One of the most desired travel destinations in the world, Italy features rolling hillsides covered in olive trees, ancient hilltop towns, impressive Roman ruins, and colourful seaside cities. It is also home to some of the world’s most delicious food – fresh pastas, creamy espressos, and crisp wood-fired pizzas. However, beyond these amazing and well-known sights, the intrepid traveller can find an array of quirky and unusual attractions that offer respite from admiring yet another baroque church or battling the tourist hordes. Here are five of our favorite unusual Italian attractions:
1 La Specola (Natural History Museum), Florence. A quirky collection of fossils, aging taxidermy specimens, and 18th century anatomical waxes collected by generations of Medicis, Florence’s most famous family, fill this bizarre museum. Of note for visitors is the Medici’s beloved pet hippopotamus. Legend states that the taxidermist had never seen a hippo before and therefore had to improvise in his preservation of the animal. More than 400 years later the hippo has definitely seen better days.
2 Capuchin Crypts, Rome. Hidden under the fancy restaurants and beautiful people strolling Via Veneto is a small crypt decorated with remains of thousands of Capuchin Monks. Located under the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, the thousands of bones are arranged in intricate patterns along the walls, ceiling, and floor. By far one of the most bizarre things we’ve seen, the church houses a detailed museum above ground that depicts the history of the Capuchin Friars.
3 San Clemente Basilica, Rome. Found only a few blocks away from the world-famous Colosseum is the ornate San Celemente Basilica. The detailed marble floors, columns, and frescoes found inside are beautiful, even by Rome’s lofty standards; however the Basilica’s real draw is underground – built on top of each other are a 4thcentury basilica, a 1st century temple, and remains of a ritual site from the 2ndcentury BC. In a city full of ancient wonders, these are some of the oldest ruins in the city and are only just being discovered by tourists.
4 Street Food, Palermo. Sicily’s culinary offerings are distinctly different that the fare offered throughout the rest of Italy. In no place is this more evident than Palermo, the undisputed street-food capital of Italy. From arancine, creamy risotto balls with a crunchy exterior, to luscious pasta with sardines and raisins, to crunchy canolli filled with cool ricotta, Palermo’s street food has to be sampled to be appreciated. For visitors seeking a truly authentic experience, don’t miss pani ca meusa, stewed spleen and lung meat sandwich.
5 Centrale Montemartini, Rome. Housing creamy white marble sculptures juxtaposed against the industrial setting of Rome’s first electrical plant, Centrale Montemartini is not your typical Italian museum. The building itself is as stunning as the sculptures it houses, many of which are ancient Roman relics with nowhere else to go, and as tourists have yet to discover the museum it’s also welcome break from the rest of Rome. This is definitely one of Rome’s most underrated museums.
Calli is one half of Have Blog Will Travel, a travel blog she writes with her boyfriend Travis. What started as a means to record their experiences during a five month backpacking trip across Europe has grown into a place for travel advice, inspiration, and budget tips for independent travelers. Currently home replenishing the travel fund, Calli writes about her travel experiences, exploring British Columbia, Canada, and making a life centered around travel.