Unearth Avant-Garde Art in Old-World Rome

1. Where to Stay

Hotel Art is a former chapel strewn with modern paintings and sculptures.Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Art

Follow in the footsteps of great Italian artists at Hotel Art (from $390), a chapel turned hotel on the Via Margutta, where Fellini, Stravinsky, Picasso, and Puccini once lived. Find frescoed ceilings, neon-hued hallways, and modern paintings throughout.

Relax in the Turkish bath at Casa Howard (from $190), an internationally inspired guesthouse with rooms decorated in fabrics and knickknacks from India, China, and France. Save 30 percent by paying with U.S. dollars.

Escape the bustle of the city from the secluded rooftop bar at Hotel San Francesco (from $93), a ten-minute walk from the Piazza Campo de’ Fiori market. The breakfast rooms overlook an ornate fifteenth-century cloister.

2. Where to Eat

Sample dozens of improbable flavors at Gelateria Fatamorgana.Photo: Courtesy of Gelateria Fatamorgana

Choose from over 200 Italian wines at Pastificio San Lorenzo, a bistro and art-world hangout that opened last year (one of the owners is a curator). The spot includes unusual decorative touches, like a vintage pommel horse that doubles as a roomy bar stool.

Watch chefs at work through the glass-walled kitchen at Giuda Ballerino. Save euros by eating in the spot’s more casual adjacent osteria for half the price. Where the flagship’s entrées are a bit fussier—fig reduction, white truffles, and sea urchin emulsion included—the osteria offers seasonal fresh pastas and simpler fare like meatballs or beef stew.

Snack on cheese and charcuterie at Chiostro del Bramante, a former cloister turned café that displays rotating contemporary-art exhibitions. The staff can recommend by-the-glass wine pairings (5 to 6 euros apiece) for each of more than a dozen varieties of carpaccio, cheese, and prosciutto.

Stretch your palate at Gelateria Fatamorgana, an inventive gelato parlor that serves nontraditional flavors like pear-Gorgonzola and dark-chocolate horseradish.

3. What to Do

The MAXXI complex is the first museum in Italy devoted entirely to 21st-century art.Photo: Iwan Baan

View the inaugural retrospective of macabre Roman sculptor and painter Gino De Dominicis at the MAXXI complex, opening on May 30. Designed by London architect Zaha Hadid, the museum is the first in Italy devoted entirely to 21st-century art, including paintings, photography, and sculptures by renowned artists like Anish Kapoor and Ed Ruscha.

Contrast the old and the new at Centrale Montemartini, a former power plant exhibiting an imposing array of white marble sculptures from ancient Rome. On April 9, the plant unveils a new addition within the steam turbine and engine room: a 160-seat theater, which will host Friday- and Saturday-night jazz concerts, plays, and wine tastings.

Take a late-night art crawl at MACRO Future, the 2003 addition to the MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art that stays open until midnight. Future focuses on the work of young and experimental artists, all displayed in the retrofitted (and slightly creepy) former Testaccio slaughterhouse.

4. Insider’s Tip

Snag one of Cristalli Di Zucchero's famous pastries early—they're often sold out by the afternoon. Photo: Courtesy of Cristalli di Zucchero

Take advantage of nighttime deals at some of Rome’s beloved bakeries—when the sun goes down, many spots throw away their remaining goods and start fresh in the morning. The bakers at the Cristalli Di Zucchero pasticceria will offer savory treats like panini and pizzas for free at closing time (8:30 p.m. daily, except Tuesday). But it’s worth coming back when they open at 7:30 a.m. to buy some of their revered Parisian-style pastries and cakes, which often sell out by midday.

5. Oddball Day

Seward Johnson’s 100-foot statue at the Piazza del Guglielmo Marconi is hard to miss.Photo: Lanciatore di Coriandoli/Paolo Fefe's flickr

Step into the antithesis of postcard Rome at the Esposizione Universale Roma (or EUR, pronounced Ay-oor), a 420-acre complex spearheaded by Mussolini in 1935 to flaunt the glories of Fascist Italy. Take the Metro B to the EUR Magliana stop and begin at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, where you’ll find the most commanding of the ten monumental buildings. Dubbed the “Square Colosseum,” the structure is a masterpiece of totalitarian architecture, with hundreds of identical arched loggias lining its façade. From there, stop into the nearby Palombini all’Eur, a coffee shop and bakery, and stock up on pastries and wine. At the landscaped park surrounding EUR Lake, rent a paddleboat or picnic on the bank. Afterwards, stroll down the boulevard of Via Cristoforo Colombo until you reach Piazza del Guglielmo Marconi. There, you’ll find Seward Johnson’s remarkable sculpture The Awakening: a 100-foot silver giant struggling to emerge from the ground. Continue on the boulevard to the dramatic Palazzo dei Congressi, a modern-day white-marble conference center inspired by the Pantheon. Select from four $10 pasta dishes at Futurarte Café, a colorful, chandelier-strewn restaurant with walls dedicated to Italian futurism.

6. Links

Scope out restaurant picks at Food In Rome and roving culinary diary Parlafood.

American expat Jessica Stewart showcases her artistic city photos and recommends off-the-beaten-path activities at Rome Photo Blog.

Those competent in Italian can browse Roma C’è, 2night, and Partycrashing for up-to-date nightlife suggestions.

In Rome Now lists current cultural attractions, along with dining and shopping recommendations.

Unearth Avant-Garde Art in Old-World Rome