If you’re planning to stay in Rome for a medium/long time, or if you already visited the Eternal City many times before, you might be interested in a list of little-known alternative destinations; this way, you would be able going beyond the classical must-see routes that every tourist usually follows at his first visit or when he has only 4-5 days to spend in town.

So, assuming you’ve already seen all must-sees of Rome: St. Peter’s and Vatican Museums, Castel Sant’Angelo and its bridge, Colosseum, Roman Forum, the Palatine, Piazza Venezia and the Capitol, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Galleria Borghese, Piazza del Popolo with Pincio, Trastevere, Piazza Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Farnese, I list for you hereafter my personal insider tips.

If you’ll follow my hints– together with the Caravaggio’s Treasure Hunt I suggest as well into another page of this Blog – I grant you’ll see marvellous masterpieces and great, unexpected sites that mass-tourists normally don’t even know about! All such alternative destinations can be localized on this MAP looking for their own number in the list here below.

Alternative destinationsThis touching marble sculpture group, visible at Palazzo Altemps Museum, captures the dramatic moment after a conquered Gaul has stabbed his wife to save her from the vengeance of the enemy and has just turned the sword on himself. Be sure to observe it from all sides!

This marble group, as well as the “Dying Gaul” that can be seen at Capitoline Museums, dates back to 1st century B.C. and is a roman copy of an Hellenistic bronze located in Pergamon, now lost.

Palazzo Altemps was designed by the famous architect Melozzo da Forlì around 1450 and is one of the most beautiful museums in Rome, displaying famous collections of marble statues. It’s one of the 4 locations of National Roman Museum (see the Garden of Livia); tickets are always available on location, but can as well be purchased on-line HERE.

Alternative destinationsDespite being a religious work, this marble sculpture located in the church of San Francesco d’Assisi a Ripa is the quintessence of passion. The work’s subject is in the throes of spiritual ecstasy as Ludovica experiences a mystical communion with God.

To be noted that:

    • St. Francis of Assisi himself was hosted in this church when coming to Rome for visiting the Pope from 1209 through 1223 (the church had a completely different aspect at that time of course);
    • famous Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico active in the past century is buried in one of the chapels.

Alternative destinationsWith the same inspiration he lavished on Ludovica Albertoni’s sculpture, Bernini depicted the experience of religious ecstasy in St. Teresa d’Avila’s encounter with the Angel, who pierces the heart of the nun with the golden spear of God.

This marvellous masterpiece can be admired in the Cornaro Chapel inside the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.

Every inch of this tiny chapel inside Basilica di Santa Prassede is covered with spectacular Byzantine mosaics dating to the 9th century. The shimmering gold and brightly coloured glass mosaics feature portraits of Christ, the Pope Pasquale I, his successor Eugenio II, Saints and Angels.

The whole church is really ancient, its current aspect dates back to 817 and it has mostly been preserved original; not many tourists go there, and I warmly recommend you to pick at least Santa Prassede among all the proposed alternative destinations!

Alternative destinationsThis splendid fresco decorating the Loggia of Galatea in Villa Farnesina, a wonderful private museum in Trastevere, is a whirlwind of sea nymphs, tritons and putti, all in movement.

The twisting nude from Galatea reveals Raphael’s deep knowledge of the anatomy of the human body, as well as the influence by Michelangelo.

Villa Farnesina itself is a fantastic place: designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi in early 1500 is a marvellous example of Renassaince architecture. It was decorated by artists such as Raphael of course, but also by Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, il Sodoma and Giulio Romano.

As well as the Loggia of Galatea, you will sure love the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, also frescoed by Raphael and staff of his workshop. You can see its virtual reproduction HERE, information in English language also available, see the “Explore” tab.

Today the Villa hosts the Representative See of Accademia dei Lincei, the main Italian cultural institution. Among all listed alternative destinations this is one of my favourites!

Alternative destinationsBuilt in 1502, this minuscule shrine inside the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio is the most exquisite example of Renaissance architecture. The Tempietto incorporates ideal proportions, pure lines, and uses the circular structure in an attempt to imagine the perfection of the divine.

It was built by order of King of Spain in the location where St. Peter the Apostle was crucified, and still today it’s the property of Spanish Academy of Rome.

Alternative destinationsI’m not going to tell you what can be seen through this “secret Keyhole”, it should be a great surprise in the intention of the Architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

To be honest the cat is now out of the bag, as I’ve lately seen 10-20 tourists waiting in line at the door… but it’s worth waiting! The Keyhole can however be seen through h24 all year long, very scenic as well at night time (with no queue)!

The doorway in question leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, the legendary crusader knights and now religious/medical order. Information HERE.

As it holds extraterritorial status, it is not technically “Italy” within the walls – so looking through the Keyhole you would actually see three different Countries .

A visit inside the doorway to the gardens, to the Villa Magistrale and the Church of Santa Maria del Priorato – all designed by Piranesi – can be organized (except in July and August) only if yu make a reservation far in advance by writing to visitorscentre@orderofmalta.int.

When on top of Aventine Hill, I recommend you don’t miss a visit to the Oranges’ Garden to enjoy its panoramic view over the city. You would also come across a couple of famous churches, both at walking distance: St. Alessio and specially the ancient and best preserved St. Sabina (my very favourite place on Aventine Hill).

During April-May, you may have a short walk down to the Rose Garden and see a large variety of roses in their full blooming. Guided tours are also possible, information HERE.

Alternative destinationsThe pinnacle of this exquisite church shakes up Rome’s skyline of traditional domes with its distinctive spiralling steeple.

Inside, the shape of the dome that, like the star of David, consists of two superimposed triangles, is stunningly complex. The mesmerizing series of concave and convex undulations nevertheless results in perfect symmetry.

It’s often closed – better to get information before each visit, HERE. I however advise to directly contact Mrs. Silvia Tagliente, +39 333 79991349, e-mail silvia_tagliente@libero.it.

This incredible painted garden, which once adorned a room of the ancient Villa of Livia (Emperor Augustus’ wife) at Prima Porta, dates back to 1st century B.C. and depicts a staggering 23 varieties of trees, fruits, plants and flowers, and 69 species of birds!

Upon their discovery in 1863, the frescoes were restored, painstakingly removed in sections and transferred to the National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo, which is really fantastic as a whole.

National Roman Museum has 4 locations: Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps (see The Galatian’s Suicide above), Crypta Balbi and Terme di Diocleziano – the latter including the fantastic Aula Ottagona.

Everything can be visited with a single ticket that can be purchased on location with no problems, online pre-sale is also available HERE.

Alternative destinationsDubbed the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages, this chapel within the Basilica dei Santi Quattro Coronati monastery was frescoed by anonymous artists (most likely of Venice extraction) in the 13th century.

The remarkably well-preserved paintings provide a rare example in Rome of late medieval frescoes, considering the majority of Roman works from this period were destroyed to make way for later decorations.

The monastic complex also include other incredible masterpieces that can’t be missed: the Cloister and the Gothic Room.

All these marvellous alternative destinations can only be seen with reservation and ticket to be booked well in advance, so I strongly recommend to take all information at the given link (English language is at the bottom of the page). Believe me, this marvellous site is seldom visited by mass-tourists and is really fantastic!

Alternative destinationsShould you be so lucky to be in Rome on march 9th, you can’t really miss to visit this marvellous and ancient monastery, opening to public only one day a year.

The monastery was founded in 1433 by St. Francesca Romana, the most beloved roman Saint.

Even though she wished to become a nun, Francesca was forced to marry a man she didn’t love. When her husband died, she was finally able to dedicate her life to God and to helping the poorest people. She died on march 9th 1440, that’s why the monastery – still active as such – opens on such date only.

Inside you’ll admire frescoes depicting the life and miracles of St. Francesca, some of which have been painted by famous artists such as Antoniazzo Romano and Benozzo Gozzoli.

Remember: the Monastery opens only on march 9th of every year, free of charge, there is a long queue but trust me: it’s really marvellous, among all alternative destinations you really can’t miss it!

Alternative destinationsAra Pacis Augustae is a huge, marvellous altar built by Augustus, the first roman Emperor, to honour the Goddess of Peace. This happened after he returned to Rome in 13 B.C. as a winner from the wars against the Spanish and the Gauls, gaining their territories as peaceful Roman Colonies.

The monument was inaugurated in 9 B.C., and every year a ceremony and a sacrifice were celebrated here to remember the end of war.

It’s really remarkable, now you see it all white – but this altar used to be very colourful! Until December 2019 you might have experienced a virtual visit with 3-D viewer, which would have given you a clear idea about its original aspect and function, but unfortunately this project has ended.
To have just a small idea, you can see this video – sorry, the explanation is only given in Italian, but… better than nothing!

Now the visit is supported by a multi-language audio-guiding system; a virtual 360° tour is also available.

And last but not least… Ara Pacis is being protected since 2006 by an exceptional housing, designed by the world famous Architect Richard Meier. You will appreciate its design and exceptional luminosity enhancing the reliefs of the sacred altar!

Alternative destinationsThis virtuosity example of baroque optical illusion was created by famous architect Francesco Borromini in 1653. As it’s meant to create a trick, I’m not going to tell you anything about it.

It’s located in the “secret garden” of Palazzo Spada, that can be visited to admire an authentic baroque palace, The museum inside displays a huge collection of paintings including some by Tiziano, Andrea del Sarto, Guido Reni, Guercino and many others.

At the end of the gallery the visitor arrives to the garden and to the Perspective. This surprising masterpiece can actually be quickly seen as well from the inner courtyard of the palace without paying the ticket for the museum, but of course at a distance and through a glass.

Alternative destinationsThis Romanesque church is really marvellous, one of the best alternative destinations. Its astonishing Byzantine mosaic apse and its Cosmatesque floor are both perfectly preserved and very rare in Rome, where nearly all churches were re-decorated during Baroque period.

A ticket can be purchased inside the church to visit the very interesting underground remains. You will see some Republican Age houses, the original church of the 1st century A.C. with its ancient frescoes, and a place of worship of the Mithraic Mysteries with a beautiful altar.

As the church is run by Irish Dominicans, The Basilica of San Clemente can be interesting also for those who wish to participate to a mass in English language.

Alternative destinationsMichelangelo’s sculpture is the main attraction of the beautiful church of San Pietro in Vincoli, placed midway between Colosseum and Venezia Square.

The powerful statue was meant to be a part of the huge monumental tomb of Pope Julius II, originally designed to include over 40 statues.

After several years and the death of the Pope, the project was strongly reduced to just 7 statues, among which this marvellous Moses stands out.

I’ll tell you a couple of strange curiosities about this masterpiece:

    • The statue of Moses was originally sitting frontally. Only after finishing his work, not being satisfied with it, Michelangelo changed his mind.
      because
      He decided to depict the Prophet in the exact moment when he realises that his people are adoring the idol of the Golden Calf, and furious he throws himself to reproach them and to destroy the idol.
      because
      So, to provide the necessary strength, dynamism, strain and rage to his work, Michelangelo decided to turn Moses’ head to the right.
      becausebecause
      To do that, he had to modify several other parts of Moses’ body: the beard, one foot, one leg, one arm, several muscles and veins… only a real genius could have done such a radical modification without making a disaster.
      because
      Without knowing this story, would you honestly tell that this statue has been completely revolutionized after it was already finished?
    • For sure you’ll note something strange on top of Moses’ head… he has two horns! But why?
      because
      Because anciently the translation of Bible contained a mistake… several versions of the Sacred Scriptures reported in fact that when Moses came down from Sinai Mount where he talked to God and received the Tables of the Law, his face was “shining”, or “emitting beams”.
      because
      Well, only in the recent centuries it was noted that the same Hebrew term used to express these adjectives was used as well to mean “cuckold”. Due to that, many of the oldest artistic representations of Moses – including this one by Michelangelo – wear horns on their heads!

Another point of interest in this church is the Holy Chain that can be seen under the main altar: according to Acts of the Apostles, when St. Peter was hold in chain by Herod in Jerusalem, an Angel freed him by opening the chains.
a
Later on, St. Peter was again imprisoned and chained in Rome before being crucified. Tradition says that the Holy Chain is formed by these two chains that by miracle became one single piece when they came into contact with one another in the hands of Pope Leo I (Saint Leo the Great).

Alternative destinationsYou may visit this beautiful hill (which is NOT one of the Seven Hills) day or night, to enjoy the impressive panoramic view that can be seen from its terrace, at the feet of the monument in honour of our national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi.

If you have children with you, it may be fun for them visiting Janiculum at noon sharp: not many know that everyday an historical cannon shoots a blank to inform all citizens that it’s exactly mid-day.

This tradition dates back to 1847: Rome has so many churches, and at that time each of them used to ring their bells every hour. But of course, time calculation was based on personal estimation of the churches’ staff, so the bells were never ringing all at the same moment, creating a merry and typical confusion in town.

So, the Pope (still ruling Rome and a large part of Central Italy) decided to give his citizens the “official exact time” at least at noon everyday by shooting the cannon from Janiculum hilltop, so that everybody could hear it.

Tradition is still followed; you should arrive at least at 11:30 a.m. to get as near as possible to the cannon and to let your children see and hear the big bang!

Alternative destinationsThis archaeological park is really exceptional and very little known even by locals, one of the best alternative destinations.

The visit will really bring you back to the times of the ancient populations – Etruscans and then Romans – when Via Latina, with its still original stone pavement, was built and used since the 9th century B.C. to colonise Campania region till Capua and Naples.

The roman tombs, being owned by very noble families, have really fantastic decorations and are very well preserved.

You can’t visit them by yourselves, reservation of a guided tour is needed, you find all details HERE.

To get there, take Metro A direction Anagnina and get off at Arco di Travertino stop, then 450 meters on foot.

Starting from the archaeological park, after visiting the roman tombs you may like to have a walk till the ancient Via Appia, also full of monuments, tombs and aqueducts and very romantic at sunset – you can find a possible itinerary HERE.

Alternative destinationsIf you like Liberty Style and the elegant architecture and art both typical of 1800s, this is the place for you!

The Villa is composed by different structures, all inside a park. The whole property was purchased in late 1700s by Prince Alessandro Torlonia.

The main Villa, called Casino Nobile, together with Casino dei Principi, a palace mainly dedicated to parties and celebrations, were enlarged and re-decorated by famous architect Giuseppe Valadier.

Benito Mussolini took the property as his own residence during the fascist era; he also built two underground bunkers to protect himself and his family to possible bomb and gas attacks, and during the war the park was transformed into a vegetable garden with rabbit and chicken breeding.

After war the property was occupied by allied forces for years, and it was left in very poor conditions. Only recently a complete restoration was carried out.

Today, the marvellous Casino dei Principi is open just for temporary exhibitions and private events. Oppositely, Casino Nobile and House of Owls can be visited normally, see this dépliant.

My special recommendation goes for House of Owls, a really special place and one of my favourite alternative destinations.

You’ll love its liberty lead glass windows, all very colourful, and all other frescoes, paintings, sculptures, all dedicated to owls and other animals – really special!

For timetable and prices see HERE.

I warmly recommend as alternative destinations the several multimedia visits that have been lately made available in Rome to make the ancient ruins and the Roman lifestyle more understandable to everybody. Those I selected are really great to see, easy to understand, historically reliable and professionally organized.

Tours are available in different languages. Specially at summer, all these visits need to be booked well in advance, so I give you hereafter a list of my most preferred ones with a link to the relevant website for you to book your visit.

Most of tourists just arrive there without a reservation and miss their opportunity, so I recommend you purchase your tickets online well in advance!

19. Roman Houses of Palazzo Valentini
a
a
a
A tour into the houses of high-ranking roman families, called “Domus” and located next the Roman Forums and Trajan’s Column.

These fantastic houses were recently discovered just by chance, during the restoration of the foundations of the building above, Palazzo Valentini.

Thanks to the virtual reconstructions based on the original materials and colours, and to the clear explanations (guided tours are available in a series of languages), you will be able to imagine real life into those noble houses. Really impressive!

20. Domus Aurea Experience
a
a
a
It’s the incredibly large and rich Palace of Emperor Nero – its name actually means “golden house” to remark its wonderful golden decorations, and it was built in 1st century A.C.

The place is really astonishing – just aside Colosseum and now totally underground, partly because the city level is now much higher than 2000 years ago, but in this specific case because after the Emperor died his palace was destroyed and buried by the following Emperors.
So, many of the materials and decorations were stolen and re-used to make new buildings above it, but the remains of this fabulous palace remained hidden underground for centuries, which allowed their excellent preservation till today.

Part of the visit consists of 3-D re-construction of the palace and of its huge gardens, really fantastic!

Guided tours only, different languages available, tickets pre-sale HERE, buy yours well in advance! Personal advice: even in the summer take a sweater with you because temperature inside is rather low.

21. Forum of Augustus Journey (open air, at night between April and November only)
a
a
a
From springtime through fall, a large tribune is mounted just in front of Forum of Augustus, on Via dei Fori Imperiali between Colosseum and Piazza Venezia.

This area is particularly suggestive at night after the new illumination system of all monuments, designed by the famous Academy-award winner Vittorio Storaro, has been inaugurated in 2015.

You can sit on the tribune after dusk and wear headphones (multi-lingual explanation available). The explanations written by Piero Angela, the most loved and reliable Italian science communicator, will guide you into a virtual reconstruction of the Forum ruins, complete with his very clear historical explanation.

Imperial Forums are surely fantastic in daytime, but ruins are so many and so intersected into each other that it’s not easy to imagine their real structures and functions.

This night-time virtual visit will surely give you a clearer understanding, because you’ll be able to see how each building originally was. I warmly recommend this visit together with the next one, you can make one after the other!

22. Forum of Caesar Journey (open air, at night between April and November only)
a
a
a
This tour has same style of the previous one, but instead of sitting on a tribune you have the possibility to walk inside Caesar’s Forum at night, which is normally not allowed. A very emotional experience!

The voice from your headphones will safely guide you through the path along which you’ll be able to see the virtual re-construction of monuments and events (including the big fire of Rome!).

Really recommended.

a

I hope you’ll have the possibility to enjoy at least some of the above alternative destinations, they are all great in my opinion.

I would be grateful to receive your feedback in the event you note changes or mistakes in the information above. My contacts are in the Home Book at Holiday Home SPQR!

Alternative destinations