In this Offbeat Rome Italy Travel Guide, We’re Going to Go Full Weirdo with Some Unusual Rome Attractions
I bet we can all agree that Rome is one of the coolest cities in all of Europe. I mean, Ferris Bueler level awesome since this iconic city is home to such top Rome attractions as the Coliseum, the Vatican, Palatine Hill, the Forum (we call these anti-unusual Rome attractions)…
But here’s the Kicker:
As amazing as these best Rome sites are, we’ve heard about them all before. Yawn, snooze, is the latest episode of Real Housewives on tonight? I get it. Sure, we’ve all heard about the beauty of the Trevi Fountain and have marveled at how many people you can actually squish onto ancient Rome attractions like the Spanish Steps. But these sites are old news and not exactly romantic hidden gems in Rome.
So You Might be Wondering:
Is there more?
YES, a thousand times yes! I promise, there are a ton of unusual things to do in Rome that you can check out if you are looking for a more offbeat Rome Italy travel guide. These cultural treasures are just hard to find amidst a sea of first timer guides to Rome.
So what does that mean to you?
Well, you will be tickled pink to know that there will be no mention of the Trevi Fountain in this post, okay besides that one. Instead, I am going to introduce you to some pretty weird and possibly macabre Rome attractions that you haven’t heard of (Unless you’re like a jeopardy champion). Yes, my friends, there is more than one way to skin a cat (You can even try cycling outside of Rome. A unique and fun activity for anyone more phsyically inclined).
(See Below if you want to understand the humor in this last phrase)
Now, You Might Be Wondering:
What is the big deal about a cat cafe and is that really one of the unusual things to do in Rome? I mean, people eat at home with their cats every day. Well, I am not one of those people. Sadly (sob), I do not have a kitty to call my own. So to get the kitty lovin’ that I needed, I headed straight for the Vegan Cat Cafe in Rome. Because seriously, cats + food = Girl with the Passport heaven (during my twenty-four hours in Milan, I also had some great cafes but I didn’t see any cafes of the kitty persuasion).
Is it any good? Let me put it to you this way. I felt like I died and went to heaven.Almost like my wannabe hipster and giddy school girl self-fused together and exploded in a rainbow filled with giant giggles of delight. In case you missed it, that means I really liked the Romeow Cat Bistrot.
Okay, What’s the Downside?
While I did get to pet six divinely cute little kitties and yes, the food was delicious, I did feel that the plates were a bit small and pricey at about €13 a piece. I just rolled with it though since you are paying for the novelty of a cat cafe. That’s why I kind of expected the high prices. But you can’t go that wrong with soba noodles, a bean burger, and specialty cappuccinos to top it all off (if this is all a bit too rich for your blood then check out this free walking of Rome for foodies).
***If you’re on a budget, just order a drink while you’re there and then go eat somewhere else. But when you sit down, you do have to order something for each person. But no worries because I devour food, so I can totally eat yours and mine.
Just Remember That:
Romeow Cat Bistrot doesn’t start serving food until after 8:00 pm (eating dinner too early is a classic Italy travel mistake). Plus, not surprisingly, I’m not the only one who loves cats and food, so this place is pretty popular. Therefore, I would make a reservation at least a week in advance.
But Here’s the Kicker (womp, womp, womp):
It’s also kind of far from the center of Rome, so I suggest you just take a taxi there and call it a day. Because let’s be real, when it comes to eating and petting kitties, money is no object to me. Okay well, sort of since I’m not rollin’ like a big shot yet.
Hours: Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 11:30 pm (again, kitchen opens after 8:00 pm)
Address: Via Francesco Negri, 15, Rome, Italy, 00154
Haven’t Had Enough Kitty Cuteness Yet?
If you answered yes then be sure to check out the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary, where hundreds of cats now reside in the ruins where Ceasar was, ya know, flown to never-never land, becoming extinct, at the end of his rope, etc.
But since Caesar hasn’t been on the Portico of Pompeii since 44 BCE, the feral cats made themselves at home. Today, volunteers come to take care of the cats while tourists come to “Eww” and “Ahh” at the insane cuteness of these fine felines.
***The entrance is located at Largo di Torre Argentina or at the corner of Via Florida and Via di Torre Argentina. And added bonus, it’s one of the many free Rome attractions).
2. The Owl House
I love Rome but man is it packed with tourists like me. Can’t they just all leave while I’m there?
Well, the good news is:
You can escape tourist mania by heading to the Owl House, a uniquely exquisite piece of architecture that is largely devoid of people (the heavens open up and angels sing) and set within the Villa Torlonia’s park, a gift to Mussolini from the Torlonia family.
This is Crazy though:
To find this magical wonderland of Architecture, all you have to do is walk along via XX Settembre, past the British Embassy, through the Porta Pia, and along via Nomentana. You’ll know you’re there when you see a huge brick wall on your right that surrounds a park, with Villa Torlonia at the center of the main entrance.
This small museum is totally worth a visit, but the real highlight here is the Owl House. However, to purchase your tickets to the Owl House, you’ll need to buy them at the ticket office in Villa Tortonia.
The Worst Part?
There are no signs and it’s totally counterintuitive but no one wants to walk all the way to the owl house (go left of the villa and continue towards the back of the park. You won’t miss it with its distinctive architecture) just to go back to the main entrance to purchase tickets. Actually, the more walking you do the more gelato you can justify eating but that’s all up to you.
The Best Part is:
No way will you miss the owl house because it is one of the oddest buildings I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in the best possible way. Think Gaudi only with the weirdness volume turned down a bit. Sorry, but Gaudi is the king of weird ass architecture that we all love.
Watch Out for:
The rather stern looking man at the door will validate your ticket and the rest is up to you. Just make sure you have your camera ready because the unique design elements and vibrant, stained glass windows are the stuff that Instagram dreams are made of.
That’s where I’m gonna leave it. This was one of my favorite sites in Rome because it was so damn innovative, and I’ve seen my fair share of awesome edifices. So rather than bore you with the nitty-gritty details, or ruin the surprise, I’m just gonna stop here and encourage you to visit this architectural treasure for yourself.
***If you have time, the gardens themselves are also worth a visit with charming walking paths, scenic ponds to admire with exotic delicately hanging over the edge of the water, and other distinctive buildings that include granite obelisks, statues, temples., and so much more. My only complaint is that I was strapped for time and couldn’t appreciate it all.
3. Roman Catacombs (One of the Great Outside Rome Attractions)
I was sharing the details of my trip to Rome with my dad and I must have said something like, “Dad, I even saw the catacombs in Rome. I didn’t even know they had any. I only knew about the Catacombs in Paris, France.” To which he replied, “Oh really? Doesn’t everyone know about the catacombs in Rome?”
This clearly means that I live under a social media rock that shields me from anything and everything mildly intellectual (Bring forth the Family Guy memes). I had no idea Rome had Catacombs, but clearly, they do because I saw them and they were and are insanely impressive.
It Gets Better:
They don’t really have the ick factor of the ones in Paris since all the bones have been taken from the graves, but these relics of Roman history are probably the coolest historic artifacts that I have ever seen in my life; and that’s saying a lot since I have a degree in history and frequent museums like it’s my job.
It sort of is. Hopefully, you guys will love me lots so I can turn this into my full-time job (woot).
The Catacombs of St. Callixtus are the catacombs that I visited. and they are located just outside the city walls. Originally founded in the second century, these underground tunnels served as a burial ground for Christians living in a mostly pagan Rome (can you say persecution much).
This labyrinth doesn’t just house dust that is garnished with a flourish of musty air. Hidden amongst these tunnels are various statues, tombs of saints, and mosaics that allude to the rich cultural history of this beautiful city, minus all the executions over varying religious beliefs.
Trying not to hate on the catacombs of France because they are super creepy with those skulls laying around, but I found this site to be an enlightening journey into Rome’s history. That’s why I give this site two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Address: Via Appia Antica, 110/126, 00179 Roma RM, Italy
Hours: Open every day, except Wednesday, from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm and from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm.
Tickets: Full price admission is € 8 and reduced admission is € 5.
This is Crazy:
If you’re looking for more “secret things Rome” then be sure to stop by The Basilica of St Clement. This iconic church allows you to wind down a spiral staircase and back in time as you find some of the earliest traces of Roman art in the basement. Once you’re done exploring these relics of Roman history, you can ascend to the ground level of the church and find prayer rooms and altars that date from more modern times.
***If the macabre history of Rome fascinates you, then I highly recommend the Rome Crypts and Catacombs Tickets and Tours. A fun, easy and incredibly informative way to see this amazing sight.
4. Rome Ghost Tours (Who ya Gonna Call? Ghost Busters!)
Look, I know it may seem like I have an unhealthy obsession with the dead (one of the reasons why I loved Pompeii so much), but I swear I don’t. I haven’t even seen an episode of the Walking Dead. I was just one of those kids that loved to be creeped out by Goosebumps books, Are You Afraid of the Dark and my personal favorite, Unsolved Mysteries (only the Robert Stack episodes will do). That’s why when I saw a ghost tour in Rome, I went for it.
The one I booked was through Dark Rome Tours and it seemed like one of the fun things to do In Rome at night. Plus, tickets cost a mere thirty dollars; yes, this is super cheap for an Italy tour since most cost upwards of $70 (yikes). The tour lasted about an hour and a half and as you meandered through the quaint streets of Rome and listened to ghastly tales about the darker side of Rome that no one at the Vatican will talk about.
On the Down Side:
So the tour meets at S. Andrea della Valle Church and they give you directions that totally confused me. Actually, come to think of it my taxi driver didn’t even know where this church was. Therefore, give yourself plenty of time to get there and get lost. Also arrive fifteen minutes before the tour starts (either 8:00 pm or 9:15 pm every day) because yes, they will leave you behind and no, you probably won’t get your money back.
Was this the best ghost tour I’ve ever been on? No. Was I scared poopless? No. Did I have a good time? Yes. So I would definitely recommend this tour. Not only is it a fun way to learn about a side of Roman history that is not often found in textbooks, but the guides are super helpful, super informative, and super enthusiastic. My guide was a loud New Yorker like me so we bonded and I may be a tad biased in his favor.
The tour guides are also locals that are insanely knowledgeable about Rome and where to go. Therefore, be sure to ask them where to eat and what to see so that you can avoid some of the most common Italy travel mistakes. I mean, my guide told me to eat at Pizzarella (Near Castel Santangelo and the Tiber River) and this pizza nearly changed my life. So go now and stuff your face with carbs, glorious carbs; and that’s high praise coming from a New York, pizza snob like me.
***I didn’t have a problem booking my tour the week before but be aware that tours may sell out during the summer when tourists descend on Rome like a plague of locusts.
5. Capuchin Crypt Rome (One of the Epic Creepy Things in Rome)
You’ve seen one crypt you’ve seen them all right? Wrong! I guarantee that this Crypt in Rome is unlike anything that you have ever seen in your life! Unless you are into some pretty dark voodoo magic.
But this place is crazy:
Each chapel is located under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini and is adorned with the bones and mummified remains of brothers from the Capuchin order of monks, hence the name of the place (these bones are literally everywhere you look.)
But it gets Better:
Rooms are actually named for the bone that is most predominantly found in that chapel. Therefore, you’ll find a femur room, a cranium room, a pelvis room and other bone-related rooms but I’m terrible with anatomy. One chapel is entirely devoid of bones (bone free, the way to be) but the rest are absolutely chocker box full of them
On the surface, these decorations may appear to be rather macabre and disturbing to visitors, but the message conveyed by these decorations is rather uplifting. See, many of these men were considered saints. Therefore, their bones were considered relics and were decorated in this manner to show people how short life is and to inspire them to make the most of the time they have (totally inspiring and one of the many fun activities in Rome)
But wait, there’s more:
The bones of nearly 4,000 individuals were also used to remind citizens that there was a beautiful, eternal life in heaven that was awaiting them after there time on earth. So while the idea of used people’s skeletons to create inspirational art is indeed a bit strange and kinda awkward (Break a leg. Haha. Sorry I had to get a bad pun in there), the message behind the art is beautiful and inspires us to live in the now and make the most of the time we have (by traveling of course).
To get there, take metro line A to the Berberini (Trevi di Fountain) station and walk along via Veneto until you see the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Once inside, you will see that the church has a created a museum that explains not only who the Capuchins were (no they weren’t monkeys) and how the order developed. The gist of the story is that the other monks got corrupt so they created a new, more devout order.
Once through the Museum, you will then walk along a long corridor and peer into the crypts which will be on your right.
You Might Br Wondering:
Should I book a Catacombs and Crypts tour? Yes, a thousand times yes! A site like this needs explanation. Otherwise, you’re just going to be sitting there, thinking that these monks had some weird fetish for the grotesque (English tours are about €80. They’ll get you into the museum and crypts, as well as transport you to several other historical sites. Expensive but worth it). Okay, there are signs and you read this post so obviously, you won’t think that but you know I mean.
If you are even mildly intrigued by this info then I would go. Tickets are only €8.50 for adults and €5 for kids under eighteen or adults over 65. And no, this museum is not included in the Rome Roma Pass, because of course now every city has some kind of pass.
***WARNING: Do not dress like a trollop. This is a church so if you wear revealing/skimpy clothing then you will not be allowed in.
This is the Post That Finally Ends
Tap dancing because this post is FINALLY over? Well, you’ll have to wait for about ten more sentences because I have to add one place to all the secret things Rome that I have told you about Rome.
This is a bonus round of awesome for all my peeps who kept reading to the bitter end. Why? I promise you’ll be rewarded handsomely for sticking around.
All you have to do is head to the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta on the Aventine Hill. Once there, you will find a large door. Look through the keyhole and you will get a beautiful shot. And if you don’t know where to go, just look for growing line of people because this place isn’t THAT secret. Oh, and you’re welcome in advance because this is one of my fave Rome secret places, or not so secret as the case may be.
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