Rome’s Lesser-Known Sites and Day Trips
With more than two millennia of history, the entire city of Romeis an open-air museum. To develop a fuller understanding of Rome’s complete history—from Pagan influences to the Baroque to the golden age of Italian cinema — I recommend spending at least five days in the city. Explore on your own, or book a group activity to ease in the planning and jump to the front of the line at major attractions. Remember to visit the most trafficked attractions during the non-peak hours of your stay, and carve out time for some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path activities. Here are a few of my top picks:
History buffs will have a field day at Ostia Antica. A thriving port from the 1st through 3rd century AD, today Ostia Antica is a living, breathing museum. You can easily spend an entire day walking through the remains of docks, warehouses, apartment flats, mansions, shopping arcades, and baths that once served the 60,000 people who lived here. When the Roman Empire fell, this antique treasure soon became forgotten. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that it was rediscovered; large excavations took place and today it is now referred to as the “Pompeii of the North.” Getting to Ostia Antica from downtown Rome is easy—it’s a 45-minute combination Metro/train ride to Ostia Antica. Take Metro Line B to Piramide and then hop on the train to Lido, stopping in Ostia Antica.
Mount Janiculum (Giancolo)
The Janiculum (Italian: Gianicolo) is a long ridge that rises above Trastevere and runs parallel to the Tiber River. Give yourself about 90 minutes from Trastevere to reach the top. Once there, you’ll be rewarded with an awesome panoramic view of Rome: you’ll see Villa Borghese on the left, the domes in the middle, and the Colosseum on the right. Don’t miss San Pietro church in Montorio, whose courtyard houses Bramante’s Tempietto, the epitome of classically-inspired Renaissance architecture in miniature, as well as a small Doric temple built over the spot where St. Peter is said to have been crucified.
Sant Egidio’s Museo del Folklore
Most tourists think of Roman history as being thousands of years old, but you can uncover more recent history at this former convent, now a folklore museum in Trastevere, which focuses on Rome of the 1950s and ‘60s. The photo exhibit highlighting “La Dolce Vita” and movie-making during this era is not to be missed! You’ll learn about “spaghetti Westerns” and their legendary godfather, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone.
Take a breather from the hustle and bustle of Rome in the form of a day trip to the scenic town of Nemi, about 18 miles southeast of the city. Nemi is the site where Caligula, third emperor of the Roman Empire, had two luxurious boats built so he could cruise on Lake Nemi. They sank during the reign of Claudius, but were rediscovered when Mussolini drained the lake in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The boats were burned by retreating Germans at the end of the Second World War, but remnants survived the flames and are now housed in Museo delle Navi Romane in Nemi. Replicas of these boats are on display at Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome.