Rome is a city full of unexpected discoveries and hidden beauties at every turn. There are so many sites in the Eternal City that are worth exploring, from secret museums and gardens to breathtaking rooftop vistas and underground ruins. So why stick to the typical tourist route when you can check out some of the less-known sights in the city? This post will expose you to 7 unexpected locations in Rome that will leave you speechless. Your journey to the Italian city will be even more memorable thanks to these undiscovered gems!
How did we get here? Well, it was a rainy Tuesday when we found ourselves close to the end of our Rome holiday. But the sad weather didn’t stop us: we took the subway to Termini and started to look for an umbrella. There were still some surprising places in Rome, just waiting for us!
Oh, I think I forgot to mention this: you know how there are some people, like myself, who collect magnets from the places they visit? Well, Mathieu collects umbrellas. So he is very excited when he gets a rainy day when he is traveling: a new umbrella!
From Termini station, happily covered by a large rainbow umbrella, we headed to visit yet another building of the National Roman Museum: Terme di Diocleziano.
Diocletian’s Baths (Terme di Diocleziano)
We had expected Terme di Diocleziano to be an open-air museum, but the largest part of it was indoors. We entered through a nice rose garden surrounding a fountain, then continued with a visit inside the National Roman Museum.
Finished in the year 306 AD, the Baths of Diocletian were the largest imperial baths at the time. Its pools with water maintained at various temperatures were named in accordance with their properties: caldarium, frigidarium, and tepidarium. They were all supplied by the 2nd-century aqueduct Aqua Marcia.
Diocletian’s Baths also had a central hall, an outdoor swimming pool, plus several other rooms that served various purposes. Besides the visit to the halls of Terme di Diocleziano Rome, one can also visit the archaeology museum, in a third-century charterhouse designed by Michelangelo himself.
I liked catching glimpses of the interior courtyard from various angles, through the windows of the museum. We enjoyed the visit to Terme Diocleziano a lot more than we initially expected. That’s why I counted it among the 7 surprising places in Rome.
After our visit, the rain had stopped so we grabbed a coffee outside the Ristorante Terme di Diocleziano Roma. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos.
The weather got a bit better by the time we left Terme Diocletian. We decided to go for a walk through the wonderful Villa Borghese Park before the rain started again.
We passed by a Gelato festival, which I guess isn’t very surprising in Rome. But the weather just wasn’t fitting to dive into all those flavors, though I’m sure they were delicious.
We wandered the long streets for a while, then stopped to get a hot beverage at a kiosk near the horse track. There was a lot to see, and it was way more beautiful than I thought it would be from looking at travel guides’ photos. That’s why it’s one of the most surprising places in Rome.
We left Villa Borghese when we started feeling hungry.
Ristorante Cantina Cantarini
After admiring the buildings on the beautiful Via Veneto, we entered the cozy Cantina Cantarini Rome.
Here’s a bit of history from the Cantina Cantarini Roma’s website:
“The restaurant was born in 1903 from the enthusiasm of Mariano Cantarini, handed down to his son in 1925, which continues with the success of the tavern’s activity, where once sandwiches were served for the Romans accompanied by wine, beer, and other drinks.
The kitchen began to take on a key role when guests began to bring raw food to be cooked directly by our restaurant’s cook.
In 1943, just 8 years old, Mario Fattori began his work at the tavern, starting from a simple waiter and then becoming, in 1980, the current owner.”
We enjoyed the delicious pasta and dessert, it was like an Italian mamma had cooked it just for us. (By the way, when I praise the food but don’t have any photos, it’s because I was too eager to taste it. Just so you know!)
The history of the place and the food it served made us add it to our list of surprising places in Rome. We were simply looking for a place to eat that had a good rating and we came across his hidden gem. It’s among the surprising places in Rome because it’s off the beaten track and absolutely amazing!
Whimsical and romantic, Quartiere Coppedè is a must-see. Its creator, the Florentine architect Gino Coppedè, must have had a lot of fun when creating the buildings that are part of Rome’s smallest district. Though he daringly combined a lot of architectural styles, the result is beautiful:
Personally, I find this quarter to be one of the best surprising places in Rome.
After Quartiere Coppedè, but before a long tram ride, we stopped for a coffee in Piazza Buenos Aires, at Streatart.
Vecchia Roma, at last!
It had been ten years since my last dinner at Vecchia Roma. Inside, the decorations had changed, naturally, but I was happy to learn that their food tasted as good as it did a decade ago.
It wasn’t new to me, but to someone going there for the first time, it will obviously qualify among the most surprising places in Rome.
We had the mouthwatering Bucatini Amatriciana Flambé and Spaghetti Parmigiana Flambé, the reason why we actually went there. In the past, when they didn’t host such a high number of guests and space allowed it, they used to make a whole show of these meals. They would have a table with two large cheese wheels, scooped in the middle. The hot pasta and the delicious sauce would be thrown inside the cheese wheel, some alcohol would go on top and then they lit it on fire.
But even without the show, it was so worth going there for the flambé pasta. And, la pièce de résistance, their Tiramisu. I promised in the previous post that I would show you Mathieu’s favorite tiramisu. Well, Vecchia Roma has it!
First of all, it’s huge. Initially, the waiter brought us one with two spoons, thinking we’d share like most couples used to do. But I asked him for my very own portion, knowing that I’m not ready to compete with Mathieu over Tiramisu.
Mathieu considered it perfectly balanced. And we both enjoyed it to the very last sprinkle of coffee powder.
Though we didn’t do much on our sixth day, all the walking during a damp day plus the wine we had with dinner made us go to bed quite tired.
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
In our final hours in Rome, we decided to go visit Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. I already knew how beautiful its interior was, but it also had the advantage of being close to our rental apartment in Rome.
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano or Basilica of St. John Lateran is regarded as the mother church of the Roman Catholic faith and is the oldest and tallest of the four papal major basilicas. It stands on the spot of what used to be the Lateran Palace, the popes’ residence until 1309
The basilica was founded in the fourth century, and over the years, it has undergone major renovations and expansions. It’s a magnificent example of Italian Baroque architecture and is decorated with several exquisite pieces of art, including a famous fresco cycle from the 13th century that portrays St. John the Baptist’s life.
Here, you can confess in 7 different languages. For me, just that qualifies it as one of the most surprising places in Rome!
Le Foodie Cafe Bistrot
Time was pretty short before our bus ride to the airport. We quickly looked and found a terrace to have a last glass of wine in Rome. A glass turned into two, so we also ordered some food.
It wasn’t the best meal we had in Rome, but, in the end, Le Foodie Cafe Bistrot was ok. The ambiance was nice, and the waiter was funny, though a bit of an over-sharer. That’s why it’s one of the most surprising places in Rome, actually.
Famous, hidden, or surprising, the places we visited in Rome have stayed in our hearts and minds. We actually watched Woody Allen’s To Rome with love the other day and reminisced together every time we saw a place we recognized.
We will definitely return to Italy to see more surprising places in Rome. I barely opened Mathieu’s appetite for all this beautiful country has to offer. Next time, we’ll probably explore Tuscany, and I can barely wait!
This article is also available on GPSmyCity.
Mirela Letailleur is a Romanian travel blogger living in the South of France. She writes on The Travel Bunny travel blog about affordable travel in Europe. Creator of unique free travel guides and local travel expert. Problem solver. Wannabe coffee guru.
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