Electric City Insider: RomeJun 1, 2023
Most of the cobbled streets of Rome have been well trodden by tourists from all over the world. After all, who hasn’t heard of the Colosseum or St. Peter's Basilica? But if this is not your first time in Rome, or you’re spending a few more days here and finding yourself wanting to steer clear of the tourist hordes, here are a few spots we recommend spending time at to discover the hidden side of the famous Eternal City.
Also called the Balcony of Rome or the Eighth Hill of Rome, Janiculum Hill offers a stunning panorama of the city and is (strangely) overlooked by most visitors. Active travellers can opt to hike up the hill, but an easier way would be to drive directly to Piazzale Garibaldi.
Removed from the hustle and bustle of Rome, Janiculum offers a wealth of attractions in an area not as congested as the rest of the city. If you arrive here just before midday, you can witness a tradition that started in 1904 - rain or shine, a blank cannon round is fired at Rome from Janiculum every midday. It is said that Pope Pius IX ordered the round to be fired to help set the time for all the churches in Rome so the church bells could all chime together.
The Faro Al Gianicolo (Janiculum Lighthouse) at the hilltop was a gift from Italian immigrants in Argentina to Rome. And at the bottom of the hill, the Church of San Pietro in Montorio is part of a convent complex built in the late 15th century. Some people will tell you this is where St. Peter was crucified - a misconception - the Tempietto, a small circular sanctuary built in 1502 by Donato Bramante, was in fact where the Renaissance style was first introduced to Rome.
Janiculum is just a stone’s throw away from Trastevere, a neighbourhood not unfamiliar to those who are planning a visit to Piazza di Santa Maria. But the tourist crowds would thin considerably when you venture just a few blocks away from the square just next to the church.
The old neighbourhood is known among locals for its excellent food. Explore the outdoor food market on Piazza di San Cosimato. Visit Mercato San Cosimato in the morning to blend in with the locals, where shoppers catch up on gossip and children play in the square. Expect to see seasonal, locally sourced farm produce from Rome and its vicinity, as well as meats, cheeses and seafood.
The area is also home to a plethora of charming restaurants. When in doubt, look for something where locals congregate for a more authentic food experience. Osteria der Belli by Maria is run by a family from Sardinia and as such serves amazing seafood dishes. La Tavernaccia da Bruno is extremely popular with locals so reservation is recommended. Featuring rustic interiors and traditional dishes - their pasta alla gricia is not to be missed.
If you’re looking for specific things to do in this neighbourhood outside of the city centre, you may be disappointed. But skipping Coppedè simply because there aren’t shops to visit or cafe to sit down at means you will be missing out on the amazing structures designed by the small neighbourhood’s mastermind. Architect Gino Coppedè created a world of art nouveau with whimsical detailing between 1913 and his death in 1927.
The front gate of the neighbourhood is marked by an imposing archway with an outdoor hanging chandelier, at the corner of Via Dora and Via Tagliamento. Every bit of detailing of the decorations is remarkable - one might get the feeling of being transported to a land of fairytales. As you venture further into Coppedè, you will see the Fontana delle Rane, or the Fountain of the Frogs, a centrepiece of Piazza Mincio. Allegedly, the Beatles spent a good time in the fountain splashing away after a gig at a nearby club in the 60s.
Unsurprisingly, many films have made the neighbourhood their backdrop over the years. But one building in particular appears to be a favourite among directors - you will probably notice the entrance with an iconic psychedelic pattern and graphic black and white tiles in The Omen by director Richard Donner.
Driving in Rome and Beyond Rome is a city built for walking and most people would choose to brave the city on foot. There’s nothing wrong with that, except if you’ve got your own wheels, you’ll be able to explore the city at a comfortable pace, not to mention the fact that a car can take you to places hard to reach by public transport.
Like many European cities, Rome’s meandering streets are narrow and your best bet is a small city electric car, which makes driving through the city center to reach Rome's most popular landmarks a breeze, and exploring the hidden gems so much easier.