When travelling to Rome, most people already know about the main landmarks to visit: the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the many treasures of the Vatican — just to name a few. And those attractions are surely worthy of the attention they get. But for those who have already been there and done that, the Eternal City offers other spots that are less crowded and also impressive. So take note, these twelve unusual things to do in Rome will take you off the beaten path and show you a very different side of this amazing city.

Wander Around the Baths of Caracalla

Built in the early third century, the Baths of Caracalla ( or Terme di Caracalla in Italian) were Rome’s second largest public bathhouse. The huge complex included an Olympic-sized swimming pool, two gymnasiums, a library, shops and restaurants, and a garden. Its design was so magnificent that it even served as inspiration in the construction of some modern buildings, such as Penn Station in New York.

Also, note that you can rent a Virtual Reality headset onsite to see how this opulent site looked like in its glory days. And if you are visiting in summer, don’t miss one of the opera or ballet performances organized by the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.

You can combine a visit to the Baths of Caracalla with the Appian Way (see below) by taking part in the Rome Off the Beaten Path Walking Tour, which brings you to visit some awesome places rarely seen by most visitors to Rome.

Good to Know

Address: Viale Delle Terme di Caracalla 52
How to get there: take metro Line B, stop Circo Massimo or take bus number 760 or 628.
Admission: Full entrance €8, reduced €4, free entrance for people under 18 years old and on the first Sunday of the month. Online tickets are subjected to a €2 booking fee.
Opening hours: these are different throughout the year, so make sure to check on the Coop Culture website.

 

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Marvel at the Street Art

You wouldn’t know it by walking around Rome’s historical centre, but the Italian capital hosts some beautiful street art. The thing is, though, that you have to venture out to other neighbourhoods in order to see some world class murals.

For example, in Ostiense, a quarter located on the southern end of Rome, a recent initiative has transformed the neighbourhood into a contemporary art space by inviting artists from different countries to paint on its walls. So if you walk around the area, you will find works by artists like Blu (Italy), ROA (Belgium) and C215 (France), among many others. You can download a street art map of the Ostiense District here.

Good to Know

Keep in mind that these murals are spread over a large area, so there could be a lot of walking involved. It is always wise to wear comfortable shoes and keep hydrated, especially if you are travelling during warmer months. Alternatively, you can opt to go on a Street Art 4-Hour Electric Bike Tour, which covers a well-planned out route covering different neighbourhoods with an expert guide.

 

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Experience The Appian Way

This ancient road was the most important road of the Roman Empire. It was built in 312 B.C. to move military supplies between Rome and far-away places. The Via Appia, as  Italians call it, extends from Rome all the way to Brindisi covering about 560 km. Along the way, you will find mausoleums, catacombs, villas, and many other ruins. In some stretches, you can still see the original cobblestones and you can pretty much walk all along the original road.

The Via Appia is the perfect spot to go for a stroll or a bike ride if you feel like getting out of the city for an afternoon. One of the highlights worth seeing along the way is the gate of San Sebastiano, the largest and one of the best-preserved gates passing the Aurelian Walls in Rome. Plus, the road also borders the Baths of Caracalla (see above) so you can also combine a visit. Other good options are combining the Catacombs with the Via Appia or taking a 3-Hour Electric Bike Tour.

Good to Know

The stretch of the Via Appia closest to Rome is now part of a nature and archaeological park, so the Visitor Information Centre is a good starting point for your walk. There, you can get a map and some information about the sights you’ll see along the way. Plus, they also offer bike rentals; which you should definitely consider if you want to explore more of the Appian Way. Finally, keep in mind that on Sundays, the road is closed to traffic.

 

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Admire Some Art From the 21st Century at MAXXI

In a city with a rich historical heritage that spans over two thousand years, seeing some contemporary art can be a pretty refreshing option. Housed in a spectacular building designed by Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the MAXXI features exhibitions in a broad range of styles and disciplines. For more information about current and future temporary exhibitions, go here.

If you are interested in seeing more of Rome’s contemporary architecture, this half-day tour in a private car brings you to see some impressive works by architects Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier, Renzo Piano and others.

Good to Know

The MAXXI is open from Tuesday to Sunday. The general entrance fee is €12 and there’s a reduced entrance of €9 for people under 30 years of age, holders of entrance tickets for the Museo Ebraico of Rome and for La Galleria Nazionale, and for families (two adults and at least one child). Entrance is free for those under 14 years old, disabled visitors that require a companion, on your birthday, and on every first Sunday of the month.

 

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Visit the Crypt of Capuchins

Located under the 17th-century church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, the Crypt of Capuchins is one of those places that makes a lasting impression and it surely won’t leave you indifferent. The crypt is divided into six small chapels. In each of them, you will see that the walls and ceilings have been elaborately decorated with the bones of over 4,000 human bodies — mostly from Capuchin monks — forming different religious motifs and designs. It is definitely an interesting monument, in a slightly creepy way.

Good to Know

Do keep in mind that this is not a site suitable for everyone, especially those who are most sensitive. General admission is €8.50 and reduced admission for visitors under 18 and over 65 years of age is €5. There is no reduced price for students. Also, since this is a religious site, you should dress appropriately.

Check Out the Galleria Sciarra

Located near the iconic Trevi Fountain, this Art Nouveau courtyard was built in the 19th-century and it was intended to be a shopping centre. However, it ended up housing the editorial offices for a magazine belonging to the wealthy Sciarra family. Today, there are many offices located there.

If you are in the area, the Galleria Sciarra is well worth the detour; so you can admire the beautiful vaulted ceiling, vibrant colours, and the lovely frescoes of mostly women in their different phases of life.

Good to Know

The gallery is open from 10 am to 8 pm and it’s closed on Mondays.

 

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Admire Europe’s Only Ancient Pyramid

After the Roman Empire conquered Egypt, everything Egyptian became very popular in Rome. To the point that a wealthy Roman, Gaius Cestius Epulo, requested the building of this 36-meter high pyramid as his tomb. At the time there was actually also another larger pyramid in Rome, which was known as the “Pyramid of Romulus”, but this one was not preserved.

However, by the middle ages the story got mixed up and people believed that Cestius’ pyramid was actually the tomb of Remus, the other legendary founder of Rome. And it wasn’t until the 1600s that the true origins of the pyramid were rediscovered. This monument has been restored several times and is the only pyramid of its kind in Europe.

Good to Know

The tomb can only be accessed by special permission. To get a better view of the pyramid, with less traffic (it is now at the edge of a busy traffic intersection), go inside the Aurelian walls to the Protestant Cemetery.

Take a Peak Through the Aventine Keyhole

Located at the end of a cul-de-sac, this ordinary green door features a remarkably well-framed tiny view that includes two nation-states, one country, and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The doorway leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, which holds extraterritorial status, so it’s technically not Italy within the walls.

Inside, the keyhole view lines up perfectly with the gardens of the small church known as Santa Maria del Priorato. And the Vatican is centred in the background. So you can stand in Italy and look, through Malta, at the basilica in the Vatican City. How amazing is that?

Good to Know

This site’s popularity is growing and you might find there is a queue to take a peak, so it is best to arrive early. You can also visit the gardens inside by appointment (website in Italian only).

 

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Visit the House of the Owls

Set in the Villa Torlonia park, the House of the OwlsCasina delle Civette in Italian — is a quirky house-museum that was designed by architect Giuseppe Valadier. The house was the residence of Giovanni Torlonia Jr. who built it up into his dream mansion combining medieval themes and outlandish Art Nouveau elements. It is really something to be seen.

The owl motif is heavily used in the decorations and furnishings of the house since the young Giovanni loved esoteric symbols. Also, the stained glass elements are another distinctive feature of this house. After the end of the Second World War, the house fell in disrepair and it was almost completely destroyed after a fire. However, the city managed to take it back and restore it, reclaiming one of Rome’s most unusual buildings.

Good to Know

The ticket office is at Casino Nobile (Via Nomentana 70). You can buy a combined ticket to access the other museums (€11 for adults, €9 for concessions) or a single ticket for the House of the Owls (€6 for adults, €5 for concessions). Rome residents get a €1 discount. The museums are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm. To get there from the Termini station, you can take the express bus 90.

Alternatively, you can take part in the Hidden Neighbourhoods of Rome half-day group tour. This private tour takes you to discover the hidden gems in the city’s lesser-known areas, such as the House of the Owls and the marvellous architecture in the bizarre Quartiere Coppedè.

Also, if you are in the area, do not miss the chance of passing by Gelateria dei Gracchi, where you can taste some of the best gelato in Rome.

 

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Go to the Metropoliz Museum of the Other and Elsewhere

Housed in an abandoned salami factory in the outskirts of Rome, the MAAM (Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz, or Metropoliz Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere) is both a collective art space and a shelter for refugees. In 2009, several Italians and migrants moved in to occupy the abandoned factory.

A couple of years later, Italian artist Giorgio de Finis came across the place and started developing art projects in collaboration with the residents, which turned into this unique museum. In the MAAM you can see murals, paintings and installations of over 300 artists from all around the world.

Good to Know

The museum is open to visitors on Saturdays only.

 

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See the Chiesa di Dio Padre Misericordioso

Built as part of the Millenium project to mark the Jubilee of 2000, the Church of Dio Padre Misericordioso — also known as the Jubilee Church — is an architectural gem that is well worth the detour. Located in the eastern part of Rome, in the working-class district of Tor Tre Treste, this contemporary church by the well-known American architect Richard Meier is a very unusual building.

The church features three curved walls that make it look like a ship in full sail and several skylights that allow light into the nave creating different effects according to the time of day, the weather and the season.

Good to Know

The church is open daily from 7:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 4:00 pm to 7:30 pm.

 

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Wander Around the EUR

Set in the southern extreme of Rome, the Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR) is a residential and business district that is very different from the rest of the city. The area was built during Mussolini’s fascist regime and it was meant to host the World’s Fair in 1942. However, that didn’t happen.

The EUR’s architecture follows the principles of Rationalist Architecture, an architectural style that is unique to Italy. And all buildings were made from travertine stone, the same material used in building the Colosseum. In fact, one of the most striking buildings in the area is the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, also known as the square Colosseum and which currently houses the headquarters of Italian fashion powerhouse Fendi.

Good to Know

Behind the Palazzo, you’ll find the Central Park Lake. One of the best moments to visit is in March when the Passeggiata del Giappone (Japanese Walk) is in full cherry blossom bloom. Also, a flea market takes place on Sundays close to the Salone delle Fontane.

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Map of Unusual Things to Do in Rome

These twelve unusual things to do in Rome are sure to spice up your itinerary. By venturing off the beaten path, you will gain a deeper understanding of Rome’s past and present identities.

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Photo Credits

Cover photo courtesy of Christian Nordmark via Unsplash.
Pin photo courtesy of Juliana Malta via Unsplash.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Testaccio has to be my favorite part of Rome. I loved that right outside of a major city of tourists you could take a train ride into this district and really immures yourself in their culture without the glitz and glam of tourism. . The food there is amazing, we found a restaurant there that made 50 different types of rice balls. Let me just tell you I ate 10 on my own, was I waddling my fat as down the street after, yes! Was it worth it totally!

    • LOL, Alexandria :D 50 different types of rice balls? That sounds like my type of place! I will definitely have to try that next time. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Very good article.

    I was looking for information about the city of Rome, things to do and places to visit in the city, and I found your article. I find this information very interesting for tourists who want to visit this wonderful city.

    Thanks for the post

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