Rome Neighborhoods & Towns
Nearly 500 square miles of winding streets, atop or between seven storied hills and freckled with world-renowned attractions, Rome is a lot to maneuver almost any way you look at it. Understanding the Eternal City's layout can help you from becoming eternally lost.
Vatican City tucks off one of the western curves of the Tiber River, which snakes north to south to Roma's west. Ancient Rome is located on a large swath of land in south-central Rome, and many of city's other famous districts and attractions radiate off.
Accessible via the Colosseo and Circo Massimo metro stops.
The crumbling yet still-magnificent Ancient Rome is at the center of the city, in part of a larger area called the Centro Storico (or historic district). View the Colosseum, which a couple centuries ago, would host 80 A.D.'s spectator sports -- think Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator. Consequently, Romans donning Gladiator costumes (who sadly don't resemble Crowe) fill this area and will solicit several euros for a picture taken with them. Also here are Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and Circus Maximus.
When you're finished touring the nearby Capitoline Museum (Musei Capitolini), make sure to check out the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio. Frommer's says, "Because of its ancient streets, airy piazzas, classical atmosphere, and heartland location, this is a good place to stay."
Corso and Spagna
Accessible via the Barberini and Spagna metro stops.
North of Ancient Rome are the districts of Corso and Spagna, but more importantly the home of Trevi Fountain. To make a wish to return to Rome, toss a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder and with your right hand. Each year Rome collects more than €100,000 from the bottom of the Trevi, most of which is given to charity. An excellent gelato shop, the Gelateria San Crispino, backs onto the Piazza di Trevi, but beware the massive crowds.
The Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna are another iconic attraction in Rome. Fodor's says the famed staircase have attracted "18th-century dukes and duchesses on their Grand Tour, 19th-century artists and writers in search of inspiration -- among them Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Byron -- and today's enthusiastic hordes."
Architecture buffs will enjoy this area's monster-shaped Palazetto Zuccaro, the former home of 16th-century painter Frederico Zuccaro and current-day home of the city's fine arts library, and the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a palace cum art gallery. Sant'Ignazio (or the Church of St. Ignatius) is another must-see for its awe-inspiring examples of 17th century art and architecture.
The Villa Borghese is located just northeast of Spagna and is a sprawling park, complete with three museums, numerous fountains and winding footpaths. Let's Go Rome says, "Imagine NYC's Central Park, but a little less central, a little more Mediterranean, and of course, with a little more marble sculpture and Roman grace."
Navona and Campo
Accessible via the Barberini metro stop.
Navona and Campo are located to the northwest of Ancient Rome and brim with opulent palaces, from Palazzo Altemps to Palazzo Farnese, as well as churches, including the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. The former pagan temple, otherwise known as the Pantheon, rises in this northwest corner of Rome and even after hundreds of years, fits Lord Byron's description: "Simple, erect, severe, austere, sublime."
Travel writers say the Piazza Navona -- the baroque-style square, filled with fountains, sculptures and endless people enjoying gelatos or coffees at the numerous indoor and outdoor cafés -- are good places to rest after a hard day of sightseeing. Also, the pedestrian square -- Campo de' Fiori -- is a vibrant market in the mornings and a youth-filled nightlife hangout in the evenings.
Repubblica and Quirinale
Accessible via the Repubblica and the Castro Pretorio metro stops.
The districts of Repubblica and Quirinale rise to the northeast of Ancient Rome and also contain lots of palazzos, piazzas and churches. Travel Channel says, "Quirinale is the highest of the seven hills, has Piazza Omonima on its summit, with its colossal statues of the gods, Castor and Pollux and the Palazzo del Quirinale, where the president lives."
One of the more famous churches -- the Santa Maria della Vittoria -- holds Bernini's theatrical representation of the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, in statue form. Nearby MACRO, a contemporary art gallery is housed in the former factory.
Esquilino and Celio
Take a taxi.
Located southeast of Ancient Rome along the low-lying slopes and valley of the Esquiline Hill, Esquilino and Celio are known for their dead. The Tomb of Cecilia Metella (Tomba di Cecilia Metella), the Catacombs of St. Callixtus (Catacombe di San Callisto) and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian (Catacombe di San Sebastiano) are all burial grounds located in these southeastern districts.
The Basilica di San Clemente is a nearby archaeological wonder (a 12th-century church built on top of a 4th-century church built on top of a pagan temple). Santa Pudenziana is another famed church.
Aventino & Testaccio
Accessible via the Piramide metro stop.
South of Ancient Rome, Testaccio is hailed for its authentic Italian cooking. Here, you'll still be able to find traditional Roman restaurants serving up age-old recipes. But, Frommer's says, "Change is on the way, however, and this is a neighborhood on its way up. Nightclubs have sprung up in the old warehouses, although they come and go rather quickly." Aventino, on the other hand, has become an upscale residential district.
Rent a bike or take a taxi.
Travel Channel says this about the western Trastevere district: "Many people (foreigners and Romans alike) want to live in this highly desirable district, home of historic places of worship such as the Santa Maria in Trastevere and hot night spots like Trastè."
About the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Let's Go Rome says, "The portico's Bocca della Verità, a drain cover with a river god's face, was made famous by Audrey Hepburn in 1953's Roman Holiday. But beware, medieval legend has it that the 'mouth of truth' bites any liar's hand."
The Teatro di Marcello was an ancient theater that held 20,000 spectators, though later it was refinished into a residence for one of Renaissance Italy's noble families. Today, however, it's used as a venue for open-air concerts in the summertime. And don't miss Rome's largest market, the Porta Portese, which brims with vendors and shoppers every Sunday morning.
Accessible via S. Pietro metro stop.
Northwest of Ancient Rome and across the Tiber River sits the independent city-state of Vatican City, which provided inspiration for Dan Brown's bestsellers, Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. The pope's home, as well as the headquarters for the worldwide Catholic Church, Vatican City contains Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica), the famed Sistine Chapel (and Michelangelo's painted ceiling), and the extensive Vatican Museums, in which hangs Raphael's School of Athens, among other famous pieces. Bernini's Colonnade in St. Peter's Square provides a beautiful optical illusion, and the Vatican Gardens offer respite from art-overload. Note that guards will "shush" you if you're being too loud or yell at you for trying to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel.
About 40 minutes east of Rome is Tivoli, made famous for its Villa Adriana and Villa d'Este -- two UNESCO World Heritage sites. The hilly city, crawling with narrow streets and peppered with steep cliffs makes for an ideal countryside daytrip, especially after all of the city's cement and marble. The Villa Adriana belonged to the 2nd century Roman Emperor Hadrian, while the Villa d'Este was a Renaissance manor house commissioned by a 16th century Catholic cardinal.
Just 40 minutes southeast, the small town of Marino is best known for its Sagra dell'uva or Harvest Grape Festival. In October at the festival, the fountains of Marino are known to spurt with wine rather than water. The small city also shelters a handful of historic churches.
As always, visitors should use common sense when traveling and watch out for pickpockets on public transportation or in and around heavily touristed attractions.