Rome, the eternal city, is one of the world’s most iconic travel destinations. With its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture, there is no shortage of things to see and do in this ancient city. From marveling at world-renowned landmarks like the Colosseum and Vatican City, to indulging in delicious Italian cuisine and shopping in designer boutiques, Rome offers something for everyone. In this guide, we’ll explore the best things to do in Rome, including must-visit attractions, hidden gems, and insider tips to help you make the most of your time in this unforgettable city.
The most famous attraction in Rome is arguably the Roman Colosseum. The iconic amphitheater is the largest ever built, inaugurated in 80 AD and used for battle re-enactments, brutal fights between man and beast, and more, with the last recorded event taking place here in 523 AD. Since that time, the Colosseum suffered damage from earthquakes, lootings and bombings during the Second World War, but it’s still managed to stand the test of time as the world’s largest standing amphitheater, seating as many as 50,000 spectators. A masterpiece of engineering, the freestanding structure is made of stone and concrete and three of its stories are encircled by arches framed on the exterior by Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. The underground level served as the backstage for all gladiator fights, public executions and wild animal hunts. To avoid a long wait in line, be sure to buy your tickets online well in advance.
One of Rome’s most famous squares, in 89 AD Piazza Navona was the site of sporting events at Domitan’s Stadium, which it sits over, hence the reason for its long oval shape. It’s possible to explore the ancient stadium beneath the square by heading underground through the entrance at Via di Tor Sanguigna 3. The square is best known today for its beautiful baroque fountains, with Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers the most famous. It includes four statues, each of which represents a river from different continents. The piazza also hosts the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone, its landmark church, and you’ll also see Palazzo Pamphilj, which is now home to the Brazilian Embassy sitting at the southern end. Most come today to relax while watching the street artists and a variety of performers, with the piazza busy at all hours of the day and night.
Not far from the Colosseum, Palatine is the most famous of the Seven Hills of Rome and its mythical birthplace. Legend says that it was founded in 753 BC by Romulus. Towering over the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus, the ruins of its ancient palace are still visible from a distance. They were once home to temples and emperors, with upper-class Roman citizens settling here and building their sumptuous structures. There are hundreds of ruins of imposing buildings, with highlights like the 1st-century BC Domus Flavia and House of Livia, the latter being one of the most well-preserved. The House of Augustus was built as the private residence of Octavian Augustus with colorful frescoes decorating the walls. One can also view mosaics, sculptures, frescoes and other objects from the hill at the Palatine Museum. Don’t miss the Farnese Gardens which were one of the first botanical gardens created in Europe.
The ruins extending from the Colosseum include the Roman Forum which was the hub of life in ancient Rome, playing host to celebrations, festivals, rituals and funerals. The site was originally a marshy burial ground that was first developed in the 7th century BC, ultimately becoming the political, social and commercial center of the Roman Empire. It was expanded multiple times by Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Trajan and Domitian. There were many grand temples, bustling public squares, offices and law courts although few have been well preserved, with the best in the northwest area. That includes the Arch of Saptami Severus and Curia, the original seat of the Roman Senate. Toward the end of the Forum near the Colosseum, you’ll see the Temple of Caesar which is where Julius Caesar was cremated in 44 BC. When you step inside the vast archaeological site, it’s easy to imagine the ancient Romans strolling the cobbled streets.
A group of archaeological and art museums in Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, the Capitoline Museums are the oldest public museums in the world, founded in 1471. Among the best you’ll find in Rome, they sit within multiple buildings, including the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo, linked by the underground Galleria Lapidaria, and the Palazzo Senatorio. The remarkable collection includes Old Master paintings, classical sculptures and ancient frescoes. It started with the collection of ancient bronze statues donated by Pope Sixtus IV and over the centuries it grew significantly. In 1734, the museums were opened to the public by Pope Clement XII. In Palazzo dei Conservatori, you’ll see a courtyard with giant marble body parts scattered about that were originally part of a massive statue of Constantine in the Roman Forum. Other highlights include Bernini’s Bust of Medusa and the giant statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The soaring white Victor Emmanuel Monument looms over Piazza Venezia, dominating the city skyline. The large national monument, which looks a bit like a wedding cake due to its wide stairways, was built between 1885 and 1935 to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. It offers exceptional views from the top which can be reached via a panoramic elevator. The monument’s focal point is the statue of a horseman made to represent Victor Emmanuel II. It also includes the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), which is where the tomb of an unknown soldier killed in World War II is located. The soldier became a symbol for all of Italy’s unknown fallen soldiers. In addition to climbing the terraces and taking in the view from the top, visitors can explore the interior where exhibitions are often hosted and learn more about its history at the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento.
A large complex of ruins located on the Via dei Fori Imperiali at the opposite end of the Colosseum, Trajan’s Market was a focal point of the community, where people gathered, government matters were handled and goods were bartered. It’s one of the most well-preserved ancient sites in Rome and includes a rare example of a surviving Roman high-rise building. As you explore the grounds of the complex, it’s easy to envision the many vendors and shops here some 2,000 years ago. At the Imperial Forum Museum, you can learn more about the five imperial forums and view a wealth of archaeological artifacts. You’ll emerge onto one of the museum’s ancient streets revealing a well-preserved snapshot of a Roman road. The building itself is a highlight, centered on a huge Great Hall providing a good glimpse of the artistry and opulence of ancient Roman architects. At the top, there are magnificent views overlooking the forums.
The Pantheon is the most magnificent ruin in Rome, other than the Colosseum. Originally built in 27 BC, rebuilt following fire damage between 118 and 128 AD, it’s the burial place for Rome’s kings and other prominent figures. It’s the most well-preserved building from ancient Rome and includes the largest brick dome in the history of architecture. Its oculus is open to the sky allowing sunlight to filter in, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle. While it was originally a temple dedicated to all gods in Roman mythology, after the Romans abandoned the pagan gods, it was consecrated as a Christian church, becoming the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres in 608, around the time an altar was added. It also took on the role as the designated tomb for some of Rome’s elite and most famous artists following the Renaissance. The tombs of artist Raphael and kings Vittorio Emanuel II and Umberto I are both here.
The 16th-century baroque Church of St. Louis of the French is just a two-minute walk from Piazza Navona, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to St. Denis the Areopagite and St. Louis IX, king of France. It showcases some incredible works of art, with the crown jewel St Matthew cycle, a trio of Caravaggio masterpieces that are among the baroque’s artist’s few surviving works that can be viewed in their original location. Completed in 1602, they include the Calling of St Matthew, the Martyrdom of St Matthew and the Inspiration of St Matthew. They caused considerable consternation among the clergy of San Luigi, who believed the dramatically realistic approach was scandalously disrespectful. There are other important works on display here as well, with one of the most notable being the cycle of frescoes by Domenichino that illustrate episodes from the life of the patron saint of music and musicians, St Cecilia.
Campo de’ Fiori, translates to Field of Flowers, a name dating back to the Middle Ages when the site was a meadow left undeveloped for centuries due to its proximity to the Tiber River, which was prone to flooding. There were a few buildings constructed here during that time, including Palazzo Orsini, Palazzo della Cancelleria and Palazzo Farnese which was originally the Church of Santa Brigida. In 1456, the area was developed by Pope Callistus III and it soon became a hub for trade, commerce and socializing with many artisan workshops and restaurants. Today it’s one of the main squares in Rome, lively day and night. By day, it hosts a colorful fruit and vegetable market that takes over the cobbled piazza every morning. Many head here for lunch and by evening the terraces are packed with people with the square transformed into a popular drinking scene for young locals.
Largo di Torre Argentina serves as a busy transport hub in the heart of Rome, but it also has a rich history. Most of the countless visitors walking through aren’t aware of its tragic past, with the Curia of Pompey, the sunken area at the center, the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC by Brutus and his co-conspirators. The remains of four Republican-era temples and part of Pompey’s Theatre dating as far back as the 3rd century BC can be seen here as well, rising like an apparition among modern surroundings. They were discovered when part of Rome was reconstructed after Italian unification. In 1927 during demolition work, the huge head and arms of a marble statue were found. Further archaeological investigation showed that it was a holy area. While humans aren’t allowed here, you’ll see the Cat Sanctuary which provides a home for many of the city’s stray cat population.
Sweeping up from Piazza di Spagna is the most famous staircase in Rome: the Spanish Steps. Built in baroque style in an elegant series of ramps with 138 steps, it’s one of the longest and widest staircases in Europe. Nearly every visitor finds themselves passing through the square and enjoying a break on one of the steps but by climbing to the top you’ll enjoy a spectacular view of the Centro Storico (historic center), including the ornate Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum from the landmark church, Trinità dei Monti. Afterward, you might take a seat somewhere in the middle for some great people watching, with endless locals and visitors weaving in and out of the upscale boutiques, shops and restaurants along Via dei Condotti, the Fifth Avenue of Rome. Just in front of the Spanish Steps is the square’s fountain, Barcaccia, which depicts a sunken ship.
Piazza del Popolo is an elegant and monumental square located at what was once the main northern entrance to Rome, at the spot where Via del Corso, Via di Ripetta and Via del Babuino all meet. Dating back to 1538, although it was given a makeover by the architect Giuseppe Valadier in the 19th century, it’s one of the city’s great squares. The church next to the gate, Santa Maria del Popolo, stood here for centuries before it even existed, founded in 1227 and replaced in the 15th century by the present-day church. Its interior holds many great baroque and Renaissance works. At the opposite end of the square, are “twin” churches built in 1662 that frame the entrance to the three streets. It’s a great place for people watching and has long been a popular hangout, from the public executions carried out in centuries past to today’s political rallies and concerts.
The most famous and largest fountain in all of Rome, one of the most popular rites of passage takes place at Trevi Fountain which is almost always surrounded by tourists. According to tradition, by tossing three coins into the fountain, you’re ensured a return trip to Rome to find your true love. Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s worth a visit for its beauty alone with water flowing from rocks beneath seahorses and the feet of Triton and Neptune, The central character is Oceanus, with the god depicted standing in a seashell-shaped chariot pulled by seahorses. The two figures that flank him represent Salubrity and Abundance. It was completed in 1762 and took some 30 years to build, with the elaborate design thanks to artist Nicola Salvi. Around $3,500 is thrown into the pool every day, but it’s all donated to charity, and used to support food programs for the poor in Rome.
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