Even people who have never been to Rome can tell you what the main highlights of the city are. Who hasn’t heard of the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, or St. Peter’s Basilica? But if you travel to Rome and spend all your time checking-off the list of the must-see places only, you are missing a great deal.
I know it, because I made this mistake the first time I travelled to Rome. I loved this beautiful city, but I was a tourist and not a traveller. So this time I decided to set it right and tried to get off the beaten path for a taste of real Rome even if just for a little bit.
5 different things to do in Rome that are not on your list
Planning a trip to Rome? Of course, you will want to see the most popular landmarks and monuments of Rome and I’m not going to tell you to skip them. They are popular for a good reason. But don’t forget that Rome is more than the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps or the Trevi Fountain. You can find some experience-based tips of how to get the most out of your visit to Rome here.
In this article I want to share with you some of the less known, amazing places you can find in Rome that most tourists never see. Why are they ignored? Because the competition is fierce. That’s the one and only reason I can think of. These are one by one top places and they would have no difficulty in attracting big crowds were it not for the bad luck of being located in the shadow of the ‘must see’ places in Rome.
While some of these places are somewhat known and some tourists seem to find their way to them, some others seem to be really hidden… For example, we saw a total of 3 other tourists in Coppedè and 2 at Santo Stefano Rotondo…
1. Quartiere Coppedè – the hidden gem of Rome
This was one of my absolute favourite experiences in Rome – walking down the regular busy street, turn around the corner, and… WOW! There it was – Rome’s smallest district – Quartiere Coppedè – a fairy-tale-like neighbourhood that is different from anything else I have ever seen. The best place to start exploring is by entering Quartiere Coppedè at the corner of Via Dora and Via Tagliamento.
2. Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio
There are more than 900 churches in Rome, one more impressive than another and it would be impossible and somewhat pretentious to just pick one favourite. Santo Stefano Rotondo made it to my list of the hidden gems of Rome because it’s so very different from the other churches we visited in Rome.
Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo is the oldest example of a centrally planned church in Rome. The church was built in the 5th century and is famous for its 16-century graphic frescoes, portraying many scenes of martyrdom. This church has impressed me by the unusual circular architecture, somber interior and its truly authentic feel. There is plenty of history and very old buildings in Rome, but only few places make you feel like you travelled back in time. Santo Stefano Rotondo is one of them!
The church is really hidden and is easy to miss. It is located on Via di Santo Stefano Rotondo 7 (side street of Via Claudia), just 10-15 minute walk from the Colosseum. The church is open from 10 AM to 1 PM and from 2 PM to 5 PM (October to March) and from 3 PM to 6 PM during the summer months.
3. Trastevere – pleasant atmosphere and some of the best food in Rome
Trastevere, just across the Tiber river from the city centre, is probably the most charming district in Rome. Out of all the places on this list, Trastevere is probably the most popular one with the tourists. However, most travellers seem to limit their visit to Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere and a few streets around it.
The moment you leave the busy square next to the church, the number of tourists decreases dramatically. Just two-three blocks further and you are left to explore the charming old neighbourhood all on your own. There is also an outdoor food market on Piazza di San Cosimato and, together with a couple of restaurants and a playground, it’s a part of the city that gives you a truly local feel.
TIP: Book a Trastevere tour with a local and don’t miss any of the hidden gems of this authentic piece of Rome.
TIP: If you can, plan to have lunch or dinner in Trastevere as there are so many good local restaurants in the area. Just do yourself a favour and look for the ones where locals eat. For an even more authentic experience, book a Trastevere food tour with a local.
If you are interested, you can find some authentic food stores like Antica Caciara selling some of the best cheeses in Rome or Pasticceria Valzani selling traditional pastries. There are more of these really old shops in Trastevere and while they may look charming to one, somebody else may find that they bear lots of resemblance to the old food stores in the communist countries three-four decades back in time… I find that small neighbourhood stores are well worth paying a visit in order to get a more authentic feel for the place. It’s better than the souvenir stands anyway.
4. Gianicolo – Janiculum Hill – great views over the city of Rome
Gianicolo or the Janiculum Hill, also called the 8th Hill of Rome, is another beautiful area that is overlooked by most travel guides.
Gianicolo is located South of Vatican City, just above Trastevere, and can be easily reached on foot. It’s a bit of a climb though, but the views over the city of Rome are certainly worth it. The main attraction is the cannon at Piazzale Garibaldi that fires each day at noon. Make sure not to miss the 17th century Aqua Paola fountain (Fontana dell’Acqua Paola) as well. Gianicolo is an amazingly quiet area and a good way to escape the city and get off the beaten path.
Tip: One of the best ways to explore Gianicolo and some of the other further located areas is by taking a bike. You can rent a bike, join a highly-rated electric bike small-group tour, or even spend the whole day exploring Rome by bike (lunch, wine, and even gelato included!).
5. Villa Borghese – the largest public park of Rome
Villa Borghese is the largest park in Rome and it’s a great refuge from the hectic noisy streets of the city. The park is huge and you would probably need a day to see most of what it has to offer, but it’s a nice place to escape the city, even if just for a few hours.
The park is known as the ‘park of museums’, the most famous one being the Galleria Borghese which is located in the Villa Borghese after which the park is named. On a side note, if you want to visit the museum, you have to book online in advance, it seems to have a great collection of art. But there is more to the park: the lake and many fountains, the old fashioned puppet theater, a small zoo, the beautiful gardens,…
The park is located to the North of the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo and is a bit outside of the regular tourists routes and even outside some of the city maps, but it’s not really that far, so you can easily walk there from the city centre. The best way to explore the park seems to be by bike and there are several places where you can rent one. There is also a small tourist train driving around the park. If you are with a family, you could rent one of the 4-6 seater bikes to explore the park.
I really enjoyed this oasis of green and quiet in the middle of the noisy city. It is the perfect place to escape the heat in summer, to have a picnic, let your kids play, or just relax.
Tip: Join one of the organised Villa Borghese tours, by bike or segway.
I made a small selection of all kinds of organised tours you can do in Rome that bring you to the less-known places. Since many of these places are a bit outside the city centre, it might be easier to explore them by bike… Otherwise, be prepared to walk a lot and make sure you are wearing very comfortable shoes (I can recommend these shoes – tested and approved by walking in Rome for 3 full days).
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