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Hidden Gems in Rome: Off the Beaten Path in the Eternal City

hidden gems in Rome

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There are countless things to do in the Eternal City, but it’s the hidden gems in Rome that will make your vacation itinerary utterly unique. Among your visits to icons like the Colosseum and Pantheon, why not go off the beaten track and explore treasures often overlooked by tourists?

With 3,000 years of history encapsulated in its city borders, Rome definitely has a few hidden gems waiting in store. Whether you’re an art and architecture lover, avid photographer, or history buff, there’s a hidden gem in Rome just for you.

unusual things to do in rome

There’s more to visiting Rome than meets the eye, and this guide has all the insider details. Ready to discover the hidden highlights of Rome? Andiamo!

Things to Do Off the Beaten Path in Rome

Add these secret attractions to your 5 days in Rome itinerary for an unforgettable Roman vacation.

Teatro di Marcello

Teatro di Marcello/ unusual things to do in rome

The Teatro di Marcello is the predecessor to the larger, more well-known Colosseum and doesn’t receive nearly as many visitors. This spectacular arena was built by Julius Caesar in 27 BC and later completed by Augustus in memory of his nephew, Marcellus Caesar

Stretching about 427 feet in width and reaching a height of 108 feet, this theater could hold up to 20,000 spectators. It was also said to be covered with a sail to provide shade and contained 36 bronze vases for improved acoustics. 

By the 13th century, the theater was transformed into a fortress for the Pierleoni and Fabi families due to its elevated position close to the river. In the 15th century, it was transformed into a Palazzo for the Savelli family. 

The theater is not usually open for visitors, so you’ll have to admire this theater from the outside — which is still a spectacular sight. You’ll also spot the Roman ruins of the Temple of Bellona and the Temple of Apollo nearby. The Roman Forum is also within walking distance.

Address: Via del Teatro di Marcello

TOUR IDEA: Off the beaten path Rome: Hidden Gems and Ancient Wonders

Aventine Keyhole

Aventine Keyhole

One of the most magical — and satisfying — hidden gems in Italy is the Aventine Keyhole, which provides a unique perspective of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. You’ll get this view by peeping through the unassuming green door and entryway to the estate of the Knights of Malta. It is undoubtedly one of the more unique things to do in Rome. 

It’s uncertain whether this mini-vista was perfectly planned or just coincidentally became the frame of one of the most beautiful scenes in Rome. You’ll see three countries framed by the keyhole and perfectly manicured hedges; Malta, Italy, and the Vatican City. 

You can also visit the beautiful gardens inside on request, so be sure to book ahead of time if you’d like to enter. 

Tip: Capturing this view with your phone might be a challenge. Try to bring a camera along if you’d like to capture the mini-view in all its beauty. 

Address: Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta 3

Domus Aurea – Nero’s Golden House

Domus Aurea - hidden rome

The Domus Aurea is considered one of Rome’s most extravagant constructions ever. After a large fire in 64 A.D., Emperor Nero set out to build a palace complex inspired by Hellenistic models to outshine all that went before. 

The extravagant palace consisted of 300 rooms all opulently decorated with intricate frescoes, mosaics, and semi-precious stones. The palace also featured fountains, an artificial lake, and Nero’s famous coenatio rotunda, a self-rotating dining room. 

The original grounds are estimated to have stretched over 124 acres of land, with corn fields, vineyards, and forests adorning the space. It stretched all the way to the valley where the Colosseum stands today. 

The palace, which stands on Oppian Hill, was primarily used for parties. Interestingly, no kitchen has been found in the vast complex. 

You can explore Nero’s Domus Aurea on a guided tour, where you’ll learn more about the complex’s history, secrets, and ongoing excavations. You’ll also find the Basilica di San Clemente nearby. 

Address: Viale della Domus Aurea 1

Quartiere Coppedè

Quartiere Coppedè/ unique rome sights

Appearing like something straight out of a fairytale, the Coppedè District in the northern part of the city is a Rome hidden gem filled with whimsy. It’s one of Rome’s architectural jewels well worth exploring. 

Designed and built between 1915 and 1927 by Gino Coppedè — Italy’s Gaudí, if you will — the 37,075 square yard quarter features about 40 structures. The entire quarter includes a combination of ancient Greek, Art Nouveau, medieval, Roman Baroque, and mannerist architecture. 

Above that, the quarter is beautifully complimented by towers and palazzi decorated with frescoes, mosaics, intricate ironwork, and carvings. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Rome. 

You’ll find the entrance with its opulent outdoor chandelier just off Via Tagliamento. Be sure to stop by Piazza Mincio in the quarter to admire the Fountain of the Frogs. This is where the Beatles famously took a dip after their 1965 performance in Rome. 

Address: Piazza Mincio. Near Piazza Buenos Aires, main entrance from Via Tagliamento

Antica Farmacia Santa Maria della Scala

Antica Farmacia Santa Maria della Scala

Another of Rome’s hidden gems, the Spezieria di Santa Maria sits in the heart of Trastevere as the oldest pharmacy in Rome and Europe. 

The order of the Discalced Carmelites has run this apothecary since the 1500s but only opened it to the public in the 1700s. The pharmacy, which sits close to the Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Basilica, drew many notables, including princes, cardinals, and popes. Thus it gained the nickname “pharmacy of the popes.” 

Once you pass through the pharmacy selling modern drugstore items, you’ll spot a doorway with a Latin inscription on top. This doorway leads to the original pharmacy, which closed in 1954, with its 18th-century decor still in place. 

Inside, you’ll find golden lighting showering across a ceiling fresco of the Discalced Carmelites and paintings of notable visitors like Vittorio Emanuele I. You’ll also spot wooden cabinets filled with vases, stills, ampoules, mortars, and majolica, containing all kinds of healing substances. 

Of these substances, one of the most interesting ones is Theriaca. This ancient antidote contains over 50 natural substances and viper poison and has been in use since the imperial era. 

Address: Piazza della Scala, 23

Via Appia Antica

Via Appia Antica

Take a trip back in time by traversing one of Rome’s oldest and most historically significant roads. Commissioned by consul Appius Claudius Caecus in 312 BCE, the ancient Roman Appian Way was one of the most important military and economic paths. 

The road initially stretched from Rome to ancient Capua in Campania. But, by 244 BCE, the path had been extended until Brindisium (or Brindisi) in southern Italy. It also ran through Benevento and Taranto. 

Due to its importance and impressive scale, the Appian Way was nicknamed regina viarum, or “queen of the roads.” The 2,000-year-old road was built to last, with stone and lime mortar used as the foundation and smooth lava stone used to pave the road. 

Besides the beautiful scenery, you’ll also spot a few catacombs along the Appian Way. It was once illegal to bury bodies inside the city. Thus burial sites were created along the road outside the city. You’ll spot sites like the Tomb of Cecilia Metella and the Catacombs of San Callisto — which holds around 170,000 graves.

Tip: Take a guided e-bike tour to learn more about the Appian Way and its catacombs while enjoying the Italian sunshine.

Address: Start your visit at Porta San Sebastiano, on the road of the same name.

Giardino degli Aranci

Giardino degli Aranci/ Rome hidden gems

The Giardino degli Aranci, also known as Parco Savello, sits atop the Aventine Hill and is a gem that provides spectacular views of Rome. The garden was once the site of a fortress owned by the Savello Family, and you can still spot the remains of the fort walls surrounding the garden. 

The symmetrical park features an avenue lined with trees that flows toward a belvedere overlooking Rome. It’s the perfect destination for a retreat from the city bustle and tourist crowds, and entry is free. 

This spot is exceptionally breathtaking at night, as the sun sets and turns the rooftops and dome of St. Peter’s golden. You’ll also spot the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument, Trastevere, and buildings on the other end of the Tiber River from this viewpoint. The scent of orange blossoms makes the view all the more magical. 

The Aventine Keyhole and Church of Santa Sabina are also nearby. 

Address: Piazza Pietro d’Illiria

TOUR IDEA: Off the beaten path Rome: Hidden Gems and Ancient Wonders

Vicus Caprarius

You’ve likely already got the Trevi Fountain on your 3-day Rome itinerary. But there’s a real hidden gem running below the Trevi district that some locals don’t even know about. 

The Vicus Caprarius is an underground building complex situated 30 feet below the street level and just a short walk from the fountain. Discovered during archaeological surveys between 1999 and 2001, the complex stretches over an impressive 3,767 square feet between Via San Vincenzo and Vicolo Puttarello.

One of the most impressive things to see is the 2,000-year-old Vergine aqueduct, one of ancient Rome’s 11 remaining aqueducts still in operation today. It feeds into the underground pools of Vicus Caprarius and the magnificent Trevi Fountain. 

The imperial-era complex holds many stories and archaeological gems of ancient Rome, which you can learn about on a guided tour. There is also a small museum that contains Roman artifacts like coins, amphorae, Roman sculptures, and marble decorations. 

Address: 25 Vicolo del Puttarello

Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso

Jubilee Church - Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso

Most tourists (rightfully) flock to churches like St. Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore when in the Eternal City. But, there’s a spectacular and often overlooked church in the Alessandrino district that’s truly one of the best hidden gems of Rome. 

Sometimes also referred to as Dives in Mercy, the innovative, contemporary white church stands out from those built in ancient Roman times. The Diocese of Rome commissioned it in celebration of the Great Jubilee in 2000. American architect Richard Meier’s design was chosen out of six applicants. 

The design features self-cleaning concrete, meant to withstand the elements, and represents a ship — symbolic of the church being a vessel to God. The three concave sails represent the Holy Trinity and allow plenty of natural sunlight to shower into the beautiful church. 

Whether you’re an architecture fan or simply want to go church-spotting, this lesser-known Roman church is well worth visiting. 

Address: Largo Terzo Millennio, 8

Villa Medici

Villa Medici Rome

Another of the top hidden gems in Rome is the spectacular and vast villa perched on Pincio Hill near the Spanish Steps. It was initially the site of an ancient temple, and remains of the Aurelian Walls of ancient Rome can still be spotted around the hill. 

The most recent building complex was originally built for Cardinal Ricci da Montepulciano in 1540. By 1576, Ferdinando de Medici had purchased the property. An impressive collection of artworks was left behind by Ferdinando and is displayed throughout the villa.

In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte bought the property to serve as the Roman branch of the French Academy and to this day hosts one-year residencies for French-speaking artists. Their creations are regularly shown at the villa in temporary exhibitions. 

When you’re not exploring the villa’s interior beauty, stroll through the manicured gardens and enjoy the Mannerist architecture from a distance. There are also regular cultural events, outdoor cinema nights, and music festivals. So have a look at their events lineup on their website while planning your visit. And make sure to take in the panoramic views of Rome before you leave.

Address: Viale Trinità dei Monti 1

Piccola Londra

This colorful street, also known as Little London, was built around 1909 during city-planning experimentations. The little road has a very un-Roman design, with its independent houses featuring a front yard and back garden — much like in London. 

The street is off the beaten path and a private residential area, so it’s best not to make too much noise. But, if you’re in the area to visit the MAXXI or Villa Borghese, this street is a pleasant little surprise along the way. 

Address: On Via Bernardo Celentano — directly off of Via Flaminia.

Baths of Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

The Terme di Caracalla was one of the most luxurious public bathing complexes in Ancient Rome. This archaeological site was begun by Septimus Severus in 206 AD and completed by his son, Emperor Caracalla, in 216 AD. 

These baths could accommodate up to 1,600 bathers and were sumptuously decorated with sculptures, frescoes, fountains, and mosaics. It featured three main bathing chambers with cold, hot, and lukewarm water.

There were also surrounding gardens and spaces for exercise, swimming pools, and even a library and worshipping temple. 

Considering the period during which it was constructed, the vastness and architectural and engineering genius behind these baths are utterly impressive. Wood-fired ovens were used to heat the floors, walls, and water of the warm baths. There was also an effective water supply and drainage system, keeping the bath waters clean. 

The baths closed during the early middle ages, following attacks from the barbarians and an earthquake. Today, it is open to explore on your own or a small Caracalla Baths group tour. Regular open-air operas and ballets also take place at the baths during summer. 

Address: Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 52

The Perspective Art of Andrea Pozzo

Church of Sant’ Ignazio paintings by Andrea Pozzo

Another of the best hidden gems in Rome can be found in the Church of Sant’ Ignazio. The Italian Baroque artist, Andrea Pozzo, created some of the most mind-bending illusions with his paintbrush. Using anamorphosis and trompe-l’oeil techniques, he created the illusion of three-dimensional, endless, or extended space. 

His artworks adorn the ceilings and walls of the Church of Sant’ Ignazio and the Pozzo Corridor in the Casa Professa next to the church. The Baroque paintings depict biblical scenes, some of which include the narrative of St. Ignatio’s life and the saint being welcomed to heaven. 

The nave ceiling in the Church of Sant’ Ignazio is one of his most impressive works. You may notice the figures warp as you move across the floor and your perspective changes.

Address: Piazza del Gesù, 45

TOUR IDEA: Off the beaten path Rome: Hidden Gems and Ancient Wonders

Street Art in Quadraro

street art rome

There are plenty of places in Rome that showcase memorable artworks, but they’re often tourist-packed. Why not head out to a hidden gem in plain sight instead? Rome’s Quadraro neighborhood has some of the best street art in the city. 

This quiet neighborhood is five miles southeast of the city and is home to other secret Rome attractions like the Mausoleum of Monte del Grano and Cinecittà Studios. But it’s the vibrant street art off the beaten path that makes Quadraro truly stand out. 

The street art is the product of the Museo del Urban Art MURO project started in 2010 by artist David Vecchiato. You’ll get to spot art from local and international artists like Jim Avignon, Camilla Falsini, Zio Ziegler, and Alice Pasquini.

Pyramid of Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius Rome off the beaten path

Rome has all sorts of surprising architectural marvels, but the Pyramid of Cestius might be one of the most unusual. During the Romans’ conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C., the Romans brought back tons of original Egyptian artifacts and ideas — like that of the Pyramids. 

There were only ever two pyramids built in Rome, but the Pyramid of Cestius is the only one to remain. The 118-foot-high pyramid has a slightly sharper angle than you’d find in Egypt. This led historians to speculate that the pyramid was modeled after those in Nubia rather than Egypt. 

According to politician and priest Caius Cestius’ will, his family had to build the mausoleum within 330 days of his death to receive their inheritance. Which they naturally did. In fact, the exact words of his will are inscribed on the sides of the pyramid.

The pyramid once stood among large columns and bronze figures. Today, you’ll find it at a busy intersection. So it’s not exactly off the beaten path, but it’s definitely overlooked. 

Address: Via Raffaele Persichetti

Ready to Explore Rome’s Hidden Gems?

Catacombs Via Appia

There you have it, some of the top attractions off the beaten path and hidden gems in Rome you won’t want to miss. With hidden vistas, mind-boggling artworks, and quirky architecture in store, you’re sure to have a memorable vacation in Rome. 

There are many more hidden gems than this list could possibly cover. So be sure to check this Rome travel guide for even more insider information on bella Roma’s secret sights to add to your Italy itinerary.

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