Hidden gems in Rome – Explore Rome off the beaten path
So popular among tourists from all over the world that finding some hidden gems in Rome is becoming harder by the day. Hard but not impossible.
Of course, places that once were considered strongholds of “secret Rome” are now not so secret anymore. Guides from many travel outlets, mainstream and less mainstream, will very likely tell you to go and admire St. Peter’s cupola from the keyhole on the door of the Knights of Malta headquarters, or the nearby Garden of the Oranges, or even the Vatican Gardens. Maybe these were unique things to do in Rome a couple of years ago, but hardly now.
Lovers of offbeat travel, fret not, you landed in the very right spot to discover unusual places to visit in Rome. Get ready to enjoy the Eternal City just like a local.
Unique things to do in Rome – Table of Contents
- Quartiere Coppedè one of the hidden gems in Rome
- Museo MACRO among the off-the-beaten-path attractions in Rome
- The Appian Way to discover secret Rome
- Villa Ada, a former royal residence one of the unique things to do in Rome
- Street art at Rome’s Quadraro, one of the unusual places to visit in Rome
- Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, one of the fascinating unique things to do in Rome
- Discovering Ancient Rome from a different perspective
- Villa Torlonia as one of the secret places in Rome
- Porta Magica (the magic door), one of the mysterious secrets in Rome
- The Protestant Cemetery, a charming unusual place to visit in Rome
- Santa Prassede Basilica, one of the least visited churches in Rome
- The Aventine Hill, a treasure trove of Rome’s hidden gems
- Santa Maria della Scala Pharmacy, one of the unique places in Rome Trastevere
Discover the hidden gems in Rome to experience the capital like a local
Among the most unusual places to visit in Rome, the first place goes to Quartiere Coppedé. Located in Rome’s Trieste neighbourhood, this semi-hidden enclave designed by architect Gino Coppedè turns around Piazza Mincio and its quirky Fountain of the Frogs. Built from 1913 and 1926, you will see a series of buildings Liberty-style adorned with grotesque figures of monsters, animals and the elements of Greek, Baroque, Gothic and medieval arts.
After visiting and photographing this quaint and unusual corner of Rome, don’t rush back to the city centre of the guidebooks. In this area, you can stop for lunch to exclusive eateries like one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants r the new Viking place Smor. You can also go shopping in one of the shops and department stores or visit the historical sites and museums in the area.
The former production centre of Peroni brewery, today the Museo MACRO is a state-of-the-art steel and glass building. The space for Italian and international artists, Museo MACRO is the city’s museum of contemporary art and still one of the hidden gems in Rome.
A dynamic architectural style and an eclectic mix of artists on display in the temporary exhibitions earn this museum a place among the pretty cool and unique things to do in Rome.
Address of Museo MACRO: Via Nizza 138.
Opening hours of Museo MACRO: Mon-Sun 9 am-9 pm (last admission 7 pm).
Entrance fee for Museo MACRO: Depends on the exhibition. For more info check their official website www.museomacro.it/pagine/plan-your-visit-opening-hours-and-tickets
READ MORE: Wondering where to eat in Rome? Check out our eBook Tasting Rome by Neighbourhood to discover the best restaurants for adventurous foodies in five districts.
Known as the queen of all roads, the Appian Way goes all the way to southern Italian Puglia region (Apulia). Even though crucial for the bygone life of imperial times, now it falls into the category of the unique things to do in Rome.
I can’t really say exactly what to visit along the Appian Way as it’s a huge road. Some of the highlights are the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, St. Sebastian and St. Domitilla, the Caffarella Park, the Tomb of Caecilia Metella and some well-preserved Roman aqueducts. Buses to the Appian Way are pretty seldom and timetables unreliable, so I definitely recommend a guided tour.
Formerly the residence of Italy’s royal family, the Savoys, Villa Ada is now one of Rome’s largest public parks. Here there are countless activities you can do. For a bit of exercising you can walk, jog or rent a bike, but if you want to simply relax, you can set up a picnic and enjoy your lunch surrounded by green.
There is also a little dog space where owners bring their hairy friends to swim in the little lake devoted to them, play around, run and get tired.
Apart from being a great place to spend some time in nature, Villa Ada is also packed with historical sites. First and foremost, there are several catacombs, the cemeteries of early Christians, before Christianity was recognised as a religion and the persecution of its followers was forbidden. Some of the best you can visit in Villa Ada are the Catacombs of Priscilla, with the entrance from the cloister of the Sisters of Priscilla in Via Salaria 430 (more info on the official website www.catacombepriscilla.com/index_en.html).
Recently open to the public are also the air-raid shelters of the Savoy royal family.
READ MORE: Want to discover more hidden gems in Rome? Read about the charming Centrale Montemartini Museum.
Counting almost 3,000 years under its belt, sightseeing Rome doesn’t only imply travelling back to BC times. Get off at Porta Furba/Quadraro station along metro line A and you will find yourself immersed in a burst of colours.
Artists of the likes of Diavù (native from the area and founder of this street art project), Alice Pasquini, Beau Stanton, Dilkabear, Zelda Bomba and Gio Pistone have taken part in this project and managed to revamp this otherwise pretty uneventful neighbourhood that never really attracted visitors.
Now, it not only attracts visitors but also photographers and guided tours. I have been there many times and always like to go back and take more pictures from previously neglected angles.
Often neglected and overshadowed by the most famous Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere Basilica is located in its semi-hidden namesake piazza. Quite unassumingly from outside, the interior is finely decorated and bears the final resting place of Santa Cecilia, the saint patron of music, whose body was translated here from the previous tomb in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.
After visiting the street-level basilica, don’t forget to go down one level and visit the luxurious crypt and then down again for an ancient Roman Domus and insula.
READ MORE: See our post to discover other lesser-known and least visited churches in Rome.
7. Ancient Rome from a different perspective, one of the unusual things to do in Rome
While the Colosseum and the Roman Forum are far from being unusual places to visit in Rome, spotting relics from imperial times in unexpected locations is definitely an enticing experience.
Walk around the gentrified alleys of former working-class Trastevere and you will see the pillars belonging to the covered walkways popular in imperial times set in the walls of Renaissance buildings.
8. Villa Torlonia and Mussolini’s bunker, one of the unique places to visit in Rome
More of a locals’ place rather than tourist area, Villa Torlonia park was once the residence of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
Enjoy a stroll in this lovely park located some 2 km from Porta Pia, visit the Liberty-style Casina delle Civette, or House of the Owls, have a bite at La Limonaia bar/restaurant (Via Lazzaro Spallanzani 1A, inside Villa Torlonia, +39 06 95065250) and let your kids play at the local playground Technotown, a space devoted to the new technologies.
READ MORE: For more things to do in Rome, check out our full guide.
Also called Porta Alchemica (Alchemical) or Porta dei Cieli (of the Skies), this is definitely one of the secret places in Rome. And one of the most mysterious, I would add.
Located in the gardens of Piazza Vittorio on the Esquilino Hill, this strange structure was built between 1655 and 1680 by marquis Massimiliano Savelli Palombara inside his once residence, Villa Palombara, where today are the gardens. The nobleman got close to the world of alchemy and science as an aftermath of frequenting the palace of Queen Christina of Sweden who had a well-equipped lab managed by alchemist Pietro Antonio Bandiera.
According to the myth, the alchemist Francesco Giuseppe Borri stayed over Villa Palombara for one night in the quest for a magic herb able to produce gold. The morning, he was seen stepping over the door and disappear. In the process, he left behind some speck of gold result of an alchemic formula and a paper filled with symbols that revealed the secret of the philosopher’s stone. Those symbols are now the decoration of the Magic Door.
Since you are there, have a walk under the covered porticoes around Piazza Vittorio and visit the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino, a food market where you can find just about everything from all over the world.
10. The Protestant Cemetery, a hidden gem in Rome Testaccio
The Non-Catholic or Protestant Cemetery was created to be the final resting place of foreign diplomats, non-Catholics and foreigners living on Italian soil. Buried there are also the only son of German writer Goethe, Italian politician and founder of the Communist Party Antonio Gramsci, and English poet John Keats.
The tombs are beautiful sculptures and the cemetery lies on the backdrop of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. You can spend a lovely afternoon admiring the sculptures and discovering how many notables are buried there. If you bump into some cats wandering around, it’s all normal, there is a large cat colony right there between the cemetery and the Pyramide.
11. Santa Prassede Basilica, one of the least visited churches in Rome
One of the fascinating hidden gems in Rome is in the Esquilino neighborhood. Santa Prassede Basilica was named after Saint Prassede, sister of Saint Pudenziana, two noble Romans, daughters of a Senator, who converted to Christianity and were martyred.
In the same neighborhood there is also the basilica devoted to St. Pudenziana, and both churches show wonderful religious mosaics.
READ MORE: Check out our article on the best and least-visited churches in Rome.
12. The Aventine Hill, a treasure trove of Rome’s hidden gems
This neighborhood, close to the heart of Ancient Rome, is a true treasure trove of hidden gems in Rome. Now very famous and almost always with a long queue, the Aventine Keyhole is actually its most touristy place alongside the panoramic Garden of the Oranges.
Enter the churches of this neighborhood and don’t limit yourself to the modern-day street level. Go underground and discover early-Christian basilicas, Roman houses and Mithraic temples.
READ MORE: Discover all the fascinating places you can visit in the Aventine Hill.
13. Santa Maria della Scala Pharmacy, one of the unique places in Rome Trastevere
While Trastevere is definitely not offbeat Rome, this ancient pharmacy is one of its hidden gems. Operative from the 16th century to 1954, here the Discalced Carmelite friars used to make potions, balms, oils, clay and herbal remedies for all kinds of ailments. It’s a small exhibition but very fascinating, one of the things I suggest you do in Rome.
READ MORE: Read more about my visit to Santa Maria della Scala Pharmacy and its history.
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