Monti, Rome: a guide to the district’s cultural, gastronomical, and historical highlights
This is a self-guided walking tour of Monti, Rome. Even if you don’t have much time to spend in Rome, try and set aside a few hours for exploring the Monti district. The name “Monti” points to the geological formation of the area, which is spread across 6 small hills, or “monti”. The Monti neighborhood in Rome borders the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and represents for contemporary citizens one of the trendiest evening and night-life districts of Rome. If you decide to pay a visit, I’d recommend that you take this self-guided tour of Monti during the late afternoon, after you’ve spent the day in Rome’s historical center. The proximity to the main monuments of the city (which are guarded by a few armed soldiers), together with the pedestrian street that cuts through it (Urbana St.), have contributed to building its reputation as a classy, safe recreational area. This village within the city is classic, artistic, elegant, and hipster, all at the same time. I can confidently say that Monti is the best area to stay in Rome for travelers.
How to get to the Monti neighborhood in Rome:
On foot, 10 minutes from the Colosseum via the Serpenti St.
Or by subway, Line B, “Cavour” station
ITINERARY IN MONTI, ROME’S NO. 1 NEIGHBORHOOD
The Monti neighborhood is Number One of the 22 “rioni” in which the Emperor Giulius (Julius) Caesar Augustus divided the city of Rome at the beginning of the 1st century. As a result, most of the buildings you will see while passing through are very old. It used to include the residences of the “plebeians”, the common citizens, as opposed to the nobles, or “patricians”. But it’s recounted that even the emperors used to visit Monti often in order to hang out at the “lupanari”, or brothels. During your first tour of Monti, you probably won’t have enough time to search every palace and church. That’s why I’m sending you on a virtual tour of the essential historical and culinary highpoints of the area.
Where to start your exploration of Monti, Rome – Annibaldi St. to Serpenti Street
Ideally, you will start your tour of the Monti district after you have visited the Colosseum. Read my article “Rome in a Day” to know how to plan your visit to the highlights in Rome’s historical center.
Leave the Colosseum Square by climbing the few steps that take you to Annibaldi St. From here, you’ll enjoy one more spectacular gaze at the Colosseum and the cut on its top floor, especially worth seeing at sunset. Keep walking for a couple of hundred meters through Annibaldi St. and Serpenti St. until you reach the square with the Church of Santa Maria ai Monti and the octagonal fountain “Fontana Dei Catecumeni”.
Piazza dell Madonna dei Monti Sq.
If you want to experience Monti the way a local would, this is the place to be at aperitivo time (18:30 to 20:30), when everyone gathers at the bars on the sides of the square, or even on the fountain. Have a chat, a glass of wine, and socialize. The Monti neighborhood is known for being a favorite meeting point of locals and travelers, but is way less busy and noisy than the Trastevere neighborhood. When you feel ready, you can continue your tour in one of three directions:
Climb up the second half of Serpenti St.
Take Madonna dei Monti St.
Or cross the square and walk through Zingari St., Zingari Sq., and Urbana St. (recommended)
I would suggest, if you don’t have much time on your hands, that you start with the third option, which is the part of the district I prefer. It is here that I come to immerse myself in the downtown atmosphere and to give myself over to delicious gastronomical temptations, a few of which I’ll share with you below, followed by a mention of the interesting shops and monuments in the area.
TASTE TREATS AROUND THE MONTI NEIGHBORHOOD
Gelato at the Fatamorgana
This is a small gelato shop that offers something like 300 unusual flavors. The gelato is excellent, and I’ve often heard the attendants receive praises, a special rarity not to be underestimated in this city!
Address: Piazza degli Zingari, 5
Liberia Caffè Bohemien
Whilst the name suggests that this should mainly be a coffee-bookshop, the place is perfect for a casual after-dinner date. There are books and coffee, but also wines, finger-foods served with a drink at the beginning of the evening, suffused lightning, and retro furniture.
Address: Via degli Zingari, 36
This tiny, colorful shops serves draft beer and a few Mexican dishes: nachos, burritos, and tacos. The place has becomen successful, so at first you might not find a seat, but since most people come here, eat a tasty bite and go, you might not have to wait a long time before it’s your turn.
Address: Via del Boschetto, 130
Sweet and savoury French-style crepes-galettes are one of the most popular street food in Rome.
Address: Via Leonina 21/A
Grezzo: raw gelato and desserts in the heart of the Monti neighborhood, Rome
Both a chocolate boutique and a dessert factory that uses exclusively raw, organic, and vegan products. Even if you’ll be tempted to get your vegan cappuccino with one of the inviting pralines, you shouldn’t overlook the homemade gelato, which is unique in Rome. Their gelato is made with organic almond milk and raw cacao, fruits, and nuts. It’s different from any gelato you’ve ever tried before. If you’re vegan, you might be interested in my article about vegan food in Rome.
Address: Via Urbana, 130
The first of the many times I walked through Aromaticus’ door, I did it convinced that I was entering a cute plant shop. Instead, together with the shelves of aromatic plants and tiny gardening tools, seeds, and eco-books, I’ve found the Tuscan owner welcoming me and guiding me through the yummiest fusion menu ever. I’m fond of Tuscany and Tuscan people, and I couldn’t be happier that one of them has come to Rome and opened this fabulous shop. There’s something for everyone: omnivorous, vegans, and vegetarians. It must be the paradisiac taste of the food, or the long wooden tables, or probably the friendliness of the staff… there’s something that keeps me going back there! One of their core dishes is the revisitation of traditional Roman “baccala”, codfish, in a soup of seasonal veggies.
Address: Via Urbana, 134
Osteria la Mucca Birichina
This old-fashioned restaurant offers classic Italian and Roman dishes, and it’s attended by both locals and travelers. I’ve come here often, and I have always been satisfied. You can find just everything here, from pizza to pasta, meat and seafood. The waiters speak good English and will tell you what the meal of the day is.
Address: Via Urbana, 12
Regular clients love the fact that, having crossed through the entrance gate, one is gently thrown into a dimension reminiscent of the first half of the 20th Century: brocade curtains, aged wallpaper, antique armchairs. It’s said to have the best cocktails in the district, which you can sip listening to acoustic, non-intrusive live music. Sometimes it can get very busy, so the earlier you get there the better.
Address: Via Panisperna, 101
This bar hosts jam sessions every day, so drop in if you’re a live music junkie. There is no entrance fee, you’ll only be asked to buy a drink. If you arrive around 18:30-19:00, you’ll also find tasty canapés ready to satisfy your cravings.
Address: Via Panisperna, 68
Have you heard about the typical panini bread of Rome? It’s called “rosetta”. The soft yet crunchy (when fresh) round panini is perfect for cutting in half and filling with yummy ingredients. It’s the street-food-lovers´ all-time favorite… This shop creates gourmet small to regular-size rosettas, sweet and savory. For instance, you’ll find rosetta with capocollo, zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese, basil pesto and walnuts, or the rosetta with tiramisu. There are also vegetarian and vegan choices. Have a peek at the menu on their page.
Via Urbana, 54
MORE THINGS TO DO IN THE MONTI DISTRICT
Visit the Palazzo delle Esposizioni
This is the largest exhibition center in Rome, with its 10.000 sq. meters dedicated to contemporary art. It regularly hosts prestigious film festivals and photography events like the World Press Photo Award. It holds workshops and conferences on the digital arts, with many exhibitions at the same time. The space includes a coffee-shop, a book-shop, and a restaurant. Stay updated with their events here.
Address: Via Nazionale, 194
Experimental movie theater “Cine Detour”
The Cine Detour is a cultural circle based in the Monti district since 1997. The circle projects independent movies in the original languages in a small theater of 73 seats. Debates with authors and critics, movie and book presentations, and independent film festivals happen regularly. Film creators can apply at their website. The environment is easy-going and inspiring. Get here early to fill in your subscription to the circle (€6) and have something at their coffee-shop/winery before the movie starts.
Address: Via Urbana, 107
Shopping in the Monti neighborhood
Monti is perfect for both purchasing and window-shopping. There are all kinds of arts and crafts workshops, and boutiques selling everything from second-hand to designer clothes, furniture, jewelry, and knick-knacks. I’ve got a few favorite places I love to stop by each time I visit Monti. Here they are.
Candle Store Roma
In this studio, colorful candles infused with essential oils are fabricated using traditional techniques. There are candles of all shapes, sizes and prices, and even some mounted on fine, decorative brass hangers. Stop by to look, smell the aroma, and buy a souvenir.
Address: Via Urbana, 21
Selling thousands of new, used, antique, rare, foreign and Italian books in a tiny space. Books cover the whole shop, and the owner can guide you in the search for the book that you need.
Address: Via degli Zingari 22/A
HUMANA Vintage Clothes
These shops have original clothes, accessories, and shoes from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. There are several vintage shops around the Monti neighborhood, but this one is different for one reason: their clothes come from the collection campaigns carried out all over Italy by the org. HUMANA People to People Italia organization, active since 1998. Part of the profits made by the shop go towards the financing of humanitarian projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Address: Via Cavour, 102
Mercati di Traiano (Trajan´s Market)
Describing these buildings as the most ancient commercial mall in history could be deceptive. Their original function was mainly that of serving as the Emperor’s administrative offices and archives. The entire structure is made of bricks, serving both as structural and decorative element for the first time in history. The 6-story building at the back of the Foro di Traiano (Trajan´s Forum) was erected between the years 100-110 on the ruins of the spectacular residence of the Emperor Nerone (Nero), later referred to as the “Domus Aurea”. Today, the complex hosts the Museum of the Roman Forum and shows most of the original structure. Over the centuries, it changed its function many times, becoming the residence of wealthy Roman families, a medieval fort (with the annexed Tower of the Milizie, 13th century), a Dominican nunnery, and a military barracks. Here’s the website of the Mercati di Traiano.
Address: Via Quattro Novembre, 94
The remains of the colossal and splendorous residence, built for the Emperor Nerone (Nero) in the valley where we see the Colosseum today, are located on the Oppio Hill in the Monti district. The “Golden Mansion” area was an ensemble of palaces, gardens and vineyards with thermal pools and buildings covered in marble, gold and frescoes. It was torn down after the Emperor was forced to commit suicide. The remains were discovered in the 15th century and studied by Renaissance artists such as Raffaello, Pinturicchio, and Ghirlandaio. The artists brought back to life those painting motifs and gave birth to the “grotesque” style (from “grotta” which means “cave”, as they had to descend into the ground to examine the remains of the Neronian frescoes). The site is presently under restoration. It’s only possible to enter only with a guided tour on Saturdays and Sundays. The visits are organized into 12 stops throughout the rooms, which have been reconstructed with the help of multimedia technologies, allowing you to immerse yourself in something that looks like the original environments.
Address: Via della Domus Aurea, 1
Cathedrals in the Monti neighborhood
Of all the churches in the Monti neighbrhood, there are two of extraordinary beauty and historical value. These are totally worth the visit (free entry), and the additional tickets to see the underground and top floors.
Basilica di San Clemente
Visiting the Cathedral of San Clemente in Rome is like turning the pages of a history book. During the realm of Emperor Nerone (years 54-68), it was part of the luxurious Domus Aurea Villa and Park, and after the fire and the fall of Nerone, it evolved from a house with a small factory (probably a mint) to a temple to God Mithras. Each layer of the underground of the Cathedral holds different functions in different points in time. The first layer is 20 meters under the actual ground level. The Christian cathedral we see today belongs to the 11th Century and was built upon a more ancient one from the 4th Century. The most outstanding part of the interior are the mosaics of the apsis, representing a harmonious pattern of symbols developing around Christ on the cross. From the 17th Century, the cathedral is managed by the Irish Dominicans monks, which discovered the underground layers and did a huge part of the excavation. The entrance to the ground level is free, while the ticket to the underground costs €10.
Address: Via Labicana, 95
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The origin of this cathedral which celebrates the mother of Jesus belongs to a legend. A prosperous Roman nobleman on the night of August 4th 352 saw the Virgin Mary in dreams, and she pointed to him a location on the Esquilino Hill in which would be found snow on the following morning: there, a church should be erected. The nobleman passed on the message to Pope Liberio, who started the preparations to build the cathedral. The structure of the interior is that of an early-Christian cathedral with three long aisles, and 42 columns per side, but the many chapels on each side and the vault are decorated with brilliant baroque frescoes while the floor exhibits marble mosaics in the cosmatesco style representing the figures of the sacred geometry. The visit is only complete with a walk on the upper floor (ticket is €5 but includes a guided tour in English). The mosaics in the loggia at the first floor are an example of perfectly preserved Christian art and recounts the legend of the snow in August.
Address: Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore
Further readings about traveling Rome
And this could be enough for your first tour of Monti, Rome. Let me know in the comments if you’ve found anything you liked that I didn’t mention here!