Almost everyone who visits Italy for the first time includes Rome in their itinerary. We give ourselves three or four days to see the most important sights and we leave the city exhausted and overwhelmed by all of the history and art (and food) we’ve consumed in too short a time.
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to return to Rome. When you visit the eternal city again, you can move beyond the crowded and touristy areas and savor more of the smaller gems of this amazing city. Once you’ve gone where the guide books say to go, you can now choose your own path—hopefully, with a slower pace. We’ve been lucky enough to return to Rome several times and we still are amazed at what we discover. Next time you venture to Rome, you might consider these other options.
Walk The Via Appia—The Appian Way
Sunday is the best day to take a walk along the Appian Way and explore some of the ruined villas or the Catacombs. This amazing archeological park stretches south from Circus Maximus for several miles. We took a bus (#118) and got off at the Catacombs of San Callisto. From there it’s a pleasant walk to see the Tomb of Cecilia Metella and several ruins of villas. We found a small tourist information office at Capo di Bove, where we got a simple map of the area. You can also rent bikes, which will get you further, but the roads are quite bumpy in sections.
The best part of the Via Appia is just being outside of the bustling city in such a quiet park. There are several places where one could enjoy a delightful picnic, if you plan ahead. We also saw a few restaurants along the way and stopped at Il Giardino di Giulia e Fratelli at #176. This is a family operation with traditional Roman cuisine at a reasonable price. We had an excellent selection of antipasti from their lunch buffet. We sat inside their cosy dining room in November, but the outdoor patio and gardens would also be very pleasant when the weather permits.
We took the bus back and stopped at Terme di Caracalla, a massive bath complex that the Romans enjoyed back in the day. Although the area is mostly gardens and ruins, the signage helps you see where the baths, gym and swimming pool used to be. If you’re lucky to be visiting in the summertime, this is a wonderful venue for outdoor concerts and opera.
Explore a New Neighborhood
We took a food tour with EatingItaly and learned all about the Testaccio neighborhood—a fun area just south of the Colosseum. This typical Roman neighborhood has a wonderful food market, a beautiful cemetery, a modern art museum and many great places to sample Roman cuisine. Our guide was very knowledgeable about food and also the history of the very old establishments we visited. This was a great way to get more insight on a neighborhood while enjoying some amazing Italian treats like supplì, trapizzino, cacio e pepe and more. Check the Restaurant category on this blog for more details on where to go.
Visit a minor museum — The Montemartini Museum
For a change of pace, this Museum displays an excellent collection of ancient sculpture set against the massive machinery of an old electric power plant. We appreciated the beauty of the Art Nouveau building and restored machinery as much as the classical sculpture. Rome’s first electrical power plant provides the perfect space to display some of the largest pieces of Roman art you will ever see. This uncrowded museum is a bit further from the center of things, but it’s an easy metro ride to Garbatella. We went in the morning so we could walk (just a few blocks) back toward the Testaccio neighborhood to enjoy a fabulous “sandwich” at Il Trapizzino, Via Giovanni Branca, 88.
Walk the side streets of Rome
Even on your fist trip to Rome, try to get away from the main arteries that connect the most popular tourist attractions. For instance, just a few steps from the Pantheon you can find Piazza Minerva. You can’t miss the beautiful Egyptian Obelisk designed by Bernini, in the center of the square. Be sure to visit the church (Santa Maria Sopra Minerva) to admire Michelangelo’s Cristo della Minerva statue and a fresco by Filippino Lippi.
Rome has more than a dozen obelisks throughout the city. You can find a helpful map with more detailed explanations at this link.
Wander down almost any other street to find the lesser known piazzas where the espresso will be great and they probably won’t charge you to sit down.
Walk behind the Victor Emmanuel Monument (Via dei Fori Imperiali) to see other forums for free. You also get a nice perspective of the massive white monument, known by locals as “The Wedding Cake”.
A few blocks from the Trevi Fountain on Via Tritone you can find this amazing Art Nouveau “private” passageway of the Fondazione Sorgente Group. During the week, you can just wander in and enjoy the decorative details.
Visit a City Park
Take the time to sit in one of Rome’s wonderful city parks. You could spend a day exploring Borghese Park or just take a break in the small Giardino Quirinale.
Climb the steps from Piazza Popolo for a wonderful view of the city and a relaxing break in Parco Pincio, a small park with plenty of benches, views and the Villa Medici. It even has a cosy cafe where you can stop for an espresso or a light meal. After exploring this pleasant park, head southeast from the Villa and you can easily reach the Spanish Steps.
Take a Class
On our last trip to Rome, I spent a morning sketching at Parco Pincio with Kelly Medford, an American expat who teaches art classes in Rome. Besides learning more sketching techniques, I had a delightful time hearing about an American’s adventures living in Rome. Besides art, you might find a short photography, cooking or language course.
Rome is a city I could return to again and again. There’s always a new neighborhood to discover, a few more museums to explore, lesser known parks and sites to enjoy, not to mention the wonderful Italian cuisine that only gets better. Be sure to check my restaurant list for more ideas on where to find tasty Roman cuisine and excellent gelato.