James was raised in Rome and chooses to live there despite its many little frustrations.
From heavenly food to starlit panoramas, this is my selection of little-known activities that are a small part of what makes Rome an amazing place to roam at night.
This list isn't meant to substitute your classic list of big-name venues. Instead, consider it an addendum of extraordinary experiences I continue to enjoy in Rome and think you should too.
In this article I'll be discussing the following ideas:
- Eating a pizza at the morgue
- Visiting the Tiber Summer Expo
- Taking a stroll around Castel Sant’Angelo
- Dancing the night away at the Piper Club
- Walking a starlit path at the Zodiaco
- Drinking a Borghetti at the Bar San Calisto
- Discovering the Colosseum’s underground labyrinth
- Bonus Tips (Things not to do at night in Rome!)
1. Eat a Pizza at the Morgue
"There's nothing remotely underrated about a Pizzeria", I hear you say. Granted, but hold your horses, because this is different. Very different.
Known affectionately as "the morgue" (l'obitorio) because it once used long, flat marble tables, Pizzeria Panattoni doesn't just serve the best thin-crust Italian pizza you're likely to have this side of Naples. It also serves it in a distinctly Roman style.
Picture a waiter in a thoroughly worn white shirt and faded blue jeans asking you brusquely what you want to eat. There's no finesse, no bowing, no smiling, no dramatics. It's all about rugged practicality. There are fifty patrons to serve, and minutes to do it in.
So, do you want a pizza or not?
You nod because to forgo one of their pizzas is tantamount to blasphemy and the smells are making your stomach rumble. Less than five minutes later you're served by the same waiter who slides a steaming, crisp pizza at you without even bothering to look. Tiè!
What and Where
Pizzeria Panattoni can be found at 53 Viale di Trastevere, which is right in the middle of everything and easily reached by either the number 8 tram or the train (Trastevere station).
Combine visiting Trastevere's chaotic nightlife gauntlet with a trip to this marvelous pizzeria to make the most out of a night out.
Why You Need to Go
To rub elbows and sing a few songs with the locals while eating the best pizza you've ever had.
Oh, and did I mention how cheap it is? I recall paying about €5 ($6) for a Margherita pizza. Throw a beer into the mix and table service and you're looking at around ten bucks per person, tops.
2. Visit the Tiber Summer Expo
Burn off some of that post-prandial fatigue by taking a trip down the Tiber's summery expo.
Officially known as "Lungo il Tevere..." (along the Tiber), the expo is a colorful and eclectic colonnade of shops, fast-food joints, and improvised live music venues flanking the river as it meanders through Rome's center.
While there is no singular attraction that I would recommend visiting the expo for, it is nevertheless a great way to cool off after eating out at one of Trastevere's incredible trattorie (a more informal type of restaurant I'll be delving into later in the article) and enjoy the timeless sights and sounds of the capital.
Plus, it's free, and you can dip in and out whenever you feel like it thanks to the many staircases leading back up to the city center.
Why You Should Care
It's free, it's central and it's a great filler activity to engage in while you gather your strength for your next Roman adventure.
Prices are high and the hustle is an art form so keep that wallet zipped shut, but do grab a gelato and take a 10-minute stroll down the full length of the expo, it's worth your time.
When to Go
The expo opens at 7 pm and is only available during the summer months (from the 22nd of June through the end of August).
3. Take a Stroll Around Castel Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo (the Mausoleum of Hadrian) is an iconic sight along the Tiber. It dominates the landscape along the river, a giant, glistening landmark sending shards of golden light flickering through the water.
Once seen, never forgotten.
I'll spare you a retelling of the mausoleum's history which is far more immersive when you're there to feel as well as see it. I do, however, want to talk about a few things that I feel most tourists miss out on. Namely the bridge, the grounds, and the moat.
The Aelius Bridge
Walk halfway down this bridge and take a 360-degree look around you (and a deep breath). You are now, unofficially, at the center of everything.
A short walk to the north takes you to the Vatican and its picturesque Borgo. South and you're in strolling through the heart of Rome's culture, art, and nightlife.
Choose wisely, but no matter what, you're in for a treat.
Adrian Park (Parco Della Mole Adriana)
A small walkable park atop the moat surrounds the castle. It's a pretty neat stroll at the worst of times, and during the summer these grounds are filled with tents (much like the expo along the Tiber) housing various attractions and, of course, food.
The grassy moat is a great place to have a picnic, walk around in, and play with dogs (I say this because locals tend to use the moat to take their pets for a run-around).
Why You Should Go
The castle and its outlying grounds are incredibly interesting and evocative all by themselves. But couple this with the fact that touring it all is blessedly relaxing and a short walk from other big-name attractions you're going to visit, and you have a winning idea.
4. Dance the Night Away at the Piper Club
One of Rome's greatest tragedies is the sight of tourists being shepherded towards English-speaking pubs and other culturally segregated venues (when I say segregated I'm not joking—there's a pub I know in Piazza Venezia that won't let local men in).
Most tourists I speak to on a typical night out resent traveling halfway across the world to be treated like sheep.
Steep prices, underpaid American grad students bartending and a drink-your-disappointment-away mentality dominate certain central spots that are supposedly nightlife meccas (hello Campo de' Fiori).
I understand the need to find something recognizable and comfortable amid all the chaos, which is why I'm going to suggest a middle ground for those of you who are looking for a drink and a dance.
What It's Like
The Piper Club is a cultural throwback that has undergone several drastic artistic changes since its inception in the '60s.
Today, the Piper Club caters to the Roma Bene crowd (middle and upper class) and is a relatively upscale discotheque with moderate dress code requirements.
I know it sounds rather snobbish, but the 15 Euro entry fee (with a free drink) and unique atmosphere make this a great night out for anyone. Just don't wear sandals and a beer cap and expect to get in!
Why I Recommend It
I'm not the most extroverted person in the world, and I find most discos and pubs in Rome quite stuffy and—frankly—dirty. The Piper Club is cozy without being cramped, and distracting without being maddening.
The choice is definitely subjective, however.
You can find the Piper at Via Tagliamento, 9, which isn't too far from Rome's center (but not quite in it either). You can use the ATAC website to plan your route with public transport, and remember that the night bus numbers are different from the day buses!
5. Walk a Starlit Path at the Zodiaco
I mentioned this tip in my article on little-known places to visit in Rome, but I felt like repeating the idea because it's an even more magical experience at night!
What Is Lo Zodiaco?
The Zodiaco is actually the name of a restaurant that crowns the top of Monte Mario.
While we're not interested in the restaurant itself, it serves as an easy landmark for you to ask for directions to and find the pathway I'm going to suggest you find.
I'm There, What Next?
Head down the winding road and keep your eyes peeled on your left for a little, unassuming gate that leads to another panoramic view of Rome.
This little road is actually a full-blown hike that meanders down the hill all the way to the city center.
It's a 30-minute walk at a brisk pace to the bottom, though at night you'll likely want to take your time because of the amazing vistas and also, unfortunately, the unsure footing.
A Few Things to Take Note Of
The views aren't the only thing to treasure. Be on the lookout for:
- The Astronomical Observatory of Rome (OAR): You'll see its domed ceiling breaking through the canopies on the hill behind you.
- Vialetto Degli Innamorati (the alley of lovers): A small little alley with an amazing view of Rome atop the hill. Features the famous "love-locks" which are left by couples to immortalize their union.
- A U.S Military Base: I have no idea what it's doing there, but if you find a barbed wire fence behind the bushes, don't push past it. My friends and I had a soldier bark a warning at us while we were celebrating the new year telling us to get back. Alcohol was involved, so perhaps I dreamt it all up.
6. Drink a Borghetti at the Bar San Calisto
I'm going to preface this idea by saying that I'm not a big fan of Trastevere as a whole, and this bar sits right in the middle of it.
My distaste for this area stems from the fact that I used to go out at night here most weekends for close to twenty years. The sights, smells and cramped alleyways are like an old friend with whom I had to part ways because they had become toxic.
Having said all that, you should absolutely visit. And if you do visit, let this bar be your pitstop to regenerate, rehydrate and socialize with the locals.
What's a Borghetti and Why Should I Order One?
Borghetti is a hard-hitting coffee liqueur Espresso that used to be sold around the football stadium as a pick-me-up before the game. You'll either love it or hate it, but no matter what you think of the taste, it'll keep those legs of yours moving all night.
If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, a chilled pint-sized beer only costs a couple of Euros. So there's always that.
What's the Atmosphere Like?
Surrounded by a sea of over-priced tourist traps, San Callisto offers a down-to-earth selection of cheap drinks and fast food. It's an everyday bar with everyday prices in the heart of a tourist zone. That's the main attraction.
There's nothing fancy about this bar and the atmosphere reflects this. From the line of garbage cans out front to the hap-hazard table layout (find a chair and drag it to your table because they get moved around and stolen constantly), Callisto isn't an upscale venue, and really doesn't pretend to be.
7. Discover the Colosseum’s Newly Opened Underground Labyrinth
In 2018, restoration work began on a series of previously inaccessible underground tunnels (known as the hypogeum) below the Colosseum's arena floor. And now, from the 5th of July to the 31st of October, 2021, these mysterious alleyways will finally be open to the public.
Getting Into the Hypogeum
Nighttime visits are only available in the summer months and accessing the hypogeum itself is severely restricted at all times in order to protect the renovations.
In order to get into the tunnels, you're going to have to sign up for a nighttime group tour and book in advance.
Pricing and Organizing
Prices vary and will depend on which tour operator you choose. But expect to pay anything up to around 50 Euro (a little digging shows that 30 Euros is a pretty standard price for a spot in a 25 person group).
Don't Just Turn Up
Almost all my tips and ideas on any of my articles are things that you can just turn up and do on the fly. This is not one of those things. You are going to need to select a tour guide and reserve your spot before you arrive at the Colosseum.
This is easily done online with a little Googling. I'm not going to recommend specific companies because chances are I haven't used them before and I can't independently vouch for them.
8 Things Not to Do at Night in Rome
In closing, sometimes the best advice for a good time is knowing how to avoid unnecessary drama. This is a no-nonsense list of things you should avoid doing at night in Rome.
- Don't swim in the fountains. (If you do, you'll make everyone very, very angry.)
- Don't accept a random stranger as a tour guide. Trust me, I was a tour guide. And make sure you steer clear of those charismatic "guides" dressed as senators or gladiators. Their attempts to sell their services can range from annoying to startlingly aggressive. Book online!
- Don't accept gifts from strangers. I know it sounds obvious, but these guys can be so forceful with their scams you'll end up paying them just to leave you alone.
- Don't forget you can't buy bus tickets on the bus. You'll have to find a tobacconist (always your best bet), bar or automatic vending machine that sells them.
- The price on your taxi ride readout is not per capita. I've had this attempted on me so many times it defies belief (I look like a tourist). The upside is the shocked face they make when I shout at them in Roman slang. Also, remember prices to the airport are fixed! Don't trust unmarked taxis—they will rip you off.
- Don't leave outlandish tips in restaurants. The tip is included in the price (check the bill for an item called the coperto).
- Don't take the buses when you can take the metro or walk. Most venues are, at most, a 20-minute walk from one another. Double and triple-check your routes. This is a pet peeve of mine. I hate the cramped, unpredictable buses.
- Don't join pub crawls. The authorities are cracking down on them and the locals loathe them.
And there you have it—a view of Rome from my desk (in condensed form). I truly hope you enjoyed it, and I'm interested in knowing whether you do end up going to Rome, and if so, what do you think?
Some Handy Resources Before You Go
- ATAC Roma
Official public transportation website and app. Use this to make sense of Rome's confusing public transportation network.
- Turismo Roma (Official)
Italy's Department of Tourism day-by-day event guide for Rome. Check this before you leave to see if there's anything special going on.
© 2021 James Nelmondo
James Nelmondo (author) from Rome, Italy on July 15, 2021:
Thanks for your kind words Liz!
Liz Westwood from UK on July 15, 2021:
Great travel article, packed with useful tips and insider knowledge. Anyone planning a trip to Rome should read this.
James Nelmondo (author) from Rome, Italy on July 15, 2021:
Thanks for sharing your experience with me Bill, and also for taking the time to read the article! Much appreciated.
Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 15, 2021:
Well written and very useful tips, James. I think Rome at night is one of the most amazing places to just walk around. And I totally agree with you about Castel Sant’Angelo, at night the view from the bridge is incredible. We also enjoyed the view from the top. Great job.