Having been both a tourist and resident of Rome, I learned a lot about what it means to truly get to know a city. When I was 16, my visit to The Eternal City covered all the major spots (the Trevi, Vatican, Colosseum, ect). My mom and I ran around like chickens with our heads cut off attempting to see every sight that seemed to have a long line of tourists. After doing this, I naively thought that I had seen pretty much all of what Rome had to offer. Coming back a few years later and staying five months taught me that I was incredibly wrong. I learned that to really get an authentic idea of what a city has to offer means finding things off the beaten path. I wanted to share a list of some of my favorite places that I stumbled upon in Rome and urge anybody going to pay a visit.
Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary
If you find yourself browsing the many stalls in the Campo de Fiori market, you should make your way over to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary (Lago di Torre Argentina). This square is home to the remains of four Roman Republic Temples, Pompey’s Theater and a bunch of cats (they are alive, not remains). The old ruins act as a no-kill shelter for the kitties so you can watch them unknowingly pounce around on thousands of years of history. Also this is the place that Julius Caesar was stabbed so you can make both your 7th grade history teacher and Gretchen Weiners proud.
The Pyramid of Cestius
If you can’t make it to Giza, Rome’s got you covered. Located in the super cool Testaccio neighborhood, the ancient Pyramid of Cestius casually stand across from a bustling Piramide metro stop. If you find the time, come take a peek at this astounding structure that was built in 12 B.C.
This is a kind of secret but not really a super secret spot. Located at the intersection of Via di S. Sabina and Via di Porta Lavernale is a church called Santa Maria del Priorato. On the front door lies a keyhole that leads to a stunning garden. If you look through it there is a beautiful view of the Vatican. Also, don’t feel super rushed if there is a line; a few eye rolls are completely worth more time viewing a once in a lifetime landscape.
The Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci)
Just a few steps away from the Aventine Keyhole is a small park with a stunning view and a ton of orange trees. It is super tranquil and a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Rome for a little bit. I recommend admiring the view for a few minutes and taking in the delicious smell of the citrusy fruit.
This stunning villa built during the Renaissance is located on Via Della Lungara in the Trastevere neighborhood. I walked by it every day for about four months with no idea what it was. One day my class took a field trip and I was completely amazed. This villa is very different than many during its time due to it being what was once considered suburban. The decor inside is absolutely breathtaking and it features frescos from renowned artists like Raphael.
Getting up this hill from the stairs in Trastevere can be a true test of your stamina but once you get up there it’s completely worth it (it is accessible by road too so you can drive/take a taxi). This terrace has the best view of Rome in front of you and a fountain called Fontana dell’Acqua Paola behind you with beauty comparable to the Trevi (in my personal opinion).
Here is the opening scene from the movie La Grande Belleza that shows the hill and the fountain.
If you want to explore this area a little bit, you can also find the Mausoleum Ossuary Garibaldi and San Pietro in Montorio. San Pietro is a church that is home to a tomb called Tempietto, designed by renowned architect Donato Bramante. About a 10 minute walk away is the Parco del Gianicolo. This park is filled with children playing, beautiful views and lots of statues.
Like I said in my Krakow post, I love visiting Jewish Ghettos. The Jewish Ghetto in Rome is a small area dating back to 1555. It is rich in history, spectacular food and incredible sights. Make sure to take a tour of the Great Synagogue of Rome. Then go and try delicious food from some of the Kosher restaurants like Nonna Betta. The cuisine here is famous for foods like artichokes, fried zucchini flowers and oxtail stew. For something sweet stop by the bakery Boccione. This small shop doesn’t have much of a street presence but Romans flock here for their biscotti, crostate and pizze. It’s kind of madness when you walk in and can be pretty intimidating because everything sells out so quickly. The women behind the counter mean business and you better know what you want when they make eye contact with you.
Trust me, I did a ton of shopping on the popular Via del Corso during my time in Rome. Almost weekly, I elbowed and clawed through ton of tourists to make my way into large chain stores like Zara and H&M. Though it was always fun, sometimes it was nice to get away and shop somewhere more artistic and civilized. I had once read that the hipster neighborhood of Monti was the place to go for awesome vintage shopping. My friend and I went store to store checking out vintage leather and denim jackets as well as other quirky clothes. We then stumbled upon the Mercato Monti, a market held on the weekends at Via Leonina 46. Here you will find tons of locals looking through vintage clothes, things made by Italian designers, art work and many of fun things to buy.
Villa Doria Pamphili
While many pay the Borghese Gardens a visit during their time in Rome, I highly recommend visiting Villa Pamphili. This 17th century villa is located in Rome’s largest park and is remarkable. Though you can not go in the villa, you can stroll around it and get a look at the captivating hedge maze, fountains and grottos. The large park is also home to a cafe, a lake, old aqueducts and many athletic Italians working out. According to a professor I had, many different refugee groups gather at this park on the weekend and make/sell their traditional foods as well as play music and put on performances.
Via Gulia/ Via Di Monserrato
I lived one street over from Via Gulia, so I spent a lot of time walking down the cobblestone street. It was one of the most important streets commissioned during the Renaissance and is filled with pretty apartment buildings, restaurants and shops. It is also wider than the average Roman street so you can easily walk down it without having the lingering fear of getting hit by a vespa. Make sure to admire the beautiful arch designed by Michelangelo or stop over to at his Palazzo Farnese which in now The French Embassy. Via Di Monserrato (where I lived) also has many cafes and cute shops to pop into. You can also check out Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli. Two popes and a Spanish king are both buried there.