If you’re planning a trip to the Eternal City, you’ve probably already run up against the Eternal Question — what are the best things to do in Rome?
After all, it’s pretty much universally considered to be one of the most beautiful metropolises on the planet.
It’s stylish and chic, but it’s Italy’s largest city so it has a dose of grit and grime too. It’s rooted in ancient history but lives in modernity, so you have a real duality going on. There’s probably something for everyone in Rome, and I’m here to help make sure you find your “moment” in this iconic location.
What I’m not going to do is list all of the things to do in Rome that are the major tourist attractions you can find in any old guidebook. Of course the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain are must-sees, but if you’re like me, you want to fill in the spaces between the Important Monuments with the stuff of truly memorable vacations.
The stuff you would know about if your best friend lived there. The stuff you’ll tell stories about when your trip is long over. The stuff you wouldn’t think — or know — to do without a little insider nudge.
With this in mind, I want to share a few of my favorite under-the-radar things to do in Rome that you won’t find on your run-of-the-mill sightseeing itinerary. Because when in Rome, you want to take it to the next level.
5 Unique Things to Do in Rome.
1. Stay at a hostel.
You might be thinking, a hostel? Did I read that right? Hear me out.
You’ll have your pick of traditional accommodations in Rome, and if you like turndown service more than talking to other travelers, this might not be for you (because hostels are more social by nature).
But if you’re looking to make your euro stretch a little and like to give your bohemian side a bit of play every once in awhile, you’ve got to check out the hostel scene in Rome these days. It’s not just for hippies and backpackers anymore.
The Generator Hostel in the Esquilino District offers stylish private and shared rooms, a deli-style café, a chill lounge area, and a bar. The Yellow hosts live music and events, has rooftop yoga in the mornings, and even an in-house hair salon. And The Beehive (touted as Rome’s first ever luxury hostel) has donation-based family-style dinners, cooking classes, and organic, vegetarian breakfasts. Cool, right? (Check out Gigi Guides for an extensive list of places to stay, from budget all the way to major fancy shmantz.)
2. Eat at the train station.
Sounds like the last place you’d go for a great meal, right? Again, hear me out.
The Mercato Centrale, located at the southeast end of Roma Termini station, takes the concept of a typical food court to a whole other level, with fresh, upmarket options for breakfast, lunch and dinner at incredibly reasonable prices. You’ll be hard pressed to find similar value elsewhere in downtown Rome.
They have everything (including ramen!) here, but we especially love the trapizzino con lingua e salsa verde. Also worth checking out there — Michelin star chef Oliver Glowig’s open-air restaurant, La Tavola, Il Vino e la Dispensa.
3. Bring your opera glasses to an ancient ruin.
Everybody knows that Rome has ancient ruins to spare, and you’ll probably be spending a lot of your holiday time visiting them. So why not level up your sightseeing by adding a unique twist to the experience?
The Baths of Caracalla are just outside of the city center, so not only can you enjoy some truly stunning ruins away from the fray, but you can catch an opera or a ballet there under the stars as well! On the roster this summer: La Traviata, Carmen, and Romeo and Juliet.
Julius Caesar himself had a part in bringing the open-air Teatro di Marcello to life, and it was where the ancient Romans took in dramatic performances. Nowadays there are nightly concerts held here, from jazz to classical to opera — definitely a magical addition to any Roman holiday.
4. Get super specific about Roman cuisine.
I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Italian food. This is the country that bestowed pizza, pasta, focaccia, pesto, and mozzarella cheese upon the world after all. And of course each region within Italy has its own specialities. But did you know that even individual neighborhoods in Rome have their own cuisine and culinary history?
New Jersey-born and Rome-based foodie extraordinaire, Katie Parla, gets granular about the Eternal City’s most delish offerings on her neighborhood food tours. Get the low-down on what makes Testaccio a hub for serious food lovers, eat as the actual Romans do in Prati and Trionfale, or learn all about Jewish Roman cooking in the Jewish Ghetto. We review her book, Tasting Rome (a must have for foodies), in another one of our blog posts.
5. Ditch the Historic Center for Monti
Many visitors to Rome don’t look much farther than the Historical Center when they’re booking their accommodations, but there are some really cool neighborhoods just outside of this nucleus that can infuse your stay with an energy that is uniquely Roman-hip. Monti is one of our favorites (metro stop Cavour).
Think narrow cobblestone streets, crooked low-rise buildings with pretty little terraces you wish you owned, artisan boutiques, and street eats foodies love.
This is a young area that’s bustling in the evenings with live music too. We love Blackmarket Hall for intimate indie acoustic performances and their extensive cocktail list.
And the vintage shopping… Oh, the vintage shopping! This is the kind of place where you’ll find that perfectly distressed leather jacket or mint condition Valentino clutch you’ll be loving on for a lifetime. Know what else will last a lifetime? The thrill of being able to say, “Oh this? I picked it up at the cutest little boutique in Rome!”
Already taking “things to do in Rome” mental notes for your next trip? We’re obsessed with rooting out the kinds of experiences that will elevate your holiday from rote sightseeing tour to the kind of magical memory you reminisce about again and again for years to come. In fact, that’s the philosophy behind Gigi Guides, our city guides for Rome, Florence, Venice and the Cinque Terre (all digital and delivered instantly) . They’re packed with tips and top picks just like these!
You can also check out some of our other recent posts about traveling to Italy:
- Things to Do in Florence
- 9 Tips & Tricks for a Better Italy Getaway
- Beginner’s Guide to Debit and Credit Cards in Italy
- How to Plan a Trip to Italy: The Zero-Fluff Guide.
- Should I Go to Cinque Terre?
Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite unique or unexpectedly awesome things to do in Rome?
Image credits: Generator Hostel, Mercato Centrale, Leela Cyd, Blackmarket Monti, Pifebo Vintage.