In a city like Rome, where history has been written and rewritten, it is easy to feel daunted by the abundance of options she has to offer her visitors. Do not fret though, a list of the top ten destinations in the Eternal City has been made just for you! The following is a list of places Rome is known worldwide for; however, while on route to these places, make time in your schedule to see the little things that make Rome so magical.
Stop number 1 on our list is most certainly the Vatican. A visit to Rome wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this monumentally historical place.
Technically, you’ll be making a trip to another country seeing as Vatican City, also known as the Holy See, is a country of its own. It’s the worlds smallest country, fully equipped with its own school, grocery stores, law enforcement and government – all within the walls of the Eternal City. As you walk into the doors of the Vatican museums, you become immediately aware of the importance of the site you are in. Walking the halls where countless faces who have had a helping hand in shaping our world, from world leaders, philosophers, authors, artists to celebrities have walked, holds a remarkably humbling experience. The impressive concourses are lined with exquisite marble sculptures and impressive art frescos. It all plays in helping your eyes adjust to the beauty you’re about to witness, the Sistine Chapel, where you can feast your eyes upon Michelangelo’s masterful frescos of the “Last Judgement” and his Sistine Chapel ceiling masterpiece.
The Colosseum is a must visit when in Rome! Today, it stands as one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, and with good reason. Its history is immense and impressive. It was built in 80 AD out of tuff, travertine, and concrete and to this day it remains to be the largest amphitheatre ever built.
Like anything that has survived centuries of existence, the Colosseum has gone through many changes throughout its lifetime. From a battlefield between gladiators and exotic animals to a place where Christians were once martyred. Today, it is considered to be a Holy place, pronounced by the Holy See, and is where the Pope commences the Via Crucis, Scriptural Way of the Cross, on Good Friday.
How could the Pantheon not enter this list?! The historical center of Rome can at times resemble a labyrinth of cobblestone roads and one of the gems nestled inside is this magnificent, architectural feat: the Pantheon. Besides being an impressive structure with a captivating oculus in the center of its enormous unsupported dome ceiling, the Pantheon’s history is what strikes me the most.
The grey granite columns you see in exterior of the building have made quite the journey to reach their destination. They stem from Egypt, where they were dragged for more than 62 miles to the Nile river, where they then floated by barge and then transferred to vessels across the Mediterranean Sea where they would evenutally reach the Roman port of Ostia. Once they reached the port they were then dragged once more to the Tiber river, on which they floated until they reached the city and were finally taken to their present location in Piazza della Rotonda.
Castle Sant’Angelo is one of those places that make Rome, Rome. It’s rare that the towering, cylindrical castle is filled with tourists, which makes it a great place to escape the crowds outside and roam the fortress like building. Once inside you’ll learn of its rich history, which began when Emperor Hadrian had the castle commissioned as a mausoleum for his family and himself, to this day the ashes of his first adopted son, his wife, Sabina, and his own ashes are held here, however, the castle is mainly used as a museum today.
Fun fact: the castle was once a prison and even an escape place for the Pope!
The Trevi Fountain
It would be impossible to have a list like this without including the most famous fountain in the entire world. The Trevi fountain has existed since 1762 and remains a timeless fixture in Rome’s history. Once at the Trevi you’ll see people with their backs to the fountain, throwing coins in over their right shoulders. Legend has it that if you do this your wish of returning to the Eternal City will be granted. Along with ensuring your return to the city, you’ll be supporting a local charity, to which the coins collected from the fountain go, helping the poor and homeless of the city.
Pro trip: Go in the very early hours of the morning. Not only will you have the fountain to yourself, but you’ll also experience an otherworldly feeling in that part of town when the streets are bare and barely lit.
Piazza Navona is plausibly the most famous piazza in Rome. It’s long, rectangular shaped open space was once used as a stadium during the 1st Century and even though today it holds a different use, its beauty is unquestionable. There are three impressive fountains and an obelisk in the square. Do yourself a favor and look into the story of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiume, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. You’ll have a laugh and also be reminded that pettiness has existed for forever.
The Spanish Steps
Scalina Spagna, otherwise known as the Spanish Steps, became famous worldwide thanks to Audrey Hepburn sitting on them in the blockbuster film “Roman Holiday.” The steps were built in order to connect the Trinita dei Monti church to the Spanish piazza below, but serve as a great place to enjoy a gelato and people watch, which in Rome can be quite the entertaining activity!
The Orange Gardens
Take a walk up Aventine Hill and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most beautiful gardens this city has to offer. The enclosed space is filled with orange trees, hence the gardens name, and its walkways are lined with mesmerizing umbrella pine trees that lead to one of the best views of the Eternal City. Its a great place to watch the sunset with friends and a bottle of wine. Once you’re up there, walk over to the magical “Knights of Malta” keyhole. Hopefully you won’t have to wait in line to take in the spectacularly unique view of St. Peter’s dome in the distance and wonder in awe of the Ancient Romans who designed for a view like that to align.
The Roman Forum
Being able to step into history is a rare gift, but that’s exactly what happens when you walk through the Roman Forum. The Forum consists of ancient government buildings, shops, temples, triumphal arches, squares and much, much more. Being in those surroundings allows you to truly imagine what life was like for Augustus, Caesar and Ancient Romans in general. The details that are still visible make all the difference in transporting you back in time, the place has a way of making a person feel so small in comparison to its long history – a truly unforgettable experience!
The Jewish Ghetto
Do yourself a favor and spend some time in the oldest Jewish community in all of Europe: Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. The neighborhood has such a powerful history that is literally written all over its cobblestone streets. While walking in the neighborhood, pay attention to the area in front of people’s doors, you’ll often see a brass plate with a name, date, and the name of the concentration camp they died in. The brass plates were placed to commemorate the people who once lived in the ghetto and sadly never came back. Along with little details such as these brass plates, you’ll also be able to see the famous turtle fountain, the Porticus Octaviae, Teatro Marcello and the Great Synagogue of Rome.
They say that if you lived in Rome your entire life, you still wouldn’t have enough time to see everything the city has to offer. One of the best things about Rome is that it feels like an open museum, so you’re bound to all that you’ve planned for and much more!
Update: More Places to Visit
The Vatican and Colosseum are usually at the top of most visitor lists of places to visit in Rome, however, there is so much else to see and do in the eternal city. If you only have a limited amount of time in the city, here is a top 10 list of places that are also well worth a visit. If you can’t get around to them all, you’ll have another reason to return to Rome.
1) Go below the Trevi Fountain
Visit ‘La Citta dell’Acqua” (The City of Water) which is an archaeological site just a few meters south of the Trevi Fountain, where you can go below the streets of Rome and see a section of the Aqueduct “Vergine” that connects to the Trevi Fountain.
2) Take a sneak peek through a secret keyhole
Located on the Aventine Hill, when you look through this cleverly designed keyhole, you will enjoy a spectacular view through a garden that looks directly out at the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. It’s worth checking out during the day and at night as the dome looks fantastic lit up.
3) Explore the movie sets of your favorite films
Did you know that many major Hollywood blockbusters are filmed in the Eternal City? Cleopatra, Ben Hur, Oceans Twelve, Gangs of New York, Zoolander 2… just to name a few. Rome’s most famous Studio ‘CineCitta’ has opened its doors to the public and you can take a tour of the sets. It is located directly on the Metro A line so it makes it easy to reach.
4) Take a stroll down one of the world’s oldest roads
As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome and this one really does! The Appian way dates back to 312BC and is one of the most historic roads in history. Many parts of the original road still exist. We recommend hiring a bike to make the most of it.
5) Send a postcard from the Vatican
Besides the fact that the ‘Poste Vatcicane’ is Swiss run, it tends to be a lot more efficient than the Roman postal service and is well worth going there just for the cool stamps and postmark.
6) Explore the ruins under Piazza Navona
Many people are unaware that Rome’s most famous piazza takes it shape from the Stadio di Domiziano that stood there over 2000 years ago. The 30,000 seated stadium was used for sporting events and even gladiator fights at one stage. The ruins below can be accessed from the outside of the piazza on the north end and are astonishingly well preserved.
7) See where Julius Caesar was murdered
Situated in the heart of the city center, Largo di Torre Argentina is now home to the city’s most famous cat sanctuary and many people walk by without realizing it’s historical significance. This is the location where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15th 44 BC.
8) Explore a Secret Passage
Remember the movie ‘Angels and Demons’? Dan Brown’s protagonist Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, ran through this area and now you can too. The Passetto di Borgo, which connects the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo allowed popes to escape from the Vatican to the castle and was built in the 13th century.
9) Take a train to the abandoned town of Ostia Antica
If you don’t have time to visit Pompeii, this is the next best thing. Although it was not destroyed by a Volcano, they do not know why it was abandoned. Located just 30 minutes by train from Piramide Metro B, this historic port town is so easy to access and a great day out. The best part is, there are hardly any tourists and is one of Rome’s better-kept secrets.
10) Enjoy a drink at a secret bar
If you want to avoid the tourist traps, then there is no better place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing, than to enjoy a drink at Rome’s ‘Speak Easy’ bar the ‘Jerry Thomas Project’. They serve up some of the city’s best cocktails in a secret location. Be sure to check out their website for the latest clues on how to enter.
What a Life Tours have provided extraordinary guided tours of Rome since 2009. They are the number 1 rated Vatican tours agency on Trip Advisor since 2011 and were recently awarded ‘Historical Tour of the Year 2019’ by the prestigious travel journal Luxury Travel Guide for their Colosseum Private tour. Find out more about their award-winning Rome tours.