Is finding unusual things to do in Rome a futile task?
I'm not sure who runs the official ledger of world's most visited city and catalogue of iconic sights but when I do track them down, I'm betting that Rome is high on the list.
The Colosseum. The Pantheon.
Spanish Steps. Trevi Fountain.
And that's before we start talking about whether or not the Vatican actually counts (yes, yes, it's the world's smallest independent nation state, with its centre of religion and Michelangelo masterpiece business, but in practical terms, most visit as part of a trip to Rome.)
The Eternal City is a wonderful place and I am absolutely recommending that you visit all those landmarks that earn it its fame.
But how about after that? What if you're looking for a different sense of context, a different kind of pace?
What if you're looking for unusual things to do? Well, you've come to the right place!
Here's a tried and tested collection of unusual things to do in Rome.
Let's get started.
So, Christianity, as you know (!) flourished in Rome after a rather rocky start.
But what about the other religions and sects that floundered instead? What great marks did they leave on the city of Rome and its inhabitants?
Context Travel offer tours led by docents (academics) who, quite literally, take you underground to show you the secret meeting places and worship rituals of secretive men who met two thousand years ago.
Rome is surprisingly short of skyline views but once I found one that worked, my word it was beautiful. The rooftop terrace at the Rome Cavalieri overlooks the city of the seven hills almost in its entirety. You can see the dome of St Paul's, the arc of the colosseum and the terracotta spread of a world capital that seems exempt from the usual uniform of concrete skyscraper grey.
What's even better? The hotel also has a pool so if the heat from the city-slicker life is getting you down, you can hop on in and cool off with a dip.
Visit the narrow streets of “wrong side of the tracks” Trastevere, where green tendrils and scarlet petals spill out from lopsided windows and vespas laze in the shadows.
Head to St Peter's Square after closing time and you may find yourselves the only ones there, save for the odd passing nun and ever watchful Swiss Guard.
Walk on foot from the squat Castel Sant’Angelo along the banks of the Tiber.
The columns seem taller and iridescent, the sainted stone statues more watchful, more close by. The Swiss Guards seem more relaxed and the pink tinge to the sky makes the fountain-footed obelisk appear to glow in charcoal and peach.
True, Italy has a great reputation for gastronomy. But like Venice, Rome sometimes struggles with its own popularity. Sure, it's hard to find bad food, but simply being not bad isn't enough to be good.
Do yourself a favour and book yourself onto a good food tour in Rome (here's one I would recommend) and learn the difference between parmesan and pecorino, pizza bianca and porchetta.
Once pizza and pasta start to heard thin, head to Ginger Sapori e Salute right in the heart of Rome. From breakfast til dinner they serve organic, sustainable, healthy food in (ahem) a highly instagrammable setting.
If there’s one city in the world that demonstrates the rise of the selfie stick, and selfies in general, it’s the hybrid ancient-and-modern city of Rome. Everywhere you look, there’s something to marvel at – and consequently, everywhere you look, there’s a tourist taking a selfie.
Yet, wouldn't it be nice to have a professional set of photos sometimes?
Yes, you’ll feel a little awkward. But if you’re going to go in for set family photos anyway, why not take them when you’re truly happy and relaxed all together on holiday (with the bonus that the background’s more interesting than those green and white overhead projector type screens to boot?)
For solo travellers, there’s the added advantage of meeting someone – and all travellers can benefit from the inside knowledge and perspective that a local photographer can bring.
I had a fantastic experience with Guido from Travelshoot and learned much more about the city than I would have otherwise.
Disclosure - some of these experiences were hosted for review purposes, some were not. All were included because I want to recommend them - and I want you to be happy with the recommendations. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes a weird and dismal mind game. So, go! Travel! Be happy in Rome!