All roads needn’t lead to the Colosseum when you have some free time to explore Rome. Bypass the tourist lines by sampling the city with one of these diversions.
If you have an hour-plus: Tell your colleagues that you’re off to see a few of the great masters and then head to Il Discount dell’Alta Moda (16A Via Gesu e Maria near the Spanish Steps; phone: +39 6 361 3796) to browse for Prada, Gucci and Roberto Cavalli at 50% off. This fashion warehouse sells past-seasons collections, overstock and irregulars, so examine carefully. During sales, you can snag savings of up to 70%. For a selection from Versace and Alberta Ferretti, walk about 15 minutes to its sister store, Il Discount delle Firme (27 Via dei Serviti, Barberini; phone: +39 6 482 7790).
If you have three hours: The Eternal City can be impossible to grasp as an entity, so you should parcel off your mini expeditions according to your interests. Anxious to see Renaissance architecture or explore the Jewish catacombs? Context Travel — a nifty concierge service with dozens of scholars and experts — specializes in two- and three-hour walking tours that quickly get to the heart of the matter. Offerings include a seminar on Caravaggio led by an art historian and a tour of Fascist-era architecture with a Harvard-trained architect and Fulbright scholar. You can even customize a three-hour walk, tailored to your cultural interests. Tours start at E35 ($51) (contexttravel.com).
If you have a half-day: Just 15 miles southeast of Rome, Frascati was once like Malibu, attracting papal potentates who built summer villas there. The sloping hills and views sold them on this small village in the Lazio region. You can tour the spectacular 16th-century Villa Aldobrandini (villa-aldobrandini.it) with its gardens, art by the Zuccari brothers and baroque fountains.
After touring the estate, lunch like a local. Head to the Piazza del Mercato in the center of town and browse the shops and stalls selling the local specialty of porchetta (roasted pork) as well as cheese, salami, bread and olives. Natives swear by the fare sold at Leda, Le Regina della Porchetta, aka Queen of the Pork. Now, cart those gastronomical supplies to one of the nearby cantines or wine bars that offer tables, napkins and the local floral white, Frascati. If you’re not game for a D.I.Y. meal, visit Cacciani (cacciani.it; 13 Via Armando Diaz; phone: +39 6 940 1991) and try the simple spaghetti with sheep’s milk cheese and black pepper or the fettuccine beneath a ragu of chicken livers, gizzards and cockscombs.
If you have a full day: Don’t just return home with a bottle of virgin olive oil and vague culinary aspirations. Visit Diane Seed’s Roman Kitchen (112 Via del Plebiscito; italiangourmet.com), voted one of the top 10 cooking schools in Italy by Food & Wine. Her one-day class begins with a trip to the central market, Campo dei Fiori, to buy the necessities for an afternoon of rustic cooking. No fussy preparations here: Seed specializes in traditional Roman fare like asparagus risotto, fried pumpkin flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies and taglioni with smoked salmon and cream. Classes — which take place in her home, the Doria Pamphili Palace — start at $292 per day.
Oenophiles can opt for the Private Label course at the Intl. Wine Academy of Rome (8 Vicolo del Bottino; phone: +39 6 699 0878) for two hours of wine tasting followed by two hours with a wine producer to learn how to run an estate, and then more tastings. A four-course dinner follows at the adjacent Aroma del Palazzetto ($438; wineacademyroma.com).