Rome isn’t just ancient art & history, but is actually quite cool. And it’s got a bit of a hip reputation, too. (It’s a capital city, remember?) In fact, the actual word hipster has even really taken off of late in the Italian language and more and more parts of the city and venues are being referred to as such! These are some of my favorite things to do in Rome, whether it’s getting a bit off-the-beaten track and visiting the outlying neighborhoods, or just diving right into to Rome’s most popular touristic places such as Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona. Even though the city can sometimes feel a bit like a theme park, there’s still a lot to see and do here. And if you’re in the right places with the right people, you might just never want to leave!
People-Watching in Rome
This is probably the easiest city in the world for people-watching. Rome is famous for all its public spaces where kids, students, families and young couples always seem to congregate. From the Spanish steps to tiny piazzas hidden between streets, if there are any sort of steps or stairs you’ll likely see someone sitting on them. Fountains are particularly popular—especially in the summer. Head to Via del Pignetto and the surrounding area where you’ll find the coolest locals — plus some great mens fashion shops, wine bars and some small live music clubs. Monti is also full of vintage and hipster type venues, as is San Lorenzo and Trastevere.
Where to Stay in Rome
Rome has countless hotels and hostels—a habit of being one of Europe’s most touristic cities. A lot of accommodation offers are located near the Termini train station, but you’ll find hotels and apartment rentals in the other neighborhoods as well.
- Rome Times Hotel — It doesn’t get much more centrally located than the Rome Times Hotel. It’s right by the elegant shopping strip of Via Nazionale and only a 10 minute walk from some major sites like the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Rooms appointed with HD satellite TV, bath tubs and free wifi and an extensive organic breakfast (catering to gluten and lactose-free). Oh and did someone say rooftop bar? Rooms start at €120 per night.
- The Corner — With 11 smart rooms, this place is not just a hotel or a B&B but the owners refer to it as a townhouse! Located in the Aventino neighborhood (with great city access and to cool districts like Testaccio and Ostiense), The Corner features a street level bistro, rooftop bar complete with hanging birdcages, and the rooms are state of the art with a tablet controlling just about everything. One of the attic roof rooms has its own jacuzzi. Rooms start at €110 per night.
- The Beehive – This hotel, called lovingly a ho(s)tel by its’ owners, is clearly a labor of love. The hotel is just a 2-minute walk from Termini and even has a small garden and café, making it a perfect place to hang out before catching a train. The Beehive has both private and dormitory-style rooms, plus a handful of luxury-styled rooms. The on-site café serves organic and healthy breakfasts every morning and the staff are more than helpful in finding cool and interesting things to do in Rome. The property is also styled with artwork from local artists and, every month, the hotel opens up and hosts a “storytelling” event—where expats, Romans, tourists and locals share stories around a particular theme. It’s a cool community effort and really makes the place stand out as one of the best in Rome. Dorms from 25€ and private rooms start at just 70€.
- The Yellow – This hostel (also with private rooms) has a popular bar on its ground floor, making it a social place to hang out and meet others. The crowd here is generally pretty young—a lot of backpackers. The Yellow produces their own printed map of Rome with cool tips and recommendations. Dorms from 12€ and private rooms start at 40€.
- M&J Place Hostel – A long-running hostel set up and owned by a local Italian, Marco, the M&J is a bit of an institution in the area. The bar and club downstairs stays open late and is the starting point for a bar crawl through Rome’s nightlife. Dorms are basic, but decent—you’d stay here for the social atmosphere and the crowds of other young travelers, really. Dorms from 15€ per night.
Nightlife in Rome
- Trastevere – Viccolo de Cinque street between the Ponte Sisto and Ponte Garibaldi bridges is crowded and lively on the weekends. In fact, the entire area around Piazza Trilussa is. Cheap food, people drinking on the bridges, on the church steps — you’re sure to have some fun if you hang out in Trastevere. Try the Akab Club for electronic and occasional indie rock nights. Baylon is super cool for cocktails (and cute waiters) and they do awesome brunch and snacks (including some began specialities). A couple of other hipster hangouts include Freni e Frizione (Brakes & Clutch in English, it’s a bar in an old garage where the aperitivo – mainly organic & vegetarian – is popular with locals, students snd tourists alike and the cocktails are delish) and Akbar where art, food and cocktails collide!
- San Lorenzo – Just a ten minute walk down via Marsala. It’s near the University so lots of young trendy folks around. There is a club or two and plenty cheap foods. Try the pizza at Formula One or Il Podista, enjoy chocolate and more at the warehouse decked out Said Chocolate Bar and hang out for drinks on the rooftop of the Apartment Bar. A couple of other bar options include Soul Kitchen and Rive Gauche 2. The latest on the scene here is Marmo (in English, Marble because it’s located on an old marble gravestone cutting factory site). Hanging lanterns and a large outdoor decking area makes this hidden (you walk through a factory door that your would never guess a bar lays behind!) gem the place to be for a cocktail and snack.
- Pigneto – This neighborhood (just further south from San Lorenzo) is one of thew newest hotspots for Rome locals. Wine bars and restaurants are the main fare here. There’s a speakeasy here called Spirito (think roulette tables and a rooftop bar that you access from a sandwich shop!) plus the Bottiglieria Pigneto is popular with locals. CoHouse is the new kid on the block here. A converted warehouse it houses a rotating schedule of chefs and after dinner is an exclusive cocktail bar. On the weekends, you’ll find your hipster crew brunching all day at Necci.
- Madonna dei Monti – The Monti neighborhood is probably THE hipster area of Rome. There are some great mens fashion shops and cafes worth visiting during daytime, but visit the plaza at night to see the real fun. There’s a local drink shop where most people just buy a cheap beer to enjoy while sitting at the fountain.
- Garbatella & Ostiense – Garbatella has evolved from a 1920s public housing development to a vibrant, artsy, hipster area. And Ostiense the same – its origins lay predominantly in industrial sites. Both full of bars that are illed with locals but friendly to visitors, in the summer especially, they are perfect for hanging and a good dose of people watching. Check out Porto Fluviale in Ostiense and the Gazometro area (old gas station) along the river, for the summer stands, street food, live entertainment and markets and Casetta Rossa in Garbagella for cheap eats and drinks in the funkiest, laid back setting of makeshift beach tables, hammocks and umbrellas set up on the grass for chilling.
- Campo de Fiori – Lonely Planet describes this plaza as the place where you’re most likely to find drunk Romans. With street buskers and heaps of restaurants, it was a cool area to hang out in the evening but it still felt a bit too touristic. Better to visit this square to mark it off your “been there, done that” list, and then head over to Trastevere where all the real locals are.
Who knew Rome could be so gay-friendly?! Sure, this is the city that gave us bath houses and the ancient Romans were never really shy about homosexuality. But it was still surprising to find so many cool, gay parties happening in the Eternal City
- Glamda – weekly gay/straight-friendly party during the summer. It’s at an outdoor club and the music is better than what you’d usually get at a gay club night. Drinks are kind of expensive, but the atmosphere is fun.
Muccassassina at Qube Disco – For almost 20 years, Friday night has been LGBT night at Rome’s Qube club. This gay dance party absolutely gets wild so expect long delays on entry and large crowds inside. Featuring live entertainment and 3 different dance areas playing house, techno and pop music. Every Friday night, October to May.
- Gay street – There’s an entire street of gay bars and clubs. Coming Out is a popular one. I didn’t get the chance to visit and heard mixed reviews about the bar, but the street is a quick and easy way to find some gay nightlife in Rome.
- Gay Village – For three months over summer (from Thursday to Sunday) a huge section of local parkland not far from the historical centre transforms into a massive outdoor party space. Featuring two open-air dance-floors, bars, streetfood trucks and live entertainment it’s the premier summer event not to be missed.
Eating Out in Rome
Italy is easily one of the world’s most delicious countries, and their capital, Rome, sure knows how to make some great food. Traditional Roman food includes things like carbonara and cacio e pepe, but that doesn’t mean the other Italian food you’ll find in the city isn’t just as good.
- Take a food tour — I went on a 3-hour walking tour through Testaccio—a great little neighborhood south of the Colosseum. It was one of the best food tours I’ve had and was the best way to get introduced to the city that loves to eat!
- Cantina & Cucina — Full of hipsters, no joke. Vegetarian-friendly menu.
- Formula One pizza in San Lorenzo — best pizza in Rome? I thought so! Plus the whole place was packed full of students at nearly midnight.
- 0km market near the Roman forum — Get lunch at one of the stands! There are hot meals in the back corner, otherwise cheese and fruit sampling throughout.
- Testaccio food market — One of Rome’s oldest markets, this place is so spectacularly hyper-local with some of Rome’s oldest Italians :)
- Water is everywhere. And thank god for it, because it is HOT. There’s even an app for finding the nearest free water spout!
- Dar Filettaro — near Campo de Fiori, grab a fileta di bacala (fried cod fish) for just 4.50. You’ll see the giant line/queue outside or else just walk in and go straight to the back near the kitchen and ask the woman standing over the giant vat of boiling oil for some fried fish!
Gelato in Rome – Everything You Need to Know!
I don’t think I need to tell you just how delicious gelato is, but just in case, I’ve shared a few of my favorite gelaterias below. For a more detailed gelato guide, check out this photo essay from HeartRome.com.
- Learn to tell the difference (there are 3 steps) – Best way to do this is by asking people (or take the famous Testaccio tour). Pay attention to the color, shape and ingredient list.
- Gelateria de Teatro – Arguably one of Rome’s best gelatos. They’ve even got some unique flavors like “chocolate with red wine.”
- Sora Mirella la Grattachecca – Tired of gelato? Get shaved ice (a sno cone) at this Roman institution. It’s at one end of the Ponte Cestio bridge. The shaved ice comes with a bit of fruit on top and the ice is made fresh. So refreshing in the summer!
Public transportation in Rome is easy to use, though be warned that it doesn’t always run on time!
- Bus 64 is useful if you’re staying near Termini – it’ll hit the major destinations and save you a lot of time getting around.
- Buy a metro card. It gets very hot in Rome during the summer and you won’t want to be outside for long periods of time.
Sightseeing in Rome
Rome has a LOT of tourist attractions and considering most people just spend a handful of days in the Eternal City, you’ll probably only have time to catch the best of the best. But rather, I recommend hitting a few of the major sites and then spending your time exploring the less-visited parts of Rome. Rome isn’t one of my favorite European cities for nothing. There’s a lot of life and energy flowing through the city, even with all the ancient monuments. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Take a walking tour through Rome with Eating Italy Food Tours. I took the Taste of Testaccio tour on my first day visiting Rome and it was without a doubt one of the best things I did in the city. It was a brilliant introduction to Rome and I highly recommend it. View their website and just try not to get hungry—I dare you!
- Ride through Rome on a Vespa! Scooter! Obviously everyone’s dream when visiting Rome is to meet a real Italian, fall in love, and ride through the country on the back of his or her scooter. Luckily, Scooteroma Tours makes this that much easier with a variety of private tours (including a foodie one!) through the streets of Rome…on the back of an authentic Vespa scooter! With the option for private guided tours of up to 8 people, there’s really no excuse to get that authentic Italian experience.
- Get the lowest prices on Skip-the-Line Tours by booking tickets in advance. Rome is one of the world’s busiest cities for tourists, so prepare yourself and save some time by booking in advance! Get good deals on Viator.com here.
- Take a tour of the Vatican Museums. There are a lot of companies offering tours or else it’s possible to visit on your own, though you’ll have to wait in long lines. I went on a tour with When in Rome Tours which was decent. There wasn’t a lot of time for exploring on our own, but it was a good introduction. After exploring the Vatican museums, try a neighborhood tour through Prati to explore the nearby restaurants. Check Vatican tickets and tours on Headout.com.
- St Peters is amazing, breathtaking and a million other words impossible to describe its massive beauty. (And I mean massive, the building is gigantic). I didn’t take a tour but instead wandered around myself, slowly taking it all in. The highlights are Michelangelo’s Pieta & Bernini’s Baldacchino. I really wasn’t expecting to be so taken in with the building, but it was hard not to come away impressed.
- The Pantheon is a must-see. It’s free and the dome is amazing on the inside. Plus it doesn’t take much time to visit and the architecture truly is spectacular.
- Rome isn’t just about ancient history, and a tour through the EUR neighborhood (easily accessible via the metro) is an interesting experience. The EUR neighborhood was built by Mussolini and features a number of buildings in the fascist architecture style. It was planned and built between the 1930s and 1960s and has a unique and unusual place in Rome’s history. Learn more about it on a guided tour with Context Travel.
- For something a bit more alternative, try visiting the Protestant Cemetery in Testaccio. There you’ll find John Keats’ grave, though there’s also a Keats/Shelly Memorial near the Trevi Fountain (closed Sundays, though).
Cool Souvenirs in Rome
- Trast Clothing — T-shirts and other silly souvenirs, but not as cheesy as the other stuff you’ll find in Rome
- Sexy priests calendar — For some reason, most of the souvenir shops enjoy showcasing oxymoronic things, such as sexy Vatican priests. Also: everywhere in Italy they seem to love to put Michaelengelo’s David’s genitalia on just about everything from magnets & boxer shorts to kitchen aprons
- Don’t take the ancient artifacts!
- Food! Trust me on this, go to Volpetti (a gourmet food shop) and sample the fine cheeses and balsamic vinegars until you find just what you didn’t know you ever needed! It’s so worth it and it’s my absolute favorite souvenir from Rome!
- Lots of Rome’s cool, local designers and artisans are dotted throughout the Monti neighborhood, around Campo de Fiori in Via dei Giubbonari and around the Piazza Navona area in Via dei Coronari.
Useful Resources & Travel Tips
- Heart Rome — Blog by my friend Maria which includes some great foodie tips, everything from the best restaurants and gelaterias, to where to find Rome’s best pizza…
- Browsing Rome — An insider’s look into life as a Roman, with comprehensive guides and stories from the Eternal City
- Use Trenitalia.com for buying train tickets…which is often cheaper if you buy online!