The Rome Less Traveled

Rome is a city where centuries collide.

Modern life weaves around ancient ruins, medieval structures, and baroque sculptures in the Eternal City. With thousands of years of history, there is an overwhelming amount to see.

Of course, the most well-known monuments should not be missed — the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and so on. However, once you’ve gotten your fill of the popular sights and crowds, branch out and explore the city’s lesser-visited locales. From unique hilltop views to enchanting day trips, here’s where to dig deeper into the splendor of the Eternal City.

For a tranquil escape from the chaos of Rome, visit the park and gardens surrounding Villa Borghese. Lush and vast, this is one of the Eternal City’s most enchanting areas. Tree-lined pathways give way to green parkland, dotted with cafés and classic statues. It also features a viewing area that offers a lovely look at the city. All manner of Roman life come together here. You’ll find children riding bicycles, couples taking a stroll, friends having drinks and families relaxing together. Pack a picnic and head up to Villa Borghese for a peaceful afternoon.


Above: The Villa Borghese gardens in the fall

Atop Aventine Hill sits the Villa del Priorato di Malta, which features a unique view of the city. The building isn’t open to the public, but if you peer through the keyhole on the imposing front doors, you’ll meet a curious sight — green hedges perfectly framing the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica. On the way up the hill, pause in the Giardino degli Aranci (orange garden), which features a nice view over the Tiber toward the Vatican.

For another of Rome’s lesser visited sights, head up yet another of the city’s fabled hills. Gianicolo (sometimes referred to as Janiculum in English) is one of the tallest hills around and offers perhaps the most impressive views. A local favorite, families frequently congregate here, particularly during times of celebration. On the quirky side, a cannon is shot off every day at noon from atop Gianicolo. One potential downside of this spot is it’s not quite as easy to get to — it requires taking a tiny electric bus that winds up the hill — but it’s worth the trip.


Above: View of the city from Giardino degli Aranci

Not exactly unknown, yet often overlooked by visitors, is Trastevere. Trastevere is a rione (neighborhood) of Rome, located just south of Vatican City. Narrow cobblestone streets wind through ivy-covered buildings, making it a marvelous place to get lost. Sidewalk cafés and street vendors narrow the lanes further between the terra cotta-colored buildings. Life in this area centers around Piazza di Santa Maria, the main square, and since it’s near the American university, plenty of expats call this rione home. Don’t miss an opportunity to spend an evening strolling through Trastevere and taking in the local life.

A number of charming towns sit perched atop the hills surrounding Rome. Among them are Castel Gandolfo and Frascati. Both are less than an hour by train from Termini station, and train tickets are about four euros round trip, making them ideal spots for day (or even afternoon) trips.

High in the Alban Hills overlooking Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo is a scenic town known for being a vacation residence for the pope. The quiet main square features some cafes and shops, as well as a church. Wander down a side street to find small shops and delicious restaurants, many with great views of the lake. Take note of the mosaic signs, a lovely touch that ties the town together.


Above: A restaurant overlooking Lake Albano in Castel Gandolfo

Home to the white wine that shares its name, Frascati is a town about 12 miles southeast of Rome. In the main piazza you’ll find the Cathedral of San Pietro Apostolo, which was completed in the 17th century. Frascati is full of quaint shops and winding streets. An enjoyable afternoon here consists simply of wandering the side streets and sampling a glass of the local wine.

Of course, while these places are a start, there is plenty more. Rome is often referred to as the world’s largest open air museum, and when you first arrive, the city can feel overwhelming. But simply take a cue from the Romans, descend into the chaos, and marvel at life in this ancient city.

In 1866, Hippolyte Taine wrote of Rome, “The most enchanting things, here are those one runs into unexpectedly along one’s way.”

These words still hold true today. Wander the streets, get lost, and discover the hidden marvels of the Eternal City.

A version of this article appeared in The Malibu Times newspaper in August 2013:


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