Alternative Things to do in Rome, Italy

Rome is a huge city full of history, a history that dates back over two thousand years. We all know about the Coliseum, Forum, Vatican, St. Peter’s, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, etc. and yes, if you’re a first time visitor to Rome seeing those places is a must. To not go would almost be blasphemous. But after you've seen those place, then what? Rome is so much more than those few sites. There are so many other buildings, neighborhoods, parks and squares that deserve just as much attention. These are not ”non-touristy” places, just less visited and therefore void of the overwhelming crowds.

Villa Borghese Park

A sprawling public park that sits above Piazza del Popolo on nearly 200 acres. The formal gardens were first designed in 1605 by Scipione Borghese and later redesigned in the 19th century as an English garden to remove much of the formality. Throughout the park there are museums, lakes, small cafes, even a carousel for the little ones. There are several villas to explore including the Villa Guilia, villa Medici and of course the villa Borghese. 

No cars are allowed but you can rent segways, bicycles, motorized carts for exploring. It’s perfect for an afternoon and is accessible by either Piazza del Popolo or the Spanish Steps.

Piazza di Santa Maria

This beautiful piazza houses the Basilica di Santa Maria in Travestere, one of the oldest churches in Rome that dates back to221-227. The old, charming neighborhood that surrounds the piazza provides the prefect escape. Strolling what can loosely be called streets because they are so narrow, you can take your time and enjoy the lovely Wandering around you’ll see the beautiful fifteenth century fountain right in the center of the plaza, attributed to Bramante, and the glittering gold mosaics of the Basilica, it’s the perfect place to grab lunch and people watch.

The Pyramid of Cestius & Protestant Cemetery

The pyramid is a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate of Rome and was built about 18-12 BC. It’s connected to the Protestant Cemetery, which you have to walk through in order to get to the pyramid. It stands as one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Rome. Like most of the ancient buildings/ruins around Rome, the city has been built up around it and it's an odd thing to see in the midst of all the modern buildings around it. The pyramid is open to the public, to go inside, every second and fourth Saturday each month.

The Protestant Cemetery, which is the entry point for the pyramid, is really beautiful with all of the old tall trees, plants and flowers. It has a park-like setting that's worth a stroll through before heading to see the pyramid. There's no cost to get in, but a donation of 3 euros is suggested.

The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art

This gallery is located just down the hill from Villa Borghese and is yet another stunning and impressive building that houses works of art by Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet among others. It will take at least a couple of hours, as with most museums, to see all of it.

Gelateria del Teatro 

I’m adding gelato to this list because it is a must do. There are literally hundreds, of gelaterias in Rome and two of my friends took me to the famous Gelateria Romana to sample their flavors. It was good, but it wasn’t great to me. I loved Gelateria del Teatro in the Campo dei Fiori/Lungotevere neighborhood. The flavors they offer are so good you have to go back daily to try new flavors. The stand out flavors for me were lavender/white peach, raspberry/rosemary and sage/honey/lemon. The classic chocolate and crema were really good as well. 

Piazza Venezia/ Trajan’s Column and Market

This chaotic square sits at the end of Via del Corso and is a roundabout with hundreds of cars, buses and scooters passing through each day. At the center of the piazza is the monument to Italy’s first King, Il Vittoriano.

Trajan’s Column and Market is right next to Piazza Venezia, just a short walk away. Even though it is literally across the road from the piazza, the crowds flock to the steps of the Vittoriano monument. Which gives you time to explore without the crush of people looking to take selfies.

Terrazza del Gianicolo

Located on Passaegiatta del Gianicolo, this overlook gives you a view of the city from above. You’ll find almost no tourists here, but plenty of locals come here on summer weekend evenings to hang out. Once you’ve spent some time there, it’s a nice walk back down to the area near St. Peter’s Square, or you can take the bus.

The Temple of Hadrian

Built in 145 AD, the remains of this temple are located in Piazza di Pietra. The surviving remains of the temple include the colonnade and one wall which faces the piazza. The incredible scale that buildings were constructed is seen throughout Rome, this being no exception. Even though it’s located right off of Via del Corso, the main street that takes you to many sites in the area, there weren't as many people around the temple.

Walk Along The Tiber River

This is not necessarily a place, but it’s a great thing to do. If you’re into walking I suggest you start at Ponte Regina Margherita and work your way around to Ponte Sisto. In the summer there are restaurants and vendors down on the walking path right next to the river, but you can stick to the sidewalks that wind their way around the river.

It almost feels like an amusement park in the summer with the crush of people all converging in the same place at the same time. But these places will give you a different perspective on Rome and provide great options once you've seen the other iconic sites.

Let me know in the comments if you have any favorite places in Rome that you like to visit to get away from the crowds.