Elyssa Bernard from Romewise and I have lived in Rome for decades and know the Eternal City inside and out. Here are 14 Hidden Gems that are off the beaten path for most visitors to Rome. Have a listen and read this post to get all the details about these 14 Hidden Gems in Rome!
1. Roman Domus (Houses) of Celio
One of the top hidden gems in Rome are The Roman Houses, or Domus, of Celio, that are below the Basilica of Saints John and Paul, and between the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. They originally opened to the public in 2002. They have just now re-opened after closure since March 2020. Celio is one of the seven Hills of Rome near the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. The other hills are Campidoglio, Viminale, Palatine, Aventine, Esquilino and Quirinale.
The Domus is also known as the House of the Martyrs John and Paul, two Roman soldiers. The Domus of Celio contains over four centuries of history and shows the passage of history from paganism to Christianity.
In the summertime it's a great place to visit because it's underground and cool, and never crowded.
The inside was originally composed of workshops and warehouses but in the third century A.D. it was transformed into a beautiful home, or domus, filled with antique frescoes.
There's a reasonably good audio guide available, and printed information as well.
One of the amazing things at the Domus is at the very back - and also underground: a beautifully curated museum full of uncovered artifacts.
2. Santa Maria in Trastevere
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome and a titular minor basilica in the Trastevere neighborhood. The core structure of the church date back to the 340s, and most of the structure to 1140–43 A.D.
It's a great example in Rome of spolia - reuse of ruins in a new structure. The columns on the sides of the central nave are most likely from the Baths of Caracalla. You'll notice that they are different colors and different heights. The church has a stunning Cosmatesque floor (named after the Cosmati family from the 1200’s who were expert at using shards of marble in floors.)
Don’t miss the mosaics from the late 13th century by Pietro Cavallini.
3. San Crisogono
San Crisogono in Trastevere is a great way to see the evolution of Rome through the church’s architecture. It has a Cosmatesque floor, a beautiful painting by Domenichino, and an expansive underground area with frescoes from the seventh and eighth centuries. The church isn't well-curated and no tours are offered but if you seek out the custodian he can give you a hand with your visit to the church and the underground area.
4. The Santa Cecilia Basilica
Also in Trastevere, this is a splendid basilica steeped in layers of history. Although not generally open to the public the basilica has a spectacular underground area including an exquisite crypt and an ancient baptismal area.
If you ask the nuns next door to the church they will take you up to the choir where you can see a magnificent Pietro Cavallini fresco.
5. The Tiber Island and Fatebenefratelli Hospital
Fatebenefratelli Hospital (Ospedale San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli) is a hospital located on the western side of the Tiber Island in Rome. It dates back to 1585.
Just on the other side of the river from the hospital is the Jewish Ghetto.
During the second world war the hospital helped to hide Jews from the Nazis. When Jews came to the hospital their medical papers were marked with an illness known as Syndrome K. It meant that they weren’t ill at all but needed protection.
The Tiber Island hidden gem in Rome is full of rich history that goes back over 1000 years. Right across from the hospital is a lovely church and there are a few places to eat on the island. In the summertime along the river there are all kinds of vendors and cool Roman evenings are filled with music, stands, outdoor films.
I am especially attached to this island and the hospital because both of my grandchildren were born here.
6. The Aqueduct Park
This park is a hidden gem in Rome that's easily accessible by metro and a great place to walk around. You can walk through the whole park in a few hours and you can also rent bikes. If you are a photo buff then photographs at dawn and dusk of the aqueducts are fabulous.
There were 11 aqueducts in ancient Rome and only one of these is still functioning, the Aqua Virgo which feeds water into the Trevi fountain, the central fountain in Piazza Navona, and a few others.
7. The Tempietto di Bramante (and the Chiostro)
The Tempietto was built by architectural genius Donato Bramante.
Bramante revolutionized the concept of courtyard design, in particular the Pinecone Courtyard at the Vatican.
The Chiostro del Bramante in the centro storico is one spot to visit where you can also enjoy a coffee or a light lunch.
The Tempietto is on the Gianicolo Hill within the Spanish Institute (that’s actually a church). The building was ordered by the Spanish royal family to commemorate the birth of their first son who died young in 1497.
Bramante designed the tempietto as a circular building with a dome, surrounded by 16 granite columns. He also envisioned it as a martyrium (a place where Saint Peter would have been crucified).
8. The Diocletian Baths
The Diocletian Baths are huge and vast and well-curated. There’s a great museum and a room with a series of tablets that are a form of ancient record-keeping on stone, and it’s also well-explained.
Then of course there are the massive structures that once were the baths.
Book your tour here.
Rome is filled with markets, large and small, indoors and outdoors. This is a great market because it's easily accessible by metro and has a neighborhood feel and atmosphere.
There are lots of different stalls where you can eat, but also places to do your shopping at the many different stalls.
10. Centrale Montemartini /Capitoline Museums
The Centrale Montemartini, on the Via Ostiense and not far from the Testaccio market, on the left bank of the Tiber, is an example of industrial archaeology converted into a museum and a fabulous hidden gem in Rome.
It’s dedicated to Giovanni Montemartini and was the first electrical power station. Later on it was converted into a museum of ancient Roman art, and it’s now the second exhibition center of the Capitoline Museums. It’s very well-curated and has a collection of classical sculptures from the late 19th century and early 20th century Rome excavations.
The Montemartini power plant exhibition space still has the original turbines, diesel engines and steam boiler that contrasts with the marble sculptures. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of art and industrial functionality.
Tour can be booked here.
11. San Clemente
San Clemente is near the Colosseum and is another church that offers a way to see the evolution of Rome through its architecture. In this church you can go down three levels, each from a different century. There’s the main church from the 1100’s, then down a level to a 4th century church, and down still further you have the worshiping area of Mithras - an ancient Roman mystery religion centered on the god Mithras that was in competition with Christianity at the time.
You can book a guided tour that includes San Clemento underground temple.
This splendid church is one of the four major basilicas in the world and definitely one of the hidden gems of Rome not to be missed. It’s exquisitely beautiful - perhaps the most beautiful - with a wonderful Cosmatesque floor, and along the side naves you can see 4th century original tiny Byzantine mosaics. It's kept its original 4th century basilica shape. A basilica is an architectural rather than a religious term: a basilica would have a staircase leading up to it, a long central nave, two side naves and an apse in the back.
Santa Maria Maggiore also has an underground area which you can visit when it's opened, plus a loggia up above where you can see 12th century mosaics that used to be on the façade.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini is buried in Santa Maria Maggiore.
My personal attachment to this gorgeous Basilica is that my in-laws were married there. My mother-in-law loved to share the story about the church and an August snowfall in the piazza, which she remained firmly convinced was fact. “According to legend, a fourth-century Roman couple wished to donate their possessions to the church, and prayed for divine guidance. On the night of ⅘ August in the year 352 the Virgin Mary appeared to the couple in a vision, telling them that a miracle would reveal a site where they should build a new church. That same night — so the story goes — a miraculous fall of snow landed on a hill in the Esquiline district of Rome.
Pope Liberius is said to have travelled to the snow-covered site, tracing an outline of the planned church whose construction was financed by the wealthy couple. Although there is no historical basis for the story, the event is still celebrated each year with the surreal spectacle of snow-like foam and suds falling from the sky.”
Book a guided tour here.
13. Keep an eye out for these hidden gem open courtyards throughout the historic center of Rome!
Palazzo Taverna, Palazzo Ricci, and Palazzo Costaguti to name a few.
The Palazzo Taverna is made up of five different buildings with a lovely central fountain.
The Palazzo Ricci is adorned with 16th century frescoes and has a lovely courtyard that opens onto both Piazza de Ricci and Via Giulia.
The Palazzo Costaguti has beautifully frescoed ceilings by Guercino, Domenichino, Lanfranco and others. Its courtyard is exquisite. This same Piazza is where you will find one of my favorite fountains in Rome, the Turtle fountain.
On Via Monserrato, just as you are about to approach the Campo de Fiori market, there's an English College on the left. It's barely noticeable and the main door is almost always closed. Hidden within is a lovely courtyard area and a large swimming pool. If you happen to pass by when one of the students is at the entrance ask if you can have a peek at the pool: it's magnificent! This is one of the many examples of hidden gems in Rome that you would have no idea exists.
Slow down your pace as you explore Rome and keep your eyes open because you might find that the best gems of what the city has to reveal are hidden behind Palazzo entrances.
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14. Nearby towns worth a day trip!
Interested in more Rome insider tips?
Check out these two great episodes with the fabulous Elyssa Bernard from Romewise!
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