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best places to get off the tourist in Rome

Lose yourself in the Quartiere Coppedè

There’s so much to grab tourists’ attention in central Rome that a magical spot like the Quartiere Coppedè can go unnoticed. Tucked away in the Trieste quarter (tram 3 or 19 to Piazza Buenos Aires), northeast of the centre, this flight of fancy was conceived by architect Gino Coppedè in 1919.

The predominantly Art Nouveau architecture is embellished with a riot of details – Florentine turrets, frescoed facades, medieval motifs and Gothic gargoyles – and sports such whimsical creations as a frog-embellished fountain, a “fairy cottage” and a “spider’s palace”.

Get lost in time at Cinecittà film studios

If you’ve visited the Roman Forum and struggled to summon up the epicentre of the ancient world from this large open space littered with rubble and broken columns, you could always cheat and head to Cinecittà.

Within easy reach of the centre by metro, these film studios house the set of the HBO/BBC blockbuster Rome, with its impressive reconstruction of the Forum, its buildings intact and brightly painted as they would have been in ancient times.

Littered with props from iconic films, Cinecittà has plenty of tributes to the “Hollywood on the Tiber” classics of its Dolce Vita-era heyday, as well as spaghetti western memorabilia and more.

Take in some quirky culture at Villa Torlonia

Few tourists make their way to this palm-shaded park north of the centre – it’s not only a shady retreat on a scorching summer’s day but also has an intriguing history.

The estate was given to Mussolini in the 1930s to use for as long as he needed it, and his home, the frescoed Casino Nobile, is open to the public.

Nearby, the World War II bunker built for Mussolini and his family has recently been opened to the public and can be visited on engaging guided tours.

Another offbeat sight, nestled in the corner of the park, is the Casina delle Civette (“Little House of the Owls”), a Liberty-style building packed with beautiful Art Nouveau features: eagle-eyed visitors will spot the owls and other birds that feature in stained glass throughout the house.

Admire Tor Marancia’s street art

If you’ve had your fill of Renaissance and Baroque art, head to the city’s fringes for a glimpse of some modern-day masterpieces. Rome’s street-art scene has blossomed in recent years, as part of a council-run initiative to regenerate downtrodden and neglected areas.

A case in point is Tor Marancia (walking distance from Garbatella metro stop), where a housing estate has been given a colourful facelift by twenty international artists. Monumental murals in different artistic styles emblazon the sides of eleven buildings – from US artist Gaia’s De Chirico-inspired giant orange on a cobalt background to French artist Seth’s outsize child, whose crayoned ladder allows him to scale five storeys.

Picnic in Parco degli Acquedotti

Film buffs might recognize the Parco degli Acquedotti from the opening scene of Fellini’sLa Dolce Vita, in which a statue of Christ is helicoptered from the city’s working-class outskirts to the Vatican.

The park is even more impressive in technicolour: criss-crossed with the hulking remains of ancient Roman aqueducts, which brought thousands of litres of water into the city every day, and dotted with wildflowers and grazing sheep, it’s a popular spot with picnicking locals and joggers.

It’s pretty much undiscovered by tourists, though, and easy to get to (a short walk from Giulio Agricola metro), making it a great spot to appreciate the genius of the ancient Romans without battling the crowds.

Pay your respects at the Protestant Cemetery

The Protestant Cemetery, tucked away behind high stone walls in the Testaccio district, might not be your first sightseeing choice, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable place for a wander, with lichen-covered headstones and ornate tombs carrying some fascinating and poignant stories of the non-Catholic foreigners that ended up here.

The cemetery’s most famous residents are Keats and Shelley; the former, who died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1821, has an unnamed grave, engraved at his request with the words “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”.

Discover Rome’s quieter side in Garbatella

A curiosity in the industrial Ostiense district, Garbatella (metro line B) was built in the 1920s following the English “garden city” model, with rustic, low-rise buildings clustered around peaceful communal gardens and courtyards.

Originally built to house people displaced by Mussolini’s demolitions in the city centre, Garbatella’s inclusive design fostered a strong sense of community that still survives today. It’s an appealing place for a breather from central Rome, and is gaining a reputation as a foodie hotspot, with a good mix of earthy trattorias and hip new venues.