An expert’s guide: the best area to stay in Rome
Best for romance: the Centro Storico
The Centro Storico (historic centre) is what most people dream of for their Roman holiday: a maze of cobbled streets and atmospheric alleys crammed with Renaissance palazzi, Baroque churches and stately piazzas. The area harbours many of the big sights, not least the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, and most of the places you’ll want to see are within walking distance. The downside? It used to be pricey – the hotels here tend to be boutique rather than budget – but with the advent of websites such as Airbnb, even a pauper can stay in a historic palazzo for a few days, especially out of season. If you have your heart set on a fabulous hotel room (on a not-so-fabulous budget), though, you’ll get more for your money elsewhere.
Best for atmosphere: Campo de’ Fiori and the Ghetto
Technically part of the Centro Storico, but less chaotic thanks to a lack of big-ticket sights, the warren of streets around café-lined Campo de’ Fiori make up one of the city’s most picturesque quarters, full of independent boutiques, wine bars and trattorias. Southeast of here is the old Jewish Ghetto, a thriving, atmospheric neighbourhood with some great restaurants; rent an apartment in one of the Ghetto’s backstreets to live like a Roman for a few days.
Best for die-hard shoppers: Tridente
The northern section of Rome’s centre – sometimes known as the Tridente because of the shape formed by the three roads that extend from landmark Piazza del Popolo – is the domain of designer boutiques, chichi bars and pricey restaurants. The core of the area is Piazza di Spagna, once an essential stop on the Grand Tour and still a big draw: tourists gravitate towards the fabled Spanish Steps to people-watch, chat and flirt. Accommodation tends to be small-scale and ultra-luxurious (think pillow menus and fancy in-room entertainment systems), to meet the demands of a well-heeled international clientele.
Best for five-star pampering: Via Veneto and Villa Borghese
In need of some TLC? Via Veneto’s grand hotels have all the uniformed doormen, marble floors and swanky spas you could wish for (at a price). This street used to be the beating heart of Dolce Vita-era Rome, an impossibly fashionable film-star hangout; these days it trades on its history somewhat – the restaurants and bars here are tourist traps, so you’re better off dining elsewhere. Via Veneto snakes up to leafy Villa Borghese, around which cluster more luxurious hotels, though you’re a bus or taxi ride from the centre here.
Best for a villagey vibe: Monti and the Celian Hill
The red light district in ancient Roman times, Monti is now a hip (but not off-puttingly so) neighbourhood of cool bars, one-off boutiques and great restaurants. Just a short walk from the Colosseum, it’s well-placed for sightseeing too. Southeast of here, the Celian Hill can’t summon up the same buzz, but it has its own low-key local bustle and some good local restaurants.
Best for feeding body and soul: Testaccio and the Aventine Hill
Colosseum, what Colosseum? If food is your main consideration, you could do worse than base yourself in Testaccio. An unpretentious, workaday district that grew around the old slaughterhouse, it’s now renowned for its authentic trattorias. Testaccio is also home to Rome’s main produce market – a great place to pick up gourmet souvenirs – as well as the lion’s share of the city’s clubs. A few streets north, but worlds away in atmosphere, the tranquil Aventine Hill is one of Rome’s most exclusive enclaves. Largely residential, it harbours a few hotels, offering peace and quiet within walking distance of the ancient Roman sights.
Best for night owls: Trastevere
Traditionally a working-class quarter but now gentrified and well on the tourist map, pretty Trastevere is one big photo op, all ivy-draped buildings, cobbled lanes and pint-sized piazzas. Located over the river, it’s within strolling distance of the Vatican and Centro Storico. Another plus is that this is one of the best areas for an evening out, its narrow streets lined with excellent trattorias and bars; stay on the district’s quieter eastern side if you want to escape the crowds.
Best for early-morning trains: Termini
There’s really no other reason to stay in the vicinity of Termini station: it’s not the city’s most attractive corner, it’s too far to walk to the major sights, and returning here after a day immersed in the glories of Rome would bring you quickly back down to earth. The area is full of cheap hotels, but even if you’re on a budget, staying in the Termini area should be a last resort.
Best for sophisticates: Prati
Unless you’re a pilgrim, there’s not much appeal to staying in the Vatican area. The neighbourhood north of the Vatican, Borgo Pio, has a few decent hotels, but it’s quiet and a little dull after dark, its restaurants lacking the sparkle of those of the historic centre. Prati, further north, holds more promise – a well-heeled district whose wide boulevards hold numerous cocktail bars and swish restaurants. As it’s a little removed from the centre, there’s a smattering of affordable hotels here too.
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