Eternal City, an open-air museum, cradle of Western civilization, the city of the seven hills... Rome has received many nicknames throughout its history, but none describes the sensation of walking through its streets, discovering its most romantic corners, enjoying its gastronomy or marveling at its architecture.
Rome is not only eternal; it is infinite. Every trip leaves you wanting more; because it would be impossible to cover the grandeur and history of Rome in a single visit. Therefore, this list of the best things to do in Rome is just an inventory of common places to start discovering the city, which you can use as a checklist for your trip.
1. Visit the Colosseum inside
You could say that this amphitheater is the guardian of Rome. It is the most visited monument in the city and its internal galleries catch the eye as much as its outer walls drawn by Greek arches and columns. Since it was built in 72 A.D., the Colosseum has witnessed countless stories of gladiators and animal fights, but those will be told on one of the many guided tours of the Colosseum.
Arriving at the Colosseumfor the first time is a wonderful feeling, but do not get too intoxicated by the beauty of this enclave and keep in mind these tips for your visit to the Colosseum. Like you, there are thousands of tourists who want to access this monument and if before starting your trip you know where to eat when you finish your visit to the Colosseum or how to get cheap tickets to the Colosseum the tourist influx will be much more bearable
Remember that tickets to the Colosseum are also tickets to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill and, therefore, you can also buy them at the ticket office, although the queues can be endless, so I recommend you to buy them online.
2. Marvel at St. Peter's Square
The Vatican City is a must-see in Rome and to talk about the Vatican is to talk about the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Square. The Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica that presides over the square are the two landmarks of the smallest state in the world.
You have probably seen in more than one aerial photograph this oval-shaped square surrounded by two semicircles; I will tell you that this is the view you get by climbing up to St. Peter's Dome (the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica is free, but not the ascent to the dome).
When visiting the area (here you can see information on how to get to the Vatican from the center of Rome ), keep in mind that it is one of the busiest in Rome, so I recommend that you write down these places to eat near the Vatican so you can book ahead of time. There are so many things to see and do in the Vatican that after a morning there you will end up hungry.
Hear the Pope's blessing in St. Peter's Square
An unforgettable experience you must have during your visit to Rome and the Vatican City, whether you are a religious person or not, is to see the Vatican and the Holy Father up close during the Wednesday papal audience or the Angelus ceremony on Sundays.
If you want to know more about how you can hear the Pope's blessing during your trip to Rome, I advise you to read the article Papal Audience in Rome, where you will find all the details and if you are religious, my advice is clear: visit Rome during Holy Week.
3. Walk through the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
The Forum was the place where all the judicial, political and commercial life of Ancient Rome was concentrated and today it is an impressive display of archaeological remains through which you can guess the essence of that golden age of the city.
After a guided tour of the Roman Forum, you can visit the nearby Palatine Hill: the most central of Rome' s seven hills from which you can also contemplate extraordinary archaeological remains. Both Colosseum guided tours and Colosseum tickets usually include access to this area, but if you are planning to visit the Vatican as well, I recommend that you explore the option of getting the joint visit to the Vatican and the Colosseum: it is well worth it and you will save on tickets!
4. Soak up tradition and history with a guided tour of the center
Taking one of the guided tours of Rome's historic center is one of the best ideas for getting around the city understanding what you see. This would be the experience I would choose in most of the cities I travel to because, far from the boring tours that overwhelmed you with endless dates and historical data, today's tours are more and more authentic and have more variety as it is the case of Rome night tours or Rome photo tours.
Especially in Rome, where tradition and art are breathed in 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 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 known for the legend that 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 a delicious Italian ice cream on its stairs. I warn you that this will be practically impossible to do during the central hours of the day, but if you accept my advice, do it after dinner, at the end of the day and before going to sleep at the hotel. Almost without tourists and with much more space to sit down, it will be much more relaxing and you will remember that moment forever. I tell you everything you need to know to enjoy it to the fullest here: All you need to know about Fontana di Trevi and I leave you a list of the best gelato in Rome.
6. Admire the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museums
The jewel in the crown for art lovers is in the Vatican Museums. Works by Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio or Raphael are just a small sample of what you can find in the largest art collection in Europe, presided, of course, by the famous Sistine Chapel.
The essential thing to know before organizing your visit, is that you can visit the museums at your own pace, buying tickets without queues for the Vatican Museums or you can take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums.
In any case, I recommend that you book your ticket in advance, to avoid waiting several hours. And if you are thinking that the price of tickets to the Vatican, tickets to the Sistine Chapel and so many other museums and places of interest may be an expense you were not counting on in your budget, I recommend you consider getting a Roma Pass or the Omnia Card. These are the tourist cards of Rome and the Vatican that will give you access to all the attractions for a better price than buying them separately.
Finally, don't forget to take into account the dress code required to visit these museums. I talk about this and other tips for visiting the Vatican in this article such as how to avoid the queues to enter the Vatican. Here are also some tips on how to get free or discounted Vatican tickets.
7. Climb the Spanish Steps in the Spanish Steps
The enormous steps of Piazza di Spagna are another visual 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 different artists, they are now a meeting place for tourists visiting Rome and stopping to contemplate the beauty of this location. It takes its name from the seat of the Spanish embassy and is one of the most lively places you will see walking through the center of Rome.
My personal advice is not to look at the square only from below. Go up the steps (for some time now, groups have not been allowed to sit on them, as the crowds of tourists were blocking the way for pedestrians) and take in the views of Rome from above. And if you are thinking of exploring the city in depth and getting to know all its magical squares, take note of this article on Top 10 squares in Rome.
8. Stroll and cross Piazza Navona
This peculiar oval-shaped square is undoubtedly a favorite of many Romans and tourists. The four fountains you can see in the baroque Piazza Navona represent the main rivers of Rome. At the center of them all 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, street performers animate this square that becomes one of the centers of social life in the city center. If the weather is good, buy a pizza to take away and enjoy it on one of the benches contemplating the fountains is simply a great plan.
Do not miss the details of each of its fountains and sculptures, as well as the imposing facade of the church that is in the square. I am personally a lover of each and every one of the fountains in Rome: in every square, alley or corner there is a work of art in the form of a fountain. That's why I recommend you to read this article about the best fountains in Rome, where you will find the most beautiful ones 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 to see must-see and mythical works of art such as the Capitoline She-wolf, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, Bernini's Medusa, the Colossus of Constantine or the Wounded Galata.
10. Enter the Pantheon to admire its dome
The Pantheon of Agrippa, located in the historic center of Rome, is one of the best monuments in all of Rome. It is very worthwhile to go to what is now a church and in the past was a Roman temple erected during the rule of Aurelius and also to see it illuminated at dusk. In this article I leave you everything you need to know about the Pantheon in Rome.
11. Walk through the gardens of Villa Borghese and visit its Gallery
In a privileged location lies the great hidden treasure of the Roman city: the Borghese Gallery. On this visit you will not only enjoy one of the best art galleries in Rome and classical sculptures of great beauty, but also a walk through the lungs of Rome, the impressive gardens of Villa Borghese, which are undoubtedly one of the best parks in Rome.
12. Enjoy the views from the Gianicolò
Personally I love to see the cities from "on high"; an overview of their rooftops and gardens is for me the moment to breathe fresh air and think about how lucky you are to be there at that precise moment enjoying the 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 performances such as puppet theaters.
13. Taste the Roman gastronomy
In every country the 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 ice cream is already a trip well spent, so don't forget: eat.
Don't do it in a hurry or in the street while waiting in line to enter a monument; sit in a restaurant and spend two hours eating, tasting each dish, asking the chef for his specialties and, if you have time, join a gastronomic tour to discover Rome's best pizzas and excellent pastas.
Of course, if you want to go out on your own to find a good place to eat, I leave you a list of my favorite places to eat and dine in Rome so that you can try some of them and above all, to avoid falling into the traps that (sometimes) the city has prepared for tourists.
14. Have an aperitif in Trastevere
A city is also its neighborhoods and without a doubt Trastevere is one of the most charming neighborhoods of Rome (for me it is the best, but it is said that there is nothing written about tastes...). Stroll through its cobblestone streets adorned with ivy, visit its peculiar gift stores, dine in one of its restaurants, sit down for an ice cream in its squares and discover some of the best places to have an aperitif in Rome.
Trastevere is a different Rome and many say the most authentic of all. The best way to get to know all it has to offer is to take a guided tour of Trastevere. Also take note of the best places to eat in Trastevere and all that the Trastevere neighborhood has to offer when night falls.
15. Tour Rome by night
When we go on a trip, many times we get up early to make the time last; we spend the whole day from visit to visit and when the evening falls we are exhausted and we just want to go back to the hotel to rest before facing the next marathon day of sightseeing.
Don't be tempted. Reserve 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 the 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, without a doubt, will give you a different feeling.
Be careful not to confuse the Roman Catacombs with a visit to the Vatican Catacombs. They are two different things. If either of these two visits leave you wanting more I invite you to check out this article on the Catacombs of St. Callixtus and the Catacombs of the Capuchins.
17. Explore other Italian sites of dreams
Rome has a lot to offer the traveler, but it also has a privileged position within the 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 breathe a medieval and classical air that enchants all visitors. Sound good? I tell you more in this article about the best tours to Florence from Rome and if you prefer to go on your own check out the different ways to get from Rome to Florence.
Pompeii and Naples
South of Rome, closer to Naples and at the foot of Vesuvius is the city that was once buried by the lava of its neighboring volcano and is preserved in such a special way that it attracts millions of visitors every year. If you want to take advantage of your trip to Rome to visit Naples or Pompeii and visit them all in one day, 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. I'll tell you about my favorite getaways here: 4 Places to Visit near Rome.
There are even day trips that will allow you to get to know these cities and other points of interest near Rome that will complete your travel experience in the eternal city. If you are still not sure which destination to choose, here I help you by making a list of the most popular ones: The 9 best excursions from Rome And three lesser-known recommendations: the Baths of Caracalla, a visit to Ostia Antica and excursions to Tivoli and Hadrian's Villa 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 Rome. If you think it is magnificent from the outside, inside you will like it even more: it is super 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, I leave you here linked the article on how and why to visit the Castel Sant'Angelo.
19. Reach into the Mouth of Truth
For those who have not seen 'Roman Holiday': the Bocca della Verità is a marble mask located in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (near the Circus Maximus) whose legend says that it bit the hand of the one who lied. It may seem a bit touristy to have your picture taken with your hand inside this mask, but the worldwide fame of this ritual is such that it could not be left out of the list of things to do in Rome.
20. Shop for local products at the Campo de Fiori open air market
A new opportunity to get to know another face 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. Peek through the keyhole of the Orange Garden
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'm sure you'll understand why. At first, this was a big secret in Rome, but more and more visitors are coming to these gardens to look for the famous lock 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 little by little on your own if you want to end up falling in love with Rome. I help you a little and I leave you a list of what are, for me, the best kept secret places in Rome.
22. Tour Rome by tourist bus
Put yourself in situation: 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 your favorite places. The problem is that in Rome it is so difficult to choose that you would like to see it all at a glance, do the whole trip again...
Maybe the latter you can't do (although you can always come back, remember), but the last look is possible to make it more global aboard one of the air-conditioned Rome sightseeing buses that will tour the main points of the city either for you to "say goodbye" to them or to have an appetizer of everything you are going to see in the coming days after your arrival in Rome.
It is also a good way to save on transportation, as it will help you get from one place to another without having to pay a public transportation ticket for each trip.
Use the Rome metro
Wherever your hotel is 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 excavating 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. It will do you good to follow this guide to Rome's subway, keep it handy!
Other ways to get around Rome
Ah! And speaking of saving money, if you allow me another tip to save time and money on your arrival at the airport in Rome, I recommend that you consider the option of booking in advance a transfer between the airport and the center of Rome. In addition, I tell you all the possibilities that exist to reach your hotel in Rome whether you arrive at Ciampino or Fiumicino.
If you are taking a Mediterranean cruise and disembark at the port of Civitavecchia to set course for Rome, the fastest and most convenient option to reach the Italian capital is to book a private or shared transfer. I tell you how in the article Transfers between the Port of Civitavecchia and Rome in Rome!
23. Go out in search of the most beautiful churches in the city
When you start to imagine a trip to Rome for the first time, you may fall into the error of thinking that in Rome "there are only churches". And it is true that there are 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.
That's why (and because, man, it's Rome, you're going to have to see some church) I have compiled a list of the most beautiful churches in Rome and another with the major basilicas of Rome (I'll tell you that one of my favorites is the Basilica of St. John Lateran ). So quick and easy: I select the best ones for you so you can play it safe and tell you why they are worth a visit. You're welcome!
24. Study the nooks and crannies of the Jewish Quarter and Tiber Island
If there is a place that conveys tranquility, tradition and a lot of 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 an ice cream or taste a typical sweet in their local bakeries.
Also take the opportunity to cross the bridge to the Tiber Island, a beautiful spot to watch the sunset after a long day of walking in the most beautiful city in the world.
25. Get organized (even if only a little) before you arrive
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 thinking about what to do the next day is a shame. For this reason, I propose you some keys to organize your trip to Rome:
Choose your travel dates wisely
Are you traveling to Rome in winter, would you prefer to visit Rome in autumn, or are you planning to discover the Eternal City in spring? Any date is good to make this trip, but depending on when you do it the city will have to offer you some things or others, so take note of what is the best time to travel to Rome and what to see and do month by month with this list:
- What to see in Rome in January
- What to see in Rome in February
- What to see in Rome in March
- What to see in Rome in April
- What to see in Rome in May
- What to see in Rome in June
- What to see in Rome in July
- What to see in Rome in August
- What to see in Rome in September
- What to see in Rome in October
- What to see in Rome in November
- What to see in Rome in December
Make an itinerary by days
Boring, right? Well, 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 many days your trip will last. For example:
What if you are traveling with your family?
Well, I'm going to help you too. Here is an article on what to see and do in Rome with children where you can find out what to do to enjoy the city if you are traveling with the little ones of the house.
And 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, the decorated streets and the Christmas markets in Rome will compensate for the low temperatures. Don't miss out on everything you can do in Rome at Christmas.