Traveling to a new city is a thrilling adventure, but it’s all too easy to stick to the mainstream attractions and miss out on the hidden gems that make a place unique. That’s why I always make it a priority to stray from the pack and explore lesser-known areas. During my recent jaunt to Rome, I signed up for the Ultimate Walking Tour, which promised to expose me to the city’s “B-Side” and reveal stories and sites that are off the beaten path.
Our guide, a Philly-born expat who had fallen in love with Rome, kicked off the tour at Porta del Popolo, a northern gateway to the city. From there, we wandered through Piazza del Popolo, a vibrant square that boasts a pair of ancient Egyptian obelisks and the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. Our guide wowed us with tales of the square’s macabre history, including a spot once used for gruesome public executions.
Next up, we visited the Tomb of Augustus, a majestic mausoleum that served as the final resting place of Rome’s first emperor. Although it’s currently closed to the public, our guide had plenty of fascinating facts to share about Augustus’ life and impact.
One of the tour’s most breathtaking moments was our stop at the awe-inspiring Pantheon, a timeless temple that has stood the test of time. Our guide regaled us with the structure’s rich history and its transformation into a Christian church. We gazed in wonder at the dome, which remains the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and soaked in the intricate details of the interior.
As we continued our stroll, we wandered through the enchanting Piazza Navona, anchored by the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers and surrounded by stunning baroque buildings. Our guide pointed out the hidden details of the sculptures and the symbolism behind them, painting a vivid picture of the square’s history.
We crossed the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a picturesque bridge that spans the Tiber River and leads to the Castel Sant’Angelo, a former fortress that once served as the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian. Our guide enlightened us on the castle’s evolution into a papal residence and offered a tantalizing peek at the Vatican, which sits just across the river.
While we didn’t enter the Vatican on this tour, our guide provided insights and recommendations for those who wanted to explore it further. Although the tour officially concluded at this point, our guide went above and beyond by giving us a sneak peek at St. Peter’s Basilica. He led us through the labyrinthine streets and alleys, sharing insider tips and tricks along the way.
Throughout the tour, our guide’s passion and knowledge about Rome’s B-Side were evident. He took us to lesser-known sites and shared intimate connections to the city, which made the tour even more special. And even though we stopped at Eataly, a gourmet Italian food market, which was not part of the tour, it was a delicious and unexpected surprise.
Rome’s B-Side is full of hidden gems and unique perspectives that are often overshadowed by the city’s famous landmarks. Joining a free walking tour with a passionate local guide is a great way to discover these hidden treasures and truly experience the Eternal City.
All in all, I highly recommend taking a free walking tour in Rome to discover the city’s hidden wonders. Our guide’s passion and expertise made for a truly unforgettable experience, and I left with a newfound appreciation for the Eternal City’s B Side. And yes, I also squeezed in a trip to Eataly – but that’s a story for another day!