Episode #027: How to choose where to stay in Rome – a district by district guide

episode 27 - where to stay in rome

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Are you getting overwhelmed by all the accommodation choices in Rome? It’s not surprising as there are over 700 hotels and around 30,000 AirBnB listings in the city. So you need to be strategic when you’re searching for the perfect place to stay. In this episode we discuss seven districts in Rome that are the best areas to stay for most travelers.

Show notes

Most journeys to Italy begin or end in Rome and so finding the right accommodation there is an important part of your trip planning. The best hotel or AirBnB stay depends on your travel style and budget but we think choosing the best area to stay in Rome is where you should start your search.

We have seven favorite areas in Rome which make a great base. Each of these districts has a unique flavor that appeals to different types of travelers. From the rustic romance of Trastevere with its lively restaurant and bar scene; to the elegant beauty of the Spagna district close to the Spanish Steps, there’s a best place to stay for you and your travel companions. Let’s help you decide where you would like your base yourself in Rome with our guide to the pros and cons of staying in each one. You’ll learn where to stay if you are traveling to Rome for the first time, and we’ll share our favorite area to stay in the city if you love history or shopping.

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Districts in Rome that are perfect for travelers

  1. Termini / Esquilano – area near Roma Termini train station useful for onward journeys in Italy and access to the airport
  2. Pantheon / Piazza Navona / Campo de Fiori – the heart of Rome’s historic center where ancient sites rub shoulders with gelato bars and Renaissance fountains (discover where to stay near the Pantheon)
  3. Trastevere – charming central district on the west bank of the Tiber with great restaurants and a romantic feel (check out our accommodation guide for Trastevere)
  4. Colosseum / Monti – vibrant bohemian district near the Colosseum and Ancient Forum – our best hotel and AirBnB picks
  5. Piazza di Spagna – home to upscale hotels and close to the Via Condotti for shopping and the park at Villa Borghese
  6. Vatican / Prati – elegant neighborhood useful if visiting the Vatican is your priority
  7. Testaccio – interesting Roman neighborhood near Aventine Hill with a lively market and food scene.
READ: WHERE TO STAY IN ROME - INCLUDES BEST HOTELS & AIRBNBS

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Transcript

Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of this episode.

Click here for full episode transcript

Introduction (00:05):
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show now. Let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia.

Picture this… you arrive in Rome late at night. On your way to your hotel or apartment you hear the sounds of the city all around you. People leaving bars and restaurants. The odd taxi honking its horn. A peal of church bells in the distance. You arrive at your hotel and settle in for the night, excited to wake up in a new city. When morning breaks, the twittering of birds awakes you gently. You get out of bed to open the window. Pushing open the shutters you see the sun shining down on rooftops, vines draping from buildings and ancient cobbled streets below. Or maybe you see a panoramic view of the Colosseum laid out before you in all its glory. This is Rome! You’re finally here and aren’t you so glad you chose this place to stay from all the thousands of options you had to choose from.

Ben venuti, welcome everyone! I hope you’re still dreaming of Italy. I sure am. All the photos of the cities opening up and the locals enjoying their spaces is making me so nostalgic.

Now I know many of you plan your trips to Italy one to two years in advance. It is, after all, the trip of a lifetime for many of us. And of course you want to get the details just right. So in this episode of Untold Italy we are going to talk you through where to stay in Rome – the best neighborhoods to rest your head so you can make the most of the city.

Planning where to stay is possibly the most important aspect of trip planning after deciding on your itinerary in my opinion. If you get this part right, the rest of your trip will likely be smooth sailing. You can go out and explore the city or area easily, safe in the knowledge that you have a cosy, comfortable retreat to return to after a long day out and about.

Everyone has different criteria for choosing their accommodation. You’ll need to choose the style of accommodation – hotel, bnb, apartment or airbnb – and we covered off what’s available in Italy in an earlier episode – episode 8 I believe. Your budget will likely play a big part in what accommodation you choose too. But before we get to any of that, let’s choose the area in Rome that will best suit you, your travel style and your budget. Usually compromises need to be made around these 3 factors – style, location and budget. But I truly believe that if you get the location right then the rest will follow.

So today I will walk you through some of the popular areas to stay in Rome and their pros and cons from my perspective to help you decide where to stay on your trip. Remember everyone is different and there is no right or wrong answer here. There are beautiful properties to stay at throughout Rome – you just need to find the right one for you and your travel companions.

Firstly I’ll say that Rome’s main attractions and many cafes, bars and restaurants can be found within quite a small area that is easily walkable with a reasonable level of fitness. I strongly believe that if you can rely on your feet and the odd taxi to get you about the city then you should definitely aim to do that when deciding on your accommodation for Rome. So for this episode we’ll concentrate on the areas close to the historic center where you don’t need to rely too heavily on public transport. There are buses, trams and a metro underground train system in Rome but they can be slow. And if you’re short on time, and want to make the most of your day, like I know most of you are, needing to navigate this system can really slow you down.

Now you can easily search within all of these areas on the main booking sites like Booking.com and AirBnB. Just be sure to check the exact location with respect to train and subway stations and always, always read many reviews before booking anything. I’ll give you some more tips on booking your accommodation at the end of this show but now let’s get started

Roma Termini Station area also known as Esquilino

I’ll start by saying this is NOT my favorite area to stay in Rome. Many people suggest staying here because it is close to the main train station for any onward journeys throughout Italy or quick access to the airport. Plus you can easily access the subway. But, here’s the thing, like most places in the world, the area around the main train station is not the most charming and can sometimes be a little seedy. What you gain in some convenience you definitely lose in charm and atmosphere.

What you will find here are cheaper hotels and hostels and the usual transit style accommodation for business travelers only staying a night or two. Now depending on what you want from your vacation this might be fine but if you’re looking for those dreamy cobbled streets and inviting restaurants and boutiques you will not find that here. You can access that on foot in about 20-30 minutes however in the nearby Monti district. I actually stayed in the Termini area on my first trip to Rome and somehow got quite the wrong impression of the city. Things were a bit different back then as I was backpacking and on a super strict budget but knowing what I now know I would look elsewhere as you can find great budget accommodation in other areas of Rome – especially using AirBnB.

So it’s a great place to stay if you are on a really tight budget or want to be close to the station for the next part of your journey. But, I do think there are better options even then because a taxi from most parts of central Rome to the main train station are going to be around €10 and I think that’s a small price to pay for the ambience you’re dreaming of.

If you are on a budget then one of the city’s most popular hostels is in this area. The Beehive gets consistently great reviews on across the booking sites and TripAdvisor.

Pantheon / Piazza Navona / Campo di Fiori area

This is my favorite area to stay. Right in the heart of the historic center, the area around the Pantheon is rich with history, atmosphere and the charm. Around every corner you’ll find ancient wonders and Renaissance beauty, a pretty fountain or a Baroque church. And of course the magnificent Pantheon that has stood in place in that very spot for 2000 years or so. Here you’ll walk in the footsteps of the greats of history and can really soak up the atmosphere of the city.

There are also countless restaurants, cafes and bars for when you get hungry. From the historic Giolitti gelato parlour to the forno or bakery at Campo de Fiori to my favorite restaurant in Rome – Roscioli – they are all there within steps of each other.

And even better you can walk everywhere you need to go – to the Colosseum, the Vatican and even across the Ponte Sisto for dinner or exploring Trastevere. Don’t believe me? Our twins did this when they were 4 years old. We stayed a week in Rome and I think we caught one taxi and one bus the whole time with no stroller. And the bus annoyed me because we waited so long we could have walked it! So I think for most of you, walking anywhere from here is easily doable.

You’ll find everything from luxury high end hotels to smaller family run establishments and apartments in this area and it would be my starting point for any first trip to Rome. I honestly can’t think of a downside to this district except that it may be a little more expensive than others at first look and there aren’t really big stores like the designer brands – Gucci, Armani etc – if you’re interested in that kind of shopping – though you can easily walk to those .

But you really have to consider the advantage of walking everywhere vs using transport and I think even then the cost would even out. It’s suitable for all types of travelers – from honeymooners and couples to families and solo travelers.

Within this area you also have little pockets of the city that are lots of fun. From the grandeur of Piazza Navona with its three magnificent fountains to the fun of Campo de Fiori with its daily market, delicatessens and nightlife. I also love the area known as the Jewish quarter. Here you’ll find ancient ruins tucked in among houses, offices and restaurants. It’s truly magnificent. Honestly, we could do a whole episode on this area and we probably will!!

But if you want to check out what accommodations are available in this area – including our favorites – we have an article that I’ll put a link to in the show notes.

Trastevere

Now as I mentioned, you can easily get to the completely charming Trastevere district from the Pantheon area. It’s slightly out from the main historic zone on the other side of the Tiber river and it’s known for being a typical neighborhood of Rome. It’s here where you’ll get those glimpses of vines floating across buildings and cafes spilling out onto tiny piazzas. Trastevere is well known for its food scene with many classic and up and coming restaurants to try. You can also shop at cute little local shops and pop your head into some amazing churches and smaller museums.

Trastevere is the place to stay if you want to get away from the main tourist areas and pretend you live in Rome, even for just a few days.

It does take an extra 10 minutes or so to get to some places on foot but it usually means crossing over the gorgeous Ponte Sisto for dreamy views down the Tiber river and that can’t be a bad thing. There is also a tram service which is quite useful for getting to the Colosseum and faster than the bus. If you have small children I probably wouldn’t stay here as there are narrow roads and bikes and scooters zipping in and out. You’ll feel much more comfortable in the open spaces in Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori where there are wide pedestrianized streets too.

While there are plenty of apartments and Airbnbs in Trastevere, there are much fewer hotel options in this area. Although there is a magnificent luxury hotel called the Gran Melia which often appears on the best hotels in Rome lists. It has an outdoor pool which would be very welcome on hot days in summer.

Recently we stayed at a lovely modern boutique hotel called Horti 14 Borgo just behind the Botanic Gardens with a rooftop terrace for aperitivo. It was just lovely – the perfect combination of a quaint neighborhood with modern conveniences.

I’ve put all the details of the hotels I mentioned plus some AirBnB picks in an article on our blog which I’ve linked to on our guide for this episode. You’ll find them all there so you don’t need to go searching.

Colosseum and Monti

Are you a bit of a history nerd like me? Then you may want to stay near the Colosseum. If you can imagine waking up to views of one of the most iconic monuments in the world then the Monti area around the Colosseum is probably the area where you’re considering staying. This is a hip, bohemian and up and coming area with restaurants and bars so you get a nice contrast between the ancient sites and fun, local vibe.

What you will find however is that you need to use local transport more often than you would if you were staying closer to the Pantheon. You’re looking at a one hour walk to St Peter’s square from this area although you can use the subway stations at Colosseo and Cavour and change at Termini for the line to get there. See what I mean, it’s a bit of a hassle. Plans are in place to build a line from the Colosseum to St Peters but let’s just say they’ve been talking about it for a long time.

Now, the Vatican may not interest you at all and in that case, if you’re not planning to spend time on the western side of the Tiber river then you may very well prefer to stay in this area. There are some wonderful hotels with views of the Colosseum including the Palazzo Manfredi housed in a 17th century villa where you’ll find the restaurant Aroma with stunning vistas out over the ancient sites. AirBnBs and smaller hotels are common too.

There is a park at Colle Oppio hill which may appeal to families however the roads around Monti are narrow and congested which arent great with small kids. Overall I’d recommend this area for those of you who love ancient history and / or being part of a bohemian atmosphere.

Spanish Steps

On the other hand, if sleek designer boutiques are more your style, you will probably prefer the area near Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps. With direct access to Via Condotti where you’ll find all the top end Italian designer stores like Prada, Bulgari and Valentino. This is definitely the most upscale area of Rome where there are many luxury 5 star hotels and classy restaurants.

This area is also close to Villa Borghese and the parklands surrounding it so it’s great for families and those that like to be close to open green spaces. I absolutely love the view out over Piazza del Popolo from the Terrazza del Pincio

But, personally I don’t find this area quite as charming as the Pantheon area though it is close to the Trevi Fountain and many of the Renaissance era piazzas that Rome is known for. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely lovely and a very central convenient area to stay. It’s just that the Pantheon pulls on my heart strings!

You can find a wide range of accommodation near the Spanish Steps and can walk to most places you’ll want to visit within 30 minutes. It also has the advantage of having two metro stations – Barberini and Spagna – if you want to use transport to get around town. Definitely a good option for most travelers however if you’re looking for budget stays you may struggle a little.

Vatican Prati

Many people visiting Rome specifically want to visit and stay close to the Vatican. So now I am going to talk about staying close to the Vatican in the Prati district of Rome. This is quite an elegant residential neighborhood mostly known for wide streets and boulevards more like what you think of Paris than of Rome. Although there is a more ancient area between Castel Sant’Angelo and St Peters.

But for the most part it’s more of a residential area with apartment buildings. If you like shopping Via Cola di Rienzo is a quieter version of Via Condotti and has a nice mix of designer and high street brands. You’ll also find lots of interesting restaurants and bars including the famous Pizzarium pizza specialists in Prati.

Now choosing the part of Prati to stay in is quite important. If you stay close to the river you’ll have easy access to Piazza Navona and the historic center and it’s quite easy to get there on foot. And the reverse of what I mentioned earlier is that it is quite far from the Colosseum so you would probably want to take the metro or bus to cross town.

You can definitely find a wide range of accommodation in Prati but expect it be in the mid to upper price ranges especially for hotels.

Prati is the place to stay if you want to access the Vatican – especially if you are planning to get up early for a tour of the Vatican Museums or Papal audience. If the Vatican is not the focus of your visit it may be a little far out of your way to make the most of Rome in a limited amount of time.

Ostiense – Testaccio

Ok onto my final suggestion

Now, as you know I am a bit of a veteran of these Roman adventures and while I do have my preferred spots (and I think you probably know by now that the Pantheon area is very clearly my favorite), next time I am there I think I want to stay somewhere different. And so I thought I’d share with you this area that I’d love to stay in if you’re the type of traveler that likes to stay in a neighborhood that is mostly locals. You won’t really find hotels here either – mostly AirBnBs.

Now this neighborhood is on the other side of the Aventine Hill from the Circus Maximus and Jewish quarter and it’s known as Testaccio. I went here on a food tour in November and just loved all the bars, restaurants and unique shops but there are also some very interesting things to see there.

One of these is the Non-Catholic cemetery where poets Keats and Shelley are buried. It’s a very beautiful place and right next door to that is a stone pyramid built that is the tomb of a Roman senator – Gaius Cestius. It’s a 2000 year old replica of an egyptian pyramid and it’s kind of random sticking out there in the middle of a Roman suburb. But I think it’s pretty cool! And up on Aventine Hill itself you have some of the most incredible views of Rome.

Testaccio also has a market and Rome’s big Eataly store continuing the tradition of being the center of all things food in Rome since ancient times. It’s a fascinating area and I would love to stay there on my next visit. There are limited transport options though and I would be choosing this area knowing that I didnt need to get to the Colosseum and Vatican at set times. This is the place to stay if you want to explore a Roman neighborhood rather than doing a lot of sightseeing.

So there you have it, those are the main areas people stay at in Rome and the pros and cons of each one. I believe the Pantheon area is the best for first time visitors though if you are obsessed with Roman history then you may prefer waking up to a view of the Colosseum. The area around Termini train station is not our favorite and nearby Monti may suit you better. If you love to shop then stay near Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps. Those that want typical Roman scenes and great restaurants should stay in Trastevere. And if you want to be close to the Vatican, the Prati district is a good choice. Lastly, if you’re feeling adventurous choose Testaccio for some quirky sights and great eating options.

So consider these seven areas carefully when choosing your accommodation for Rome. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages but they are all useful areas to stay with varying levels of charm. Now like I said at the start, having traveled all over Italy and Europe many times it is always my preference to stay close to the historic center of each city or place we visit. And Rome is no exception. Yes it can be a little more expensive but what you save in accommodation costs staying further away from center, you will generally make up in transport costs.

Yes you can find great accommodation outside of the historic centers but it also does mean compromising on transit times and the hassle of learning how to use the transport system. I prefer to just get out and walk if I can. Many of the tour companies use hotels a few suburbs out from the center and they are just fine but what I suggest is that if you have a few extra days at the end of your trip, go stay in one of the atmospheric areas I mentioned so you can soak up the true essence of Rome.

I also promised some tips on booking your accommodation. So here we go. We are in highly unusual times right now but I am going to assume things return to normal within the next year or two at the latest. Rome is very popular and very busy – one of the most visited cities on the planet. So it may not surprise you that the best accommodation is snapped up well in advance. If you have a place in mind then I would book 6 to 12 months in advance if possible or as early as you can to avoid disappointment. Sometimes I think I can wing it but it usually ends in higher prices or I miss my preferred stay. And this includes out of the main tourist season from May to September. On my trip last November I had some disappointments which were completely my fault and I should have known better!

Also, I think we’ve all learnt this year that booking with a generous cancelation policy is a good idea. Cheap deals are cheap for a reason so I prefer to pay a little extra to secure the flexibility of late cancelation. Just make sure you read all the terms and conditions and understand what your inclusions and obligations are. I think AirBnB and Booking.com are very clear on this and they are the booking sites that I prefer and use for all our trips to Italy and around the world.

Lastly, wherever you choose to book, make sure you have a good idea of the walking and transport times to and from your hotel or AirBnB and the main things you want to see. I usually just pop them in all in Google Maps so I know how much time to build into my days for getting from point A to point B. It’s just a rough guide which I usually double or even triple to account for coffee and gelato stops and general oohing and ahhing along the way.

Right so now you should have a better idea of where to stay in Rome. As I mentioned at the start of the episode, if you get your Rome accommodation right you’ll start the trip on a high. Most journeys to Italy, especially first trips, start in Rome so it may very well be your first taste of Italy and you want to make it a great one.

We have lots of information on accommodation on our Untold Italy blog and I’ve popped it all into the show notes for this episode at untolditaly.com/27 – for episode 27. We hope you found our episode on areas to stay in Rome useful. If you have another favorite area to stayin the Eternal city I’d love to know.. Although it may be hard to break my fixation on the Pantheon area I’ll certainly take a look!

Thanks, as always for listening. If you’ve enjoyed our podcast we’d love it if you could give us a rating or review and of course subscribe to our show. Grazie, thank you again for listening and ciao for now!

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