Rick Steves Rome 2016 - Rick Steves, Gene Openshaw (2015)
NIGHTLIFE IN ROME
Romans get dressed up and eat out in casual surroundings for their evening entertainment. For most visitors, the best after-dark activity is simply to grab a gelato and stroll the medieval lanes that connect the romantic, floodlit squares and fountains. Head for Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Campo de’ Fiori, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Via del Corso, Trastevere (around the Santa Maria in Trastevere Church), or Monte Testaccio.
For a great evening stroll, see my Heart of Rome Walk chapter or my “Dolce Vita Stroll” (at the end of this chapter).
PERFORMANCES AND FILM
Check out the current listings of concerts, operas, dance, and films. Posters around town also advertise upcoming events. For the most up-to-date events calendar, check these English-language websites: www.inromenow.com, www.wantedinrome.com, and www.rome.angloinfo.com.
Music lovers will seek out the mega-music complex of the Rome Auditorium (Auditorium Parco della Musica), designed by contemporary architect Renzo Piano (€20-60 tickets, check availability in advance—concerts often sell out, Viale Pietro de Coubertin 30, take Metro to Flaminio and then catch tram #2 to Apollodoro, from there it’s a 5-minute walk east, just beyond the elevated road, tram/metro runs until 23:30, box office toll tel. 892-982, www.auditorium.com). Also called the “Park of Music,” it’s a place where many Romans go just for the scene—music store, restaurants, cafés, and fresh modern architecture with three state-of-the-art auditoriums (known as “the beetles” for their appearance). If you want to see today’s Rome enjoying today’s culture, an evening here is the best you’ll do.
Classical Music and Opera
The Teatro dell’Opera has an active schedule of opera and classical concerts. In the summer, the productions move to the Baths of Caracalla, where ancient ruins make an evocative backdrop. You’ll see locals in all their finery, so pull your fanciest outfit from your backpack (near Via Firenze/Via Nazionale hotels at Via Firenze 72, tel. 06-4816-0255, www.operaroma.it).
More tourist-oriented musical events are offered at the nearby Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within the Walls. The music ranges from orchestral concerts (usually Tue and Fri) to full operatic performances, which are usually on Saturdays (€20-30, performances at 20:30, tickets usually available on day of show, arrive 30-45 minutes early for a good seat, lasts 1.5-2.5 hours, corner of Via Nazionale at Via Napoli 58, tel. 06-482-6296, www.musicaemusicasrl.com and www.operaelirica.com). On Sunday evenings at 18:30, the church occasionally hosts hour-long candlelit Luminaria concerts (€10-20, buy tickets at the church on Sunday, www.stpaulsrome.it).
Rome has a relatively small but vibrant jazz scene. Alexanderplatz is the venerable club in town, with performances most evenings (Sun-Thu concerts at 21:45, Fri-Sat at 22:30, closed in summer, Via Ostia 9, Ottaviano Metro stop, tel. 06-3972-1867, www.alexanderplatzjazzclub.com).
Il Pentagrappolo is an intimate enoteca, serving light meals (proudly, no pasta) to go with their selection of quality wines, many organic. Thursday through Saturday, they host live music (often jazz) starting around 22:00 (open Tue-Sun 18:00-24:00, closed Mon, music Sept-June, best to reserve on weekends, three blocks east of the Colosseum at Via Celimontana 21—see map on here, www.ilpentagrappolo.com, tel. 06-709-6301).
TramJazz, a creative venture by the public transit company, combines dinner, music, and a journey through the city in a vintage cable car for a mostly local crowd (€65, daily at 21:00, 3 hours, leaves from Piazza di Porta Maggiore, book at least a week in advance, www.tramjazz.com).
Movies in their original language are hard to come by in Rome (look for v.o.—versione originale). The one reliable cinema is the Nuovo Olimpia (3 blocks north of Piazza Colonna, just off Via del Corso at Via in Lucina 16, tel. 06-686-1068). Multisala Barberini occasionally has v.o. screenings as well (Piazza Barberini, www.cinemadiroma.it). For movie listings, check www.inromenow.com (includes English-language film showings) and www.romereview.com.
Some museums have later opening hours (especially on Sat in summer), offering a good chance to see art in a cooler, less-crowded environment. See the “Rome at a Glance” sidebar on here, and ask the TI if any museums are currently open late.
Both the Scuderie del Quirinale and the nearby Palazzo delle Esposizioni stay open late when they’re hosting major art exhibitions (€12 for each, can be more with some exhibits; both open Sun-Thu 10:00-20:00, Fri-Sat 10:00-22:30 except the Palazzo is closed Mon; may open—and stay open—much later in summer; last entry one hour before closing; Scuderie—Via XXIV Maggio 16, tel. 06-696-271, www.scuderiequirinale.it; Palazzo—Via Nazionale 194, tel. 06-3996-7500, www.palazzoesposizioni.it).
Throughout Italy, early evening is time to stroll. While elsewhere in Italy this is called the passeggiata, in Rome it’s a cruder, big-city version called the struscio (meaning “to rub”).
Unemployment among Italy’s youth is very high; many stay with their parents even into their 30s. They spend a lot of time being trendy and hanging out. Like American kids gathering at the mall, working-class suburban youth (coatto) converge on the old center, as there’s little to keep them occupied in Rome’s dreary outskirts (which lack public spaces). The hot vroom-vroom motor scooter is their symbol; haircuts and fashion are follow-the-leader.
In a more genteel small town, the passeggiata comes with sweet whispers of “bella” and “bello” (“pretty” and “handsome”). In Rome, the admiration is stronger, oriented toward consumption—they say “buona” and “buono”—meaning roughly “tasty.” But despite how lusty this all sounds, you’ll see just as many chunky, middle-aged Italians out and about as hormone-charged youth.
BARS AND NIGHTSPOTS
I’ve listed some fun neighborhoods worth exploring after dark, along with a few bars and enoteche (wine bars) in each. All of these places are recommended in the Eating in Rome chapter, where you’ll find more details on each.
Heart of Rome, near the Pantheon
This is a touristy but delightful scene. The monuments—especially the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain—are magically floodlit at night. Not far from the Trevi Fountain, L’Antica Birreria Peroni is a big, boisterous beer hall. Farther south, Campo de’ Fiori and the surrounding streets become one big, rude street party around 22:00. One good place to sample the youthful energy, as well as some craft beers, is the rollicking Open Baladin pub. (For more on these places, see their listings under “Pantheon Neighborhood,” on here of the Eating in Rome chapter.)
North Rome, near the Spanish Steps and Via del Corso
A babel of international tourists, this glitzy zone is bustling after dark. For many, just hanging out on and around the Spanish Steps is enough to fill an evening. Or, for a wine bar that matches the neighborhood ambience—with an upscale, almost snooty yuppie atmosphere—consider Gusto (see listing on here).
Near the Colosseum and Forum, in Monti
The best plan in this lively village Rome zone is to pop the top off a brew and hang out at the fountain on Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. To join the after-dark scene, buy a drink at the shop on the uphill side of the square (cheap bottles of wine with plastic glasses, beer, fruit, and munchies) and be part of what becomes the hottest bar in the area. There are plenty of makeshift benches around the fountain (this scene is described on here). For something a bit less casual, try Enoteca Cavour 313 or Fafiuché. (For details, see the “Monti” section, here of the Eating in Rome chapter.)
This youthful district crawls with students and young tourists after hours, drinking beer, consuming late-night pizza-by-the-slice, and licking gelato as they prowl the cobbles. For a more upscale atmosphere, head for Cantina Ripagrande (see listing on here).
Near Termini Station
This is a pretty sleepy area at night, though there’s often some activity around Piazza della Repubblica. To sip wine in a sophisticated setting, stroll over to I Colori del Vino Enoteca. Flann O’Brien, a sprawling Irish pub, occasionally has live music. (For more on these places, see the “Near Termini Station” section, here of the Eating in Rome chapter.)
Some find this district a bit seedy after dark, but young Romans don’t seem to mind. Beer pilgrims flock to L’Oasi della Birra, with hundreds of microbrews (see listing on here). Monte Testaccio, once an ancient trash heap, is now a small hill whose cool caves house funky restaurants and trendy clubs. And the area around Monte Testaccio is a hotspot for club-hopping—after 21:00, just follow the noise.
Offered year-round by several companies, these attract a boisterous crowd. I tried one and had never seen 50 young, drunk people having so much fun (or seen so many locals roll their eyes). Look for fliers locally. Late on Friday and Saturday evenings, entire quarters of old Rome seem to be overtaken by young beer-drinking revelers.
▲▲DOLCE VITA STROLL
(See “Dolce Vita Stroll” map, here.)
This is the city’s chic stroll, from Piazza del Popolo (Metro: Flaminio) down a wonderfully traffic-free section of Via del Corso, and up Via Condotti to the Spanish Steps. Although busy at any hour, crowds really come out from around 17:00 to 19:00 each evening (Fri and Sat are best), except on Sunday, when it occurs earlier in the afternoon. Leave before 18:00 if you plan to visit the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace), which closes at 19:30 (last entry at 18:30).
As you stroll, you’ll see shoppers, people watchers, and flirts on the prowl filling this neighborhood of some of Rome’s most fashionable stores (some open after siesta, roughly 16:00-19:30). While both the crowds and the shops along Via del Corso have gone downhill recently, elegance survives in the grid of streets between here and the Spanish Steps. For a detailed description of shops in this area, see here of the Shopping in Rome chapter. If you get hungry during your stroll, see here for descriptions of neighborhood wine bars and restaurants.
To reach Piazza del Popolo, where the stroll starts, take Metro line A to Flaminio and walk south to the square. Delightfully car-free, Piazza del Popolo is marked by an obelisk that was brought to Rome by Augustus after he conquered Egypt. (It used to stand in the Circus Maximus.) In medieval times, this area was just inside Rome’s main entry (for more background on the square, see here).
If starting your stroll early enough, the Baroque church of Santa Maria del Popolo is worth popping into (Mon-Sat until 19:00, Sun until 19:30, next to gate in old wall on north side of square). Inside, look for Raphael’s Chigi Chapel (second on left as you face the main altar) and two paintings by Caravaggio (in the Cerasi Chapel, left of altar; see church listing on here).
From Piazza del Popolo, shop your way down Via del Corso. With the proliferation of shopping malls, many chain stores lining Via del Corso are losing customers and facing hard times. Still, this remains a fine place to feel the pulse of Rome at twilight.
Historians side-trip right down Via Pontefici past the fascist architecture to see the massive, round-brick Mausoleum of Augustus, topped with overgrown cypress trees. This long-neglected sight, honoring Rome’s first emperor, is slated for restoration and redevelopment. Beyond it, next to the river, is Augustus’ Ara Pacis, enclosed within a protective glass-walled museum (see the self-guided tour on here). From the mausoleum, walk down Via Tomacelli to return to Via del Corso and the 21st century.
From Via del Corso, window shoppers should take a left down Via Condotti to join the parade to the Spanish Steps, passing big-name boutiques. The streets that parallel Via Condotti to the south (Borgognona and Frattina) are also elegant and filled with high-end shops. A few streets to the north hides the narrow Via Margutta. This is where Gregory Peck’s Roman Holiday character lived (at #51); today it has a leafy tranquility and is filled with pricey artisan and antique shops.
Historians: Ignore Via Condotti and forget the Spanish Steps. Stay on Via del Corso, which has been straight since Roman times, and walk a half-mile down to the Victor Emmanuel Monument. Climb Michelangelo’s stairway to his glorious (especially when floodlit) square atop Capitoline Hill. Stand on the balcony (just past the mayor’s palace on the right), which overlooks the Forum. As the horizon reddens and cats prowl the unclaimed rubble of ancient Rome, it’s one of the finest views in the city.