Five Fabulous Places In Rome The Tourist Crowds Don’t Know About

This year Rome is already packed with tourists, and it looks like this summer will be busier than ever.

The most famous tourist attractions, all of which were overcrowded in the past, are going to be even worse now, so it’s really important to plan lots of things that take you away from the crowds. Before you worry about getting lost or spending loads of time getting to the uncrowded places, just know this normally means only walking a block or two – sometimes even less!

My best selling book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome tells you about all kinds of wonderful things to do in the Eternal City. Today I want to tell you about 5 fantastic things to do in Rome, things that take you away from the tour bus crowds and show you things that will blow your mind.

The Baths Of Caracalla

If you want to visit a truly spectacular site in Rome with almost no other travelers, this is the place for you! The Baths of Caracalla are easily one of my favorite places to visit, and even when Rome is so packed you want to scream, the tourist masses don’t know about this absolute gem.

Baths of Caracalla

Caracalla was co-emperor with his father Septimius Severus from 198 A.D until his father’s death in 211 A.D. He became emperor in 212, and rather than allow his younger brother Geta to become co-emperor, Caracalla murdered him. Then had all of Geta’s friends murdered. Then went on a killing spree so savage he became known as one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants in the entire history of Rome. This wasn’t good in terms of public opinion, so he had to find a way to win over the population of Rome. He did so by creating what was at that time the largest public baths in Rome.

This spectacular complex had a huge swimming pool, plus a hot pool and a cold pool, meeting rooms, and a gym. It was so massive it could hold up to 1600 people at any given time, and is thought to have had between 6000 and 8000 bathers per day.

The towering structure was marble clad and had incredible mosaic floors, many of which you can still see today. Walking through here (with no crowds and barely any other visitors) you get a sense of how enormous and opulent these baths were, and just how small you really are.

Recently a VR component was added to the visit. Be sure to get the VR headset.

VR view Baths of Caracalla

As you stop at each numbered section the VR mask shows you how it would have looked in the 3rd century. Italy does a brilliant job of using VR and multimedia to enhance ancient sites, and this one is no exception. I go to Caracalla several time per year with my Glam Italia Tours, and still always get the headset!

Getting there: Baths of Caracalla are a 10 minute walk from the back of the Colosseum and a 5 minute walk from the top end of the Circus Maximus.

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The Virus Capricus

crowds at Trevi fountain

This one never ceases to amaze me. The Trevi Fountain is always packed with thousands of tourists, and Rome’s most enterprising pickpockets. Visiting the beautiful baroque fountain can be a nightmare, especially if you don’t enjoy being squashed like a sardine amongst multiple bus loads of tourists.

virus caprarius rome

However very few people seem to know that less than 100 yards away you can visit an incredible site, 9 meters below ground. The Vicus Caprarius is an archaeological site that stretches 350 square meters under modern Rome. La Città dell’Acqua (City of Water) introduces you to the Virgin Aqueduct, which still feeds the water to the Trevi fountain. You can also see parts of a 1st century Roman apartment building that was converted into a private home in the 4th century, as well as a mini museum of artifacts discovered during the excavation.

Speaking of which, this was only discovered in 1999 when the Archaeological Authority of Rome was doing surveys for the renovation of the Cinema Trevi building. So in a way it’s a very new, very old site!

Although tickets do sell out, there are very few people allowed in at any given time, so you have tons of space to breathe in. They also have very clean, modern bathrooms.

Getting there: approximately 30 seconds from the Trevi Fountain.

E-Bike Tour of the Appian Way

This is a fantastic way to escape the crowds and see some amazing sites. I recommend doing a small group bike tour like this one offered by Liv Tours.

Liv Tours E-Bike Tour

The tour meets at Circus Maximus where you get your bike and helmet, then takes off up the Appian Way – one of the oldest existing roads in the world. Built between 312 B.C and 264 B.C, the Appian Way stretches all the way to the coast of Brindisi in Puglia.

As you ride this ancient road you will stop to visit a variety of fantastic churches and mausoleums and ancient Roman ruins. E-Bikes are the perfect way to explore the Via Antica Appia and are much easier and more comfortable than traditional bikes, making the 4 miles stretch covered in this tour very enjoyable.

Getting there: you meet the Liv Tours team at the top of the Circus Maximus near the Baths of Caracalla. More information here.

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Palazzo Altemps

In my book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome I tell you Palazzo Attempts is the best museum you’ve never heard of. And it is.

This sensationally beautiful palazzo was built in the 14th century by the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, the bought in 1568 by Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, nephew of Pope Pius IV. The cardinal made the palace his home, filling it with his incredible collection of antiquities and his library of extremely rare books.

Palazzo Altemps

Since 2006 Palazzo Altemps has been open to the public, to show case masterpieces of ancient sculpture owned by the Italian government. The collection of marble sculptures takes place over two floors of the palazzo as you work your way through a labyrinth of stairways and decorated rooms. Did I mention it is sensational?

My favorite piece in the collection is the Ludovisi Gaul, a complex and achingly beautiful statue that is an ancient Roman copy of any even more Ancient Greek statue.

Ludovisi gaul Palazzo Altemps

Palazzo Altemps is now part of the Museo Nazionale Romano and can be bought as its own ticket, or as part of a multi-museum ticket. The other three museums are Crypta Bali, Palazzo Massimo, and the Baths of Diocletian, each of which are in the book and should be on your must see list. All of these are spectacular, all are in walking distance from major attractions and all of these get very few visitors, even when Rome is packed with tourists.

Getting there: 1 minute walk from the top end of Piazza Navona.

The Galleria Colonna

Palazzo Colonna Rome

One of the best kept secrets in Rome, this stunning private palace was originally built as a fortress for the wealthy Colonna family. Over time it became a private residence with a staggering private art collection including pieces by Tintoretto, Guercino, and Carraci.

The enormous Great Hall with its mirrors, statues, priceless art and magnificent chandeliers has a Versailles level of opulence. Princess Isabella still lives at the palace and you are able to visit some of her private rooms as well as her secret garden.

private apartments palazzo colonna

Galleria Colonna is open to the public on Saturdays. Be sure to book tickets online ahead of time.

Getting there: 5 minutes walk from Piazza Venezia and the Wedding Cake building (Il Vittoriano)

More Cool Things To Do In Rome

Best travel guide for Rome and the Vatican

If you are planning a trip to Rome, or will be spending time in Rome on your Italy trip, be sure to read my international best selling book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To do In Rome. This travel guide not only tells you about places to visit, but also gives you background on why, who built it and why they built it. You also learn about must try Roman foods, the best markets, amazing underground sites to visit and even the best places to go for a sunset aperitivo!

Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome is available worldwide on Amazon.

Want more fabulous content on cool and fascinating things to do in Italy, including secret towns and villages you’ve never heard of? Join the thousands of members worldwide who belong to my monthly newsletter. You can join the newsletter here.

The 7 Most Important Tips For Finding The Best International Flights

Finding the best airfares for international flights takes a bit of strategy. If you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll find the prices going up every time you look. Normally with flashing banners warning ‘only 3 seats left at this price!

As a professional traveler, flying multiple international flights per year, I want the best flight plan possible at the best price possible, and I’ve been able to figure out some good strategies along the way.

I have an entire chapter on how to get the best international flights and how to find the best international airfares in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy. It’s well worth buying the book for that chapter alone, as it can save you hundreds on your airfare.

Today I want to give you 7 tips and strategies for finding the best flights and airfares for your international trip.

1. Use An Incognito Window

Always and only ever use an incognito window when looking for flights. Otherwise companies drop cookies into your computer, track you, and put the price up every time you look. This can impact the cost of your trip by multiple hundreds of dollars. Let the companies think you are a new flyer, every time.

2. Check The Consolidators To Find The Lowest Prices

With an incognito window now check the consolidator prices. I look at Google flights and at Priceline to see what the average low price is. This gives me an idea of where the market is. If you have any flexibility in your dates see what happens if you move back or forth a day or two. I normally avoid flying peak days, like Fridays and Sundays. Where possible I try to fly Tuesdays and Wednesdays as there seems to be a dip in prices on those days. If not, I’ll look for my preferred dates.

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Flying over France last autumn

3. Look At Layover Times

My next strategy is to look at layover times. Not all of us are blessed with direct flights from our home town to the destination city. That means we either take a domestic flight to our outbound city, or that we fly to the first destination and then catch a domestic flight to the final destination.

For example, maybe your first flight is from your home airport to JFK in New York, and your second flight is from JFK to Paris.

Or, Maybe you fly direct from JFK to Paris but then have to catch an internal flight to Lyons. Or a trans Europe flight to Lisbon.

I recommend getting a 3 hour layover between flights. This gives you a little breathing room if your first flight is late, as well as giving you time to find a new flight if your first flight is cancelled.

Plenty of flight routes give you only 50 minutes to an hour to catch your connecting flight. You need to consider that international flights start boarding about an hour before take off, and they close the doors 15 minutes before pulling away from the gate. If your domestic flight is late even 10 minutes, you could miss your international connection. Also, with a layover of an hour or less the chances of your checked luggage not making the flight go up astoundingly.

There are plenty of U.S airports that require you to leave the secure area, go to another terminal, then go back through TSA security. This also can make you miss a tight connection.

If flying in and out of Europe, the first country you land in is where you go through passport control and immigration. You might be flying into Paris, then connecting to Rome, with Rome as your final destination. You won’t go through passport control in Rome, you will go through in Paris.

It’s the same with the return flight. The city you leave Europe from is the one you go through passport control. So if your flight is Florence to Munich, then Munich to Denver, you exit the EU from Munich, so that’s where you’ll line up to go through passport control.

It is well worth having a 3 hour layover in each direction.

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4. Look At Total Travel Time

You may have found a smoking deal, but on closer inspection find you have a 12 hour layover in O’Hare, of that you fly to Helsinki, overnight for 22 hours, then fly on to Rome. (This forces you to pay for a hotel room.)

Or maybe that super cheap flight has your domestic outbound at 6am, which means check in at 4 am, getting up at 2:30-3:00 am, and has you completely exhausted when you arrive to your final destination.

Try to find a flight that doesn’t start too early, doesn’t have multiple domestic connections, and doesn’t have overly long and exhausting/expensive layovers.

If you can start your travel day with a 10 am flight you will arrive feeling so much less jet-lagged than if you start at 6am.

5. Check The Airline’s Website

Once you know the best prices and the best flight routes, now go check the airline’s website. Sometimes they have a better offer, but 9 time out of 10 they are more expensive.

I call the airline, speak to a human, and see if they can match the consolidator’s price. So long as it is the same airline, they frequently will match it, better it, or find you another flight plan that is even better!

If they don’t, just buy the consolidator ticket. I try where possible to buy through the airline itself as that makes it easier if anything goes wrong, but I won’t over pay for a ticket.

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Leaving Christchurch, December 2022

6. Check Your Credit Card Portal

Most major airlines and many major credit card companies have their own shopping portals. For the benefit of having you click into their portal, then to the airline website, they give you extra frequent flier miles. If I am booking an American Airlines flight I will check the American Airlines shopping portal and see how many extra miles I get for booking my flights through there. Then I check my credit card portal.

I might get 3 miles for every dollar spent on American Airlines by using their portal, or I might get 5 miles or even 10 miles per dollar spent via my credit card’s portal. Or the other way around. Either way, I not only want to get miles for my flight, I want all the bonus miles I can get.

I explain how this works in detail on the Untold Italy Podcast episode #116. (The pod episode is on all major podcast platforms.) In that episode I tell you multiple ways I save money when traveling, and how I get at least one free roundtrip airfare to Europe or Australia/New Zealand every year. Most of it is through front end strategy, using tricks like this to earn enormous numbers of frequent flier miles every year. It is definitely worth a listen!

7. Prepare For An Upgrade

I get an upgrade approximately 1 in 3 international flights. Normally from an economy seat up to a business class seat.

In Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy I go into depth about how I get upgraded so often. I still use all the strategies in the book, but in the last 5 years have added another trick when I’m not flying the 3 major U.S carriers. (American, Delta and United.) The big 3 don’t participate, but many/most other airlines take part in Upgrade Auctions. You can either find the upgrade auction on the airline website after buying your flight, or there are third party companies that do them.

Premium Economy will almost always sell out, and much of the time regular economy does too. The class that doesn’t always sell out is business class. So airlines can fill their planes by upgrading lower classes and selling more economy class seats. One way to monetize this is to auction the empty business class seats to the highest bidders. When you go into the upgrade auction it will tell you the lowest you can bid (it typically starts around $300 – you can’t bet $10 and get into biz class. It may top out at $850 or $1400, or whatever they think they might get.)

In the 24 hours before the flight leaves the winner(s) will be notified by email, their credit cards will be charged, and they now get all the perks of flying business class. This includes access tot he club lounge at the airport, priority boarding, extra luggage allowance, and of course all the inflight perks from lie-flat seats, to better meals, real flatware and plates, complimentary champagne – the works.

*** Before you buy your ticket check to see if that airline has an upgrade auction and if they only open it to travelers who have bought through their website, or through that airline. I recently flew Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Auckland, but had bought a code share ticket through United, which saved hundreds of dollars. I couldn’t go into Air New Zealand’s upgrade auction because the flight was purchased through United.

Hopefully you will use these tips to find amazing flight deals and the best flight plans for your upcoming trips! For more international travel tips and specialty Italy trip info, including my favorite secret towns and villages across Italy, join thousands of people around the world, and subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

One Last Thought

Always buy travel insurance for international trips. This covers you if anything goes wrong, from missed flights to luggage not arriving, to you getting sick while away. I normally buy my travel insurance from Travelex.

This blog post explains more about travel insurance. In a pandemic/post pandemic world you need to get Covid cover with your insurance policy. This is normally found in the Trip Delay category. Look for a trip delay of $2000. This covers accommodation for 10 nights should you test positive and not be able to fly home. At the time of writing this blog post no airlines/countries are stopping people testing Covid + from boarding flights, but between now and your flight home it could be reimplemented. Or, you could get sick while away and not be able to fly home.

It never hurts to be prepared…

5 Essential Items To Always Pack In Your Airplane Hand Luggage

Whether you’re flying for business or for pleasure, you should always apply some strategy packing your carry-on bag.

Your checked luggage could go missing, (happens more often than you’d think) or your plane could get delayed on the tarmac for hours (also happens more than you realize). Then there are situations where your plane has to be diverted to a random airport and gets stuck there for hours with no food or drink available, and very limited access to phone charging stations.

As a professional traveler racking up multiple international and domestic flights every year, I always follow these rules:

1. Pack 3 Days Worth of Clothes

image via ABC.com

When airlines lose your luggage they typically have it back to you within three days. But that doesn’t help you when you arrive to your destination, especially if there are no shops around to buy emergency clothing. If you are heading out on a tour or a cruise your missing luggage could be disastrous, so you should always pack 3 days worth of clothing and underwear, something to sleep in, travel sized beauty products and a mini makeup kit. Think of everything you would need for 3 days, and pack that.

2. Always Have A Fully Charged External Phone Charger

You should always board your flight with a fully charged phone as well as a fully charged external power bank. Quite apart from not arriving to your destination with a dead phone, should your flight get re-routed to a random airport (like when there are mechanical or medical problems) you can find yourself stuck for hours with no way to charge your phone.

Your plane can be stuck on the tarmac for hours – recently passengers were stuck on a plane on the tarmac for 13 hours. (See this article)

Although some planes have USB charging ports in the setback in front of you, half the time they don’t work, or are very slow to charge. You can’t rely on being able to charge your phone in the plane.

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3. Snacks

Sometimes your flight will run out of food that you can eat, only having options not suitable for your palette or digestive system. Other times there’s just not enough food – a few years ago a 12 hour flight from Europe to Los Angeles only served economy passengers the equivalent of a lunchables snack pack! Then of course you have situations where your plane is stuck on the ground for hours on end and no-one is allowed off (see previous linked article). No food is served and no drink is available.

Always, always pack snacks in your carry-on bag. I recommend protein bars, packets of nuts, candy if you eat it, packaged muffins – anything that will tide you over if something goes wrong. If you don’t need it, it’s no big deal. But should you be stuck in an unplanned situation you will be glad you have supplies on hand.

I always buy a large bottle of water before boarding my flight too. (Or fill up a water bottle) Again, you may not need it, but you don’t want to be stuck on a plane or anywhere else with nothing to drink.

**Sliced fruit and unsealed foods can be problematic when flying into some countries, like Australia and New Zealand. Check ahead what the laws are for the country you are flying into.

4. All Prescription Medicines You’re Traveling With

Always pack all prescription medicines in your hand luggage. If your suitcase doesn’t arrive with you you may not be able to get replacement prescriptions at your destination.

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5. Something Warm

It can get really cold on planes, so it’s a good idea to have either a warm top/sweater/hoodie to wear when the temps drop, or to have a pashmina to wrap up in. International flights typically have blankets, but you’ll often find they’re not clean or have moth holes in them.

Other Carry On Tips:

  • Get a carry-on bag that has wheels. Some airports require very long walks to get to your gate. For example Rome Fiumicino takes 20 minutes from security to international departure gates for direct flights to the U.S.

New Zealand’s Auckland airport took 25 minutes walk from security to the gate when I was en route back to the U.S.

Los Angeles LAX airport can take more than a half hour walk from a domestic terminal through security and on to your gate.

When you have a long walk to get to your gate you’ll be wishing your bag was on wheels, especially if it is heavy or unwieldy. Get a rollaway back that can sit on top of your suitcase so you’re not trying to wrangle two wheelie bags.

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  • Keep all cash and credit cards with you, ideally in your handbag at your feet. Once you land, split your cash and cards between your handbag and your carry-on bag.
  • Put your carry-on bag in the overhead bin opposite your seat rather than above it. If anyone is rifling through bags during your flight you’ll be able to see if they’re messing with your bag. This happens on planes more than you’d expect, especially on long flights when passengers are sleeping.

For more travel tips and information about my secret favorite places in Italy, subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Join thousands of members all over the world to learn more about travel and travel in Italy!