The Coolest Things to Do in Rome—Beyond the Colosseum
Caput Mundi, the Eternal City, the City of the Seven Hills—whatever you call Rome, there’s no denying the magnetic charm of Italy's ancient capital. From street art tours by Vespa to tasting the best artisanal gelato, you could spend years here and still discover new things to do. Here, the nine coolest activities to add to your itinerary.
An avid Italophile, Laura is always on the hunt for the next great travel trends, luxury hotels, best places to eat and drink, and hidden gems. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications. She also co-wrote "New York: Hidden Bars and Restaurants," an award-winning guide to the city's speakeasy scene.
Zoom Around the City on a Vespa
You know the old adage, when in Rome, do as the Romans do… Well, there’s no better way to feel instantly more Roman than by hopping on a Vespa. It’s the preferred mode of travel for many locals, since they can easily weave around cars, fit into the narrow lanes of the Centro Storico, and park just about anywhere along the city’s otherwise traffic-clogged streets. (Not to mention riding one is just plain chic!) We wouldn’t recommend trying to drive unless you’re very experienced; instead, go with a local guide. American expat Annie Ojile—founder of Scooteroma—and her friendly guides ascribe to the #VespaVita (that’s Vespa Life in Italian). Choose among their many themed itineraries, including classic tours, street art tours, foodie tours, and the Scooteroma Shuffle, which combines a bit from all three.
Explore Hidden Treasures
Already checked off the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Trevi Fountain? It’s time to dig deeper into the many layers of Rome’s long and complex history with a tour led by Imago Artis Travel, a luxury tour operator that specializes in bespoke experiences. Charismatic founder Fulvio de Bonis and his guides have access to many of the city’s most exclusive sites: they might bring you to a museum of ancient Roman ruins in the basement of a private home, the rooftop terrace of an aristocratic mansion where scenes from La Grande Bellezza were filmed, or even the ultra-exclusive gardens of the Knights of Malta on the Aventine Hill. Have something even more specific in mind? They’re happy to customize tours based on your interests.
RELATED: 9 Tours of Italy You Need to Take
Slow Down with an Aperitivo
Before dinner, Romans like to start the evening off with an aperitivo. It’s a social time, when you can take a break with friends and family and catch up over a drink and a bite. (Order a cocktail or a glass of wine during this time of day and most bars or cafés will give you a snack to accompany it.) Though the Aperol Spritz originates in northern Italy, the drink is still a popular choice in Rome—but you can also order wine, beer, or cocktails. The Stravinskij Bar at the Rocco Forte Hotel de Russie puts their own spin on the spritz—they incorporate a secret blend of wild berries, passion fruit, saffron flowers, citrus oils, and spices—in addition to serving an extensive cocktail list. (JS Tip: The hotel’s secret garden might be the city’s prettiest place to enjoy it.) Other cool spots include Caffè Propaganda, a French-style bistro near the Colosseum known for their cocktails, and Chorus Café near the Vatican, where Stravinskij Bar alum Massimo d’Addezio shakes up creative concoctions paired with delicious small bites.
Go Shopping in Monti
Monti, the neighborhood behind the Colosseum, is a nexus for shopping, full of lots of small independent boutiques, vintage storefronts, and art galleries. Stroll down via Urbana, via dei Serpenti, and via Panisperna and you’ll come across shops selling everything from home décor to trendy clothes. Looking to stay local? On weekends from September to June, MercatoMonti gathers vendors that sell vintage goods and handcrafts with a special emphasis on products made in Italy.
RELATED: Hidden Rome
Have Dinner in Trastevere
Trastevere is another must-visit neighborhood with lots of shops, bars, and restaurants. You’ll want to spend some time wandering through the warren of streets and maybe stop for an aperitivo before dinner. Skip the touristy spots with English menus out front and nab a table at one of the neighborhood’s authentic Roman trattorias, like the boisterous Da Enzo al 29, where waiters expertly maneuver through the crowded tables delivering plates of rigatoni alla carbonara and tonnarelli cacio e pepe. For pizza, line up at the Pizzeria ai Marmi, which turns out thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas in a space that looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1950s. For a more upscale experience, book a table at Glass Hostaria helmed by Cristina Bowerman, Rome’s only female Michelin-starred chef.
RELATED: 8 Best Boutique Hotels in Rome
Explore Villa Borghese
Villa Borghese, Rome’s version of Central Park, lies just north of Piazza del Popolo and extends up into the neighborhood of Pinciano. At its heart stands the Galleria Borghese, which contains one of the most impressive collections of Baroque masterpieces anywhere in the world; it’s worth a visit just to lay eyes on sculptures by Canova and Bernini and paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, Raffael, and Correggio. After you visit the museum, stroll through the park. There’s a small lake where you can rent a rowboat as well as a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and a zoo. The National Etruscan Museum and the National Gallery of Modern Art also lie close to Villa Borghese’s boundaries.
See Masterpieces of Ancient & Modern Art
Admiring ancient sculptures and modern art in Rome isn’t only limited to the Vatican and the Capitoline museums. The Centrale Montemartini, located in Rome’s first electrical power plant, offers the best of both worlds, housing ancient sculptures from the Capitoline Museums that are displayed up against the old machinery. In the center of Rome, a modern white building designed by Richard Meier houses the Ara Pacis, the arch of peace built by the Emperor Augustus. In the Flaminio neighborhood, MAXXI (Museo Nationale delle Arti del XXI Secolo) by Zaha Hadid stands out like a futuristic spaceship and houses exhibits of modern and contemporary art inside. Let’s not forget MACRO, Rome’s other contemporary art museum, which is housed in a former brewery.
Splurge on a Fancy Hotel
Hoping to live out your loftiest dolce vita fantasies, if only for a night? Rome’s swankiest hotels (some even have a cinematic history of their own) will make you feel like a movie star. Hotel Eden, a member of Dorchester Collection that was renovated last year, was once a haunt of director Federico Fellini and now gleams with the shine of polished marble and gold. For even more history, Palazzo Dama is an aristocratic villa that’s been revamped for the Instagram age, with an eclectic design that juxtaposes crystal chandeliers with neon word art. One of the newest hotels on the scene is the Hotel Vilòn in the annex to the 16th-century Palazzo Borghese, which is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World with a gorgeous modern design featuring photographs by Florentine photographer Massimo Listri.
Eat ALL the Gelato
When in Rome, we wouldn’t blame you for having gelato after every meal. Just don’t waste your money on the mass-produced stuff. We love the artisanal gelato at the Gelateria del Teatro, which sources all-natural ingredients from around Italy (pistachios from Sicily; lemons from Amalfi) and offers unusual flavors like raspberry-and-sage. La Fata Morgana also uses natural ingredients to make their delicious gelato. Of course, you can’t go wrong with old-school spots like Giolitti near the Pantheon and Ciampini in Campo Marzio.
- 5 Best Day Trips from Rome
- 10 Drop-Dead Gorgeous Hotels on the Amalfi Coast
- The JS Guide to Dressing Like an Italian Woman
All products are independently selected by our writers and editors. If you buy something through our links, Jetsetter may earn an affiliate commission.