Rome off the beaten path: 19 hidden gems in the eternal city for a different experience

If any city on our planet can be called eternal, it has to be Rome. Rome is a giant museum that smells of history where time is relative and new discoveries lie among ancient things. For many travelers, all roads lead to Rome even today. Many people fly to Rome from different parts of the world to see the magnificent Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Ancient Forum, etc. However, Rome has a lot more to offer than only its main tourist attractions. In this article, we’ll share some hidden gems in Rome that aren’t mentioned in most tourist guides. Places that live in the shadows of the city’s most famous sights. So, if you’re looking for a different experience in Rome, keep reading!

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Via Piccolomini

via piccolomini illusione ottica

If you’re looking for a less famous and less crowded version of the famous Borromini Perspective, look no further. Via Piccolomini is another fascinating optical illusion you might want to check out. Via Piccolomini is basically a street located behind Villa Doria Pamphili Park that creates an optical illusion of St. Peter’s dome as you’re walking towards it; the dome seems to recede in the background and appears to be a lot smaller than it actually is. If you move the opposite way, the dome increases, appearing to be a lot larger than it actually is. Amazing, isn’t it?

Antica Farmacia della Scala

hidden gems in rome

On the outside, Farmacia della Scala looks like a regular pharmacy in a bustling neighborhood. However, if you step inside, you’ll be in for a surprise. On the upper floor, you’ll find a surprisingly well-preserved 17th-century pharmacy that was once the pharmacy of the Papal Court. This pharmacy is still run by Carmelite monks who are open to showing visitors around. If you want to visit, note that you have to call and make an appointment before you visit the pharmacy.

Villa Medici

Villa MediciPhoto by Jbribeiro1 CC by 4.0

This villa is home to the French Academy and is oftentimes overlooked despite being located right next to the famous Spanish Steps. The villa was owned by Fernando Medici and Napoleon in the past and the best French artists, sculptors, and composers studied here; Debussy, Boucher, Berlioz, Garnier, and Grangonard just to name a few. Most tourists don’t know about this villa even though regular exhibitions and performances occur here almost every day.

Enjoying this article? Then, check out my post about Sicily off the beaten path.

Aventine Hill and the Knights of Malta Square

Knights of Malta Square

It’s surprising how a place so close to the heart of ancient Rome can remain under-the-radar for so many people. Even though most people head to Palatine Hill, Aventine offers a view just as beautiful and with fewer tourists around. But this isn’t the main reason why you should check out this place. At the hill, you’ll also find a tiny square devoted to the crusaders of Malta. Here, you’ll find a big gate with a keyhole that gives a perfectly symmetrical view of the dome of San Pietro and the surrounding area. Traveling around Rome can be confusing unless you decide to rent a car, if not booking your rides with a reliable yet affordable source is advisable.  

Piccola Londra

Piccola Londra

This tiny street in Rome’s Flamino neighborhood looks a lot like London, hence, the name, Piccola Londra (Little London). The street is covered in colorful houses with beautiful gardens and fences. The street was designed in the 20th century when mayor Ernesto Nathan thought that Rome isn’t a proper European metropolis.

Quartiere Coppedè

Quartiere CoppedèPhoto by LPLT CC by 3.0

Quartiere Coppede is Rome’s smallest district with great accommodation options and one that’s often ignored by most visitors. However, if you’re one of the few curious souls that somehow end up visiting this district, you’ll feel like you just stepped into a fairy tale; you’ll see a lot of Liberty-style buildings decorated with grotesque figures, and a lot of Greet, Gothic, and medieval buildings. The neighborhood looks quite different than the rest of the city and even though it isn’t as historically significant as some other parts of Rome, it’s definitely worth visiting.

If you want to get off the beaten path in Rome, you might consider renting a bike or taking one of TopBike Rental Rome bike tours.

Pastificio Cerere

hidden gems in rome

Plastificio Cerere is an old building turned into an alternative art hub of the capital. This old building housed one of the biggest pasta factories in Rome in the 20th century. It’s also one of the main reasons why more people in Rome didn’t starve during both world wars. The factory was closed in the 1960s and has since become a multifunctional art center. Today, a myriad of art exhibitions take place in the old factory building. If you’re a fan of alternative art, you’ll surely love this place.

Ghetto Ebraico

Ghetto Ebraico

The Ghetto Ebraico is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities outside of Israel. This ghetto was designed in the 1550s when all Jews of Rome were isolated from the rest of the city. The neighborhood still has an authentic Jewish charm and looks very different from the rest of the city. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, this is one of the hidden gems in Rome you shouldn’t miss.

Tiber Island

Tiber Island

Located in the Tiber River between Trastevere and the old Jewish Quarter, this is Rome’s only island. As such it is mentioned in several different legends. The most famous one is the one in which Ancient Rome was dealing with plague after which the city council decided to send a team to Greece to bring a sacred snake and honor the god of medicine, Asclepius. On their way back, the boat crashed into Tiber Island and the snake escaped by curling around a branch. This gave birth to the famous symbol of medicine in which a snake is wrapped around a stick. Symbolically, there’s a hospital on the island today but it’s also worth visiting if you want to enjoy some nice views of the Tiber River and get away from Rome’s busy streets.

Arciconfraternita Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte

Arciconfraternita Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte

A church with skulls above the doorway and other things made of different human body parts might not sound very appealing which is probably one of the main reasons why this church doesn’t get a lot of visitors but it certainly is unique. The name of the church is rather descriptive and it translates to “the exterior of St. Mary of Eulogies and the dead”. Inside, you’ll see a lot of skeletons and bones all over the place and even some of the chandeliers are made of human vertebrae. It’s certainly not for everyone but if you’re looking for a different experience in Rome, definitely check out this church.

Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso

Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso

If there’s a competition for the most unusually-looking church in Rome, this would surely be one of the frontrunners. Built in 2003, the church is supposed to resemble a ship with curvy walls that allow a lot of light to fall inside. This marvelous architecture sample was a part of Pope John Paul 2nd’s project to mark the Jubilee of 2000. That’s why this church is also known as the Church of the Jubilee.

Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio

Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio

With more than 900 churches in Rome, it’s no surprise that some of them remain under the radar. Even though it’s very hard to pick a few to mention in this list of hidden gems in Rome, my personal favorite is Santo Stefano Rotondo. Built in the 5th century, Santo Stefano Rotondo is the oldest centrally-planned basilica in Rome. The basilica is also famous for its stunning 16th-century frescoes portraying different martyrdom scenes, the interesting circular architecture, and the fascinating interior that smells of history.

Santa Maria del Piano

hidden gems in rome

I just can’t complete this list of hidden gems in Rome without mentioning Santa Maria del Piano. If you like visiting abandoned places that have been forgotten by history, this old historic abbey is worth checking out. The abbey was built in the 9th century to celebrate the victory of Charlemagne over the Saracens. Today, most of the decorative elements have been stolen or destroyed but the 20-meters tall bell tower from the 11th century is still standing. The church was abandoned when Napoleon conquered Rome and was subsequently used as a graveyard for people who died of cholera.x

Mithraeum

mithraeum circus maximus

This is the only place on this list of hidden gems in Rome located under a famous sight; the iconic Circus Maximus. According to archaeologists, this tiny subterranean space discovered in the 1930s was once a stronghold of the mysterious Mithras cult. Even though there are more Mithranian sights in different parts of Europe, we know very little about this cult and its religious practices except that they performed all of their rituals underground. The temple didn’t have any windows, could host up to 40 people, and features five chambers, including a central sanctuary with white marble.

Passetto di Borgo

Passetto di BorgoPhoto by Chris 73 CC by 3.0

On a glance, the Passetto de Borgo looks like one of Rome’s many fortification walls. But what you can’t see on a glance is that this wall hides a secret passage. The passage was used by Pope Clement VII as an escape route during the Sack of Rome in 1527. The wall was designed in the 850s and expanded during the 15th century but was never used until the Sack of Rome. According to several historical sources, the Pope was hiding in the passage for over a month before ultimately managing to escape using a disguise. For years, the passage was not open for visitors. This changed in 2000 when, in honor of the Jubilee Year, the passage was open.

Mamertine Prison

Mamertine PrisonPhoto by Chris 73 CC by 3.0

When you look at an ancient prison with an upside-down cross at the entrance, you might think this is blasphemy but this is probably the only case in the world where an upside-down cross is set as a tribute. Even though prisons were not very common in the golden days of the Roman Empire, this ancient prison survived the test of time. The prison is rather small and had two cells on top of each other, and it was mainly used as a transit point for prisoners that were either about to be evicted or sent to their trial.

 

Throughout the years, the prison was incorrectly linked to a tale from the Bible. This caused a lot of pilgrims to start visiting it and eventually, build a church above it. The church is still there today and the upside-down cross is a tribute to St. Peter who’s believed to have been crucified upside down.

Monte Testaccio

Monte Testaccio

It took more than two centuries for the people of Ancient Rome to “build” this hill of broken jars. Located next to the Tiber River, this mountain of jars was used throughout the years to store different kinds of goods (mostly olive oil).

This hill made entirely of ancient Roman jars was simply a garbage dump to the people of the time. Today, there are more than 80 million pots and this “hill” is 115 feet high and goes 50 meters below the modern streets of Rome. Interestingly, excavations in the past actually proved that this was not a mere dump but it was intentionally built by the Ancient Romans even though the reason remains relatively unclear even today.

Veii

Veli hidden gems in rome

Many people today forget about the rival city of Ancient Rome that almost ended Roman Civilization before it even started; the great Etruscan city of Veli. During its golden times, the city was the biggest trading city on the Tiber River. Today, the site consists only of mere remnants of what was once a great civilization. Veli was sacked in 396 BC after a war with Rome that lasted more than a decade and lead to most of the city and its heritage being destroyed. Some of the main sights around are the remnants of the city gates, the Apollo Temple, and the Tomb of the Ducks which is widely believed to be the oldest painted graveyard in Italy.

Via Sacra

Via Sacra hidden gems in romePhoto by Livioandronico2013 CC by 3.0

Via Sacra is the ancient road that leads to the woods of Monte Cavo where an ancient cult worshipped Jupiter. This trek is a great option for people looking for some adventures around Rome and for people interested in archaeology or even mysticism. Today, there aren’t any remnants of the ancient temple but you can get an amazing view of volcanic lakes Nemi and Albano and the countryside surrounding the capital. 

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Did you like this list of hidden gems in Rome? Which one was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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20 thoughts on “Rome off the beaten path: 19 hidden gems in the eternal city for a different experience”

  1. Wow you have found so many hidden gems in Rome ! I have been twice in Rome and I haven’t been to any that are listed on your list! Perhaps it is time for me to have a third visit and use your post as my tour guide! I am special interested of visiting the Arciconfraternita Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte! It sounds intriguing and scary! And look at Farmacia della Scala, that pharmacy is beautiful! Another hidden gem in Rome that caught my eyes is Quartiere Coppede, I like grotesque figures, and Gothic!

    Reply
  2. Rome is not my favorite place in Italy. I prefer Tuscany, Dolomites or Sicily. But after reading you article describing all those hidden gems I wish I would go to Rome one more time and see it again from this perspective. I like your photos and style. Keep up good work!

    Reply
  3. I guess with a city that has so much history it’s understandable that there would be so many hidden gems in Rome. I remember being completely surprised by the Farmacia della Scala – such an amazing find. I didn’t know that story about the snake escaping and becoming the symbol for pharmacies, very interesting.

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  4. It has been far too long since we were last in Rome. So great to read about some places off the beaten path. I must admit that we missed Villa Medici when we were at the Spanish Steps. I love spots like you found on Aventine Hill to get a perfectly framed shot. Renting a bike to explore Quariere Coppede sounds like a great way to spend a day. So interesting to see such a modern church as Chiesa de Dio Padre Misericordioso. We would definitely want to hike on Via Sacra for the views. Thanks for some tips on new things to do in Rome.

    Reply
  5. Wow! I never realize that there are more things to see and do in Rome. These are definitely unrated because tourists are just to focused on the main attractions.

    Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso is definitely a must-see because of its unique features. Thank you so much fo r sharing these gems. We hope to visit them one day.

    Reply
  6. I love to travel off the beaten path and discover the sights that most people have never even heard of. This is definitely going to be my guide when I go to Rome. and that hill of broken jars must be so cool to behold!

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  7. I love hidden gems but I got only 2 days in Rome so end up seeing all those famous attractions. I missed many of listed in your post Villa Medici looks very beautiful. Colorful houses are my weakness and therefore Piccola Londra neighborhood would be my first choice to visit. You have listed all unique places.

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  8. I have visited Rome thrice now and can only say one thing. I would want to visit it again . A city that has so much on offer and you can only get more and more every time you return to it. Thanks for even showing some more hidden gems . To start with my favourite would be Aventine Hill and the Knights of Malta Square which I have missed. Another place I would want to visit on my next trip and thanks for sharing it would be Santa Maria del Piano. Overall some great hidden gems you have shared and makes me want to book and visit Rome again soon.

    Reply
  9. I have been to Rome several times but missed out on many of these amazing offbeat places. Frankly, visiting a pharmacy has never been on my agenda ever but Farmacia della Scala does look quite surprising. I would definitely love to explore this well-preserved 17th-century pharmacy that was once the pharmacy of the Papal Court. And, following your advice, I’ll call up beforehand to make an appointment before I visit the pharmacy.

    Reply
  10. Hi lad, Im absolutely loving posts on your blog. They are made properly, easy to read and remember, regardless of English being my second language. Have you considered becoming writer?

    Reply

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