The incredible food! The wonderful wine! The epic history and amazing architecture and a certain feeling that there's excitement around every corner! Quite simply, Rome has everything. Known as 'the Eternal City', it's a breathtaking blend of ancient history and modern glamour, where the romance of the past creates the magic of the moment.
They say Rome wasn't built in a day; well, it certainly can't be seen in a day either. There are so many unforgettable experiences to be had in this enchanting city – from wandering around jaw-dropping cultural landmarks to taking slow romantic river boat cruises, and everything in between.
It would take weeks, months or even years to truly explore the beauty of this ancient wonderland. Yes, it's called the Eternal City, but who's got that kind of time nowadays? Not to worry – whether it's a day trip, a long weekend, or an extended staycation, you can still see some amazing sights and do some incredible things while in Rome. You've just got to know the right places to go.
Which is why we've whipped up this definitive list of the very best things to do in Rome! Don't forget, there's an FAQ section at the bottom of the article, for some valuable little nuggets of advice on how to get the best out of your time in this charming city, as well as tips on how to experience it like a local.
Well, you know what they say, "When in Rome..."
Venture to the Vatican Museums
When visiting Rome, a trip to the Vatican is a must. While not technically in Rome – Vatican City is actually a principality – it's just a short trip from the city center, and the Vatican Museums are one of the most popular landmarks in the whole of Rome. The museums, which are split into several different sections, house more than 70,000 works of art, although the buildings are work of art themselves!
You'll be spellbound as you wander around the various ornate rooms, each more incredible than the last. It's fitting then that the final flourish of the Vatican Museum is the world famous Sistine Chapel, complete with Michelangelo's fresco... eyes to the ceiling, jaw to the floor!
The queues can be a nightmare, of course! I recommend thinking ahead and getting a skip the line ticket for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. It's a much more relaxing way to experience one of the world's most astonishing art museums.
Explore the Vatican Gardens
Once you've taken in the majestic beauty of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, a bit of tranquility is in order. These ornate botanical gardens take up most of the whole of Vatican City and are welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the Vatican Museum.
Sculptures, medieval monuments, floral artworks and ornate fountains make up these gardens, which were first opened to the public in 2014. It's well worth a visit, especially in spring time when the colors of the freshly bloomed flowers add to the beauty of the surroundings.
If you want to experience the gardens in their true beauty, book a private tour. You could even combine a Vatican Gardens minibus tour with a skip the line ticket to the museum.
Climb the Dome at St Peter's Basilica
The other essential Vatican landmark, St Peter's Basilica is one of the most iconic churches in the world. Known in Rome as the 'Basilica di San Pietro', it's the spiritual center of the Catholic church and one of the architectural wonders of the modern world.
Attractions within the Basilica include La Pieta (the only work of art that Michelangelo ever signed) the altar with its stunning baroque Roman architecture style bronze canopy and, of course, the famous dome – at 448 feet, the tallest dome in the world.
A guided tour of St Peter's Basilica will your experience to a whole new level – literally! You'll climb the stairs to the very top of the dome, enjoying stunning panoramic views of St Peter's Square and the whole of Rome. With a guided tour, you'll also get insights from an art historian to unlock the secret history of the jewel in the Catholic crown.
Roam the Roman Forum
In a city full of stunning ancient landmarks, the Roman Forum could well be the most stunning ancient landmark of all. The partly-preserved beating heart to the Roman Empire, it served as the centerpiece to Ancient Rome and was the setting for famous speeches (Marc Antony's famous speech on the death of Julius Cesar took place at the Forum), trials, processions, gatherings and Roman public life in general.
It's best to think of the Roman Forum like an open air museum. As you wander around the 5 acre space, the past glories of the ancient empire rise from the ruins to give you a glimpse into the daily lives of the Romans, as well as the sheer spectacular style of the center of the city. The Arch of Titus, The Temple of Vesta and the Temple of Saturn are just some of the highlights at the Roman Forum.
For the full story behind these ancient remnants of the Roman Empire, book a guided tour of the Roman Forum, or get an interesting take with a tour centered around the less-known story of the role women of ancient Rome played in Roman society. You can also take a double deep dive into Ancient Rome, with a Roman Forum and Colosseum tour.
Marvel at the Trevi Fountain
A stunning 85-foot tall fountain located right in the heart of Rome, the Trevi Fountain is one of the post popular things to do in Rome. Originally built by the Ancient Romans as a meeting point of the city's three sources of water (hence Trevi, which means three way), it underwent a massive reconstruction, with architects Nicola Salvi and Giuseppe Pannini completing the project.
The appeal of the Trevi Fountain lies is its importance as both an artistic and historical monument. From an artistic perspective, it looks incredible. The ornate sculptures tell a story of the Greek god Oceanus battling to tame the power of the sea. Historically, it's Rome's oldest water source.
Book a Trevi Fountain guided tour, which includes expert insights from a local, as well as and underground tour to the still-functioning 2,000-year old aqueduct.
Unless you're a serious night owl and you visit it in the wee small hours, don't expect to find the Trevi Fountain a solitary, relaxing place. It's pretty much packed full of tourists from dawn until dusk, so you'll be in good company as you feast your eyes on the beauty of Rome's most famous fountain.
Take in the Sunset on the Spanish Steps
Built between 1723 and 1725, the Spanish Steps were actually commissioned by a French diplomat. So they should be the French Steps, right? Well, not exactly. The name comes from the fact that the Spanish embassy used to be nearby and that the square at the foot of the steps is called Piazza di Spagna (Spain Square). The Spanish Steps is an unofficial name, though – the official name is Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti.
Made up of 135 steps, the Spanish Steps are located near Italy's most famous shopping street – Via Condotti – and are the widest and longest set of stairs in Europe. Part of the appeal of this famous attraction is the view from the top – climb the steps and you'll be rewarded with a picturesque panoramic view of the City of Seven Hills, as Rome is often called. If you can, time it so that you can see the sun go down from the top of the steps!
Another little tip... if you're visiting Rome during the spring, the steps will be adorned with thousands of decorative colorful flowers to celebrate the season – sure to put a 'spring' in your step!
Take a Romantic Cruise Down the River Tiber
The Romans literally invented the word romance and it doesn't get much more romantic than a nighttime riverboat cruise down the Tiber – the city's famous river, where you'll be able to gaze in awe at the beauty of the Rome from the serenity of the water.
It's a far more peaceful way to see the sights than a daytime bus tour – the night setting adds the glistening golden lights reflecting off the water, making Rome's views all the more breathtaking – and it's a great way to escape the intensity of the city center, while appreciating it from afar.
You can prebook a River Tiber Panoramic Night Cruise that comes with a 4-course dinner and live music, as well as a guided tour as you pass some of the city's most iconic locations, including St Peter's Basilica and Vatican City. To see Rome at night in all its glory, with the lights reflecting off the Tiber, is a special experience!
Enjoy an Open Air Opera
Speaking of romance, one of the most romantic things to do in Rome is to catch a live opera performance. A uniquely thrilling experience, live opera captures the timeless magic of the city of Rome, and what better place to see it than from a rooftop in Rome?
One of the most special operatic offerings in the city is the Open Air Opera Concert held at the Pamphilj Palace – a baroque masterpiece located next to Piazza Navona. The Palace's rooftop is known as 'The Great Beauty' roof terrace and is the setting for a famous scene from the Oscar-winning film of the same name.
Expect arias & duets by Verdi, Rossini, Puccini , together with an Italian aperitifs, wine and a stunning 360° view of the whole of the Eternal City – a fitting backdrop to an art form that comes closest to expressing pure emotion. It's a spine-tingling experience and one that shouldn't be missed by romantics and music-lovers alike.
Step onto the Arena at the Colosseum
Nothing else in this city epitomizes the splendor and drama of Ancient Rome quite like the Colosseum. It makes the list of most people's places to see in Rome, Italy and even the world! Step through the stone doors and you're immediately transport back in time, your imagination running wild with tales of armored gladiators fighting exotic animals... savage and cruel, yes, but fascinating nonetheless.
From the outside and on the inside, it's truly a sight to behold. However, to really get the best out of a visit to the Colosseum, get out onto the 'arena'. The floor of the colosseum was covered in sand (harena, or arena in Latin, hence the word 'arena' for stadiums) to soak up the spilled blood. Gruesome, yet it's from this vantage point that the colossal craziness of the Colosseum really starts to sink in.
With a guided underground tour of the Colosseum, you'll be able to see parts of the the ancient stadium that are usually restricted on a guided walking tour, exploring the dungeons, underground tunnels and chambers of the Colosseum, with special access to the arena floor.
Get Spooked in the Roman Catacombs
For all Rome's elegance above ground, it's the underside that delivers a deeper insight into the grisly history of the ancient city. The subterranean secrets of the city are found in passageways that predate even the Romans – they were carved out by the Etruscans thousands of years ago for mining limestone and sandstone. Here you'll find some of the oldest catacombs in the world, where the Roman's buried their dearly departed for several centuries.
The most infamous 'attraction' of the Roman Catacombs is the Capuchin Crypt – a macabre masterpiece that's decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin Monks. However, it's not all grim and gruesome curiosities – the Catacombs also contain one of the most valuable artworks collections in the world, including pieces by Caravaggio and other Ancient Christian art.
A tour of Rome's crypts and catacombs is a great way to see the darker side of the Eternal City. If you're searching for an alternative to the art galleries and iconic landmarks, away from all the typical things to do in Rome, a trip down under to the Catacombs might just be the perfect activity for you.
Get Lost in Culture at the Borghese Art Gallery
You'll find Rome's world famous art museum, the Borghese, set among lush green gardens and manicured lawns of Vila Borghese – the largest public park in central Rome. It's a quiet oasis and a welcome break from the intensity of the city, and the elegant exterior of the art gallery hints at the artistic treasure trove that awaits on the inside.
The artworks on show were put together by Cardinal Scipione Borghese – the pope's right hand man at the turn of the 17th century. The cultured cardinal was a committed collector of Caravaggio, Canova and Raphael, among others, and while the collection of paintings is well worth the entry price, it's the sculptures that really take the breath away, particularly those by Bernini. Don't miss his flat out marble masterpiece “Daphne and Apollo” which depicts the Greek myth of the fated lovers.
Keep in mind... walk-ins are not welcome and pre-booking in advance is a must. Better yet, book yourself a guided tour and benefit from the walkthrough wisdom of a local art buff, with skip-the-line access to avoid the crowds.
Sample Local Produce at the Campo de Fiori
Not far from the renowned Piazza Navona, you'll find the oldest market in Rome – the Campo dei Fiori, or the 'field of flowers.' Not only is it the oldest market in the city, it's also the most picturesque and it's hugely popular, with locals and visitors alike. Here, you can buy fresh local produce such as fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and fresh fish, while the square is surrounded by specialty food shops, bakeries and artisan workshops selling all kinds of Roman trinkets.
During the day, Campo dei Fiori is vibrant, colorful and abuzz with locals – the perfect place to people watch and soak in the atmosphere of the Eternal City. Come the evening, it transforms into a far more festive place, with hip locals, foodies and adventurous tourists gathering to sample street food, drink cocktails and enjoy the unique atmosphere of Rome at night.
For those looking to rub shoulder with the locals and live life like a Roman, a nighttime Campo dei Fiori food, wine and sightseeing tour is the perfect activity. You'll take a stroll through the square and Rome's Jewish quarter, as your guide tells you about the history of the area and takes you to the best family-run eateries in the city, where you'll sample some of the best food and wine Rome has to offer.
Be Amazed by the Pantheon
Without a doubt one of Rome's most iconic landmarks, the Pantheon is one of the best preserved ancient structures in the world. Often imitated, never bettered, the pillar front makes it one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Even if you've never heard of it, you've most definitely seen buildings inspired by its style.
The Pantheon was built almost 2,000 years ago – 118 AD to be precise – by Emperor Hadrian as a temple for Roman's to worship. Inside you'll find an incredible ornate interior, with marble flooring, stone patterns, intricate carvings and an astonishing dome that's the biggest masonry dome in the world.
While the sight of this ancient marvel is enough to take the breath away, the deeper story of the construction and preservation of the Pantheon is fascinating. For history buffs, a Pantheon tour is highly recommended – you'll get valuable insights from a professional archaeologist and hear stories of Roman architects and engineers, saints and emperors, politicians and soldiers, while discovering the Pantheon's ancient Roman symbols and architectural traditions.
Escape the Hustle and Bustle at Castel Gandolfo
For all Rome's beauty, sight seeing in the city can be tiring. Luckily, there's a nearby haven that offers the perfect chance to escape the busy city. Located just 25 km southeast of Rome, the picture postcard-perfect village of Castel Gandolfo is nestled in the Roman hills, overlooking Lake Albano, and just happens to be the Papal summer residence. Hey, if it's good enough for the Pope...
Of course, the Papal Palace is the pick of the bunch, with its beautiful furnishings and landscaped gardens, but there are many more attractions at Castel Gandolfo. The village center has gorgeous lakeside views, where you can grab a bite to eat from Piazza della Libertà's cafes or restaurants.
You can purchase a guide packagethat includes transport by train, a skip-the-line ticket to Castel Gandolfo, the Apostolic Palace and the Barberini Gardens, as well as an audio tour of the Castel and the Gardens. All in all, well worth a visit!
Uncover Secrets at Castel Sant'Angelo
What began as a burial place for Roman Emperors almost 2,000 years ago, Castel Sant'Angelo has since become a fortress, a prison, the Pope's hideout and, finally a monument to Rome's history.
See former residences of past popes, admire artwork by the likes of Raphael and Michelangelo, gain an insight into Rome's evolution over the past 2,000 years, and enjoy what might just be the best panoramic view in the whole city. There are seemingly endless secrets and stories to be discovered within the castle's walls and, in terms of all-round insights into the history of Rome, it's one of the city's best and most informative landmarks.
It's also one of the busiest, so a skip-the-line tour is highly recommended. You'll whizz past the crowds for a deep dive into the story of this multi-functional historical wonder, before hearing stories of battles, executions, artful masterpieces and religious refuge, before enjoying a scenic stop on the Castle's rooftop, for that epic view over the River Tiber and the entire city.
Take the Train from Rome to Pompeii
For those looking to spread their experience outside of the Eternal City, a train trip to one of the most astonishing archaeological sites in Europe is in order. A fascinating reminder of the unforgiving power of nature, Pompeii's part-preserved ruins lie in the aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius eruption of almost 2,000 years ago. Walking around the site is an incredible experience – essential for anyone with even a passing interest in history or a mind for the macabre.
An all-inclusive VIP day trip by train from Rome to Pompeii is the best way to experience this historical wonder with all the logistics and stress taken out of the equation. The high speed train from Rome to Naples, then from Naples to Pompeii takes a little over 1 hour 30 minutes, and you can sit back and enjoy the views in air-conditioned comfort. Meanwhile, the day trip includes a wine tasting and farm-to-table lunch at a local vineyard at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.
Ride Around Rome on a Vespa
Forget crowded bus tours – the very best way to get a whistle-stop tour of Rome is via the sidecar of a Vespa! Take a guided Vespa sidecar tour and you'll be able to explore Rome like a local, taking in the stunning scenery and Eternal City's most iconic landmarks as you whizz around cobbled streets and through picturesque plazas.
The Colosseum, St Peter's Basilica, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps – you'll see all the major sights, before stopping off for coffee and a gelato while enjoying breathtaking views of the city from the top of Palatine Hill. These kind of tour experiences have that extra personalised touch, and you'll get a live narration through headphones as you ride along, giving you valuable insights into each of Rome's top attractions.
If you're looking for a fun, intimate, unforgettable experience in Rome, this should definitely be on your list of things to do!
Watch a performance at St. Paul's Within The Walls Church
St. Paul's within the Walls Church is a historic Anglican church located in the heart of Rome, Italy. Built in the 19th century, it features stunning Gothic Revival architecture, including intricate stained glass windows and ornate marble columns.
The church has a vibrant community and hosts a variety of cultural events throughout the year, so if there is nothing on at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, you can get your dose of culture at this venue. We watched a rendition of La Traviata!
Gorge on gelato!
You simply can't miss it. On just about every street corner you will find a gelato shop, offering a wide array of flavours that will please every palate on this planet. For more information, check out my article on the Best Foods To Try In Rome!
Stroll down Via dei Fori Imperiali
Via dei Fori Imperiali is a historic street in Rome, Italy, that runs between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. It was built in 1932 by Mussolini and cuts through the Imperial Fora, a series of monumental public squares and buildings constructed during the Roman Empire.
While walking down this street, it truly feels as if I was in the cradle of Rome, surrounded by magnificent buildings, old and new-ish.
Explore Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II
The Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II is a massive white marble monument located in Rome, Italy. It was built between 1885 and 1911 to honor the first king of a united Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. The monument features an impressive colonnade, a statue of the king on horseback, and a terrace with panoramic views of Rome.
Entry is free but museum exhibitions aren't. Another paid option is to take the lift the top of the building to take in awesome views of Rome's city scape.
Discover Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore
After a few days in Rome you might feel over saturated with old big buildings and then you discover yet another one and get blown away. We were on our way to the Coliseum when we wondered what people were doing have their bags x-rayed at this big building. Is it a city hall? Or something to do with the government? No, it's another church!
Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore is a large and historic Catholic church in Rome, Italy. It is one of the four major basilicas in the city and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The basilica boasts impressive architecture and artwork, including the famous 5th-century mosaics in the nave.
What is the most visited place in Rome?
You might be surprised to learn that it's not the Colosseum!
With over 8 million visitors every year, the Pantheon is Rome's most visited attraction. It's not surprising really, especially when you consider the fact that the ancient building is almost 2,000 years old, is one of the most influential buildings in terms of style, and is regarded as one of the best preserved ancient wonders in the world. Also, entry is free!
The Colosseum is number two on the list, with 7 million visitors every year.
What are the things Rome is famous for?
The Colosseum is probably the most famous monument in Rome. Its long fascinating history draws millions of tourists every year. Plus, the popularity of the Colosseum has increased since films like 'Gladiator' and with an increasing interest in Ancient Rome.
The Roman Forum is also a very famous ancient landmark. Of course, Rome is also renowned as the home of the Vatican and, in particular, the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo's fresco on the ceiling – one of the world's most famous works of art.
Then there's the romance, the food, the wine... the list goes on!
How many days do you need in Rome?
There's so much to see and do in Rome, it would take ages to really appreciate all its beauty! For visitors, 4-5 days is a decent amount of time to see the essential landmarks and enjoy the food, culture and to get to know the Roman way of life.
What day are the museums free in Rome?
Rome's city-run museums are free on the first Sunday of every month. That means that some of the very best museums that normally charge €10-€15 per month are absolutely free.
If you happen to time your trip to Rome at the start of the month, don't forget to take advantage of free entry! A word of advice – pre booking a time slot via the museum's website is most likely required in order to get free entry.
Is there nightlife in Rome?
Rome by night is a thing of beauty. The stunning architecture provides a magical backdrop to the evenings, in a city where you’re never too far away from a good bar.
From around 7-8pm every night – even during the week – you'll notice that the city's piazzas will come to life, as the locals finish work and gather for dinner and evening drinks with friends.
There are lots of night clubs in Rome with a wide variety of music and styles, as well as many cool bars with excellent live music. If you're heading to Rome to explore the nightlife, you most definitely won't be disappointed!
What part of Rome is the best at night?
The famous piazzas in the center of the city are great locations for night-time revellers. There's a vibrant energy that brings a wonderful atmosphere at night, guaranteed to captivate visitors to the Eternal City.
One the best piazzas is Piazza Navona. It's great during the day, but at night it really comes into its own. There's a number of excellent nearby bars too. If cocktails and art are your thing, head to the nearby Drink Art Gallery or, for a little more sophistication, check out the Wisdomless Club.
For an authentic local feel, head to Bar del Fico or, if you’re on the hunt for something with a friendly vibe, where locals and visitors mix, check out La Boticella of Poggi Giovanni. With excellent local wines at low prices, a central location and an enchanting atmosphere, it’s an ideal place to grab a drink and watch the evening float on by.
On the banks of the River Tiber, Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà is a charming, ramshackle, rough around the edges beerhall with stacks of energy and a really friendly vibe.
Popular with students and young people, the San Lorenzo quarter has lots of bohemian charm and some of the city's best venues. The gloriously quirky Ultramoderni is a stylish lounge with great cocktails, excellent performers and affordable prices.
How late are things open in Rome?
Some restaurants in Rome close at around 11:30pm, while others are open far later. For instance, certain local street food restaurants will stay open until around 2am – perfect for a catching a bite on a late night.
Most bars in Rome stay open past midnight. If you're out at a club, expect to be dancing well into the night – most nightclubs in Rome stay open until 4am.
Want to find out more about things to do in Rome, Italy? Check out Get Your Guide or Viator for some amazing experiences in one of the world's greatest cities!
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