What To Do in Rome When You’ve Done… Everything

What to do in Rome when you've done everything

Sometimes, I get a call from a client who needs help planning their second, third, even fourth trip to Rome. The issue isn’t that they need to know how to use Rome’s public transport, or where to eat, or whether to book the Vatican Museums in advance. What they want to know is if there’s anything to do in Rome when you’ve done… everything.

The good news: I always can help. And it’s not because I’m some kind of genius. It’s because you could spend years, even a lifetime, in Rome and never see everything the city has to offer. (I’d know). As much as it seems like you’ve checked off just about every item in your guidebook, I promise: You haven’t. There are always more fascinating, unique sights to see.

So whether you’ve already seen Rome’s main attractions — or you already have them in your itinerary and have more time to play with — here are some sights to add. NB: I’m assuming you really have seen “everything in Rome” for this post, so I’m not including things that have been written about many, many times already, like the Colosseum underground, Borghese Gallery or even Basilica of San Clemente or Appian Way. My litmus test for this list was whether a visitor normally would have seen these attractions in their first three or even four trips to Rome (no!) — and whether I’d recommend that they do (yes!). (PS: There’s so much you can do in Rome once you’ve done “everything”, this won’t be the only post like this. Stay tuned!)

What to do in Rome when you’ve done everything? Here are 10 more sights to explore:

Rome’s other “Central Park”: You’ve visited the lovely Villa Borghese and seen views of Rome from the Janiculum Hill and Garden of Oranges. What’s next? Monte Mario. Little-known to most visitors, this massive park (actually a nature reserve) is located on Rome’s highest hill just northwest of the city center — and has some extraordinary views of the city. (Also shown at top of post).

What to do in Rome when you've done everything -- Monte Mario park
Views from the little-known park of Monte Mario in Rome

The ancient world of Aventine Hill: If you’ve been reading Revealed Rome, you know I’m a big fan of ancient underground sites — and that many of them can be found beneath churches. One of my favorites, though, is the Church of Santa Sabina in the Aventine. That’s not just because of the church’s underground, which includes 2nd-century homes and a 3rd-century shrine. It’s also because, even if you can’t access the underground (open only on pre-reserved tours), you can get a glimpse of how the ancient/early Christian world would have looked: this is one of the few churches in Rome that’s been left with its 5th-century structure largely intact.

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Palazzo Altemps: The Best Rome Museum Not On Your List

Palazzo Altemps, a wonderful museum in Rome

I can completely geek out on museums in Rome. So here’s an embarrassing confession for you: until a few months ago, I’d never been to Palazzo Altemps. And that’s even though, as one of the National Rome Museums, Palazzo Altemps was on the same entry ticket as some of my other favorites — Palazzo Massimo and Crypta Balbi in particular.

I told you. Embarrassing. Even more so when I went in December and realized just how much I’d been missing.

Brief background: Palazzo Altemps is, itself, a stunning 15th-century palace (albeit one with foundations that date back to an ancient Roman house) just around the corner from Piazza Navona. In 1568, a German cardinal with a penchant for ancient sculpture purchased it, and thus the collection was born. Although many objects have since been parceled off to other museums (the Louvre, for one), some extraordinary pieces remain — backdropped by frescoed rooms with painted, wood-beamed ceilings. And did I mention that you might be in these rooms by yourself? (It seems I’m not the only one who left Palazzo Altemps near the bottom of my to-do list).

Like this guy: the Grand Ludovisi Sarcophagus, which dates to the 3rd century; it was discovered near the Porta Tiburtina in 1621.

The Grand Ludovisi Sarcophagus, one of the gems of the collection in the Palazzo Altemps
The Grand Ludovisi Sarcophagus, one of the gems of the collection in the Palazzo Altemps

Let’s take a closer look, shall we? Because in case you missed it: the expressions on the pair in the middle — the Roman soldier, and the barbarian he’s about to slaughter — seem like exquisite portrayals of the kind of emotions that would actually be running through your veins (if there were room for any aside from ongoing expletives, that is).

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How to Spend a Rainy Day in Rome

Rain in Rome day itinerary
Rain in Rome… doesn’t mean all is lost!

‘Tis the season… for rain in Rome. (Ah, November!). And in a city where so many of the sights are outdoors, and so much is meant to be explored on foot, rain can feel like a real deal-breaker.

It’s not.

Sure: There are always the Vatican museums. And if you’re lucky, maybe you booked your Borghese Gallery or Palazzo Valentini tickets for exactly the day the skies opened up.

But let’s go beyond the obvious, shall we? Here’s what I’d call the perfect rainy day in Rome: an itinerary that hits up spots that are cozy, indoors, off-the-beaten-path, interesting — and located in neighborhoods that, while charming, aren’t so cobblestoned-street-picturesque that you’ll be upset to miss the chance to photograph them at their sunny best.

So get your umbrellas ready (and, by the way, one good thing about rain in Rome is that, as soon as it starts, umbrella-sellers pop up all over the city. So it’s okay if you’ve forgotten yours. Just, please, barter the sellers down to 2 or 3 euros for a small one; it’ll fall apart by the end of the day anyway!).

Let’s go! (And don’t miss my post on five reasons not to mind the rain in Rome, in pictures!).

9:30am: Coffee and cornetti at Cafe Barberini

Rain in Rome, have a coffee!
The morning bustle at Cafe Barberini

No matter where you’re staying in Rome, the neighborhood of Testaccio is easy to get to: You can take the metro (get off at Piramide, then walk five minutes) or a number of buses (including the 3 and 75).

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Cleopatra Returns to Rome: New Exhibit at the Chiostro del Bramante

Cleopatra exhibit in Rome, Italy
A sculpture of Cleopatra done in her lifetime, one of the 180 pieces on display at the Cleopatra exhibit in Rome. Photo courtesy of Foto Musei Vaticani.

Cleopatra, history’s most famous (and possibly fascinating) queen, is the insipiration for a new exhibit in Rome: “Cleopatra: Rome and the Magic of Egypt.”

On at the Chiostro del Bramante until February, the show’s aim is to contextualize Cleopatra’s life and times. It brings together more than 180 pieces from the ancient world, including frescoes, mosaics, jewelry, coins, and, yes, portraits of the major players, including several never-before-publicly-shown portraits of Cleopatra herself.

Read more about the exhibit in my latest article for the BBC.

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An Exhibit of Stolen (and Recovered) Art, for the BBC

Stolen art on display in Rome
Fresco from a Pompeii villa that was looted from Italy, and then returned—and now on display at Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo.

Art looting is a serious problem in Italy. (And elsewhere). Don’t believe me? If you’re in Rome before November 5, check out the Capolavori dell’archeologia exhibit at Castel Sant’Angelo, which gives just a taste of the extent of the problem, thanks to stunning, priceless pieces that were stolen from Italy… and later recovered.

And if you can’t make it there—or want to know what to expect—make sure you check out my story on the exhibit for the BBC.

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Rome’s Best Events in Summer

Tiber festival during summer in Rome
The festival along the Tiber, one of the best summer events in Rome

Great events in Rome happen year-round… but some of my favorites happen to take place during the summer. So when it comes to summer in Rome, don’t worry: It’s not all about figuring out how to skip the lines and survive the heat. It’s also about some great summer events.

Best festivals for nightlife

My favorite: hands-down, the Lungo Il Tevere summer festival. This is when the Tiber River is lined with almost a mile of shops, stalls, bars, and restaurants. And it’s open until 2am. Come mid-June, every in-the-know Roman starts heading there to meet up with friends and have a drink, dance, or even just a stroll.

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Titian Comes to Rome’s Quirinale, And It’s a Show You Won’t Want to Miss

Titian exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale
Titian’s charming Danae, just one of dozens of masterpieces on display now at the Quirinale

The much-anticipated exhibit Tiziano (Titian) opened this week at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale. I have one word: Go! 

 So many retrospectives can’t get their hands on a painter’s best masterpieces, but not this one. There are no fewer than 39 works by Titian—you know, the most famous artist to ever come out of Venice, and the most important Italian artist of the 16th century. And they range from the incredible Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (which has an estimated value of 50 million euro, by the way) to the iconic La Bella to the charming Danae. 

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Three Top Sights in Rome… That Must Be Booked in Advance

At the Borghese, which must be reserved

Want to see Titian's "Sacred and Profane Love"? Then you have to book your spot

For some of the best sights in Rome, you don't need to worry about reservations, or tickets, or a booking. You can waltz right into the Pantheon, explore Rome's lovely small churches, or gawk at Rome's archaeological treasures in the Palazzo Massimo without so much as a booking.

But some of Rome's coolest experiences do need to be planned in advance. How you'll get into the Colosseum or Sistine Chapel without standing in a 3-hour line, for example. (More on that in a future post). And some actually need to be booked.

Yes, you heard me. In the land of la dolce vita and 2-hour lunch breaks, there are tourist sights you can't get into unless you have a reservation.

And here they are.

St. Peter’s tomb

The necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica—which includes what’s thought to be the tomb of St. Peter—makes a super-cool visit for anyone, not just pilgrims. The ancient tombs here are both pagan and Christian, many still with elaborate mosaic decoration; it gives you a great idea of what a 1st-century, above-ground cemetery would have looked like.

But because the archaeological site is delicate, only 250 visitors can enter per day, on tours only, and must book in advance. Note that visitors also must be at least 15 years old.

To book, email scavi@fsp.va or fax +39 0669873017. You also can ask at the Excavations Office when you’re in Rome, but because these tours tend to book out weeks ahead of time, I wouldn't wait until then to do so. Make sure to include the number of participants, names, which language you need, how to contact you, and the period when you’re available to attend.

Borghese Gallery

Borghese Gallery must be booked in advance

The Borghese Gallery, which must be booked in advance

This is my favorite art museum in Rome, and it’s absolutely a must-see. To keep it a pleasant experience, however (and to protect the art), the museum limits the number of people who can be inside at any one time. Entrances are at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 5pm, daily except Monday. Book at least a week in advance in high season.

To book, either go to galleriaborghese.it and click on “Tickets reservations” or call +39 0632810. There is a €1.50 surcharge per ticket for booking online. You also can automatically get a reservation by booking a tour with a reputable tour company.

Palazzo Valentini

Palazzo Valentini
If the Borghese is my favorite art museum, this is my favorite ancient, underground site. (Although that sounds quite specific I can assure you that, in a city chock-full of them, it’s not!). Smack in the center of Rome, not far from the Forum, the 16th-century palazzo sits on top of two opulent, ancient Roman villas. An (enthusiastic! and dramatic!) automated tour takes you through them as—drumroll, please—light shows “recreate” what they would have looked like.

You can book online at palazzovalentini.it (just make sure you pick an English, “inglese,” tour!). Or you can call +39 0632810, or make an appointment in person. However, particularly in high season or if you have limited time, I’d recommend booking this at least a week in advance.

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How Should I Schedule My Sightseeing in Rome?

Not everything’s open every day in Rome. The Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel close one day a week; so do lots of favorite restaurants and shops.

So when planning your trip to Rome, it pays to have a basic idea of what day in the week is best for which sight or activity. Here’s help. (In the form of a “rhyme.” Move aside, Shakespeare Keats Dr. Seuss Eddie Mannix).

And here it is… in video form!

Dreaming of the Sistine Chapel? Then don’t go on a Sunday

Vatican museums, closed Sundays

You’ll also be out of luck if you were hoping to see the School of Athens.

The Vatican museums (which include the Sistine Chapel) are open every day but Sunday. On the last Sunday of the month, they are open and free, but it’s not something I recommend if you value your vacation time; the line is often three hours or more (and you can’t book a ticket in advance on the Vatican website). St. Peter’s Basilica is open daily; on Sunday, the Pope appears at 12pm to an audience on the square, and on Wednesday, he has his general audience at 10:30am.

Best time to go to the Vatican: Wednesday morning, as the museums tend to be emptier while the Pope does his audience; otherwise, Tuesdays, Thursdays or Fridays, since Saturday and Monday tend to be crowded with people who would have gone on Sunday.

And stay away from smaller churches—at least if it is midday

Most churches are open daily in Rome. However, many of the more off-the-beaten-path churches also close midday, some for as long as from 12pm to 4pm, so always check. On Sunday, remember that they may be holding Mass and more ceremonies than usual, which can make it more difficult (or forbidden) to walk around to sightsee. 

Best time to go: Morning or evening, except for Sundays (unless you want to see Mass).

On Monday, many museums are a no-go

Palazzo Massimo, closed Mondays

Palazzo Massimo, closed on Mondays

Most of Rome’s best museums close on Mondays, but are open every other day of the week. These include the Borghese GalleryPalazzo BarberiniPalazzo MassimoCrypta BalbiMAXXICastel Sant’Angelo, and the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Best time to go: Tuesday through Friday; weekends tend to be more crowded than weekdays (not that that’s much of a problem at some of these places, like the Crypta Balbi).

While for lots of restaurants, it’s the day of riposo

Many of Rome’s restaurants have one “day of rest,” even though this is no longer government-mandated. This day is typically—but not always—Monday, and sometimes Sunday for lunch and/or dinner as well (particularly for restaurants that are more elegant or upscale; since Sunday is a big pizza night, pizzerias are usually open Sunday). Some restaurants, like popular Da Francesco near Piazza Navona, close Tuesday instead.

Best time to show up without a reservation or calling in advance: Wednesday or Thursday. Popular places tend to have a wait on Friday or Saturday nights, and if you’re heading somewhere on a Monday, you’ll want to call in advance (or look it up) to make sure they’re open. 

There is a catacomb open every day (phew!)

Luckily, no matter what day you’re planning on going, at least one catacomb will be open. Just make sure it’s the right one! The catacombs of St. Sebastian close on SundaySanta Priscilla closes Monday, St. Domitilla closes Tuesday, and St. Callixtus closes Wednesday. They also close on most major holidays and over the lunch hour, so double-check the hours on the websites.

Best time to go to the catacombs: When they’re open—and not on the weekend, which tends to be more crowded.

And the Colosseum and forum are open daily, too

Rome's ancient sights open every day

Rome’s ancient forum

Most of Rome’s most famous ancient sights are open daily, including the Colosseum, forum, Palatine, and Pantheon (although the Pantheon does close slightly earlier on Sundays, at 6pm rather than 7:30pm). The Baths of Caracalla also open daily (but close at 2pm on Mondays).

Best time to go: Anytime—although to avoid lines and crowds at the Colosseum and forum, opt to either be there first thing in the morning (i.e. 8:30am), or later in the day (many people clear out by 3pm).

And shops can be tough on Sunday, unless they’re big and new

Shops in the heart of Rome’s center—particularly on Via del Corso, around Piazza Navona, and near major sights—are open every day. Especially the chains. (But we know how I feel about those). More interesting and better Smaller shops, which don’t have the staff to open daily, tend to close one day a week; for many, this is Sunday. Lots of them stay closed through Monday morning. Many of the smaller stores also close midday, like churches.

Best time to go shopping: Monday through Saturday, outside of lunchtime; to avoid shopping crowds in high-trafficked areas, try not to shop in the evening or on weekends.

 

Want more tips about what to do in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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