8 of the most beautiful secret places in Rome

Rome’s beauty is hardly a secret. A walk through the city takes you past gardens of orange trees and umbrella pines, monumental Roman ruins, ornate churches, faded frescoes, Renaissance palazzi, Baroque fountains, marble statues of saints and angels, and so much more. But some of the most beautiful parts of the city are also some of its best-kept secrets, hidden behind keyholes or in the subterranean depths of its churches.

Piazza de’ Mercanti

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Trastevere is this picturesque piazza, which seems to belong to a rural village from another age. Standing in front of rustic, ivy-covered buildings with flowers spilling from the window boxes, it’s difficult to believe you’re in Rome at all. After strolling through the square, go to La Taverna de’ Mercanti for a romantic dinner.

secret rome piazza de mercanti

The top floor of Palazzo Massimo

The most underrated museum in Rome is hardly hidden away, as it’s right next to Termini, Rome’s main train station. But mysteriously, most visitors miss out on this gem of a museum, which has an excellent collection of Roman art. Go to the top floor to discover Palazzo Massimo’s masterpieces, including some stunning frescoes and mosaics. As well as the gorgeous garden frescoes from the Villa of Livia (wife of the emperor Augustus), make sure you see the evocative wall paintings from the Sala Nera – a black-walled dining room that was once the scene of aristocratic banquets.

secret rome palazzo massimo

The Roman houses beneath Santi Giovanni e Paolo

A walk on the Caelian Hill near the Colosseum takes you to the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. While the church is beautiful, it’s what’s underneath that’s really special. Go on a tour of underground Rome to discover one of the city’s most intriguing subterranean secrets – the remains of a Roman apartment block and a luxurious villa. You can still see the mythological frescoes and the original Roman road that ran between the houses.

secret rome roman houses

Secret courtyards

Getting access to Rome’s most exclusive addresses partially depends on who you know, but there is another way to do it. Wait for the annual Cortili Aperti (“Open Courtyards”) day, when members of the public are allowed to explore the courtyards of some of the grandest private buildings in the centro storico. These enchanted gardens are often filled with palm trees, ivy, and fragments of Roman statues. Palazzo del Drago on Via dei Coronari and Palazzo Capponi Antonelli are particularly impressive.

secret rome courtyards

Parco degli Acquedotti

Villa Borghese is beautiful too, but one of Rome’s best parks remains virtually undiscovered by tourists. You may recognise Parco degli Acquedotti from the opening scenes of La Dolce Vita, where a statue of Christ flies above the aqueduct. The Roman aqueducts are the park’s most distinctive feature and provide some welcome shade, if you’re looking for a place for a picnic. The park feels a little rural in places – there are even some sheep – and it’s ideal for escaping the crowds of the city centre.

secret rome parco degli acquedotti

Mausoleum of Santa Costanza

The 4th century church of Santa Costanza has an intriguing history. As well as being one of the most ancient churches in Rome, it’s also a mausoleum. According to tradition, it was built on the orders of the emperor Constantine for his daughter, Constantina, but it is now believed that it may have been dedicated to Helena, wife of the emperor Julian (and also daughter of Constantine).

The mausoleum has a striking circular structure, with an arched arcade and columns. The apses and ambulatory are decorated with beautiful, well-preserved mosaics – important examples of early Christian art. There’s an intriguing blend of Christian symbols and pagan imagery, including grapes, birds and mythological figures.

Santa Costanza is not in the centre of Rome, but is easily accessible from the metro (Sant’Agnese on line B). It’s well worth a visit, to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of the church and garden, and to discover the place where paganism and Christianity merged.

secret rome santa costanza

Via dei Piccolomini

There are probably people who have lived in Rome their entire lives who don’t know the secret of Via dei Piccolomini. This quiet residential street on a hill has an impressive view of St Peter’s Basilica – a view which is also the city’s most mind-bending optical illusion. The further away you are, the closer the dome appears, and vice versa. For the best effect, try going up and down the road in a car or on a motorbike and watch St Peter’s whizz towards you, then away from you, then towards you again…

secret rome via dei piccolomini

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

This elegant basilica in Trastevere has an ancient history, dating back to the 5th century. According to tradition, it was built over the site of the martyr St Cecilia. An eerie Baroque statue by the altar depicts the body of the saint, head turned away from the viewer, with three sword strokes on her neck. The main church is beautiful, but to see the secret side of Santa Cecilia, you’ll have to speak to the nun. Beneath the basilica is a crypt with the atmospheric remains of the saint’s house and ancient mosaic floors, as well as a striking, cosmatesque chapel. You may well have the place to yourself.

secret rome santa cecilia

Rosario Gorgone is Co-Founder of Through Eternity Tours.

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Comments (5)

  1. Thanks for sharing. Roame is on our list for long, and we plan to be there these winters. Looking forward to see some of these stunning attractions, live.

  2. Richard Eldred Hawes says:

    This article shows that there is far more to Rome than what is usually presented to the tourist. You just have to look for it

  3. katri says:

    I love Rome especially outside of the tourist areas. It is by far one of my favorite places in the world.

  4. shweta Ahuja says:

    City of Love, wish leave m foot prints there soonest.the above article covers the city like never read before.

  5. Sara Essop says:

    I was in Rome recently but didn’t know about any of these beautiful places. I wish I knew about them then. I guess I’ll need to go back again.

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