The usual, classic tours are a must when you visit Rome. You can’t visit the Eternal City and leave without seeing the main sights such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican and Piazza Navona. However, and despite the immense heritage that you will find in one of the world’s most visited cities, it’s not all about looking back on the past.
Make sure that you also take time to enjoy the more contemporary and cosmopolitan side to the city. The city has adapted amazingly to the 21st century and there is a wide-ranging programme of cultural activities for you to choose from.
If you’re interested in avant-garde architecture and art, head to Flaminio neighbourhood in the north of the city. It is right between Via Flamini and the Tiber River and it is one of the main residential areas. There are a number of fashionable spots there. For example, the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo or MAXXI contemporary art and architecture museum. The building itself was designed by well-known architect Zaha Hadid. Parco della Musica is another stand-out building. This magnificent auditorium was created by Renzo Piano and the interior is truly spectacular.
One of the most recent bridges in the city – Ponte della Musica – opened in 2011 and is also in the same neighbourhood. It’s a modern construction made of steel and reinforced concrete that makes the bridge actually look rather light. When you cross over, you’ll come to Foro Italico, a huge sports complex at the foot of Monte Mario. It was built in 1932 and was the precedent for Italian fascist architecture.
Indeed, another must if you’d like to see more fascist architecture and early 20th-century construction in Rome is Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR), currently a residential and business district. Here you will find very interesting and diverse buildings such as the Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of Roman Culture) and Spazio Novecento, a versatile events venue. The latter is a clear and varied example of avant-garde design and rationalism in architecture.
If you’d like to see the most colourful and original side to Rome, there are a number of neighbourhoods where you can admire impressive examples of urban art and graffiti. For example, in the southern districts along Via Tuscolana, one of the city’s longest streets. There is a free, open-air urban art museum – MURo – in Quadraro neighbourhood. The Light Up Torpigna graffiti in Tor Pignattara neighbourhood is another surprising example of this trend. Meanwhile, in Tor Marancia urban art can be found in every nook and cranny.
There are a number of areas that you can go to if you’re looking for a younger and more modern side to Rome. If hipster neighbourhoods are more your thing, then Pigneto is the place for you. It is one of the areas of the city that has appeared most often in film, and it is brimming with cafés, bars and art galleries. If you’re a Pasollini fan, don’t miss a trip to Necci dal 1924, the bar that was the setting for the director’s first film: Accattone. Enjoy a tasty dish of cacio e pepe pasta, drink a delicious cappuccino, take a seat on the terrace at Cargo or visit some of the many vintage clothing shops.
Ostiense and Garbatella are two former industrial areas on the outskirts of Rome. Nowadays, they form part of the alternative scene, with modern buildings and old factories that have been adapted to create cultural venues. Don’t miss beautiful Central Montemartini. It was once a power plant and now it houses some of the Capitoline Museum’s collection. Take a walk around the area and enjoy the spectacular graffiti on the walls. Ponte Settimia Spizzichino, a curved steel contemporary bridge named after Rome’s only Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, will surprise you. Immerse yourself in the tastes of Italy in Eataly. Or if you’d like to taste some creative pizzas in a spot that attracts young entrepreneurs and artists, then Gazometro 38 is the place for you. Caffè Letterario, with its live music entertainment, is a great place to soak up the nightlife. This area is where you can enjoy the authentic Rome in a laid-back atmosphere surrounded by the divine ochres of the wonderful buildings.
And if authenticity is what you’re after, then you simply cannot miss a trip to Testaccio, one of the most unique neighbourhoods in the city where the past and present blend. It began as a residential area for workers in the late 19th century. Little by little, the district modernised and its streets started filling with art. Nowadays, the large, Egyptian Pyramid of Cestius greets you as you arrive in this rather curious part of the city that is off the beaten tourist track. The local trattorias are great places where you can eat well for a very reasonable price, and if you’re interested in immersing yourself in the real hustle and bustle of life in Rome, visit the local market. Il Mattatoio is the new name of the MACRO exhibition located in a former slaughterhouse. You can visit the graves of John Keats and Percy Shelley in the protestant cemetery. This part of the city is also where you can find the very best nightlife. In the Stazione Roma Ostiense area, in particular, you can choose between large nightclubs or intimate bars. This side to Rome is different, contemporary, effervescent and not at all conventional.