Rome's headline acts need no introduction. But away from these historic crowd pleasers, there are a host of lesser known sights to be discovered!
While Shankar and our friends headed to their Vatican mass, Natalia (from Pretty Little Things) and I explored Rome - the non touristy way!
Here's what we discovered:
Located not too far from the Vatican, this 1919 old-school Roman Cafe, is as authentic as it gets. At the wood-paneled bar, you'll see the locals (mostly well-dressed Italian men) lined up in the mornings to get their espressos. This cafe is famous for its chocolate espresso, served in beautiful porcelain cups. I am more of a cappuccino person, but if you're into your espressos and piccolos, you'll love this place. Also, their 75% caviar chocolate is to die for!
Take a walk down picturesque Borgo Pio, a quaint little street that you will probably miss if you are headed towards the Vatican. Rome is filled with cute streets like this one and we stumbled across Borgo Pio only because we were in pursuit of beautiful, ornate doors. Yes, doors. :)
There's also tons of authentic cafes and restaurants on this street serving simple Italian food.
We wandered around this street and headed left through Vicolo D'Orfeo, only to be greeted by St. Peter's Basilica right in front of us!
We came back at night to Borgo Pio for dinner. Restaurants have their tables lined up outside on the street. Best way to enjoy your Penne Arrabbiata - outside, underneath the blue sky, sharing a bottle of wine with your best friends :)
Rome is a city to behold just about from every angle. However, as is so often the case, the best view of Rome is a bird's eye view. The panorama (not to mention the silence) from the top takes your breath away. Situated just over the Vatican, this hill isn't full of tourists (like Rome's other 7 hills). You could easily spend a few hours here, dangling your feet across the wall, or enjoying a cuppa from the nearby cafe as the sun goes down.
The Aventine Hill Keyhole
If I told you, there's a small keyhole the size of a 50 cent coin - and through it you could see St. Peter's Basilica in its full glory - would you believe me? I think you should, because it's true! A sweeping view of Rome is perfectly contained in the keyhole of a nondescript-looking door on Aventine Hill, neatly placing the dome of St. Peter's right in the centre.
Also, right around the corner from the door in question, is a small Church. Just inside the Church gates, is this cute Italian house - complete with red walls and flowers in the window! We just had to stop and take photos :)
As you walk down Aventine Hill, just on the corner of Via Manlio Gelsomini and Via Marmorata in Testaccio, is one old tram carriage - Rome's once upon a time historic mode of transportation - now finding new life as one of Rome's best coffeehouses. Lit with fairy lights and decorated with vintage bird cages, this is the perfect spot to get your afternoon coffee and snack fix!
Roof Garden Terrace Bar - Hotel Atlante Star
After a day of sight-seeing, wind down and catch the Eternal City sparkling at night from this roof-top terrace bar. Open until late, it is a perfect spot for after dinner drinks if you aren't ready to go to sleep yet! Special mention to our server for the night Tasha, who was extremely friendly & funny, telling us all about her journey from Russia to Italy! If you end up meeting her - tell her we say "Formaggio" :) (How do you say 'Cheese' in Italian when someone is taking your photo? :))
Chiesa di Santa Prassede
This tiny gem of a 9th century church is tucked away just around the corner of St. Peter's Basilica. Overshadowed by the Vatican, a wall and an inconspicuous side entrance door introduces visitors to enormous mosaic arches and beautiful detailed artworks on the walls - one of the most charming Churches in all of Rome! When we entered, it so happened that we got to witness a mass in procession with everyone singing in unison! Was truly magnificent.
Ristorante Wine Bar De' Penitenzieri
Like pretty much all of the above off-beat spots, we came across this wine bar by accident, and aren't we glad we did! A cozy and authentic cafe / bar, a short stroll from the Vatican with its charming atmosphere is full of nuns and priests (just after the mass). The walls of this bar are lined with wine bottles from all around the world. When I asked for the wine menu, the waiter simply pointed towards the walls! Basically, you could pick any bottle from the wall (each bottle has a price tag on it). If you're after wine by the glass - there aren't a lot of choices however I'd recommend the Chianti!
Rome is a city of Churches, but long before the Christians, Rome has one of the oldest, continually surviving Jewish communities outside the Holy Land. We were recommended to go here for dinner and try the meat and cheese platter - all kosher though! There are some wonderful, lively restaurants here serving delicious authentic Italian food.
Della Palma - 150 flavours of Gelato!
And finally, no trip to Italy is complete without eating their world-famous gelato! We found a place that served just that - but in 150 different flavours! Any flavour you can think of! Shankar tried Ferrero Rocher (his favourite) and Whiskey, while I tried "Mango (YUM) and Cookie Dough". Our friends were a bit more adventurous with their ice cream flavours with Peach, Coconut, Lemon & Lime and Cashew" Really hard to pick a few flavours in one cup, but oh so delicious!
...and that's our round-up of off-beat Rome. If you've read this far, you'll know that all of these places were found by exploring the city, walking through random alley ways instead of sticking to the main roads and actively trying not to seek out touristy attractions. I'm sure, the next time we go to Rome, we'll come across many more off-beat things to do that we've missed this time around. But that's the charm of this city - you'll find you'll discover something new about this city (and you) each time you visit!
Do you have a list of your off-beat things to do in Rome? Share with us in the comment section below or on our Instagram page! :)