There are a several “must-see” items on everyone’s list when they go to Rome–the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish steps, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel–the list goes on. As incredible and worthy these historical sights are of a visit, I have a few recommendations of hidden gems within and just outside of Rome for those hoping to get away from other tourists and the hustle and bustle of the city.
1) Ostia Antica
This archeological site 35 minutes outside of the city is well worth the journey and makes for a perfect half or full-day trip. There’s much history to be discovered at this harbor city of ancient Rome. Mosaic tiles, an arena, and crumbling yet beautifully-preserved architecture await you. And the best part is that you get to explore the ruins and really see them up close! Learn more at Ostia Antica’s website: http://www.ostia-antica.org/
How to get there: Take the metro from Rome. A regular metro ticket is enough for the trip. More exact information can be found at the Ostia Antica website, but basically all you need to do is get off the metro at Piramide and go to the Roma-Lido station. Exit at the Ostia Antica stop and walk to the ruins with the help of street signs.
2) Lake Bracciano
There are several lakes surrounding Rome that are closer and less crowded than nearby beaches on the ocean. I’d recommend going to one of these lakes to cool off from the intense summer heat or just to enjoy a tranquil view at any time of year. My favorite is Lake Bracciano, which can also be reached by metro. Bring a towel and sunscreen and get ready to relax. While at Lake Bracciano, my friends and I truly felt immersed in Italian culture for the first time, as we were surrounded only by Italians. This was a great place to go for much-needed energization in the midst of a whirlwind trip to Rome.
How to get there: Take metro line B to Piramide and then take the Viterbo line to Bracciano. It’s a bit of a walk to the beach, but it’s all downhill and we found many friendly locals willing to point us in the right direction. (If you’re lucky, the Italian boy you asked for directions at the train station may even show up in his car ready to drop you off at the lake while on his way to meet up with friends to go fishing–just one of the many kind Italians I encountered throughout my travels!)
3) The Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill)
Just south of the Vatican and above the Trastevere district, you’ll find some of the most beautiful views of Rome from the Gianicolo. Though this hill isn’t on the outskirts of Rome and is, in fact, very close to the city, it feels removed and peaceful. By day, you’ll get to see all of Rome from the Tiber to the Colosseum, and by night, this is the place to go for couples looking for a romantic evening. When I went, there were no shops at the top of the hill, so make sure to bring a water bottle that can be filled at a pump along the way.
How to get there: You can reach the top either by bus or by walking. The hike wasn’t too intense and it took only about 25 minutes to reach the top walking at a slow pace. From the Trastevere district you can hike up to the Gianicolo and walk down to the Vatican on the way back (it’s that close!). If you’re not up to walking, buses numbered 115 will also take you there.
4) Castel Sant’Angelo
Many may visit the Bridge of Hadrian, or Ponte Sant’Angelo, to see the illustrious angel statues lining the bridge. The castle beyond the bridge, however, is filled with just as much history and beauty. It’s also another great place to stop for incredible views of the city. Try going inside the castle to learn about the history of a building whose construction began in 135 AD, making it one of Rome’s most original monuments.
How to get there: It’s near the Vatican city, and if you start from there, just take via Borgo Santo Spirito all the way to the castle. Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma, Italy.
5) Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
This cute little plaza, only a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum, is the perfect place to go for some drinks and people-watching. In the center it has a small fountain with steps that allow for a moment of rest and is surrounded on three sides by colorful buildings containing restaurants that aren’t completely run over by tourists. Although I’m sure all of the restaurants are wonderful, I stopped at La Bottega del Caffè (Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, 5, 00184 Roma, Italy) for drinks and a pizza, and enjoyed both. They have an outdoor patio surrounded by an ivy-covered fence, which is perfect for a easygoing night out in Rome.
How to get there: Starting at the Colosseum, you can take Via degli Annibaldi straight to the plaza, which will be on your right.
Quick Restaurant Recommendation: For another hidden and authentic Italian find, go to Trattoria Pizzeria da Gino alla Villetta (address: Vicolo del Buco, 2, 00153 Roma, Italy). The seafood risotto is downright fantastic and they offer tasty regional wine at affordable prices. It’s also a great stop near Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island).