Already thrown your two cents in the Trevi Fountain? Well what next? Here is our Rome-based expert Giulia Riva with her seven favourite “alternative” hotspots in the Italian capital…
Once you have seen the Coliseum, visited the Vatican Museums and wandered around the historic centre, it’s time to get a true taste of the Eternal city by venturing off the beaten track. From cemeteries full of famous bards to a fascinating multi-ethnic community creating art in a squatted factory, here are seven secret things to see and do that you won’t find in your pocket guide – plus two more honourable mentions to feed your wanderlust – all without having to leave town.
1# Appian Way Regional Park
If the Roman Forum is too crowded for you, you will love a peaceful archaeological walk through the Appian Way Regional Park, a protected area of around 3,400 hectares, which extends from the centre of Rome to the 10th mile of the Appian way (one of the earliest roads that led into ancient Rome). Features of the park are Roman tombs, mausoleums, aqueducts, museums and a former paper factory now reconverted into a cultural space, but the park is also well known for its natural beauty and its rural landscape. Either make your own way there, or sign up for this E-bike tour that starts in the centre and also takes in the Colosseum and Circus Maximus, as well as the park itself. Or do as I did, and explore the park on horseback…
2# The Non-catholic Cemetery
Proclaimed “the holiest place in Rome” by Oscar Wilde, this small cemetery is a relaxing corner behind the Pyramid of Cestius where Keats, Shelley, Goethe’s only son, as well as Gramsci (a founding father of Italian communism) and many other famous people rest in peace. This is the cemetery where all the non-Catholics and assorted foreigners have been buried since the 18th century, many of them were diplomats, artists or young people who died on the Grand Tour; it is composed of an older part by the side of the Pyramid of Cestius (a non-catholic grave by itself) and a more modern part extending as far as via Zabaglia, which is still in use. “It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place,” wrote Shelley… not long before he was buried here.
Located in a former factory along Via Prenestina, Metropoliz is a “multicultural town” occupied in 2009 by families from many different countries. Art, a necessary futility, entered the occupied factory in the form of several creative projects, from the shooting of a documentary (“Space Metropoliz”, available on YouTube) about the construction of an astronomical telescope made of reused materials in an attempt to reach the moon (a metaphor for a free space, as “the moon is nobody’s and nobody can buy it”) to a street-art museum (the MAAM) where local and international artists have painted huge murals for free in order to sustain a museum meant not for decoration but to open the factory to the city, to speak against the lack of affordable housing in Rome and to protect Metropoliz from prospective eviction.
The one and only bar in Rome where you don’t pay for what you eat and drink but for how long you stay there. It has become the working-place for all freelancers that love coffee refills and indulging in snacks to keep focused. Here you will also find a scanner, a printer and—it goes without saying—a free wi-fi connection, as well as board games and magazines to enjoy during your break.
5# M.U.Ro. Street Art Walking Tour
Organised by the curators of the Urban Art Museum of Rome, this walking tour around the Old Quadraro neighbourhood will show you the ‘graff-side’ of Rome, by unveiling the backstage stories about the creation of this outdoor museum and its collection of murals by well-known Italian and international street artists such as Ron English, Jim Avignon, Alice, Mr. Thoms and Beau Stanton. There is also a bike version of the tour, organized by the association Gazebike, covering a broader area stretching as far as the Torpignattara district. Speaking of which…
6# Torpignattara District
Located in the eastern suburbs of Rome, Torpignattara is a multicultural neighbourhood with a lot of cultural activities going on. Points of interest are the Wunderkammern Art Gallery, specializing in street art exhibitions and public art for the neighborhood; the ancient Acquedotto Alessandrino; the Villa De Sanctis, a beautiful park with catacombs and a mausoleum both from the 4th century; the rationalist building of the ex-Cinema Impero, now on its way to refurbishment. Here you can also find old-style restaurants where you can try the most authentic Roman cuisine and an urban landscape of nice, small villas mostly from 1920s. The district, still not gentrified, is characterized by a village-like atmosphere and a melting-pot community of families from all corners of the world.
7# Estate Romana
That’s an umbrella name for all the summer events in Rome, from open-air cinemas and theaters to concerts and festivals of any kind. The summer in central Italy can be so hot that you will properly enjoy your outdoor time only during the night, better if in a fresh location such as a park, a beach or the river banks: check the calendar of activities above and do as the Romans do.
There are many more cool and alternative things to do in Rome I could have listed on this post, but here are a couple of honourable mentions that I’d hate you to miss:
Bonus Tip: Going Underground
There’s a whole world of secrets lurking underneath the streets of the Eternal city. Christian crypts decorated with the bones of Capuchin monks, Roman catacombs, ancient Mythraic temples and underground rivers are just some of the things you might discover on a subterranean tour of the city. If you’ve got a soft spot for ancient history – or maybe you’ve just been reading too many Dan Brown novels – this highly-rated activity is just right for you.
Bonus Tip: Little London
This tiny zone is just a couple of pedestrian streets between Via Flaminia and Via del Vignola where you feel like you are strolling around Notting Hill. Here you’ll find small houses painted in pastel shades, black fences with golden tips and stone-stairs leading up to the very English entrance doors… this tiny corner of London is the perfect place to recover from the chaos of Rome.
Bonus Tip: The Great Mosque of Rome
A few steps away from the epicenter of Catholicism, there is the second greatest mosque in Europe, a masterpiece of modernist architecture whose interiors are decorated with emerald green and cobalt blue mosaics made by Casablanca craftsmen. Read more about the Great Mosque of Rome here.
Bonus Tip: Food Tours Galore
There’s something on offer for gourmet travellers of all budgets in the Italian capital, starting with this street food tour that calls by five authentic eateries and enables you to try tasty prosciutto, delicious cheeses, truffle tartines, seasonal fruit and the best pizza in Rome! This mid-range experience meanwhile combine tasting local delicacies with a sit down meal at a local taverna. And this rather special activity offered by Urban Adventures introduces you to the produce of small-scale farmers and vintners in the Roman region, and sees you served an aperitivo of organic cheeses and honey, exquisite meats and innovative bruschetta, not forgetting a couple of scoops of organic gelato. Or, if for a more hands on foodie experience why not sign up for cooking classes?
We hope you enjoyed these alternative tips and that they provide you with something a little different to do when in Rome! And if you’re heading over to Italy be sure to check out our weekend guide to the Eternal City, with advice on everything from where to stay right up to what books to pack in your hand luggage.