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One of my favorite parts of visiting Rome was certainly just walking. There’s so much history and so many neighborhoods in Rome. Although most tourists stick to the areas near the Colosseum, local Annalisa is here to show you the off the beaten path neighborhoods near Esquilino Hill and Monti that many tourists miss. You’ll get a glimpse of history and a tasting of Rome’s best food in this guide to Rome off the beaten path.
This post was written by Annalisa. Annalisa was born and grew up in Rome, Italy. Traveling and getting to know different cultures, along with Buddhism, are among her heart’s deepest joys. She was an expat to China from 2010 to 2016. Now she’s back in Rome, where she teaches Italian and helps other travelers explore Italy as an accredited tour leader. She blogs about the places and the people she loved during her travels at https://travelconnectexperience.net
Walking together with a local is the most efficient way to discover areas and places off the beaten path that you might overlook during your visit to Rome if you were on your own. As a native Roman, I decided to share one of my preferred strolls in Rome with the travelers who have explored the main attractions in the historical center and want to push themselves a little bit further.
This walking tour covers my favorite spots and sights on the Esquilino Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome’s founding tradition. The walk starts close to the Roma Termini central train station and will take you to monuments from different ages, local food and culture, and alternative views of the Colosseum in the Monti neighborhood, where the walk ends. It will take you about three hours, depending on your pace. Plan to stop for a snack.
Begin: Termini subway
You can get to the starting point of this self-guided walking tour, which includes some of the less visited spots in Rome (for those who don´t like crowds) that are very special to me, from the “Termini” subway (Metro) station.
Tempio di Minerva Medica
The first stop is at the “Tempio di Minerva Medica.” This impressive late-Roman structure is believed to be a temple to the goddess Minerva, due to a statue of the goddess found nearby. It’s actually a circular hall with dome and windows, and it’s still on it’s way to being fully restored and accessible. You can admire it from Giolitti Street.
Santa Bibiana Church
Keep going along Giolitti Street until you reach the Santa Bibiana Church. Tradition says that a Roman noblewoman founded the church after the Christian persecution at the hands of Emperor Giuliano. The church commemorates the saint and her family, who lost their lives during the massacre.
The church has been renovated at least twice: in the 13th century, and again in the 17th century. During the second renovation, the clergy commissioned the statue of Santa Bibiana, which dominates the apse, to the master sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The Esquilino Market
From the church, walk down Cairoli Street towards Vittorio Emanuele Square, across an area which is the multicultural hub of the city of Rome. The Esquilino Market and all the small
If you feel like it’s time for a classic Italian gelato, you are in luck. Just a few steps from Vittorio Emanuele Square, at 65 Principe Eugenio Road, you’ll find the Gelateria Fassi, a gelato shop with more than 100 years of tradition. Apart from the gelato and ice-cream in an endless variety of flavours, the specialty here is the frozen custard, or semifreddo, with the name “Sanpietrino”.
When you are finished with your gelato, proceed to Vittorio Emanuele Square. For the past 20 years, its name and gardens have symbolized friendship and cooperation between the different ethnic groups that shape multicultural Rome.
It was in this area that, in 2002, a few artists and intellectuals started the “Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio” musical project in the Apollo 11 independent movie theater (80/A Nino Bixio Street). Music became the means of bringing together artists living in Rome who belong to different cultures and nations, an incredible tool for tackling marginalization and isolation in this huge metropolis.
Ninfeo di Alessandro
Vittorio Emanuele Square, which is also the biggest square in Rome, hides more mysteries behind the iron gates of its gardens. Once inside, you can see the monumental ancient-Roman remains of the fountain called “Ninfeo di Alessandro”, which inspired the structure of the most popular fountain in the city, the Trevi Fountain.
The Alchemist’s Door
Next to this Roman site lies the “Alchemist’s Door”, also known as the “Magical Portal”. This door, with its alchemic inscriptions and symbology and the two statues of the Egyptian divinity “Bes”, is what remains of marquis Massimiliano Palombara’s mansion. The marquis lived in the 17th century and was a close acquaintance of Christina, Queen of Sweden, who spent a great part of her life in Rome.
Santa Maria Maggiore Cathedral
Next, walk down Carlo Alberto Street toward the majestic Santa Maria Maggiore Cathedral. This is one of the three most important churches in Rome, and it lies within the territory belonging to the Vatican State. It dominates the area, along with the baroque fountain and the obelisk in an outer courtyard. It will take you a while to explore the interior.
You may get lost in the wings which hide chapels with high domes and brilliant frescoes. The entrance to the cathedral is free, but it is worth getting a €5 ticket for a guided tour on the upper floor, which is closed to the public and where you can see the mosaics, the “Loggia della Benedizione” (gallery of blessings), and the massive spiral staircase by Flaminio Ponzio. Master Ponzio was busy realizing the building connected with the cathedral for a great part of his life. The travertine staircase connects all of the five floors, from the sacristy to the Pope’s apartments.
After having elevated your senses through the beauty of the cathedral, it’s time to come back down to earth in the Monti Quarter. Walk down Santa Maria Maggiore Street til you cross Urbana Street and take a left.
The area here is partially closed to traffic and known as “Monti”. It has become one of the most attractive recreational districts in Rome. It´s never very crowded, never too crazy. It’s only a few minutes from the Colosseum, but far from the noise and pressure of the historical center. Strolling along Urbana Street, Zingari Street and Zingari Square you’ll find plenty of small restaurants and coffee shops to choose from where you can have your lunch.
A permanent stopover for me is the “Aromaticus”, which always surprises me with it’s vegetarian and vegan dishes. The Aromaticus juice bar and restaurant will welcome you in two rooms filled with aromatic plants and urban garden products, a friendly atmosphere with long wooden tables and benches, and the synergies of chefs from Latium and Tuscany. Dishes vary depending on the season, but don’t miss their “burrito vegan” and the fish course “baccalà con topinambur”.
A few steps from Aromaticus, the raw chocolate shop “Grezzo” has raw cakes, biscuits, and probably the only raw gelato in Rome, made with cold-pressed almond juice, a rare raw experience in the world capital of gelatos!
You’ll find the Monti district at its best during the late afternoon and evening hours when the lights of the cafeterias and studios are on, and groups of friends reunite with a glass of wine around the Fontana dei Catecumeni, on Serpenti Street.
From there, you can already see the Colosseum peeping out from the end of the street. If you feel like walking further, proceed straight on Serpenti Street and Annibaldi Street for more enchanting views of the Colosseum, especially at sunset.
You can read more about planning your visit to Rome for first time visitors on Annalisa’s blog.