Known colloquially as the "The Eternal City”, Rome has been a source of fascination for centuries - for artists and art lovers alike. From its great monuments - the Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheon - to the beauty of its cobblestone backstreets and historic sidewalk cafés, the city is a sumptuous feast for the senses.
While most are familiar with its most famous connotations - as home to the Vatican City and the setting for Fellini’s masterpiece, La Dolce Vita, the Italian capital has also been quietly remaking itself as a design hotspot, filled with bespoke stores, galleries and museums.
In addition, festivals like the cinema celebration of Festa Internazionale di Roma, considered the feisty upstart to New York's Tribeca Film Festival, and FotoGrafia, Rome's annual photography festival, which hosts a wide range of exhibitions in venues throughout the city - from historic churches to avant-garde galleries - add new and dynamic design vibes to one of Europe’s oldest destinations. While anytime is a great time to visit, we recommend flying in during Settimana della Cultura, or Cultural Heritage Week, when the many state-owned museums and centres keep their doors open into the evening, without charge to the public.
Below we’ve created (y)our very own design guide to Rome, full of numerous design treasures, style destinations and hotspots for a bite or two.
Via Margutta, 71
Specializing in everything from colorful Murano glassware by Venini to interior design pieces, this historic boutique was once a key supplier to Roman nobility, and continues today to be a family owned-and-operated spot of effortless style. Pick up Meissen porcelain or Baccarat crystal while you sort through both modern and vintage pieces.
Piazza di Porta Portese
The city's most popular flea market, stock up on stylish antique furniture to stacks of delicate oil paintings.
If you’re searching for contemporary interior designs from Italy, stop by this two-floor shop to peruse established and up-and-coming designers, as well as a range of curated international talent.
Considered Rome’s largest fabric store and the source for many high-end Italian clothing and interior designers (such as Romina Quadarella - picture on the right), this family owned-and-operated two-floor shop is the perfect place for textile lovers to get a taste of real Italian craftsmanship. Inside, peruse over 200,000 fabrics in a space that’s equal parts showroom and design museum.
Cristina Venezia's shop in Rome's Monti district is a treasure trove of artisanal objects. Shop for stunning hand-painted ceramics - which she sources from small artisanal studios all over Italy - and be sure to check out her own creations: scarves woven on a loom in the back of the store.
The brainchild of home designer Alessandro Agrati, this elegant space is known for minimalist furniture design, accessories and elegant fragrances. If you’re looking to transform your home into a spa, look no further than this resplendent space.
Via dei Bergamaschi, 59/60
A stone’s throw from the Piazza di Pietra and the Roman temple is Spazioespanso, where you can pick up goods from independent fashion designers and jewelers, while you check out the rotating art exhibits.
Via Nazionale, 194
The first public work built in the capital after the reunification of Italy in 1871, this grand exhibition space features contemporary photo and fine art exhibitions and hosts a multimedia room, lush roof garden restaurant, an art and design bookstore and a gift shop that’s well worth the visit.
Via degli Ausoni, 7
One of the highlights of the historic San Lorenzo district, this former pasta factory was transformed in 2004 into an art foundation, complete with artists lofts, galleries, and a courtyard for mingling.
Largo Marcello Mastroianni, 1
Consider this movie heaven, especially if you’re a fan of Italian cinema. Located inside the renovated and transformed XVII century Casina delle Rose in Villa Borghese, this impressive structure features three movie theatres, a conference and shopping center, a comprehensive bookshop, café, and restaurant.
Via Nizza, 138
Located in the former brewery of Birra Perone, in the posh Testaccio district, the MACRO is one of the city’s most popular contemporary art museums. It is also is a fantastic example of Rome’s commitment to developing former industrial areas into thriving arts centers, and a way to explore Rome’s artistic future and past in the same destination.
Piazzale della Minerva
Opened in 1985 as part of University La Sapienza, this eclectic space is dedicated to promoting large-scale contemporary art and emerging artists.
Via Pietro de Coubertin, 30
Designed and opened by starchitect Renzo Piano in 2002, this cultural center is popular for its rare selection of Italian books, CDs and DVDs. We recommend sticking around for the Mediterranean fusion fare, courtesy of Red Restaurant, as well as their multiple modern exhibition halls.
Via Guido Reni, 4/A
The Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, or National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, is Rome’s national museum of contemporary art and architecture, and a must-see for any design lover. Masterminded by Zaha Hadid, the space is managed by the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali, the Italian ministry of cultural heritage, and is one of the more experimental and innovative centers for art and architecture in the city.
Via S. Salvatore in Campo, 51
Created in 2013 by Massimo Scrocca to showcase urban and exploratory art, as well as promote public art in Italy, this gallery is the beating heart of Rome. Located near the Campo de 'Fiori, it is also a workshop space where artists can develop and explore, and create indoor installations.
59 Via Panisperna
Located in the hip Monti neighborhood of Rome, this dual art gallery/ bar is housed within a stone-walled former convent. The brainchild of architect Giorgia Cerulli and fashion designer Carlotta Cerulli, along with event planner Alessandro Cattedra, the unique space feels like a private home - only one that happens to display gorgeous vintage furnishings and rotating art exhibits, with a full-service speakeasy-style bar in the back.
Via Tuscolana 1055
Founded by Mussolini to act as a shrine to his belief in the power of cinema, CineCittà is also famous as the primary filming spot for Federico Fellini. Considered to be Europe's largest film and TV production facility, today it gives regular tours to hundreds of eager cinephiles.
The Italian gallery with the widest global reach, this Art Basel-darling was one of the first institutions to bring pivotal creators like Tracey Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Rachel Whiteread to Southern Europe. In addition, this is also one of the best places to spot up-and-coming Italian art talent before it goes global.
At this centuries-old coffee house Lord Byron and Goethe enjoyed coffee, while it’s rumored that Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt once met for pastries.
Secreted away in Rome’s Vittoria district, Enoteca La Torre on the Villa Laetitia building is pure romance among the backdrop of an Art Nouveau interior. Here, classic decoration, mood lighting, and a view of stunning gardens are only outshone by restaurant’s food, which has frequently received outstanding praise from the Michelin dining guide.
Recently refurbished, Antico Arco is the go-to for haute-rustic Italian cuisine, care of chef Fundim Gjepali - who even offers a slow-food tour of Italy based on organically sourced materials. Finish off a sumptuous hand-pulled pasta dish with a curated selection of wines by sommelier Domenico Calió, who has a refined palate that would make Dionysus jealous.
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