I thought I’d follow up last week’s walking tour of the eternal city with a post about how to get off the beaten path in Rome.
Normally when I go back, I go to all the same places, eat the same meals, and enjoy the memories and nostalgia. This time, I wanted to explore parts of the city I wasn’t familiar with, or had never been to.
As always, Rome did not disappoint. I wonder if you could spend a lifetime living there and still not see all she has to offer? Sometimes, it seems that way.
There are many other things you should see on your first visit to Rome. (I cover many of them in my walking tour!)
I would never tell anyone visiting for the first time to ignore the main sights. Everyone should marvel at the Colosseum. Everyone should stroll down Via dei Fori Imperiali and see the sun shining onto the ancient city.
Everyone should see the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Admire the colors, shapes and movement. Visit Saint Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. You can explore the crypts, the dome, and everything in between.
But maybe it’s your second or third visit to Rome, or maybe you’re visiting for a while rather than just a few days. If you’ve seen all of the well-known wonders that Rome has to offer and are ready to escape the crowds and see some of Rome’s lesser-known treasures, then this is the post for you!
Some of these sights are just a short walk from the main attractions. Others require a bit of an adventure. The one thing they have in common is that they’re all worth a visit.
Are you ready to see Rome off the beaten path? Andiamo!
Luggage and Life’s guide to Rome off the beaten path
Visit Le case romane del Celio
Clivo di Scauro, Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10am – 6pm; Tuesday and Wednesday 10am – 2pm. Adult ticket: 8 euro, reduced ticket: 6 euro, children under 12 accompanied by an adult: free
Their website is here.
If you love Roman history and were captivated by the Colosseum and ancient city, you must visit Le Case Romane del Celio.
Located underneath the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo al Celio just a short walk from the Colosseum, this small and little-known museum is a great way to experience Rome off the beaten path.
It is made up of 20 rooms, many of which contain exquisite decorations from a span of time between the second and fourth centuries AD.
The site started out as a residence for wealthy Romans in the second century, and then was transformed into a kind of apartment building for middle-class families. It also contained some shops on the lower level in the third century. In the early fourth century, it was restructured again, this time into a massive, luxurious home for an upper-class Roman family. In the second half of the fourth century, would-be Saints John and Paul moved in, and were later buried there after being martyred.
Because of the many different transformations and layers, the beautiful wall paintings contain both Roman and Christian imagery.
In 1887, a brother decided to explore the area beneath the church in an attempt to locate the tombs of Saints John and Paul (Crispus, Srispianus, and Benedicta are three other Christian martyrs who are supposedly buried here too) and stumbled upon the decorations. Excavations began soon after that.
When I visited, I heard three or four other people wandering around. I couldn’t believe that we were so close to the hustle and bustle of the Colosseum and yet there were so few visitors.
It was so quiet, in fact, that I got creeped out several times and at one point, nearly fell down a set of tiny stairs when I let my imagination get the best of me. If you want to avoid the underground heebie-jeebies, take a friend.
Go on a street art tour in Ostiense and Tor Marancia
Ostiense Street Art – Via del Porto Fluviale 10
Tor Marancia Street Art – Viale Tor Marancia 63
When I studied in Rome, I took a class called “Rome as a living museum.” It was probably one of the best courses I’ve ever taken. We had two meetings per week – one lecture in a classroom, and one visit to actually go and see the things we had been learning about in class. It was awesome.
Rome is a living museum. So many of her sights are out in the open for all to see, and the street art scene adds a modern layer to this wonderful aspect of the city.
In Ostiense (between the Pyramid and San Paolo metro stations) there are thirty large street art works, including a really cool one called “The Wall of Fame.” Each character represents a letter of the alphabet and starts with Dante Alighieri for “A.”
Twenty international artists were brought in to complete the murals in Tor Marancia. At 155 square meters each, they’re absolutely massive and beautifully done.
Visit the Non-Catholic Cemetery
Via Caio Cestio 6, Testaccio – open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm (last entrance at 4:30), Sundays and public holidays 9am to 1pm (last entrance at 12:30) -suggested donation: €3 per person
Commonly referred to as the Protestant Cemetery, the non-Catholic Cemetery (full name: The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome) is actually the final resting place of many well-known writers, artists, diplomats and scholars of numerous religions.
The poets Shelley and Keats and the son of Goethe are buried there. You can read about the other notable graves on the cemetery’s website.
The area became a burial ground in 1716, making it one of the oldest in Europe.
The cemetery is near the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. In fact, there’s a beautiful view of the Pyramid from inside.
The atmosphere is unlike any other in Rome. Considering that it’s located just behind a figure-eight-shaped roundabout that’s constantly buzzing with busses, cars, scooters and a tram, it’s incredibly peaceful. Fruit trees and flowers are nestled among the terraced graves.
Explore the whimsical Quartiere Coppedè
Easily reachable on Tram 3 or 19. Get off at Piazza Buenos Aires. You should be able to find “Quartiere Coppedè” on Google Maps, but if you can’t find it put in Via Tanaro or Piazza Mincio.
Named for Gino Coppedè, the architect behind the operation, this area of Rome contains some of the city’s most interesting buildings. Designed in the Liberty Style (Italian Art Nouveau), the facades have a thousand different features that could keep you staring all day. They’re all delightfully different to one another.
In truth, there’s a mishmash of styles happening here, with influences ranging from Gothic to Greek. Even if you’re not familiar with many different art and architectural styles, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the frog fountain and the chandelier that hangs over the street in the main entrance to the neighborhood.
Walking through the Quartiere Coppedè feels a bit like walking through a children’s book. It’s almost as if the Mad Hatter is going to pop out and ask if you want a cup of tea. There isn’t anything to do other than check out the buildings, but it’s located just off Viale Regina Margherita, which has lots of cafés and easy access to public transportation.
Go treasure hunting in Rome’s small churches
I will admit that some of Rome’s small churches aren’t as off the beaten path as others, thanks to Dan Brown and his novel “Angels and Demons.” (No shade, really, I read the da Vinci Code with rapt attention and had nightmares about the Albino fella for weeks. Compelling read, DB).
Anyway, there might be more than a few people treasure hunting with you, but it’ll be worth it. These churches contain absolute masterpieces from Caravaggio (San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria del Popolo), Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Santa Maria della Vittoria), and even Michelangelo (San Pietro in Vincoli).
This is another one of the things I love about Rome – you can wander in and out of these churches for free and see these incredible artworks.
If you like Bernini, don’t miss Santa Maria della Vittoria and his “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa.” It’s considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces.
The man made marble look soft and pillowy, for goodness’ sake. Go see it.
Also, if you’re a Bernini fan, don’t miss the Galleria Borghese for some of his incredible sculptures.
Another small church I only just visited for the first time is Sant’Ignazio di Loyola. In it, you’ll find another amazing ceiling, but this one has a very special feature. Basically, when the church was being built, they ran out of money, and had to change course on the church’s plans for a duomo.
A painter and Jesuit brother, Andrea Pozzo, came up with an innovative solution. Rather than scrapping the plans for the dome entirely, he decided to paint a massive trompe l’oeil so that a dome would appear to visitors who viewed it from the right angle. Brilliant!
I didn’t take any pictures inside because you’re asked not to (although many people were), but you can check out this article from Atlas Obscura if you want more details and are curious about what awaits you inside!
Rome has an estimated 900 churches. That’s a lot to see! If you’d like to see/know more about some of them and some of the sacred objects contained within, Leap of Faith Chloe has a great post about Rome’s most fascinating reliquaries.
See Medieval Rome at Arco degli Acetari
Via del Pellegrino 19, just off Campo de’ Fiori
Around the famous Campo de’ Fiori are a series of streets named for the tradesmen that historically had workshops there. Their proximity to the market in the square allowed them to produce and sell their wares in the same area.
In this tangle of typically Roman streets, quaint, cobblestoned and crooked, you’ll find Via dei Balestrari, where crossbows were made (balestra = crossbow), Via dei Giubbonari (giubbonari is derived from gipponari, which referred to corset weavers), Vicolo de’ Chiodaroli, where nails were made (chiodo = nail), Via dei Chiavari, where keys and locks were made (chiave = key), and Via dei Cappellari, where hats were made (cappello = hat).
In the same area, just off Via del Pellegrino, which begins at the northern corner of Campo de’ Fiori, lies Arco degli Acetari, where vinegar was made (aceto = vinegar).
Crossing under the archway, the sound of the nearby hustle and bustle fades almost immediately. What lies at the other end of the arch is a small courtyard.
The courtyard has a signature aesthetic. External staircases (typical of the Medieval period) zigzag and twist up to doors. Plants glow green against the ochre and orange buildings.
There aren’t any major sights in the courtyard, but it’s a cool little spot that most people walk right past. Take in the colors and the quiet, and be sure to snap a few pictures.
If you’re interested in more off-the-beaten-path experiences in the bel paese, The Migrant Yogi has some amazing ideas for how to do just that in her post about 13 unique and unforgettable experiences to have in Italy!
What are your favorite off the beaten path spots in Rome? Share them in the comments!
More Rome posts and guides
Wondering how to get around the Eternal City? Consider micro-mobility!
Eating well in Rome means avoiding tourist traps. I’ve got you covered in my guide to finding good restaurants in Italy!
Planning a special night with your sweetheart? Here’s my guide on where to go on a dinner date in Rome.
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