Rome Off The Beaten Path: 8 places you need to visit

Rome Off The Beaten Path: 8 places you need to visit

Rome should, just like Venice and Florence, be on your Italy bucket list. The unique combination of Roman ruins, stunning churches, and amazing food will make everybody fall in love with this city. While you should definitely visit the main attractions of Rome, such as the Vatican and the Colosseum, there are many hidden gems in Rome that are worth a visit as well. This guide will give you 8 places you need to visit in Rome to explore Rome off the beaten path.

Rome off the beaten path

1. Biblioteca Angelica

Just behind Piazza Navona, you can visit one of Rome’s hidden gems: the Biblioteca Angelica. This library is one of the most beautiful libraries in Rome (perhaps even in the world). Moreover, it will remind you of the library in Beauty and the Beast or make you feel like you’re suddenly at Hogwarts.

Biblioteca Angelica
Biblioteca Angelica, one of the most beautiful libraries in Rome

The Biblioteca Angelica was established in 1604 and belonged to the Augustinian monastery. It is named after the Augustinian bishop Angelo Rocca (1546-1620). Rocca was a writer who also liked to collect rare editions of books. He entrusted his collection of 20,000 volumes to the monastery. Soon, the library opened as one of the first public libraries. Nowadays, it’s still a public library where you can come and study. There are over 200,000 books in the collection.

It’s possible to take a guided tour of the library. I visited the Biblioteca Angelica on a guided tour during a winter school. During my tour, I got to see several important volumes of the collection. One of them was a facsimile of a special copy of De Oratore by Cicero. This book was printed in 1465, which means that this copy was the first printed book in Italy!

However, if you’d just like to take a picture of the library, this is often possible if you ask this politely.

2. Tomb of the Scipios

The second place on this list is once more one of the Rome off the beaten path places that you almost never hear other people talk about: it’s the tomb of the Scipios. You can find this tomb at the Via di Porta San Sebastiano, 2 kilometres from the Colosseum. In Roman times, this road was part of the Via Appia as well (see below). It was the common tomb of the Scipio family where they buried their death during the Roman Republic between the early 3rd century BC and early 1st century AD.

The patrician Scipio family was an important family in Rome during the Roman Republic. Many of the family members were consuls (the highest political rank in Republican Rome) or important generals. Moreover, Scipio Africanus became famous for defeating Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

Tomb of the Scipios
Tomb of the Scipios

Only one sarcophagus has survived intact. This is the sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus. He was consul in 298BC. However, the sarcophagus currently standing in the tomb is a replica. You can admire the real sarcophagus in the Vatican Museums.

Sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus in the Vatican
Sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus in the Vatican

I found visiting this tomb a very special experience. This tomb is very old (much older than the Roman Catacombs). Nevertheless, the tomb is in very good condition. It’s a unique piece of history that you can discover. With a good guide, you’ll be able to learn a lot about the Romans that you wouldn’t have learnt at other sites.

The Tomb of the Scipios is only accessible by a guided tour.

3. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Behind the Pantheon, you can find the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. While most people only take a picture of the small obelisk with an elephant designed by Bernini, only a few tourists opt to visit the church behind it. Possibly because the church looks little special on the outside.

However, if you enter the church, you’ll find yourself in a church completely different from other churches in Rome. The Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is Rome’s only Gothic church. In Roman times, a temple dedicated to Minerva built by Pompey the Great, a temple dedicated to Isis, and a temple dedicated to Serapis stood here. In the 8th century, Pope Zacharias (741-752) Christianized the site. The building of the current basilica began 1280.

Interior of the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, one of the Rome off the beaten path attractions
Elephant and Obelisk, designed by Bernini

The pointed arches are a rarity in Rome. For fans of architecture, this church is certainly a must-visit. However, even when you’re not that into architecture, it’s easy to fall in love with the beautiful blue ceiling. It’s almost as if you look up at the sky.

Don’t forget to visit the statue Cristo della Minerva (or Christ the Redeemer). This marble sculpture was made by Michelangelo. You can find it left of the main altar.

Entrance to the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is free of charge.

4. Ara Pacis

Several people pass alongside the Ara Pacis and the Mausoleum of Augustus. Nevertheless, visiting the Ara Pacis is still one of the Rome off the beaten path activities. Since the Ara Pacis is my favourite monument in Rome, I think that’s a shame! The full name of the altar Ara Pacis Augustae is Latin for Altar of Augustan Peace.

It’s an altar dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace. The Senate commissioned the altar to honour the return of Augustus to Rome after he’d been in Hispania and Gauls for three years. It was finished in 9BC. A surprising fact: this monument was originally located further north. However, Mussolini decided to have this monument placed on the current location next to the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Ara Pacis
The Ara Pacis, a 2000-year old altar dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace

The altar is full of symbolism. Some of the sculptures on the altar represent the altar’s dedication ceremony. Other sculptures depict scenes from Roman myths. In addition, there are sculptures with floral motifs. On the south wall, you can discover Emperor Augustus as well.

An entrance ticket is € 10.50 for an adult. Click here for more information about opening times and ticket prices.

5. Sant’Agostino

You can find the Sant’Agostino adjacent to the Biblioteca Angelica. Only a few tourists have discovered the church, even though it has works by Caravaggio and Raphael. Furthermore, the Sant’Agostino is one of the first churches built in Rome during the Renaissance.

Interior of the Sant’Agostino
Madonna di Loreto by Caravaggio

However, the main attraction of the church is the Madonna di Loreto by Caravaggio. You can find this famous painting in the Cavalletti Chapel, the first chapel on the left. Even when you’re visiting Rome on a budget, you can still visit some paintings by famous artists. You just need to find the right churches!

The painting depicts the Virgin Mary with Jesus. Two peasants are at her feet as pilgrims. There was quite an uprising about this painting: the Virgin Mary (just like the peasants) is barefoot and her halo isn’t very prominent. Moreover, while Mary is beautiful, she could’ve been any woman. At the time, this was very innovative (or, if you’re a fan of drama, downright shocking!).

Other works of art in the church include a fresco of the Prophet Isaiah by Raphael (on the third pilaster of the left nave) and a sculpture of the Madonna del Parto (Our Lady of Childbirth) by Jacopo Sansovino. According to legend, Sansovino based this sculpture on a Roman statue of Agrippina holding Nero. Moreover, tradition says that the sculpture creates miracles in childbirth.

Admission to the Sant’Agostino is free of charge.

6. Via Appia & the Villa dei Quintili

Number 6 is the only Rome off the beaten path place for which you need to travel outside the city centre. The Via Appia is one of Rome’s earliest and most important roads. While many travel websites mention the Via Appia on their best things to do in Rome lists, only a few people actually visit one of the most beautiful parts of the Via Appia, which is located outside the centre of Rome. It’s here that you can admire the true Via Appia, namely at the Villa dei Quintili.

Villa dei Quintili

Villa dei Quintili
Villa dei Quintili, the perfect starting point to explore the Via Appia

This villa was located just outside the traditional boundaries of Ancient Rome. The brothers Sextus Quintilius Valerius Maximus and Sextus Quintilius Condianus built this villa at the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian. Nowadays, the ruins testify that the villa had once been enormous. Unfortunately for the owners of the villa, the Roman emperor Commodus coveted the villa and decided to put to death its owners in 182 AD to claim the villa for himself.

Tip: if you like exploring Roman ruins, read more about the Villa Adriana, a Roman villa built by Hadrian.

The Via Appia

The Villa dei Quintili is the perfect starting point to walk the Via Appia. Here, you won’t encounter cars. Occasionally, you’ll encounter someone on a mountain bike. Moreover, you shouldn’t be surprised if you see a goat. It’s the perfect way to get rid of the other tourists and explore Rome off the beaten path. Besides some beautiful trees, you’ll encounter several grave monuments.

Via Appia
Leave the hustle and bustle of Rome behind and explore the Via Appia

The reason why there are so many tombs along this road is that Romans weren’t allowed to build tombs inside the city. Therefore, many Romans chose to build a monument at the Via Appia, because it was a busy road where many people would see the monuments.

I recommend ending your walk at the Tomb of Caecilia Metella. This tomb was built in the 1st century BC for Caecilia Metella, the daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus and wife of Marcus Licinius Crassus, son of the Marcus Crassus who was part of the triumvirate with Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. This tomb is one of the most well-preserved monuments along the Via Appia. The walk from the Villa dei Quintili takes approximately 40 minutes.

To get to the Villa dei Quintili, take metro line A to Arco Di Travertino. From there, take bus 765 to Laurentina. Get off at “Erode Attico/Appia Antica”. Entrance tickets for the Villa dei Quintili are 5. You can visit the Via Appia free of charge.

7. Santo Stefano Rotondo

A 10-minute walk from the Colosseum, you can find the Santo Stefano Rotondo. If there are more than 5 people at the same time in this church, you could call this church “busy”. It’s really one of the Rome off the beaten path churches. The Santo Stefano Rotondo is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The building of the church began in the 5th century. Moreover, it’s the oldest example of a centrally planned church in Rome.

Santo Stefano Rotondo
Interior of the Santo Stefano Rotondo

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter the church is the fact that the Santo Stefano Rotondo is a round church. This was probably inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. What I like about this church is that this church still “feels very old”. Unlike many old churches that have been redecorated several times, the Santo Stefano Rotondo still has simple decorations. The walls of the church are decorated with frescoes depicting scenes of martyrdom.

Admission to the church is free of charge.

8. Etruscan Museum

The last place on this Rome off the beaten path list is the Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia, north of the Piazza del Popolo. This museum is devoted to Etruscan art. Since 1889 it has been the most important Etruscan museum in Italy exhibiting objects originating from excavations in Lazio and Tuscany. The collection includes pottery, funeral urns, jewellery, bronzes and sculptures. My favourite part of the collection is the terracotta sculptures, which are completely different from the Roman statues we’re so familiar with from the Vatican and Capitoline Museums.

Exterior of the Etruscan Museum
The gardens of the Etruscan Museum: the nymphaeum

Moreover, the Renaissance villa which houses the museum is worth a visit on its own. It was built for Pope Julius III between 1550 and 1555. Make sure to explore the lovely gardens after you’ve visited the museum. The highlight of the gardens is the nymphaeum, a monument built in homage to the nymphs. It has been restored in 2016.

Admission tickets are €8 for an adult.

How many days should you spend in Rome

I’ve been to Rome multiple times. The shortest time was an afternoon, the longest two weeks. Although there’s no optimal amount of days you should spend in Rome, I would say the longer you stay the better. If you’re staying 2 days in Rome, this is enough to visit many of the main sights and the Vatican Museums. However, 2 days is too short if you want to see more of Rome and explore some Rome off the beaten path places as well. I recommend staying 4 days in Rome if you’d like to explore Rome off the beaten path, possibly including a day trip to Tivoli or Ostia Antica.

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