Well-known sites such as the Colosseum and St Peter’s Basilica might get all the attention, but there’s more to Rome than just the big-ticket attractions. From optical illusions to secret neighbourhoods, discover the quirkiest, most unusual things to see and do in the Eternal City.
As the local saying goes, Roma, non basta una vita – one lifetime simply isn’t enough to see everything Rome has to offer. One of the city’s many joys is that its layers of culture and history slowly reveal themselves over time, making repeat visits an absolute must. While sightseers should undoubtedly see famed attractions such as the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, there are equally arresting, if lesser-known, spots to enjoy as well. Dive deep into the Eternal City with a visit to these unique locations.
Though the Pyramid of Cestius is, in fact, a Roman copy of an Egyptian pyramid, it’s still ancient – and utterly unique. Built in 12 BC as the tomb and funerary monument of the powerful magistrate Gaius Cestius, the 36-metre-high (118-foot) structure stands on the border between Testaccio and Ostiense and is an emblem of the area’s skyline. The interior chambers of the pyramid, with newly restored frescoes, are only open on the third and fourth Saturdays and Sundays of the month. Tickets must be reserved online.
The Mouth of Truth, located in the portico of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, is possibly Rome’s most over-rated monument, so skip the snaking queue outside and head directly inside the church for a more unusual sight, missed by many tourists. The side altar on the left of the building houses a gold-framed glass reliquary. Inside the box is the flower-adorned skull of St Valentine, a third-century saint killed for helping persecuted Christians. While the saint was initially buried in northern Rome, his body was later exhumed, and 10 churches across Europe now lay claim to his relics.
Rome has no shortage of beautiful churches but the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio in the historic centre boasts a rather unexpected feature – a fake dome. The church was built between 1626 and 1650, but the planned cupola had to be scrapped due to a lack of funds. Instead, artist Andrea Pozzo was hired to paint an illusion of a dome onto the flat surface. It may have been the cheaper option but the depiction is actually pretty convincing. Look for a marble disk in the middle of the nave floor which marks the best spot to observe the illusion.
Situated in the Foro Italico in the northern part of Rome, the Stadio dei Marmi is an open-air stadium built under the direction of Benito Mussolini. Circled by 59 marble figures, each representing a different sporting discipline, the complex mixes classical Greek artistry with fascist ideas, and it was part of a bid to try and secure the hosting of the 1940 Summer Olympics in Rome (those games were cancelled due to war). When the atmospheric arena isn’t hosting events, such as the Italian Open, it’s a popular spot with residents who do laps of the track or run up and down the marble seats.
Rome has a gelateria on almost every corner, but Gelato d’Essai da Geppy Sferra is the city’s first gelato restaurant. Located in the eastern Centocelle area, the innovative venue invites diners to eat gelato for every course, not just dessert. Dishes change with the seasons and include creations like thinly sliced salmon with grapefruit and ginger gelato, sweet-and-sour pork with pineapple sorbet, and grilled polenta with broccoli, parmesan cream and liquorice gelato.
Hidden in Trastevere – one of Rome’s busiest neighbourhoods – is the ancient apothecary of Santa Maria della Scala. To unlock the door and see this treasure trove of medical artefacts, you’ll need to call ahead and arrange a visit. Guided tours are given by the same order of Carmelite monks who, centuries ago, dished out medicines to nobles, cardinals and popes. The on-site gift shop sells a selection of herbal remedies, as well as therapeutic brandy, grappa and limoncello.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.