Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and for good reason. The city is home to some of the most iconic sights on earth, from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican. However, as with any major city, Rome can be crowded and expensive. If you’re looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience in Rome, here are a few hidden gems worth checking out.
Hidden Gems in Rome
Whether you prefer lesser known Rome museums, panoramic viewpoints or restaurants popular with the locals, put these top secret Rome places on your bucket list.
1. Villa Medici
Home of the French Academy in Rome, the villa has a fantastic location near the Spanish Steps, overlooking the whole city. Built in 1540, it was bought by Ferdinando dei Medici in 1576 and then by Napoleon in 1801.
Although it’s an unknown Rome attraction to most overseas visitors, it has been frequented by many creative Europeans over the years. The best French artists, composers and sculptors came here to study, including Boucher, Fragonard, Berlioz, Debussy and the architect of the French opera house, Charles Garnier.
These days there are up to 19 French-speaking artists and musicians in residence, and the villa hosts regular exhibitions and performances.
There are 18 acres of gardens to explore on the guided tour, and you’ll also see the cardinal’s painted apartments. There’s an elegant café selling panini and other snacks.
And now for that view, one of the best Rome secret spots. From this angle you can spot the huge white Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele I to the left but there’s a panoramic, unencumbered view from all sides.
Address: Villa Medici, Viale della Trinità dei Monti, 1, 00187 Comune di Roma RM, Italy
Nearby, take lunch at Ginger Sapori e Salute, Via Borgognona 43, for healthy salads and people watching. Walk down the Spanish Steps and check out the luxury hotels on via Condotti on your way. This light and airy restaurant focuses on Mediterranean food and 70& of the menu is organic.
If you’re also visiting Villa Borghese, we can highly recommend the fine dining at Pauline Borghese, Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel & Spa’s beautiful restaurant.
2. Borromini’s Perspective
Something of an oddity, Borromini’s Perspective is one of the most fascinating secret Rome places. The gallery has been designed to make you believe that it carries on far longer than it really does.
Giving the illusion of a length of around 37 meters, it’s actually only 8 meters long. The effect is created by a rising floor, descending ceiling and lateral columns gradually becoming smaller, and the Roman warrior at the end is 60 centimeters high.
Housed in a shady courtyard filled with orange trees in the Palazzo Spada, this optical illusion was commissioned by Cardinal Spada. He asked Baroque architect Francesco Borromini to create it with the help of a mathematician.
Address: Borromini’s Perspective, Piazza Capo di Ferro, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
The Palazzo Spada itself is one of the best Rome hidden gems. This interesting place is filled with paintings, sculptures and furniture from Cardinal Spada’s private collection. There are works by Rubens, Titian, Caravaggio and Brueghel the Elder to admire, hung in the 17th century style, frame to frame.
Address: Palazzo Spada, Piazza Capo di Ferro, 13, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Grab a quick snack close by in very casual surroundings at Dar Filettaro for a Roman take on fish and chips! This fried, salted cod treat called filleti di baccala is a favourite with locals. It’s meant to be eaten with your hands not cutlery, so dig in and enjoy.
Address: Dar Filettaro, Largo dei Librari, 88, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
3. San Luigi dei Francesi
The French have certainly been active in Rome, as this magnificent church is dedicated to St Louis IX, King of France. It is also known as the Church of St. Louis of the French.
One of the most outstanding Rome hidden treasures is the trio of Caravvagio paintings in the Contarelli Chapel. Created from 1599-1600 they depict the life of St Matthew with striking contrasts of light and shade.
To the left is The Calling of St Matthew and to the right is The Inspiration of St Matthew. The other painting is The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew.
These were Caravaggio’s first important church commission, and greatly reinforced his reputation. Today, entrance to the church is free but you’ll be wise to spend a few coins in the slot machine to light up the paintings and see these baroque gems in all their splendour.
Address: Church of St. Louis of the French, Piazza di S. Luigi de’ Francesi, 00186 Comune di Roma RM, Italy
Dine at Etabli on Vicolo delle Vacche 9, a shabby chic Roman restaurant in a 15th century building on a cobbled pedestrianized street. They have really tasty food and some of the friendliest waiters in the city. It’s a nice hidden Rome eatery in which to enjoy an aperitivo in Summer or a winter warmer by the open fire.
Address: Etabli, Vicolo delle Vacche, 9, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
4. Rome Rose Garden and The Garden of the Oranges
Savello Park, or Garden of the Oranges, has a fantastic view across the Roman hills. On the walk up Aventine Hill, you’ll come across the lovely Rome Rose Gardens, one of our favourite Rome secrets.
Open from 21 April to 14 June, if you’re lucky to visit between those dates you can admire 1,100 varieties of rose and some of the best views of Circus Maximus and Palatine Hill.
Once at the top, you’ll see lots of oranges on the trees and also on the ground – we couldn’t resist trying our hand at juggling! There was originally a castle here in the tenth century and its medieval walls still surround the park.
This charming area is one of the best Rome secret places to watch the sunset over the monuments.
Address: Orange Garden, Piazza Pietro D’Illiria, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
Eat at Marco Martini down the hill from the Orange Garden. This Michelin starred Rome restaurant serves delicious food in a shady courtyard. There’s a stylish Rome boutique hotel, The Corner Townhouse, above if you don’t feel like going home.
Address: Marco Martini, Viale Aventino, 121, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
5. The Mouth of Truth
The Bocca della Verità or Mouth of Truth is an image of a face, housed in the entrance to the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. No one knows what the sculpture originally was, some say it was part of an ancient Roman fountain or even a manhole cover.
This famous Rome landmark may represent the god of the river Tiber. From the Middle Ages onwards, people believed that if you told a lie with your hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off.
In the classic film, Roman Holiday, Gregory Peck improvised a scene there with Audrey Hepburn, pretending that his hand had indeed been bitten off! For lunch or dinner afterwards, Corner Townhouse is very close by.
Address: Mouth of Truth, Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18, 00186 Comune di Roma RM, Italy
This picturesque area on the other side of the Tiber is hidden Rome at its best. In fact it takes its name from the Latin trans Tiberim which means beyond the Tiber. You can reach Trastevere by crossing Ponte Sisto, a picturesque pedestrianized bridge.
Take time to explore the narrow lanes and cobbled streets, and to enjoy the restaurants and lively nightlife. Once a working class neighbourhood, today it’s a popular area for tourists and locals alike. Many people congregate in the Piazza Santa Maria, the heart of the area, to listen to the street performers at night.
Experience a hidden Rome food tour, which includes multiple tasting stops followed by a delicious dinner and wine. This fun tour is led by an expert English speaking guide.
We also recommend visiting one of the best gelaterias in Rome – look for the sign “Artigianale” above the door which means that it’s all home made. There are lots of great eateries on our tour, but if you want the inside scoop, do take their tour.
7. Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla are ancient Roman baths that are thought to have been built between AD 212 and 216. In use until around 530, they are named after Emperor Caracalla who ordered their construction.
One of the largest bathhouses in Antiquity, Caracalla had three bathing rooms – a hot pool, cold pool and tepid pool. Today, the baths are surprisingly well preserved. Visitors can see segments of original walls and mosaic floors.
8. Quartiere Coppedè
The area of Coppedè is Rome’s smallest district yet it has a lot of historic charm. Designed by the architect Gino Coppedè in Art Nouveau style, the buildings are rich in floral and mythological symbolism.
The Fontana delle Rane, or Fountain of Frogs, is where the Beatles took a dip after playing a concert in Rome. Enter the area via an archway on Via Tagliamento, noticeable thanks to its large outdoor chandelier.
9. Villa Farnesina
The Villa Farnesina is a unique place built in the 16th century for banker Agostino Chigi. Located in the Trastevere district of Rome, this Renaissance building is now home to an art museum.
Designed by the architect Baldassarre Peruzzi, Villa Farnesina features an impressive fresco by Renaissance artist Raphael, the Lodge of Cupid and Psyche.
10. Ponte Sisto
This charming medieval bridge crosses the Tiber River and offers lovely views of Rome’s skyline. It’s less crowded than other bridges in Rome and makes for a great spot to take photographs.
Connecting Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere to Via dei Pettinari in Regola, Ponte Sisto was built between 1473 and 1479.
11. Vicus Caprarius
Also known as the City of Water, Vicus Caprarius is a series of underground tunnels beneath the Trevi district. This archaeological site is a Rome hidden gem that many locals don’t know about.
The complex includes an imperial era domus and the path of the Virgin Aqueduct that supplies water to the Trevi Fountain. There are also some interesting archaeological finds such as African amphorae and the bust of Alessandro Helios.
12. Galleria Sciarra
Architecture lovers will be impressed by this hidden Rome courtyard at Piazza Santi Apostoli. Built in the 19th century, this masterpiece of Art Nouveau style was painted by Giuseppe Cellini.
The gallery’s vibrant frescoes features wealthy Roman women as well as the female virtues of kindness, modesty, patience and strength. There is also one painted man, the writer Gabriele d’Annunzio.
13. Tiber Island
Known in Italian as Isola Tiberina, this small island on the river Tiber has the shape of a boat! It is connected to the mainland by two bridges, Ponte Cestio and Ponte Fabricio.
In Summer, the Isola del Cinema film festival takes place here. You will also find Fatebenefratelli Hospital on Tiber Island. During World War II, the hospital manager, Dr Borromeo invented a contagious, deadly disease on the island to prevent the Nazis from deporting Jewish people who had sought shelter there.
14. Appia Antica
The Appian Way, or Via Appia Antica in Latin, is an ancient Roman highway that leads from Rome to Southern Italy. Work on this historic road began in 312 BCE, under the supervision of statesman Appius Claudius Caecus.
The important thoroughfare is the origin of the famous phrase, “All roads lead to Rome“. Portions of the road have been preserved as part of the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica or Appian Way Regional Park.
The second largest urban park in Europe at 4,580 hectares, it’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The Appian Way section starts at Piazzale Numa Pompilio and stretches for around 16 kilometres.
15. Largo di Torre Argentina
Located on the site of the former Campus Martius (Field of Mars), this lesser known Roman landmark was built in the third century by Gaius Lutatius Catulus.
There are four Roman Republican temples and the ruins of The Theatre of Pompey. One of the most distinctive features of this square is the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Founded in 1993, the shelter houses around 350 cats who roam freely around the Romain remains.
Other Hidden Gems of Rome
Antica Farmacia della Scala is a 17th century pharmacy with beautiful wooden panelling. Palazzo Farnese is a stunning Renaissance villa that is now the French Embassy in Rome.
Places to Stay in Rome
There are some very luxurious hotels in Rome, many with tranquil courtyards or rooftop terraces. We particularly like the newly renovated Hotel Eden, the Intercontinental de la Ville Roma and the Parco dei Principi.
In Conclusion: Hidden Gems in Rome
If you’re looking for a city break that will take your breath away, the Eternal City is the place to go. While it can be touristy in some areas, there are plenty of unusual places waiting to be discovered if you know where to look. It’s also a great place to explore with travel companions who enjoy culture and history.
We’ve given you a few tips on our favorite spots in Rome, but there’s so much more to explore. These are some of Rome’s lesser known attractions, however you’ll want to make time to visit the Colosseum as well as the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s and the Vatican.
Be sure to check out our other Italy travel articles for more ideas on what to see and do while you’re in this beautiful country. And if you like getting off the beaten path, do check out our recommendations for hidden gems in London, Ibiza, Paris and Venice.
Are there any other hidden gems in Rome that you would recommend visiting? Let us know if you have any good recommendations.
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