No, I can't promise you'll meet the dark-eyed love of your life here. But if you're already traveling with your sweetheart, you're golden: Rome has to be one of the most romantic cities around.
Of course, lots of people tend to think that the most romantic spots are also the most famous (the Trevi Fountain, say, or the Spanish Steps). Call me jaded, but I think the 24/7 crowds and pushy rose-sellers kind of suck the romance out of them.
Want to find a spot that's a little more tranquil... where you can actually grab a moment to yourself? Here are a few of my favorite, off-the-beaten-path romantic places in Rome.
Temple of Roma and Amor
As a sight itself, the temple blends in with the many (incredible) others in the Roman forum. But unlike, say, the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, built in honor of Rome's most chaste cult, this one has a seriously "awww"-worthy past.
Built in the 2nd century A.D., it shows that ancient Romans were just as romantic as their modern counterparts. One side of the temple was built in honor of the goddess of love, Venus. The other side was built in honor of the goddess Roma. In other words: it's the temple to amor... and to Roma.
Oh, those witty Romans. (Here's more on the Temple of Venus and Rome).
Aventine Hill and the Giardino degli Aranci
Tranquil, beautiful, and atmospheric, there's no doubt that the Aventine hill is for lovers. Don't miss the medieval churches, like Basilica of Santa Sabina, or the Giardino degli Aranci (more properly called the Parco Savello), a garden said to have been started when St. Dominic planted Rome's first orange tree here in the 13th century. (The park's beautiful views of Rome are pretty romantic, too).
It's the little surprise the Aventine hill hides, though, that makes this stroll especially charming. (Seriously, I'm not sure why this wasn't one of the places Gregory Peck took Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday—I think she would have been more tickled by this than by the Mouth of Truth!). The headquarters of the Priory of the Knights of Malta, the only private organization in the world to also be a sovereign state, are located, of all places, here. Peek through the headquarters' keyhole, and you see the dome of St. Peter's, perfectly framed. It's three countries in one glance.
Yes, some of the Appia Antica's history is downright bloody. It's likely where Spartacus and his rebel followers were crucified, it's where persecuted Christians were buried underground, and its Capo di Bove villa may even hide a murder mystery (for more, check out my previous post on the Via Appia Antica).
But a wander down the millennia-old paving stones is enough to wipe all of that from your mind. Few places in Rome are as peaceful, or as atmospheric, as this 2,300-year-old road. Stroll under the umbrella pines; peek through ornate gates to see opulent villas where Rome's other half live.
(Like the rest of these sights, by the way, the Via Appia is gorgeous and romantic no matter the time of year. It's shown here in January, while here's what the Appia Antica looks like in the spring. See? Stunning—and romantic—year-round).
The Tiber River at sunset
The river is much more of an afterthought for Rome visitors than, say, the Seine in Paris. And yes, walking along it during the daytime—especially if you're right down on the bank—can be hot, dull, and a little smelly.
At twilight, though, few places in the city are more romantic. Get off the traffic-congested Lungotevere and linger on one of the beautiful bridges, like the stunning Ponte Sant'Angelo that crosses the river to Castel Sant'Angelo. Just don't forget your camera.
Oh, you didn't think a visit to one of Rome's top art sites could be romantic? That's just because you've never visited the Villa Farnesina. This stunning 16th-century palazzo—one of Rome's most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture—was the "sexy spot" of the Renaissance.
Banker Agostino Chigi commissioned the villa as a place to throw wine-drenched banquets and to wile away the time with his mistress. (When she died, he took up with the beautiful young Francesca Ordeaschi, and married her here in 1519—while she was pregnant with their fifth child).
Unsurprisingly, the frescoes here are suitably, erm, romantic. "In a fresco by Sodoma in Chigi's bedroom, Alexander the Great meets his beautiful mistress Roxanne; in the Loggia of Galatea, the giant Polyphemus gazes with longing across the room at a comely sea nymph; and in the garden, there stood sculptures of of Cupid and Psyche and a satyr seducing a young boy," writes Andrea Bayer in Art and Love in Renaissance Italy.
But here's the part I love. Chigi also commissioned wunderkind Raphael to paint the interior. Not only are Raphael's frescoes there the artist's most romantic—they show scenes of Venus, the goddess of love; Cupid, her little heart-breaker; and the wedding banquet of Cupid and Psyche—but the sweeter love story is that Raphael almost didn't finish them. Why? He was too enamored of his lover, the local baker's daughter, to get any work done. Chigi finally had to allow her to move into the villa with him in order to get Raphael to finish the commission.
All together now: Awwww.
Still need accommodation for that honeymoon or Valentine's Day in Rome? Don't miss my post on the most romantic hotels in Rome!