Tiber Island, or Isola Tiberina, is a charming island in the middle of the Tiber river in Rome. Today Tiber Island Rome hosts restaurants, bars, a historic basilica and a hospital all year round; pop-up bars and outdoor cinema in the summer; and is a great place to stroll any time, joining Rome’s Jewish Ghetto to Trastevere across its bridges.
Curious travellers to Rome might want to peer into Tiber Island’s ancient church, the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island, or San Bartolomeo all’Isola. This peaceful church today hosts a shrine to Catholic martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries, including a fascinating collection of artefacts telling their stories, which was dedicated by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
There’s also good food and gelato to be had at Tiberino restaurant and bar (review here), or Trattoria Sora Lella – a historic Roman eatery. You can buy stamps and postcards in its tobacconist, marked by a neon T, or simply use the bridges of Tiber Island Rome to cross the river Tiber from Trastevere to the Jewish Ghetto.
Meanwhile, during the summer, Tiber Island is transformed by pop-up bars and casual eateries for the Estate Romana festival, including an outdoor pop-up cinema, L’Isola del Cinema, giving you an extra nightlife option while watching the river flow by.
So read on for the full guide to Tiber Island Rome and make the most of your trip to the Eternal City!
Restaurants on Tiber Island Rome
Tiber Island hosts two restaurants: Tiberino, which makes the most of its location to create a magical escape for breakfast, lunch, aperitivo or dinner, and historic Roman restaurant, Trattoria Sora Lella, which has been serving customers here on Tiber Island since 1959.
Tiberino boasts an even older history. There’s been a bar on this site since 1936, serving locals with coffees, drinks and gelato – in one of Rome’s loveliest spots. Today, an updated Tiberino Ristorante on Tiber island offers breakfast, lunch, aperitivo or dinner with river views.
Opening at 6.30 am for breakfast, Tiberino is a spot for locals in the earliest hours of the day, on their way to work or out for a run along the riverside. Expect good Italian coffee with freshly baked pastries, filled and classic cornetti, fried ring donuts, freshly squeezed juices and smoothies.
The quality coffee bar options continue throughout the day with mortadella sandwiches made from Rome-style focaccia, and rolls with fillings like sun-blushed tomatoes, rocket and hummus, mixing classics with the modern.
Of course, any time of day is a good time for an Italian aperitivo – perhaps a sunny Aperol spritz or glass of wine at wooden tables on the island’s piazza.
While the bar counter is perfect for grabbing a coffee in the morning or a drink after dark, the wooden staircase at the back leads to two mezzanine floors with wonderful river Tiber views which are made for restaurant dining. Read my full restaurant review of Tiberino Ristorante here.
Tiber Island: Estate Romana
Every summer in Rome, around June 15 the banks of the River Tiber and Tiber Island come alive with a three-month long summer festival called Estate Romana. Pop-up bars, restaurants and even clubs – plus lots of artisan stalls – line the tow paths of the river from Tiber Island right up to Castel Sant Angelo and even a little beyond.
On Tiber Island, expect to find pop-up bars and restaurants that range from semi-formal dining experiences to Moroccan-style rug lounging on cushions with small stools for tables.
Tiber Island also hosts L’Isola del Cinema, an Italian-language outdoor cinema series showing the hits of the present and past, during the summer months as part of the Estate Romana festival. You can get a good (free) peek at the cinema screen from Ponte dei Quattro Capi, but to really enjoy the show, plan to head down onto Tiber Island and pay your entrance ticket, which can also be bought in blocks of 5 or 10 to enjoy discounts. Ticket prices range from €4 to €6. L’Isola del Cinema usually runs every night from mid June to the first few days in September, from 6 pm to 2 am.
Tiber Island Rome history
The history of Tiber Island is fascinating. Due to its location in the middle of the Tiber River or Tevere, between Ponte Palatino and Ponte Garibaldi, it always enjoyed natural isolation from the rest of the city, which is why the sick were traditionally dispatched here.
A temple dedicated to the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, was built on Tiber Island in the 3rd century BC, drawing sick pilgrims. A legend connected to Asclepius – of how a snake, sacred to the Greek god, jumped into the water from a boat and ‘chose’ the island as a place of rest – also inspired the Romans to later shape the island into a ship, stacking its sides with blocks of granite and travertine marble.
The Greek temple was replaced on Tiber Island around 1,000 AD with a sanctuary dedicated to Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, which provided alms to beggars and the sick.
Tiber Island hospital Fatebenefratelli
During the Middle Ages, a religious establishment grew up on Tiber Island run by the order of Saint John of God, whose hospitals were known as Fatebenefratelli, a name which has remained to this day. Built in 1585, Fatebenefratelli on Tiber Island is still run by the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, although it is also used by the Italian public health system.
The hospital specialised in plague treatments during the 1656-57 plague outbreaks in Rome, and formed a school to teach its staff how to cope with epidemics.
Standing on the western side of Tiber Island Rome, on what is today Via di Ponte Quattro Capi 39, the Fatebenefratelli hospital famously sheltered Jews during the Holocaust by diagnosing them with a ficticious disease called ‘Syndrome K’.
Jewish refugees were advised to appear ill and to cough loudly, affecting symptoms similar to tuberculosis, which dissuaded Nazi soldiers from searching the wards out of fear of catching it. Courageous doctors also concealed an illegal radio transmitter in the hospital basement which they used to make contact with the Italian Royal Air Force.
Tiber Island church: Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island
The former sanctuary dedicated to St. Bartholomew – which houses the saint’s relics, sourced from Armenia in 809 – grew in importance over the years. It was renovated by Pope Paschal II in 1113 after the saint’s relics arrived from Benevento, and again in 1180. Today, St. Bartholomew’s relics are kept an ancient Roman porphyry bathtub carved with lions’ heads, that sits under the main altar.
The Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island, or San Bartolomeo all’Isola was reconstructed in 1624 with its present Baroque facade, designed by Orazio Torriani, following flood damage in 1557. Further restorations followed in 1852.
St. Bartholomew on the Island is also a shrine today to Catholic martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. The aisles and the transept hold a fascinating collection of artefacts telling their stories, from saints killed by the modern mafia to saints who stood against South American drug barons, which was dedicated by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
This memorial is taken care of by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a local Catholic association which raises money for many charitable causes around the world, which also painted the icon on the main altar.