When in Rome it’s tempting and very easy to stay in the Centro Storico, the historic center. But as they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do, which means you need to cross the river and head to Trastevere. This is the heart of real contemporary Rome. Trastevere is the place the city’s inhabitants come in the evenings, to the bars and restaurants that give the narrow cobbled streets such vitality.
When I went there with my friends, we chose a small local restaurant at random, and ended up having a wonderful meal and a great chat with the owner who happened to have relatives living in our hometown. Thanks to this connection, our tiramisu and coffee were free. We left feeling like part of the extended family.
Naturally, the Trastevere area has deep historic roots, so you can spend the day exploring churches and Roman ruins before throwing yourself into the nightlife. The Piazza Santa Maria is the place to watch life go by. On the square is the church Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, which dates from AD337 with renovations and expansions in 1138 and 1702. The church is said to be the oldest dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome. The mosaics inside are lovely. Other churches are Chiesa di San Francesco a Ripa where St Francis of Assisi reputedly stayed in the 13th century, and Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, burial place of one of Rome’s favorite saints. Saint Cecilia lived in the 3rd century and you can tour the excavation of her house below the church. She is the patron saint of music for singing through her martyrdom.
A good way to explore Trastevere is to catch tram 8 there, explore these churches, walk over to Piazza Santa Maria, see the basilica, have drinks and dinner, then walk back across Ponte Sisto, a pretty pedestrian bridge leading back to the historic center.