The first image that comes to my mind when I think about Rome isn’t actually the Colosseum nor the Pantheon, weirdly enough. No, I think of the narrow cobbled streets, filled with various bars, trattorias, and restaurants – enclosed with orange facades on which the jungle freely comes alive. I think of the streets of Trastevere. This bohemian district, very close to the center, is a haven from the car noises and the bustle of the city. Above all, it is mostly a pedestrian zone, so prepare your walking shoes.
As the etymology of its name would suggest, you have to go beyond the Tiber. Two main arteries that carry you from the center into the neighborhood are Ponte Garibaldi and Ponte Sisto. Ponte Garibaldi has a winning view of Isola Tiberina, so during the day, I would recommend the general’s bridge. Ponte Sisto is view-wise and atmosphere-wise great at any time of the day, but if you are short on time, cross it at night for maximum effect.
The traditional Italian breakfast implies a sugary pastry. Good thing we crossed Ponte Garibaldi because Panetteria Romana e Spaccio di Paste is just around the corner. Choices are many, but I would suggest that at least one (when in Rome … we don’t count calories) of the choices be aragosta con pistacchio. A famous dolce napoletana, its name indicates a lobster-looking shape.
Proceed to Via del Moro and choose any of the following cafés to enjoy your morning coffee (before noon it’s acceptable to order your beloved cappuccino) and your aragosta.
To explore the heart of Trastevere you have to head to Piazza di Santa Maria. But first, on the way there, get a little bit lost in a maze that is this bohemian quartiere. No better time and place to take out your camera and document the vibrant colors, the bustling people and cool atmosphere. Stop for a second and just listen to the melodic Italian language. There are always at least two nonni that are discussing what they have just read in the newspapers. Wander aimlessly to discover a myriad of picturesque alleys filled with cafes, art galleries, studios, bijoux shops, places to eat, random religious shrines, almost everything subjugated by green flora.
Don’t forget to look up. Someone’s pants or linen may be hanging over your head or there could be a charming balcony filled with flowers. Or maybe, just cute green windows.
Furthermore, what is also interesting to see in Trastevere is the old Rome entwined with the modern wave. Old architecture like Chiesa di Santa Margherita in Trastevere is surrounded by buildings filled with graffiti. An interesting sight.
Now you arrive at the center of the public life of Trastevere. Make sure to visit Basilica di Santa Maria. It is one of Rome’s oldest churches (and that is pretty old). Most noteworthy, Cavallini’s mosaics are mesmerizing.
A great spot for people-watching is right in the middle of the piazza. Join the crowd and take a seat on the steps of the fountain, which is the work of Donato Bramante, but obviously, as most fountains in Rome, with Bernini’s later additions. Soak up the atmosphere, desirably with a gelato in your hand.
Museo di Roma is very near and this Trastevere edition is quite smaller than the one in the center, so it’s a shame not to at least check it out. Learn about city life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Don’t be startled by the cannon shot from the Janiculum Hill at noon!
For lunch, if you are a living breathing normal human and you find yourself in Italy, you want pasta. It can’t get better than the enchanting little restaurant Le Mani in Pasta, a bit on the outskirts of the neighborhood. Worth finding. Worth even waiting in line if there is a crowd or, if you are a bit of an organizer, calling earlier and reserving a table (as many Italians do, per pranzo, aperitivo o cena).
Any wine the charming waiter recommends is a good wine. Just articulate your wishes and preferences. The must-try is any plate of seafood pasta, though do check with the waiter which ones are with fresh seafood, and which surgelati (frozen). He will kindly direct you to the fresh ones so if you know what’s best for you, you will listen to the kind man. Don’t forget about the blissful after-lunch dipping of the bread in the remains of the sauce on the plate. While sipping the last of your wine, of course.
The waiter will ask you after lunch whether you would like some coffee. Now it is too late for your cappuccinos and lattes unless you want to be recognized as a non-local. To blend in, order an espresso, which you will never call by that name. Therefore, as the time for milky coffee has passed for Italians, say ‘un caffè, per favore’ like a true Italian and enjoy a quick shot of caffeine.
If you don’t feel like sitting down for a long lunch and you want a quick bite (or your wallet demands it) go to Trapizzino for the…trapizzino! There are many mouthwatering variants of trapizzino to satisfy everyone. Also, do not pass on the supplì, a fried rice bite with tomato sauce, typical of Roman cuisine.
If you don’t feel like having coffee after lunch, may I suggest another glass of wine?
Italian Renaissance art awaits at the renowned Villa Farnesina, most importantly, Raphael’s frescoes. Consequently, you will probably lose some time just staring at Cupid and Psyche and The Triumph of Galatea. Likewise, cross the street to find Palazzo Corsini, a baroque palace with a collection of antique art by Titian and Caravaggio.
To escape the crowd you can go to the secluded Orto Botanico – the Botanical Garden of Rome, maintained by Rome’s Sapienza University. Also, if you have time, for a stunning view, climb the Janiculum Hill.
To quote Bourdain: “time to relax and sit down for one of the most quintessential Italian rituals: aperitivo.” Try Freni e Frizioni. Once a mechanic shop, now a bar with a buffet every vegetarian would be proud of. Drink choices come on a comic styled menu with some of the coolest names for cocktails you can find. Moreover, a pretty decent selection of beer, which is not the easiest thing to find in Italy. By far the cheapest aperitivo I have found in Rome, still its price not diminishing its quality. The best thing about it is the vibe. It is usually overcrowded so everyone spills out into the piazza, people are chatting, sitting on the parapet, handling their plate of food and glass of preferred drink with astonishing elegance. Nothing more Italian than knowing how to enjoy your food while looking elegant as hell.
With your stomach satisfied, stroll into the night scene of Trastevere, probably by which it is most known for. Locals and tourists both swarm these streets in search of a nice place to have a cocktail or a glass of wine. Try finding the cult Bar San Calisto and have a Peroni for under 2 euros. One might ask how is this possible in Rome. Due to the popularity of the place, you probably won’t snag a seat. However, don’t despair, because the magic is in the mingling around, talking leaned up against Vespas.
Finally, heading back to the center, proceed to the aforementioned Ponte Sisto. Before, do stop at the lively Piazza Trilussa (which is the on the bridge’s doorstep basically). At night it is filled with people drinking, smoking, singing, talking. It is also often a venue for various performances. Enjoy this friendly vibe and swing to the melodies of the street musicians playing on the bridge.
TL;DR PLACES MENTIONED:
Panetteria Romana e Spaccio di Paste
Piazza di Santa Maria
Museo di Roma
Le Mani in Pasta
The Janiculum Hill
Freni e Frizioni
Bar San Calisto
See more of Rome here.