Six unusual tours of Rome that reveal a different side to the city

To celebrate Rome’s 150th anniversary as the capital of Italy, we pick six ways to discover new sides to the Eternal City, from virtual reality tours of the Colosseum to day trips on a Vespa scooter.

By Angela Locatelli
Published 10 Jul 2021, 08:00 BST, Updated 13 Jul 2021, 17:05 BST
Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

Campo de’ Fiori is the capital’s oldest market, with numerous stalls of seasonal produce, fresh pasta and local delicacies.

Photograph by Alamy

So intertwined with power and history is the story of Rome — cradle of the Roman Empire, seat of the Papal States — it’s easy to forget it hasn’t always been Italy’s capital. Even in its short modern history, the country has had multiple contenders: the Italian government first assembled in Turin, later moved to Florence and only — finally — settled in Rome in 1871. 150 years later, the Eternal City still finds new ways to live up to its reputation, from restoration projects to new high-design hotels. The following six tours will help see you see its ancient charms in a fresh light. 

Read more: Italy travel guide

1. Shop and cook like a local

When in Rome… do — and eat — as the Romans do, with Walk Inside Rome’s market-to-table food experience. Whet your appetite following a local chef around Campo de’ Fiori, the capital’s oldest market (pictured), perusing stalls of seasonal produce, fresh pasta and local delicacies. Come lunchtime, take the fresh ingredients to one of two cooking schools in the historic centre — one near Piazza Navona, the other near the Pantheon — and learn how to prepare a traditional Italian meal, including a pasta dish, main course, side dish and dessert.

2. Visit the first emperor’s burial site

This spring, the Mausoleum of Augustus — the world’s largest circular tomb, testament to the Romans’ engineering prowess — opened its doors to the public following a 14-year restoration project. A new, 50-minute, technology-enhanced tour takes visitors to the inner burial chamber, which had previously been off limits for the best part of the past 80 years. Book your ticket well in advance — or, if you can’t make it just yet, discover the mausoleum and its history through the new website’s interactive experience.

The Castelli Romani has been an oasis for Roman respite-seekers since ancient times.

Photograph by Alamy

3. Explore the Roman countryside on a Vespa scooter

The Castelli Romani, a scattering of ancient towns, countryside villas and crater lakes in the Alban Hills, south east of the capital, has been an oasis for Roman respite-seekers since ancient times. Discover this volcanic landscape on two wheels with Scooteroma’s Countryside Vespa Tour. Start from the town of Castel Gandolfo, home to the Pope’s summer residence, and cruise the winding country roads to the Byzantine Abbey of St Nilus and the wine-producing town of Frascati, with pit stops for savoury snacks along the way.

4. Uncover the city’s art secrets with a scholar

Pair up with an art historian on a private, personalised tour organised by Context, a company that connects travellers with a network of experts, for an in-depth look at the city’s frescoes and mosaics. Itineraries could entail shining a light on the cult of Mithras in the Basilica of San Clemente’s subterranean temple or getting special access to Palazzo Colonna, a Roman mansion that’s been owned by the same family for over 20 generations.

5. Go behind the scenes of Hollywood classics

Cinephiles might be tempted by a tour of the capital’s Cinecittà Studios, but for an intimate look at the silver screen’s love affair with Rome, choose Casa Mia Tour’s Rome Cinema & Food walk. On this private excursion, led by the granddaughter of renowned filmmaker Vittorio De Sica, participants explore the filming locations of blockbusters like The Bicycle Thief, Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita and hear behind-the-scenes accounts from locals and extras. You’ll discover the directors’ favourite haunts and taste dishes portrayed on screen, too, before heading for lunch at a local trattoria.

Want to see the classics in a new light? Try LivItaly’s Colosseum and Domus Aurea Virtual Reality Tour.

Photograph by Getty Images

6. Take a fresh look at old favourites

Finally, for a twist on the classics — and insight into the lives of both Roman citizens present and emperors past — there’s LivItaly’s Colosseum and Domus Aurea Virtual Reality Tour. This group outing starts at the iconic amphitheatre, where tales of gore and glory come to life thanks to VR glasses. Next, head to the nearby excavation site of Emperor Nero’s gargantuan Golden Palace, donning VR goggles one more time to virtually restore the Golden Vault’s gilded ceiling, marble panels and lush gardens to their former, opulent glory.

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