Rome's literary scene

One of the most photogenic, evocative and romantic places in the world, and a highlight on the cultural circuit from ancient times through to the Grand Tours of the 19th century to the present day, Rome has been the inspiration for and setting of a vast catalogue of literary works. Retrace the steps of Goethe and Byron, and discover Rome's best bookshops and book bars...
Cup of fresh coffee and book at Rome's cafe. Photo: Shutterstock
Cup of fresh coffee and book at Rome's cafe. Photo: Shutterstock

Rome’s literary pedigree stretches right back to the days of the Republic, when Cicero penned his hugely influential philosophical works and speeches, and the city has been inspiring dazzled writers ever since.

You can pay homage to literary luminaries at the former residences of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, J.W. von Goethe and Alberto Moravia, head for the student quarter and hang out in a trendy book bar, or join the hordes of literature-hungry Romans at the city’s Literature Festival in June.

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Speak to a local expert about arranging a custom trip based on Rome's literary scene here, or browse our fully customisable existing itineraries here

Rome's literary history

Ancient Rome

Literature flourished in Rome under Emperor Augustus, a patron of the arts, bringing Ovid, Horace and Virgil to prominence; the latter’s epic Aeneid, a mix of legend and history, traces the story of the Trojan ancestors of Rome, while Ovid’s story of the Roman gods and their diversions, Metamorphoses, remains an entertaining read. In the Renaissance, one of Michelangelo’s Tuscan protégés who also had commissions in Rome, Giorgio Vasari, expanded his talents from painting to penning Lives of the Artists, a rich resource and entertaining read almost 500 years later. Floren­tine sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini penned his Autobiography, a warts-and-all look at the times – and himself. A guided tour of Ancient Rome is included in our Wonders of Rome and the Amalfi Coast trip, just contact a local expert to start the ball rolling.

The Romantic Poets to present day

The 18th century was also a period of much literary activity, when a fashion for all things classical brought Europe’s Grand Tourists to Rome in their droves, among them Goethe and the English Romantic poets Keats, Byron and Shelley. In the 19th century, home-grown poets Tri­lussa and Gioacchino Belli wrote bitingly satirical verse in Roman dialect, and in the 20th century, a burst of post-war literary activity included works by Alberto Moravia and his wife Elsa Morante. In recent years, ancient Rome has become a popular backdrop for contemporary novelists such as Lindsey Davis, Michael Dibdin and Iain Pears. Let us plan a tailor-made trip to Italy, based around Rome's literary scene.


Interior of Casa di Goethe. Photo: Spoonstein/FlickrInterior of Casa di Goethe. Photo: Spoonstein/Flickr

Literary museums to visit

Casa di Goethe

18 Via del Corso;

Not far from the Piazza del Popolo is the apartment where German poet Goethe lived for two years from 1786–8. He shared the house with painter Hans Tischbein, whose depictions of the poet are on display, together with a larger-than-life portrait by Andy Warhol. You can peruse the writer’s journals and a room dedicated to all his works either written in, or inspired by, the Eternal City. Among them are Iphigenia, The Roman Elegies, Faust, The Roman Carnival and Italian Journey.

Keats-Shelley House

26 Piazza di Spagna;

Keats spent the last few months of his life in a small room overlooking the Spanish Steps; he died of tuberculosis there in 1821, aged just 25. In 1906, the house was bought by an Anglo-American association and turned into a museum and library dedicated to Keats and his fellow Romantics who had made Rome their home. The Keats-Shelley House has an intriguing collection of personal objects and documents relating to the lives of Shelley and Byron, but the main focus is on Keats – his prints, paintings, books and even his death mask are on display. 

Grave of John Keats in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. Photo: Allison Meier/FlickrGrave of John Keats in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. Photo: Allison Meier/Flickr


Bookshops to browse

Feltrinelli International

84 Via V.E. Orlando;

An extensive range of literature, magazines and guidebooks in English and other languages.

Anglo-American Book Co

102 Via della Vite

A good range of travel, non-fiction and children's books in English.

Libreria del Viaggiatore

78 Via del Pellegrino

This cosy space is dedicated to travellers, with travel literature, guidebooks and maps, appealingly presented in vintage suitcases.

Almost Corner Bookshop

45 Via del Moro

This Australian-run bookshop stocks well-chosen titles. The owner is friendly and very helpful.

Open Door Bookshop

23 Via della Lungaretta

Find second-hand books in English, many of which are about Rome. There's also a good children's section.

Borri Books

Termini Station;

A whole floor of English books inside the main train station, plus two more floors of Italian titles, maps, travel narrative, toys and children's books.

Rome Cafe - Salotto 42. Photo: Ed Coyle/FlickrRome's Salotto 42. Photo: Ed Coyle/Flickr

Book bars to frequent

Bar à Book

23 Via dei Piceni

In the student-y San Lorenzo district, this bar has towering shelves crammed with books, a good selection of wines, readings, and occasional DJs.

Caffè Letterario

83 Via Ostiense

Wine tastings and live music in an area near trendy Testaccio that’s being transformed into a ‘City of the Arts’. A stylish place to browse as you sip.

Lettere Caffè

100 Via San Francesco a Ripa

With delicious home-made cakes supplementing the drinks menu, and a lively programme of literary, arty and musical events, this Tras­tevere bar is always buzzing.

Salotto 42 

42 Piazza di Pietra;

A slick, stylish bar in the heart of the historic centre, where you can lounge on impeccably trendy designer sofas and leaf through glossy design, art and photography tomes. 

This article was originally published on March 5, 2014

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Speak to a local expert about arranging the trip of a lifetime to the Rome here; alternatively, browse existing, fully customisable itineraries, such as the Wonders of Rome and the Amalfi Coast

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