Eternal City, an open-air museum, the cradle of Western civilization, the City of Seven Hills... Rome has received many nicknames throughout its history, but none describes the sensation of walking through its streets, discovering its secret spots, enjoying its gastronomy, or marveling at its majestic architecture.
Rome is not only eternal; it is infinite. Every trip to the city leaves you wanting more; because to encompass the grandeur and history of Rome in a single visit would be impossible. Therefore, this list of the best things to do in Rome is just an inventory of must-see places to start discovering the city, which you can use as a checklist for your trip.
1. Visit the insides of the Colosseum
It could be said that this amphitheater is the guardian of Rome. It is the most visited monument in the city and its interior catches the eye as much as its outer walls, scattered with Greek arches and columns. Since it was built in 72 AD, the Colosseum has witnessed countless stories of gladiators and animal fights, and you can learn more about these tales in one of the many guided tours of the Colosseum.
Remember that tickets to the Colosseum will also give you access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. You can get them at the ticket office, but since the queues are always massive it is best to buy them online. You can find all the information here: Colosseum Tickets and Tours.
2. Marvel at St. Peter's Square
The Vatican City is a must-see in Rome and to speak of the Vatican is to speak of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Square. The Vatican Museums and the St. Peter's Basilica presiding over the square are the two main landmarks of the smallest state in the world.
Surely, you have seen in more than one aerial photograph this oval-shaped square surrounded by two semicircles; let me tell you that this is the view you get by going up to the St. Peter's Dome (the entrance to the basilica is free, but not the ascent to the dome).
3. Tour the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
The Forum was the place where all the judicial, political, and commercial life of Ancient Rome was carried out, and today is an impressive display of archaeological remains where you can still feel the essence of the golden age of the city.
After a guided tour of the Roman Forum, you can visit the nearby Palatine Hill: the most central of the seven hills of Rome from which you can also admire extraordinary archaeological remains. Both the guided tours of the Colosseum and the Colosseum tickets usually include access to this area, but if you are planning to visit the Vatican as well, I recommend you explore the option of getting the joint visit to the Vatican and Colosseum, it is well worth it and you will save a bit of money on entrance fees!
4. Soak up tradition and history with a guided tour of downtown
Taking part in one of the guided tours of the historic center of Rome: is the perfect way to tour the city and understand what you see. This would be the kind of experience I would choose in any city I travel to because, far from the boring tours that used to overwhelm you with endless dates and historical data, today's tours are becoming more and more authentic and fun.
Especially in Rome, where you can find tradition and art in almost every corner, a specialized guide teaches you to appreciate not only the history of the city but also its essence.
5. Have a gelato in front of the Trevi Fountain
Rome is known for its fountains and without a single doubt, this is the most emblematic of them all. It will appear by surprise as you turn a corner walking through the historic center of the city and the first thing that will surprise you will be its size. This baroque fountain represents Neptune and two tritons and is worldwide known for the legend that says if you throw a coin in it you will return to Rome, and if you throw two you will find love in Italy.
For me, the most authentic way to enjoy it is tasting delicious Italian ice cream on the stairs of the fountain. But let me warn you, this will be practically impossible to do during the central hours of the day, so accept my advice and do it after dinner, at the last hour of the day, and before going to sleep at the hotel. You will find few tourists and have much more space to sit down, it will be much more relaxing and you will remember that moment forever. Find everything you need to know to enjoy the Trevi Fountain to the fullest, here: All you need to know about Fontana di Trevi.
6. Admire the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums
Art lovers will find a true gem in the Vatican Museums. Works by Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio or Raphael are just a tiny sample of what you can find in the largest art collection in Europe, a place that is also home to the spectacular Sistine Chapel.
The essential thing to know before organizing your visit is that you can visit the museums at your own pace, buying skip-the-line tickets for the Vatican Museums or you can take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums.
Whatever you choose, I recommend you to book your ticket in advance, to avoid waiting in line for several hours. And if you are thinking that the price of tickets to so many museums and places of interest may not fit your budget, consider getting a Roma Pass or the Omnia Card. These are the Rome and Vatican tourist cards that will give you access to all the attractions for a better price than when buying them separately.
7. Climb the stairs of Piazza di Spagna
The enormous steps of Piazza di Spagna are another stunning must-see in Rome. These stairs connect the church of Trinità dei Monti with the Fontana della Barcaccia.
While in ancient times they were a meeting place for artists, now they are for tourists who visit Rome and make a stop on the way to contemplate the beauty of this site. It takes its name from the seat of the Spanish embassy and is one of the liveliest places you will see walking through the center of Rome.
My personal advice is not to contemplate the square only from below. Go up the stairs (for some time now groups are not allowed to sit on them, as the crowds of tourists prevented pedestrians from passing) and contemplate the views of Rome from above. And if you are thinking of exploring the city in depth and getting to know all its wonderful squares, take some notes while reading this article: Top 10 squares in Rome.
8. Stroll across Piazza Navona
This peculiar oval-shaped square is undoubtedly the preferred by many Romans and tourists. The four fountains that you can see in the baroque Piazza Navona represent the main rivers of Rome. At the center of the square is the gigantic Fountain of the Four Rivers designed by Bernini, a true marvel of architecture.
During the day, the square is full of small groups that tour the center of Rome and make an obligatory stop to talk about the history of these fountains. During the evening, especially in summer, it is quite common to see street performers in this square that becomes one of the centers of social life in the city center. If the weather is nice, buy a takeaway pizza and enjoy it on one of the benches overlooking the fountains for a simple, perfect plan.
Don't miss the details of each of its fountains and sculptures, as well as the imposing façade of the church in the square. I just love each and every fountain in Rome: in every square, alley, or corner there is a work of art in the form of a fountain. That is why I recommend you to read this article about the best fountains in Rome, where you will know what the most beautiful ones are and where they are located.
9. Discover the Capitoline Museums
Rome's art does not end at the Vatican; the Capitoline Museums located in the Campidoglio are another must-see, where you will find works of art such as the Capitoline Wolf, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, Bernini's Medusa, the Colossus of Constantine or the Dying Gaul.
10. Enter the Pantheon to admire its dome
The Pantheon of Agrippa, located in the historic center of Rome, is one of the best-preserved monuments in all of Rome. Here, you will see what is now a church, but in the past was a Roman temple erected during the rule of Aurelius. Visiting the Pantheon at dusk is a truly magical experience.
11. Wander through the gardens of Villa Borghese and visit the Villa Borghese Gallery
In a privileged location lies the great hidden treasure of the Roman city: Galleria Borghese. Here, you will not only enjoy one of Rome's top art galleries and classical sculptures of great beauty, but you will also enjoy a walk through the impressive gardens of Villa Borghese.
12. Enjoy the view from the Gianicolo
Personally, I love to see cities from up high; an overview of their rooftops and gardens is the perfect moment to take a deep breath and think about how lucky you are to be there at that very moment enjoying a wonderful trip.
In Rome, there are many places with wonderful views, but I recommend the one you will get from the eighth hill of Rome: the Gianicolo, located above the Trastevere district. In addition to the views, you will enjoy a relaxed atmosphere away from the usual hustle and bustle of Rome and enlivened by street artists and puppet theaters.
13. Taste the Roman gastronomy
In every country, local food is an attraction, but in Italy, it is more so than almost anywhere else in Europe. A trip to Rome just to try its pizza, pasta and gelato is already a trip well spent, so definitely don't forget to treat yourself when it comes to eating!
Don't do it in a hurry or on the street while waiting in line to enter a monument; sit in a restaurant and take your time to eat, carefully savoring each dish, asking the chef for his specialties and, if you have time, join a gastronomic tour of Rome.
However, if you want to go out on your own to find a good place to eat, here is a list of our favorites to inspire you to try some authentic Roman cuisine, and most importantly, to avoid falling into the traps that (in some cases) the city has prepared for tourists. Read more about the best restaurants in Rome to try during your trip.
14. Get a taste of Trastevere
A city is just as beautiful as its neighborhoods are, and undoubtedly Trastevere is one of the most charming neighborhoods of Rome (for me, there is no discussion, Trastevere is simply the best). Stroll through its cobbled streets adorned with ivy, visit its quaint gift stores, dine in one of its restaurants and sit down for ice cream in its squares.
Trastevere is a different side of Rome and many say it is the most authentic of them all. The best way to get to know all it has to offer is to take a guided tour of the Trastevere.
15. Touring Rome at night
When we go on a trip, we often get up early to make the most of the day; it is common to spend the whole day from one visit to another, and when the evening falls we are exhausted and we just want to go back to the hotel to get some rest before facing the next day of sightseeing.
Don't fall for this! Set aside time during your visit not only to see Rome at night but to enjoy it, walk around and contemplate the illumination of its monuments without the rush or pressure to take a picture. It will be worth it.
16. Visit the catacombs
Speaking of a different Rome so is the one you can find underground away from tourists and monuments. Beneath the beauty of Rome lies a labyrinth of Roman Catacombs that you can visit with a specialized tour and that will certainly give you a different feel of the city.
17. Explore other dreamy Italian enclaves
Rome has a lot to offer to the traveler, but it also has a privileged position within Italian geography. This means that from Rome you can visit other interesting cities, among others, in a comfortable way and without investing a lot of travel time:
Florence is the capital of art: here you can visit Michelangelo's impressive David and delight in the Uffizi Gallery or the Accademia. The Duomo of the city is one of the most spectacular in Italy and its streets carry a medieval and classical elegance that puts a spell on visitors. Sound good? I'll tell you more in this article about the best tours to Florence from Rome.
Pompeii and Naples
South of Rome, close to Naples and at the foot of Vesuvius is Pompeii, the city that was once buried by the lava of its neighboring volcano and that is preserved in such a special way that it attracts millions of visitors every year. If you want to make the most out of your trip to Rome and visit Naples, Pompeii, or both, take note of the best excursions to Pompeii and the best excursions to Naples.
The surroundings of Rome
If you feel like a shorter getaway to the outskirts of the city, you can, for example, take a trip to Assisi and Orvieto or to the spectacular Villa dell'Este. Here are my favorite getaways: 5 places to see near Rome.
You even have roundtrip day trips that will allow you to see both these cities and other points of interest near Rome and round out your travel experience in the Eternal City. If you are still not sure which destination to choose, let me help you with this list of the most popular ones: Best Day Trips from Rome.
18. Unveil all the secrets of Castel Sant'Angelo
Very close to the Vatican, the Castel Sant'Angelo overlooks the river from one of the most beautiful bridges in the city. If you deem it magnificent from the outside, inside you will like it even more: it is very well preserved and from the roof, you will get probably the best views (and the best photo) of both the city and the Vatican.
I think I've already given you enough reasons to go inside its walls, but if you still need more excuses, head to this article about how and why to visit the Castel Sant'Angelo.
19. Put your hand in the Mouth of Truth
For those who have not seen Audrey Hepburn's 'Roman Holiday': the Bocca della Verità is a marble mask located in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (near the Circus Maximus) that, as the legend goes, bites the hand of liars. It may seem a touristy thing to take a picture with your hand inside this mask, but the worldwide fame of this ritual is such that I could not leave it out of the list of things to do in Rome.
20. Buy local products at the Campo de Fiori open-air market
Another opportunity to get to know another side of the Eternal City away from monuments and tourist routes. The open-air market in Campo de Fiori square preserves the bohemian atmosphere of the medieval inns that once surrounded it. In addition to mingling with the locals, at the Campo de Fiori market you will find fresh fruit and vegetables, souvenirs, and a few surprises.
21. Look through the keyhole of the Jardin des Orangeries
Looking through a keyhole - is that really something to do in Rome? When you see the beautiful view of St. Peter's Dome from there, I assure you that you will understand why. At first, this was a big secret in Rome, but more and more visitors are flocking to these gardens to look for the famous keyhole and marvel at its perspective.
And this is just one of the many secret places that the Eternal City hides and that you will have to discover one step at a time to fall in love with Rome. If you need some help finding them, here is my handpicked list of the best kept secret places in Rome.
22. Tour Rome by tour bus
Put yourself in this situation: you are on your last day in the city and you have a couple of hours to visit what you liked the most and to take a look at a couple of your other favorite spots. The problem is that is so difficult to choose what to see twice in Rome without wanting to do the whole trip again...
Although you can always come back, you can take a quick last look aboard one of the air-conditioned tourist buses of Rome that pass through the main points of the city either for you to soak in its beauty one last time, or to have an appetizer of everything you are going to see in the next days right after you arrive in Rome.
It is also a good way to save on transportation, as it will help you move from one place to another without having to pay a public transportation ticket for each trip.
Use the Rome subway
Speaking about transportation, you will probably need to use the metro at some point during your trip. In general, it is very cheap and easy: it has very few lines crossing the city (it seems that digging the Roman soil is complicated, as more and more relics, ruins, and important archaeological remains appear every time they drill) and it is quite fast and reliable. Here's a must-read guide to the subway of Rome. Keep it handy!
Other ways to get around Rome
Oh! And speaking of saving money, here's another tip to save time and money on your arrival at the airport in Rome: consider the option of booking in advance a Rome airport transfer to the city center. And if you want something more detailed, here is how to get to your hotel whether you arrive at Ciampino or at Fiumicino.
23. Go out in search of the most beautiful churches in the city
When you start imagining a trip to Rome for the first time, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that "there are only churches" in Rome. And there are indeed many churches in Rome, but spending the whole trip discovering them one by one would certainly not be the best way to make the most of your time in the city.
To be honest, it's Rome, you will have to see at least a couple churches! Just so it doesn't get too tedious we have compiled a list with the most beautiful churches in Rome. It is that quick and easy: we've selected the best ones for you and we'll tell you why they're worth a visit, so you can make the most out of your time in Rome. You're welcome!
24. Have a delightful afternoon in the Jewish Quarter and Tiber Island
If there is a place in Rome that transmits tranquility, tradition, and authenticity, this is the Jewish quarter of Rome. You will find it in the heart of the city and although it is not very large, it is an ideal place to take a walk, have ice cream, or taste a typical sweet in its local pastry shops.
Also take the opportunity to cross the bridge to Tiber Island, a beautiful spot to watch the sunset after a long day of sightseeing in the most beautiful city in the world.
25. Get organized (even if only a little) before you get there
Once you land in Rome there is no time to waste. The city hides millions of places to discover, and spending time of your trip planning what you will do the next day is a shame. That's why I suggest the following:
Set up an itinerary by days
Boring, isn't it? Don't worry, I'll do it for you. I'll tell you exactly what you can (or should) do and see when you're in Rome depending on how long you are staying in the city. For example:
What if you are traveling with your family?
Don't worry, I'll help with this too. Here is an article about what to see and do in Rome with kids where you will find out how to best enjoy the city if you are traveling with your kids.
What if you go at Christmas?
Well, you're in luck, because Rome at Christmas is even more special. Although you may have cold days, the lights, the nativity scenes, and the decorated streets will compensate for the low temperatures. Don't miss out on what you can do in Rome at Christmas.