Eating my way through neighborhoods of Rome: Monti, Trastevere, Testaccio, and more

I don’t know what to tell you about Rome. I didn’t do the things you’re supposed to do. Shannon and I agreed we would definitely skip the Vatican because we’ve both been before, and while we might pop by and wave hi to some of the famous monuments from the outside, there was no way we were waiting in line to go in.

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I’m glad we were on the same page, because the crowds were suffocating. It was much more fun to walk and eat and just enjoy the Italian things we can’t do at home. We did wave hi to the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon on our way to get gelato at San Crispino (drool), but it’s difficult to appreciate their beauty as you push your way through hordes of people, clutching your purse, refusing countless offers to purchase a neon selfie-stick.

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Rome is huge. It’s a little overwhelming to navigate at first. There are only two metro lines in the entire city. It’s easy to see why Romans zip around with their Vespas and tiny photogenic cars.

I read a ton about Rome to prepare for the trip (but we still couldn’t decide where to have dinner. So much food, so little time). I’ll share some of my favorite resources throughout this post, but you can find most of them on my Italy board on Pinterest (yes, so many pins about Italy that I had to make a separate board to house them all!)

I think what interests me most about travel in a big city is neighborhoods and food. I walked all over Rome. The most interesting neighborhoods I visited were Monti, Testaccio, and Trastavere (with caveats). Each neighborhood had a distinct personality. Sadly, I didn’t make it to Pigneto because I couldn’t bear to leave Monti, the dreamy artsy hipster neighborhood I fell head over heels for. (Next time.)

Monti

Monti is all sloping streets and trellises and concept stores and boutiques and cute cafes that are also bookstores that are also wine bars and I just want to move in and be a regular everywhere. The Colosseum and Roman ruins are just minutes away (it’s crazy how you just bump into bits of ancient history embedded all over the city) but somehow Monti is not filled with tourists – the opposite. No one tried to sell me a single selfie stick.

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I had the best, cheap, no-frills pasta at Pasta Imperiale (had to get some carbonara!) and may have indulged in more gelato at Fatamorgana. You can sit outside on their little patio to enjoy it before it melts. This is a great neighborhood for aperitivo, whether that means drinks + buffet in a restaurant or bar, or a beer in the Piazza della Madonna dei Monti with takeout from Pronto.

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Fatamorgana patio
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Evening crowd at Piazza della Madonna dei Monti

Monti is small. It centers around Via Leonina, Via dei Serpenti, Via Urbana, and Via del Boschetto. Just go and wander.

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How cute is this wedding van? (Answer: Super, super cute.)

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Knock knock. Grrr.

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More about Monti:

A Day in Monti (The Guardian)

Where to eat in Monti (Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome)

Monti neighborhood guide (Airbnb)

Trastevere

Trastevere is the neighborhood I expected to love like I loved Monti. It too, is unspeakably picturesque, covered in ivy and trellises and those little flower boxes in the window.

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However. The main streets and popular restaurants are mauled with tourists. Men – why is it always men? – stand on the sidelines, peddling useless crap. That awesome restaurant you read about is not a secret, and everyone else wants to eat there too.

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Even so, Trastevere is lovely. At night, it’s ze place to be with all its bars and restaurants. A bit further down, around Piazza S. Cosimato, it feels much more like a real neighborhood, with street art murals and families pushing their strollers to get gelato and kids playing in the piazzas in the afternoon. (One mom let her baby try some chocolate gelato, and he liked it so much that he wailed inconsolably when she moved it out of his reach.)

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Street art in Trastevere

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My favorite moment in Trastevere was Saturday morning. It was relatively calm – locals going about their business, restaurants preparing for the day ahead, a few tourists wandering by to look at the church. And me, obviously an out-of-towner, snapping pictures of all the ivy.

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Our diet was exclusively pizza in Trastevere. We tried the popular spots Ai Marmi and Dar Poeta. Both involved queuing followed by pizza that validated the queuing. After limoncello at Dar Poeta we treated ourselves to lambrusco and prosecco at La Proscutteria (a popular deli and wine joint with locations in various cities around Italy) because Barnum Cafe was too far. (We were tired, but it’s okay. We have trendy cocktails in Lyon too.)

More about Trastevere:

A Perfect Day In Trastevere (Lonely Planet)

Eating + Walking in Trastevere (Elizabeth Minchilli)

Testaccio

Testaccio was the antidote to Trastevere. It really feels like a local neighborhood. In the early evening, adults sit around the perimiter of the main piazza chatting while children run and play in the middle. It was early evening and everyone was out walking their dog. It reminded me a little bit of Gracia in Barcelona, only with fewer people.

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It’s not a particularly beautiful neighborhood, but it’s known for its food. I had my first pizza al taglio of the trip at Volpetti – they cut you a long slice and you pay by weight, rather different from triangular slices to go in the U.S. (In France, buying pizza by the slice is not a thing, except at the aptly named Italian-style Al Taglio in Paris.)

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More about Testaccio:

Best restaurants in Testaccio (Condé Nast Traveler)

Tridente / Borghese / Spagna

On my last day, I walked from Termini station (where a lot of hotels and hostels are located – tip: the grocery store downstairs at the train station is open on Sundays) over to the Spanish Steps (which are closed at the moment) and up to the Borghese Gardens.

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It took me forever to find the entrance because on the map, it looks like you can get in right at the top of the Spanish Steps aaaaand you cannot, so by the time I got there I was a little hangry and cranky. My feet and legs were killing me by this point in the trip and the gardens are enormous, so I did a lot of sitting on benches and envying people with bicycles.

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When it was close enough to 1 pm, I went to claim my 4 euro box of pasta at Pastificio. Pastificio is right near the Spanish Steps, amid a maze of luxury shops. Every day, they make two kinds of pasta. I got the zucchini, even though I was disappointed that the green sauce wasn’t pesto. I took it to a tranquil dead-end street around the corner, Via Alibert, where a few likeminded folks and an adorable baby were also enjoying their lunch on the stone bench built into the wall. These shady streets of the upper-Tridente area were peaceful, lovely to wander around, probably because it was Sunday and the shops were closed.

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Spanish Steps

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The next time I plan a trip to Rome, it will definitely be in the off-season. Hugo and I almost went in January, and I kind of regret that we didn’t, although we were busy with other things at the time and would have only had the weekend to explore anyway. It must be nice to settle in and eat your way through Rome in peace. Even as I gather up resources to share for this post, I have newfound regrets for all the things I didn’t manage to eat!

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Have you ever been to Rome? If you have, what are your favorite memories from your trip?

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P.S. More photos of Rome on Instagram where I’m still latergramming this trip.

More about Rome:

24 hours in Rome from Design Sponge by Katie Parla

48 hours in Rome from Peeking Duck

Under-the-radar neighborhoods to visit in Rome from Condé Nast Traveler

Pizza Bianca at Forno Campo de Fiori, a bakery we loved (get the zucchini pizza!!) from Ms. Adventures in Italy

My Guide to Eating and Drinking in Rome 2016 Edition from Katie Parla (more Rome resources than you could ever read at the bottom of the post)

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17 thoughts on “Eating my way through neighborhoods of Rome: Monti, Trastevere, Testaccio, and more

    1. Thanks! I think I remember reading that you weren’t crazy about Rome, am I right? The crowds were super overwhelming, I think I would have been really disappointed if I had come specifically to see the sights… because you can’t see them at my height!

  1. Remind me to tell you about the time my brother rubbed poison ivy all over his face before getting on a plane to Rome.

  2. I was in Rome a long time ago as an impoverished student backpacker. I adored the city and cant wait to return to have all the magic experiences for myself. I adore Italy1 I’m also a fan of Elizabeth Minchilli and would love to do one of her food tours. Scheming a Roman getaway now! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. Thank you!! I agree that Rome is not easy to navigate – I usually like to walk everywhere and I wore out my feet really fast. I don’t know why people don’t talk about Monti more (I had never heard of it either) – it’s pure magic!

  3. Fantastic post! Much as I enjoy seeing the historic sights of a city there’s something so special about wandering around the local neighbourhoods. I’ve been to Trastevere and loved the atmosphere there at night. I’d love to spend more time seeing Monti and Testaccio as well. Thanks for sharing this on #farawayfiles

  4. You did well to explore neighborhoods and find some real Rome there. We were visiting in February and thought the crowds would be lower, but to no avail – even with tickets to skip the line at the Vatican, it was WALL to WALL people. We loved just wandering and wish I’d found Monti, looks adorable. I took the same pic of that Perdona Mi mural in Traestevare! thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles – looking forward to where you take us next! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    1. Thank you Erin!! I can’t believe Rome was so crowded even in February! I really liked that lower part of Trastevere with the murals, so cool that you were there too 🙂 If you go back to Rome you’ll have to check out Monti, it’s just steps away from the Colosseum – I can’t believe it’s not more crowded. Thank you for hosting #FarawayFiles, you are all so kind and welcoming!

  5. Italy is just way to beautiful for words. It’s ALWAYS crowded though *sigh*, luckily the gelato and pizza go a little way to making up for it. #farawayfiles

    1. Gelato and pizza are not half bad. Pasta helps too. And panini. And cornetti. And wine. Now I’m hungry. Haha yes, Italy doesn’t seem to be much of a secret, but it’s still pretty great!

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