One of the most appealing and enchanting neighborhoods in Rome is the Trastevere area. You can easily spend hours wandering around its charming cobblestoned, winding streets, while taking in the pleasant views of colorful flowerboxes and laundry hanging from second story apartments.
Trastevere, meaning “across the Tiber,” derived its name from its location on the opposite side of the river from the Roman Forum. It is situated halfway between the Vatican and the Colosseum, and not a long walk from Piazza Navona, just over the bridge.
Frequently called the Greenwich Village of Rome, Trastevere possesses the ambience of every visitor’s dream of being in Italy. With all of its outdoor cafes and activities within its piazzas, there is never a lack of fun, entertainment, and atmosphere. Rick Steves calls this trendy neighborhood, the “Left Bank of Rome.”
The main piazza in Trastevere is Piazza Santa Maria, which is the hub of the nightlife here, as well as a busy place throughout the day. Very popular with both locals and visitors, this piazza has the ambience of the Roman lifestyle. Almost like what you might expect in a movie, the scenes of the little outdoor trattorias, with constant movement of all types of people, this piazza is a gift.
Street performers entertain, and during important soccer games, a large screen TV broadcasts the action live for everyone to watch and cheer together. Activity continues late into the night, especially on weekends, yet Piazza Santa Maria is a very safe place to wander around, and soak in the atmosphere.
This piazza is also the site of the oldest church in Rome, the Church of Santa Maria. Built in the fourth century, with an addition in the 12th century, this was the first church in Trastevere to be dedicated to Mary, the Blessed Virgin. It is frequently the site of Italian weddings, especially on Saturdays, where you can observe the guests and bridal party, waiting outside the church, for the bride to arrive, following Italian tradition.
If you are craving some English language entertainment, wander around to Piazza Sant’ Egidio, which is the location of the Pasquino Cinema, with three screens showing films in English. This is another piazza bustling with activity, as vendors sell jewelry, crafts, candles, and souvenirs to anyone who shows an interest. Also here is the Almost Corner Bookstore, which is one of the rare places you can browse and find books written in the English language.
Another church that has a rich history in Trastevere is the Church of Saint Cecilia, a martyr, and the patron saint of singing. The 18th century church was built over the exact site of the original second century house of St Cecilia.
Beneath the church, you can tour the excavation of her house, which was recently restored. Entrance to the church is free, and there is a nominal (2.50 Euro) fee to enter the excavated area beneath the church.
If you are looking for fresh fruit or vegetables, head over to Piazza San Cosimato, where there is an outdoor mercato, open every day except Sunday. Times vary, but generally the market is open early in the morning, closing by 1 or 2pm.
On Sundays, the Porta Portese flea market is open from 7-1, and this is an experience unto itself. Located near the end of Viale Trastevere, the place is extremely crowded, and vendors sell anything from junk to leather bags. You may even witness one of them getting busted by the polizia, as they try and sell some questionable items. Note: Watch your wallets and purses, as this is a prime opportunity for pickpockets, due to the numbers of people milling about.
Trastevere is an area of Rome, where you can sit and take in the culture, and enjoy just being in Rome, without being rushed through a museum, or feeling any stress. You do not want to miss experiencing this trendy neighborhood that, at one time, was considered to be a slum.