I first discovered Trastevere in 2009. I rented a room in an old apartment building without air- conditioning. It was here that I learned to do as the Romans do – luxuriate in long lunches, take a nap in the heat of the day, and generally enjoy life more. In Trastevere, I learned about “la dolce far niente,” the sweetness of doing nothing.
I’ve returned to Trastevere many times since that first stay. I fell in love with the narrow, winding cobblestone streets, the warm terra cotta colors of the buildings, the friendly people, and the fact that it’s a real neighborhood where I can find everything I need within a few blocks.
I always return to the same internet cafe (I don’t travel with a computer in Europe), Canestro, the organic and gluten-free market, and shop at the open air produce market in Piazza San Cosimato. In this way I get a tiny taste of what life would be like if lived in this neighborhood in Rome. Of course if I was living there, I doubt I’d spend my days walking around with my camera and following those medieval winding streets wherever I fancy, but, non si sa mai, you never know.
I got to know the guy who made my cappuccino in the morning and my spritz in the afternoon, and other people in the neighborhood who recognize me to this day.
Trastevere means trans Tiber or across the river. It has always been home to craftsmen, artists, and immigrants. In fact, many of the people I meet who have lived there for decades are expats, and tell me they can’t imagine living anywhere else in Rome.
Today there are, of course, lots of tourists. Trastevere is well known for great restaurants, pubs, and nightlife, and believe me, at night it is packed. The older part of the area around Via della Scala and Piazza Trilusa, can be quite mad with people.
But during the day the streets are relatively quiet, and locals go about their business and their work. It’s not uncommon to find an open doorway to a craftsman shop and they don’t seem to mind if you take a peek inside.
Here are some ideas for things to see and do in Trastevere, whether you stay a day, a week, or longer.
There are several important churches in Trastevere: Santa Cecilia, Santa Maria and San Francesco a Ripa.
Piazza and Basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere is the first church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary and probably the oldest church in Rome. You will recognize it by the distinctive Romaneque bell tower – and beautiful mosaics on the front glimmering in the sun. The piazza is a central meeting point in Trastevere, and a great people watching spot. Watch out for drunks and beggars in the evening. Generally harmless, but can be annoying.
Santa Cecila is an 18th century remodel of a medieval church. It is named for St. Cecilia (the patron saint of music), who was martyred here in the 3rd century. Inside you will find the tomb of Santa Cecilia sculpted by Stefano Maderno, and some fragments of Pietro Cavallini’s fresco, The Last Judgement. I haven’t seen this one yet, but it’s on my list.
San Francesco a Ripa: this rather nondescript church houses Bernini’s famous sculpture Beata Ludovia Albertoni. Just go see it.
The Museo di Roma in Trastevere. In May, this museum hosts an exhibition of World Press photographs. Other photographs and art in the permanent collection focus on depicting life in Rome from the 1950’s to the present. If you love photography, this is the place for you. I went to an exhibit last year that permanently affected the way I take photographs today. http://en.museodiromaintrastevere.it/il_museo/la_collezione
The Gianicolo or Janiculum Hill is above Trastevere – a bit of a climb, but well worth the effort. Here you have the best views of the city and in my opinion one of the most romantic spots in Rome. Take a date if you can.
Farmacia Santa Maria della Scala – a true 17th century pharmacy now a museum and operated by monks. It’s never been open when I’m there, but I keep trying.
Eat gelato! My favorite place in Trastevere is Bar Checco. Located at Via Benedetta 7.
Relax! at a typical Roman cafe while enjoying an espresso or a drink and watch the world go by.
I’ve got several good choices and there are many more.
Cafe Maurizio in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere great views of the Piazza and the mosaics on the front of the Basilica.
Cafe San Calisto: Piazza San Calisto, basically adjacent to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Traditional Roman style bar and cafe.
Ombre Rose: Piazza Sant Egidio across from the Museo di Roma. A pretty spot with trees and a funky artsy vibe. Always lots of people sitting outside here.
Eat! There are loads of good restaurants in Trastevere and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a bad meal here. A few ideas are:
Ivo’s for pizza. The place is always packed. Call ahead. Via San Francesco a Ripa.
Da Lucia. A traditional Roman restaurant also always packed. After my fifth trip I finally got in there one night without a reservation. Cacio e pepe is a must. I also had a delicious cheese omelet. Weird I know, but it tasted great with the pasta and wine. Vicolo del Mattonato.
Isola Sicilia. I’ve been here numerous times and always like it. Nice size portions of food, very fresh. If you like seafood this place is very reliable. A wee bit pricey but delicious.
Walk! Trastevere is a great place for walking, as auto traffic is restricted in most areas. There are charming little local artisinal shops, and one of kind things you’ll find no where else. I love walking in Trastevere (even though a few times I thought my feet were permanently broken by the cobblestones). It has a feeling of a small village where people know their neighbors and everyone says hello. It feels like home to me.
Update: This article was nominated in the category, Best Single Post Living In Italy.
Love Rome? Not sure? Read Roman Holiday.
All materials ©Penny Sadler 2012 – 2013