Rome is a favourite location among tourists and travellers. It’s been high up the places-to-visit list for years, and with good reason. The city feels alive – there is always something doing, something happening, there is history in many parts of the city variating from brilliant architecture to the tales of legends, there’s delicious food on every corner of every street (in the city centre, that is) and even though Italians can sometimes be a little funky, they are generally incredibly friendly. I’m sure that if you’re planning a visit to this city, you’ll have read the lists of things to so and do, seen the travel leaflets or the pictures online or even read stories or seen movies inspired by this wonderful city. But there’s more than that. Oh, there is so much more than that.
I’m not going to deny that some places are worth a visit and you can’t leave Rome without having seen some of the tourist hotspots like the Colosseum or Vatican City. But when you get tired of swarms of tourists, crowded streets or just feel like experiencing Rome without all the craziness that tourists usually bring along, I’ve compiled a list of alternative things you could do.
– Parco degli (di) Acquadotti. I was extremely fortunate to spent my two weeks in Rome almost as good as on the doorstep of this incredible park. The first park holds ancient ruins, but your eyes will be torn away from them as they catch the old aqueducts towering above. Unfortunately the aqueducts don’t run all the way down and have been partially destroyed, but they are still impressive nonetheless. The area further into the park offers a wonderful walk, either along a small stream, or parallel to the main aqueduct running along. Along the way a huge variety of plants, flowers and trees have been planted and they’ve all been labelled so you actually know what you’re looking at (the notes are written in Italian/Latin, but most of the time you’ll be able to guess what it is). Venturing further out into the park, you’ll be greeted by a wonderful, wide-open stretching view with mountains in the distance. There is a mile-long track running next to one of the longest running aqueducts in the park and with such open plains stretched at your feet you won’t get bored. Once you’re done exploring the park, take some time to have a little picnic and join the many Italians doing the same – no matter what time of day, there are always people at that park. I’ve seen them jogging at 6 in the morning, enjoying lazy days in the sun at 3, playing football games at 5 and finally enjoying a warm meal with a fire at 9. Best part is – the park is entirely dog friendly and dogs are allowed off-lead.
– Walk to Ardeanti Memorial. I have to be honest here – I didn’t actually see much of the memorial since dogs weren’t allowed, but the walk towards it was astounding enough. You can cut through by entering the Parco della Caffarella (Bosco Sacro) and treat yourself to some more natural beauty. Make sure you take the time to walk on top of the hill; not only does it offer an amazing view, you can also see Vatican City in the distance! (on your left) From there on, make your way to the Catacombe di San Sebastiano (worth a visit too!) and the Ardeatine Memorial/Massacre site. Do note there’s plenty of amazing things in the direct area to visit as well. What about Circo di Massenzio (ruins of an old Roman circus) or Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella (cylindrical-shaped ruins of an Roman tomb).
– Trastevere and the walk up the hill. Okay, if Trastevere isn’t on your list of areas to visit while in Rome, there’s either something wrong with you or you’ve been reading the wrong travel leaflets. Trastevere could very well be the most amazing part of Italy with it’s small, narrow streets, pubs, bars and restaurants everywhere you look. It’s hard not getting lost here, but it doesn’t really matter. I do want to point out a route that will lead up a hill with another incredible view over the city. When approaching Trastevere from the east/south east, walk to the Piazza di San Pietro in Montorio. From there, there are several routes to take, but we took a bit of a ‘back-alley’ kind of route that took us right alongside the Orto Botanico. I took this route because it was a dirt road, with trees and bushes and sort of looked like a route in a park and Mace could have a run around off lead. Quick enough, the road to us up until we reached a flight of stairs that we climbed. Turned out that we arrived at Terrazza del Gianicolo (at the very same spot you’ll also find Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and Piazzale Anita Garibaldi) and were rewarded an amazing view over the city. I advised several people – including a family of Californians that I got talking to – to take the same route as it is well worth it and a lot nicer than when walking the streets!
– Vila Borghese. Again, not exactly off the beaten track, but it’s totally worth it. Personally, I found the walk around the park (which is shaped like a heart!) more impressive than the buildings and all the sight seeing, but that’s just me. An area not commonly visited is the area at the back of the park, but definitely worth a visit. And when exiting, head down to the eastern part of the park for a pit stop with yet another spectacular view.
– Lago Gandolfo. It might have been my exceptional planning because I’ve read that Lago Gandolfo is actually a tourist attraction, but when I visited the deepest lake of the Lagio province, I rarely encountered people and most of them were locals anyway. The train ride to the lake is fun since you’ll most likely be taking a local train, which not only look a lot more cute but also travel slower. More views of mountains and hill and Italian countryside are offered during the ride and Gandolfo’s train station is small and old and endearing. Follow the tracks to the crossing and then following the road, you’ll soon hit a small side-street on your right that will take you on a long and winding path down to the lake. I found it hard to find a place to actually sit at the water’s edge as most of it is privately owned, but if you look around and add a little naughtiness here and there, I’m sure there’s a place for you where you can sit and surround yourself in complete silence. Only then an occasional canoer might disturb your peace.
– For all the photo, photography and camera lovers – Sabatini photostore on Via Germanico, 168 (near Ottaviano metro station). I was keen on visiting some photo stores while in Rome, but found that visiting this place was more than enough to satisfy my hunger. The area actually hosts several photo stores, including a lomography store, but when I visited it was closed and since I got a overdose of photography-love when visiting Sabatini, I didn’t feel the need to go back. Sabatini at first appears like any other (mostly digital) photo store, but there’s plenty for the film photographers as well with a whole range of film cameras ranging from an impressive collection of Leica’s to Canon, Nikon and Sigma lenses. If you’re a photographer, definitely check this place out! And if you’re in the area – ars-imago is pretty close too, for all the lomography lovers.
– Porta Portese. It’s another favourite place for tourists, but locals are attracted to this Saturday/Sunday market by the bunch too! The best part is that the market itself is definitely worth the attraction. No, you will probably not find high end antiques here, and you might get ripped off, but the range of products and items and quality of those items sold is incredible and there’s something for everyone. Watching buyers and sellers interact with each other is entertainment enough, but with so much offered you’ll spend a good few hours wandering around this miniature city and be completely satisfied and tired afterwards. I do suggest going there early and long before pack-up time, though being able to witness the rubbish Italians leave behind on a busy weekend day is probably something worth to see as well. I should note that the market doesn’t offer too much food-wise, but there’s plenty of cafés and restaurants nearby for an after-market lunch.
– Fontana di Trevi, Pantheon and Colosseum. If I had to compose a list of my three favourite tourist hot spots, these three places would be it. The Trevi fountain is something you HAVE to have seen when paying a visit to Rome, if only to throw a coin in the fountain that, story has it, will make you return to the city again. The Pantheon, while the location isn’t that great as it’s in the middle of a small(ish) square and usually very crowded, the box-like structure is imposing. If you’ve got time and think it’s worth the money, do enter the Pantheon and gaze up the walls and the ceiling for an incredible display of art. Lastly, there is of course the Colosseum. If I’m being honest, you don’t really need to see the Colosseum from the inside. I found that the outside was spectacular and the inside, probably because it’s so old and a lot of the structure has been lost during the years, it’s not that breathtaking. I also thought it looked kind of small. No, I prefer to stare at the insane display of architecture from a distance, especially from some of the higher roads leading up to and around it. Paying a visit to the Coloseo is also good at or after sunset, when it’s illuminated by lights and creates an almost magical scene.
– Food-wise, I can’t give you many tips other than, if you’re eating out, going for lunch rather than dinner because that’s less expensive and buy from the smaller shops (usually owned by non-Italians) as they offer decent to good food (fruit & veg mostly) and it’s far more cheaper than the supermarkets. When in need of groceries and you need/want gluten free and/or organic – Natura Si, there’s nothing better! There are also a lot of places to eat when you’re gluten free. Most restaurants promote having gluten free things on signs outside, but not all of them. Note to those of you who are allergic (I’m only intolerant, and if I do eat some gluten, it’s not an emergency) – just because they offer gluten free food doesn’t mean it is 100% gluten free. I talked to a restaurant owner who said that he simply ordered the gluten free pizza base and did the rest in his own kitchen (which, thus, wasn’t exactly gluten free). Google ‘gluten free rome’ and there are countless of lists with some very good suggestions. I’d also advise you to bring this card with you, explaining in Italian that you’re gluten free and/or celiac.
Actually, did you know that Italy is very aware of gluten intolerances and/or allergies and/or celiac disease? They test children at the age of six (!) to see if they have any intolerances or allergies because Italians know it’s a commonly undiagnosed or misdiagnosed issue. This makes Italy/Italians very gluten-aware and I have not met a single person (food-related) that hadn’t heard of it. In restaurants they always have alternative suggestions for those that are gluten free and they’re very kind and understanding about it! Another fun fact: Italians suffering from celiac disease receive a €140 a month to cover the additional cost of food and get extra holiday time.
– A last food-related shout-out goes to Fatamorgana Gelateria. I came across this store by accident as I wandered the streets of Trastevere and when reading ‘Gelato’ followed by ‘vegan’, ‘gluten free’ and ‘sugar free’ I couldn’t say no. As said, they offer “vegetarian, low-calorie, lactose-free, sugar-free and ice creams that are lower in fat or richer in antioxidants” and added to that – gluten free scones! Definitely detour-worthy, if you haven’t already put this place to visit on your list.