Exploring Rome off the beaten path is extremely rewarding. The Italian capital has a plethora of interesting places that are lesser known to the big tourists crowds, and if you spend enough time there you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to go.

Since I have been to Rome many times and even lived there, I have had plenty of chances to explore the most famous attractions and to even dig in a bit deeper to find those that are only known to locals. I thought I’d share them with you, so that you can get to see a side of Rome not many foreigners get to experience.

In this post, I will highlight the best Rome off the beaten path attractions, and share some tips to make the most of them.

For a quick Rome guide, make sure to read my post 30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome.”

Rome off the beaten path

St. John in the Lateran is one of the lesser visited churches in Rome – photo courtesy of Nekotank (flickr)

The Best Places To Visit Rome Off The Beaten Path

San Clemente Basilica 

San Clemente Basilica is not far from the Colosseum, yet it remains one of the less visited churches in Rome, despite being one of the oldest. It was built over a site which was used by Christians to hide while praying, at a time when their religion was still illegal in Rome. A series of excavations brought out different levels of the church – one dating back to the 1st century, and one to the 4th. Current excavations prove there is an even older level, which went destroyed in 64 AD during the fire caused by Nero.

You can visit San Clemente independently thanks to the many panels that provide plenty of information. .

If you’d rather go on a guided tour, these are some good ones:

St. John in the Lateran

I am always baffled by the fact that St. John in the Lateran doesn’t get more visitors than it does. It’s the oldest basilica in Rome, not to mention the seat of the Pope in the capital city. It’s located in the lovely Esquilino neighborhood, and easily reached by metro (just get off in San Giovanni).

Right outside the church, there is the Lateran Obelisk, considered the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world. The highlight of the church is the Scala Sancta, a stairway of 28 steps thought to be the one Jesus climbed to go to his trial in Jerusalem. Visitors have to climb it on their knees.

There are some excellent tours that go to St. John in the Lateran and other the lesser known basilicas in Rome. Some add the Catacombs to the visit. Here’s a selection of the best ones:

Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica

The church of Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest of the 26 churches in Rome that are entirely dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was built in the 4th century upon orders of Pope Liberius, over a pagan temple that was dedicated to the goddess Cybele. Legend says that the Virgin appeared before the Pope and demanded the construction of a church. Inside the Basilica, you will find various architectural styles, including early Christian and Baroque. This tour of St. John in the Lateran and the Catacombs also goes to Santa Maria Maggiore.

things to do in Rome

The Appian Way is one of the most pleasant places to visit in Rome

The Catacombs and the Appian Way

One of the best places to go to visit Rome off the beaten path is the Appian Way and the Catacombs. Mind you – this is a well known site, but as it is a bit more difficult to reach compared to other places, it gets way less visitors.

The Appian Way was built in 312 BC and remains one of the oldest surviving roads in the world. It used to connect Rome to places like Naples and Brindisi. It was used for military and commercial purposes.

Along the Appian Way, you will find the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, built in the 9th century, and the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, which are the burial ground of 16 popes, and St. Sebastian.

These are some good guided tours of the Catacombs and the Appian Way:

Rome off the beaten track

The Baths of Caracalla are very interesting to visit

Baths of Caracalla and Circus Maximus

Not far from Colosseum there are the Baths of Caracalla, an enormous bathing complex that unfortunately has suffered the passing of time. They still remain a nice place to explore; not to mention they get way less tourists than the Forum and the Colosseum. So, you may want to visit it if you have a full week in Rome.

The Circus Maximus was founded as a circus for chariot racing. It was a place where deadly races took place, and it is currently used for concerts and public gatherings. Circus Maximus has often been portrayed in Hollywood movies such as Ben-Hur.

Practical information: Admission to the Baths of Caracalla is €11. You can buy your ticket in advance here. An audio-guide tour that lasts around 1.5 hours costs €17 – the visit lasts 1.5 hours. You can get it here. For a tour of the Baths of Caracalla and Circus Maximus, click here.

Teatro Marcello

Not many people who visit Rome take their time to explore Teatro Marcello. It’s a pity, as this is a beautiful site. Much like the better known Colosseum, this was a theater that in its heyday could seat 20000 people. It was completed in 12 BC. In the 16th century a building was built right on top of it. Nowadays, this building contains some of the most luxurious apartments in town.

Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini

This is one of the most interesting places to visit in Rome – and it is still relatively unknown. The Domus were two Roman villas dating back to the 1st and 4th century AD. They are visited on a tour that goes above a glass floor, from which the villas are visible. The building above is Palazzo Valentini, a Renaissance villa that dates back to the 15th century.

What makes visiting the Domus Romane interesting is the use of modern technology – light, sound and video – to show that the villas must have looked like when they were in use.

You can only visit on a guided tour, which lasts around 1.5 hours. You can book it here – it costs €16.20. The site if open every day except Tuesdays, from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm. Photos aren’t permitted.

Domus Aurea

The Domus Aurea is a beautiful villa that was built upon orders of Emperor Nero after the great fire of 64 AD that destroyed most of Rome. It only opened to the public a few years ago, and much of it still has to be excavated, but in terms of Rome secret places, it is hard to beat – literally: you need to wear a hard hat to visit!

During the reign of Trajan, the villa was used as a foundation for his public baths and he made sure that doors and windows were sealed and that art pieces were removed – yet you can still admire some of the frescoes, despite the fact that dirt is covering most of it while everything is taking back to its former glory by restorers.

The Domus Aurea can be visited on weekends only, and strictly on a guided tour. You can book this tour, which also goes to the Colosseum.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj was built upon orders of Pope Innocent X in the 17th century. Located in the heart of Rome, in Via del Corso 305, it is a magnificent family villa where you will be able to admire the beautiful paintings and the decorated ceilings. Among the artists on display, you’ll be able to see Caravaggio, Caracci and even a statue of Pope Innocent that was made by Bernini.

The museum is open every day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, and admission is €12. Tickets aren’t sold online – you can only buy them via third party sites.

One of the tour I recommend is an excellent guided tour run by a art historian that will take you around the palace and show you all the finest pieces of art of Caravaggio. The tour only runs on a Saturday and I recommend booking it in advance here.

Alternatively, you can book one of these tours:

Keats-Shelley Memorial House

Not far from Palazzo Doria Pamphilij, near the Spanish Steps there is Keats-Shelley Memorial House, a small museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets. It’s a series of beautiful rooms with a collection of treasures and artifacts connected to the lives and works of the poets. There is a library of more than 8000 books thought to be the finest library of Romantic literature in the world.

On top of this, there are two terraces from where you can enjoy incredible views of the city below.

The museum is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 2:00 to 6:00 pm. Admission is €6.

Palazzo Barberini

If you are a fan of Caravaggio as much as I am, you have to visit Palazzo Barberini. Located in Via delle Quattro Fontane 13, Palazzo Barberini is one of the lesser visited museums in Rome. I wonder why, since it is home to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica and there you will find pieces of artists such as Caravaggio, Raphael and Bernini. On the first floor you’ll be able to see gorgeous Renaissance and Baroque paintings and frescoed ceilings.

The best piece in the gallery is by far Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes.

The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm. Admission is €12 and includes a ticket to Palazzo Corsini, which is located in Trastevere.

Rome hidden gems

Art Nouveau at Galleria Sciarra in Rome

Galleria Sciarra

Another Rome off the beaten path place that is located well in the historic center of Rome is Galleria Sciarra. Located close to Trevi Fountain, this is a must for Art Nouveau lovers. It was built between 1885 and 1888 upon orders of Prince Maffeo Sciarra. It was meant to be an upscale shopping mall – though it lost its intended purpose and it now is an office building. It is an interesting place to admire the beautiful frescoes and the glass ceilings. It’s open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm.

Capuchin Crypt

The Capuchin Crypt really is one of Rome secret places. It’s located in Via Vittorio Veneto 27, beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione, which used to be home to the Capuchin friars. The crypt was built in the 17th century with the bones and skulls of the friars that died at the monastery located right above.

The various chapels of the crypt contain skeletons which are arranged as works of art. Everything – literally – is made of human bones.

It really is a unique place – though surely not for everyone.

The Capuchin Museum and Crypt is open every day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. Admission is €8.50 and no photos are allowed inside.

If you’d rather go on a tour, these are some good options:

Rome secret places

Raphael fresco in Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina is located in Via della Lungara 230, close to the Tiber between Vatican City and Trastevere. It wasa built in 1506. Despite being the home of some of Raphael’s best frescoes, it still remains one of Rome off the beaten path places.

Villa Farnesina is open Mondays to Saturdays from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, and every second Sunday of the month from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is €6.

things to do in Rome

Largo di Torre Argentina is one of the coolest places in Rome off the beaten path

Largo di Torre Argentina

One of the best among Rome secret places is located in the historic center. Largo di Torre Argentina is a nice archeological site, thought to be the place where Julius Cesar was murdered. He was actually killed at the Theater of Pompey, a couple of blocks away, but this doesn’t make this site any less interesting.

What’s more, Largo di Torre Argentina is home to the oldest cat sanctuary in Rome. You can go in to pet the resident cats, buy a small souvenir from the in-house gift shop, and even make a donation to support the care of cats.

Tiber Island

One of my favorite places to visit in Rome off the beaten path is Tiber Island. This is the only island inside the Tiber River that is actually in Rome town. It is connected to the city by two bridges – Ponte Cestio and Ponte Fabricio. Once there used to be the Temple of Aesculapius – the Greek God of medicine and healing. However, in 1584 the Fatebenefratelli hospital hospital was built there. The island is so small that it won’t take you long to explore it.

Portico of Octavia

Located in the Jewish Ghetto, Portico of Octavia dates back to 27 BC, when it was built by Emperor Augustus in honor of his sister. Inside the portico, under the colonnades, there were the temples of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina. The portico burnt in 80 AD and was subsequently rebuilt. In Medieval times and until the 19th century it was used as a fish market.

The Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome

The  Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome is located in Testaccio. It’s the resting place of many famous non-catholics, among them artists such as poet Percy Shelley. It now is the site of a large cat sanctuary. From there, you can enjoy great views of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius.

Pyramid of Caius Cestius

One of Rome’s best kept secret is actually a pyramid. Known as Caius Cestius Pyramid, this was built around 12 BC, and served as the tomb of a prominent public figure. The tomb has been ransacked so there is nothing left inside, but the structure of the pyramid is incredibly well kept and a great sight.

Rome secret places

The incredible views of Rome from the Aventine

Janiculum Terrace

Among the best views of Rome there are those from the Janiculum Terrace. Still unknown to tourists, it’s a locals’ favorite. If you look closely, you’ll even be able to see the Colosseum.

Among the attractions at the Janiculum Hill, you can observe the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, a marble fountain that dates back to the 17th century; Manfredi Lighthouse, built in 1911 as a gift from the Italians who had emigrated to Argentina; the Church of San Pietro in Montorio and the Monument to Garibaldi, part of a park that recalls the event that took place on the Janiculum Hill in 1849, when the French Army assaulted Rome.

Keyhole on Aventine Hill

The secret has actually spelt – so I am not sure how appropriate it is to insert this as one of the attractions of Rome off the beaten path. Anyways, the view of St. Peter’s Basilica from the keyhole of a door of the Knights of Malta is stunning. Make sure to go early to avoid lines.

Orange Garden

Giardino degli Aranci, or Orange Garden in English, is located on the Aventine Hill and it’s one of Rome secret places that you are going to love the most. It’s a beautiful place – a well kept garden that was designed in 1932 by Raffaele de Vico, and from where you can get marvelous views of the city and especially of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Rose Garden

If you are visiting Rome during rose season, make sure to explore this garden which is very close to the Orange Garden. It’s still quite unknown, which makes it very peaceful.

Palazzo Spada

Palazzo Spada is a beautiful Renaissance building located in Piazza Capo di Ferro 13, home to Galleria Spada. This is a small art gallery with some interesting pieces, though the most interesting one of the optical illusion created in the gallery in the courtyard by Francesco Borromini. It’s such that you end up thinking it’s much longer than it actually is.

Palazzo Spada is open every day except on Tuesdays, from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm. Admission is €5.

Orto Botanico

The Botanical Garden of Rome is located in Trastevere and it’s a must if you are a fan of exotic plants. There, you will find more than 3000 species of plants, the Japanese gardens, greenhouses and even a couple of waterfalls. It’s a wonderfully quiet place.

Rome off the beaten path

The quirky Quartiere Coppedé

Quartiere Coppedé

This is one of the most interesting residential areas of Rome which is not far from Villa Borghese. It’s a nice place to go if you are a fan of Art Nouveau buildings. It won’t take you long to explore it.

Garbatella

Garbatella is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Rome that is still relatively undiscovered. It became popular among Italians when a tv show was filmed there. The neighborhood was first built in 1918 and until a few years ago it was thought to be a dangerous part of town. Now it is considered one of the best places to live in Rome. You will find some nice museums and churches such as St. Paul’s Outside The Walls.

Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the lesser visited in Rome – not many people from outside of Italy know that this is one of the oldest basilicas in Rome.

Quadraro

Lovers of street art shouldn’t skip Quadraro. The entire neighborhood went through recuperation works a while ago, and its walls were painted by some of the most prominent national and international street artists.

Pigneto

Not an actual hidden gem of Rome, Pigneto is actually an area most foreigners never end up visiting because it is simply a bit out of the way. It now is an up and coming neighborhood in terms of nightlife. You will find some excellent restaurants and cool bars.

EUR

EUR is short for Esposizione Universale Roma. It’s a residential and business neighborhood located in the Southern part of the city that easily qualifies as Rome off the beaten path. In the 1930s Italian dictator Mussolini picked this as the site of the 1943 World Fair. He meant to celebrate the first 20 years of Fascism there. However, at the time when the celebration was meant to take place, war was blasting in Europe, and Italy was the theater of a major civil war.

In the following decades, EUR was completed and people as well as businesses started moving there. It’s an interesting place to visit to admire examples of Fascist architecture. Make sure to stop by the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.

Rome hidden gems

The views of Rome from the Janiculum

Practical Tips To Make The Most Of Rome Off The Beaten Path Attractions

Where to stay in Rome 

Rome has many excellent hotel options. I recommend staying in the historic center for easy access to the most famous attractions as well as to Rome hidden gems.

These are some good hotels in Ottaviano:

These are some good hotels in Esquilino:

These are good hotels in Monti:

For more places to stay in Rome, read my post “A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Rome.”

Guided tours of Rome off the beaten path

If you feel like you need some more guidance to discover Rome secret places, you may opt for a guided tour.

These are some good ones:

Rome

The detail of a street corner in Rome

When to visit Rome

Rome is an excellent place to visit throughout the year, but if you ask me I say: Go in October! That’s when the days are mold and you still get a lot of sunlight to explore all the most beautiful places. I recommend avoiding August: it’s when it’s the most crowded with tourists. Though mind you, if you keep off the beaten track, you’ll hardly notice this!

How to get to Rome

Rome has two airports – Fiumicino is where intercontinental flights and all major airlines land; and Ciampino is the one used by budget airlines and with flights to Italy and Europe. Both are well connected to the city via several means of transportation.

The best way to get from Ciampino Airport to Rome city center is by taxi or bus. Terravision is the most reliable bus company. You can book Terravision bus tickets here.

The best way to get from Fiumicino Airport to Rome is the express train, which runs every 15 minutes (or every 30 minutes late at night). You can buy tickets and check the timetable online.

TIP: Remember to validate your ticket before getting on the train!

If you want to travel more comfortably, you can opt for a taxi (the flat fee is €48) or a private transfer.

These are some good transfers options:

For more information, check out my post How To Get From Fiumicino Airport To Rome City Center.”

How to move around Rome

To get to some of the off the beaten path places in Rome, you will need to use either public transportation or taxis. Uber unfortunately isn’t really a thing in Italy, so I recommend downloading an app such as MyTaxi. Public transportation works quite well. Remember to validate your ticket before getting on the metro or as soon as you get on the bus. You can get a Rome public transportation pass valid for 72 hours here. It may seem pricey but keep in mind it includes transfer from Ciampino airport.

Luggage storage in Rome

If your flight or train is leaving in the late afternoon or evening but you need to check out of your hotel, you may want to make use of luggage storage in the center of Rome. It’s best if you keep your stuff near Termini Station, as you will likely leave from there whether if going to the airport or to another city. There are a couple of storage places there. Check out this one or this one.

Other useful tips 

Mind the dress code

Remember to dress modestly whenever you visit churches and holy places: cover your knees and shoulders and chest.

Get a data plan for your smartphone

Make sure your phone data plan allows you to surf the web while in Italy. Remember to download maps that can be used offline.

Get a guide book

A good guide book may have a map and also some more information about Rome off the beaten path places.

These are some good guide books:

Mind the scams 

Tourist scams happen everywhere – included Rome. The places where tourists are mostly targeted are those that are obviously crowded, such as around a major tourist attractions and at the train station. Beware of people who appear overly friendly and insist on helping you with your tickets or your luggage: ignore or refuse. Don’t accept anything from strangers.

Get a good travel insurance

Whether you are staying in Rome for a long or short time, get a good travel insurance. Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Get your travel insurance here.

Further readings about Rome

Make sure to read my Rome itineraries – you will find plenty of tips to make the most of the city:

More tips to make the most of Rome and its attractions can be found in these posts:

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Discover what to see in Rome off the beaten path - via @clautavani

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