night) Via Cardinale Merry del Val, 20, 00153 Rome
This former working-class neighborhood, full of turn-of-the-century public housing, has seen steady gentrification over the last 20 years, like much of central Rome. Geographic isolation and residents’ deep roots, however, mean that some of the original character of the neighborhood persists, despite the masses of ex-pats and food tourists. Known for its popular market and traditional trattorias serving cucina romana, Testaccio is the originator of many Roman meat dishes thanks to the influence of the former slaughterhouse on the neighborhood’s edge. Today, those old butchering floors have been transformed into an architecture school, a contemporary art museum, and an organic supermarket, among other things. For more information on Testaccio, head here.
The Coffee Shop: Tram Depot (Via Marmorata, 13)
This decommissioned 1903 tram car was converted into a kiosk in the 1950s and brought back to life in 2013, serving specialty coffee from Italian roasteries at outdoor tables. When Tram Depot closes for the winter, the neighborhood’s best cappuccino is across the street at Pasticceria Barberini. Via Marmorata, 41, 00153 Rome
The Attraction: Monti dei Cocci
Testaccio takes its name from the Monti dei Cocci — a hill in the southwest corner of the district that is made up of roughly 50 million discarded terra-cotta pots. The ancient rubbish heap dates back to Imperial Roman times. A guide is required to visit, so reserve a tour in advance, which grants access to the mountain and the top of the hill, where you can still spot sherds of pottery and take in impressive views. Just be sure to not to remove artifacts from the site. Via Nicola Zabaglia, 24, 00153 Rome
The Must-Eat: Mordi & Vai
It is hard to pick a single meal in this culinary powerhouse of a neighborhood, but the sandwiches at this stand inside Mercato di Testaccio are close to perfect. Order one that comes filled with allesso di bollito (simmered brisket) and bitter greens, trippa alla romana (tripe braised in tomato sauce), or coratella (lamb’s pluck). Via Beniamino Franklin, 12E - Box 15 inside the Testaccio Market
Where to Stay:
Some of the contemporary rooms at this stylish bed-and-breakfast have small balconies overlooking the local church. A Roman breakfast of coffee and pastries is served downstairs at the popular family-run Linari coffee bar. (average $110 to $175/night) Via Nicola Zabaglia, 11, 00153 Rome
Another well-designed bed-and-breakfast, Althea offers free Wi-Fi and a private flower-filled terrace near the Piramide metro stop. It’s also a stone’s throw from the Protestant cemetery on the edge of the neighborhood that houses the remains of many cultural luminaries, including Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. (average $80 to $120/night) Via dei Conciatori, 7, 00154 Rome
Having cemented its spot as a bohemian enclave, this trendy neighborhood hosts plenty of top-knotted cool kids sipping coffees next to the Roman Forum. Monti is just up the road from the Colosseum and has a good mix of old Roman charm and hip new businesses. Tucked between late-night cocktail bars, to-go sushi stops, and independent boutiques are traditional artisans’ workshops and antique stores along the picturesque streets.
The Coffee Shop: Bar La Licata
At this typical Roman bar, a bustling morning crowd of locals elbows for space to order a cappuccino or caffè macchiato (espresso “marked” with a little foamed milk). There’s a view of that ever-so-famous amphitheater at the end of the street. Via dei Serpenti, 165, 00184 Rome
The Attraction: The Colosseum
The Colosseum is also visible from the edge of Monti’s popular central square. Buy a bottle of wine and head to Piazza della Madonna dei Monti to sit around the fountain and people-watch in the Roman twilight. Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Rome
The Must-Eat: L’Asino d’Oro
The cooks at this Umbrian restaurant effortlessly serve decadent takes on classic country cooking such as stewed rabbit with hazelnuts or handmade pasta with truffles and anchovies. Via del Boschetto, 73, 00184 Rome
Where to Stay:
This chic 15-room boutique hotel has young owners and a design that feels more New York than Rome, which can be a welcome break from the Baroque touches in other city hotels. This one is well-situated for exploring Monti’s nightlife, but those who prefer a nightcap on-site will find one in the lounge. (average $325 to $450/night) Via Urbana, 6/7, 00184 Rome
This old church building right on the ancient Roman Forum got a lavish makeover in late 2016 and now shares real estate with Madre, helmed by critically acclaimed chef Riccardo di Giacinto. The gorgeous rooms are decked out in jewel tones. (average $175 to $400/night) Largo Angelicum, 4m, 00184 Rome
The Esquilino district was built in the late 1800s when Turin-born King Umberto I moved the Italian capital to Rome. This explains the long, once-elegant porticoes that are better suited for a northern climate than sunny central Italy. The area, sometimes called Piazza Vittorio after the main square, is home to immigrant communities from around the world, making it Rome’s most diverse.
The Coffee Shop: Pasticceria Regoli
A century-old pastry shop and coffee bar serving some of the Eternal City’s best maritozzi. The slightly sweet buns are split down middle and filled with as much panna (whipped cream) as they can hold. Via dello Statuto, 60, 00185 Rome
The Attraction: Piazza Vittorio
The neighborhood’s main square hosts everything from an internationally renowned food market and morning tai chi practice to South American music festivals and an outdoor summer cinema. This being Rome, there are also ruins and fountains scattered throughout. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, 1, 00185 Rome
The Must-Eat: Trattoria Monti
Two brothers from Le Marche run this small but refined trattoria that serves rabbit, ragu, and ravioli inspired by recipes from their birthplace. The minimalist decor keeps the focus squarely on the hearty cooking, which will set you back a reasonable €12 for pastas and €18 for meat courses. Via di San Vito, 13, 00185 Rome
Where to Stay:
Mecenate Palace Hotel
Come for the stunning terrace that overlooks the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, stay for the comfy pastel-hued rooms that are beginning to show their age but include free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and a breakfast buffet. (average $150 to 250/night) Via Carlo Alberto, 3, 00185 Rome
Hotel Napoleon Rome
This old-school family-run hotel sits next to Esquilino’s main square. The decor contains damask curtains and plenty of gold accents, while the location is adjacent to a trendy cocktail bar and great Indian takeout. Though the hotel is old, it’s perfectly situated in Esquilino proper. (average $120 to $200/night) Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, 105, 00185 Rome
Set along the train tracks leading up to Rome’s Termini Station, San Lorenzo is best known for its leftist leanings and bustling nightlife. Students from the nearby Sapienza University have reclaimed the former industrial area and it’s now the city’s main gathering place for cash-strapped artists, with converted warehouses and factories being transformed into studios, restaurants, and craft beer pubs.
The Coffee Shop: Giufà
This bookshop-meets-coffee bar is an ideal spot for those who like their cappuccino with a side of graphic novel. Cool without meaning to be, laidback Giufà perfectly embodies San Lorenzo’s student vibe. Via degli Aurunci, 38, 00185 Rome
The Attraction: Ex Dogana
San Lorenzo was one of the only Roman neighborhoods to suffer extensive bombing during World War II. As a result, there are few major monuments or ruins. The postwar revival came in the form of warehouses and other industrial spaces. One good example of the repurposing of urban structures is at the Ex Dogana: The city’s old railway customs is now home to a multi-use space for contemporary art, pop-up markets, a growing urban forest, and a club/concert venue by night. Viale dello Scalo San Lorenzo, 10, 00185 Rome
The Must-Eat: Tram Tram
Named for the tram tracks that run outside, this family-run restaurant serves excellent Apulian seafood dishes (as well as Roman trattoria fare and Pugliese food). The slatted wooden benches and 1940s-style tables give the trattoria that extra dose of Old World appeal. Expect to pay around €30 per person for primo and secondo. Via dei Reti, 46, 00185 Rome
Pigneto is named for the pine grove that predates the neighborhood, but today, it’s known for its nightlife and prolific street art. The latter is best viewed on the central stretch of Via del Pigneto — a pedestrian street that hosts a fruit-and-vegetable market by day but fills with outdoor tables and students after dark.
The Coffee Shop: Necci dal 1924
A favorite haunt of director Pier Paolo Pasolini, this historic coffee bar has a shady outdoor terrace and a refreshingly local crowd. Pop in at sunset for a €5 spritz and happy hour bites like mini arancini and fried pizza bread. (Stop with the snacks, though — the rest of the menu is less successful.) Via Fanfulla da Lodi, 68, 00176 Roma
The Attraction: Etam Cru Mural
In an urban corner of Rome that’s attracted street artists from all over the world, one of the most impressive works is an eight-story mural by Polish artists Etam Cru on the side of an apartment building at the intersection of Via del Pigneto and Via Lodovico Pavoni, 00176 Rome.
The Must-Eat: Mesob
Dig into tibs and spicy doro wot at Rome’s best Ethiopian restaurant, sitting just on the edge of the neighborhood’s boundary. A five-minute walk from the Pigneto metro stop on Line C. Via Prenestina, 118, 00176 Rome
Where to Stay:
Pigneto Luxury Rooms
This homey bed-and-breakfast sits on the fourth floor of an apartment building on Via Prenestina, close to tram stops. There are minibars in the deluxe rooms and junior suites, plus a communal kitchen that is stocked with complimentary pastries (average $70 to $130/night). Via Prenestina, 82, 00176 Rome