Rome was first called the Eternal City in the first century BC by the poet Tibullus and the nickname has stuck around ever since. Today, this city lives up to its age old title because one could easily spend an eternity in Rome and still not have seen everything this magnificent city has to offer! For this reason, we decided to put together this guide to the best things to do in Rome so that you are ready to make the most out of your trip, no matter how long or short you decide to stay.
Can’t wait to start planning your very own Roman holiday? As you read on, we will first uncover Rome’s most iconic monuments and the must-sees of Vatican City. Next, we will explore the many dazzling piazzas, and mesmerizing fountains along with the city’s top museums, churches, catacombs, and parks. Finally, you’ll learn all about the traditional Roman cuisine that you’ll surely want to try along the way!
Go Sightseeing to Discover Rome’s Most Iconic Monuments
You’ll be astounded by the number of important monuments this city has to offer!
From ancient ruins and historical basilicas, to victory columns and arches, Rome is overflowing with monuments just waiting to be discovered. The most famous monument that makes its way across nearly every souvenir from the city is the Colosseum, the massive amphitheater that once housed the gladiatorial games nearly 2,000 years ago. Today, you are able to explore all of the tiers of the Colosseum including the arena floor and even see the mechanisms and cages that remain underground to this day.
Right next door to the Colosseum, you’ll find the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, two important archaeological sites turned tourist attractions that house ruins from the heart of ancient Roman society. To get the best understanding of these amazing monuments, we recommend you join one of our skip the line Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum tours. Or for a completely unique experience, uncover the Colosseum at night on our Colosseum Under the Moon Night Tour!
Another breathtaking monument located in Rome’s historic city center is the Pantheon. This nearly 2,000 year old building was once a temple dedicated to all gods, but was later converted into a Catholic church that still functions today. Once you enter inside for free, you’ll find a massive unreinforced concrete dome complete with an opening in its center called the oculus. Besides being a beautiful sight to see, the Pantheon also contains the graves of many important historical figures such as Raphael, the great Renaissance painter, and Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy.
Check Even More Monuments Off Your Must-See List
Just when you thought you’d seen it all, Rome surprises you with more treasures to observe!
You can’t leave Rome without stopping by the iconic Spanish Steps! This one of a kind staircase was completed in 1725 by the architect Francesco de Sanctis. Though the church at the top known as Trinità dei Monti is owned by the French, the staircase gets its name for the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See which is located in the square below. Be warned however, because sitting on the famous steps is now prohibited so make sure you are standing up for your picture with this beautiful monument or else you could risk a fine!
When traveling to Italy, most tourists don’t realize that Rome has its very own castle in the heart of its city center! Located just down the road from St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll find Castel Sant’Angelo. Throughout its history, this enormous building served various functions such as being the mausoleum for ancient Roman emperors, a papal fortress, and even a prison. Now, Castel Sant’Angelo serves as a museum that boasts fabulous views of the city from the top. This fascinating monument also has a glorious bridge leading up to it called the Bridge of Angels, complete with several beautiful sculptures designed by the famous Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The crazy thing is that the monuments mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg! Other noteworthy monuments to visit include the giant Victor Emmanuel II Monument, the Theater of Marcellus, Circus Maximus, the Baths of Dicoletian, Trajan’s Forum, the Column of Marcus Aurelius, the Mouth of Truth, the Aventine Keyhole, and the Egyptian style Pyramid of Cestius. There are many more where that came from too! In Rome, there is something new to be discovered around every corner- so be sure to keep your eyes peeled as you wander through the city!
Venture to Vatican City, the World’s Smallest Country
Viewing Bernini’s towering bronze Baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica will leave you breathless!
Thankfully, you don’t have to travel too far from Rome to find the smallest country in the world, because Vatican City is located just steps away from the city center. Vatican City is most famous for being the heart of Catholicism and the residence of the Pope who holds a public mass each Wednesday. This country also has its very own flag, train station, passports, and post office! Two must-see sights within Vatican City are St. Peter’s Basilica and the incredible Vatican Museums.
Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll find amazing works of art such as Michelangelo Buonarroti’s famous Pietà sculpture and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s intricate Baldachin which stands tall above the grave of St. Peter himself. Throughout the basilica you’ll also find important religious relics and even an underground section open to the public that contains the tombs of popes from long ago. Entering the basilica is completely free, but for a small fee you can also climb up the large dome in the center of the basilica and find unprecedented panoramic views of Vatican City and Rome!
Each year, millions of visitors head to the Vatican Museums to take in the breathtaking masterpieces inside. Among the most treasured works that adorn the beautiful rooms of the museums are Raphael’s School of Athens, the Apollo Belvedere, and the iconic sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons which started the entire museum collection. Of course, a visit to the Vatican Museums wouldn’t be complete without seeing Michelangelo’s jaw dropping ceiling and Last Judgement Fresco in the Sistine Chapel.
It would take days, if not weeks, to observe all that the Vatican has to offer, so the best way to see it all is with an expert guide by your side. On our Guided Tours of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica, you will skip the terribly long lines and jump straight to the must-see highlights!
Throw a Coin into One of Rome’s Stunning Fountains
Did you know that all of the coins thrown into the Trevi Fountain are donated to charity?
Visiting Rome’s plentiful fountains feels as if you are traversing through a glamorous movie set! It is impossible to count the hundreds of fountains that fill the city streets, but there are a few fountains that deserve very noteworthy mentions. First off, the Trevi Fountain. This larger than life size work of art was completed in 1762 by the artist Nicola Salvi and has been a fan favorite ever since. Rumor has it that if you throw a coin in, you will eventually make your way back to Rome! One of the best ways to see all of the magical fountains like this in Rome is on a Walking Tour, but you can also opt to see them on your own.
Another fountain that is definitely worth a visit on your trip to Rome is located in Piazza Navona. The Fountain of the Four Rivers was designed by Borromini in the mid 17th century and personifies the four rivers through which papal authority has spread throughout the world. Besides being incredibly detailed, this intricate fountain serves as an impressive base for the ancient Egyptian obelisk on top. There are two other fountains in the piazza as well that may not get as much attention, but are none the less beautiful to observe!
Feel Like a Local in Rome’s Bustling Squares
Piazzas are the perfect place to dine or enjoy and aperitif outdoors in a setting that is picture-perfect
Now onto the charming squares, also known as piazzas, of Rome! We will start with Piazza Navona, the same location of the previously mentioned Fountain of the Four Rivers. Within this square that was once the location of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, you will find the gorgeous Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone along with tons of adorable restaurants and shops nearby. Or, if you happen to be in Rome during the holidays, Piazza Navona turns into a lively Christmas market complete with a carousel, carnival style games, and specialty vendors.
Another one of my favorite squares in Rome is Piazza del Popolo. The name of this huge piazza literally translates to “people’s square” and once served as a main entry point into the city for pilgrims long ago. Here, you’ll find two Baroque twin churches, a massive obelisk in its center, and a grand entryway into the park known as Villa Borghese. From the lookout point at the top of the stairs in the park, you’ll find unbeatable views of Rome and the piazza below!
Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Piazza di Spagna which is located at the base of the Spanish Steps. Here, you’ll find great cafes, luxurious shopping, and the Barcaccia Fountain, of which you can still drink water out of today! Other honorable mentions include Trastevere’s Piazza Trilussa and Piazza di Santa Maria which serve as central hubs for the Best Nightlife in Rome and are surrounded by great places to eat, drink, and have fun during a night out on the town.
See Masterpieces Up Close in Rome’s World Renowned Museums
When it comes to art, the city of Rome doesn’t mess around!
Rome is home to some of the best museums in the world so we definitely recommend that you make your way to at least a few during your stay. Besides the Vatican Museums, one of our favorite spots is the Borghese Gallery, a private art collection / villa converted into a museum which contains priceless art by Bernini, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Frederico Barocci, and many other praised artists. This stunning villa is decked out from floor to ceiling with incredible artworks to look at so it is no wonder why tickets are known to sell out far in advance. So, if you plan to visit this gallery make sure to reserve your tickets early or rather join us on our Borghese Gallery Masterpieces Tour.
For a mixture of art styles ranging from antiquity, to Renaissance, Baroque, and beyond, the Capitoline Museum, National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Barberini, and Museum at Castel Sant’Angelo have a lot to offer. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of these fantastic museums in Rome as they all offer their own unique pieces and methods of telling the history of Italian art!
If you prefer art that was created a little closer to the times we live in today, don’t fret, because Rome has got you covered as well! Some of the best museums include the MAXXI, MACRO, and the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art. For more information, check out our blog post on Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome. Temporary exhibitions are also known to frequent Rome so check the schedules beforehand to see if there is one you’d like to attend during your stay!
Admire the Ornate Decorations Within Rome’s Churches
If you don’t want to pay to see magnificent works of art, all you have to do is walk through the doors of one of Rome’s many churches!
Rome has over 900 churches within the city boundaries- and most of them are pretty incredible. While it may be impossible to visit them all, you’ll surely have time to stop by a few to stand in awe at the beauty inside. In fact, there are many churches that feature master artists in Rome and the best part is that they are completely free to enter!
A good starting point on your journey through Rome’s churches is with the Four Major Papal Basilicas: St. John the Lateran, St. Peter’s, Santa Maria Maggiore, and St. Paul Outside the Walls. These four churches are some of the biggest and oldest in all of Italy. Looking for more show stoppers? The church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius contains an optical illusion dome painted by Andrea Pozzo while the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs is built on top of the ruins of the ancient Baths of Diocletian!
Since there are so many churches in Rome, it is easy to walk right by without realizing all of the beauty that lies inside. Some of my favorite churches in the city are Santa Maria in Vallicella and the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere which are completely decked out with gorgeous artworks and ornate marble. If you are a huge fan of Caravaggio, the talented yet troubled Baroque painter, you are in luck as well because some of his most famous paintings remain on display in their original locations within the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo and St. Louis of the French in the city center of Rome!
There are also plenty of smaller churches that deserve just as much hype. One of the most underrated in my opinion is San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere that features a stunning sculpture of Blessed Ludovica in Ecstasy designed by Bernini in the back chapel left of the altar. Similarly, the Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria is home to another mesmerizing sculpture by Bernini depicting St.Teresa in Ecstasy. As I said, there are over 900 churches in Rome so if you walk by one and have some time to spare, peak your head in- you won’t regret it!
See the Darker Side of Rome: Crypts & Catacombs
Beneath the surface of Rome, you’ll find unusual crypts and catacombs that serve as the resting place for millions of souls who lived long ago
Going underground into Rome’s dark Crypts and Catacombs may not be for everyone, but if you are looking for something unique to do in the Eternal City, this is it. Rome has around forty catacombs in total, but it is assumed that there are many more out there just waiting to be discovered. Of the crypts and catacombs ones open to the public today, there are at least a few that are bound to spark your curiosity.
Underneath the seemingly ordinary church of Santa Maria della Concezione, you’ll find the bizarre Capuchin Monk Bone Crypt. Hundreds of years ago, friars from the Capuchin order arranged the skeletal remains of their brethren into geometric patterns and fantastical shapes including a chandelier made out of vertebrae. While it may send shivers down your spine, learning this history behind the odd arrangement may just lead you to think of it more as a piece of art. Within the Catacombs of St. Callixtus however, you’ll find a slightly different story. Here, early Christians who were persecuted for their beliefs were forced to bury their dead just outside of the city walls making this twisting series of underground catacombs the final resting place for nearly 500,000 people.
Can’t wait to explore the darker side of Rome? On our Rome Underground Secrets Tour an expert guide will navigate you through the main crypts and catacombs of the city and explain the fascinating secrets behind them along the way.
Take a Stroll Through One of Rome’s Parks or Villas
Thankfully, Rome is full of beautiful parks such as the Borghese gardens that make for the perfect place to relax and unwind in nature
Want an escape from busy city life? Opt to take a trip to one of Rome’s beautiful parks or villas! One of my favorite places to escape the daily chaos is at Villa Borghese. This massive heart-shaped park within the city center is full of trees, antique sculptures, monuments, and even an old fashioned clock on an island floating in water. For a fun day out, you can pay a small fee to rent a rowboat on a lake which features an ancient looking temple at its center or rent a bike to explore every part of the park. If you head to Galleria Borghese, located in the far edge of the park, you can also take a walk through the trimmed hedges of the villa’s backyard for free!
Another stunning park full of nature is Villa Pamphili. While it is less popular with tourists, this huge park is full of amazing walking trails, tall trees, and green fields that become full of flowers during spring. Plus, there is a massive villa at its center that also serves as an impressive art gallery! If it’s a nice day, you can even pack a picnic and eat lunch on the grass. Sounds like a perfect afternoon, am I right?
Taste the Traditional Roman Cuisine
A trip to Italy would not be complete without having a slice of pizza… or 10!
With so many delicious dishes to try, it is no wonder why Roman cuisine is enjoyed world wide! For starters, also known as “antipasti” in Italian, you have many options to choose from. For one, supplì is an Italian street food consisting of a crispy fried outer layer stuffed with mozzarella, tomato, and rice. This tasty tradition makes for the perfect on-the-go snack! Another delightful appetizer served in the charming Jewish Ghetto of Rome is the tender yet crispy Jewish-style fried artichoke which is considered to be one of the Best Jewish Foods in Rome. If you are hungry for more, you’ll also love ordering a tagliere board complete with a selection of fresh meats and cheeses from the local region to taste. Yum!
Now for the main course! You surely can’t go wrong with pizza, but there are a few typical Roman pasta dishes you should order if you get the chance as well. First up, cacio e pepe. The sauce for this pasta dish is made with pecorino cheese, black pepper, and… that’s pretty much it. Don’t let the simplicity fool you however, this dish is extremely tasty! Another Roman favorite that will be sure to please your appetite is carbonara which is made with egg, pecorino cheese, and guanciale (pork cheek.) Last on your must-try list is amatriciana, a delicious pasta dish that features tomato, guanciale, and pecorino cheese as its main ingredients.
Getting hungry yet? Since there are so many scrumptious dishes to try in Rome, a great way to make sure you taste it all is by coming along for our Tastes of Rome Food Tour! While you discover picturesque areas of Rome such as the Jewish Ghetto, Campo de’ Fiori, and Trastevere, you’ll stop along the way at authentic eateries to try the best cuisine Rome has to offer. Besides the dishes mentioned above, this tour also includes wine, gelato, and much more! Also stay tuned for our new Italian cooking class coming soon to our website!
See More of Rome & Italy On a Tour With Us!
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Thanks so much for reading our travel guide to the top things to do in Rome, Italy! Did you know that we offer a variety of top rated tours and luxury experiences in many gorgeous regions and cities across Italy? For more information or to arrange a tour, check out What a Life Tours or contact us by phone +39 06 88975757/+39 334 7273299 (WhatsApp), or email at [email protected]!