Any tourist worth their salt will know the key things to do in Rome: the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, quickly toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, get overcharged for a pizza and if time allows a trip out to Pompeii. But Rome has plenty more to offer its visitors. Here are just ten of the secret spots in Rome that will offer you as much culture and photo opportunities as the popular sites but without the over-charging and huge crowds. You may have to go off the beaten track a little, but as the old saying goes, when in Rome…
Historical and cultural secrets
1. Basilica San Paolo
If you don’t fancy rubbing shoulders with the 20,000 people who visit St Peter’s Basilica every day (!), there are plenty more basilicas just as impressive to visit. Take a short metro ride to San Paolo Fuori le Mura – although it’s one of the largest churches in the world it surprisingly gets very few visitors. With original 5th century features worked into the 19th century architecture, Basilica San Paolo’s highlights include the apse mosaic and decadent main hall.
2. Palazzo Incontro
One of the quieter art venues in Rome, Palazzo Incontro was once a palace and is now heralded as one of Rome’s best local art venues. As well as changing theatre and art programs and exhibits, the building itself is worth a look with its original palazzo and courtyard. See their exhibition programme here.
3. Ostia Antica
Forget the two and a half hour slog down to Pompeii (and back again!) and visit Ostia Antica instead. Take the commuter train for thirty minutes to Ostia and get off at Ostia Antica, an incredible preserved ancient port city. Although the sea is now two miles away, in ancient Roman times this city was the hub of European trade and export. A fantastic place to see preserved Roman theatres, restaurants, floor mosaics and houses.
4. Basilica San Clemente
One of Rome’s best kept secrets, over 2000 years of history is preserved at San Clemente. Start at street level in an early Renaissance church (free entry) before paying a small charge to visit the lower underground levels. Visitors descend to the first lower level, a fourth century Christian church, before exploring the basement, an original first century temple, complete with a Mithras shine.
Green space secrets
5. The Vatican Gardens
Make sure to book a trip to the Vatican Gardens before your Rome trip. These gardens are close to the famous St Peter’s Basilica but many tourists are unaware that to visit you need to book at least a week in advance – making them a brilliant calming place to gather yourself after the hectic sightseeing around St Peter’s. A bit like falling down the rabbit-hole, the gardens look like something from the Queen of Heart’s palace, with symmetrical and perfectly pruned box hedges and cropped lawns.
6. Parco Savello
Another beautiful green space in the city, the Parco Savello (also known as Orange Garde)n is a small park in the Ripa district with incredible views over Rome. At the weekends the park will have quite a lot of visitors – especially couples and honeymooners looking for romantic photo settings. On your way to the park drop into the Knights of Malta monastery down the street and peer through the three-country keyhole. Visit the park in the evening to catch a glorious sunset over St. Peter’s Dome.
Snack and restaurant secrets
7. Locally-made Gelato
Cool down with some genuine Italian gelato – avoid the ice-cream peddled in the busy squares and take a trip to the Gelateria de Teatro, down a small street near Piazza Navona. This authentic and delicious ice-cream is made on the premises with fresh ingredients. Although it can be an adventure to find it, the reward justifies the effort. Keep your eyes peeled for the hand painted ice-cream cone sign.
8. Antica Birreria Peroni
For substantial fodder that will fuel your hours of sightseeing, Antica Birreria Peroni provides filling dishes heavy on carbohydrates and meat. With a daily pasta special, grilled cheese, sausages and steaks available, as well as four beers on tap, expect this place to be busy. But unlike other tourist trap eateries, this place is busy with locals looking to grab a good lunch. It’s a great place to know about if you’re hungry from 3pm-7pm, when other restaurants don’t serve food you’ll get something tasty at Antica.
9. Enoteca Provincia Romana
If you want to avoid the sights for an afternoon, rest up somewhere and watch the world go by, Enoteca Provincia Romana is a welcoming wine bar with a slow-food style approach to eating. With highly recommended light dishes available and regional wines starting at just €3, it’s more than easy to spend an afternoon here unwinding.
10. No. Au
If you need somewhere central to eat, No.Au is the perfect hideaway in the heart of Centro Storico that won’t be jammed with tourists. Whether you just want to sup on a craft beer or local wine, want a quick snack or a full meal, the organically sourced menu has something to suit all situations. Both the location and menu of this bohemian restaurant are enviable so don’t miss it. And just in case you were wondering, the name is an acronym for ‘Naturale Organico Alimento Umano’ – (Natural organic human food).
Flights to Rome airport leave daily at 8.30am and take two and half hours from London City airport. Research more hidden gems in Rome, from other gelato cafes to nightlife recommendations, by the people in the know – Rome’s locals!
Ten Secrets of Rome