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.

Unusual In Rome ~ Why You Need To See The Talking Statues

Rome is full of secrets. Secrets hiding in plain sight, right under your nose. This one is a secret that everyone who lives in Rome knows, but I never meet  non-Romans who do. Now of course I cannot possibly be the only one, but I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t run into anyone who knows this story.

Pasquino, The Talking Statue

In 1501 while renovations were being done on Rome’s Palazzo Braschi, an Hellenic statue from the 3rd century B.C was discovered. He was very damaged but also very noteworthy as he was one of the original statues from Domitians’ Stadium. Domitian’s Stadium was built in 85 A.D, centuries later Piazza Navona was built over its ruins. (You can read more about it in this blog post or in detail in my book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome.) The statue known as Pasquino was kept in place and the tiny piazza where he stands, adjacent to Piazza Navona, was renamed Piazza Pasquino.

Pasquino, the Talking Statue Of Rome
Pasquino, The Talking Statue of Rome

There are several stories about who the statue is. When I have researched him I’ve read that he is a Greek hero, possibly Menelaus, Ajax or Achilles. When the story of the statue was first told to me it was a story of Achilles, so despite the statue resembling a series of Menelaus carrying the body of Patroclus, that was then argued to be Ajax carrying Achilles, I stick with the first story I was told:

The Story Behind The Statue Of Pasquino

If you really look into the face of the statue there is something quite haunting about it. In fact with this story you can sense the anguish in every aspect of the body.

Pasquino's face, Rome
Pasquino/Achilles looking away from the body of Patroclus

Achilles and Patroclus were both lovers and comrades fighting against the Trojans. On this day Achilles who feels slighted by Agamemnon decides not to fight, and Patroclus convinces him to let him go in his place, leading the Mirmidon army wearing Achilles armor.

Patrolcus wins the battle but is killed by Hector. The statue tells the moment when the distraught and agonized Achilles has run out to the battlefield and scooped up the body of his beloved.

There are lots of missing body parts, such as Achilles right arm, but if you follow through you can see his splayed right hand holding onto the torso of Patroclus, whose dead body arches back from us. Were the statue intact we would see Achilles’ left arm supporting the upper body as the deadweight of Patroclus falls away. It was explained to me that Achilles is turning his head away, howling in anguish. So, of course that’s what I see when I look at him.

Pasquino the talking Statue of Rome
See the remains of Achille’s hand on Patroclus’ torso?

There is a statue very similar to this in Florence’s Loggia di Lanzi, of Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus. If you look at it, or at pictures of it, you can follow the bodies in this statue. The Florence Menelaus is thought to be one of 15 statues is the Pasquino Group.

Menelaus with Patroclus in the Loggia di Lanzi, Florence.

In this statue King Menelaus’ helmet is wrong, the angles on the bodies aren’t quite the same as Pasquino’s, but you get the idea, and Patroclus’ replacement left arm is all out of whack.

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How Pasquino Got His Name

The origins of the statue being named Pasquino are also varied. He could be named for a character in one of Boccaccio’s short stories, I’ve heard he was named for a school principal back in the 1500s who looked like him, and I’ve been told he was named for a local artisan who wrote funny verses. Regardless, our Achilles is known as Pasquino and the piazza is named after him.

In the 16th century and no doubt long before that Romans would show their displeasure and outrage at the corruption of the church and its officials by leaving notes hanging on the statues in the night. These became known as Rome’s Talking Statues. Pasquino wasn’t the first, but he became the most celebrated. Signs with scathing yet satirical verses would be hung around his neck in the night so the working people could see them on their way to work in the morning before the guards could take them down. The notes became known as Pasquinate.

Pasquinate became a way of winning elections too. One side would pay the authors to write about their enemies on the other side. The practice actually spread out all over Italy.

Prominent figures began to despise Pasquino. The popes were the main targets and they thought up ways to get rid of him. One of my favorite themes is Popes Behaving Badly, which coincides beautifully with one of Pasquino’s most prevalent themes, criticism of the Popes’  “prostitution luxury”. Pope Hadrian VI wanted Pasquino thrown in the Tiber River, Popes Sixtus V and Clement VIII also tried to get rid of him, and Benedict XIII even had a night watchman stand guard with punishments for those caught including branding, incarceration and death.

The more they tried to silence Pasquino, the more Pasquinate appeared on other statues throughout Rome.

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Pasquino’s Signs

Today Achilles/Pasquino still gets signs hung around his neck. Locals are allowed to fix signs to his pedestal but not to his or Patroclus’ bodies.

Pasquino the talking statue of Rome
Pasquino’s sign one morning in September 2019

This sign is written in Romanesco, which is a local dialect. It rhymes both in Romanesco and in Italian, but not in English. Translated it says:

It is no longer the moment to obey. Defend your destiny with verve (fight for your destiny) Even if it’s at the expense of dying, don’t let yourself be treated like a puppet.

Every day he has a different sign. It is placed there in the night or the very early morning and tends to be gone by afternoon.

Piazza Pasquino is next to Piazza Navona on the other side of the Museo di Roma.

If you are part of my Private Members Newsletter check your inbox for my favorite restaurant here by Pasquino. It is a cult favorite and is just fantastic! Also my private members will be getting stories about Rome’s other 5 “Talking Statues”. They are quite fabulous. You can join the Private Members Newletter here

Secret Rome: Why You Need To See Ara Pacis

At the time of publishing this post the world is under a travel ban due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I have chosen to keep publishing stories about traveling to Italy for three reasons. The first is that one day hopefully sooner rather than later, the world will open back up to travel, making this a great time to learn about more places we want to visit and what to see when we get there.   

Secondly I hope this will change the way we travel. Hopefully cruise ships and big bus tours and the mass tourism they bring will become a thing of the past, replaced by a more sustainable means of travel that involves smaller groups of people with a germane interest in discovering new places, rather than the masses descending on any city to check it off their bucket list. Third, in this time of crisis our minds need a place to escape to, even if only for a few minutes. So let’s escape to Italy together.

Ara Pacis

This is one of those completely fantastic secrets in Rome that’s hiding in plain sight. Even when Rome is bursting at the seams with tourists you will find very few people here. It is one of my absolute favorites and I wrote about it in detail in my best selling book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome. (Find it in the 13 Places To Discover Ancient Rome chapter)

The Ara Pacis in Rome. A celebration of peace brought by Emperor Augustus
The Ara Pacis in Rome

The Ara Pacis was built around 13 B.C to commemorate Augustus’ victorious return to Rome. Rome had been mired in decades of civil war, and had spent centuries at war with other countries. Augustus ended all the fighting, bringing about the first time of peace in years at the same time becoming the most powerful man in history.

Originally it stood at the northeast corner of the Campus Martius. The altar was angled so that at sunset on Augustus’ birthday the shadow of the point of the obelisk in the Campus Martius would fall onto the Ara Pacis, symbolizing that he was born to bring peace to Rome. He really was a master of propaganda!

Centuries later the Tiber river was expanded and over time the Ara Pacis, in all of its white marble glory, became submerged in 4 meters of mud. It disappeared for more than 1000 years.

2000 year old carvings on the back wall of Ara Pacis in Rome
2000 year old carvings on the back wall of Ara Pacis

In the 16th century fragments of it were found under an old palazzo. More were discovered in the 1800’s.

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In 1937 the Italian cabinet decided to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ birth by excavating the altar. 70 cubic meters of ground (beneath what at the time was the Cinema Nuovo Olimpia) were frozen and the altar was extracted.

When you visit the Ara Pacis you can see what a colossal undertaking that must have been. Working with comparatively few fragments and only a short amount of time, it’s amazing what they were able to achieve.

The Richard Meier designed Ara Pacis Museum
The Richard Meier designed Ara Pacis Museum

Buildings surround the mausoleum of Augustus were razed and the Ara Pacis was placed in its current location. It initially was protected by a pavilion but in 2006 got its current, very modern Richard Meier designed building. The building looks pretty incongruous surrounded by old Rome, but once you go inside you can appreciate the genius of it. There is an overwhelming amount of natural light, maximizing the magnificence of the altar.

Ara Pacis in Rome is bathed in natural light
Ara Pacis bathed in natural light

The Ara Pacis is both beautiful and majestic. A set of stairs lead up to the altar, all encased in white marble walls which are covered in carvings.

Carvings on the exterior of Ara Pacis in Rome
The right hand exterior of the Ara Pacis

The museum itself is really good. Entirely dedicated to the Ara Pacis, it is interactive and relatively small. Everyone working there is really well informed and incredibly helpful too.

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Ara Pacis carvings explained
One of the maps inside the Ara Pacis museum in Rome

This past summer while there I had a list of obscure things I wanted to find in the carvings that line the exterior of the marble walls. One of the guards came over, as this was his specialty. There were only a handful of visitors at the museum, so he was able to spend a half hour with me, going back and forth from the maps and interactive screens to the altar itself, finding the items on my list and pointing out missing pieces in between.

Agrippa and Julia on the exterior of Ara Pacis in Rome
Agrippa, Gaius and Julia on the exterior of Ara Pacis

I speak Italian relatively well, but I don’t speak archeological Italian, and he spoke only a little English, but was fully invested in helping me, taking me back to the English translations at the interactive area when we got stuck.

It really was a fantastic experience!

The windows look out over the Mausoleum of Augustus which is being restored but will be open to the public soon.

Mausoleum of Augustus renovations
The Mausoleum of Augustus, once the grandest building in Rome, is under renovation and will open to the public in 2022

I recommend first reading the Ara Pacis section of my Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome book to get some context of who Augustus was, who all the players that show up here are, and why their stories are so interesting. This will make discovering the different people represented on the walls of the Ara Pacis extra interesting.

You can take a virtual tour of Ara Pacis here

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You will probably only spend half an hour or so here. It is an easy walk from the Piazza Navona/Campo di Fiori area, is only a few minutes’ walk along the river to the Bridge of Angels and Castel Sant’ Angelo (in front of St Peters) and is just across the river from Trastevere.

Address: Lungotevere in Augusta, Rome

Do you belong to my Private Members Newsletter? It’s free to join, and you only hear from me twice a month. For news about interesting places to visit in Italy (places the tour buses don’t go to) foods to eat and fun things to do that keep you away from the crowds, you can join the newsletter HERE