10 places not to miss on a 2nd visit to Rome

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When people come here to visit, nine times out of ten the standard Rome sightseeing agenda applies: Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, gelato, end. This is understandable. After all, most tourists only spend two nights in Rome, and some even attempt to see Rome in just one day! While some people do stay a bit longer and are able to see more, most see the basics and then toss their three coins into the Trevi with hopes of coming back some day.

Some people never do make it back to Rome. Others do, and finally have the time to enjoy sightseeing in Rome the way it was meant to be done - leisurely and thoroughly. Below are some of the Rome attractions that are often overlooked on a first visit, but definitely should not be missed while sightseeing in Rome the second time around.

1. Basilica of San Clemente.

Three layers tell the fascinating story of this church, dating back to the first century when the structure was a temple to the Pagan God Mithras. A Christian church was erected on the site in the 4th century, and the Basilica standing over it all today was finished in 1120. This church is truly an amazing representation of three exemplary periods of Rome. San Clemente is located in Piazza San Clemente, tucked behind the coliseum off of Via Di San Giovanni in Laterano.

2. Scavi Tour under St. Peter's Basilica.

Few tourists know about this tour, yet it is one that absolutely warrants a visit. The Scavi are the excavations underneath St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The Scavi tour guides you through the remains of the original Basilica which was commissioned by Emporer Constantine in the 4th Century AD as well as where the tomb of St. Peter lies. This tour must be booked directly through the Vatican.

3. Catacombs.

The Roman Catacombs are all located outside the center along the Via Appia Antica, or the Appian Way. This is the area of Rome where Christ is believed to have appeared to Peter as he fled Rome during the times of the Christian persecutions. There are at least 40 different catacombs in Rome. To get to the catacombs, take Metro line A to the stop "San Giovanni" and from there take bus 218 going outbound to the Via Appia Antica.

4. Capuchin Crypt.

Also known as the "Bone Church", this crypt is located below the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome's Piazza Barberini. The Capuchin friars used the bones of their departed to decorate this six room crypt. There are rooms that are decorated using only the bones from one specific body part, ie crypt of the pelvises, crypt of the leg and thigh bones, etc.

5. Borghese Gallery Museum.

Easily one of Europe's finest art collections with paintings of masters such as Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio. However, what people really come to see at the Borghese Gallery is the world's largest collection of sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a genius of the Baroque who mastered the ability to fight gravity and win. Works housed in the gallery include the Rape of Prosperina, David, and Apollo and Daphne. Located at Piazzale Scipione Borghese.

6. Caravaggio Paintings inside San Luigi dei Francesi Church.

A series of paintings by Caravaggio are located inside this otherwise unassuming church just off Rome's Via Del Corso. A look at these paintings tracing the life of St. Matthew shows why Caravaggio is known as the master of the chiaroscuro technique, which plays on the contrast between light and shadow. Located at Via Santa Giovanna d'Arco, 5.

7. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.

This sculpture by Bernini is located inside the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria church at Largo Santa Susanna. This piece is one of the sculptural masterpieces of the high Roman baroque period, and is only a short walk from Rome's central train station, Termini. Few tourists actually get over to see her, but those who do will have a lasting impression of the grandeur of Maestro Gian Lorenzo Bernini's work in Rome.

8. Il Chiostro del Bramante.

Home to art exhibits, conferences, libraries and a fantastic cafe, this space is a haven in the middle of a chaotic Rome. The space was designed by Bramante and is attached to the church of Santa Maria della Pace along Via Della Pace (not far from piazza Navona). The cafe is an indoor/outdoor space in the courtyard that serves lovely salads and light fare as well as coffee and aperitifs. There is free wireless access (which is hard to come by in Rome)! You won't find this in many of the Rome guide books, so enjoy it while it is still a hidden jewel!

9. The lake at CastelGandolfo.

Just a 30 minute train ride from Termini Station, and it is where the Pope's summer residence is located. The volcanic lake is always a serene and relaxing place to spend a cool day away from the chaos of Rome. There are places to rent bicycles, boats, etc, and several excellent restaurants serving up local Porchetta from nearby Ariccia and wine from the Castelli Romani. My favorite is Da Agnese, which is along the lake (just after the tunnel, turn left. Da Agnese is nearby up on the right side).

10. The view from Piazza Garibaldi on the Gianicolo hill.

The perfect spot for a quiet break from sightseeing in Rome and the best place to watch the Roman day winding down at dusk. There is a little kiosk where you can enjoy the view with a beer in hand, picking out the shallow Pantheon amongst the numerous domes on the horizon. When the rain or cold air has blown all the smog away, the mountains of Abruzzo will appear from off in the distance.

Published on January 7th, 2010
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