Most every large and sprawling city has districts or neighborhoods, but few display the diversity of character you'll find in central Rome's neighborhoods, sometimes refered to by the Italian administrative divisions called rione.
The Rione have changed over the years as new administrations grappled with the population growth both inside the Aurelian walls and out.
Some of Rome's neighborhoods you know. The current tourist favorite, Trastevere, is an example. Another is our favorite, Testaccio.
Each of the gray map markers indicates a Rome rione. You can click on each to see what major tourist attractions are within each rione.
The Historic center of Rome (Centro Storico in Italian) is considered to be the area inside the city walls, an area of just over 5 square miles or just under 14 square kilometers. Most everything you've heard about historic Rome is here: the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, Trastevere, Vatican and Villa Borghese, Colosseum and Termini.
Rome's two metro lines cross in front of Termini Station (See a Transportation Map of Rome). You must buy tickets in advance at newsstands, tabacchis (tobacco shops), or vending machines.
Select Italy's Must See Rome Small Group Walking Tour can help you get your bearings in Rome. For a more in-depth tour, see their One-Day Rome: An Introduction to the City
Central Rome isn't the only area tourists might explore. There are two areas to the north which I find fascinating: Malborghetto and Livia's Villa. These are places along the ancient Via Flaminia you can get to by public transportation if you are housed inside the historic center or by car if you've chosen a spot outside the center. You can also walk from the Ponte Milvio in northern Rome, the bridge where Constantine defeated Maxentious after a vision that suggested divine intervention, an event that began Constantine's conversion to Christianity with a little help from his mother. The Flaminia, like the Appian Way, offers some Roman funereal architecture along the way. Read more about Malborghetto, the "bad little hamlet" built around a 4th century arch, or about Livia's Villa (Livia Drusilla, wife of the emperor Augustus, owned it with her family).
The Aventine is a quiet, wealthy residential area with some amazing churches, view spots, and oddities. The famous Knights of Malta keyhole is here. My favorite "really old" church, Santa Sabina is here.
If you value quiet, you'll want to take a hotel here. You're not too far from the farm more raucous historic center, and if you're a foodie, Rome's cucina povera has its origins in the area around the old stockyard in Testaccio, just to the south, and there are many restaurants serving this celebrated cuisine--the Aventine lacks for restaurants. Read More: Aventine Hill Guide, which also suggests some places to stay.
At the intersection of the Aventine and Testaccio, seen from the Testaccio zoom on the map, is a marker for the interesting (and free!) museum inside Porta San Paolo, the southern gate of the third century Aurelian Walls of Rome. The Ostiense Museum tucked inside the gatehouse offers up some education on the importance of the road to Rome's port, Ostia, and has some good views of the Roman era Pyramid of Cestius from along the crenelated catwalk. From here, if you fancy some exercise, you can take an interesting walk from the Museo della Via Ostiense to the Basilica of St. Paul.
Testaccio and the Aventino have quite a few apartments for vacation rentals.
An up and coming rione these days, Monti is Rome's largest. It's named after three hills: Quirinale, Viminale and Esquilino. It is bounded on the south by the Colosseum and San Giovanni in Laterano (Basilica of St. John Lateran), the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and one of the top churches of Rome.
This is the area south of Termini station, named after the Roman baths just in front. If you're coming in by train you probably stop in Termini, although there are other stations: popular are Roma Trastevere and Roma Ostiense. If you're thinking you'll be tired, you'll want to just drop your stuff at a nearby hotel and begin your sightseeing. There is lots of lodging around the station. Ignore the touts and look, or reserve in advance. We like the Starhotels Metropole. Cheaper is the Hotel des Artistes.
If you're going to be in the heart of old Rome, here's where I'd make my base. A rione bounded on the southwest by the Tiber river, You've got much of the charm of Rome showing up in the area around the Piazza Farnese and the Campo dei Fiori--and the Piazza Navona isn't far away. The Piazza Farnese is much quieter than the Campo dei Fiori, so I prefer to sleep around the Palazzo Farnese, the French Embassy. I like the quirky, clean, interesting, and unmistakably Roman Vacation Apartment on a quiet alley north of the Palazzo. If you prefer a hotel, I also recommend Hotel Residenza Farnese which was quiet even on the night the Italians won the world cup.
This is a great area for strollers. Our favorite walk is up the quiet and elegant Via Giulia to the Vatican, or across the Ponte Sant' Angelo to the Castel Sant'Angelo.
It's hard to envision the grandeur of St. Peter's Square unless you're standing in it. You should at least stroll up to the Vatican and take a peek. If you want to explore the area further, or have business there, there are many hotels in the area: Hotels in Vatican City.
The Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums are an extremely popular thing to do in Rome. We suggest you buy tickets in advance so you can avoid standing in long lines to procure them on site. You may also wish to hire a private guide, who can take you right to the things you are interested in. We have a some suggestions for what tickets to purchase: Rome Vatican Museum Tickets. One of our favorite tours is the Privleged Entrance Sistine Chapel and Vatican Musems tour with the Roman Guy, in which you get to go in before the public opening hours. There are also gardens to visit.
North of the Vatican lies the northwesternmost rione of Prati. Wrapping around Vatican City to the west is the adjacent quartiere di Roma of Aurelio. These two neighborhoods have great service on the metro line and are considered bargains for lodging--and it's true, we've stayed in an amazing apartment for half what a hotel room would have cost in the center of Rome. If you're going to spend a lot of time around the Vatican, well, these are the places for you.
Trastevere is on the "other" side of the Tiber, the west bank, and features lots of little restaurants, pizzerie, and bakeries along with some of the smaller museums and many interesting churches like Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest in Rome. There is also a popular botanical garden.
If you feel like some exercise, and like to see sprawling views of the city you're in, climb Il Gianicolo, Janiculum Hill.
Trastevere is webbed with narrow cobbled streets around the Museo di Roma in Trastevere you see on the map. Wander it. Get lost. You'll find what you're seeking, even if you didn't know you were looking for it.
A value choice in Trastevere lodging is the B&B Hotel Roma Trastevere on Viale di Trastevere 249/D. Upscale and very highly rated is Trastevere Colors on Via Dei Marescotti 7. If atmosphere is what you crave, why not stay in a former monastery? The 4-Star Donna Camilla Savelli on Via Garibaldi 27 features 2 gardens, some amazing views, and was designed by Baroque architect Borromini.
Monteverde is an interesting Rome neighborhood that tourists seem to miss. It's to the west of the center, and it's not a rione but a quartiere. Like the Aventine Hill area, it's relatively quiet in Monteverde. What's to see? The Villa Pomphili and the "Secret Garden" inside Rome's largest lanscaped park for a start. There are catacombs under the ancient church of San Pancrazio. The food here is typically Roman and a great value if you've already tried those in the tourist center. Monteverde is linked to the center by Rome's newest tram line, so it's a great place to stay while still being just a tram ride away from Rome's central attractions.
Flaminio isn't a rione. It's Rome's "first" outskirt or quartiere. You'll find it north of the Piazza al Popolo, where the tiber makes a big bend. It's a more modern side of Rome with some interesting attractions.
We recommend The Roman Guy and Walks of Italy for innovative Rome tours. For a little rundown:
If you get tired of eating in Restaurants while you are in Rome, you can have a meal in the house of a local.
On the map you'll find the taxi stands in Rome. This is the preferable way to procure a taxi, as in most of the tourist areas of Rome you'll not be able to flag down a taxi. Be careful at Termini Station; you'll want to find an official taxi if you don't fancy getting ripped off.
Pay attention to the map on the right, the Crumpled City Map of Rome. It's like the silk maps the military gave fliers. You don't have to deal with folding them, just stuff 'em into your pocket and go!
A little further away is Tivoli where you'll find the Villa d'Este and Hadrian's Villa. See a Tivoli Map and Guide for directions on how to get there.