Our microguides series is inspired by the slow travel movement, encouraging travellers to relax their pace and take a deep dive into one particular neighbourhood in a well-loved city. Rather than a whirlwind itinerary which aims to hit up every must-see attraction, these compact, close-up guides encourage you to zone in, take your time and truly explore like a local.
Rome is the eternal city, but visiting it can sometimes feel like an eternal schlep from ruin to museum to ruin, one that could exhaust even the fiercest amateur archeologist. To find the real, slower rhythms of Roman life, try basing yourself in Monti. The neighbourhood sits between the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and Rome’s massive Termini station, making it great for sightseeing sprees – but it feels hidden from the tourists who trot between those places.
You’ll see the Colosseum looming romantically at the end of Via degli Annibaldi while you amble from aperitivo spot to restaurant, but most of the people in this quarter are trendy-looking locals. It’s full of chic independent shops, narrow alleys, and delicious little trattorias. You’ll feel like you’re discovering it for the first time, but Monti’s coolness is nothing new – a Roman sitting next to me called it the city’s original “downtown.” If you lived in Rome, this is where you’d want to call home.
Emperor Nero’s famous Golden Palace, destroyed and buried after his death, lies beneath the Parco del Colle Oppio and is still an active archaeological site. Tours are given to visitors in hard hats (great for pics) and feature a trippy but effective virtual reality experience, showing visitors what the palace looked like in Nero’s time, and during the Renaissance when painters like Raphael spelunked down into it from above. It’s only open on specific days, but this under-radar history fix is worth planning your visit around.
Basilica di San Clemente
Bordering on the neighbourhood of Celio, but still technically in Monti, you’ll learn a lot in this church. The basilica was built in the fourth century on top of a pagan temple and a Roman house, whose ruins are still visible in the crypt of the church. Seeing layers of history literally piled on top of each other like this helps put the mind-bogglingly long history of the city into perspective.
San Pietro in Vincoli
You can’t miss the chance to see a real Michelangelo – in this basilica, it’s the artist’s statue of Moses on top of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The basilica is next to the engineering department building belonging to La Sapienza University; if you pass by at the right time, you might see graduating students wearing their traditional laurel crowns (or covered in prosecco and confetti, depending on what time it is).
Ai Trei Scalini
This place is a house party of a restaurant with good times galore. Tre Scalini’s menu is heavy on the sfizi, or snacks, like hot sausages or gorgonzola with honey, plus primi and secondi classics like ravioli di ricotta with spinach, butter and sage and a notably delicious porchetta. The scene is always boisterous but friendly, with generous wine pours and outgoing, chatty customers. Don’t miss a photo along its picturesque, ivy-draped street.
Sciuè Sciuè Cucina
For something foodier and a bit fancier, try Sciuè Sciuè Cucina, with a modern, exposed-brick indoor dining room and contemporary takes on classic Roman food. The inventive, minimalist menu changes with the seasons, but you might find fried stuffed zucchini flowers, linguine with a turnip green pesto and prawns, and a gorgeous cod parmigiana amongst the highlights. The sleek presentation of dishes and staff sets this place apart from the rest of the trattorias in the neighbourhood.
Gelateria Fatamorgana has some of the weirdest and wildest flavours in Rome, made with the freshest ingredients. You’ll find a queue here at any time of day, but it’s worth the wait. Sitting perched on the stone wall in a small piazza, eating wild basil, dark chocolate, or fresh raspberry ices and watching the world go by, is a perfect way to recharge after a long morning of walking. Don’t wait until after dinner – opening hours here vary and it closes anywhere between 8 and 11pm.
Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
As the afternoon wanes, this Monti square floods with locals sipping aperitivi at tables spilling out from its two cafes, Civico 4 and La Bottega de Caffe. Order a spritz – Aperol or Campari – and soak in the last rays of the sun as it sinks behind the Chiesa di Santa Maria ai Monti. You might need to wave a waiter over to order, as the locals do – you’re here for the vibes, not the service.
If you’re in the mood for something a little less chaotic, with bougier cocktails, try Suburra 1930. Sitting in the shadow of an ancient, ivy-covered stone wall, you might sip house creation the Suburra, a basil-y take on a mojito, or the Mandarin Sour 1930, an orange and citrus tequila sour. Their aperitivo deal is a treat, too: €10 for a glass of wine, prosecco, or a classic cocktail plus the sfiziosita’ dello chef (the chef’s special nibbles), which change regularly.
Sacripant Art Gallery
This art gallery with a bar is a common haunt for local creatives. Open late with regularly changing exhibitions and installations, Sacripant is currently displaying works that engage with and critique Italian art from antiquity through the Baroque period. It’s a great spot to see something contemporary while sipping an excellent Martini.
Vintage treasure troves
Monti is full of great vintage shopping. Any secondhand shop is hit or miss, so it’s a perk to be able to pop into loads of places: don’t miss Pifebo, with two floors of leather bags, leather jackets, sneakers, jeans, graphic tees, and plenty more. Humana, Pulp, and King Size are packed with racks of cheap and jumbled clothes to comb through, and the more boutique-y Flamingo and Blue Goose offer a more curated vintage shopping experience, featuring designer pieces and classic handbags and shoes.
For something higher-end, try AZ Camiceria, a tiny but gorgeous menswear shop where you’ll be hypnotised by the sock selection. Another gorgeous hole in the wall is Kokoro, a women’s clothing boutique with a carefully chosen arty array of clothes and accessories, that mixes vintage, new, and handmade.
There aren’t many hotels directly in Monti, though you’ll find rental apartments and some budget options. Otherwise, the family-owned Lancelot is in nearby Celio, 15 minutes’ walk away. Request a room on the top floor with a terrace for killer views of the Colosseum. The service is generous and warm, and the classic, but not fusty, Italian decor has an old-fashioned charm. Staying in Celio is slightly more out of the way than staying in Monti proper, but the charm and authenticity of this hotel (plus excellent value) make it worth it. Doubles from £118, B&B; lancelothotel.com
The Fifteen Keys
If you’re looking for Italian charm without gilded bed frames, frescos on the wall, or oodles of lace, the elegant Fifteen Keys is a great choice. This chic hotel has modern, tasteful rooms and serves breakfast in the peaceful, verdant courtyard. It’s quiet, but just around the corner from the Monti buzz – and less than a 10-minute walk from Rome’s main Termini train station.