There’s no doubt about it – Rome is one of the best cities in the world to be a traveller.
Is there any site more iconic than the Colosseum? Any spot more awe-inspiring than St. Peter’s Square? Any view more thrilling than the one from the top of the Spanish Steps?
Unfortunately, like in most of the world’s greatest cities, so many incredible sights equals so many tourists.
Luckily, it’s easy to experience a more local side of Italy‘s capital: here are our top tips for how to enjoy the Eternal City away from the crowds.
Neighbourhood hotspot 1: Trastevere
Home to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants and one of its oldest churches, Trastevere is definitely not undiscovered. But this district, which manages to be both the most traditional and the funkiest in Rome, has room for everyone.
With colourful, crumbling old buildings, cobbled lanes with ivy climbing the walls, it’s quintessential Rome and a photographer’s dream. Browse the tiny shops (look out for one of the best second-hand bookshops in the city), have an aperitivo or just sit at a café and enjoy the local life.
One must-visit is Trattoria Da Enzo, a tucked away restaurant so good that even locals wait up to 90 minutes for a table. Serving Roman classics such as fried artichoke, and boasting incredibly charming sidewalk seating, it’s bound to make for a memorable meal.
To see more highlights, check out this local-led walking tour of the neighbourhood. It’s run by Urban Adventures, lasts two hours, and includes otherworldly bakery and sorbet stops.
Neighbourhood hotspot 2: Testaccio
Oozing with the atmosphere of street art and student bars, Testaccio – just across the river from Trastevere – is Rome’s coolest, most undiscovered neighbourhood.
Here you’ll find three of the city’s quirkiest sites: a perfectly-preserved pyramid that’s a century older than the Colosseum; the non-Catholic Cemetery where English poets Percy Shelley and John Keats are buried; and the Centrale Montemartini Museum, where antiquity-era sculptures are displayed in the industrial ambiance of a former power plant.
With two of the best food markets in the city (Testaccio Market and the original Eataly), Testaccio is also one of the best places to try authentic Roman cuisine. We’re talking not just pizza and pasta, but real Roman treats, like suppli (rice balls with tomato sauce) and tripe.
In fact, Testaccio was literally built on the remnants of its foodie past: the hill that serves as its 100-foot high backdrop is composed of the fragments of millions of ancient olive oil containers.
Neighbourhood hotspot 3: Monti
Would you believe us if we told you that one of Rome’s best-kept secrets is right beside the Colosseum?
An artsy neighbourhood full of local restaurants and buzzing bars, independent boutiques, craft fairs and antique markets, quiet streets strewn with ivy and hardly any tourists around? Well, believe us, it exists: it’s called Monti, and you should make a beeline here when you’re finished sightseeing for the day. Look out for Alle Carrette, this writer’s favourite pizzeria.
Finding the best gelato
This tip isn’t exactly about how to avoid the tourists, but rather how to avoid the tourist traps, because when in Rome, there’s no time to waste on bad gelato.
Part of the fun is finding your own personal favourite, but keep an eye out for gelaterias where you can sample the experimental, seasonal flavours – like raspberry basil or Sicilian lemon curd – that make Italian ice cream so exciting. Local favourites such as Fatamorgana, La Romana or Gracchi are always a good choice, too.
There are three simple rules to follow to make sure you’re eating ice cream like a Roman:
- If the colours look too artificial, they probably are. A good litmus test is that the banana flavour should be the colour of a real banana, not bright yellow.
- If you see people lining up outside a gelateria, get in that line immediately.
- Whipped cream topping is always free, so when they ask if you want panna say “si!”
Tips for visiting the Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum is one of the busiest sites in the world and not exactly the first place you go to get away from it all. But it also has the world’s largest concentration of art and will take your breath away at every turn, so it’s crucial to know how to beat the crowds here. (It’s also a must if you have just 24 hours in the city; if you do, check out our layover guide!)
If you have time (whether solo or on a group tour), we recommend heading in on your own with a great guidebook and a skip-the-line pass. That way you can see more than just the main sites, spend time in the areas you like best, have a coffee break in the quiet garden and visit the areas where the tour groups never go (including the amazing Pinacoteca where you’ll likely have Caravaggio and Bernini art all to yourself).
Top tip: stick around until later in the afternoon, an hour or so before the museum closes and the groups trickle out. You’ll likely find yourself alone in one of the Raffaele rooms, and it will be the most magical moment of your trip.
After a long day of sightseeing, you’ll be ready to head for the hills: luckily Rome was built on seven hills so there are plenty to choose from.
The Capitoline and Palatine Hills rise right in the center of town with amazing views over the Roman Forum. Aventine Hill has the quirkiest viewpoint in the city: look through a secret keyhole in the Maltese Embassy for a perfectly framed view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Our favourite is Janiculum Hill, just above Trastevere. It’s a great place to spread out a picnic, relax in the shade and enjoy the view, and some peace and quiet, over this magnificent city.
Inspired to visit this iconic city? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures in Italy.