In March we spent a whole month in Rome and we fell in love with the city. The art, the architecture, the lifestyle, the food... we loved it all. The only thing we didn't love, in fact, was the crowds. Like all great cities, Rome struggles with the sheer number of tourists visiting it's major sights. From the selfie mob at the Trevi Fountain, to the eternal line at the Colosseum, to the stampeding herds at the Vatican, the hordes of people can quickly get overwhelming. If you plan carefully, you can usually avoid the worst of it by booking ahead or arriving first thing in the morning, however some days you just want to avoid the hassle of crowds altogether. On those days we recommend you head to one of the spots below. They are all favorites from our time in Rome, but more importantly, they are all mercifully crowd-free.
Via Appia Antica
The Appian Way is a stretch of ancient Roman cobblestone road that starts south of the city and runs through green fields and past beautiful villas and crumbling ruins. Why it isn't on the top of every what-to-do in Rome list is a mystery. The starting point is an easy bus ride away from the city center, and once there, you can either choose to walk the route or rent a bike for 3 Euro per hour and cycle it instead. The scenery is gorgeous and feels worlds away from the bustle of central Rome. For history buffs, there are multiple catacombs and notable archeological sites to visit, and when you get hungry, you can stop in at one of the garden cafes for a panini or an espresso. Or, do as the locals do and pack a picnic of meats and cheeses to enjoy in one of the idyllic pastures you will pass along the way.
Villa Doria Pamphili
There are quite a few beautiful parks in Rome, but Villa Doria Pamphili park has to take the cake. Ok.. it does have an unfair advantage because we got engaged there, but even if we hadn’t, it would still be a favorite. There are green fields full of wildflowers and groves of stone pine trees everywhere that have a very whimsical, Dr. Seuss-ian feel. The villa itself is stunning and is surrounded by manicured gardens and bubbling fountains. Best of all, the park is a bit farther from the city center than the much more popular Villa Borghese park, so you don’t have to worry about tourists zipping around on segways.
Most folks come to Rome for the classical art and architecture, but forget that there is some world class contemporary art here too. One of the best places to see it is at the MAXXI museum just north of the Piazza del Popolo. It is worth a visit to admire the Zaha Hadid designed building alone, but inside, there is 10,000 square meters of space used to host multidisciplinary exhibitions from all over the world. Pro tip: After your visit, head across the street to Neve di Latte to try some of Rome’s best gelato.
Galleria Doria Pamphili
Despite being smack in the center of the old quarter just minutes away from some of Rome’s busiest sights, this museum is shockingly crowd-free. We turned in off of the packed street and were surprised to find that we were the only people in there! The collection may not be as extensive as Villa Borghese’s or the Vatican’s, but some of the pieces on display here are just as impressive and you can actually take the time to view them instead of being herded through packed hallways like cattle.
A traditionally working-class neighborhood across the river from Trastevere, Testaccio has become quite trendy in recent years and has gained a reputation as one of Rome’s best foodie neighborhoods for good reason. Head to Testaccio market for stalls selling incredible, fresh Italian staple dishes at super affordable prices. The Mordi & Vai stall dishes up our hands-down favorite panini (try the Alesso Di Scottona or Trippa Alla Romana). Although we didn’t try it, Da Remo is supposed to make one of Rome’s best pizzas. If you turned away from the crazy line at the old quarter Giolitti (gelato) location like we did, you can hit the pleasantly crowd-free Testaccio location instead. Once full, digest while taking a stroll through the Protestant cemetery. It might sound grim, but it is actually one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots in the city, resting place of famous poets Keats and Shelley and home to dozens of well-fed cats.
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana
Just a short subway ride away from Termini train station, the Eur neighborhood is home to one of Rome’s coolest buildings. The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, built for the 1942 Worlds Fair, was empty for many years but is now the corporate headquarters of luxury fashion brand Fendi. Fortunately, the building’s courtyard is still open to the public and is worth visiting to see the impressive Fascist architecture, the many sculptures, and the beautiful view of the surrounding area.