Are you looking to find the best hidden gems in Rome for your upcoming trip? Look no further!
Rome, or the Eternal City, is known for its timeless architecture that effortlessly blends into the modern, for its romantic backdrops, and its stunning landscapes. A gem in-itself, Rome is a must-see for every traveler, and its with center being a UNESCO world heritage site, a destination complete in itself! This city is for everyone –the wanderers, the adventurous, the history buffs, and those wishing to merely relax and enjoy the world around them. But, for those wanting something more on their trip to Rome – this one’s for you!
Unsurprisingly, Rome has a plethora of tourists invading its most popular destinations daily. Although we do completely recommend checking out these popular spots, we believe that Rome has so much more to offer its visitors who want to take off the beaten path!
With the help of these secret spots and hidden gems, you’ll be well on your way to experiencing Rome as the Romans do!
10 Magical Secret Spots And Hidden Gems In Rome
Piramide di Caio Cestius
In the corner of a busy intersection in the Roman neighborhood of Ostiense, and only a few meters from the famous Porto San Paolo it is a unique monument made of brick, cement, and white marble – making it one of the most interesting hidden gems in Rome.
Straddled between two sides of the ancient Aurelian wall, the monument’s square base grows upwards to 120 feet (36 m) and meets at single point. It’s the only Pyramid you’ll find in Rome (or Europe!), and it’s relatively under most tourists’ radars! But what’s it doing here in Rome?
Before the 17thcentury there had actually been two pyramids in Rome. By the time of its demolition, the other (this one larger) had been referred to as the Romulus pyramid, and this one the Remus Pyramid. The myth told that these pyramids were the final resting places of the twin founders of the city. However, this tall tale ended when, in the 17thcentury, the pyramid was excavated. Inside, one rectangular burial chamber told its story through frescos and writing.
The Piramide di Caio Cetius was constructed in 12CE during a period when Egypt was all the fad as a tomb for Gaius Cetius, a powerful magistrate belonging to the religious organization Septemviri Epulonum. Though in the middle of the city today, it was originally constructed on the outskirts of the city, surrounded only by the country and encircled by pillars and plaques.
For tourists wanting to take a peek inside the tomb, reservations must be made ahead of time, and take place on the third and fourth Saturdays of each month. Otherwise, the general grounds of the pyramid (which includes a cat sanctuary!) is free, and can be accessed easily by all forms of transportation! For a calmer view of the pyramid, consider visiting he Protestant Cemetery on the backside of the ancient wall!
Looking to explore some of Rome’s most popular monuments? Check our our 4 days in Rome itinerary!
Before all roads led to Rome, this road was built. One of the first and most important roads of the ancient Roman Republic, the Appian Way went far out of the immediate region around Rome and into the south of Italy.
The road was made to help transport troops outside region and would be the first to do so that was Roman in origin, as opposed to Etruscan as most were at the time. Eventually running an incredible 350 miles (563km) in ancient times, the road is still the longest straight road in Europe! With many of its parts still being used by traffic today, it can be walked by anybody, and it’s free!
The name, Appian Way, comes from the Roman censor (a magistrate in charge of the census and other financial duties) Appius Claudius Caecus, who completed the first section of the road in 312 BC during the Samnite wars. Miraculously, this one road was what allowed the Roman army to quickly dispense and resupply their troops successfully during the second Samnite war. The road was also made famous when Sparticus’ army of 6000 slaves was crucified along 120 miles (200 m) of the road in 71 BC!
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 480, the road fell out of use. Parts of the road were reconstructed over time, though the oldest existing sections around Rome today were extensively renovated for Rome’s Millenium and Great Jubilee celebrations in 2000, allowing tourists to have the unparalleled access to the wonder they have today.
For the tourist interested in hiking this ancient wonder, most of the road immediately outside Rome (the Via Appia Antica) is now part of an archaeological park and can be easily accessed from the park’s visitor center. You are definitely going to want to put this one on your itinerary as it is one of the most historic hidden gems in Rome.
From here, may locals and tourists picnic on the park’s green spaces (especially on Sundays when it’s closed to traffic), or take bikes to explore the road’s many, many ancient attractions. Three of Rome’s most famous catacombs are a quick walk down the road. Also popular, the church of Domine Quo Vadis can be reached by the second mile of the road, and the ruins of Rome’s second largest public baths, the Baths of Caracalla can also be reached from this route. Visiting Rome’s ancient Appian Way, whether to explore or to relax, is an absolute must!!
After the famous fire burned down much of the city of Rome in 64 AD, the unpopular Emperor Nero began construction on the most magnificent and extensive Domus ever built. The name Domus Aurea, or Golden House, refers to its extravagant well-known golden dome, but it doesn’t stop there. Built on the rubble of old aristocratic villas, the Domus was essentially a countryside villa of approximately 300 acres in the heart of Rome. The villa included groves of trees, an artificial lake, vineyards, and a large bronze statue of the emperor. The villa’s entrance would have spilt directly into the Via Appia!
Notoriously, the villa was a pleasure-only palace, designed for parties only, and consists of over 300 rooms! Inside, marble walls ornamented with semi-precious stones, gold stucco, ivory veneers and frescos depicting mythical creatures and plants dot its ceilings and walls. The outfitting of fountains, waterfalls running down walls, and pools would have made the sound of running water a constant one.
Not only extravagant, much of the construction and artwork here was groundbreaking. For the first time, mosaics can be see ornamenting the ceilings of rooms, where they’d previously been seen only on floors. Once rediscovered, this technique would be borrowed extensively by later artists. The use of early concrete construction was also a groundbreaking technique being used throughout the villa, and would be used in later Roman structures. One innovative structure within the palace is Nero’s famous rotating dining room. Day and night, the floor of this circular, open room was allowed to spin, allowing each guest an equally panoramic view of the landscape from whichever seat they chose.
Unfortunately for Nero, his successor saw his palace venture as embarrassing, and allowed its interiors to be stripped of its valubles after his death. The entire palace was interred and built over, not to be seen again for over a thousand years. By 79 AD the Baths of Titan were constructed over part of the palace ground, and the Colosseum over the artificial lake. However, the palace’s rediscovery (specifically its frescos) would move artists like Raphael and Michelangelo to learn from the masters who painted them, and integrate the style into their own renaissance work.
For years, the Domus Aurea has been under intensive reconstruction, but it’s now fully accessible to the adventurous tourist! Just minutes from the colosseum, it’s a treasure, and very literally one of the best hidden gems in Rome! The historical site’s underground portion is under ongoing excavation and therefore must be accessed via tour guides but should not be missed. In addition to a physical tour, all visitors are also taken on a virtual reality tour of the space! Few people know about the palace, so it should be taken advantage of before the city’s amazing underworld becomes a massive attraction!
With an exterior suggesting no more than a typical office building, the Galleria Sciarra would take any unsuspecting pedestrian passing through its interior courtyard by surprise. Only a two minute walk from the Trevi Fountain, the Galleria Sciarra is a beautiful example of the most surprising hidden gems in Rome! Completed in 1888 by Giulio De Angelis at request of Prince Maffeo Barberini-Colonna di Sciarra during an important wave of modernization, the space was intended to merge multiple of his business within the property.
Under the courtyard’s vaulted – iron-glass ceiling, colorful frescos cover every inch of space available. Painted by Giuseppe Cellini, these frescos are an exemplary example of Nouveau Art, which merges different neoclassical themes with the liberty style of painting. All frescos are products of the overlying theme “Glorification of the Woman”, which is represented by different virtues like modesty, strength, humility, patience, faithfulness, love, and justice.
All scenes of life are depicted, such as gardening, making food, practicing music, polite conversation, and beauty care. Another overlying theme is the presence of the prince’s family crest, all containing the initals of his mother. Because of this it’s suggested that the overwhelming theme exalting women as homemakers was intended to pay tribute to his mother.
Today used as business offices, the courtyard is open to any passerby from Monday to Friday during business hours. A spectacular gem hidden in the heart of Rome, this is the perfect stop for anyone looking to discover the beautiful unknown within the bustling city! Take a minute to de-stress and enjoy the spectacular work of art the Galleria Sciarra has to offer.
The Tiber river famously runs through the city of Rome. But did you know there’s a small island in the Tiber set inside the city limits? The island is approximately 890 feet (270 m) long and shaped like a boat. Connected by bridges on both sides of the island (the Ponte Fabricio and Ponte Cestio), it’s long been associated with healing, and a hoard of myths beginning in the Roman Republic.
One myth surrounding the island’s formation tells of the unpopular Tarquin King’s wheat being thrown in the river by unhappy Roman citizens and gradually taking on more silt and dirt until it finally resembled an island.
A second myth that shaped the island the most gave the island its ritual significance. In 293 BC Rome was hit with a plague. In response to this, the people of Rome sent a delegation to the Greek city of Epidaurus to retrieve a sacred snake (a symbol associated with the Roman god of healing, Aesculapius). While returning to the mainland, the delegation’s ship hit the island and sank. Luckily, the sacred snake escaped the disaster by curling around a branch on the Tiber island (an image now symbolic in medicine).
As the chosen site of a new temple to Aesculapius, the island became synonymous with healing. To further validate this story, the island was constructed into the shape of a boat. In this way it’s clear that the island has been used to heal or exile the sick from the very beginning. To help treat plague patients, the hospital Fatebenefratelli was constructed in 1584 and still stands today as an important hospital.
Other monuments include a church dedicated to Saint Bartholomew. This church, first dedicated to saint Adalbert in 998 AD, was built on the foundations of what was once the ancient temple to Aesculapius, using some of the same ancient materials. However, the oldest surviving monuments on this island are actually its bridges. The oldest complete bridge, Ponto Fabricio, was built in 62 BC and replaced an older wooden bridge. The predecessor to the second bridge, Pons Aemilius, was built in 142 BC as the first stone bridge in Rome! Though visible, it’s known as Broken Bridge because it was mostly destroyed by a flood in 1598.
Frequented by both locals and tourists on their evening walks, Tiber island is a beautiful way to view the ancient city without the crowd, and is undoubtedly one of the best hidden gems in Rome! Though a destination in itself, it’s certainly a worthwhile walk for anyone hoping to cross the Tiber into the popular Trastevere neighborhood.
Crossing Tiber island from the east will bring one into the charming medieval town of Trastevere! This traditionally multicultural working-class district is an absolute must-see neighborhood and one of the most magical hidden gems in Rome! What sets this neighborhood most apart from the rest of ancient Rome is its resilience to maintain a different cultural identity from its mainstream counterpart across the Tiber.
In ancient times Trastevere wasn’t part of the proper Roman city. After Rome conquered the area from the Etruscans to gain control of the Tiber river around 500 BC, the area became resident to many Roman sailors and fishermen, and also to many immigrant groups, largely Jew and Syrian. Since the end of the Roman Republic, Trastevere was an important center to most Jewish immigrants, and even boasted the city’s first synagogue!
The area finally became part of Rome when Augustus divided the city into 14 regions, calling it “Trans Tiberim.” By the Imperial era, important figures (including Julius Caesar) began building beautiful villas here, adding to the complex, but beautiful complexion of the town. The region was never controlled to the same extent that most of Rome was, and didn’t even get cobblestone streets until the 15th century. Due to its semi-isolation, a different culture was able to thrive. Although the Jewish community was forced from the area by the late middle ages, the area is still incredibly multicultural and resilient to change, which we love about this neighborhood!
More than just winding cobblestone roads, romantic medieval houses and extravagant villas, Trastevere also boasts a thriving food and nightlife culture! Take plenty of time to settle down and enjoy engaging with locals and tourists alike as they flock into the town center during the evening.
However, if you’re exploring Trastevere during the day, we recommend beginning inside the famous Basilica di Santa Maria, one of the city’s oldest churches dating back to the 3rd century. Inside, a magnificent 16th century golden dome featuring a famous painting by Domenichino dominates the space, and many famous 12th century frescos and mosaics by Pietro Cavallini cover the church’s walls.
Another popular destination, the Basilica di Santa Cecilia is said to have been built atop its patron saint’s house. The famous sculpture of Santa Cecilia (1599), and her remains are held on site. Villas to visit include the Villa Farnesina, a beautiful renaissance villa offering many frescos painted by Raphael, and the baroque palace, Palazzo Corsini. Finally, for the perfect sunset, head towards Gianicolo hill to see what may be the best view in Rome.
For further reading and suggestions on where to stay while in Rome, check out our 2 days in Rome itinerary!
Best accessed from the Trastevere neighborhood, Gianicolo hill, or Janiculum hill (the Latin version of the Italian name) is in a central location that offers viewers a panoramic view of the heart of Rome away from the hustle and bustle. From this hill, one is able to see what may be one of the best views of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Altare della Patria.
The hill wasn’t traditionally within of the city’s borders so it isn’t among the mythical 7 hills of Rome, but because it’s the second tallest in the area and has been important in the history of the city, it’s often referred to as the 8thhill of Rome. Similar to Trastevere, the hill was initially inhabited by the Etruscans and Syrians before the King Ancus Marcius (677-617 BCE) incorporated it into the city.
The name Gianicolo refers to the god Giano (the Italian name for the Latin name, Janus), the two-faced god of beginnings, transitions, and ends, which symbolically references to the hill’s strategic position in the city as the gateway between Rome and the outside world. In Roman mythology, the hill was also the location of a town founded by the Janus cult, and would have offered favorable conditions to observe the auspices.
This hill was also the location of a weeks-long struggle fought between the French and the Italians in an 1849 battle to maintain the short-lived Roman republic and its claims to the papal state. Though defeated, many monuments on the hill (including 84 busts) pay homage to the battle fought here, particularly to the prominent nationalist general Giuseppe Garibaldi. In fact, the best views will be seen from the hill’s tallest point, next to his largest monument in the Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The trip up to Gianicolo hill is completely free, and will take around 20 minutes to climb. Perhaps the most relaxing of the hidden gems in Rome, you’ll want to pack a picnic and spend all of your hours away here. Day-round, the views are beautiful, though we recommend arriving before dusk and dawn to see its breathtaking sunsets and sunrises! Alternatively, you can trek the hill midday to watch the daily firing of the cannon at noon, a tradition since 1847!
For those with children, the nearby open-air theater, the Teatrino di Pulcinella al Gianicolo, has been putting on puppet shows for families since 1959. Catch a free show on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30am-1:00pm, and 4:00pm-7:00pm!
Via Niccolo Piccolomini is unlike any of the other hidden gems in Rome!
The location in itself is a simple street with a good view of Saint Peter’s Basilica’s dome, but it packs a secret! During evening hours, locals arrive on their motorbikes to drive up and down this street. They aren’t here to see the view. Instead, Via Piccolomini attracts visitors who want to see it preform an optical illusion! As one moves towards the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the building appears to shrink. If one moves backwards, it appears to grow bigger!
If the option is available, locals recommend using a motorbike to view the illusion because the speed of the vehicle helps to exaggerate its effect!
Walking or driving, Piccolomini is something fun and curious that must be experienced while in Rome!
Ara Pacis Museum
The Ara Pacis museum is one of the most unique structures in the center of Rome. It’s imposing modern structure immediately became the center of controversy with its completion in 2006. However, the objective of the new construction was an important one. The design of the museum had replaced an older, decaying structure whose purpose was to protect Rome’s cultural legacy.
A new, a state-of-the-art facility was needed to help maintain the integrity of the collections that would be exhibited inside. Most importantly, the museum would be almost exclusively designed around the display of the famous Ara Pacis, a stone sacrificial alter dating from 9 BC. Secondarily, it would function to accommodate temporary exhibitions dedicated to archaeological displays.
The new museum was constructed under the guidance of architect Richard Meier, and made of steel, travertine, glass and plaster. To enhance the viewing experience, the structure uses tall ceilings, glazed surfaces, and uniform lighting to highlight and contrast its artifacts. Although very modern, the themes within the structure mimic the grand, triumphal style of ancient Rome through use of space and the careful manipulation of passage from one end of the building to the other. The main hall also boasts four large columns and uses local beige travertine stone to accent the sleek white interior.
As one makes their way to the end of the executions they’re led to rooftop pavilion with a café and bar where an amazing view of central Rome and the Tiber river encourages the viewer to remember, above all, their surroundings, and the source of the legacies inside.
The Ara Pacis museum is the latest great architectural construction in the historic heart of Rome since the middle of the last century and is irrefutably an important one. The building is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 7pm, and should be explored by everyone! Although it’s very different from the rest of its ancient surroundings, its surprisingly compliments it. A beautiful ode to the city’s past, and the past’s place in the present, the Ara Pacis is definitely one of the hidden gems in Rome you won’t want to miss out on.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is a mansion housing what may be the best-known private gallery in Rome. The mansion, and all of its collections have been maintained by the Doria Pamphilj family (beginning in the 16thcentury) for over 400 years! This collection is comprised of works by Raphael, Tiziano, Caravaggio, Brueghel the Elder and Bernini, among many others.
Beginning under the Pope Innocent X Pamphilj in 1644, the collection today consists of over 400 paintings dated between the 15thand 18thcentury. The most noteworthy painting here is ironically an unbecoming Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Veláquez, showing him as an “ominous, distrustful man.” The painting has had its own room since the 19thcentury. Just as fascinating, many rooms in the mansion have been lavishly dressed and set with furniture to display how these rooms may have originally appeared centuries ago.
For art lovers and history buffs who want to avoid the large crowds, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is a great option!
For good reasons, Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. From St. Peter’s Basilica to the Trevi Fountain, everything is going to be on your itinerary. But don’t overlook these gems! They might become the most memorable places in your trip!
An authentic trip to Rome sometimes means stepping away from the main attractions, and getting lost somewhere new and unfamiliar. Luckily for everyone, Rome can be both familiar and new! With these 10 hidden gems in Rome, your trip will surely be unforgettable.