Megan Hills

The Ultimate List of Unusual Places to Visit in Rome

Go off the beaten track and get to a new perspective on the city with our guide to Unusual Places to Visit in Rome!

Rome is famous for its grand architecture, mysterious ancient ruins and magnificent parks. As well as the famous attractions, there are heaps of unusual and quirky places to visit that aren’t in every tourist guide. Why not take some time to escape the crowds and explore these weird and wonderful hidden gems, with this guide from the team at the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Pass?

1. Cat lover? Explore Torre Argentina, the Roman cat sanctuary where you’ll find cats lounging around the ruins where Caesar was murdered. Home to over 300,000 felines, Rome is a cat lover’s paradise. 2. Mooch around San Lorenzo, a laid-back, bohemian district of Rome. Home to street parties, pop-up cafes and a great mix of bars, this is the best spot for a cheap beer and an evening boogie. 3. Head to the ‘crypt of pelvises’ at the Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts to see the bones of over 4,000 friars decorating the walls. 4. Make your way to the impressive architectural museum, Centrale Montemartini, housed in a former power plant located in Ostiense. The architecture provides a great contrast with the Roman and Greek statues, busts and friezes. 5. Heard of Aventine Hill? A perfect spot for an afternoon picnic, don’t forget to look through the keyhole in the large door in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta for a special view. 6. For an eclectic mix of architecture, check out the Quartiere Coppede. It’s an unusual area of Rome where you’ll find a mix of Ancient Greek, Roman, Baroque, Mannerist, Medieval and Art Nouveau architecture. 7. Head to the EUR, the Esposizione Universale di Roma, located right at the edge of the city. The combination of ancient Rome and modern design was designed for a world fair in 1942 that never happened. 8. Be amazed by the Dome Illusion at the Jesuit church of Saint Ignazio. Built in the 17th century, original plans included a beautiful dome, but money ran out. Instead they hired a painter to create the illusion from within the church. 9. Sift through trinkets, clothes, books, jewellery and much more at the unique Porta Portese Market. This Roman flea market is the perfect place to find a good deal on some unusual gifts. 10. Visit the first paved road in history, Appia Antica. Starting at the Baths of Caracalla this road has been dubbed the ‘Queen of Roads’ as construction began centuries ago in 312 BC.

11. Explore the mysteries of the Mithraeum at Circus Maximus. Once the underground sanctuary of a centuries-old cult, this temple was dedicated to Mithras. Accessible by appointment only. 12. Pay your respects at the resting place of celebrated English poets Shelley and Keats at the Roman Protestant Cemetery. This cemetery built in the 18th century was intended for foreign non-Catholics, who were not permitted to be buried in Roman soil. 13. Fancy yourself a good liar? Visit Bocca di Verita (The Mouth of Truth) and risk getting your hand bitten off. The Mouth is a stone disk with a yawning humanoid face used as a lie detector dating back to the 1st century CE. Eagle-eyed movie fans will recognise the sculpture from the classic Audrey Hepburn film "Roman Holiday". 14. Another beautiful park can be found at Villa Doria Pamphili. It’s Rome’s largest park and houses gorgeous gardens plus a huge villa. 15. Brave the city of the dead in the Vatican Necropolis. Hidden beneath St Peter’s Basilica lie the tombs that may even hold the remains of St Peter himself. 16. Visit the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola to see the splendid oil paintings by Andrea Pozzo from 1685. Prepare to be fooled by the ceiling fresco, which creates the illusion that the building is vaulted. 17. Did you know there was an ‘Egyptian’ pyramid in Europe? Well, there is, and it’s the 2000-year-old Pyramid of Cestius in Rome housing the tomb of Remus. 18. Visit the Vegan Cat Café, Romeow, to make some furry feline friends. Sit back and enjoy the wonderful selection of vegan cakes, pastries and hot drinks. 19. Explore the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, as a usually quiet alternative to St Paul’s at the Vatican. Just as vast and magnificent inside, this is a great place to go for some peaceful observation. 20. Hidden away in a small basilica in Rome lies the supposed skull of St Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, surrounded by flowers. Romantic date?

21. Throughout Rome you can find quirky and interesting street art. Ostiense is particularly known for unusual street art and murals. 22. Visit the Porta Alchemica, an Alchemist’s ‘magic door’ hidden within a Roman park. 23. For some alternative architecture, head to ‘the Monster House’, otherwise known as the Zuccari Palace. It features a monstrous stone faces that appears to be eating away at the palace structure. 24. Explore the MAXXI Museum (National Museum of the 21st century arts) to view a collection of local and international pieces from recognised artists. 25. Take a tour round the extremely unusual House of the Owls. Not an animal sanctuary, but a gothic house with art nouveau decorations, it’s not a place that’s featured in your typical guide books. 26. Along the road of Appia are the Catacombs of San Sebastian – supposedly the first use of the term catacombs. It is also home to a set of marble footprints that are thought to be Jesus’s from his walk to Rome along the Appia Road. 27. Squeamish? At the Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi, you can see the embalmed hearts and organs of 22 popes. 28. For another strange experience, head to the Ospedale delle Bambole, the hospital for dolls. Somewhat creepy and definitely very weird, this is a hospital where antique dolls are given treatment and new lease on life. 29. Witness the skull claimed to be that of St John the Baptist on display at the San Silvestro in Capite church. 30. Visit an ancient Roman prison, the Mamertine Prison and see the unusual cross in the chapel, hung upside down since St Peter is said to have been crucified that way.

31. The Keats-Shelley Memorial House is a must-visit for English literature lovers. The museum was the last home of John Keats and was also sadly where he passed away after contracting tuberculosis at the age of 25. 32. Explore one of the only two Jewish catacombs open to the public, out of the seven in Rome. The catacombs Vigna Randanini were discovered in 1859. 33. Wander the scattered ruins of an ancient Italian ghost town set in amongst thick forest, the Natural Monument of Galeria Antica. Rebuilt several times over the course of centuries, it was finally abandoned in 1809, after an outbreak of malaria caused the last residents to flee. 34. Head to the Campo de’ Fiori for a peculiar market built around a statue of Giordano Bruno, an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological theorist, his statue is built on the site of his execution by fire. Wander around the market and sample some of the exquisite olive oils and balsamic vinegars. 35. Visit the Sweating Cenotaph at the Archbasilica San Giovanni located in Laterano, that is supposedly able to predict the death of the pope. A large stone covered in inscriptions and images, it’s said to sweat heavily if the death of a pope is approaching. 36. The Museum of Roman Ships at Fiumicino is the perfect place to find out more about ancient Roman seafaring. 37. Discover ‘Little London’ and a street designed in the style of a typical English urban street dating back to 1909. 38. Fancy yourself a worthy gladiator? Enrol for a day at Rome’s Gladiator School to experience a historic reenactment. 39. Climb to the top of Gianicolo Hill and listen out for the sound of cannon fire that resonates around the city every day at midday. This tradition dates from when the battle of Rome was won in 184. 40. Witness ancient Roman houses brought to life in the Palazzo Valentini using state-of-the-art technology.

41. Take an Italian cookery class or wine and food pairing class. This is a perfect activity for a couple or solo traveller to meet some local people and learn more about the Roman culture. 42. Hang out in the Piazza Madonna dei Monti in the Monti district, grab a slice of yummy pizza and a cheap bottle of beer and just chill out. 43. Sending postcards? Head to the Vatican City to use some of the coolest stamps you’ll come by. 44. Check out the Stadio dei Marmi with impressive statuary from the 1920s, used to evoke classical sporting arenas. 45. Take a Vespa Tour in the evening or at night and feel like you’re in a movie. 46. Visit the Trevi Fountain at night to escape the crowds in the day and see it when beautifully lit up. 47. Climb to the top of Rome’s highest point, Monte Mario, and experience the spectacular views from above the city. Although a bit further out, this is well worth a visit. 48. Explore the Shrine of Pope Joan, close to the Colosseum and potentially the only female pope in the history of Catholicism. 49. Head to the Metropoliz Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere located in an old abandoned Roman salami factory. Contact the museum for opening times. 50. Check out Monte Testaccio, the hill made up completely of amphorae – ancient Romans regarded it as a simple garbage dump.

51. Explore the secret passageway that allowed the Pope to quickly escape raiders in the 16th century. The Passetto di Borgo looks like any other old wall but in fact hides an escape route. 52. Visit the ‘great sewer’, Cloaca Maxima. Supposedly one of the oldest sewer systems in the world, it demonstrates the forward-thinking and ingenuity of Roman city planners. 53. Discover your pasta making skills and take a class with a local chef. 54. Jump on a Segway and take a tour around Rome – see all the the great attractions without having to worry about sore feet. Don’t forget your helmet though! 55. Thrill-seeker? Try out the Tandem Paragliding experience and fly over one of three cities just outside of Rome for an unforgettable experience. 56. For a spectacular view and food to die for, pop in to La Pergola restaurant to enjoy views of St Peter’s Basilica while you chomp down on the signature carbonara. Molto buono. 57. For a chilled out evening of authentic pizza and a lively atmosphere, make your way to the laid back district of Testaccio. Pizzeria Remo serves Roman-style flat pizzas and is extremely popular with the locals, so turn up early to grab a table. 58. Check out the Meridian Line of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs. The basilica built in the 16th century is home to a beautiful and intricate meridian-aligned sundial. 59. Experience the mystery of Lacus Curtius, once believed by the Romans to be the gateway to hell. Located in the Roman Forum it now appears to be just a simple stone slab however, before it was filled in a huge chasm existed. 60. Chocolate lover? Head over to Said, half restaurant, half chocolate factory. The restaurant works to produce the perfect combinations of sweet and savoury with dishes such as bitter chocolate ravioli.

Image via Gregory's Jazz Club 61. Jazz night, anyone? Gregory’s Jazz Club serves up some of the finest scotch with a super-friendly atmosphere making it the perfect place for a cosy evening. 62. Go back in Italian automobile history and cruise down the streets of Rome in the original Fiat 500. 63. Hidden down a narrow side street, the Arch of Gallienus is often missed by tourists and even locals. The arch marks the location of one of the ancient Roman gates that stood at one of the Seven Hills of Rome. 64. Admire the huge sculptural piece La Resurrezione that sits behind the main stage of the Paul VI Audience Hall. 65. Out of 900 churches in Rome, there is one that stands out from the others: Saint Catherine was the first Russian Orthodox church built in the city. 66. With an authentic look and feel, Ristorante da Meo Patacca is the best place to try some traditional Roman dishes while listening to wonderful live music.

67. The Purgatory Museum is filled with extraordinary artefacts and strange books with handprints burnt into them by souls trapped in purgatory – definitely an unusual experience. 68. Home to over 40 underground burial chambers throughout the city, it would be silly not to check out some of the Catacombs of Rome. 69. If you fancy a bit of a thrill, take a spooky Ghost Tour and discover some of the Roman mysteries that still haunt the city today. 70. Visit the quirky Pasta Museum to learn about all the different varieties of Rome’s famous staple food. 71. Join the locals to watch a traditional puppet show at Giancolo Belvedere and enjoy a fun activity for the whole family. With so many unusual things to do in Rome, where will you go? And don’t forget to check out the OMNIA Vatican & Rome card, which can save you time and money on attractions big and small. Wishing you a good trip!

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