Off the beaten track: Rome


The Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain might be some of Rome’s most famous and beloved monuments, but how about an ancient pharmacy run by monks? Or a secret peephole in a garden of orange trees? Extract yourself from the tourist hordes at well-known destinations and see Rome off the beaten track. Here are some of the most interesting and alternative things to see and do in Rome that you won’t find in your tourist guide.



Galleria Sciarra

A few steps away from the ever-crowded Trevi Fountain lies a hidden courtyard. With stunning Art Nouveau frescoes and a geometric glass dome high above, Galleria Sciarra’s opulent interior is masked by a plain façade behind a McDonald’s.

Built in the 1880s for the palace of the wealthy Sciarra family, the courtyard was originally intended to become an elaborate shopping center. Now open to the public during work hours, the Galleria Sciarra is completely covered in colorful frescoes depicting beautiful women and curling floral designs.

Visiting is free, with entrances on Via Marco Minghetti and Piazza dell’Oratorio.

M.U.Ro – Museum of Urban Art of Rome

In the neighborhood of Quadraro is one of Rome’s most unconventional museums. Instead of an ancient building or a national monument, M.U.Ro, the Museum of Urban Art of Rome, is right out in the open.

The street-art museum began in 2010 when local artist Diavù created the first mural on Via dei Lentuli. More and more artists started to create works on surrounding walls, building a monument to Quadraro’s history and culture. The neighborhood’s history as a hub for the film industry in the 1920s, a center of anti-fascist rebellion and Nazi violence in the Second World War, and its modern growth and recovery are frequent themes in M.U.Ro’s artworks.

Visit the M.U.Ro website to book a walking tour and get the most out of your visit.

Antica Farmacia della Scala

The ancient pharmacy of Santa Maria della Scala is a rare example of a spezieria, an apothecary’s workshop/laboratory. Here in the Trastevere neighborhood, Carmelite monks from the nearby church grew herbs and spices and created healing medicines for the public. The pharmacy was so highly-regarded that it became known as the ‘Pharmacy of the Popes’.

Operating from the sixteenth century until 1954, today the ancient apothecary has been preserved as a museum. A modern pharmacy is also located on the building’s ground floor. Walls of ancient medicines, decorative ceilings, and original weighing scales transport you back to a forgotten time. The museum includes the sales room, the herbarium, and the laboratories, which you can visit through a special tour led by one of the local monks.

The Roman Cat Sanctuary at Torre Argentina

As long as Rome has existed, Roman cats have made the city their home. Amongst the ruins of Pompey’s Theatre in the Largo di Torre Argentina is a special sanctuary dedicated to Rome’s feline friends.

Over 150 cats sleep, eat, and play in some of the city’s oldest ruins. Many of the cats are sick or disabled, and the volunteer organization of Torre Argentina regularly fundraises to care for them. In addition, the organization runs an extensive program to combat the spread of feral cats. Some of the sanctuary’s long-term residents are also available for adoption (to the right home!). 

The ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina were unearthed in 1929 and include the site of Julius Caesar’s betrayal and murder in 44 BCE. Visitors gather daily around the ruins to watch the cats sun themselves in this ancient place. Head down the steps from the street level to the sanctuary’s gift shop, where you can donate, buy a calendar, or even adopt a furry friend.

Plan your visit on the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary website.


Osteria Bonelli

Rome may be famous for its pasta but have you tried pannicolo or coratella? These lesser-known Italian classics, as well as favorites like spaghetti alla gricia, are on the menu at Osteria Bonelli.

Located to the east of the city center in the neighborhood of Tor Pignattara, this is the real deal for Roman food. A chalkboard lists the daily specials, but the best suggestions come from the servers. The ingredients are fresh, the dishes are classic, and this is the kind of food that would feel right at home coming from an exceptionally talented Roman grandmother’s kitchen.

If you’re up for a post-meal stroll, check out the nearby aqueduct ruins which once filled Emperor Nero’s baths.

Find Osteria Bonelli at Viale dell’Acquedotto Alessandrino, 172. The restaurant is open daily from 13:00 – 15:30, then 20:00 – 23:30.

Tram Depot


View this post on Instagram


Une publication partagée par Tram Depot (@tramdepot_)

Once upon a time, Rome was at the center of the largest tram system in Italy. Nowadays, the chaos of cars, motorcycles, and buses have almost completely replaced the city’s tramcars. But one carriage still remains, converted into a coffee cart and bar serving some of the best drinks in Rome.

Tram Depot, on the border of a leafy park, consists of a small kiosk in the carriage and a mishmash of outdoor seating under large umbrellas. Open seasonally (due to spacing) it’s ideal for spring and summer in Rome. By day, you’ll find delicious specialty coffee and fresh pastries, while the evening brings a perfect spot for an aperitivo.

Tram Depot also serves cakes, pies, and sandwiches for those needing something a little heartier. Head south of the historic center to the neighborhood of Testaccio for this hidden gem.

Find Tram Depot at Via Marmorata, 13. Open daily from 08:00 – 02:00.



Janiculum Hill

Outside the ancient city is an unparalleled panorama of the domes and bell towers of Rome. Named for the Roman god Janus, whose shrine once crowned the hilltop, Janiculum Hill is well worth climbing, and not only for its view. 

Every day at noon for over 100 years, a cannon fires from under the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Don’t worry, there’s no ammunition here. The firing of the cannon is a timekeeping device, supposedly ensuring that the city’s church bells ring in unison.

The Parco degli Eroi, or Hero’s Park, is a stunning woodland promenade on the hill. A monument to the revolutionaries who died in the 1849 French invasion of Rome, the park is a peaceful escape from the city noise.

Climb the Janiculum Hill at noon for the cannon, or at sunset to see the breathtaking colors shift over the Roman skyline.

The Orange Garden

On Aventine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of ancient Rome, lies one of the city’s most beautiful natural areas. Completed in 1932, the Orange Garden covers over 8000 square meters with bitter orange trees and gorgeous views over Rome and the Vatican. 

The most interesting part of the Orange Garden, however, is a secret keyhole. A nondescript iron gate, just by the Villa del Priorato di Malta, offers a unique view. Peek through the gate’s keyhole and you can spot, at the end of a garden of clipped cypress trees, the copper-green dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

This special view is hard to capture on camera. It’s one of the unique Roman sights that can only truly be experienced in person.



Porta Portese Market

As Rome’s biggest market, Porta Portese in the Trastevere neighborhood isn’t exactly a secret. However, it does require some insider knowledge if you want to do it like a local.

Stretching from the Porta Portese gate along the Clivo Portuense and the Via Portuense and rambling out to the Via I. Nievo and beyond, Porta Portese Market is a Sunday institution. Here you’ll find a treasure trove of unique and unusual objects, but only if you know where to look. Get there early and give yourself plenty of time to dig among the piles of stuff, which can be very mixed in terms of quality. Head to the vintage clothing area for some of the best bargains, and don’t be afraid to haggle!

Don’t forget to treat yourself to some pizza at one of the market’s many stalls. Here, you can buy your slices by weight rather than number. It’s well worth it after hours of treasure-hunting in the cobblestone streets of Trastevere.

Find the Porta Portese market on Viale di Trastevere every Sunday from 07:00 – 13:00.

Borghetto Flaminio

A smaller flea market than the sprawling Porta Portese, this relatively calm collection of stalls is a break from the nearby bustle of Piazza del Popolo

Borghetto Flaminio is an upscale market where you can find rare antiques, vintage designer clothes, and intricate decorations. The cast-offs of Rome’s elite find their way to the stalls tucked away in an old bus depot yard in the residential area of Flaminio. Traders here won’t be calling out their deals to entice customers, rather they let you come to them. The market’s location and layout make for a lovely Sunday stroll, even if you don’t buy anything (though it’s hard to resist!).

Keep in mind that the Borghetto Flaminio is one of the few markets that charge an entrance fee. Though at 1,60 €, it’s hardly a big spend!

Find the Borghetto Flaminio market in the Piazza della Marina every Sunday from 10:00 – 19:00.

Enjoyed this article? Check out our other off the beaten track guides!

London: Off the beaten track

Paris: Off the beaten track

New York City: Off the beaten track