Rome is most often the mid-point of an Italy travel itinerary. Most travelers start in the north of the country in the Alps or Tuscany region, then spend time in Rome, then head south to Sorrento or Positano or the islands (though you can certainly start in the south and do this in reverse). But regardless of when you visit Rome during your trip, the city will be full of other travelers.
So when you visit sites such as the Colosseum, Vatican, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Roman Forum, and Piazza Navona, you’ll have a hard time avoiding the crowds. This isn’t a reason not to see these architectural marvels, but here are 5 lesser-known places you can include in your itinerary to have a break from the more “touristy” places in Rome.
Rome off the Beaten Path: Unusual Things to do in Rome
I think the Aventine Hill is the most beautiful neighborhood in the city. It’s full of mansions and historically preserved residential buildings and has an abundance of beautiful gardens and churches. Of note is the Basilica of Saint Sabina and the Orange Garden (also called the Parco Savello), which is known for its orange blossoms and views of the Vatican and Rome.
If you’re in Rome during Spring, then you should visit the Rose Garden on the slope of the Aventine Hill in front of the Maximus Circus. The Rose Garden hosts about 1100 varieties of roses from all around the world and has views of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Comedian, the Middle Ages church famous for the “Mouth of Truth,” a marble mask that was (supposedly) a lie detector that would bite off the hand of anyone being untruthful.
The Aventine Hill is also home to the most famous keyhole in the world. Go to the square of the Knights of Malta near the church of Saint Anselmo, and across from the white obelisks, there’s a wooden green door with an ornately decorated keyhole. When you look through this keyhole, you can see the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Ostia Antica is an archaeological site about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Rome that used to be the seaport of ancient Rome. But over time the landscape changed and the sea receded, so now the site lies 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the sea.
Ostia Antica is known for exceptionally preserved ancient buildings, beautiful frescoes, and one-of-a-kind mosaics. Because Ostia Antica is so close to Rome, it makes for a great half-day trip. By car, Ostia Antica is less than an hour’s drive from Rome. There is the modern-day town of Ostia near the archaeological site, so make sure you’ve programmed your GPS for Ostia Antica.
If you’re taking public transportation, it still takes less than an hour to get here. You take the metro line B and get off at Piramide. Then take the Roma Lido commuter train to Ostia Antica and the site is a ten-minute walk from there.
Trajan’s Forum was built by Emperor Trajan in 112 AD and 113 AD, and it consisted of an enormous basilica, two libraries, markets, Trajan’s Column, and a large temple. As the last and largest of the Imperial Forums (public squares), Trajan’s Forum was the political and governmental center of the Roman Empire.
The carvings on Trajan’s Column tell the story of Emperor Trajan’s victory over the Dacians (modern-day Romania), and the column’s images would measure about 660 feet (200 meters) if they were stretched out. In its prime, historians believe Trajan’s Forum was one of the most impressive and magnificent groups of buildings in Rome.
Today, you can still see Trajan’s Column in its entirety and wander through the remains of the shops in Trajan’s Market – believed to be the world’s first shopping complex. Trajan’s Forum is only about a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum, and the forum is near the Vittoriano – the Victory Monument to Vittorio Emanuelle II.
Palatine Hill is one of the Seven Hills of Rome, and it’s one of the oldest parts of the city. In Roman mythology, this hill is believed to be where the she-wolf Lupa found Romulus and Remus and raised them in the fabled cave.
On the Palatine Hill, you’ll find ruins of the palaces of Augustus, Tiberius, and Domitian, a temple dedicated to Apollo, and the Palatine Museum. But as interesting as the ruins are, it’s the views of the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Circus Maximus, and the city in general that are truly worth the climb.
There are two entrances to the Palatine Hill. The main entrance is near the Arch of Titus and Colosseum, and the second entrance is on Via di San Gregorio. It’s easy to combine a visit to the Palatine Hill with your tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Built from 1626-1650 in honor of Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuit Society), the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius is a Roman Catholic church that’s just a short walk from the Pantheon (which you were probably going to visit already).
The exterior of this church is very unassuming. You could walk right past it and not even notice it, but the interior is a lavish work of art. The entire nave ceiling is a stunning fresco. Stucco statues can be found throughout the church, the alters are ornately decorated, and frescos line the walls.
You’ll be looking up in this church as much as you will in the Sistine Chapel. As of this posting, there’s no entry fee to the church, and it’s open Sunday: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm; Monday-Saturday: 7:30 am – 7:00 pm.
Bonus Site To Visit: Ponte Umberto I
Ponte Sant’Angelo is arguably the most famous bridge in Rome with views of Saint Peter’s Basilica. But if you go one bridge to the East, to Ponte Umberto I, you get the same views of the basilica while getting to see the Ponte Sant’Angelo as well. Ponte Umberto I is a five-minute walk from the Piazza Navona and the Ponte Sant’Angelo.