The Italian capital is an incredible city. Home to world-famous sites such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon, if you linger long enough you’ll be rewarded with some of the best hidden gems in Rome. These are places that are often in plain sight, but occasionally require a bit more of an effort to be discovered.
If you care to see a different side of Rome, away from the tourist crowds, you are in the right place. I am about to spill the secret on all the most interesting hidden gems in Rome. Continue reading to discover Rome secret places!
The Best Hidden Gems In Rome
St. John in the Lateran
The oldest basilica in Rome, St. John in the Lateran is Rome’s Cathedral and the seat of the Pope in town. Beautiful as it is, it should get way more visitors than it does. It’s actually located in the city center, in Esquilino – one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome.
The original church was destroyed by a series of earthquakes and fires so what you see today is a beautiful Baroque church with frescoes (one by Giotto, too), statues, columns and mosaics. The tabernacle inside the church dates back to 1367 and was built in Gothic style; whereas the baptistery was built on orders of Emperor Constantine in 315 AD.
San Giovanni in Laterano, as it’s called in Italian, is also known for the Scala Sancta – the 28 steps that Jesus climbed on his way to trial in Jerusalem. Outside, the Lateran Obelisk is the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world.
Metro lines A and C both reach San Giovanni in Laterano. Church. You’ll have to get off at San Giovanni.
The church is located in Piazza di Porta San Giovanni; it is open daily from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm. The Baptistery is open daily from 7:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 4:00 to 6:30 pm. Visiting the church is free. For a guided tour of St John in the Lateran, click here.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To St. John In The Lateran.
San Clemente Basilica
One of the most beautiful churches in Rome, not to mention one of the oldest, San Clemente Basilica is actually quite close to the Colosseum. Built at a time when Christians could not pray freely, a number of excavations brought out various levels – one dating to the 1st century; one to the 4th, and an even lower level that went destroyed in 64 AD during Nero’s fire.
The church is located in Via San Giovanni in Laterano; it is open Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 3:00 to 6:00 pm; Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 to 6:00 pm. Admission is €10. To make the most of this and other churches in Rome you may want to join a guided tour. You can book it here or here.
Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica
This is one of the hidden gems in Rome that is actually in plain sight. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the church was built in the 4th century over a pagan temple dedicated to goddess Cybele, upon wishes of Pope Liberius who said to have had an appearance by the Virgin herself. The church is a nice mixture of architectural styles, including Baroque and early Christian.
The church is located in Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore; it is open daily from 7:00 am. to 6:45 pm. The museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm and has a €4 admission fee.
Once one of the best kept secrets of Rome, the Capuchin Crypt is in fact becoming a more popular place to visit. The crypt is located beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione, commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII, whose brother Antonio was a Capuchin friar, and designed entirely by Antonio Casoni.
Inside the crypt there are the remains of around 4000 friars who died between 1500 and 1870 and who were moved here upon orders of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, after having been exhumed from the friary of Via dei Lucchesi.
As far as hidden gems in Rome, this is surely a peculiar one – though definitely not for everyone.
The church is located in Via Veneto, close to Piazza Barberini; it is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm. Admission is €8. For guided tours of the Capuchin Crypt, click here.
Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is one of the lesser visited churches of the Eernal City. Many are actually unaware that this is one of the oldest basilicas in town! Built over what was thought to be the burial place of Saint Paul upon wishes of Roman Emperor Constantine I, the church was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. Further works on the church started in 386 upon wishes of Emperor Theodosius, and finished in 402. That’s when the church was consecrated again, this time by Pope Innocent I.
A fire almost entirely destroyed the church on July 15th, 1823. The church was rebuilt thanks to the donation raised following Pope Leo XII encyclical in 1825.
The church is located in Piazzale San Paolo in the Garbatella neighborhood (you can get there by Metro line B); it’s open daily from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm.
The Catacombs and the Appian Way
The Appian Way and the Catacombs are actually fairly well known, but since they are a bit outside the center, we can indeed say this is Rome off the beaten path – and you’ll see that they get less visitors than the rest of the city.
Built in 312, the Appian Way connected Rome to Naples and Brindisi. Back then, it was used for military and commercial purposes. It remains one of the oldest surviving roads in the world. Along the way, there are various sites – the 9th century Church of Domine Quo Vadis, and various Catacombs, including the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, burial site of 16 popes
To make the most of the Catacombs and the Appian Way, you may want to consider a guided tour. For the best reviewed tour, click here or here. For a bike tour of the Catacombs and the Appian Way, click here.
Baths of Caracalla and Circus Maximus
To be fair, the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla, in Italian) are not one of the most hidden gems in Rome. This enormous bathing complex could accommodate up to 1600 guests back in its heyday! It is found at short distance from the Colosseum, and an interesting place to explore – albeit time took its toll on it.
Close to the site, you’ll find Circus Maximus, once used for chariot racing and nowadays a favorite local spot for festival, events and concerts.
The Baths of Caracalla are located in Viale delle Terme di Caracalla. They are open daily from 10:00 am to 7:15 pm. Admission is €8 + a €2 compulsory online booking fee. For a guided private tour, click here.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Visiting The Baths Of Caracalla.
Another of the hidden gems in Rome that is actually in plain sight – you will likely pass by Teatro Marcello during your trip to Rome, and wonder what it is! Well, this theater completed in 12 BC could hold up to 20000 spectators. Unfortunately, in the 16th century a building was built right on top of it – currently, this is a luxury apartment complex.
Located in Via del Teatro di Marcello and close to the Capitoline Museums, visiting is free – but unfortunately you can only see it from the outside at the moment. Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Teatro Marcello.
Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini
In the heart of the historical center of Rome you’ll find the Domus Romane, two Roman villas dating back to the 1st and 4th century AD. You don’t actually visit the villas – rather, see them through a glass floor. The villas are located below Palazzo Valentini, a Renaissance villa from the 15th century. In front of it, you’ll be able to spot Trajan’s Column.
The Domus Romane are found in Trajan’s Forum. The are open Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is €12 + an additional compulsory advanced booking fee of €1.50.
Built upon orders of Emperor Nero after the fire he caused destroyed most of the city in 64 AD, the Domus Aurea is one of the nicest hidden gems in Rome. At the time of Trajan, the villa was used as a foundation for his public baths. Doors and windows were sealed and all art removed – but some frescoes are still visible. The villa has yet to be fully excavated.
You’ll find the Domus Aurea in Via della Domus Aurea, about 10 minutes walk from the Colosseum. The site is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm. You can only visit on guided tours which cost €12 (Monday to Wednesday) or €18 (Thursday to Sunday). For information on tickets and tours, click here.
One of my favorite hidden gems in Rome is a lovely park that is at a stone’s throw from the Colosseum and literally across the street from Monti, on top of the Caelian Hill – Villa Celimontana. You can spend time there wondering the grounds of the gardens, where the main highlights are the Palazzetto Mattei, which since 1925 houses the Società Geografica Italiana, the obelisk and the ruins of the Basilica Hilariana.
Villa Celimontana is a great place to spend an hour or two simply getting away from the crowds of the popular tourist sites in Rome and to seek shade in the heat of the summer. And it is completely free to visit!
Make sure to also read my post A Complete Guide To Villa Celimontana.
Galleria Doria Pamphilj
This beautiful palace was built in the 17th century upon orders of Pope Innocent X, a member of the Pamphilj family. Close to some of the most famous places to visit in town – the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, among others – inside the palace you’ll find a gallery with more than 400 paintings on display, with pieces by Caravaggio and Velazquez, and a statue of Pope Innocent made by Bernini.
Galleria Doria Pamphilj is located in Via del Corso 305. It’s open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. Admission is €15. For guided tours click here.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Visiting Doria Pamphilj Gallery.
Keats-Shelley Memorial House
A short distance from Palazzo Doria Pamphilij, and close to the Spanish Steps there is Keats-Shelley Memorial House, one of my favorite Rome secret places. This small museum is entirely dedicated to the English Romantic poets. The building has beautiful rooms with objects connected to the life of the poets that called Rome home, and a Romantic literature library with more than 8000 books. The terraces offer incredible views of the city.
The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 2:00 to 6:00 pm. Admission is €6.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Keats Shelley Memorial House.
This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome and home to Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. It’s a place you will want to visit if you are a fan of Caravaggio (it’s where you can see his Judith Beheading Holofernes), Raphael and Bernini. The palace itself is stunning, with Renaissance and Baroque paintings and frescoed ceilings.
Palazzo Barberini is located in Via delle Quattro Fontane 13. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm. Admission is €12 and visits must be booked in advance here.
Lovers of Art Nouveau will want to get to this Rome off the beaten path place which is actually right in the historic center, within easy distance from Trevi fountain. The gallery was built between 1885 and 1888 upon orders of Prince Maffeo Sciarra. Meant to be an upscale shopping mall, it actually houses offices.
Galleria Sciarra is located in Via Marco Minghetti 10. You can visit Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. There is no admission fee.
For more information, read my post A Useful Guide To Galleria Sciarra.
Built in 1506, Villa Farnesina is one of the lesser visited places in Rome. Venture there and be ready to be wowed by some of Raphael’s best frescoes and the opulent interiors.
Villa Farnesina is located in Via della Lungara 230. It only opens upon request. Admission is €13. For guided tours, click here.
This Renaissance building is home to Galleria Spada, an art gallery where you’ll find some interesting pieces but which, more than anything else, is known for the optical illusion – a work by Francesco Borromini that makes the gallery appear much longer than it really is.
Palazzo Spada is found at Piazza Capo di Ferro 13. Open on Mondays and from Wednesday to Sunday, from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm, admission is €5 plus a small booking fee. Get tickets in advance here.
Largo di Torre Argentina
Visiting Rome off the beaten path doesn’t necessarily mean getting out of the historic center of town. Largo di Torre Argentina is found between Piazza Venezia and some of the more famous squares in Rome. The site is mistakenly known as the spot where Julius Cesar was stabbed to death – though in fact he was killed on the steps of the nearby Theater of Pompey.
What makes this site all the more interesting, however, is the presence of the oldest and most famous cat sanctuary in Rome. You can walk inside to pet the cats and get a small souvenir. All profits go to support the cats.
Tiber Island is the only island inside the Tiber River in Rome. Connecting to the mainland via two bridges – Ponte Cestio and Ponte Fabricio – it was once home to the Temple of Aesculapius – the Greek God of medicine and healing, and in 1584 the Fatebenefratelli hospital was built there.
Check out my post A Short Guide To Tiber Island.
Portico of Octavia
Built in 27 BC upon orders of Emperor Augustus in honor of his sister, this colonnate is located in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. Under the colonnades there are the remains of the temples Emperor Augustus in honor of his sister. The site was entirely burnt in 80 AD, and rebuilt after that. Between the Middle Ages and the 19th century, it was used as a market.
The Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome
The resting place of many notable non-catholic residents of Rome such as port Percy Shelley, the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome is an interesting place to visit in Rome off the beaten path. You’ll find some of the nicest statues in Rome such as the Angel of Grief, pictured above. It’s also the site of a large cat sanctuary. From there, you can spot the nearby Pyramid of Caius Cestius.
The cemetery is located in Via Caio Cestio 6, in the Testaccio neighborhood. It’s open daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and on Sundays from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm. Visiting is free but you are kindly asked to leave a donation for the maintenance of the site.
Pyramid of Caius Cestius
You’d hardly think there’s room for a pyramid in the Eternal City – yet, one of the most interesting hidden gems in Rome is Caius Cestius Pyramid. Built in 12 BC, this 36 meters (118 feet) pyramid was the tomb of a notable Roman. Unfortunately, the interior is now empty as it’s been ransacked several times. But the pyramid is still in formidable state and a fun sight.
The Pyramid of Caius Cestius is located in Via Raffaele Persichetti in the Ostiense district. You will spot it as soon as you get off the metro at Piramide – Line B, two stops after the Colosseum.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Rome Pyramid Of Cestius.
For stunning views of Rome, head to the Janiculum Terrace. A favorite of locals, it’s yet relatively unknown to tourists.
The area is actually packed with some of the most interesting hidden gems in Rome, so if you go all the way there make sure to linger long enough to explore. Among the places you may want to visit there are the 17th century gorgeous Fountain of Acqua Paola; the 1911 Manfredi Lighthouse – a gift from Italian immigrants to Argentina; San Pietro in Montorio Church and the Monument to Garibaldi, built in honor of the events that took place in the area in 1849, when the French Army invaded Rome.
Keyhole on Aventine Hill
The hills of Rome are the best locations in town for views. Surely, the Aventine Hill won’t disappoint. That’s where you’ll find the Knights of Malta Keyhole, from where you can peep to spot St. Peter’s Basilica Dome in the distance. It’s becoming a more popular spot now, so you may find more people than expected.
The Keyhole is located in Piazza Cavalieri di Malta.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Visiting The Aventine Keyhole.
While on the Aventine Hill, make sure to also go to the Giardino degli Aranci, the Orange Garden – one of the nicest parks in Rome whose official name is actually Parco Savello. Designed by Raffaele de Vico in 1932, from there you get stunning views of St. Peter’s Basilica. The park takes its name from the bitter orange trees that grow in the area.
You’ll find the Orange Garden in Piazza Pietro d’Illiria.
The slopes of the Janiculum hill and Trastevere are home to Rome’s Botanical Gardens, where you’ll find an incredible array of exotic plants. The Japanese Gardens inside are the most relaxing place to wander around. It’s a nice place to escape the crowds of tourists.
You’ll find the Botanical Gardens in Largo Cristina di Svezia 23 / A. The park is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm. Admission is €4 and must be booked in advance here.
Quite close to Villa Borghese, Coppedé is one of the prettiest residential areas in Rome. Away from the most touristy areas, you can go there to admire Art Nouveau, which is found in many buildings.
The best starting point to explore is Piazza Mincio.
Once a rather unknown spot in Rome, this neighborhood became more famous thanks to a popular TV series. It was built from 1918 onwards and thought to be a dangerous part of town, but in the last few decades things changed and it’s now quite up and coming. Once there, make sure to visit the above mentioned St. Paul’s Outside The Walls church.
You can get to the Garbatella neighborhood by metro line B. Get off at Garbatella, a few stops after the Colosseum.
For more information, read my post A Short Guide To Garbatella.
The acronym of Esposizione Universale Roma, EUR is a residential area of southern Rome that was built around a site meant to house the 1942 World Fair and celebrate Fascism. None of the events happened, but the area remained and thrived and it now is a great place to spot Fascist architecture in Rome.
The spot you should not miss is the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, designed in 1938 by Italian architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano.
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is free to visit, and open to the public Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. You can get there on Metro line B: get off at EUR Magliana.
Not many tourists venture to Quadraro, but if you are a fan of street art, this is probably one of the best spots in town. The neighborhood has been entirely re-qualified thanks to the work of local and international street artists.
You can get to Quadraro by Metro: take line A from Termini Station and get off at Porta Furba / Quadraro. For a guided street art tour, click here.
For more street art, make sure to read my post A Short Guide To Tor Marancia.