Ciao bella, Roma! It’s no secret that the Eternal City has been mesmerizing visitors since… well, pretty much eternity! 

This should come as no surprise given the not-so-subtle way that Rome seduces with its cobblestone lanes, fountains galore, epic ancient ruins, and endless basilicas! And let’s not even get started on its legendary cuisine. This city knows how to roll out the red carpet, for sure.

The city may be one of the most visited destinations in the world – but there are still plenty of hidden gems in Rome that are just waiting to be discovered. Venture beyond the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Colosseum, and you’ll be faced with secret spots tucked in stone lanes, underground rivers, and hole-in-the-wall trattorias with local goodies. 

And that is precisely what we’ll tackle in this article. So, grab yourself a slice of pizza, and let’s delve into some of the BEST-KEPT secrets in Rome!

A person sat on a wall with the colosseum in the background in Rome, Italy
I’ve seen a thing or two here.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

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What’s The Eternal City Like?

Rome is one of those places where around every corner there’s an ancient ruin or a Renaissance marvel waiting to surprise you. It’s popularly known as the Eternal City, and what is eternally true for me is that it’s always got more layers to reveal.

Best of all, a lot of the Italian capital is free to see! I’ve stared up at the Egyptian obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo, wandered the tranquil paths of the Villa Borghese gardens, and elbowed my way through the hordes of selfie snappers around the Trevi Fountain for precisely zero dollars.

Speaking of hordes, you need to mentally prepare before visiting Rome for the floods of visitors. I’ve stopped off in the city at various points during the year, and no matter the month it’s always jammed with camera-toting tourists. Rather than viewing that as a downside, it’s forced me to discover places that are off the main trail.

The ornate facade of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy
I got the snap though, didn’t I?
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

I’m not saying don’t visit the Colosseum, the Pantheon, or Vatican City. All of the above are totally worth seeing.

But how about heading to the Emperor Hadrian’s villa in the suburbs? Or stepping into one of the many smaller churches that dot the centre of Rome’s cobbled streets? 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Rome, it’s that there’s always more to see!

1. Dip in the History of Castel Gandolfo

Castel Gandolfo Kayak and Swimming Lake Tour

Let’s kick this off with one of the most beautiful hidden gems in Rome!

The city center offers so many attractions that few tourists know that there’s a fascinating treasure that awaits just a 40-minute train ride from Rome. Indeed, the historic town of Castel Gandolfo is as charming as it is picturesque and well worth a visit in my opinion!

Perfect for travelers who want a break from city life, this activity takes you to one of the most beautiful lakes in the area where you can kayak or explore Rome by the water’s edge. You’ll also enjoy a visit to the Pope’s summer residence which is perched atop the mountains in Castel Gandolfo.

Oh, and did I mention that you’ll be treated to a complimentary slice of pizza?

  • Rating: 8/10 – Genuine Delight
  • Cost: $50
  • Personal Opinion: A true hidden gem, sure to make you smile.

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    2. Learn the Secrets of Wine Making in a Medieval Cellar

    Food Wine Tasting in a Medieval Cellar

    If you want to escape the tourist crowds and venture off the beaten track, I can totally vouch for this wine tour that takes you deep into a medieval cellar!

    With this activity, you’ll also enjoy a ride through the beautiful Lazio region, known for its lush, rolling hills. Your guide will take you to the medieval village of Borgo which dates all the way back to the 12th century. You’ll be able to chat with the sommelier as you amble through the cellar to find out more about the wine-making process.

    But that’s not all! The activity also includes a tasting session at the onsite restaurant where you can sample a scrumptious selection of Roman-style dishes, sliced meats, and regional cheeses – all paired with the local wine, of course!

    • Rating: 7/10 – Hole in the Wall Wonder
    • Cost: $100
    • Personal Opinion: Off the tourist trail, but definitely on my A-list!

    3. Wander the Quartiere Coppedè

    Quartiere Coppedè Rome

    As far as Rome hideaways are concerned, the Quartiere Coppedè is a real doozy!

    Given that it’s the smallest district in Rome, the Quartiere Coppedè doesn’t have as much hype as, say, the Centro Storico or Garbatella but believe me when I say it’s definitely worth a visit.

    For starters, this neighborhood in Rome has an almost fairytale-like aspect to it, complete with whimsical, Art Nouveau buildings, sculptures, gargoyles, floral motifs, and frescoes alike! While this neighborhood lies close to Rome’s lively center, it has quite a tranquil and laid-back vibe.

    Keep your eyes peeled for the Arch of the Palaces of the Ambassadors, which leads the way into the Quartiere Coppedè’s historic center. Adorned with intricate sculptures and carvings, this architectural marvel features a massive lantern and is quite a sight to behold indeed.

    • Rating: 9/10 – Worth Bragging About
    • Cost: FREE
    • Personal Opinion: An impressive find you’ll tell friends about.
    Hidden Gems in Rome
    Best HotelBest HostelBest Private Stay
    The Hoxton, RomeYouth Station HostelSeven Luxury Apartment Parioli

    4. Marvel at the Underground Temples

    Underground Temples of St. Clement's Basilica Tour

    Rome is well-known for its many churches and temples, but did you know that there’s another site of worship built way underneath the city?

    One of the most magical places in Rome, St. Clement’s Basilica conceals an absolute treasure underground. Venture 14 meters below the basilica to uncover a mystical world filled with frescoes, early Christian tales, and pagan cults.

    Layers of history beckon in this underrated place, complete with the world’s best-preserved Mithraic Temple. You’ll also see (and touch!) an underground river and explore a second underground Basilica, this one built in the 4th century. A professional guide and headsets are provided.

    • Rating: 6/10 – Worth a Deeper Look
    • Cost: $65
    • Personal Opinion: There’s substance under the surface (literally!)

    5. Venture Off the Beaten Track

    Off-the-Beaten-Track Private Walking Tour

    One of the best activities for travelers in Europe who want to skip the usual tourist trail, this expedition takes you through Rome’s lesser-known nooks and crannies!

    Not only will you discover some of the best Rome hideaways, but you’ll also get to immerse yourself in authentic Roman culture. One of the highlights is no doubt the hidden library surrounded by a beautifully manicured garden where you can enjoy a refreshing stroll.

    Best of all, your guide can easily be tailored to your own interests and pace but personally, I would recommend that you stick to the suggested itinerary since it’s packed full of treasures that you may miss out on otherwise.

    • Rating: 8/10 – Wanderluster Approved
    • Cost: $75
    • Personal Opinion: An under-the-radar winner, prepare to be wowed.

    6. Take a Day Trip to Umbria

    Cascia Spoleto Guided Day Trip

    After exploring all these glorious hidden gems in Rome, you can always soothe your muscles with a dip in the Bomarzo Thermal Baths, located just over an hour away!

    Packed full of glorious treasures, this site was once used by medieval popes. Oodles of relaxation await, including a Turkish bath grotto, mud treatments, and a hot spring pool.

    You can visit some lesser-known Italian regions such as Calcata, a charming medieval village that is packed full of ancient legends and history. I stayed in the fabulous Casa SoleLuna, which was itself a cultural experience. Wait till you see it yourself!

    From there you can take an hour drive to Bomarzo Monsters Garden which is also known as the Park of Monsters. And if you’re wondering how it earned its name, wait until you see this place for yourself!

    Created during the 16th century, this magical place is populated by quirky buildings and grotesque sculptures, all surrounded by thick vegetation.

    • Rating: 10/10 – Bucket List Essential
    • Cost: $380
    • Personal Opinion: Don’t miss it! A must-visit gem of excellence.
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    7. Step inside the Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo Al Celio

    Santo Stefano Rotondo Basilica Rome

    Another basilica, I know. But hey, I told you, the city’s full of those!

    As the oldest circular church in Rome, this secret place in Rome was built back in the 5th century. Featuring a portico with 5 arches, the Basilica has quite a majestic interior with marble columns separating two circular walkways- hence the word ‘Rotondo’.

    Art aficionados will be glad to learn that this venue has quite a few pieces of artwork. One of the most noteworthy artworks was painted by Antonio Tempesta in 1580 and depicts scenes from the life of Santo Stefano. The basilica also features a collection of 34 frescoes crafted by Matteo da Siena and Pomarancio.

    • Rating: 7/10 – Old Soul Appeal
    • Cost: FREE
    • Personal Opinion: Quaint and cozy with oodles of old-world appeal.

    8. Savor an Italian Feast at a Local Home

    Dining Experience at a Local's Home

    Is there anything better than homestyle cooking? I think not!

    Rome is undoubtedly filled to the brim with restaurants but if you’d like to savor authentic Italian cuisine while enjoying a cooking demonstration, I can totally recommend this activity.

    Perfect for travelers looking for unique things to do in Rome, this experience is a far cry from those overly commercialized dining experiences tourists are often subjected to in restaurants. Instead, you will get to taste authentic recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation right from the family’s cookbook!

    You can kick back and relax while enjoying a live cooking demo before finally tucking into your feast. More importantly, this activity is ideal for connecting with the locals and learning more about Italian culture.  

    • Rating: 9/10 – Foodie Paradise
    • Cost: $90
    • Personal Opinion: Don’t forget those loose pants – a culinary cornucopia awaits.

    9. Lose Yourself in Trastevere

    Trastevere

    Thanks to social media, Trastevere is definitely not a huge secret anymore, but it does conceal quite a few hidden gems!

    Foodies will be glad to learn that this area houses some of the best food in the city. Often said to be the very heart of Rome, this neighborhood offers a boho vibe, complete with craft stores, eccentric boutiques, and wine bars galore.

    While you’re in the area, I would also recommend that you treat yourself to a classic Italian expresso at an onsite hidden gem café. Hotel La Rovere made the BEST pastries I’d ever had!

    One of Trastevere’s lesser-known destinations is the Piazza Di San Cosimato Market which, believe it or not, has been open since early 900! In fact, most of the vendors are descended from the market’s very first vendors, so food tours in Rome are hanging around here all the time.

    • Rating: 6/10 – Sight for Sore Eyes
    • Cost: the price of a drink? A pizza maybe?
    • Personal Opinion: Worth a stop if you’re in the area.

    10. Amble Through the Mystic Town of Saint Francis

    Alley in Umbria Italy

    I’m sure by now you’ve realized that there are plenty (and I do mean plenty!) of magical places in Rome, but did you know that there are quite a few treasures on the outskirts of the Eternal City as well?

    Perfect for travelers who want to cover more ground in less time, this activity takes you through Saint Francis, a mystic town located right on the slopes of Mount Subasio. Surrounded by towering ancient walls, this town is an absolute dream come true if you’re traveling with a camera. Indeed, you’ll be greeted by a gorgeous landscape of brightly-colored houses, narrow lanes, stone buildings, and regal palaces.

    After touring Saint Francis, you’ll enjoy a visit to Orvieto, another beautiful city known for its ceramics.

    • Rating: 7/10 – Hidden Gem Alert
    • Cost: $380
    • Personal Opinion: Well worth the detour for a unique experience.
    Doria Pamphilj Gallery Rome

    Okay, time to take in some culture!

    Despite its amazing collection, the Doria Pamphili Gallery is another one of Rome’s secret spots, so you won’t need to navigate your way through massive crowds. Housed in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, this gallery holds a staggering number of artworks – so much so that they cover every single wall in the Gallery.

    Some of the most popular artwork includes pieces by Baroque Flemish Masters as well as renowned Italian artists like Bernini, Carracci, and Raphael. You’ll also find pieces by Velázquez, a painter who was especially popular in the Spanish Golden Age.

    • Rating: 8/10 – Eclectic Finds
    • Cost: $17 for the gallery – $11 for the Villa
    • Personal Opinion: A hidden wonderland just waiting to be explored.

    12. Marvel at the Villa Medici

    Villa Medici Rome

    Another ridiculously charming Rome hideaway, the Villa Medici is home to the French Academy. While it’s often overshadowed by its popular neighbor, the Spanish Steps, this villa is an absolute treasure smack in the midst of the city!

    Now, while not a lot of tourists know about this spot, it did host plenty of creative minds over the years, including Charles Garnier, Berlioz, and even Debussy. Because the villa usually has artists in residence, you may even be able to catch a performance or exhibit.

    I would really recommend that you set aside some time to take a guided tour of the villa’s garden which is set with Renaissance and Roman statues as well as original Roman reliefs.

    • Rating: 8/10 – Bucket List Essential
    • Cost: If you are your own guide, it’s free!
    • Personal Opinion: An impressive find you’ll tell friends about.
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    13. Check Out the Street Art in Quadraro

    Quadraro Rome
    Photo: Fabrizio Sciami (Flickr)

    Rome has no shortage of museums and art galleries but if you’d like to venture off the beaten track, then be sure to check out the quiet quarter of Quadraro!

    Hidden in plain sight, this treasure in Rome just so happens to be home to some of the best street art in the city. And I’m not talking about hastily scribbled graffiti either: Quadraro’s street art originates from a 2010 creative project that gathered local and international artists alike.

    One of the best free things to do in Rome, this neighborhood also offers easy access to other lesser-known attractions like the Monte del Grano Mausoleum, the Clemens XII Fountain, and the Italian Museum of Moving Images. I do need to point out that new street art is added to the walls on a regular basis so there’s always something new to check out no matter how many times you visit!

    • Rating: 6/10 – Worth a Deeper Look
    • Cost: FREE
    • Personal Opinion: Worth a stop if you’re in the area.

    14. Uncover the Treasures of Rome at the Cat Sanctuary

    Cat Sanctuary Rome

    Cat lovers, this one’s for you!

    Well, actually, this is an awesome spot for any traveler looking for unique things to do in Rome – provided they’re not allergic to cats, of course!

    Located smack in the city center, the Largo di Torre Argentina town square is easily one of the most incredible (not to mention fun!) hidden gems in Rome. When this area was excavated back in the mid-1900s, a bunch of feral cats moved in, and they never left. Eventually, a sanctuary was set up for them right by the ruins, so you’ll find over a hundred cats living there now.

    What makes this place doubly special – other than its felines of course – is that it contains layers of history, some centered around key moments in Rome’s past. For instance, the ruins of Pompey’s Theatre are said to be the exact site where Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. You’ll also find the remains of four ancient temples.

    • Rating: 9/10 – Hole in the Wall Wonder
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: An under-the-radar winner, prepare to be wowed.

    15. Walk the Ancient Appian Way

    Appian Way Rome

    Let’s wrap up this list of underrated places in Rome with one of my favorite things to do in the city!

    Dating back to 312-264 BC, the Ancient Appian Way was the very first road erected in the city – not to mention the longest straight road in the whole of Europe!

    Connecting Rome to Brindisi, the Appian Way was originally used to transport military gear. While it’s over 2,000 years old, several parts of the road are still usable to this day. Some tourists prefer to explore this 62 km-long road as part of an e-bike tour, but I would personally recommend that you walk this historic route to properly get a feel of the place.  

    The heat can get quite intense in summer though, so it’s a good idea to explore the road earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon if visiting during those warmer months.

    • Rating: 7/10 – Local Hotspot
    • Cost: Free
    • Personal Opinion: A slow traveler’s paradise.

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    Hidden Gems in Rome FAQs

    Let’s keep it going. Here are some common questions and Rome’s secret spots to visit.

    Final Thoughts on Rome’s Hidden Gems

    Rome’s real magic often flickers right behind those ultra-touristy areas. Now that you know what to look out for, rise early like the Romans do, don your best walking shoes and get to exploring.

    To truly experience the city as the locals do, don’t hesitate to lay down the guidebook and just amble around. In my experience, a few wrong turns may actually lead to some incredible treasures. You just have to get delightfully lost to find it. So, hurry up and pack your bags: La Dolce Vita awaits!

    Two churches in a square in Rome, Italy
    See ya there <3
    Image: Nic Hilditch-Short
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