Someone said that a lifetime is not enough to explore Rome, and the more I explore the more I realize that probably nowhere in the world this thought can be more suitable than here. When I took the tour of the ancient Appian Way and other Rome’s hidden gems and ancient wonders with Take Walks I was excited because the itinerary included places I hadn’t visited before.
I always find it very fascinating to picture ancient times, people, and customs right where I find myself walking in that particular moment. This tour by Take Walks blends the right mix of old and new, popular landmarks and sights unknown to most, central attractions, and the suburbs.
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Explore Rome Like a Local Tour: Full Review + My Own Experience
Places like the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps might be the unmissable stars of the show in Rome. But there are so many hidden spots that make the city even more fascinating and that in-the-know travelers don’t want to miss a broader view beyond the obvious.
From the old Appian Way to the ancient aqueducts, this Rome tour takes you to lesser-known areas as well as central neighborhoods like Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto.
What is this Rome tour called and who runs it?
The tour is called “Rome As a Local: Hidden Gems & Ancient Wonders” and is organized by Take Walks, a large tour company that runs different types of tours in many cities in Europe and also in the US. In Rome, they run also food tours, cooking classes, and several types of cultural experiences.
Recently, Take Walks merged with Devour Tours and they are running cool food tours and cooking classes. We have already taken two and loved them. If you are curious to know about them, check out our reviews of the Testaccio Food and Market Tour and the Pasta-Making Class in Trastevere.
How long does this Rome tour last?
This Rome tour partially involves walking and partially driving with a private vehicle. It takes about 3.5 hours, even though much depends on the traffic and since the neighborhoods covered are not always close to each other, it can take longer.
If you are only staying one day in Rome, you might want to join this tour in the morning. On the other hand, if you are spending two or three days in Rome, I suggest you don’t take it on the last day.
Of course, if you can afford a week in Rome, which is about the right time I suggest when planning your trip, this tour will fit in perfectly.
This is a tour that allows you to see a side of Rome that is little known to tourists because far from the city center, and very large so reaching a spot with public transport still won’t give you the bigger picture. Adding to that, the sights in southern Rome included in this itinerary can be difficult to explore on your own without knowing it.
Even though I always recommend using local public transport as much as you can, sometimes in Rome driving is necessary. One of the perks of this tour is that you will board a private vehicle with a local driver so that you will reach quicker all the spots in a seamless manner.
Celebrating true Roman grandeur, the tour couldn’t have a better start than the Circus Maximus, the real deal when it came to leisure activities, merrymaking, and social events in imperial times.
Today probably less eye-catching than the mighty Colosseum, Circus Maximus, 600 mt long and 140 mt wide. With a capacity of 250,000 spectators, it was the best place for shows and games. Nowadays, it’s a large field where people go jogging, walk their dogs, and relax, and where the main free concerts are held.
Our tour brought us then to explore part of Aventine Hill, where we stopped at the headquarter of the Knights of Malta.
From outside the Templars’ mansion, in fact, a little gem awaits the curious tourist. Peeking through the keyhole, a gorgeous surprise will appear before your eyes, the Cupola of Saint Peter’s Basilica straight ahead. You can do this as often as you like, you will be amazed at the view every single time.
The headquarters are believed to be the last remnants of the Knights Templars in the city. Probably, it housed those persecuted by Philip the Fair who, apart from being suspicious of their increasing power, was also very much in debt with the influential and rich monks.
Aventine Hill is right next to the Circus Maximus, so if you are into exploring further than the Centro Storico, it’s an easy neighborhood to get to. I totally recommend visiting it because there are several landmarks to see, including the lovely Garden of the Oranges with a beautiful view of the Tiber river, and several early Christian churches such as Santa Sabina Basilica and Santa Prisca, where is also a Mithra temple.
After the views and the spiritual vibe we felt in the Aventine Hill, we were off to the Queen of all Roads, the famous Appian Way, one of the oldest and most important streets of Rome. Here, you will have the chance to step right where Romans’ ancestors used to walk and drive their carts.
Walking along the Appian Way, even though for 50 meters, is an experience everyone in Rome should have to feel the atmosphere and experience one of the most studied empires in history.
An ancient Roman rule prevented burying one’s dead within the Aurelian Walls, but once outside, citizens were free to do what they wanted. This is why along the Appian Way there are several tombs of ordinary citizens as well as wealthy patricians.
The tour brought us to visit one of the most famous tombs, Cecilia Metella’s mausoleum. This is the burial chamber of a Roman noblewoman built with the majesty that an influential family was always supposed to brandish.
The next stop in this area south of Rome was the amazing Park of Aqueducts. This is a huge archaeological site in Rome of paramount importance for the city and of which we can still see a good part.
While the Colosseum has been listed among the wonders of the ancient world, and many other monuments and places in Rome attract a significant number of tourists daily, Claudius’ Aqueduct is actually to be considered more important than most sites in the Eternal City.
This is due to its very raison d’etre, which involved serving the people in their daily life, providing possibly the most essential good of all, water. As our guide told us, even Roman poet Svetonio considered this construction more important than any other with more entertaining goals.
We visit often the Park of the Aqueducts and we love it. You will find people picnicking, BBQing, jogging, walking, riding a bike, and even enjoying a great pizza at the local restaurant Fermentum. There is even a large children’s space with a free open-air playground and a covered paid one, so if you are with your family, there is something for everyone.
Even though we spent a good amount of time in southern Rome, it was not the end of the tour. When we were done exploring the Appian Way, we made our way back to more central landmarks.
Next on our list was the gorgeous sight of the Caracalla Baths. Only a short walk from the Circus Maximus, in my opinion, it’s not popular enough among foreign tourists. If you have some time, I suggest taking a peek at these beautiful ancient baths. You will see how they were structured and organized, what were the different areas spa-goers would relax in, and even the sequence of the well-being route.
You can also visit the undergrounds where the furnaces to keep the water warm upstairs were located and constantly fed by the slaves, and see the library hall and an ancient Mithra temple, the largest found so far in Rome.
After seeing the Baths of Caracalla from outside and learning the basics, we headed to our last stop, the Janiculum Hill. We got there right for noon when Italian soldiers every day fire a blank cannon shot from the top (do cover your ears!).
This daily occurrence happens in remembrance of the massacre carried out in 1848 by the Vatican (that was ruling Rome at that time) against a group of students belonging to the carbonari secret group. The reason was that they had started an uprising echoing what was going on in all of Europe and laying the foundations for the imminent Italian unification (and the end of the Vatican kingdom).
What were my favorite stops on this tour?
Being passionate about all things history, I knew I was going to enjoy the tour. To my pleasure, not only did I visit places I hadn’t been to before, but I also gathered new ideas for further research, which is mainly the reason why I take most tours.
One of my favorite things about digging deep into a country’s past is, in fact, the chance to challenge common beliefs often stemmed from biased accounts. This, one of the bits I learned during the tour, is the case of the infamous Roman emperor Nero.
Our guide mentioned briefly that Nero certainly was a bizarre character, but often the victim of unjust attacks, and the good he had done to the people has never been reported by his peers. This could happen because writers at that time usually worked for and were funded by the Senate. The Senate was notoriously against Nero for the policies he was advocating aimed at giving more rights to the people compromising patricians’ privileges.
I absolutely loved walking the Appian Way. Even though it was a brief experience, it’s a great introduction to further exploring the same Appian Way, the Park of the Aqueducts part of the larger Parco dell’Appia Antica, and southern Rome.
If it’s your first time in Rome, this tour will definitely be a great start to getting to know the city, its history, and its culture.
My tips to enjoy this Rome tour
- Wear comfortable shoes. This is an absolute must since you are going to walk quite a lot also in the Park of Aqueducts and along the Appian Way, where you can also find non-asphalted parts.
- Take a bottle of water. While Rome has plenty of fountains pouring water for everyone, in some of the areas covered in this tour you might not find one. Have your bottle that eventually you can even refill when finished.
- Ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions as probably you won’t be back here on your own. It’s a very fascinating area with a long history so just ask away whatever comes to your mind.