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.

Yes, there’s much, much more to Rome than sights like the Pantheon… as beautiful as they are

Nota bene: 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.

The Church of Santa Sabina on Aventine Hilla
The ancient Church of Santa Sabina on Aventine Hill: stunning and often nearly completely empty
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Why These Catacombs in Naples Might Be the World’s Creepiest

Catacombs of San Gaudioso, Naples

I’m constantly telling people to visit Naples, and I’ve finally written about one of my favorite reasons why: the catacombs of San Gaudioso. While Rome has no dearth of spine-tingling sites (hello, Capuchin crypt), these catacombs — which include a gallery in which desiccated heads were attached to the walls… and portraits of the dearly departed frescoed around them — are, hands-down, the creepiest place I’ve ever visited.

The run-down: Like the spectacular catacombs of San Gennaro, the catacombs of San Gaudioso were first dug out in Greco-Roman times. They were used as an ancient necropolis and then — later — an early Christian cemetery. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the catacombs in Rome have similar backstories, too). But after being inundated with the lave dei vergini (literally, the lava of the virgins; great name, right?) and abandoned in the 9th century, they were forgotten about. Until, that is, some enterprising Dominican friars decided to build a church here in the 17th century… and pay for it, at least in part, with their really gruesome fancy-schmancy burial practices. (So fancy, in fact, only nobles and high-level officials got the benefit of it. Really, who doesn’t want to be drained, beheaded and put on display for all eternity?!).

Read more over in my story on the catacombs of San Gaudioso for BBC Culture, and remember: You have been warned.

If you’re already sold and just need the details:

The catacombs of San Gaudioso are located in the Naples neighborhood of Rione Sanità. (If you go, don’t miss the equally creepy Cimitero delle Fontanelle). The entrance is at the Basilica Santa Maria della Sanità in Piazza Sanità. The catacombs are open from Monday to Sunday, 10am-1pm, but visitable only with a tour, which leaves every hour; the guides (who are super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable, by the way — not always the case in Italy!) speak English, so you can ask for an English-language tour. More info here. It costs €9 per adult, which also gets you entrance to the catacombs of San Gennaro (also a must-see).

Also: two facts about ancient Rome you probably didn’t know, why you should visit Rome’s only pyramid and some other reasons to visit Naples.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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The Pyramid in Rome: Restored, Clean and Now Open

The pyramid of Rome, also called Pyramid of Cestius

Did you know there’s a pyramid in Rome? Neither do most people. And not only is there a pyramid, but it’s a pretty legit — and ancient — pyramid: dating back to 12BC, it was the over-the-top burial tomb of Caius Cestius, a Roman praetor with a thing for Egyptian style.

At 120ft (36m) tall, with a base of 97ft (29.5m) on each side, the Pyramid of Cestius is pretty hard to miss. It’s been largely overlooked for years, though, for a few reasons. For one, it’s located in Testaccio — a neighborhood that, while very much in the center of Rome, is just off the beaten tourist track. That’s changing, thanks to recent trends like the gamut of food tours that now run through the area. But the quarter remains less trodden than, say, the streets around Piazza Navona.

Not to mention that Rome’s pyramid was in bad shape. Once gleaming, white marble, it had become so dirty that, by the time I first laid eyes on it in 2009, it was a sooty, dark brown-gray. It was so bad that, having just scoured five years of photographs to see if I could find proof for you, it turns out I don’t have a single one — probably because, in all the dozens of times I walked past, it was so grimy I hadn’t felt moved to take a picture.

And finally, except for the occasional “extraordinary opening”, the pyramid was closed to visitors.

That’s all changed.

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The Colosseum Opens at Night

Colosseum at night
We'll add it to the list of cool ways to see the Colosseum: The Colosseum is now open at night.

Every Saturday until September 17, the Colosseum will be open from 8:20pm to midnight. (Last entrance is at 10:45pm). It costs €18 to visit the Colosseum and the Colosseum's "Nero" exhibition, or €23 to also visit the Colosseum underground, with a guide. To book, call +39 0639967700. For more information (in Italian), click here.

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Crypta Balbi, a Rome Museum with an Underground Secret

Part of the underground of Rome's Crypta Balbi, a national museum of Rome

It’s probably the most-overlooked museo nazionale Romano — but for a history buff, or someone simply trying to wrap their head around Rome’s many, many years of evolution, the Crypta Balbi deserves a stop.

The museum’s big claim to fame is that it stands on remains of the Theater of Balbus (13 B.C.), and you can still go down and see the ruins, today hidden beneath the modern museum (above). While that’s cool — and, after such neat underground experiences as the columbarium of Pomponio Hylas or the Mithraic temple beneath the Circus Maximus, I’m aware I might be a bit jaded biased — it wasn’t, for me, the best part of the Crypta Balbi. Particularly as the signs for the underground section were rudimentary and confusing, making it near-impossible for anyone but an archaeologist to be able to figure out what was what.

So why go to the Crypta Balbi?

In all honesty, because it’s the first museum I’ve found that lays out what the historical center of Rome looked like in ancient times, in the Middle Ages, and through to today. With accompanying artifacts.

No, it’s not with cutting-edge technology. But those maps and pictures? They’re pretty darn helpful. Now, when I walk past the Largo Argentina or by the Theater of Marcellus, I have a much, much clearer image in my mind of what not just particular buildings, but whole neighborhoods, would have looked like. (Below, the Crypta Balbi area in the late-antique and medieval periods). Map of Crypta Balbi and ancient Rome in Museo Nazionale Romano

Map of Crypta Balbi and ancient Rome in Museo Nazionale Romano
The artifacts in the museum, meanwhile, are actually much more extensive than I’d expected, with artifacts like the Forma Urbis Romae, a 60-by-45-foot marble map of the city that Emperor Septimius Severus mounted in the Forum to help 3rd-century visitors to the city. (Today, obviously, only fragments remain. But it’s still cool to see).Forma Urbis Romae, marble map of ancient Rome, in Crypta Balbi, Rome

Despite its treasures, the Crypta Balbi isn’t a particularly large museum. And that’s kind of nice. It means you can easily see the underground, look at all the artifacts, and wrap your mind around ancient Rome in about an hour and a half. And, after a day at the Vatican or an afternoon at the Palazzo Massimo, don’t discount the merit of not being exhausted after a museum trip.

The Crypta Balbi is open daily from 9am to 7:45pm, except Mondays. The ticket (€7 full, €3.50 reduced) is valid for three days at not only the Crypta Balbi, but also the Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, and Baths of Diocletian. It’s located at Via delle Botteghe Oscure 31. Here’s a map of Crypta Balbi’s location.

 

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The Week of Free Museums Across Italy… Is Here!

Raphael's Entombment at the Borghese Gallery, Rome

Hurrah — the "week of culture" is here!

From now until April 17, Italy's state-run museums and sites are free. (Yay!) In Rome, that includes the Colosseum, Forum, Palazzo Massimo, Galleria Borghese (where you can find Raphael's beautiful "Entombment," above) and Baths of Caracalla… to name a few. Take advantage!

Here's a complete list of sites with free entrances this week, from Pierreci (click on the drop-down beneath the map on the right to choose your region — Rome, of course, is Lazio).

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An Empress’s House Opens… Only Through March

House of Livia on the Palatine Hill, Rome

Rome's just unveiling all kinds of incredible ancient sites. Case in point: the House of Livia — a gloriously-frescoed, 2,000-year-old structure thought to belong to Emperor Augustus' wife. After being closed to the public for years, then open on Saturday mornings only last fall, it's reopened this month.

But go quickly. Because, so far, it's only open this month.

Why is it worth visiting? Well, two reasons. First, if you're wandering around the ruins of the Palatine and curious how any of these ancient houses actually would have been decorated, here's your chance. The House of Livia still boasts (fragments of) mosaic floors and beautiful frescoes — not quite as pristine as those in the House of Augustus, but almost. (Below, the well-preserved frescoes of the garlands that symbolized Octavian Augustus' victory — you can see them on his Ara Pacis, too).

Ancient frescoes from the House of Livia, Palatine, RomeSecondly, the house is thought to belong to Livia. Augustus' wife. The woman that Octavian fell in love with so immediately he divorced his wife the day she was birthing his child in order to marry Livia. Who he remained married to for 51 years, even though she never bore him a child, and even though she was the daughter of a man who had been killed in battle fighting against her now-husband. Who was, herself, the mother of the second emperor Tiberius, the grandmother of Claudius, and the great-grandmother of Caligula.

And who was so powerful, the Senate tried to bestow her with the title of Mater Patriae ("Mother of the Fatherland") — and, supposedly, such a powerful meddler that her son Tiberius retired himself to Capri just to avoid her. In short? She was a bad-ass.

How could you not want to see where she lived, loved, and plotted… or the decorations that she chose? (Note: The tour guide said the frescoes were chosen by Augustus. Why this has been assumed, I'm not exactly sure. I doubt a woman who was powerful enough to make the emperor retire would have let somebody else pick out her home's decor.)

So, go. And go now — before the House of Livia shuts once more, to open who-knows-when.

As per the Pierreci site, the House of Livia is open only for tours that run, in English, at 9:30am and every hour thereafter until 3:30pm. That said, I was there yesterday and the house was very clearly simply open, with people wandering in and out, at 3:15. The tour guide did come in at 3:30 and gave a 15-minute tour, but it didn't seem to be necessary to view the house's offerings. The price of entrance is included in your 12 euro forum/Colosseum/Palatine ticket.

 

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The Colosseum’s Underground… Has Re-Opened!

Colosseum hypogeum, open to the public
Good news: The hypogeum, arena and 3rd level of the Colosseum are open as of today, March 12.

Update, October 2011: The Colosseum underground and third level will be open through Dec. 31.

Update, September 2011: The Colosseum hypogeum and 3rd tier will be open through October 2011.

Update, June 2011: Here's updated info on the Colosseum underground, including how it will be open through July and what tour options you have for seeing the underground.

The woman at Pierreci said that they aren't accepting reservations for today or tomorrow, so if you're looking to check the newly-restored areas — closed again since Nov. 30 — out over the weekend, go directly there.

But from Monday, you can make reservations for the tour that takes you into the hypogeum — the underground, "backstage" area where gladiators and animals would have waited for their turns to fight — and up to the third level, as well as onto the arena.

As in the fall, you can't see these areas without a guided tour. Unlike in the fall, Pierreci says that when you book, you also have to pay by credit card in advance. Pierreci told me that  the cost is €9 for the guided tour, plus the €12 entrance ticket, and they said there is no reservation fee. 

English tours are offered daily at 9:40am, 12:20pm, 1pm, 3pm, and 4:20pm. To book, call +39 0639967700. (They should speak English).

As anyone who's been to Italy knows, things are always changing here — or one department might say one thing, but another might say something else. So if anyone has a different experience with this, please let us know in the comments.

Here are more photos and the story of what it's actually like if you're curious what all the hypogeum hubbub is about. And while some of the particulars of how to book have changed, this Q&A on how to see the Colosseum's underground should still be helpful.

Happy booking!

You might also like:

House of the Vestal Virgins, Now Open for Business

Eight Tips When Planning a Trip to Rome

Hidden Underground, a 2,000-Year-Old Sepulchre

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House of the Vestal Virgins, Open for Business

House of the Vestal Virgins, Forum, Rome

In the days of the Roman empire, you never would have been able to enter the House of the Vestal Virgins — unless you were one of the six chosen women, that is, or the Pontifex Maximus, Rome's religious leader who oversaw the cult.

Now? You can stroll right in.

After a long restoration, the House of the Vestal Virgins is open for visitors. No special status needed. (It's in the forum, so the normal forum/Colosseum/Palatine ticket gets you in).

It's a neat opportunity to access one of ancient Rome's most historic, and much-mythologized, cults. The Vestal Virgins likely dated all the way back to the Etruscans in the 8th century B.C.; they hung on right up until Theodosius, who had abolished pagan cults in 391, forcibly shut down their temple three years later.

But they weren't just any pagan cult. They were one of ancient Rome's most important… and elite. A Vestal was picked between the ages of 6 and 10 — largely for her beauty — and committed to 30 years of service: ten years learning the rituals, ten actively serving, and ten tutoring the new priestesses. Throughout that time, she had two big responsibilities. She had to tend Rome's sacred fire. And she had to guard her virginity. If either was extinguished, it was thought, Rome would fall. (In return for this sacrifice, a Vestal was one of the most powerful women in Rome, allowed to own her own property, make her own will, and intercede on any prisoner's behalf).

That's why the punishment, if they did screw up (…or screw around), was so severe. "Vestals who are guilty of lesser misdemeanors are scourged with rods," wrote Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the first century B.C. "But those who have suffered defilement by unchastity are delivered up to the most shameful and miserable death."

The method? Being buried alive. Eek.

(It's worth noting, though, that this terrible punishment only happened 18 times throughout the Vestals' 900-year tenure — and almost always in times of great political upheaval, making blaming-the-Vestals probably a last-ditch effort to restore normalcy in a time of crisis).

House of the Vestal Virgins, courtyard, Rome, forum Now, though, you don't have to take a 30-year vow of virginity in order to visit the House of the Vestals. Just stroll right in. The version you see today (above) dates back to the 2nd-century. (The fire that wracked Nero's Rome also destroyed the earlier house in 64 A.D.!)

As with the rest of the forum, of course, you have to use your imagination to picture what this house would once have looked like. Historians say it was up to 4 stories tall, its rooms were spacious, its decorations opulent. Evocatively, though, some of the original statues of vestals still remain, lining the courtyard.

There's not quite enough here to make a trip to the forum just for this. But if you're in there anyway, or haven't paid a visit to Rome's forum in a while, then don't miss it.

 

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What Is Open on Christmas in Rome? (Updated for 2018)

What is open on Christmas in Rome?

If you’ve booked your trip to Rome over Christmas, a couple of things normally happen. First, there’s elation. And then there’s an, “Oh no. What’s open on Christmas in Rome? Is anything open on Christmas in Rome?”

There’s reason to wonder. Many Romans do leave the city for their family homes over the holidays. Even so, there are still plenty of people left in this city of 3 million. Here’s what is open on Christmas in Rome… and what won’t be. (New Year’s, too). (For more tips and tricks, don’t miss my ultimate guide to Christmas in Rome!).

Will sites and museums be open during Christmas in Rome?

While some museums and sites will remain open even on Christmas Day and New Year’s, most of the biggies will be shut. The forum, Colosseum and Palatine will be closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, for example, but open every other day as usual, including Dec. 24.

The Vatican’s a tougher one: The Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel are closed on Dec. 8, Dec. 25, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1. They’re also closed every Sunday in December and January, as usual, except for the last Sunday of each month, when they are open and free.

What is open on Christmas in Rome?

Check with other sites individually. Here’s where you can find (in English) the hours for all of Rome’s major museums and archaeological sights. Outdoor sites like Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain, along with churches, also will be open.

Will the bus and metro be running over Christmas in Rome?

Yes. Often, the city even has an expanded service on Christmas Eve until the early afternoon. Service tends to end at about 9pm that night, though, and cabs are in very short supply, so if you need to be somewhere, give yourself lots of time to get there. On Christmas Eve, walking will probably be your best bet, so dress warmly!

Will restaurants be open on Christmas and New Year’s?

Most restaurants will be open every day except for Dec. 24, Dec. 25, and Jan. 1. Some others might close on Dec. 8, Dec. 31 and Jan. 6.

But many places will also be open on even those holidays themselves, including both classic Italian favorites and the kosher restaurants in the Ghetto. Just remember to book in advance.

What is open on Christmas in Rome?

Katie Parla has a nice little list of good Rome restaurants that are open over the holidays, including Metamorfosi, Romeo and Roscioli.

I want to go shopping over the holidays. Can I?

Throughout December and January, yes. However, most shops will close early on Christmas Eve and will not be open on Christmas Day. Other days some might be closed or have shorter hours include Dec. 8, Dec. 26, and Jan. 1.

If you want the saldi, you’ll have to wait — usually, these after-Christmas sales kick off throughout Lazio on the third Saturday of January.

And what about churches?

Ah, churches! They will, of course, be open on Christmas; many will offer mass at the same time they’d usually have their Sunday service. If you’re interested in attending mass, check with the church in advance. Otherwise, you’re fine to visit most churches as usual, being, of course, particularly respectful and refraining from taking flash photographs if a service is going on. And don’t forget to check out the church’s presepio (Nativity scene) — a particularly Italian handicraft (see below) that is only on display this time of year.

What is open over Christmas in Rome?

Also: Rome’s best Christmas markets, and 11 etiquette mistakes not to make eating in Italy.

Want more great tips and tricks for Rome? 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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