In my books, Trastevere irrefutably has better places to eat than Central Rome. But when it comes to attractions, it’s a slightly different story. The tourist route is a must-do for first time visitors and the night version—even more. But in truth, the Vatican is not the only attraction across the Tiber; in Trastevere lies real treasures and masterpieces not often seen by tourists and can rival some of the very best from the other and more popular side of the river.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Getting lost in the cobbled labyrinthian streets of Trastevere is the absolute best way to experience the neighbourhood. But if you don’t have a lot of time, make sure to at least have these five items on your list:
1. Visit Basilica Santa Maria di Trastevere
The crown jewel of Trastevere, Basilica Santa Maria is a must-visit for any visitor. Simple and under-stated on the outside, the church’s interiors will simply take your breath away. After spending as much time as possible admiring the magnificent ceiling and mosaics, make sure to spend some time in the piazza to watch and feel the heartbeat of the neighbourhood.
2. Walk the galleries of Palazzo Corsini.
We stumbled upon Palazzo Corsini by accident, turning left instead of right. And after going through the dark, cold staircase leading to the first floor, we were surprised to be greeted by the brightest and grandest foyer, outshone only by the welcoming staff who sold us our tickets and gave us a brief history on the palazzo. Palazzo Corsini only has a few rooms/galleries to see but each one has walls covered from floor to ceiling with capolavori—Italian masterpieces.
3. Climb up Gianicolo.
From Palazzo Corsini, it’s a short trek to get to Gianicolo (or Janiculum)—a hill in Trastevere that will give you panoramic views of Rome. The sun was setting and it had just rained when we made our way up the hill so we captured a few beautiful streetscapes of Trastevere at sundown. By the time we reached the top, however, it was completely dark and although there are lights in the city, it was hard to identify one monument from another. I can imagine that during the day, the view would have been simply breathtaking.
4. Stop by the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola.
On the way back down from Gianicolo, there’s no way of missing the grandiose Fontana dell’Acqua Paola. Formerly the end of an aqueduct, the fountain is one of the largest in Rome and had in fact been the inspiration for the Trevi Fountain which was built much later. Unlike Trevi, you can sit by the fountain to watch and listen to the gushing water with about five other people around you. Nobody’s throwing coins or taking selfies—it’s very refreshing indeed.
5. Spend time at Villa Farnesina.
To me, the most pleasant surprise of Trastevere is Villa Farnesina and its frescoes-covered rooms by Raphaello. I recall seeing Raphael’s Apartments in the Vatican and feeling frustrated that we had to breeze by his work because the Vatican personnel were keeping the constant flow of the many, many tour groups in the museum that day. In Villa Farnesina, I got my heart’s content of Raphaello’s work, as well as Peruzzi’s. If you love Renaissance pieces, do not make plans immediately after a visit to Villa Farnesina as you may want to take a lot of time admiring every column, every brush stroke, every detail.
In your next visit to Rome, make sure to take a quick peek at Trastevere across the river. Like us, you may find treasures that will keep you coming back.