How to get off the beaten path in Rome

written by Andrea MacDonald October 27, 2017
Rome guide drinks

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.

Pantheon Rome guide
An Intrepid group at the Pantheon

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.

Trastevere Rome guide
Charming Trastevere

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.

Trastevere Rome guide restaurant
Trattoria Da Enzo


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.

A silky plate of pasta bathed in a cream sauce and dotted with a generous amount of pepper.
Cacio e Pepe, a simple but delicious Italian spaghetti dish

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?

Rome guide 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.

A traveller looking lovingly at a cone of gelato. Her shirt is blue and pink and she wears a hat that says Rome.
An Intrepid traveller tucking into authentic gelato

There are three simple rules to follow to make sure you’re eating ice cream like a Roman:

  1. 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.
  2. If you see people lining up outside a gelateria, get in that line immediately.
  3. 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!)

Vatican museum Rome guideIf 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.

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