Rome Neighborhood Guide: Where The Locals Live

Discover a contemporary, urban side of Rome outside the historic center.
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While the historic center draws first-time visitors, Rome is a sprawling metropolis with 21 neighborhoods. Most locals live outside the city’s ancient walls in overlooked communities that are quickly gentrifying. This Rome neighborhood guide will introduce you to the city’s southern districts where you’ll find surprising contemporary architecture, urban culture, hip restaurants, and cool bars. Venture south beyond the cobbled streets of Campo de’ Fiori and Trastevere to discover Garbatella, Ostiense, Portuense, San Paolo, and EUR.

Arriving is easy. Just hop on the B-line metro and head south where you can let your true romanista colors shine.

©INSTAGRAM/gasometrovintage

Ostiense

Bordering Testaccio, Ostiense is located between the Tiber River, the Aurelian Walls, and an ancient pyramid. Once the industrial heart of Rome, this neighborhood is now a hip haven for a new wave of creatives, gastronomic entrepreneurs, and ex-pats alike. Take the B-line metro to the Piramide station and walk down to Via Ostiense to admire the neighborhood’s vibrant street art. From one intersection to the next, vibrant murals, graffiti, and posters have come to revitalize both the walls and the livelihood of the entire zone.

©Livia Hengel

Approaching Via del Commercio lie the industrial remains of the Gasometer. Constructed in 1936, it is one of Rome’s most iconic 20th-century relics—one that represents the city’s modernity, productivity, and creativity. Each summer, cultural events like the Gasometro Vintage, pop up in its shadows. These projects mix street food, bars, art, and live music amongst the alleys. For more art, pop into Officine Fotografiche, a modern cultural center for photographers. And don’t miss a visit to Centrale Montemartini: one of the best off-the-beaten-path museums in Rome.

A short walk away, Via Giovanni da Empoli is home to two of our favorite restaurants in Rome. Marigold is a minimalist, farm-to-table micro bakery that serves mouthwatering seasonal dishes. Next door, Trattoria Pennestri is a cozy bistro that offers creative Roman cuisine (with a great wine list). In the mood for pizza? Pizzeria Ostiense is a no-frills establishment that serves some of the best pizzas in Rome.


Garbatella

Developed in the 1920s to house Romans working in Ostiense, Garbatella is one of the city’s youngest quartieri. And yet it’s also one of the most charming and distinct. Garbatella is our go-to spot when we’re yearning for a bit of a city escape without having to leave town.

©Instagram/emiliano.ottaviani

Full of tiny houses and pretty courtyards, the area’s aesthetic was inspired by the English garden city movement. It features dozens of lotti (numbered houses) built around communal courtyards with pretty gardens. Wander down the neighborhood’s winding roads and peek into its courtyards for a taste of authentic Roman living. Between the houses are lines of dangling laundry flapping in the wind.

Outside of the historic center, Rome’s restaurants and cafés are filled with locals, quality food, and great prices. Stop by Piazza Giovanni de Triora for a coffee at a rustic bar located beneath the famous “Garbatella” sign. After a caffeine kick, head to the neighborhood flea market called Mercatino dell’Usato, the perfect place to pick up unique keepsakes.

In Piazza Eugenio Biffi, check out BIFFI—a relaxing cafe, cocktail bar, and Bistrot. And Bauhaus, a restored forno turned eclectic restaurant that is worth a trip for interior design lovers. Another favorite is Tre de Tutto, a contemporary, hybrid restaurant and bar with eye-catching interiors and great dishes. For honest food at unbeatable prices, head to La Casetta Rossa or Latteria Garbatella, two quaint restaurants perfect for dining al fresco.

For drinking options, Enoteca La Mescita is a little nook of a wine bar serving local organic wines and tapas, while Hey Hop serves craft beers right next door. To cap the night off swing by Casa del Jazz for live music in a leafy park.

©Casa del Jazz

Portuense

Located across the river from Ostiense, Portuense is another industrial hub in the city. The neighborhood has experienced various urbanization waves after the unification of Italy alongside a robust residential-building boom during the 50s and 60s. Despite its traffic-heavy streets, I quickly loved exploring this area and discovering some local secrets.

Less than a 20-minute walk on foot from Trastevere, residents advised me to make a stop at Il Cornettone. This large bakery and cafe is one of the “happening spots” of Portuense for its fresh cornetti 24/7. If you’re into Roman pastries, also try Il Maritozzaro which serves the city’s best cream-filled maritozzi.

Another reason to explore the district is its flourishing diversity. The main roads of Piazza della Radio and Viale Guglielmo Marconi are full of international food markets and shops. You can find Turkish diners, Chinese restaurants, and Bangladeshi minimarts lining the streets. For a lively, local atmosphere, head beneath the Ponte dell’Industria to Spiazzo, Städlin, and Latta. This cluster of cool restaurants serves great food like burgers and pizza along with beer and cocktails.

©Stadlïn

Following the curves of the Tiber river, you’ll come across ancient history and contemporary heritage. Starting from the southernmost end is Santa Passera, a tiny, 5th-century church with beautiful frescoes. Nearby, Teatro India hosts DJ sets, movie screenings, and special events in an expansive dual indoor industrial theatre and outdoor space.

For more local art check out Portuense 201. This cultural center hosts workshops, events, and exhibits featuring local artists like Marta Abbott and Nicoletta Vicenzi.


San Paolo

A gentrified San Paolo finds itself home to art nouveau palazzi and a lively university environment– transformed from public houses to a more modern way of living. The church of San Paolo Fuori Le Mura (Saint Paul Outside the Walls) is its leading tourist attraction–and well worth a visit. One of Rome’s four major papal basilicas, San Paolo features neoclassical architecture, marble columns, and gold mosaics. It also has a pretty cloister lined with palm trees.

To get a feel for a new place, I always scope out the closest farmers’ market. Similar to the Mercato di Testaccio, the San Paolo District is a weekend-only market that hosts food, wine, and artisanal events. For a mid-morning snack, Elettroforno Frontoni is popular for pizza al taglio. Behind La Basilica is Saulo Roma. Located along ancient walls, this restaurant and cocktail bar has a panoramic terrace and serves refined dishes. We also love Trecca Cucina di Mercato—be sure to book ahead of time as it’s a popular spot.

©Trecca

EUR

One of the last stops along the metro is the business district of EUR, aka Esposizione Universale Roma. Easily recognizable for its massive Fascist-era architecture commissioned by Mussolini, the ultra-modern neighborhood was created to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Fascism and host the 1942 World’s Fair. Mussolini’s project came to a standstill during World War II and serves as a time capsule for this significant period in the city’s modern history. Over time, EUR became Rome’s primary business district.

The neighborhood is now home to a number of museums, convention centers, and a lake. Note: EUR was designed for cars in mind, rather than pedestrians, so be prepared to walk across large throughways when you visit.

What to See and Do

Hop off at the EUR Magliana stop and cross the street to visit Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. Commonly known as the “Square Colosseum,” the palazzo represents a new wave of Classical Revival architecture, with its 6-story stature and marble arches. In 2015, the building became home to Italian fashion house Fendi’s global headquarters, dedicating its first floor to hosting a pop-up exhibition space that welcomes emerging artists. Nearby, La Nuvola is a new, all-glass, congressional hall situated just a few blocks away, if you want to look at the future of design.

A local favorite since 1963, Caffe Palombini is the perfect spot for a break at all hours of the day. Come by for an espresso in the morning, fresh pasta at lunch, or tramezzini sandwiches in the afternoon. In the spring, you can also enjoy a picnic al fresco along the Laghetto dell’EUR. This artificial lake is surrounded by over 2,500 cherry blossom trees which blossom each April. There are also a handful of bars and cafés on the edge of the lake. Barcheria is a Bistrot and boat company that rents pedal boats, stand-up paddle-boards, dinghies, and more.

After lunch, you can explore museums like Museo della Civilità Romana, which is dedicated to the exploration of ancient Roman civilization. You could also go shopping along Viale Europa. And, you can even take the metro at the EUR Palasport or EUR Fermi stops to get back to Rome’s city center.

©Barcheria
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