Everyone has a favorite city. Mine is Rome, probably because it was the first place I lived in Italy, my first exposure to Europe, the placed that formed the backdrop to my coming of age back in my twenties.
Rome doesn’t need a sales pitch. Everyone knows what they can see there (the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain), what they can do there (sightsee, eat, and shop ’til you drop. Or in my case, sightsee, shop, and eat ’til you drop). But if you’re in Rome and looking for a few lesser-known sites to see, here are a few of my favorites.
Three Off-the-beaten Path Sites to See in Rome
1) The Aventine Hill
L’Aventino is one of the famed seven hills of Rome, and today is a pristine, residential oasis in the heart of the city. Why do I love it? It is peaceful, green, with amazing views of the city. A perfect place for a walk, a picnic, or to sit and enjoy a spring day.
On top of the Aventine lies the Basilica of Santa Sabina, which harkens back to the 5th century. Its simple and relatively unadorned style and colonnaded rectangular design make it unique among Rome’s churches, as does its attached orange grove, whose boughs perfectly frame the distant cupola of Saint Peter’s (and don’t forget to peek through the famed keyhole at the gate of the garden, from which you can see the cupola). If that’s not enough to tempt you, there are two other minor churches, Sant’Anselmo (also a monastery) and Sant’Alessio, as well as the Rome Rose Garden, which overlooks the Circus Maximus.
Rome is full of churches. Many of them are massive, filled will expensive materials and priceless works of art. The Basilica of the Santi Quattro Coronati is the opposite, a timeless place of reverence. Originating in the the Fourth Century, the complex today features not only the original basilica but a small 13-century chapel boasting beautiful, timeless frescoes depicting the life of Pope Silvestro and the Emperor Constantine, and a medieval cloister, which may be my single favorite spot in Rome, a colonnaded square of tranquility in an otherwise hectic world.
Pope Sylvester I was a fourth-century pope who legend says cured the Emperor Constantine of leprosy with an anointing of holy water, and that as a result Constantine in a gesture of gratitude walked before the pope’s horse as a papal page. The implications of this – the shift in power from the temporal authority to the church – would be considered a watershed moment for the church. The chapel commemorates the story with a series of beautiful and well-preserved frescos.
Perhaps part of the charm of the Basilica is the experience: the cloister and chapel are overseen by a group of silent and serene Augustinian nuns. If you go at the right time and ring the bell, they will open the door for you, creating an opportunity for calm contemplation and reflection.
3) Palazzo Altemps
As one of the national museums of Rome, perhaps this does not belong on a list of lesser-known sites, but I am always surprised by how few people seem to know of this gem of a museum. The building itself is a lovely fifteenth-century palazzo (built on top of archeological remains), but what really wows visitors is its collection of classical art and statuary. Seeing pieces such as the famed Ares statue, Aphrodite, Dionysus, or the Ludovisi Gaul in the throes of suicide (pictured), all artfully displayed in beautiful and spacious rooms, is remarkable and at times unsettling. For those interested in classical statuary, it is a must.
Of course, I think no visit to Rome is complete without a cooking class to explore Roman cuisine, but I do hope you have a chance to check out some of my favorite sites the next time you’re in the Eternal City.
Don’t forget while you’re off exploring these (and other) sites to stop for a coffee!
Learn more about why we love Rome in our video:
By Peg Kern
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best cooking vacations.