I try to keep it classy on this site by posting about the culture and history of the Eternal City. And I love those subjects, the beauty and contradiction here is endlessly fascinating to me. But if I’m being honest, my favorite Roman activity is drinking wine in piazzas. And after a lot of research I’ve found that my favorite place to do that is the neighborhood of Trastevere.
(Pronounced tros – TE – vere)
What this area lacks in grand monuments it more than makes up for in bohemian vibes, exceptional people watching, and the kind of restaurants people cross oceans for.
And bonus, it’s adorable.
When visiting it’s best to start with Piazza di Santa Maria. A large square that dates back to forever (Roman times), ringed with café’s, centered with a stepped fountain, and punctuated with one of the oldest churches in Rome.
The Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere was first built in the 220s, and is believed to be the sight of the first public mass. It’s been remodeled several times, but the church we are looking at today is mostly from the 1100s, sitting on Roman foundations, filled with recycled Roman columns, and sporting a classical baroque portico. And if we’re counting remains it also contains several popes, one saint’s head, and a relic. Personally, I find myself most impressed by the interior.
The glittery nave is covered in elaborate golden mosaics depicting the ‘Life of the Virgin.’ But you might want to bring coins, since they tend to turn the lights off when not performing mass. A small meter to the left of the altar turns the lights back on in two minute increments. Trust me, it’s hard to appreciate in the dark.
Now that you’ve fed your brain and lit some candles, it’s time to see the actual neighborhood. As I said before, start in Piazza di Santa Maria. I love that the scene is always the same here, give or take a few performers. College students line the steps along the fountain, young Italians own the cobbles like a catwalk, grandmas shuffle through with produce in the modest skirts and sensible shoes, and everywhere you look there is a café or boutique.
If there is a touristy part of Trastevere then this is it, but it’s not nearly as commercialized as the more popular sites in town. The most crowded walk is down Via della Lungaretta; a pedestrian street leading from the piazza towards Viale di Trastevere, where the tram and taxi stands are.
If you find yourself in need of a scarf, fake butterfly, or hipster art then you’re in the right place. And while some of these restaurants and bars are over-priced several are actually quite good with excellent drink prices for Rome. For a hot afternoon, or for the sake of gelato, try out Fior di Luna, it’s some of the best in the city.
Once you’ve had enough of the markets, explore the side streets. You’ll find custom specialty shops, galleries featuring art that has nothing to do with tourist sites or anything ‘old world’, view cooks rolling pasta through open kitchen doors, and appreciate the ivy vine’s struggle against telephone lines and satellite cables.
Keep walking south, but don’t stop after Viale di Trastevere. Cross the street and keep going. This side is even less groomed which makes it look a bit intimidating, but inside you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Italy. Take a chance and sit in a sun-drenched medieval piazza, drink wine, and soak in a neighborhood thousands of years in the making.
To me this is the side of Rome that I love best.