If you’ve visited Rome before, you’ve probably seen all the regular tourist attractions.
Imagined rampaging tigers chasing gladiators at the Colosseum? Check. Thrown a few euro into the Trevi Fountain, marvelled at the amount of gold crammed into St Peter’s Basilica and stared up in awe at the Pantheon’s perfect dome? Check, check and check again.
When I decided to live in Rome it was my fifth time in the glorious Italian capital. I had more than ticked off the tourist sites and set about unearthing what The Eternal City had to offer off the tourist map.
From a 2000-year-old pyramid and a secret keyhole boasting a perfect view, to a strange neighborhood built as a monument to Mussolini and his Fascist party, Rome boasts a huge array of things to do and see that you probably haven’t seen or heard of before.
Here are 10 of the best:
1. See a 2000-year-old pyramid
In a suburb called Piramide (where else), you’ll find The Pyramid of Cestius – a relic of the Egyptomania which gripped Rome in the wake of the conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. Original Egyptian artefacts and copies cropped up all over the city, but this structure is the only surviving example of Roman pyramids. The pyramid was most likely built around 12 BC and is the final resting place of the religious leader Gaius Cestius. The tomb is only open two days a month via a guided tour.
Image via www.wantedworldwide.net
2. Visit cats at the scene of Julius Caesar’s murder
Largo di Torre Argentina might be famous for being the spot where dictator Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed, but the 150 cats which shelter amongst Rome’s oldest temples also make it pretty special. After this archaeological wonder was excavated as part of Mussolini's rebuilding efforts in 1929, Rome's feral cats moved in and the “gattare” (or cat ladies) began caring for them. The site is now home to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary where you can enter and help by donating your time, money and cuddles. Most of the cats here have special needs – many are blind, missing legs and come from abusive homes.
Image via www.romesightseeing.net
3. Have coffee with kitties at a vegan cat cafe
Keeping with the theme of cats, not far from the pyramid in Ostiense you’ll find Romeow Cat Bistro, a cute little café where you can eat, drink and make some feline friends. If you like your vegan chocolate milkshake with a kitty cat by your side amid sleek, contemporary surroundings, put this on your list.
Image via www.romeowcatbistro.com
4. Explore Mussolini’s odd EUR district
Quite possibly Rome’s strangest suburb, EUR is renowned for its bold Fascist-style architecture. EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma, a world fair that Mussolini and his administration planned for 1942 to celebrate 20 years of Fascist rule in Italy. The exposition, of course, never happened due to the outbreak of World War II. This new suburb doesn’t have the vibe of Rome at all and the atmosphere feels a little like a failed project, however you can still find plenty of bars, shops and offices in the area.
Image via romeonrome.com
5. Discover amazing street art
Rome has an incredible street art scene and there are several districts where you can find colorful artworks including Ostiense. One of the best is the abandoned aeronautical barracks at Porto Fluviale, known as Fronte del Porto. Painted by famous Italian street artist BLU, the artwork isn’t just meant to be pretty - it also draws attention to social and political issues including pollution, war and housing problems.
Image via www.turismoroma.it
6. Hang out with the locals in chilled out Monti
If you want to live like the locals do, grab a pizza, a big bottle of beer from any corner shop and hang out at Piazza Madonna dei Monti in the Monti district. This was one of my favorite places to hang out on a summer’s night and make new friends. An added bonus is the nearby Gelateria dell’Angeletto, one of the very best in Rome serving up dairy free gelato so delicious you could cry.
Image via www.romeing.it
7. Grab a drink at Pigneto
Once a working class suburb that many feared to frequent after dark, Pigneto has shrugged off its bad reputation and is now the city's latest alternative hot spot, home to some of the hippest bars, restaurants, music venues and coolest folk in Rome. You can find plenty of great and cheap eats here including cocktails for 3 euro and aperitivo - a glorious couple of hours generally between 7pm and 9pm when you can relax after work over a glass of Campari (or wine) and some snacks from around 8 euro upwards.
8. Hit the beach at Ostia
When you think of Rome you don’t really think of beaches. But Rome’s beach, Ostia, is only 45 minutes away on the train and a welcome reprieve from the searing heat of Rome in the summer. The dark sand beaches are split into private and public areas, and for about 10 euro you can get a chair, umbrella and towel on the private beaches. If you don’t mind crowds, you can find yourself a spot in the free public areas. There are also plenty of clubs on the main sea strip to party at.
Image via www.wantedinrome.com
9. Peep through a keyhole for an incredible view
Get an incredible view of Rome through the Knights of Malta Keyhole on Aventine Hill – one of Rome’s best kept secrets. A vista of the city is perfectly contained in the keyhole of a non-descript looking door on Aventine Hill, perched just above Circo Massimo, neatly placing the dome of St Peter's right in the center. The doorway leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, the legendary crusader knights and religious order.
10. Walk through a bone cemetery
Head to the Capuchin Crypt (Church of Santa Maria della Concezione) to see the bones of some 4,000 dead Capuchin monks and decayed skeletons arranged in beautiful and decorative designs. Located on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini, the bones are arranged throughout six chapels/crypts in sculptures, lamps and mosaic-like displays of geometric shapes, flowers and religious symbols.
Image via www.romeing.it
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