With so many attractions in Rome, it’s easy to see why so many people visit the Eternal City each year. While most tourists spend their time lining up to see the famous landmarks, there is much more to see. For a taste of Rome away from the crowds, check out these spectacular spots so many often overlook.
While these places are not entirely devoid of visitors, you will find fewer tourists and more locals hanging out here. This list should get your exploration of Rome started. Put on comfortable walking shoes and bring a camera. You’ll be happy you did.
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Attractions in Rome: piazzas and fountains
Piazzas are a part of life in any Italian town. In Rome, these squares are where you shop, socialize, and people watch. Piazzas and fountains go together hand in hand. They are also some of the most exciting attractions in Rome that don’t cost money to visit.
Piazzas are an experience you’re likely to stumble upon no matter where you are in the city. While everyone flocks to the St. Peter’s Square, Piazza Navona or Piazza di Spagna, head over to these piazzas instead.
Fontana dell’ Aqua (Il Fontanone)
Suppose you don’t want to battle the crowds at the Trevi Fountain, head over to the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola on Janiculum Hill. It is known to the locals as Il Fontanone (the big fountain), named after Pope Paul V, who commissioned it in the 16th century. Today, this is one of the best attractions in Rome for spectacular views of the city. This fountain was also the inspiration for the Trevi Fountain, built 200 years later!
Upon his election, Pope Paul V committed to several public works projects. One of them was to provide residents of Rome with a source of clean drinking water. He restored the ancient Acqua Traiana aqueduct, initially built by Emperor Trajan, creating the Fontana dell’ Aqua. The project took three years to complete and provided fresh water to Janiculum from spring near Lake Bracciano, north of Rome, ever since.
Piazza del Popolo
The piazza is named after the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. The church is rumoured to have been built on Emperor Nero’s grave, but today is probably more famous for being home to two Caravaggio paintings. During Roman times, this was the main entrance to the city.
Here you’ll find one of Rome’s biggest Egyptian obelisks, known as the Flaminian Obelisk. Pharaoh Ramesses II originally commissioned the obelisk that measures 23.91 metres (about 78 feet) without the base. In 1589, it was moved here from the nearby Circus Maximus, where it has been since the 10th century.
Across from Porta del Popolo (the old city gate) are two identical churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. While the churches look the same on the outside, there are slight differences inside.
Piazza del Popolo marks the starting point for three streets that stretch out like a trident. Via del Babuino on the left leads to Piazza di Spagna. Via di Ripetta on the right leads to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. At the centre is Via del Corso, Rome’s main street.
Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
This tiny piazza not too far from the Colosseum is a lovely spot to hang out. Decorated with a picturesque 16th-century fountain, the piazza comes alive in the evening and on the weekends. It attracts people of all ages, all eager to partake in the social vibe of the neighbourhood.
Grab a drink from one of the nearby bars and join the locals on the steps of the fountain as you enjoy the moment. If you’re here during summer, you might come across some musicians and entertainers. Whether you want to feel like you’re on a set of a movie set in Italy or just want to escape the tourists, this is the place for you.
Nearby the busy Piazza Campo de’ Fiori lies the charming Piazza Farnese. The piazza is overlooked by the imposing 16th-century Farnese Palace, one of Rome’s most important High Renaissance palaces. Commissioned by the wealthy Farnese family, today, it is home to the French Embassy.
The piazza features two identical fountains made from Egyptian granite basins, brought here from the Baths of Caracalla. The lilies were added by the architect Girolamo Rainaldi as they represent the Farnese family coat of arms. You can enjoy a break at one of the piazza restaurants or hang out by the fountains.
Upon its completion, the Palazzo Farnese was one of Rome’s grandest and largest palaces at the time. Inside, you can admire works by Michelangelo, Sangallo the Younger, Raffaello and many others. You have to reserve your tickets ahead of time. English tours are on Wednesdays and last about 45 minutes.
Attractions in Rome: museums
When it comes to tourist attractions in Rome, nothing beats the museums. While all of Rome can be considered an outdoor museum, several are worth checking out inside.
Galleria Doria Pamphilj
Galleria Doria Pamphilj is one of our favourite attractions in Rome. One of Rome’s noble families’ private residences is located on Via del Corso, just steps away from Piazza Venezia. Today, the descendants of the Doria Pamphilj still reside here, but the building is open to the public.
Inside, you can enjoy one of the finest private collections of art that includes Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian’s works. The interior is just as spectacular as the art it houses. You can visit a large portion of the palazzo, including the stunning Gallery of Mirrors, the ballroom, as well as the Sala Aldobrandini and that of the Primitives.
You also can tour the Princess’ Private Apartments by getting a combination entrance ticket or booking a private tour. Here you’ll be able to view Diana’s Bath, Throne Room, Blue or English Room, Green or Venetian Room, Yellow or French Room, Red or Roman Room and Venus Toilet.
Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo)
The National Roman Museum (Museo Nazionale Romano) is housed in four different buildings – the Baths of Diocletian, the Palazzo Altemps, the Crypta Balbi and the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Instead of waiting in line to see the Vatican Museum, head over to the Palazzo Massimo for one of the world’s best archaeological and classical art collections.
The exhibitions are divided into different themes and organized chronologically throughout the museum. Here you can check out collections of jewels, Roman coins, frescoes and mosaics to Greek and Roman sculptures and statues.
The building itself is a Neo-Renaissance-style palace erected between 1883 and 1887. Before it was converted into part of the National Roman Museum, it was used as a Jesuit college.
Palazzo Barberini is another spectacular palace once owned by one of Rome’s papal families. In 1625, Maffeo Barberini, who eventually became Pope Urban VIII, bought the property from Cardinal Alessandro Sforza. He hired Rome’s top architects – Moderno, Borromini and Bernini – to create his new palazzo.
Today, the Baroque-style palazzo is home to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (National Gallery of Antique Art). Here you’ll find over 1,400 works of art by artists from the 13th to 18th centuries. This includes works by Tiziano, El Greco, Caravaggio, Tintoretto as well as Raphael and his famous portrait, La Fornarina.
Not too far from Campo de’ Fiori and the Piazza Farnese lies another stunning palazzo. Once owned by the wealthy Spada family, Palazzo Spada is one of many things to see in Rome that many tend to overlook.
Cardinal Girolamo Capodiferro built the palazzo in 1540. Upon his death in 1631, Cardinal Bernardino Spada bought it for his private residence. Spada hired Swiss-born Giovanni Borromini to restore the building and improve it. Borromini had a talent for creating architectural illusions, and Palazzo Spada is a great place to discover his genius. You can see his illusions in the Colonnata or the Perspective Gallery.
The Galleria Spada houses an impressive collection of Baroque paintings, many of them from the Spada family’s private collections. Here you’ll find works by Guido Reni, Guercino, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, Titian, Parmigianino and Jan Brueghel, the Elder. The collections also include works by European Caravaggesque artists, like Valentin de Boulogne, Trophime Bigot, Pieter van Laer and Hendrick van Somer.
Attractions in Rome: ancient sites
When it comes to the attractions in Rome, nothing beats the ancient Roman sites. While the Colosseum and the Roman Forum are on everyone’s list of things to see in Rome, there are other excellent sites where you can admire the Roman architectural feats without the lineups.
Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla have long been stripped of the beautiful marble that once decorated the most spectacular thermal bath complexes in ancient times. Today, the giant brick walls, arches and vaults can give you an idea of the vast scale and size this place once was. The baths are still one of the most impressive Roman attractions in Rome.
If you like this post, you might like to read Guide to Roman ruins in Italy!
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, known as Emperor Caracalla, started the construction of this massive complex. Built between 212 and 216 A.D., the baths were a spectacular architectural feat that could accommodate about 1,600 people at a time. There were three large bathing rooms with cold, lukewarm and hot water pools fitted with advanced water supply and drainage systems. Attendees could also enjoy two libraries and the gardens as they socialized and relaxed.
The Baths of Caracalla remained in use for over 300 years. After the invading barbarians destroyed the aqueducts, cutting off the water supply, the baths closed for good. Subsequently, the site was plundered, with many statues and decorations stolen and/or relocated to other city areas. The final blow came in 847 when an earthquake destroyed a part of the site.
Today, you can explore the site during the day or attend one of the summer events held each year. Summer operas, ballet and music concerts are held here in June and July. For tickets and schedules, visit the official site.
Largo di Torre Argentina
The Largo di Torre Argentina is best known for being the place where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. The site was discovered during construction between 1926 and 1930. Today it is home to Rome’s famous cat sanctuary.
Here you’ll find the remnants of four ancient temples from the 3rd century BC, named A, B, C and D. There are also ruins of the Theater of Pompey and the Curia (Roman senate house). It was on the steps of the Curia that Caesar met his end at the hands of his enemies.
The site itself lies below today’s street level and is gated off; however, a restoration project funded by Bulgari is set to reopen the area to tourists in 2021. Until then, you can admire the site from above and marvel at some of the oldest temple ruins in Rome.
Ponte Fabricio, also known as Ponte dei Quattro Capi (Bridge of Four Heads), is the oldest intact bridge in Rome. Built by the curator of the roads, Lucius Fabricius, in 62 BC, the bridge replaced an old wooden one destroyed by fire. The bridge is entirely intact from Roman antiquity and has been in continuous use since then.
The bridge is closed to car traffic and is made from tuff encased by brick and travertine. The 62m (203 feet) long and 5.5m (18 feet) wide bridge comprises two wide arches supported by a central pillar in the middle. It connects the small Tiber Island in the middle of the river to the Campus Martius on the east side of the city.
If you’re looking for Roman things to see in Rome, it doesn’t get more authentic than the Ponte Fabricio. The bridge is simple yet elegant and makes a charming spot for taking a breather in Rome.
Theatre of Marcellus (Teatro di Marcello)
What looks like a smaller replica of the Colosseum is a theatre that predates it by nearly a century. Julius Caesar started building this grand amphitheatre to best his rival Pompey but was killed before its completion. Augustus continued the project and dedicated it in 12 BC to his favourite nephew, Marcellus.
The Theatre of Marcellus was the largest open-air theatre at that time. Its iconic design became the standard for building in Rome, inspiring other amphitheatres, including the Colosseum. Semicircular in shape with seating that could accommodate between 15,000 and 20,0000, it was a popular place to see plays, concerts and poetry recitals.
The Theatre of Marcellus fell into disuse by the 4th century as gladiator games and gigantic spectacles increased in popularity. Spectators moved to larger venues like the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum. Over time, the site changed hands between various prominent families. During the 12th century, it became a fortress and was converted into apartments during the 14thcentury.
Today, you can admire one of Rome’s most iconic attractions from the outside of what’s left of the amphitheatre and admire the temple ruins beside it. The apartments still exist and are privately owned. During the summer months, you can enjoy music concerts held on-site.
Further thoughts on attractions in Rome
With over 2,000 years under its belt, Rome is a city filled with treasures. While most visitors visit the most popular attractions in Rome, there is an endless list of spectacular places to discover. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see those iconic attractions in Rome, but if you’re looking for something more, this list will get you started.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t see all of it in a day either. Keep that in mind as you’re planning your list of things to see in Rome. Maybe you’ll need to come back for another visit. Rome will be here waiting for you.