Rome is one of the most popular destinations in the world. Its top attractions are crammed with tourists every single day and there are a lot of them. If you have been before, or want to do something a little quieter, then these less crowded attractions will no doubt impress you even when compared with the bit hits.
Cycling Along the Appian Way
Just to the south of the Aurelian Walls, marking the traditional boundaries of Rome, commences one of the oldest and most significant roads in the world: the Appian Way. Dating back to 312 BCE, sections of this historic route are still utilised today by automobiles, pedestrians, and especially cyclists. The original paving consists of extensive and uneven basalt stones. You can hire bicycles from the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica office and embark on a memorable afternoon excursion, pedalling past Christian catacombs, Roman tombs, and the distant arches of the Claudian Aqueduct.
Nestled between the picturesque Via Giulia and Piazza Farnese, this diminutive museum provides a peek into the Renaissance-era palazzo belonging to the cardinals Bernardino and Fabrizio Spada. The four rooms house artistic treasures by Titian, Gentileschi, and Bernini. However, the standout attraction is Borromini’s false perspective in the courtyard. The Baroque master crafted a 3D trompe l’oeil in the form of a colonnade that appears considerably longer than it truly is. Don’t hesitate to ask one of the museum attendants to demonstrate its optical illusion.
Constructed in Trastevere during the 16th century, at a time when the area was considered countryside, this exquisite villa boasts astonishing frescoes by Raphael. Agostino Chigi, a prosperous Sienese banker, commissioned the young artist, who adorned the loggia with an impressive ceiling fresco depicting the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, perfectly timed for the banker’s own wedding to Venetian courtesan Francesca Ordeaschi. Chigi was renowned for hosting opulent feasts at the villa, and it is said that he encouraged his guests to toss their silver plates into the nearby Tiber River, though discreetly having his servants set up nets to catch them.
A portion of this palazzo, one of Rome’s oldest and grandest, is still occupied by the aristocratic Colonna family, who have called it home for 20 generations. Another segment is open exclusively as a museum on Saturday mornings. The Great Hall has been likened to Versailles and was famously featured as the location where Audrey Hepburn met the press in “Roman Holiday.” The various rooms are adorned with ceiling frescoes and showcase paintings such as Annibale Carracci’s “The Bean Eater.” Be sure not to overlook the Princess Isabelle Apartment and the charming gardens offering statues and captivating views of Rome.
Just when you think you’ve explored all the noble palaces, there’s yet another worth visiting, and it’s compact enough to be explored in an hour or less. Situated near Piazza Navona, this aristocratic mansion was constructed in the 15th century and acquired by Cardinal Altemps in 1568. The palazzo is now one of the establishments encompassed by the Museo Nazionale Romano and houses marble sculptures dating back to the Roman Empire. However, it’s the intricate frescoes in the second-floor loggia that truly make this place worth a visit.
Enthusiasts of architecture will be enchanted by this unique micro-neighbourhood, featuring structures that deviate from the norm in Rome. Located in the Trieste area to the east of Villa Borghese park, it is characterised by a collection of 27 Art Nouveau buildings on and around Piazza Mincio, all designed by Gino Coppedè in the 1910s. Among the numerous decorative embellishments are a cast-iron chandelier suspended between two buildings, a Madonna with child, and the Fontana delle Rane (also known as the Fountain of the Frogs). After admiring the architecture, make your way to Pasticceria Gruè, which has received accolades for its exceptional panettone and also offers a delightful array of pastries and gelato.
To the south of the city centre lies the Fascist-era neighbourhood of EUR, a hidden gem that many tourists have yet to discover. Originally commissioned by dictator Benito Mussolini as a prospective venue for a world’s fair, it offers a unique blend of ancient Rome with a modern twist. The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, referred to by locals as the Colosseo Quadrato (the Square Colosseum), is particularly striking and serves as a counterpoint to the Colosseum. Presently housing the Fendi headquarters, while the entire building isn’t open for touring, you can explore the ground floor. Numerous adjacent buildings are utilised for conventions and events.
Fontana dell’Acqua Paola
You might have tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain, but did you know that Rome boasts over 2,000 fountains? The ancient Romans constructed aqueducts to supply water to the city, but it was during the 1600s and 1700s that the most grandiose fountains were erected. Referred to by Romans simply as the Fontanone, the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola is remarkable for its size and its location atop Gianicolo hill, providing panoramic vistas of the city. It made a memorable appearance in Paolo Sorrentino’s award-winning film, “The Great Beauty,” and serves as a splendid backdrop for photographs.
Spotting Street Art
Rome may be renowned for its ancient art, but street art is also a significant part of the urban landscape. You can spot small-scale pieces in Trastevere, but to encounter massive, impressive murals, visit Ostiense, San Lorenzo, and Pigneto. In these areas, you’ll discover the work of local talents like Alice Pasquini and Luca Maleonte. The former slaughterhouse in Testaccio is now home to several walls completely covered in sticker art. For a three-hour tour led by a knowledgeable local guide, hop on the back of a Vespa for Scooteroma’s popular street art tour.