When in Rome...
June 7, 2007 1:07 PM   Subscribe

RomeFilter: What is there to do in Rome?

A bunch of people are going to Rome in March 2008. What cool things are there to do? Obviosuly the usual touristy stuff (Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Coliseum, etc)... what's the unknown? What's off the beaten track? What are Rome's hidden gems?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy to Travel & Transportation around Rome, Italy (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not so much off the beaten path, but there are several catacombs in Rome. Their histories are very interesting and visiting those deep dark places can creep you out and awe you at the same time.

I definetly recommend a visit to one of those.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:18 PM on June 7, 2007

Perhaps wikitravel has something useful for you?..
posted by aeighty at 1:25 PM on June 7, 2007

Not very hdden, but...
I have wonderful memories of Hadrians Mausoleum aka Castel St Angelo. Drink coffee on it's walls and gaze over the Tiber, the Vatican and the ancient city.
posted by jouke at 1:36 PM on June 7, 2007

Perhaps even creepier than the catacombs is this place, a shrine for Capuchin monks, furnished with their own remains. A tour of the Forum can be interesting, if you have a good guide, but for an even better feel for ancient Roman society, the preserved city of Pompeii isn't that far. You can probably drive there, see it, and return to Rome in half a day.
posted by danthony at 1:38 PM on June 7, 2007

Piazza di San Lorenzo is a really cool place. There are a lot of youngish types just hanging out and plenty of cool bars and restaurants. It's my favorite place in Rome.

Also, if it's your type of thing, high quality Moroccan hash can be readily acquired there for a reasonable price with a minimum of effort.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:43 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rick Steves' Italy is the new standard travel guide. Of course, any suggestions in it are likely to lure hundreds of people at peak tourist season.

Even so, it is well worth buying for anyone traveling to Italy.
posted by sindark at 1:49 PM on June 7, 2007

I don't remember the name exactly - it was called something like the Flavian Tavern - but this restaurant was a cool little place. The only catch was that if the staff felt like it, they would serve you whatever they wanted to regardless of your order. It was an adventure. My cousin got a plate of tiny octopi, for example, after ordering some basic pasta.
posted by chlorus at 2:01 PM on June 7, 2007

Definitely head across the river to the Trastevere neighborhood. Most guidebooks will tell you to do this, but I think a lot of people stick to the tourist spots on the west side of the Tiber. Trastevere has more of a small town Italian feel with lots of great restaurants -- guidebooks will recommend some, or just wander the streets until you find one that strikes your fancy.
posted by wsquared at 2:10 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Jeebus, where to begin? Just start walking. You'll find the best restaurants (check out a place called the Cafe Scanderbeg; it's in a tiny side alley we found randomly, and any of the restaurants around the Piazza Della Rotonda) and some of the better historical landmarks--we found the San Pietro in Vincoli (Church of St. Peter In Chains), the Piazza Navoli, the Pantheon, and a live shooting location for Ocean's Twelve, featuring Brad Pitt, all by accident. My new bride and I spent nine glorious days there wandering the city, and we almost didn't leave.

/touristfilter/: I'm seconding the Catacombs. And if you get the chance to take in the Papal mass on Sunday--even if you're not Catholic--it's worth the wait.
posted by idiotking at 2:16 PM on June 7, 2007

"Off the beaten path?" Try Via Salaria. There you will see some of the most awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping transexual prostitutes in the world!
posted by humannaire at 2:36 PM on June 7, 2007

As another post has already mentioned, there’s not too much in the way of hidden gems in Rome these days: guide-books are comprehensive, and there’ll be very few places that you’ll be the mythical ‘only tourist’. Having said that, this is all relative, and there are plenty of places that are going to offer a much better visiting experience than the nightmare of the Vatican museums, and the Colosseum. The first thing to note is that you’ve probably chosen one of the best months to visit: March/April may get its share of showers, but it’s generally just before the season starts, so the queues will be slight in comparison even to late spring (not to mention high summer).
There are a number of obvious ‘other highlights’, most of which aren’t really alternative anymore, but all of which offer something good. If you like archaeology, ruins and stuff, then the Palatine Hill, the site of the palace of the Emperors, is a good for an explore, although take a reasonable guide-book up there because there is no explicatory signage so it can be pretty brutal if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Also good, if only for the sheer scale of the remains, are the Baths of Caracalla, an early 3rd imperially-funded public bathing complex (easily walkable from Metro Line B, Circo Massimo stop); if it’s a nice day, take a picnic, as there’s plenty of grass to sit on whilst you look at the great hulking remains.
If you like churches, then S. Prassede is always worth a visit. Not very far from the main railway station, it has got some excellently-preserved early 9th c. mosaics. The one thing that I well everyone who visits Rome for the first time and asks for advice not to miss is the church of S. Clemente, which is five minutes walk away from the Colosseum. The remains underneath the extant 12th c. basilica were excavated by the Jesuits in the 19th c., and you can go down beneath the church to see the remains of a 4th c. basilica beneath that one, and then down further underground beneath that to see what appears to be a 1st c. Roman house. If you do visit here, then take half an hour to walk up the hill nearby to see SS. Quattro Coronati, a small quiet church with a convent attached, and which took a battering in the sack of 1084, but which is a good place to stop and take a pausa.
If you have the time, the catacombs are certainly worth a look, but to get down the Via Appia you may have to rely on the irritatingly infrequent public transport down that way, or the chokingly overpriced touristic ‘Archaeobus’ to get down there. In terms of what you can see, they’re all much of a muchness down there; maybe S. Callixtus might be the best bet, but it’s a matter of opinion really (alternatively head the other way completely, and go north on the via Salaria to the ones at S. Priscilla, which are good).
Pompeii for the day from Rome is hard-core; it will be at least a full ten hours, even with the most cursory spin round the ancient remains. There are better day-trip options, including the ancient Roman post-town of Ostia, which was gradually abandoned as access to the river and the sea became problematic, and thus which has fairly high levels of preservation of its urban fabric (though obviously nothing approaching Pompeii); Ostia is easily reached on a train, from the station at the Porta San Paulo (Metro Line B, Pyramide station), and it takes ca.40 minutes to get there.
In terms of different districts of the city to go and hang out and try to be away from the overwhelming mass of people, yeah, Trastevere can be a good place. There’s an enormous amount to choose from, and everyone will have their own favourite place, so get personal advice and recommendations if you can. San Lorenzo has also, as one poster has already said, an excellently off-the-beaten track-feel if you’re a tourist. From experience, more a place for bars than restaurants, I’d probably say, but to see a different side of Rome than you would if you stayed solely around the centre.
posted by hydatius at 2:41 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take a day trip to Ostia Antica, about a half-hour train ride away. Absolutely worth it, and the highlight of my trip to Rome.

Ostia Antica is an entire coastal Roman city that is (half) preserved. Walk through the streets, walk through and explore the different buildings, get a feel for the layout of the city, touch the preserved stonework. It's a pretty amazing free-form experience. There is no tour guide or roped off areas. If exploring 3000 year old ruins sounds interesting to you, definitely check it out.
posted by lubujackson at 2:42 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm thinking that, while transsexual prostitutes can be an eye-opening experience, they might not be entirely appropriate for what I have in mind.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:45 PM on June 7, 2007

I was going to buy this guide to Rome's gourmet places, so my wife and I could gently, rotundly ooze from one to the next...if we passed some sights along the, so much the better.
posted by atchafalaya at 2:48 PM on June 7, 2007

You might wanna watch Rome- HBO's series. It was really great and got us extremely interested in seeing Rome.
posted by beccaj at 3:01 PM on June 7, 2007

Thirding Trastevere. They also have a bingo hall there. Trying to keep pace with numbers being announced in a different language - after a couple of stiff drinks - can be a lot of fun.
posted by phaedon at 3:06 PM on June 7, 2007

there's this place where some recently uncovered ruins have been turned into a cat sanctuary. you can go in for a (free, i think?) tour and to pet the cats at certain times, or look in at them basking pretty much any time. i forget the name, but that was pretty cool.

also, make sure to go to at least one of the places with about a hundred flavors of gelato. my favorite thing about gelaterias was that even if you get a small cup, you get to pick several different flavors, and you can generally sample as many as you want.
posted by lgyre at 3:18 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Rome City Secrets book is a very idiosyncratic travel guide. It errs on the side of pointing out non-obvious gems.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:55 PM on June 7, 2007

Have lunch or an early dinner at The Hotel Eden. The view is spectacular. Google it.
posted by wfc123 at 6:47 PM on June 7, 2007

I was about to recommend City Secrets, but Jaltcoh beat me to the punch. Seconded.
posted by mike_bling at 9:19 PM on June 7, 2007

I second danthony's suggestion for the Capuchin Ossuary. This place really stopped me in my tracks. But don't see it until you've done the Pantheon, St. Peter's, and Hadrian's Tomb.
posted by RussHy at 9:35 PM on June 7, 2007

Fior de Luna gelataria in Trastevere.

Borghese Galleria in the Villa Borghese is not to be missed. You are required to make a reservation, though.

Visiting the Sistine Chapel will probably require waiting in line for many hours unless you shell out for a tour.

Seriously, though, what is there not to do in Rome? It's like New York, but with ancient ruins. I reccomend the Cadogan guidebook in combination with Rick Steves. Read before you go, marking pages with post-its. You won't run out of things to do in this lifetime.
posted by mzurer at 11:08 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

lgyre is thinking of Largo Argentina. Not that recently uncovered, though - 1927 and onwards.
posted by mzurer at 11:17 PM on June 7, 2007

re: hash - Be aware that while there are so-called 'personal use' limits, purchase is illegal.

re: gelato - check the banana flavour. if it's grey-ish, the gelato is made from scratch.

if you'll be here during the Holy week, be aware that it'll be high season, with accommodations priced accordingly. On Good Friday, the Pope does the via crucis (stations of the cross) at the colosseum.
posted by romakimmy at 2:01 AM on June 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Was very useful. (I didn't go to Rome, but some other people may be.)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:46 PM on October 4, 2007

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