Trastevere: Where Locals Escape The Crowds In Rome

Trastevere: Where Locals Escape The Crowds In Rome

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There are few modern cities in the world that rival Rome as far as culture and history. Despite being a thriving urban capital, I find it mind-blowing that structures like the Pantheon, the Coliseum, and the Roman Forum still exist right in the middle of the city. For perspective, the Pantheon and Coliseum are nearly 2000 years old, and the remains of the Roman Forum are even older than that.

On top of that, you are always steps away from some of the best cuisine in the world. It’s no wonder nearly 10 million people visit Rome every year. And that’s also visitor’s chief complaints – it’s just so crowded.

How To Avoid The Crowds In Rome. Sort of.

Timing and location.

If you can, avoid visiting Rome in the summer. If you can’t, skip down a few sentences and keep reading. It’s hot, expensive and crowded. Rome really is no fun for me between June to early September. The best times to visit the Eternal City are between late March – May and October – November. There are fewer visitors, but the weather is still warm enough for sightseeing and to sit outside while dining – a quintessential part of the Roman holiday experience. There will be more accommodations available and at a slightly lower price point.

Prices and availability drop dramatically in the winter. The “cold” weather is quite moderate and the crowds thin considerably, but I think a lot of the charm is also lost during the months of January and February.

As far as location, there’s simply no escaping the crowds unless you venture out to the suburbs of Rome. I’ve done that. The old house I rented was charming and the neighborhood where I stayed was cute and quiet, but it was not worth the hassle when you’re in Rome to see Rome.

Here’s my open secret when visiting Rome. I stay in the neighborhood of Trastevere. There. Thank me later.

A Break Down Of Rome For The First-Timers

Let’s start with the Tiber River that serves as a natural divider between Rome’s historic heart to the east and its more residential quarters to the west. On the east bank of the Tiber, you’ll find the bustling center, home to iconic trio of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. This side of Rome is where most tourists visit, drawn in by its ancient ruins, grand piazzas, and renowned museums.

Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps are also on this side. So while it seems that everything is located here, it’s one of the main reasons why I don’t stay here.

On the west bank lies a different Rome – one that is quieter, more authentic, and rich in local charm. This is where you’ll find Trastevere and its narrow winding streets, numerous cafes and bars, along with the Vatican and the Janiculum Hill that overlooks all of Rome.

And still, I’m only ever a 20-30 minute stroll or a short bus ride away from all the major spots.

The Best Local Neighborhood To Stay In Rome

In Trastevere, I can wander the cobblestone streets where laundry is still strung between windows, enjoy an apertivo in a quiet piazza, and dine at cafes filled with conversations by locals and visitors alike, all while enjoying a sense of tranquility that’s rare in the busy capital. Since I’ve been to Rome multiple times, I don’t have to visit all the major sites, which makes Trastevere even more appealing. That said, it’s still walking distance to pretty much everything in Rome.

I’m not saying Trastevere is not popular. It is. People know about it. It’s an awesome spot. And yet somehow you still feel like you’re escaping the crowd here. It’s really hard to explain. For me, I can at least tell my favorite reasons for staying here.

1. Easy Morning Access To The Vatican

In the mornings, it’s a beautiful 20 minute walk along the river to get to Vatican City. If you plan to visit the Sistine Chapel, I recommend getting here early to line up before the museum opens. If you have the time, I suggest dedicating a separate morning for the St. Peter’s Basilica and arrive before the 7 am opening time. Not only will you avoid a long line, but the place is so much more beautiful when it’s less crowded.

On my last visit, I went for a run right along the river towards the Castel Sant Angelo and St. Peter Square. If you head down the stairs, you’ll have one empty path almost the entire way.

2. Janiculum Hill For Sunset

I have a few go to spots for sunset in Rome, but if it’s seeing the entire city at sunset, you want Janiculum Hill. Although it was originally outside the ancient city walls and separated by the Tiber River, the hill’s unique vantage point warranted the construction of a bridge and extension of the wall to incorporate it into the city’s defense.

I like having an afternoon spritz at one of the cafes and then heading up the hill half an hour before sunset. It’s nice to head down with a bit of light left and be right in the middle of the vibrant and lively night scene of Trastevere.

3. Foodie Haven

If you’re tired of the Italian trap restaurants selling the same repetitive tourist menu, you’ll love it here like I did. I can’t emphasize how refreshing it is walk down all the small streets and find so many real restaurants that care more about their food than just “serving” tourists. This is why Trastevere is a hotspot for locals when they want to hang out and have a meal out with friends.

I have a few spots for you to check out below, but honestly, just walk around and find a place that jumps out to you.

4. Quiet By Day, Thriving At Night

The first couple of times in Rome, I stayed in the historic center. As a backpacker, I stayed by the Termini station. Horrible idea. Don’t do that. The next time, I stayed near Piazza di San Marcello. A lot better, but I was still disappointed by all the tourist trap restaurants in the area at night.

By day, Trastevere is pretty quiet, but things start to pick up in the late afternoon. At night, the plethora of cafe and restaurants down cute side street reveals an entirely different atmosphere to this neighborhood. You have to experience it to understand the charm and appeal. Don’t just settle for dinner. Pick another spot for drinks and experience the Italian vibe that you’ve only seen in movies.

There’s nothing better than ending a warm summer evening with a gelato and a stroll along the river before leisurely walking to my apartment.

5. Explore Overlooked Hidden Gems

It’s such a shame that some of my favorite sites in Rome are skipped over. While it’s not as grand as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome dating back to the 3rd century offers a more contemplative way to appreciate the mosaics.

Another hidden gem is the Villa Farnesina, a Renaissance villa adorned with frescoes by Raphael and his pupils. For a more intimate historical experience, the Orto Botanico is small yet captivating enough to escape to for a couple of hours.

Where To Stay In Trastevere

Below is the list of hotels and apartments I saved during my search for accommodations in Trastevere. These were all the hotels we considered during our stay depending on the occasion and our budget for a particular trip.

Gorgeous Italian Hotels In Trastevere

I first discovered Trastevere when I crashed with a friend at the UNAHOTELS. There aren’t as many big hotel options, but the ones that are in Trastevere have this old school Italian vibe you can’t find in some of the modern apartment options. It’s hard to describe, but if you want that Roman Holiday experience, as I did, these were the only ones I considered.

UNAHOTELS Trastevere Roma is the best located hotel from the list. This hotel is a perfect marriage of old and new. If you want to relax and spend a bit of time at the hotel instead of just rushing around from morning to night, this is my recommendation. I absolutely loved the spaces around the hotel, especially the bar.

Grand Hotel Del Gianicolo is a luxurious retreat near the Janiculum Hill. There’s a beautiful pool that reminds me of scenes from old Italian movies. From the rooftop terrace, you can even see the Vatican and St. Peter’s Cathedral. The rooms look quite simple and the location is an escape from the crowds of Rome, but still close enough to get to the pulse of Trastevere within 10 minutes walk.

Like the Grand Hotel Del Gianicolo, the location is a bit further back from the center of Trastevere. So the Trilussa Palace Hotel Congress & Spa is a good spot if you want to get away from the crowds and get that Italian summer vacation vibe. There’s a large indoor pool and spa if you are here for a bit of relaxation. It’s also the most budget friendly of the three recommended hotel options.

Charming Apartment Rentals In Trastevere

Generally, I prefer to stay in apartments just to have access to a bit more space and for the local experience. I specifically look for apartments right in the heart of Trastevere, so I can wake up to the noise of the neighborhood coming to life. It’s also nice to just walk down and walk a block to my favorite gelato spot or cafe for a sweet pastry and espresso in the morning.

One look and Sonder Trastevere easily jumped to the top of my list. Gorgeous apartment with a clean and minimalist aesthetic right in the heart of Trastevere and by the Ponte Sisto. Can’t get a better location than this if you want to feel the vibe of Trastevere and be by everything. There’s AC, a full kitchen, and washing machine. My three main criteria for an apartment in Rome. This was my favorite apartment option and it sleep up to 4, but unfortunately, it was already booked for the dates we wanted. It’s at the top of my list for the next trip to Rome.

Tree Charme is a boutique hotel with such a beautiful aesthetic that it was our second choice after Sonder in Trastevere. The rooms looked a bit small, but there was just something about the decor that really drew me in. Unfortunately, this was booked up as well for our dates.

La Gatta De Lisa is a 2 bedroom renovated apartment right by the Piazza di Santa Maria of Trastevere. We pegged this spot for a trip with 4 people. Amazing location and space. Walk down and you’re right in the middle of everything.

Benedetta 22 was another option for 4 people with a private balcony overlooking the cobblestone streets of Trastevere. It was between this and La Gatta De Lisa for our group.

Best Value Accommodations In Trastevere

Nikis Collection Trastevere offers elegantly designed apartments in the center of Trastevere. We considered this initially for their budget room when we couldn’t book Sonder, but ended up paying a bit more for the suite with the hot tub and it well worth it. The apartment was spacious and the kitchen was great for prepping breakfast. We actually could have had 2 more people here with the futon in the living room.

Etruska is a budget hidden gem in Trastevere. This apartment features is a basic accommodation with options for up to 4 if you’re traveling as a family and want to stay on a budget.

Manara 4 is a basic and budget apartment option looking right into the local neighborhood’s picturesque streets. The location is great for exploring and there’s an option for a room with a hot tub.

Distances To Major Landmarks from Trastevere

Starting from the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, here’s the time it takes to roughly walk to the major sites in Rome:

The Vatican

25 minutes. From the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, head northeast along Via della Lungara, which runs parallel to the river. This scenic route takes you directly to the Vatican without the need to cross the river.

The Colosseum

35 minutes. From the Basilica, walk southeast along the Lungotevere, then head east through the historic center until you reach the Colosseum.

The Pantheon

20 minutes. Head northeast from the Basilica, crossing the river via Ponte Garibaldi, and continue straight to the Pantheon.

Piazza Navona

15 minutes. Walk northeast from the Basilica, crossing the river via Ponte Garibaldi, and you’ll arrive at this stunning piazza.

Trevi Fountain

30 minutes. Walk northeast from the Basilica, crossing the river via Ponte Garibaldi, and continue through the historic center.

Spanish Steps

35 minutes. Walk northeast from the Basilica, crossing the river via Ponte Garibaldi, and continue through the historic center.

Roman Forum

30 minutes. Walk southeast along the Lungotevere from the Basilica to the historic center.

Public Transport: 15 minutes. Take tram number 8 to Piazza Venezia, then bus 75.

Campo de’ Fiori

15 minutes. Walk northeast from the Basilica and cross the river via Ponte Sisto to reach this lively market square.

Public Transport: 10 minutes. Tram number 8 to Largo di Torre Argentina, then a short walk.

Borghese Gallery

45 minutes. Walk northeast from the Basilica, crossing the river via Ponte Sisto, and continue through the historic center, passing many sights along the way.

Janiculum Hill

15 minutes. A short uphill walk from the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere offers one of the best panoramic views of Rome.

Cafes, Restaurants, and Eateries In Trastevere

Trastevere’s culinary scene is a nice departure from the humdrum tourist menus found everywhere around the major hotspots in Rome. For food lovers, you have traditional trattorias, old school cafes, and gelato shops without all the fluffy air-filled junk. The best advice is to wander and explore, but here are some spots to get your going.

Remember to follow the basic rules for restaurant hunting in Italy:

1. No hawkers. If anyone is trying to get you to eat at their restaurants, forget it.

2. No flags and multiple languages. There’s nothing that says “hello, my tourist friends, we are tourist friendly, and will serve you the best tourist friendly Italian meal ever” more than having the menu listed in 5 different languages.

3. No pictures. Any self-respecting restaurants will only need to write down their menu in Italian. Sometimes, they will write it in English, but if it’s only in Italian, it’s a good sign. If a restaurant needs you to see what Spaghetti alle Vongole looks like, skip it.

Must Eats Street Food In Trastevere

For starters, Trapizzino is my first recommendation, just because it’s fun. Slide up to the window outside and order yourself some delicious pizza pockets stuffed with laundry list of Italian ingredients that you’ll need to translate. It’s like because, with a bit of a twist that I think the locals approve. The trapizzini are perfect for a quick bite while you explore the lively streets of Trastevere. The bonus is the price. My only complaint is that I can’t decide which one to choose and I can’t eat more than 2 or 3 at a time.

Suppli Roma is a no-frills street food shop where you can try the suppli, a delightful culinary treat of arborio rice and mozzarella deep fried into a ball of savory goodness. It’s quick and you can eat it right outside the shop or on the go.

For your daily gelato, Otaleg! serves some of the best in Rome. Given how good gelato generally is in Rome and Italy, it’s impressive to find a place that stands out. The flavors are inventive and change with the seasons, ensuring there’s always something new to try. On a hot summer day, I treated myself to a scoop of their ricotta and fig gelato – a refreshing and delightful choice.

Local Institutions For Lunch

For breakfast or an afternoon coffee, head to the famous Bar San Calisto, a no-frills café that’s part of Trastevere’s heartbeat. The atmosphere here is quintessentially Roman, with a mix of locals and tourists who come for the vibe. In the afternoons, it’s a spot to watch locals gather for a card game. Order at the bar, don’t be shy, and grab any seat available. Try to blend in seamlessly with the local crowd.

For lunch, Osteria der Belli is a treat. This family-run restaurant serves authentic Sardinian cuisine, and their seafood dishes are particularly noteworthy. Start with the antipasto, share the fresh shrimp and sea bass carpaccio and try their seafood spaghetti or the gnocchi.

For a lunch spot that is gentle on the wallet, check out Da Enzo al 29. You can get your Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara here, instead of wasting calories on all the poorly prepared ones in so many other restaurants. I grabbed a table on the sidewalk just before they closed for the afternoon and had their Amatriciana pasta and the Tripa Alla Romana. So good. I’ll be honest, this place has gotten a bit popular, so there might be a wait.

Dinner Spots For The Vibe

Here’s what you need to do for dinner in Rome. Eat something first. Grab a drink, have a Trapizzino or a slice of Focaccia to hold you over in the late afternoon. Then you can have a proper dinner sometime after 8 or 9 pm. If you show up at a restaurant at 7 pm when it opens, you’ll be one of the first guests. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

You can start your evening at Mimi e Coco. Grab a glass of wine and a plate of antipasti or any of the other small dishes and enjoy settling into your evening. You will love the alleyway vibe here.

Taverna Trilussa was one of the places recommended to me by a local friend. I probably wouldn’t have ended up here on my own, but I’m glad I did for their famous Bucatini all’Amatriciana. It’s one of those Italian places that feels like it’s been around forever.

I’ll hesitantly put Roma Sparita on this list. It’s good, but it’s also famous from Anthony Bourdain’s visit during an episode of “No Reservations.” If you’re after this type of restaurant while in Trastevere, remember to make a reservation.

For a more modern dining experience or just a drink before or after dinner, Freni e Frizioni is a popular aperitivo bar that’s a lively evening spot with fun cocktails and a vibrant atmosphere. I loved their creative drinks menu.

Last Thoughts On Trastevere

One of the most enjoyable aspects of staying in Trastevere is the proximity to the river. I enjoy the beautiful walk along the river at different times of the day and crossing the bridge from the east side always gives me a feeling of returning home. Get lost in the charming streets of Trastevere as you find your way up to Janiculum Hill, or stroll along the Lungotevere and just slow down.

Trastevere is always a lovely place to hang out in the afternoon, perhaps with a gelato in hand, watching the boats drift by and the city’s vibrant life unfold.

As the day transitions to evening, the many bridges over the Tiber become perfect spots to catch the sunset. Staying here really changed how I saw Rome and I hope it will for you as well.

Looking for more travel inspirations? Scroll through some of the 450+ experiences on my bucket list. Maybe you’ll find your next adventure on there.

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Updated on July 5, 2024


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