Rome. The eternal city. Home of so much history and art. Rome was my first international trip and I fell in love with every bit of the city. But, I quickly realized when I was planning my trip that outside of the Vatican and the Colosseum, I was at a loss for what to do in the eternal city. However, I quickly realized getting off the beaten path is the best way to experience Rome!
Rome Off the Beaten Path: Capuchin Crypts
Passing by this church, you’d have no idea that below it lies the crypts of the Capuchin monks which hold the remains of around 4,000 friars. Not unique enough for you? The crypts are decorated entirely with human bones. There are five crypts decorated with bones, three of which are decorated with specific types of bones: the Crypt of Skulls, the Crypt of Pelvises, and the Crypt of Leg Bones and Thigh Bones. This fascinating, albeit morbid stop is one of my favorite destinations off the beaten path in Rome. Each crypt was both breathtaking and chilling to behold, and, for me, was a reminder of just how fleeting life is. The pelvic bones fashioned to look like an hourglass on the wall (signifying how “time flies”) may have had something to do with this.
Rome Off the Beaten Path: Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Where to even begin with this incredible church? The grounds are utterly gorgeous, the basilica and chapels are stunning, the papal relics…it was breath taking. Not to mention the lack of tourists due to it’s location. This church is also the burial site of Saint Paul and is one of the four major papal basilica of Rome. There’s too much to list here and I don’t want to spoil the wonder of it, so be sure to add this to your Rome itinerary.
It’s location outside the city walls makes it LITERALLY off the beaten path. It’s easily reachable by line B on the metro, however. Simply get off at the “Basilica San Paolo” stop and walk five minutes north to the church! Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls is open from 7:30 AM to 6 PM, seven days a week. Remember, this is still a church and place of worship so please be quiet and respectful, and do not take photos where you aren’t allowed. Additionally, ensure you’re not wearing shorts or tops exposing your shoulders, as you will not be allowed entrance.
Rome Off the Beaten Path: Basilica Di San Clemente
Much like the Capuchin Crypts, this one will also be taking you underground, but a little deeper this time, so you may want to bring a jacket. From the surface, San Clemente looks like a normal church. Well, as normal as every gorgeous church in Rome! But you wouldn’t know from looking at it that below the surface is not just one, but two other churches. The original Basilica di San Clemente was built in the fourth century and, like many things in the eternal city, lies below the modern church. From there, you can descend further into a first century pagan temple. It’s amazing to see these two vastly different pieces of history, right next to each other. There’s even a stone slab with catholic inscriptions on one side, and pagan inscriptions on the other!
Once again, please dress appropriately or you will not be allowed to enter the church. Much like the Capuchin Crypts, photos are not permitted in San Clemente, please respect these rules.
Rome Off the Beaten Path: Caesar's or Augustus' Forum Light Show
Beginning at dusk and with shows running every 20 minutes after, this was well worth the 15 euro it cost me. I opted for the show in Caesar’s Forum because it allows you to actually walk through the forum! You begin at Trajan’s column (I didn’t realize this and missed my showtime, but they let me in the next one!) and walk through a tunnel and into Caesars Forum. While walking through the forum, light projections show you what the forum looked like during Caesar’s time while your headset details his story and describes to you various aspects of ancient Roman culture and history. It even points out some ancient Roman graffiti to you! The light projections were such high quality, I almost forgot they weren’t real! This show isn’t always available, so be sure to check their website or reach out and see when they start the shows again. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera at the time, and had lost my phone, so the camera on the temporary phone I got couldn’t quite capture how amazing the show was…I guess you’ll have to see it yourself!
Rome Off the Beaten Path: Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini
Ever wondered what a home or villa looked like in ancient Rome? Le Domus is an incredibly unique museum that doesn’t just let you see these strangely intimate Roman ruins, but shows you what they looked like when they were completely intact, through light projections. You walk through the museum on glass floors over the ancient villas below. It’s incredible to see what’s still intact after all these centuries and amazing to see what these homes would have looked like when people lived in them. It’s fairly dark in the exhibit’s and can be cramped in some areas, so keep that in mind if you plan to add this to your Rome itinerary.
Rome Off the Beaten Path: Aventine Keyhole (Aventine Hill)
While this spot has become more and more popular, I couldn’t leave it off this list in case you hadn’t heard of it.
At the top of one of the seven hills of Rome, is the Embassy of the Knights of Malta. Which may not seem like something you want to spend your valuable time in Rome seeing, but the door to the building is the real attraction. Or rather, the keyhole of the door. This keyhole, perfectly frames Saint Peter’s Basilica, five kilometers away. It’s an incredible sight and is especially beautiful at sunset!
Like most things in the eternal city, this simply cannot be captured in a photograph, it just doesn’t do it justice.
Rome Off the Beaten Path: Ostia Antica
While technically not in Rome, Ostia Antica is a super easy day trip, with just a 20 to 40 minute train ride to get there. Ostia Antica is an archaeological park filled with Roman ruins from as early as the second century BC! It’s a nice break from the crowds of tourists in Rome and was surprisingly peaceful. Not to mention, the ruins are absolutely incredible to behold. Ostia Antica rivals Pompeii in my opinion and is a great substitute for a day trip. You can read my post about Ostia Antica here.
If you do have time for a day trip to Pompeii while in Rome, or can work in a day to stop there if you’re on your way to Naples or the Amalfi Coast, you shouldn’t miss it! But you should definitely do your research so you don’t make the same mistakes I did when I went to Pompeii. You can read about the things I wish I’d known before visiting Pompeii here.
Hopefully at least one of these makes it on your Rome itinerary. If not, then perhaps you’ll have time on your next trip to Rome! Just make sure to toss a coin in Trevi Fountain before you leave, so then you’ll have to come back!
Comment below to tell me your favorite off the beaten path thing or place in Rome!