29 Best Things to do in Rome
Ah, Rome: the “place to be” for over two thousand years. The city is packed with breathtaking architecture, archeological sites, incredible art, and amazing food and people. You’ll stand in complete awe at the sights this Italian city has to offer. Even those who might shrug with indifference at other art museums in the past will be completely amazed when standing in the many chapels, galleries, and churches. We’ll take you to the popular tourist destinations that you must see in Rome and even some gems of Rome off the beaten track. And of course, who doesn’t love Italian food? We’ll show you some authentic places to dine in Rome. With so many things to do in Rome, you’ll want to start planning now!
Visit the Colosseum
Everything’s better in person, and that’s so true of the Colosseum in Rome. No history book picture or Google image will do justice. That’s why a visit here is one of the best things to do in Rome. You’ll get to feel the breeze coming through the huge stone corridors, and stand where the lions used to come through. Beginning in 80 A.D., about 50,000 people would pack into this huge amphitheater. Gladiators fought in the arena, and all classes of society packed in to watch.
You’ll want to make sure you hop on a tour here; the tour guides point out things that might have gone unnoticed. Plus, they’ll help you envision the amphitheater back in the day and remind you that no machinery built this (wow!). Of course, as you tour around the city, you’ll find yourself casually strolling by this site often. As one of the most famous attractions in Rome, you’ll want to make sure you get to see the inside.
Check out the Circus Maximus
After the Colosseum, head up to another one of the best things to do in Rome. Check out the site where crowds once gathered to be entertained by the racing chariots. Almost 250,000 people could be seated in this area. This was the largest stadium in Rome, and the first for the Romans to build. You can stroll around the field (local Romans treat it like a park) and you’ll have to imagine the roar of the crowds packed in to watch the horses and chariots on the “speedway.”
Visit the Roman Forum
Upon entering this popular attraction in Rome, you’ll feel like you’re just on a movie set. Wander in a little further, and you’ll start to see pieces of life from as far back as 500 B.C. There are still-upright columns that boast such strength; Julius Caesar would be proud. The lights at night give this a beautiful glow, but you’ll want to be sure to get a tour during the day. Tour guides will add to your amazement by helping you understand daily life here, the construction, and what-the-heck that pile of rocks right there was. This archaeological site has a mixture of incredibly intact pieces, as well as some crumbles that remind you just how old this all is. Plus, it’s one of the great free things to do in Rome!
Head up to Palatine Hill
Colle Palatino (Palatine Hill) was home to the rich and famous and then eventually the emperors. The history here is packed with names you’ll recognize: Augustus, Romulus, Cicero, Agrippa and more. As the name indicates, this archeological spot rests on top of a hill. From here, you’ll get to look out over some of the city and spot the attractions in Rome that you’ve visited. If you want to get into the ruins here on Palatine Hill, we suggest purchasing the three-stop pass that covers the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill. Touring through those archeological sites is most definitely one of the best things to do in Rome!
Step inside the Pantheon
This burial place for Roman kings (not to be confused with the Parthenon) is one of our favorite places to see in Rome. It’s amazing that the details, such as the “sign” on the front, are still intact. (By the way, those words displayed at the top mean “Agrippa built this.”) When you enter, look up and notice the skylight in the dome. You’ll circle through each of the “stops,” reading about the people buried there, and appreciating the little details in architecture.
Step back outside and you’ll be reminded that you’re back in modern Rome; this Piazza Della Rotonda bustles with street carts and espresso shops. The fountain in this square (Fontana del Pantheon) reminds us why we like Rome so much. When you explore the streets and even head off the beaten path, you’ll appreciate the little sculptures, architecture, and fountains that don’t make it in the tourist books, but add to the “wow” factor of the city!
Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain
Because the Trevi Fountain is one of the best things to see in Rome, you won’t be the only one there. However, that’s not to say you can’t get a great selfie with no one else in the background; you’ll just have to do some maneuvering. It’s a busy area, but this fountain and surrounding area are what you must see in Rome. The fountain is a “new” addition to the city (opened in 1762). This is not just a sculpture, not just a fountain, but rather a beautiful Baroque-masterpiece nestled in the heart of the city. Spend some time with Neptune himself, preserved in marble. If you throw a coin into the water, legend says you’ll be returning to the city. Therefore, you’ll definitely have to join in on one of the most popular things to do in Rome!
Visit the San Luigi Dei Francesi
If you’re a fan of Caravaggio, you’ve been planning on visiting this famous attraction in Rome. If you’re not a fan of Caravaggio, you’re going to be now. The church is located in the Navona neighborhood so you can check this out after you’ve visited the Pantheon. Walk on in for free. Outside, you may be thinking “just another old church,” but the paintings inside really are spectacular. (Remember: no computer generated these images!) The building itself has all the impressive domes, half-domes, archways and golden details, too. The Piazza Navona is one of the fun places to see in Rome; it bustles with street performers and espresso-sippers. The statues and monuments are impressive too. Get up close and spend some time with these masterpieces that have been there since the 15th century. That’s one of the best things to do in Rome!
Head over to Vatican City
This is actually separate from the city of Rome, and technically ruled by the Pope himself. Outside the walls, you’ll find all kinds of touristy shops to buy all the tacky (but humorous) souvenirs with the Pope’s face and sayings. Inside the walls, you’ll enter St. Peter’s Square (Piazza di San Pietro), the famous destination where crowds gather to see the Pope make his appearance. You’ll want to head to the fancy-looking tourist office on the left to get your museum passes and set yourself up on a tour. The tour is definitely a must do when visiting Rome, since the tour guide will help you notice and understand the various details around the area. For example, they’ll point out the key-shaped layout, and you’ll learn that it is symbolic of the keys entrusted to St. Peter.
Be amazed at St. Peter’s Basilica
You’ll likely view many churches during your stay in Italy, but this one is absolutely incredible and therefore one of the best things to do in Rome (well, really it’s within Vatican City). Catholic tradition considers this the burial site for St. Peter (Jesus’ apostle and the first pope). There’s so much to take in when you walk past the “foyer,” so choose to go through with a tour guide. You’ll want to spend a good amount of time here, to soak up every fresco, statue, marble square, golden accent and architectural feat. Entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free, but we recommend getting the Vatican Museum pass and using the audio guide, too, for a few extra euro. You can get these tickets online here.
Visit the Sistine Chapel
You’ve likely seen pictures of the famous image with the outstretched fingers of God and Adam. But did you know that there’s so much more than that? Michaelangelo, in all his brilliance, intricately painted the whole entire room, and it’s amazing to see. (You’ll want to listen to the tour guide. He or she will lend fun facts like how much Michelangelo hated the task, and they will likely point out hidden examples of his cynicism). You’ll almost certainly be with many other tourists, but you’ll soon forget about that when you stare (wide-mouthed) up at the ceiling, walls, and every corner that has been so impressively done. The Sistine Chapel is part of the various museums of the Vatican. Plan on spending at least a day in this area, enjoying some of the best things to do in Rome.
Check out the Vatican Museums (especially Raphael Rooms!)
Rome’s many museums and galleries could be confusing at first. Often there seem to be museums within museums, and that’s because you’ll find the names of famous paintings or sculptures or church domes within other buildings. There’s so much art packed into one place that you can’t go wrong just exploring a bit in these huge buildings that serve as museums. You’ll likely be impressed with what you’ll find at the end of corridors or built into windowsills. Touring the Vatican Museums is one of the most popular things to do in Rome, but Vatican City is extensive enough that you might get a chance to spend some alone time to awe at these centuries-old masterpieces.
Visit the Borghese Gallery and Villa Borghese
Cardinal Scipione Borghese made a villa to house treasures (and the villa itself is a masterpiece). A ticket entry (allotted time spots) allows you inside to view the galleries. You’ll most definitely want to save time for strolling through the Villa Borghese park, and expertly manicured park with some more sculptures and orange trees! Because it’s Rome (and the art in Rome never gets old), you’ll want to head over to the Gallery of Modern Art on the park’s edge.
Browse the National Gallery of Modern Art
The ancient Roman art really doesn’t get old, but it’s nice to take a break and appreciate some amazing modern art, too. This museum is one of the relaxing things to do in Rome since it’s often quiet and filled with galleries and chambers that allow you to separate yourself from the crowds a bit. “Modern” art means neoclassical period up to the 1960s. Even without an art degree, you’ll recognize some of the artists in here: Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne. You’ll feel like you stepped into a new world in this museum. Then, you’ll head back out to the streets of Rome and appreciate the ancient beauty of the decor around town. You can find more information about the Museum of Modern Art here.
Pass the “lie-detector test” at the Mouth of Truth
This ancient carving has survived some years, but that’s just made this stone face wise. It’s called the “Mouth of Truth,” and in Italian: “Bocca Della Verita.” The carving played a role in the movie Roman Holiday. It’s simply a huge, circular face, and it’s waiting for you outside the Santa Maria Cosmedin Church. This church is located near the Circus Maximus, at the end towards the river. It’s one of the unusual things to see in Rome, and it makes for a great selfie.
Check out the Castel Sant’Angelo
You’ll see this towering cylindrical building while you’re touring around and wonder about it. It’s quite impressive looking across the river’s bridge, with turrets and parapets, too. Originally, Roman Emperor Hadrian intended this space to be a mausoleum for him and his family. It is a tomb, but later the popes used it as a fortress and castle to provide living quarters within. They even connected it to St. Peter’s through fortified corridors. Apparently, Archangel Michael appeared on top in 590 A. D., to signal the end of the plague.
The building is now a pretty cool museum, separated into four different parts. This castle was once the tallest point in Rome. From the viewpoints on top, you’ll be able to see Vatican City. Touring through the castle is cool enough, but the museum exhibits along the way mean that you can lose track of time in here. You’ll want to spend time on the outside upper level with all the views of the city. (You can plot out where you want to see next or point out the places around the city you’ve already been!)
Sit, climb, or picnic on the Spanish Steps!
The grandeur of these steps is impressive, and therefore make it a must see in Rome. You’ll be surrounded by incredible architecture above and on either side of you when at the base of this majestic staircase. Trinita Dei Monti church rises out of the top piazza, and Piazza di Spagna at the base offers a really neat water feature. This fountain in English is called “Fountain of the Old Boat,” and is sculpted from a legend of a sinking ship. The steps themselves are wide, and open out into a butterfly shape. They are called the “Spanish Steps” because they were made to connect the church with the Spanish square below. The steps are a great place to hang out, and you’ll notice lots of others doing so. Bring lunch out here, snack on a croissant (with Nutella), drink a “take away” coffee.
Walk up the Gianicolo Hill
Because this is a Rome off the beaten path attraction, you’ll, well, have to walk a bit on the path. Grab some panini (the plural of panino) and have a picnic lunch. Up here at the top, you’ll get an awesome view of Rome. You’ll also get to hear the cannon that fires every day at noon. This tradition has been in place all the way since 184! (Yepp, that’s not a typo; it was really that long ago).
Shop at the Galleria Alberto Sordi
Add some European pieces to your wardrobe for when you return home. Take a break from the archeological sites around town and do some shopping at the stores in this gallery. It’s been named the “most beautiful place to shop” in Europe. You’ll find some stores like Zara and Massimo Dutti, as well as boutiques.
Sneak a peek at Rome through the Knights of Malta Keyhole
Through the actual keyhole of this green door, you’ll get a sweet view of the basilica and Rome’s cityscape. The location is on Aventine Hill. You’ll need to use the footpath via San Sabina to Piazza Cavalieri di Malta. It’s one of the unusual things to do in Rome, and you’ll feel like an adventurous little kid!
Take a night cruise by the lit-up attractions
Whether it’s in a Vespa, or just by foot, there’s something extra magical about these cool places in Rome at night. The tourist crowds have died down a bit, and you’ll notice some things you didn’t before; the old cobblestone, the power of those Corinthian columns when they’re backlit. Explore the streets a little and you’ll get a chance to explore the places to see in Rome at night. You’ll end up on some interesting narrow streets, but there are some signs that will help point you towards the biggest piazza or attraction nearby.
Check out the neighborhood Trastavere
Here’s a fun, non touristy thing to do in Rome. Trastavere refers to a region that covers the western bank of the river. You can take the pedestrian bridge “Ponte Sisto” to get here. You’ll get to step out of the touristy world for a bit. We recommend finding a restaurant here, such as La Prosciutteria for a cozy casual place, or Marco G for an authentic Italian restaurant in Rome. Within Trastavere, there’s a plaza called Piazza San Cosimato. You’ll find a market here most days except Sundays. We like that this section of town makes you feel like a local; you’ll see them carrying out their daily commute across the cobblestone streets, and hanging laundry out the windows.
Head to Campo di Fiore
One of the best things to do in Rome is experiencing the lifestyles of the people of Italy. Here, in Campo de Fiore (in English: the “field of flowers”) you’ll find one of Rome’s best markets during the day. Stop by and night and you can partake in the open-air pub as partiers carry their drinks out into the streets to hang out. (Even if you’re not into the drinking scene, it’s fun to people-watch here.) Take a picture posing like the hooded monk in the large statue that greets you in the center.
Eat (amazing) pizza for all three meals at Forno Campo di Fiore
Here the pizza is “take away,” so you can grab a slice and keep strolling, or plop down on an ancient rock slab in a piazza. Reviewers claim that it’s the best in Rome, which is a bold statement to make, considering it’s hard to find “bad pizza” anywhere in Italy. However, we approve this one as non-touristy and authentic, with thin, crispy pizza crusts and homemade pasta. Plus, you can pop in after hanging out at the market at Campo de ‘Fiore. Forno Campo di Fiore is open early, which means that you can eat it for breakfast. Of course, during any time of the day, eating pizza is one of the best things to do in Rome, Italy.
Take advantage of aperitivo
Aperitivo is an Italian “happy-hour,” and you’ll want to partake in this at some of Rome’s restaurant and bars. Gathering and sharing food (and not rushing through it) is a priority in Italian culture. You can find various kinds of the aperitivo; some set out light refreshments (pretzels, nuts, vegetables) for you when you buy a drink; others have fancy and delectable hors-d’oeuvres of bruschetta, seafood, etc. Plus, we promise that it’s really hard to find bad wine anywhere in Italy. The “aperitivo” hour is a great chance to take a break from sightseeing in Rome. It’ll help you gather strength to head back out for a little bit more sightseeing before dinner, which Italians generally eat late. Check out some top ten bars for an aperitivo in Rome.
Italian food will spoil you; taste the gelato, and you’ll never be able to appreciate storebought ice cream again. You’ll spot many gelato shops around town, but we suggest heading over to Come Il Latte. This one is in Rome off the beaten path, so you’ll get an experience that less touristy. The gelato is smooth and scrumptious, and the atmosphere is nice. Like most shops in Rome, the space is small, but we highly suggest a stroll out this way.
Hang with the cats at Torre Argentina
This place has earned itself a secondary name: The Roman Cat Sanctuary. On these ruins, you’ll find that cats love to hang out here. You’ll pass by this famous site in Rome at street level, but this area is sunken into the ground. It’s the site of four different temples, and also the spot where Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed. Feral cats moved into the excavation, but now an organization helps keep them healthy and fed. Hanging out with cats at the temples and Julius Caesar’s murder-spot? Definitely one of the cool things to do in Rome.
Visit the crypt at Santa Maria della Concezione
This crypt has unique adornments on the walls and ceilings: human bones! It’s absolutely fascinating. The bones of some 4,000 Capuchin friars are arranged in patterns and designs to adorn the insides of the arched-ceilings and walls. It’s both eerie and beautiful, and you’ll want to see this. Many femurs and metacarpals serve as huge “picture frames” for full skeleton bodies displayed on the walls. You’ll want to make sure to see the wall of skulls. Soak it all in, because, like most museums in Rome, you can’t take your own pictures.
Head up to Pincian Hill
Advertised widely as “the most romantic spot in Rome,” we encourage you to see for yourself. Head up to this hill where the Pincii family once settled. Some things never change; the ancient Romans also coveted this spot, and built villas and gardens. The “muro torto” or twisted walls that you’ll see are still part of these villas. The slopes of these hills were used as a burial ground. You’ll see the view of the Piazza del Popolo and the Rome below.
Visit the Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria)
Like most of the famous attractions in Rome, this beautiful, powerful-looking building marked a first. The monument is to honor the first king of unified Italy (Vittorio Emmanuel II). The white marble, Corinthian columns, panoramic terrace, and overall colossal size make a visit here one of the best things to do in Rome.
We love Rome. It’s hard to leave the place with any other words. With so many great things to do in Rome, you’ll love it too. The Italian culture and history, all packed into a beautiful city, will have you head over heels.
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