When you think of Rome, you probably envision stylish women and handsome men scooting around on Vespas, classical art and breathtaking architecture. Although it might come as a surprise, this magnificent city has another side that’s often overlooked by tourists. Our Roman local Francesca has put together a list of 10 weird and wonderful spots that will most definitely transform your trip.
1. Cycle back in time at Appia Antica Regional Park
Imagine a huge park with high pines, green fields and an ancient road that leads to a bounty of Roman aqueducts, old churches and tombs. Can’t quite picture it? Head to Appia Antica Regional Park, rent a bike and see for yourself! It’s one of the greatest experiences to be had in Rome, especially on a sunny Sunday.
Photo credit: Shaun Merritt
2. Visit the mysterious downhill rise
Just a few kilometres from Rome in the Castelli Romani area, there’s a strange slope where gravity doesn’t quite work – everything you put on the ground rises instead of rolling down… You won’t believe your eyes! There are just a few examples of this phenomenon in the world. Don’t forget to bring something to roll like a can or a bottle.
3. Be amazed by clever design at Borromini’s Perspective
When strolling in the city centre, look out onto Galleria Spada – the magic of Borromini’s masterpiece will hit you unexpectedly. This is one of Rome’s weirdest and most unique hidden gems. Borromini’s corridor deceives the onlooker whose gaze stretches far deeper than its actual length. The effect was cleverly created with a gradually rising floor, converging walls and a descending ceiling.
Photo credit: Verbunkos
4. Explore Rome’s ancient catacombs
Venturing underground to visit the catacombs is an experience not to be missed. With narrow alleys, chapels, stairways and arches, it’s as if you’re walking through a mini subterranean city. Few people know that there are more than 60 catacombs in Rome, the most famous being San Sebastiano, San Callisto, Domitilla and Priscilla. These early burial grounds are as amazing as they are macabre.
5. See a mix of classical art and industrial archaeology at Centrale Montemartini
This disused 19th century power station is now home to one of the best collections of Greek and Roman statues in the world. It’s a weird museum where the white curves of classical statues contrast with the black metal of old machinery, making for a truly surreal experience. Most locals don’t even know about this extraordinary place!
Photo credit: Allison Meier
6. Smell the roses at Roseto Comunale
Right beside the Circo Massimo at the foot of Palatino Hill, you’ll find one of the most romantic gardens in the city. Home to over 1000 species of botanical and antique roses, it’s a special spot for lovers as well as for those passionate about flowers. Note that the garden is only open during the spring months when the roses are in bloom.
Photo credit: Yannick Carer
7. Come face to face with skeletal remains at Cripta dei Cappuccini
This would have to be one of the weirdest places in the world. Although it’s relatively unknown amongst locals, it’s a favourite spot for those who enjoy all things macabre, sacred and scary. From the outside it appears to be a simple church, but don’t let the façade fool you – the building also contains several underground crypts bursting with skeletal remains. There are bones piled high among countless others, bones nailed to the walls in intricate patterns and some even hanging from the ceiling as light fixtures!
Photo credit: Teresa Arago
8. Take a relxing walk through Quartiere Coppedè
Elegant, romantic and quiet, Quartiere Coppedé is an unexpected and bizarre area to take a dreamy stroll. It’s an amazing hotchpotch of Italian art nouveau and art deco buildings with Greek, gothic, baroque and even medieval influences by Italian architect Gino Coppedè. Walk for another 30 minutes to discover two more art nouveau buildings located on the grounds of the beautiful Villa Torlonia.
Photo credit: Nephelim BadTusk
9. Enjoy a puppet show and spectacular views at Gianicolo
The puppet show at Gianicolo Belvedere is a tradition for every family in Rome. It’s a funny and cheerful experience for children and children at heart. If this doesn’t tempt you, the breathtaking panorama from the top of the hill should. The view stretches over roofs, ancient ruins, monuments and baroque domes as far as the eye can see.
Photo credit: Guglielmo Celata
10. Step inside the Pantheon
As it’s located in the heart of Rome, the Pantheon is a place that locals and visitors regularly pass by. Sometimes it’s nice to step inside again and be reminded of its fabulous architecture. Note that visitors aren’t allowed inside during masses (5 pm on Saturdays and 10.30 am on Sundays and religious holidays).
Photo credit: Michiel Jelijs
Opening photo credit: Luca Sartoni