Apparently, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I guess we could let them off though, since two and a half thousand years later it’s looking pretty stunning. There are plenty of things to do in Rome, and you don’t need me to tell you to explore the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel, but I can tell you where the best coffee in the city is - bold move, I know. The beauty of Rome off the beaten track is discovering something new around every corner (even if said corner might be crumbling away). The city is incredibly beautiful, fascinating, and extremely delicious, and so much of it lies undiscovered by the maddening tourist crowds. From secret neighbourhoods to galleries, museums, restaurants and cafes, you just need to know where to look. So, whether you’re visiting the city for the first time or the hundred and first time, heres my guide to the top 10 things to do in Rome.
Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè
Let us get the controversial stuff out of the way first, shall we? No wild Italian hand gesturing, please. For the best coffee in Rome, head to Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè, a coffee shop and roaster just around the corner from the Pantheon that’s been going strong since 1938. This is one of my favourite hidden gems in Rome but I’m not biased, they truly serve the best coffee in town! Practice makes perfect, so with all that time to practice I reckon they’ve pretty much reached perfection. The cafe has its original mosaics and fittings still, and is always full of locals after their caffeine fix but fear not, although it is a secret place in Rome, you’ll be in good company and they will welcome you with open arms!
Known for its cobbled piazzas and ivy-clad trattorias, this is authentic, laid-back Rome at its best. This area borders the river on the left bank, as if often referred to as everyone’s most loved neighbourhood (as well as mine, it’s the favourite of the city’s students, artists, boehmians, skateboarders, street performers and the odd hipster or two). The cobbled streets can be a bit of a labyrinth but it’s all part of the charm leading you to discover the best secret places in Rome - and you’ll find that a mix of Romans, tourists and expats live here so it’s got a bit of everything going on. There’s boutiques where local designers sell their handmade jewellery, clothes, homeware and accessories and markets and specialist food shops where locals do their shopping, and this is the place to be at night - it’s a district known for its vibrant nightlife. Do like the locals do and take your pick of one of the numerous restaurants and bars to enjoy a glass of wine and delicious Roman meal.
Mercato di Campo de' Fiori
If you want to live like a local, the thing to do in Rome is to go to a market. When in Rome... You get the point. One of the best open air markets in the city, Mercato di Campo de' Fiori is surprisingly un-touristy considering its central location nestled in amongst some of the top attractions. This wonderful hidden gem in Rome is open every morning until 2pm, you’ll find a great selection of gourmet Italian treats and foodie gifts, think cheese, truffles, pasta... Heaven. And in the evenings when the stallholders and shoppers have disappeared, it’s a popular spot for locals to meet for aperitivo, but more of that later.
Good food, good wine, and good company. What more could you need to know? This is one of my favourite secret places in Rome where I know I can go for a long lunch, for aperitivo, for a snack, the list goes on. The low-down is this: great quality Italian produce served simply to let the food speak for itself. As you explore Rome off the beaten track, be sure to stop here to refuel. Prosciutto hangs from the brick walls, freshly baked bread is stacked behind the counter and there’s a fridge full of the best Tuscan cheeses, all of which are served on a wooden board or between two slices of bread. For the best sharing platters of gourmet Italian cured meats and cheeses, La Prosciutteria is the spot!
Galleria Villa Borghese
During your escapades, visiting Villa Borghese is another thing to do in Rome - especially if you want to avoid the tourist traps. As one of the most stunning Italian homes, this venue is now home to some of the most stunning Italian art. What started out as a private collector’s love affair with art is now one of my favourite galleries in the city where you can see paintings by Caravaggio and sculptures by Bernini. The only catch is, although this is a more secret place in Rome, you have to reserve tickets, so make sure you book ahead here.
Scuderie del Quirinale
In what was once the stables of the President of the Republic’s official residence is now the Scuderie del Quirinale, an exhibition and cultural space and pretty unusual thing to do in Rome amid all the iconic landmarks and tourist attractions. They host a variety of exhibitions from pop art to Imperial China, and the views from the top floor of the city are pretty special and there’s many a sculpture dotted around the general area (the aforementioned official residence was kind of big, so there’s loads to explore). Ditch the travel guidebook and see Rome off the beaten track at Scuderie del Quirinale. This is definitely not one to be missed!
Campo de' Fiori and Trastevere
As you will all have been paying close attention, you may have noticed that I have repeated myself. But it’s not cheating, promise. Of all the things to do in Rome, and places to see, these are my two favourite areas for a drink. In the evening, head back to Campo de' Fiori when the locals settle in for a few drinks and take your pick from the bars that line the square, or head to the beautiful Trastevere neighbourhood and enjoy strolling until you find a bar that takes your fancy. There are so many lovely secret places in Rome to whet your whistle. Little heads up though; if you’re visiting in winter wrap up warm as you will quickly learn that such is the Roman love of dining and drinking al fresco that we prefer to huddle together outdoors, even in winter.
If there is just one thing to do in Rome, then the Art Cafe is it. Although this is actually a club underneath the car park of Villa Borghese. Obviously. Where else would you put one of the most stylish clubs that you would like to keep as a secret place in Rome? And then call it a cafe, just to confuse people looking for a coffee? It’s pretty fancy but always a good night and has earned an international reputation; over summer the dance floor spills out into the gardens of the Villa so you can dance the night away under the stars. Check out what's on here.
Faro degli Italiani d’Argentina and Piazza Pincio
I’m never sure if I prefer sunrise or sunset. So I will let you in on the best hidden gems in Rome where you can enjoy both. For sunrise, head to the lookout near Faro degli Italiani d’Argentina in Parco di Gianicolo where the view is panoramic and there won’t be a tourist in sight if you get there early. Enjoy a moment of peace and quiet as you savour Rome off the beaten track before heading back into the hustle and bustle of the city. And for sunset, Piazza Pincio in Villa Borghese park is my favourite.
Vintage Market & CO
Another one of my favourite things to do in Rome is explore markets and the Vintage Market is really great. There’s just one cath - it’s a travelling, on the road market. I absolutely love this concept, since it means I get to check out different areas of the city and explore all the hidden gems of Rome! There’s not only vintage gems to be purchased, but an area to grab a quick bite or drink and they run special workshops and live music events too so check their website to see where they're currently at. Just check online beforehand to make sure you’re in the right place, at the right time.
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