The Roman Empire may have fallen off the map centuries ago, but to a modern traveler, the center of Italy’s capital city may feel just as vast.

While walkable, distances between monuments within Rome’s historic core can be a haul—made worse if the tiny, twisty streets turn your sense of direction to mush. The city boasts loads of wonderful hotels—ranging from classic palaces to thoroughly modern hip hideaways. But since most of us stick to just one while traveling, it’s best to home in on which neighborhood might make the best home base before booking your accommodations.

Here’s my neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to Rome’s best hotels:

> Piazza del Popolo

This neoclassical square, anchored by an ancient Egyptian obelisk, once served as the official entry point to Rome, and it remains one of the city’s most important piazzas. For visitors, the upshots to staying in this area include an easy walk to the Spanish Steps and access to the Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s largest parks.

While rife with tourists (as is the case anywhere in Rome’s center), Popolo has a slightly more upscale sensibility. Via del Corso and Via Babuino are lined with luxury brands, while the smaller alleys host stylish cafés, cool boutiques, and inspiring art galleries.

A terrace at Babuino 181 (Photograph courtesy Babuino 181)

A terrace at Babuino 181 (Photograph courtesy Babuino 181)

The best hotels here come in a variety of packaging, from the Hotel de Russie, a celebrity favorite with the most romantic garden courtyard (Tip: Have lunch or dinner here even if you’re not a guest), to smaller inns.

I fell in love with Babuino 181 and Margutta 54, both owned by a noble Roman family that has transformed historic maisonettes into tiny and incredibly chic boutique hotels. Though the two lack amenities such as restaurants, spas, and gyms, guests trade these perks for gorgeous, loft-like rooms and a real home-away-from-home sensibility (not to mention more reasonable rates).

Babuino’s 14 rooms are spread between two buildings on bustling Via Babuino, while Margutta’s six massive suites—ideal for families—are found on a private courtyard that’s just a block away from the crowds but feels as quiet as the countryside. Most guests have their own direct entrances, and all have access to Babuino’s pretty rooftop terrace—the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun sets.

> Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps sit approximately eight blocks from Piazza del Popolo—a small distance—but the neighborhood feels different. Busier with traffic, both foot and car, the Spanish Steps and the plaza associated with them are consistently some of the center’s most frenetic areas. Here again, upscale shopping and dining are within arm’s reach, as is access to Villa Borghese, but the walk to other attractions farther south is a tad shorter.

For obvious reasons, this is one of the most popular areas to stay. The same owner as Babuino 181 has a small seven-room inn just down the street, Mario de’ Fiori 37, while the city’s most storied hotels—the Intercontinental and Hassler—reign over the top of the steps.

I stayed at the Hassler. Owned and run by Roberto Wirth, whose family as been in the hotel business for five generations, the hotel combines the best of old-school Italian hospitality with strong Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, and cool art deco-inspired rooms. The charming owner, who is a constant presence, dashed to his office when I checked in to find a 1957 issue of National Geographic that showed the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. Now every hotel has one, he explained, but they were the first.

A luxurious living room at Hotel Hassler (Photograph courtesy Hotel Hassler)

A luxurious living room at Hotel Hassler (Photograph courtesy Hotel Hassler)

Less famous than the big-name hotels overlooking the steps are two other small hideaways. Il Palazzetto, a former wine academy, has four bedrooms and is tucked in next to the Spanish Steps. The entrance is hidden and rates are reasonable, plus the hotel belongs to the owner of the Hassler, so guests can access their facilities. It would be a wonderful spot for families traveling together to take over and feel like they have their own townhouse in the middle of Rome.

Two blocks away on the charming Via Bocca di Leone is the Portrait Suites. Most walk past the entrance to this Ferragamo-owned hotel without realizing it’s there, which is part of its appeal. No flashy lobby, stylish contemporary rooms with kitchenettes, and an honor bar on the top-floor terrace lends the property a pied-a-terre vibe. Not much farther is the J.K. Place Roma, another boutique option tucked away like a private club.

> Via Veneto

This busy street east of the city center is home to more hotels than you can count, most of which tend to be larger and more stately. The area—a business district with banks, shops, and embassies—is busy during the day, but on the quieter side at night. In the 1950s, Via Veneto was the center of la dolce vita and where movie stars flocked, but now most of the restaurants are oriented toward tourists, so it’s best to plan on dinners elsewhere (but enjoy quiet streets for sleeping).

For families, the Westin Excelsior is a great choice thanks to its large rooms and swimming pool, a rarity in central Rome. Tip for parents: The hotel rents New Balance running clothes and shoes for five euros, so it’s easy to escape for a quick jog through the nearby Borghese Villa gardens. The sister hotel to the Westin, the St. Regis, is not technically on Veneto but just a few blocks farther near Repubblica. It’s smaller and elegant, but equally a great choice for families.

> Roman Forum

Families that have a short stay in Rome and want to focus on history rather than shopping and dining might consider staying near the Roman Forum. The area is bustling during the day and lacks the great restaurants at night, but for travelers with limited time, it’s a convenient way to see a lot without traveling far.

My pick here is the Hotel Fortyseven. Don’t let its busy street fool you; this 1930s building has been fully updated with major soundproofing. Perhaps more importantly, the hotel’s location—overlooking the Temple of Vesta, a block from the Mouth of Truth (Tip: Get there early before the line forms), around the corner from the Circo Massimo, and a short walk to the Forum and Colosseum—is prime. Connecting rooms work well for families, as do the two suites. Walk across the bridge to Trastevere at night for dinner.

> Resorts

The most popular time to visit Rome: summer. The time when you’d most like to jump in a pool after hustling through the Colosseum: summer.

Rome is big and busy and old, meaning it’s tough to get a proper swimming pool in the center of town. The Aldrovandi Villa Borghese, a ten-minute drive from the Spanish Steps, has a nice outdoor swimming pool, but to get a real resort, you have to go a bit further.

The Rome Cavalieri, built in the 1960s in a residential area above the Vatican, is a (free) 20-minute shuttle ride from the city center. But its four pools, tennis courts, and 15 acres of grassy gardens and lawns feel more like a countryside retreat—albeit one with stunning views across Rome.

The hotel is a great choice for travelers who want to blend history and culture with time relaxing by a pool, and it’s an especially good fit for families. Bonus points for having some of the biggest rooms in the city, all with balconies, plus a museum-worthy art collection on view around the hotel and its grounds.

Henley Vazquez is the co-founder of Feather+Flip, a new travel website for globetrotting families. Find out more @featherandflip