This article was written by Sally Gale.
When in Rome, tourists really are spoilt for choice when it comes to sightseeing opportunities and things to do. The Eternal City is steeped in history and culture with many visitors eager to take a tour around the Colosseum, stroll around the Roman Forum and a throw a penny into the Trevi Fountain. Of course these are all iconic and awe inspiring landmarks, but for those who like to veer off the beaten track, Rome has a wealth of lesser known hotspots to enchant and delight you. Here are a handful of the hidden tourist treasures that Rome has to offer.
Rome has many ‘piazzas’ (that’s a public square and/or marketplace to you or I) but there is something special about this one. Many tourists stumble upon it by mistake as they make their way through the narrow, winding streets in search of the ancient Pantheon. Suddenly they embark on this bustling piazzas with its open air cafe and street market with stalls selling everything from local produce to unique artwork and furniture. Filled with stunning fountains and framed by a mixture of quaint town houses and Baroque architecture, this piazza is best to visit during the summer months when it is alive with music, fortune tellers, buskers and street performers. Something about the atmosphere of Piazza Navona is magical and electric, inviting many a visitor to stay a while and soak up the sights, smells and sounds.
San Crispino Parlour
Italian food is held in high regard throughout the world and up there with the renowned pizza and the pasta dishes is gelato. Italian ice cream is like no other and the San Crispino Parlour off Via della Panetteria prides itself on being hailed as the best gelato in Rome. Despite it’s status, the parlous is still small and modest with only a small plaque advertising it outside, so you really need to look out for it closely. With unique and mouthwatering flavors that alternate with the seasons and a firm stance on not serving cones that may distort the carefully crafted recipe, this parlour was featured in the acclaimed novel (and film) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s not hard to see why she loved it so much.
The Magic Keyhole
Rome is full of breathtaking views but one of the most spectacular is is a surprising location. The Avenine Hill is on the outskirts of the city, a stone throw away from Circo Massimo. Visitors who climb the steep hill will find themselves surrounded by tranquil orange groves and ancient monasteries – a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the city. At the top of the hill there is a building called the Order of Malta and the gates to their gardens have a keyhole. Visitors who bend down and peer through will see an amazing sight – far in the distance is the dome of St Peters Basilica but the immaculately shaped foliage of the gardens frame it perfectly, like a painting. It is a sight you truly have to see to believe and something that will stay with your forever.
For those who are interested in seeing what Rome’s nightlife has to offer, one of the best areas is the Testaccio night-life-row off the Via di Monte. Although it is on the outskirts of the city centre, the hip and happening area is home to over a dozen bars and clubs so you are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing where you’d like to dance the night away. Impressively, the venues that make up Rome’s ‘club district’ are built into the side of a hill and one of the clubs (Akab) is home to an impressive and enormous underground cave which doubles up as a dancefloor for revellers. With a plenty of picturesque garden areas for the warmer months, visitors can expect live music, inexpensive drinks and plenty of choice for late night snacks.
By the time you’ve spent a day or two wandering around Rome you may feel almost immune to the beauty of the stunning Baroque architecture. But the Sant Ignazio church on Via del Caravita is not your average church. The stunning fresco ceilings are an optical illusion that give the impression of being vaulted and domed – almost as if in 3D – when really they are painted on a flat surface. Superb artwork and altered architectural elements help with the illusion but this is no mean feat considering the building is nearly 400 years old.