You’ve done the Spanish Steps, trod the well-worn path around the Colosseum and joined the selfie-taking masses at the Trevi Fountain — so what’s next?
For more than 2,500 years Rome has held an irresistible lure for travellers, and it continues to do so to this day. As one of the most visited cities in the world there’s an abundance of tourist traffic.
However, despite the fact that the Italian capital boasts more stunning museums, ancient artefacts, and drool-worthy trattorias than you could hope to tick off in one lifetime, most visitors will stick to the standard tourist tick list.
But instead of following the crowds, why not ditch your guidebook and experience the Eternal City like a local?
Try these 10 experiences to get the best out of the Italian capital.
The early bird gets the worm
Of course, no first-time visitor can come to the city and skip big-ticket items: the Colosseum (literally the most popular tourist attraction in the world for the second year running), the Pantheon (a pagan temple turned Catholic church) and the Spanish Steps. But there is a way to see them in style – and without the horrific queue.
Tourists and Italians don’t generally get up early, so set the alarm before sunrise, lace up your runners, and you’ll be rewarded by having an A to Z of the city’s most iconic sights almost to yourself.
Either go it alone, or – if you’re staying at slick central hotel J.K. Place Roma – then join their ‘ArcheoRunning’ experience, which sees a resident art historian, PT, and tour guide, take guests on a running tour of the ancient city’s highlights.
Eat with an archaeologist
After burning calories, it’s time to refuel. Romans are already thinking about dinner while eating lunch, such is the obsession with food and La Dolce Vita in this part of the world.
To get an overview of the food scene here, skip breakfast and join a walking food tour instead.
Eat With’s Unique Roman Food Walk With an Archeologist takes travellers through the lesser-known Prati area and pairs expert storytelling and history with more than 20 tastings — from espresso and handmade pasta, to gelato and bruschetta — each at uniquely local haunts.
As well as taking guests on a walking degustation, the experience also takes in the foodie delights of Mercato Trionfale — Rome’s biggest and busiest local food market.
Hit the saddle
To counteract some of the calories, hit the saddle and head out of town to take in what was one of the first ever streets in Rome — the ancient Appian Way.
A marvel of Roman engineering at the time of its construction 2,000 years ago, the road was a major thoroughfare for the empire.
Today, it’s a place for Romans to get into the surrounding countryside, to run and bike, to view ruins, and — perhaps most importantly — to take a break from the crowds of tourists in town.
Expedia’s Ancient Appian Way e-bike Tour allows travellers to go from the city to the country with an expert guide in tow. Meeting at a central location, you’ll soon pedal your way to stunning nature and towering ancient aqueducts.
Visit ‘mini Pompeii’
Given that Italy has the highest concentration of ancient sites around, there’s enough archaeological gems to satisfy even the most hardcore of history lovers. And while Pompeii is the usual suspect for visitors, you may not realise that Rome has its own mini version of the famed site on its outskirts, easily accessible by public transport.
The main seaport for ancient Rome, Ostia Antica was a bustling town back when Julius Caesar was in power and today, you can still get a sense of the scale of the place.
Expedia’s Private Ancient Ostia tours show off the wealth of impressive buildings, including the theatre, temples and public baths.
Another off-the-tourist-trail site is the Domus Aurea, a beautiful villa built by Emperor Nero that was also the most extravagant construction in the history of Rome. It’s so under the radar that you need to wear a hard hat to visit and tours need to be booked in advance.
Spa like an ancient Roman
The ancient Romans are credited for creating the modern-day spa and you can experience a take on the indulgent bathing complexes of yesteryear at QC Termeroma Spa and Resort.
Nestled in a tranquil nature park close to Rome’s main airport, this country estate turned 5-star luxury thermal wellness resort is one of the most extravagant and sprawling spas in the world.
Don your robe and hop from a mind-boggling array of saunas, steam rooms, sensory showers, indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pools, full-size summing pools, waterfalls, relaxation areas, aromatherapy rooms, cold plunges and more.
Then there’s the comprehensive range of treatments – those that go beyond a standard massage and facial. Add to this a yummy wellness lunch, and renowned aperitivo – an aperitivo where your bathrobe is compulsory – and you’ll be in spa heaven.
Stay for the day or check in for the night in one of the hotel’s 50 luxe suites. Given that it’s a quick 5-minute drive to the airport, a day here is the perfect way to prep your mind and body for the flight back home.
Bargain hunt at Europe’s biggest flea market
For a vintage and antique treasure trove head to the largest flea market in Rome as well as one of the oldest, Porta Portese.
Arguably the best-known and biggest flea market in Rome, every Sunday Romans will flock here, rain or shine, to bag a bargain.
Hundreds of stalls sell everything from antiques and books, to furniture and vintage clothes. Come prepared to haggle!
Eat like a local
As one of the most visited destinations in the world, it’s also one of the most tourist-dense areas on earth, so there are plenty of restaurants geared towards non-natives.
Be suspicious of menus written wholly in English and don’t fall for eateries that offer tourist specials – rookie error. Not only will you get ripped off, but you’ll also end up with a meal that’s likely been microwaved. Instead, join a foodie walking tour in the trendy, bohemian district of Trastevere.
Compared to New York’s Greenwich Village, this former-working class area has become a local nightlife epicentre and its picturesque, winding cobblestone streets are packed with traditional and innovative trattorias, pubs and artisan shops.
Eating Europe’s four-hour Eat With’s Twilight Trastevere Rome Food Tour explores the culinary highlights of the neighbourhood, including a VIP early doors meal at the Da Enzo al 29 (a traditional Cucina that usually has an hour-long wait), a wine tasting in a cellar that’s older than the Colosseum (yes, really) and a sampling of what is touted as the best ‘porchetta’ sandwich in the city.
Dose yourself with an ancient potion
While in Trastevere you can get a cure for what ails you at the oldest pharmacy in the city — potentially even the oldest in Europe — the 16th century Santa Maria della Scala.
Only accessible via prearranged guided tours — with the same order of Carmelite monks who, centuries ago, dished out medicines to the city’s nobles — this hidden gem continues to sell its herbal remedies and therapeutic liquors at the on-site shop, so you can stock up.
Visit a rubbish dump
The embodiment of the ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ adage, Monte Testaccio is a literal rubbish dump — albeit an ancient one.
During ancient times, olive oil was transported around the Roman Empire in terracotta containers known as amphorae. Due to their porous nature, they couldn’t be reused, so an estimated 53 million of them were dumped at this site creating a giant, artificial hill.
You can walk alongside and see the terracotta layers for yourself, or go one step further and visit one of the restaurants and bars that have carved their way into the ceramic mass itself.
Dine overlooking Vatican City
Regardless of whether you stay in town or not, if you’re a famished foodie then there’s one Roman restaurant that definitely needs to be on your radar: La Pergola.
Far from being a tourist eatery, this place is high on the wish lists’ of every local given that it is the only restaurant in the city to boast three Michelin stars.
Considered the Holy Grail of fine dining, three-Michelin starred restaurants are like gold dust. In fact, there’s only 100 of them in the entire world.
Helmed by superstar chef, Heinz Beck (think the Italian equivalent of Gordon Ramsay) the lauded dining venue has one of the most extravagant tasting menus you can find in Italy.
Push the boat out and opt for the signature 10-course tasting menu, which comes with matching wines from La Pergola’s legendary cellar of some 70,000-plus bottles and earn future bragging rights by nabbing a table on the outdoor terrace, which offers jaw-dropping, sweeping views across the Vatican and beyond. Mamma Mia!
Where to stay when in Rome
Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese
Fusing La Dolce Vita heritage with modern French art de vivre, the Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese is positioned adjacent to the gorgeous gardens, from which it takes its name.
Set in a grand 19th century palazzo on a quiet street between the hot spots of Via Veneto and the Spanish Steps, the property had a recent multi-million makeover across its 78 rooms with a focus on stunning artworks, such as classical Italian masterpiece ceilings in suites that featured cherub and angel-filled clouds.
Another hotel gem is its panoramic rooftop restaurant and breakfast venue — a dazzling venue that offers views across to the dome of St Peter’s Basilica and beyond, both from its indoor and outdoor terrace tables. It’s a view that’ll make that sundowner or sunny side up eggs taste even better
JK Place Roma
Situated in the heart of Rome with the Pantheon and other main attractions a short walk away, and housed in what was once Rome’s school of architecture, JK Place Roma is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to stay in the city.
A visual feast from top-to-toe, antique furniture and huge sculptures create wow-worthy common areas, while the designer aesthetic has also been applied to suites thanks to dreamy four-poster beds and Italian-marble-clad bathrooms.
Retreat to the chic lounge/library or the J.K. Lounge Cafe for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a killer aperitif. The hotel also offers a collection of unique, bespoke experiences for guests that cater to every taste, and every kind of traveller, from gourmet picnics and city tours, to walking tours.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.