5 of the Best Things in Rome (That Aren’t the Colosseum)

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An albergo sign in Rome

If I had to name my favourite place, it would probably be Rome. As a foodie, history lover, and someone who enjoys just wandering around taking photos, Rome has it all. I’m lucky enough to have been back a number of times now.


The first trip to any city typically involves checking off the main attractions, so I tend to find return trips more enjoyable.

Freed from the ‘must-sees’, I love uncovering a different side to the city, as well as revisiting previous favourites. In general, the more I go somewhere, the more I like it.

I checked off main attractions of Rome on my first visit as a teenager, but my main impression was of the steep costs and long queues.

Trevi Fountain in Rome

But as a student, I took myself to Rome to research early Christian churches for a project. This was really just an excuse to visit some cool underground excavations that are closed to the public. I had a ball.

Since then, each trip has a theme. Another layer of Rome to unpeel.

Nomadic Matt touched upon this recently when he discussed travelling with a theme. My trips have always tended to revolve around something I want to learn— or, more often than not, eat.

Looking out from under the Pantheon's portico in Rome

One of my favourite memories of Rome is sitting with my BFF over morning coffee in the sunshine, marking out on a map where we wanted to eat and devising a walking plan around that. This involved obscure suburban gelato quests and a memorable offal adventure in Testaccio.

TIP: If you want to avoid mediocre tourist food in Rome, check out Katie Parla’s blog. Diane Seed’s Love Food Love Rome is also good if you don’t mind carrying a hardback book.

Bikes outside a sausage shop in Rome

So what should you do if you’ve already waited in line for the Sistine Chapel, waltzed down the Spanish Steps, thrown a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and had your photo taken wth gladiators at the Colosseum?


Light from the Pantheon's oculus in Rome


The Pantheon is one of Rome’s significant sights and it never fails to amaze me. Built in 118-140AD in the reign of Hadrian, it was way ahead of its time.

Did you know the Romans were the first to use concrete on such a large scale? They included volcanic ash in the mix, making it very durable, and it paved (a-ha) the way for many architectural and engineering advances in the city such as the aqueducts. The Colosseum is concrete too.

The technique wasn’t rediscovered until the 16th century, and the Pantheon still the largest unsupported dome in the world.

The Pantheon from outside

The natural light and perfect proportions are impressive enough, but for me, the magic is that in Roman times the dome would not have been visible from the outside, and the ceiling would have been gilded in bronze. Just imagine the awe felt by the average Roman citizen stepping inside for the first time!

If you’re lucky you might catch a classical concert inside or the rainfall of rose petals on Pentecost. Oh, and it also contains the tomb of Raphael and many other important figures.


The ceiling of Sant'Ignazio

The dome theme continues, but this time a fake one.

Built in 1626s, Sant’Ignazio was supposed to have a dome but funds disappeared so artist Andrea Pozzo painted it as an illusion instead. Stand in the right spot marked out on the floor and the perspectives align; the ceiling appears to extend upwards to the heavens, with a tangle of cherubs tumbling down.

Forget the Sistine Chapel, this is my favourite ceiling in Rome.


Gelato from Fatamorgana in Rome

Consistently ranked among the best gelato in Rome, Fatamorgana seems to divide people.

It’s artisanal, so free of artificial ingredients and portions are on the small side. If you’re expecting big pillowy scoops of pistachio then this is not the gelateria for you.

But if you love trying unusual flavours then this place is gelato nirvana. I had to keep returning until I’d tried them all. The raspberry, rose and hibiscus flavour remains one of top 5 best ice-creams I’ve ever eaten (and I don’t say that lightly).

Other delights included: gorgonzola; fennel, honey, and liquorice; basil, honey, and nuts; vanilla and black rice; chocolate and tobacco.


The view from Santa Sabina in Rome

Rome was built on seven hills, and the Aventine was the one where the emperors had their villas. It’s still an elegant and quiet residential area with some beautiful churches; you’re likely to be strolling around back streets with monks and nuns for company.

You’ll notice crowds forming around a door leading to the Priory of the Knights of Malta. This is the Aventine Keyhole – take a look through the keyhole and you’ll be rewarded with a perfectly framed view of the dome of St Peter’s in the distance.

Whilst you’re here enjoy the views across the city from the Orange Gardens at the nearby Church of Santa Sabina. It’s a great escape from the bustle of the centre.

Purple blossoms in Rome
The Aventine is bloomin’ lovely.

For a thoroughly lovely afternoon, walk from the Aventine down towards the Tiber, then on to:


Twilight in Trastevere, Rome

Trastevere is the charming neighbourhood is where people head for a picturesque dinner and photographs of cobbled streets with laundry hanging from the balconies (I know it’s not just me).

Walk up to the Gianicolo Hill for more glorious sweeping views, then after the sun has gone down head back to Trastevere for a tasty dinner.

The sun sets on the River Tiber, Rome

So what will my next visit to Rome uncover? I’m considering a Baroque theme — although really this is just a dressed up excuse to take an Angels and Demons tour. Or perhaps I’ll explore Rome’s many underground secrets.

I’ll have to keep throwing my pennies in the Trevi Fountain.

Man with a sausage dog in Rome  

What’s your favourite side of Rome? Do you travel with a theme? And how do you prefer your gelato?

What are the best things to do once you've ticked off the Vatican, the Forum, and the Colosseum?
What are the best things to do once you've ticked off the Vatican, the Forum, and the Colosseum?

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