Rome, Italy is not a place lacking in things to do and see. Quite the opposite: The city is literally bursting with museums, historical sites, restaurants, tours, classes, and more. Yet while there’s no shortage of activities and attractions, many tourists — especially first-timers — tend to fall into the trap of following the typical itinerary. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The Eternal City’s most-famous places are highly frequented for a reason, and it makes sense that anyone would want to cross them off their bucket list. But, if you’re looking to create a less-expected vacation, it’s worth trying some of the more unique experiences that Rome has to offer as well.
Though obviously, that’s easier said than done. It’s hard enough deciding which of the popular sites and activities to see and do during your time there. Finding under-the-radar experiences to undertake? That could convince anyone — but especially a travel or Rome newbie — to give up on the task completely.
So, resist the urge to haphazardly Google ideas (and subsequently panic at the myriad results). TZR has reached out to travel and Italy experts to get the inside scoop on less-touristy ways to see Rome. From watching concerts in Roman ruins to going behind the scenes in a museum, here are the unique experiences they recommend.
Tour The Capuchin Crypt & Roman Catacombs
Lindsey Puls, owner of the travel blog Have Clothes, Will Travel, says one unique experience you shouldn’t miss in Rome is a tour of the the Capuchin Crypt. The site is found under the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione, and features walls decorated with the bones of the deceased Capuchin Monks. “It is insisted that these displays are not meant to be macabre, but ‘a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on Earth and our own mortality,’” Puls explains. In all her life, she says, she’s never seen anything quite like it. The tour that Puls recommends also takes visitors to one of the largest Roman catacombs, the Domitilla Catacomb (which she found to be even more emotional of an experience than the crypt), and inside the Basilica San Martino ai Monti to see the frescoes.
See A Concert At The Baths Of Caracalla
“Concerts under the stars are always a hit, and even more so in a dramatic setting of ancient Roman ruins,” says Candice Criscione, the founder of MomInItaly.com and TheTuscanMom.com. That’s why she recommends visiting The Baths of Caracalla (or Terme di Caracalla in Italian), which she says hosts concerts and operas during the summer in the vast ruins of the Roman public baths complex. “Even if you can’t see a concert at the Baths, they’re an excellent archaeological site to visit, and you can even rent a VR headset to see what they would’ve looked like in their prime.”
Take A Cooking Class In A Local's Home
Sampling the cuisine is a crucial aspect of visiting Rome. But if you want to take it a step further than just visiting the restaurants, Valerie Edman, a luxury travel advisor and agency owner at Cultured Travel LLC, says one of her favorite activities in Rome is taking a cooking class in a local’s home. “Through Traveling Spoon, [you can] get connected with a local who will host you in their private home for the day,” she shares. That way, you’ll learn to make traditional meals while getting to know the culture from someone who lives there. “It's a very intimate, one-of-a-kind experience.”
Venture Underneath The Trevi Fountain
If you’re planning a trip to Rome, it’s almost certain you’ve heard of the Trevi Fountain (and are planning your visit to see it). What you may not know is that there is an underground archaeological area — Vicus Caprarius, or the City of Water — underneath. Katy Clarke, the founder and editor of Untold Italy, says seeing this is a great activity to plan that goes beyond the obvious attractions in Rome. By visiting, she says, you’ll “discover an ancient apartment complex and series of pools fed by the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. Water from these pools eventually gushes over the famous fountain above.”
See Rome From The Sky
The Victor Emmanuel II National Monument (aka Altar of the Fatherland) is one Cassie Tetro, a Rome-certified travel expert at Montage Travel, says is huge and one everyone will see during their trip to The Eternal City. However, she continues, almost no one seems to know about its “Rome from the Sky” Panoramic Terrace, which has “UNBEATABLE views over the Roman Forum and all the way to the Colosseum.” According to Tetro, it takes only 30 minutes to visit and no pre-booking of tickets is required. “Why not make the stop? I recommend this activity on almost every Rome itinerary I design,” she shares.
Explore Caravaggio’s Stomping Ground
Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, often referred to as just Caravaggio, was a notorious resident of Rome known for both his dramatic artwork and dramatic life. The Caravaggio – Rebel and Rome experience, available to guests of Dorchester Collection’s Hotel Eden, lets those who book revisit the past on a two-hour guided tour of the artist’s stomping grounds. Stops include sites of the workshops where Caravaggio trained, and even the spot of the tennis match that caused the artist’s exile from the city. With this offer, you’ll also get a one-night stay in a room or suite for two people and a full breakfast.
Visit The Storerooms Of MAXXI
When in Rome, it’s pretty standard to visit countless museums. But going behind the scenes? That’s not something most get to experience. Hotel Eden breaks down the barriers for its guests by providing a chance for those staying at the hotel to visit the storerooms of MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts. Art lovers can book this 90-minute tour (for a maximum of 10 guests) and venture into the MAXXI underground vaults to be guided by an art historian and a conservation expert who restores the artworks. In addition, the tour offers an opportunity to witness the artworks coming out of their cases to return to the exhibition halls.
Day Trip To The World’s Most Romantic Garden
Want to escape the city for a bit? Take a trip outside Rome to see some of the most beautiful nature Italy has to offer. Members of Essentialist (a members-only travel service that curates bespoke itineraries for its clients) can ask to have a private visit arranged to Ninfa, often dubbed “The Most Romantic Garden in the World.” Only a 90-minute drive from Rome, this experience gives members a chance to see to the the former Caetani family property, which is laid out around the ruins of a medieval town and rarely open to the public.
Go Shopping With Kika Repetto
You’re bound to do some shopping in Rome — so why not make it a truly incredible experience? Another Essentialist offer for members, the private shopping session with style consultant Kika Repetto (who describes herself as a “wardrobe shrink”) provides clients with a full or half-day bespoke itinerary tailored to match their budget and taste. All the while, Repetto can unlock the city’s under-the-radar shopping scene, as well as navigate the major brand boutiques.