All you need to know to plan a visit to Garbatella District, one of the most scenic neighborhoods in Rome, loved by locals and with a peculiar architecture and feel that make is unique in the city.
The beauty of Rome has many facets and if you want to experience its most charming, most understated yet undoubtedly pretty side, then you need to head to the Garbatella District, where this side of Rome blooms like the life-affirming bougainvilleas embracing its streets.
La Garbatella was born as a working area born in 1918 as the neighborhood to host the workers of the then planned Ostia Harbour (never completed).
This popular vocation is evident in the architecture of the houses, their communal courtyards, the small squares that make it look like a charming village more than a neighborhood of the capital and it what makes this are so scenic and charming.
As you walk around Garbatella, you need to slow down and allow yourself to take in the details and soak up the atmosphere of the daily life of this unique area.
Garbatella is a marvel or banana trees, pink oleanders and tall pines peeking from front gardens, a symphony of balconies, chimneys and laundry swaying in the breeze. A maze of small streets and piazzas that are the same time quintessentially Roman and unique in the city.
It is a wonderful place for an afternoon walk and ideal for those visitors who had some time in Rome city center already and want to dig a deep deeper into a more local area of the city.
How to get to Garbatella + best time to visit
Garbatella is outside Rome city center and it is served by metro station Garbatella as well as buses such as 23, 715 and 716.
If you drive there, parking is on street.
I believe the best time to visit is the late afternoon and then stay for dinner: Garbatella is known for its traditional trattorias and it is a great place to taste simple yet delicious Roman food. See below for some recommended addresses!
What to see in Garbatella
As tempting as it would be to write an itinerary for this area, I decided not to go that way but rather to write a selection of things to see, in somewhat random order.
This is because this area is small enough to be explored without a guide and all you need to do to follow your instinct (or a local stray cat!) is the best way to experience its charm.
If you prefer some guidance however, you can follow the type of walk we usually take: from via de Jacobis, Piazza Sauli, via Randaccio and surrounding area and explore from there.
These are some of the best things to see in Garbatella
Piazza Sauli is a large square with a church, a school, a couple of restaurants and some peculiar arches leading you into the neighborhood.
While the church is probably the first thing to attract attention here, the real architectural gem here is the school: love it or hate it, you cannot ignore the imposing eagles and the unique tower shooting up to the sky with the most peculiar iron roof.
Just beside the square, towards the Palladium theater, I recommend you seek out the colorful wall representing Garbatella as an art deco woman, an unexpected and eye grabbing decoration!
The roads around via Randaccio and Teatro Palladium
From Piazza Sauli, I like to walk under the arches and follow the meandering streets of this part of Garbatella, where the character of the area truly expressed itself in its uniqueness.
The roads here tend to slope downhill and occasionally open up in small squares reminiscent of those in small villages I the center of Italy, complete with kids on bikes and brown and ochre toned plasterwork.
Here, if you look up the outside walls of some of the buildings, you will notice not just the names of the streets, celebrating the naval history of the area, but also signs defining the different ‘lotti’ of this area, which remind us of the affordable housing vocation of the origin of this area.
Piazza Giovanni de Triota
Piazza Giovanni Triota is a small square with a couple of restaurants and a café known to locals, among other things, for having starred in a TV series set in the area.
The bar is local and pleasant but what I love the most about it is the historical ‘Garbatella’ sign above it, flanked by the symbol of the Rome football team of which this area is a huge supporter.
Piazza Brin is the main square of this area and where the area itself was born.
A planned neighborhood, la Garbatella has a precise date of birth, the 18th February 1920. On this day, King Vittorio Emanuele III came to the area and posed its first stone, just on this square.
The idea behind the creation of the Garbatella was to have an area to host the workers busy with the construction of a river harbor connected to that of Ostia.
However, this port was never completed and the area was instead populated with the people who lost their houses with the construction of Via della Conciliazione (Vatican) and Via dei Fori Imperiali (Colosseum) both large roads built under the Mussolini regime in an attempt to create a grander look for Rome, suited to an ‘imperial’ city.
Large part of La Garbatella was built following the idea of the ‘English garden’, with small houses with front gardens, visible from the strees, equipped with areas to grow produce and based on the idea of equality between individuals and communal living.
However, during fascist rule, this original utopian design started to change.
To house the now homeless population the redesign of the city had created, large buildings appeared, large housing complexes with many flats and communal internal yards where large numbers of now impoverished families lived and where Mussolini relegated those who didn’t support his regime.
These houses take the name of ‘alberghi suburbani’ (suburban hotels) and have interesting architecture and are at the heart of the Garbatella story and character.
The working origins of the neighborhood and this new influx of population made the area a real island of anti-fascist sentiment, something that has kept characterizing the area for decades to come, well after the end of the regime and that makes Garbatella an incredibly important place for anyone interested in understanding the history of Rome and the city’s many facets.
Interesting fact: the ‘albergo rosso’, recognizable by its red façade, has a clock tower. For over half a century that clock wasn’t moving, stuck pointing the hour of 11.25 (of the 7th of March 1943), the moment the bombing of Rome, during the second world war, started.
As I mentioned at the start of this list, this is not an itinerary, let alone a complete one.
If it was, It would have to also include Via delle Sette Chiese, San Filippo Neri and its oratory, the Carlotta fountain but also too many individual houses and ‘lotti’ worth attention.
Listing them all would do you a disservice as you would find yourself walking around with an eye on the phone and one on the neighborhood while this area demands your complete attention and will spoil you with surprise at any corner.
I hope you come visit and then visit me on Instagram @mamalovesrome to tell me what you made of it.
When there, don’t forget to stop for coffee and especially dinner! These are some good Garbatella restaurants to try with traditional Roman food and sometimes interesting original dishes including nice vegetarian options.
- Tanto pe’ magna’: traditional Rome trattoria with typical Rome food
- I Tre Fratelli: roman cuisine with also some interesting international dishes
- Li scalini de Marisa: traditional trattoria
- L’acino brillo: trattoria
- Mattarello Garbatella: trattoria and pizzeria