Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Rome is a marvellous place and I know I’m not alone in thinking that. Every year between 7 and 10 million people come from around the globe to visit the Eternal City and to take in its famous sights: the Colosseum and Roman Forum, Vatican City, and the famous landmarks around the old centre (the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain). For many visitors, these draw-cards are why they have come and so they rush from one icon to the other, pausing in front of each for a photo before heading off to the next, and when they have the full set they’ve ‘seen' Rome.
But there is so much more to Rome. And if you think you’ve 'been there, done that', here are ten more things that you can do next time you’re in Rome and looking for something to do….
About half an hour by Metro from central Rome, is one of Mussolini’s most enduring legacies: EUR. The letters are an acronym for ‘Esposizione Universale Roma’. Mussolini had planned a World’s Fair to celebrate 20 years of Fascist rule in Italy and to showcase the new Italy and its leadership. It even has a ‘square Colosseum’. Unfortunately the Fair was planned for 1942 and World War 2 intervened and it never happened (not the only disappointment for Mussolini during the war). Today it is a centre for business and government, as well as home to conferences and exhibitions. The architecture is reminiscent of parts of the Australian Capital, Canberra, which was built around the same time.
It’s a short rollicking tram ride northwards to the unique and elaborate Quartiere Coppedè. Quartiere Coppedè is a relatively small neighbourhood created between 1913 and 1927 by architect Gino Coppedè. The buildings are a jumble of styles including Art Nouveau, medieval, Baroque and ancient Greek all whipped together as if in a frenzy. Some suggest Coppedè is Rome’s answer to the Gaudì structures of Barcelona and if you go visit them, you’ll see why - although by no means are they on the same scale.
Ostia Antica is an alternative for visitors who’d like to see Pompeii but can’t make it all the way there. Once one of the most thriving cities in the region thanks to its status as ancient Rome’s harbour city, Ostia Antica is now a vast archaeological site. The town was abandoned and buried for over ten centuries until it was rediscovered last century. Visiting Ostia Antica from Rome is quite easy, requiring a Metro ride to Ostiense, then a ride on a suburban commuter train service that runs several times an hour to the coast and stops at Ostia Antica station.
Most tourists walk to the top of the Spanish Steps then back down again. If they continued their walk upwards, they’d shortly come to the Villa Borghese: the largest public park in Rome. It’s a great refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city of Rome where you can take a walk or hire a quad-cycle and peddle your way along the bitumen roads that crisscross the gardens. You can grab a bite to eat from one of the panino vans or cafes dotted around the park but the main attraction for visitors is the Borghese Gallery which features an impressive art collection, mainly from the fifteenth to eighteenth century. Housed in the actual Villa Borghese, it is one of the most renowned art museums in the world and its Caravaggio paintings and Bernini sculptures make it our favourite gallery full-stop.
Janiculum Hill – or Giancolo – is not one of Rome’s seven historic hills, but it’s one hill in the city that provides the best views of Rome. Just west of the Tiber and south of the Vatican, you can catch a bus to the top or you can walk – it takes about 40 minutes - and the panorama (and the walk) takes your breath away. At noon, the quiet is momentarily broken by the single shot of a cannon to mark the exact time: a tradition that dates back to the 19th century. When we were there with our kids years ago I told them the cannon went off at 1:00pm so it scared the heck out of them when it fired an hour earlier. You’ll find a gigantic statue of the bearded hero of Italian unification - Giuseppe Garibaldi - on horseback at the top, along with busts of other figures from that time, and afterwards you can wander down from the top to explore the pretty neighbourhood of Trastevere.
Trastevere means ‘across the Tiber’: the river that runs through Rome. In times past it was a poorer part of town but these days - with its charming medieval alleyways, artisan workshops, and a thriving nightlife – Trastevere has become one of Rome’s coolest neighbourhoods; its peaceful and bohemian atmosphere capable of dazzling tourists whilst attracting a hip Roman set. The life of the neighbourhood is concentrated around the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, where you find the ancient Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere. The fountain in front of the church serves as a social hub: a resting spot to enjoy a gelato on a hot day and a meeting place for young people in the evening where they play music, sip beer and do their best at looking cool (they do a good job of it). Trastevere is one of the best areas for casual dining in Rome, making it very pleasant for a walk especially as night falls and the time for dinner approaches.
At one time Via Appia Antica (or the Appian Way) stretched over a distance of over 600 kilometres all the way to Brindisi. The road was crucial in helping the Roman army move military supplies throughout the empire, assisting the army in many victories. The stretch close to Rome is now part of a nature and archaeological park, the Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica. It makes a lovely day out, particularly on Sundays when the area is closed to traffic. Walking along the Via Appia Antica is a refreshing change from the city. You can also hire bikes from the visitor centre but just be careful: the road conditions vary considerably during your ride. The road is attractive and atmospheric, with plenty of grassy spots where you can picnic. Along the way you’ll also find a number of Christian catacombs, including the Catacombs of San Callisto and the Catacombs of San Sebastiano. It is quite easy to visit the Appian Way by public bus and it’s close enough to the centre that we even walked there with our kids.
Tivoli was popular as a summer resort town in ancient Roman times. So much so that Emperor Hadrian constructed an incredible villa there; the remains of which are interesting to visit today. In the town itself, the other highlight is Villa d’Este: a 16th-century villa famous for its terraced hillside Italian Renaissance garden and especially for its profusion of fountains. The villa was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, a former governor of Tivoli and son of Lucrezia Borgia. It is now an Italian state museum and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. You can catch a regional train to Tivoli is less than an hour from Rome.
A little over an hour by train from Rome, Orvieto is a great day trip from the capital and provides the chance to visit a medieval hilltop town, albeit in Umbria not Tuscany. Situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tufa rock, the town rises dramatically above the almost-vertical cliff faces that are completed by defensive walls built of the same stone. The views from the walls are incredible. The town isn’t huge and it’s not a long walk to the centre. It has an interesting duomo and museum, but for the most part it’s a lovely town to wander; finding photo opportunities (there are plenty) and popping in and out of quaint shops, bars and restaurants.
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
In English, the Cathedral of St John in Laterano, the Basilica was founded during the fourth century in honour of St John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Due to the fact that the Pope is also the Bishop of Rome, the Basilica is also Rome’s Cathedral. It is the oldest church in Europe. To get there, it’s a 10-minute walk south from the Colosseum. On the way, stop at the little Basilica di San Clemente. From the outside, it looks nondescript but inside it is made up of three layers: the present building (founded in medieval times), the house of a member of the Roman aristocracy, and a fourth century church which is underneath the Basilica.
So there you go…. still think you’ve ‘done Rome’?
I hope this has given you some ideas for your next visit to Rome. And if you have some other places to add to this list, please let us know.
We visit Rome on our 14-day Best of Italy guided tour.