Roman Neighborhood Guide: Piazza Navona and The Pantheon

Neighborhood Guide-Piazza Navona, Pantheon

The area around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon is probably one of the most trafficked areas of Rome.  Part of the Centro Storico, or the historical center, this is the heart and soul of Rome bordered by the Tiber on one side and connecting to the Vatican via the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a beautiful pedestrian bridge with angels designed by Bernini and leading to Castel Sant’Angelo.  Piazza Navona and the Pantheon are located in the northern half of the Centro Storico with Campo dei Fiori neighborhood dominating the southern half of the Centro Storico.  There is so much to see, do and EAT in this area that we just had to share our favorite things about this neighborhood.

Archway to the Centro Storico

Eats

Osteria del Pegno

Located on Vicolo di Montevechhio

We have literally written an entire article on this restaurant and I do not have much to add except for the fact that you have to eat here.  If you visit Rome and do not eat here you are crazy! I have had some of the best meals of my life here.  Their ravioli in an orange cream sauce with saffron and zucchini blossoms can seriously change your life (it convinced me I like squash blossoms after all) and even their fennel salad with oranges was heavenly.  I cannot stress how amazing this restaurant is enough.  It may not be “traditional” Italian cuisine but damn it is good and made the Italian way with simple good ingredients.

 

Cul de Sac

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Cul de Sac is another restaurant we have talked about before in our Rome City Guide and it keeps popping up because it is an outstanding enoteca or wine bar.  The wine list is a BOOK and just a few pages but a massive book which covers all regions of Italy.  I wish I knew then what I do about Italian wines now, because I would have definitely taken advantage of the wine list more.  Go out of your comfort zone while you are here and order a wine you have never heard of; I guarantee you have not heard of most of them on the list anyways since Italy has an obscene amount of grape varietals.  This restaurant does not only have stellar wine but they also have amazing food.  This is the restaurant if you want to try the roman specialty tripe, but if you are not feeling that adventurous their lasagna is one of the best in the city.

 

Bar Amore

Located on Via dei Banchi Nuovi – A continuation of Via del Governo Vecchio

I have a soft spot in my heart for Bar Amore.  I used to visit this bar almost daily for my cafe e panino.  This bar makes one of the best panino in the city because you can customize it.  That’s right people, a build your own panino shop in Rome.  I took full advantage of this by always ordering the same thing, a tomato and mozzarella panino…….  And by advantage I mean not at all but it was/is SOOO good.  They do have a wide range of ingredients you can put on your panino including brie, artichokes, prosciutto and more.  If you are looking for a great panino place and you are near Piazza Navona search this place out.  Just beware it fills with UC Rome students around lunchtime 😉

 

Pizzeria Baffeto

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Are you looking for authentic pizza in the heart of Rome and like waiting in line?  Then you need to head to Pizzeria Baffeto.  It might be weird that I am mentioning lines but to this day this is the ONLY restaurant in Rome I ever saw with a line before it opened.  I have had to wait for Cul de Sac but nothing compares to waiting in line for Baffeto.  Things have eased up a bit since they opened up Baffeto Due but I prefer the wait.  Baffeto also has the most perfect location for me; across the street from Abbey and next to Frigidarium.  Baffeto specializes in Roman pizza larger than your face.  They only serve pizza and jugs of wine.  The pizzas range from the traditional Margherita to the Diavola with spicy sausage but perhaps my favorite one is the pizza fagioli, which is a basic margherita pizza with cannellini beans added on top.  It may sound strange and I was certainly skeptical when my sister ordered by my god is it good.  There is just something about the creamy cannellini beans and the cheese and sauce that is so simple but so good.  Even if you are indifferent about pizza (which who is?) at least head to Baffeto for the atmosphere.  The tables here are jammed packed into a two story building which during the summer spills out into the streets.  Service is quick and no frills and you can hear all the waiters and cooks yelling at each other across the restaurant.  It is quintessentially a Roman restaurant.

 

Il Clan

Located on Via Sora

Il Clan is the perfect restaurant when you need to relax from all the chaos of Rome and God forbid eat something other than Italian food.  Il Clan is the only Brazilian restaurant in town, that I know of anyways, although there is an Argentinian restaurant not too far away (never been though).  This is the perfect spot to relax amongst the bright colors that decorate the restaurant and indulge in a caipirinha or two…. They do not have an extensive menu but what they do have is fresh and authentic.

 

Tapa Loca

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Tapa Loca is, as you may have guessed, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  It is just down the street from Piazza Navona and is a great spot to drink sangria on a hot summer night and eat a ridiculous amount of paella.  Alex and I made the mistake of ordering one between the two of us and had leftovers for days!  It didn’t help that we ordered a bunch of appetizers as well.  This restaurant has a fun vibe and is a great place for a large group of people. Think pitchers of sangria 🙂

 

Insalta Ricca

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

We have mentioned Insalata Ricca before in our Trastevere Guide but as there is another location near Piazza Navona it seemed worth noting.  I went here a LOT when I was a student at UC Rome as it is just down the street.  My roommate and I would always split a pesto pizza and a greek salad…. and a liter of wine.  It is Italy after all!

Liter of Wine at Insalata Ricca

 

 

Mimi & Coco Panini Shop

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

I am not a huge fan of Mimi & Coco’s restaurant, I find it a bit overpriced for what it is, but I do love their panini place just down the street.  Their panini are open-faced sandwiches and are more like pizza then panini.  My favorite is, per usual, the caprese.  The bread is a bit like focaccia and they just pile on the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and then grill it up on a panini press.  I love to grab the sandwich and walk to either Piazza Navona or the Pantheon and just sit and enjoy it.  This is perhaps one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in the heart of Rome.

 

Smoothie Place

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Ok we cannot remember the name of this place but it is part gelato shop and also smoothie shop.  It is the only place that we know of in Rome that serves smoothies and after all those carbs sometimes it is nice to have some fruit that is not ice cream.  They have smoothie combinations and you can also build your own as well.  This store is located just off Piazza Navona and looks slightly touristy but is awesome!

 

Frigidarium and San Crispino

Located on Via Governo Vecchio and Piazza della Maddalena respectively

Gelato

These are HANDS DOWN my all time favorite gelaterias!  That is a bold statement, I know, but I am not taking it back.  I talked about both of these places in my 5 Reasons Why I Love Gelato post but they deserve a second mention, mainly because I wrote that article almost 2 years ago.  Frigidarium is my go to for traditional Italian gelato.  You get the basic flavors here but they are sooo good.  I am obsessed with their canella (cinnamon) and their raspberry sorbet.  San Crispino is the place to go to hunt down seasonal gelato.  I love their white peach sorbet and the Sicilian honey gelato.  They switch the flavors up a lot and always have something amazing.

 

 

Drink

Abbey Theater

Abbey

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Abbey will always have a special place in our hearts because we met there of course!  Actually that is not it at all (although we did meet there).  Both of us had been going to Abbey before we met each other and it is our favorite expat bar.  This is place where we always felt welcomed.  If it had been a rough day and we were just sick of Rome this was the place we would go to unwind.  Plus they had awesome chicken curry.

 

Bar del fico

Located on Piazza del Fico

Bar del Fico is a hole in the wall Italian bar.  While I have never eaten here it always gets rave reviews but it is a great spot to pop in for an evening drink.  The atmosphere is lively whether you grab a table outside or inside.  You will always find locals here, playing chess usually and egging each other on, which can be rare in such a heavily touristed area.  This is one of the greatest bars to catch up with friends and spend a relaxing Saturday night.

 

Fluid

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Fruit Cocktails at Fluid

Clearly Governo Vecchio is one of my favorite streets in all of Rome and Fluid is my favorite aperitivo bar.  The cocktails here are top notch especially in a city that doesn’t have a huge cocktail scene, although I hear that is changing.  Plus I am all for a place that charges 7euros for a cocktail and then you get unlimited food.  They will occasionally serve pineapple with drizzled nutella; I never knew how good that could be until Fluid.

 

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe

Located on Piazza Sant’Eustachio

Sant’Eustachio is a cafe in the heart of Rome that has been around since 1938.  Today’s incarnation looks almost similar to the original cafe with even the paving and furnishing the same as in 1938.  They are known for the caffe d’elite and the shakerato.  Sitting at one of the 6 tables at Sant’Eustachio is like stepping back into Rome’s past.

 

See

Piazza Navona/Ruins of Diocletian’s circus

Alex Strolling Through Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is probably the most popular square to visit in Rome.  Whenever I imagine the square I am filled with romantic notions of artists selling their wares while couples take romantic strolls and academics debate Bernini’s famous fountain.  And in truth you do get this along with hordes of tourists.  I tend to avoid Piazza Navona during the summer during the day but love to spend hours here in the evening.  Rome is so hot during the summer even at night that it is lovely to spend time near the fountain (personally I think the sound of falling water makes it feel cooler, mental air conditioning…).  I love staring at all the different angles of Bernini’s fountain especially the statue which faces Borromini’s church as the two were bitter rivals and this played out in Bernini’s art.

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain
I love how the figure is shielding his eyes against the horror of Borromini’s church

 

Another reason I love Piazza Navona is because the history behind the famous piazza is so much more than just the Baroque period of Bernini and Borromini.  If you head around to the north of the piazza on the outside you can see the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian which was built in the first century CE.  Today Piazza Navona still retains the same shape as the original stadium that was used for foot races.

 

Pantheon

The Pantheon

I have stated time and time again but I will say it again, The Pantheon is my favorite building EVER.  The fact that Hadrian rebuilt it in 126 CE and people still do not know how he built the dome amazes me!  I love all the history of the building and except for the fact that it is now a church it was left relatively untouched from the Roman times.  Also if you have a chance to visit during Pentecost a stop in to the Pantheon is a must as they throw rose petals from the ceiling.  This is one of my favorite memories from our time in Rome.

 

Bernini’s Elephant

Bernini's Elephant in Rome

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Bernini’s elephant in front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is just one of the delights this church holds.  I love that Bernini carved this white elephant.  I am not sure why I love this little statue so much but it seem like such a whimsy addition to a city filled with high art.

 

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a church with an excessively long name which means the Church of St. Mary above the Temple of Minerva.  Throughout the city of Rome churches were built over pagan sites.  This was mainly to encourage pagans to convert to Christianity, the logic being that people do not like to change their routine so they will continue to go to the same site even when the religion changes.  While you can no longer see the remains of the Temple of Minerva, who also goes by the Greek name of Athena, the church is still worth a visit.

 

Before you head into the church and after you have spent time admiring Bernini’s elephant take a look at the plaques that are on the right hand side of the building.  The plaques mark the height of the flooding of the Tiber River.  Before the huge embankments were places along the Tiber, the river used to flood annually and covered much of the Centro Storico.  It is amazing to think that the river used to flood all the way to this church.  It is about a ten minute walk to the river from the church.

Christ the Redeemer by Michelangelo
It looks much better in person than through the grainy lens pf my iphone 3 – Yup you read that right. I took this photo about 2.5years ago…. Clearly was not preparing for a life of blogging

 

The church also has a beautiful statue inside, Christ the Redeemer, which was carved by Michelangelo in 1519.  The statue was carved for a private patron who lived near Santa Maria Sopra Minerva but there were actually two versions of it carved as the first was abandoned when a black vein was discovered in the marble.  The first version was placed by Metello Vari, Michelangelo’s patron, in his garden and the second completed statue was placed inside the church.  The first statue was actually lost from the early 1600s to 2000 when it was discovered in a sacristy in Bassano, just outside of Rome.  This statue was famous during its time and was described by a contemporary as having knees worthy more than the whole of Rome.  Those are some pretty bad ass knees…

 

Ruins at Lago Argentina

The ruins at Lago Argentina are interesting because they have literally built a traffic hub around them.  Several bus lines, tram lines and a major road all surround these ruins which are below the surface.  I think it is always worth it to brave the traffic to cross the street and view the ruins.  The ruins date back to the Republican period of Rome and include four temples and the ruins of Pompey’s theater.  Julius Caesar was assassinated at the Theater of Pompey in the curia and it is thought that this site is part of the ruins of Largo Argentina.  The ruins also act as a cat shelter for the homeless cats of Rome of which there are many.  So you can hang out with some kitties and check out ruins.  Who needs cat cafes?

 

Do

Via dei Coronari

Via-dei-Coronari-1

Via dei Coronari is a quaint little street with hundreds of little local shops.  This street is where I pick up all of my Christmas gifts as I can always find something unique here for family and friends.  It is also a great place to take photos of quaint Roman streets.  There are cute little cafes, spots to grab gelato and sit on the stairs, and a range of boutiques and vintage stores.

 

Glass store

Located on Via dei Coronari

We for the life us cannot remember the name of this store but we absolutely LOVE it.  Alex and I discovered this store while we were wandering Via dei Coronari and it is our favorite store in Rome.  The owners actually makes their own glass for all of the jewelry and home decor in the shop.  While it may not be the famous murano glass, it is locally made and each piece is unique.  The store owners are so amazing that when Alex and I went in there with a picture of what Alex’s mom wanted from the store and they didn’t have it, they made it for us there on the spot.  If anyone visits this glass shop or knows the name of it we would love to know!  We love this place and want to give them proper recognition!

 

Vintage shopping

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

All along Via Governo Vecchio from Abbey to Bar Amore there are adorable vintage shops just filled with treasures.  I loved popping into these stores in between classes to check out what they had.  While it is possible to find some deals at these stores be prepared to shell out a pretty penny if you really want some amazing vintage pieces.  Either way it is always nice to pop in and see some more modern Roman history.

Street Corners of the Centro Storico
This is Rome. Beautiful street corners with bags of trash next to them…. It is a beautiful AND a living city with highs and lows

 

So there you have it, our tips and recommendations for the northern half of the Centro Storico from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon.  This is such a wonderful area to take in the history and the daily life of Rome.  While it can be touristy there are still many authentic roman places to eat, see and shop.

 

 

One thought on “Roman Neighborhood Guide: Piazza Navona and The Pantheon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s