What’s the Eternal City like? What can you expect, and how will it keep you entertained?
The key to a personalized experience of Rome is to look beyond the more traditional itineraries and create one for yourself that mixes in with your interests as well.
Here is a rough guide that will help you map out where and how to find what you are looking for in terms of entertainment in Rome.
Of course, we encourage you to experience the typical tourist journey when in Rome: the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, just to name a few of Rome’s attractions.
Nobody would want to miss those for anything in the world. But one of the top things to do in Rome is to open your eyes and senses, even to the smallest details that will capture the essence and the soul of this city: columns and cats, courtyards and churches, fountains and laundry spreading from the windows, the brownish- orange facades of the buildings, the “motorini” that dart around careless of traffic lights and pedestrians, the coffee ritual in the morning, priests and sunglassed machos. Again, old traditions and new habits, sacred and secular.
Entertainment in Rome will just come to you.
Galleries and Museums
To witness art in Rome, there are different kinds of spaces you can visit:
- Museums: The Capitoline Museums, National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo, and National Museum of Rome are must-see museums in Rome.
- Villas: There are a lot of historical villas in Rome with gorgeous gardens that now hold historical art collections open to the public for viewing, such as the galleries of Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphili, and Villa Farnesina. The gardens themselves are visited frequently by a lot of people for picnics, bike rides, and other activities.
- Palazzos: Rome has a lot of notable palaces with art collections and interchanging exhibitions, such as Palazzo Barberini and Palazzo delle Esposizioni.
- Contemporary art: MAXXI and MACRO are the two leading contemporary museums in Rome, with the buildings themselves being awe-inspiring (MAXXI was designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid).
- There are also a lot of smaller eclectic galleries all over the city, which are wonderful to stumble upon during strolls.
Tip: The villas and palaces in the city make occasional use of their spaces for music and cultural events, which are good to keep an eye out for. This enables you to access and experience the beautiful architecture of these spaces in a completely different way and not just for the art collections they exhibit.
Concerts and Festivals
There are a lot of festivals taking place throughout the year, from music and dance to ones for gardening and tattoos. Check out the programs for the following festivals in Rome to see if they can be included in your itinerary:
- Roma Summer Fest: The annual international music festival that takes place in the auditorium Parco della Musica brings some of the biggest names in the music industry to the city.
- Rock in Roma: A major international rock festival that uses various venues across the city, including the Baths of Caracalla and the Circus Maximus.
- Rome International Film Festival: The main screenings take place in Parco della Musica, but additional screenings are held in a variety of other locations.
- Il Cinema in Piazza: Every summer, open-air screenings take place in squares such as Piazza San Cosimato, Cervelletta, and Monte Ciocci. The screenings are free, which makes it a great activity for a no or low-spend evening.
- Roma Diffusa: Although this festival is young, I think it deserves mention as it activates neighborhoods in Rome and their inhabitants by opening up private and alternative spaces that the public otherwise does not have access to. This festival has helped me have experiences that I would otherwise not be able to have, such as dancing to a funk DJ set in the basement of a meat shop and going to the open studio of an artist to watch live fresco painting demonstrations.
- Tiber River fair: In the summer, a stream of white canopies line the riverside offering pop-up bars, hookah spots, jewelry stalls, tarot readers, and carnival games.
Bars and Clubs
I believe the key to Rome nightlife is to try not to stick solely to the center of the city.
A long-standing Roman music group called Comme mamma m’ha fatto is extremely popular for its improvisational jazz-funk music. In the winter, they play indoors every Thursday at Alcazar in Trastevere, and in the summer, they play at a lookout point on top of Gianicolo Hill.
The area of Ostiense holds a lot of established nightclubs that regularly invite international artists, especially from Berlin and Spain, to play.
Pigneto is a neighborhood less ventured into by tourists and holds some of the most famous dancing spaces in Rome for electronic music and more experimental genres. It also has a popular food and bar street.
A lot of independent music collectives make use of old warehouses and ruins to host parties with exceptionally curated musicians and DJs. A good way to get to know such music groups is to just ask around and see what music collectives people follow and are loyal to.
In the summer, outdoor bars and clubs with DJ sets open alongside the river.
Tip: Creating an ARCI membership card is key to opening up a lot of new spaces for music and dancing. ARCI is a non-profit cultural association, and becoming a member (the card is very cheap) gives you access to cultural spaces in Rome and in all of Italy for an entire year that you would otherwise not be able to reach. Some of my favorite spaces in Rome for nightlife use this card.
Theater and Opera
The energy of witnessing live acts, whether they be in the form of music or acting, is unmatched for me, and to do it in an ethereal city feels even more special. I like to catch shows at the following:
- Teatro Argentina: This theater is located in Largo Argentina, next to the Roman cat sanctuary.
- Teatro India: My favorite Roman theater, which exists amongst ruins and also has a beautiful open-air bar.
- Teatro dell’Opera: This prestigious, majestic opera hall runs an annual season of shows.
- Short Theatre Festival: This festival format brings international acts that experiment with different studios and spaces around the city instead of just the more traditional theaters.
You may be passing through a bridge or taking a break on some steps, and suddenly you can find yourself in the midst of a show ranging from jazz acts and country music to fire-eaters, jugglers, and hang drum players, with new acts cropping up regularly.
To catch a show by the local characters of Rome, you can spend some time in the following areas:
- Piazza Navona (a lot of live painting goes on here)
- Campo de’ Fiori
- The Spanish steps
- Piazza Trilussa (you can expect some sort of a show here almost every evening)
- Piazza San Calisto (a weekly jazz band that plays next to the famous Bar San Calisto).
Football is a widely revered sport in Italy, and the Romans’ passion for it is evident in the city’s atmosphere during game seasons; you may witness all kinds of celebrations and riots.
Two famous local teams are Roma and Lazio; catch one of the frequent games being played at Stadio Olimpico stadium or speculate a game over a few drinks at a bar that is having a screening in Campo de’ Fiori or Trastevere. Even if you aren’t a fan of watching sports, there is something contagious about the high energy the football fans in Rome proudly display.
Traditional Roman dishes to try out include carbonara and amatriciana in the pasta realm, a meat dish called saltimbocca, fried balls of rice stuffed with different fillings called Suppli, and fried artichokes which can be found in the Jewish neighborhood.
Food Markets in Rome
Italian culture includes eating and talking about food but also indulging in the pleasures of shopping for produce and other food items. Here are some markets for you to try out:
- Testaccio Market: This famous market in the neighborhood of Testaccio now stands where imported goods for the Roman Empire were once stored. A lot of people come here for breakfast and lunch breaks; it is not the kind of market where you only stop, buy and leave, but you can linger around and have a meal.
- Mercato Trionfale: This market is located in Prati and is considered to be the first Roman market and one of the largest in Italy, with 273 stalls of produce and ready-made foods. Since this market opened toward the end of the nineteenth century, you can buy food products from families that have been in the business for generations, and some of the brands reflect that history.
- Campo di Fiori market: This market is very popular with tourists as well as locals and sells fresh produce and a lot of other products such as pasta, wine, sauces, and liquor. There are also stalls for souvenirs to pick up for friends and family back home and a flower market.
- San Cosimato market: This market located in Piazza San Cosimato is open every morning till the afternoon except on the weekends. It’s a much smaller market that has daily customers from Trastevere who buy their fresh fruit and vegetables from here.
Even as a tourist, you can make a stop at this market. I picked up inspiration from a friend who is studying gastronomy in Spain and once visited me; she would go to the market every morning to buy fresh fruit and sit on one of the benches in the piazza to eat them for breakfast before starting her long day of walking and exploring.
Gelato in Rome
A fun food adventure is trying out different gelaterias and creating a guide to your favorites. Roses are a very special flower for me, so I like to search for rose-flavored gelato whenever I can. Just try to steer away from shops that display very colorful gelato as they are not as authentic and use a lot of artificial flavoring. Here are some suggestions:
- Giolitti: This gelato shop, with its iconic look, has been open since 1900 and is located near Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.
- La Romana: Although a franchised brand, La Romana serves great, authentic gelato that is worth a try.
A Closing Personal Tip
Go on ‘media walks’. The city center is plastered with billboards, digital screens, neon signs, posters, flyers, bus advertisements, and stickers that point toward different cultural experiences in Rome. Let your intuition guide you on a walk and see what media catches your eye- this is a great way to truly be able to have experience ‘off the beaten path’.