Rome Top Things to See & Do
15 Reasons To Visit Rome: Great Attractions In The Italian Capital City
Rome, the capital city of Italy, has a rich history dating back 28 centuries that led to the creation of some of the world’s most iconic landmarks including the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and much more. All these must-see attractions sit in the midst of one of the largest and most vibrant cities in Europe, home to outstanding restaurants, high-end shopping areas, amazing nightlife and all the other perks you’d except of a city with millions of residents.
Travel to and from Rome is simple, with plentiful options. If you’re coming from elsewhere in Europe then there are many rail and bus connections, allowing for a relaxing ride. Or you could fly in to Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, which handles international flights.
Located in the central-western part of Italy, Rome entices tourists with its Mediterranean climate that promises sunshine in the summers and tolerable cool temperatures in winter.
Your options for accommodation in Rome range from cheap hostels and home rentals through to five-star luxury hotels. Because it’s such a huge city and has an incredibly well-developed tourism industry, there’s truly something for everyone regardless of your budget. So all you need to spend time thinking about is what you’ll see and do with your time in the city. Check out the list below for 15 things to see and do, from famous picks to more unique suggestions.
Visit the Colosseum
Perhaps one of the visually best known landmarks in Rome, the Colosseum is a former amphitheater made of limestone, concrete and volcanic rock that could seat up to 50,000 during its heyday. Built between 70 AD and 80 AD, it hosted entertainment like dramatic readings and gladiator contests. These days the ruins of the building remain, and can be toured. Almost eight million people came to visit the site in 2018, so expect crowds no matter what time of year you visit the Colosseum. A good tip is to buy your ticket in advance rather than having to wait in the lengthy queues on site. Visit the Colosseum’s official website (https://parcocolosseo.it/visita/orari-e-biglietti/) to buy tickets in advance, which start at €12 for the most basic entry and increase for access to additional areas of the site.
Hours: Typically opens at 8.30am but closing hours vary throughout the year
See the Pantheon
Once a Roman temple, the Pantheon is now a church and is another of Rome’s instantly recognizable landmarks. This impressive building, constructed between 113 AD and 125 AD, features a large circular central room in which you’ll find glorious ancient design and artwork. It’s incredibly well preserved, so once you step inside you’ll be transported back to Roman times. A colorful checkerboard pattern lines the floor of the central room, which is capped by an intricate concrete dome that is considered among the best-preserved of such ceilings. It is free to enter the Pantheon and wander around at your own pace, or if you’d like to learn about the building from an expert then you can book one of many guided tours on offer. Prices will vary for the tours depending on the length and scope of what you’re interested in.
Hours: Opens at 9am each day, closes at 7.30pm Mondays to Saturdays, and 5.30pm Sundays
Enter Vatican City
Vatican City is a unique country within a country, being an officially recognized independent city state at the heart of Rome. It has some of the most famous sights in Italy, including the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. A great way to get your bearings is to enter the city and simply wander around and admire buildings from the outside. It’s possible to get some food and drink at the cafeteria inside the museums, but beware there are no restaurants as such within the borders of the city. Your easiest option for some food and drink is to simply step outside those boundaries and enjoy one of the many dining choices nearby.
Explore St. Peter’s Basilica
Once you’re in Vatican City, you should make a point to explore the Italian Renaissance church St. Peter’s Basilica. Many people will recognize this church as the building from which the pope oversees religious ceremonies that attract thousands of worshippers, locals and tourists. Known as the burial site of St. Peter, this massive church has an extensive history that is reflected in its elaborate interior and exterior design, with the front of the building featuring statues of Jesus and his Apostles. You can admire St. Peter’s Basilica from the outside while wandering around St. Peter’s Square, a huge central focal point for Vatican City. It’s free to enter but it’s also a very popular destination so expect long queues to get inside. And consider purchasing a guided tour, which will last one to two hours and give you a greater insight of the church’s history.
Hours: Opens daily at 7am, closes 7pm April to September and 6pm October to March
Discover art at the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Another very popular destination within the boundaries of Vatican City is the Vatican Museums, a centuries-old building that houses more than 70,000 works of art including Roman sculpture, and important Renaissance art pieces. One of the absolute highlights is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling painting. But this complex of several different museums has so much else to see that you could easily plan on spending a significant part of your day here if you’re an art lover. While normally you have to buy a ticket for entry, the Vatican Museums are open for free on the last Sunday of every month. So if this is a must-see stop for you and you want to save some money, try to plan your trip to coincide with the free entry. Otherwise, a number of companies offer guided tours or you can buy your own ticket and take yourself around.
Cost: A regular priced ticket is €17 but there are some discounts available
Hours: Open Monday though Saturday from 9am to 6pm
Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain
Constructed in 1762, the Trevi Fountain is a large intricate, ornate Baroque fountain. It features a marble statue of Neptune in the center, standing atop cascading water. It was restored between 2014 and 2015 so it’s the perfect time to visit this landmark now it looks even better than usual. Consider visiting at night when the crowds won’t be as bad, and you can enjoy the enhanced evening illumination from more than 100 LED lights that were added during the restoration. You’ll spot many people hear tossing a coin in the fountain for good luck, and it’s perfectly legal to do so. Use your right hand to throw the coin over your left shoulder. Just don’t touch any of the coins already in the fountain because it is illegal to steal them. Because it’s a public fountain in open air, you can visit this site for free at any time of the day.
Stroll through “real” Rome in Trastevere
If you’d like to get a glimpse at what some people consider to be the “real” Rome where locals live and work, set aside some time for a walk around the Trastevere neighborhood. Located on the west bank of the Tiber River evokes yesteryear with its cobbled streets, winding alleyways, sweeping piazzas and ancient buildings. There are many unique shops and restaurants throughout the Trastevere, so it’s a great place to pick up some souvenirs and enjoy the great food for which Italy is famous. Because it’s a bit of a distance from the center of the city, you should see smaller crowds than in other parts of Rome. For that reason, spending a few hours in this neighborhood can provide a relaxing way to unwind from the rest of your trip.
Look at the Roman Forum
During the Roman era, this site used to be home to many major government buildings. Over the years damage has left hardly anything standing except for a few towering columns and other scattered remains. But even so it’s still a very popular destination for tourists because of its historic significance and ongoing use as an archaeological site where excavations still occur. Companies offered guided tours that can last several hours and will educate you about the history of the Roman Forum, or you could simply take yourself for a tour of the ruins. But if you choose the latter option note that there isn’t any signage up to indicate what you’re looking at. Ticket prices and hours vary for visiting this site, and you should expect big crowds.
Walk up and down the Spanish Steps
A fun and free activity is to visit the much-photographed local landmark known as the Spanish steps. These 174 steps guide the path from the Piazza di Spagna below up to the Trinità dei Monti, and have become such a popular image featured in movies such as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Roman Holiday. See this restored marble staircase — considered by some to be the widest in all of Europe — for yourself to understand why it’s such an attractive spot. But for all those selfie-takers out there it’s important to know that you cannot eat or drink on the steps, nor can you sit on them. These are rules that the local police take seriously and they will make sure you follow them, so instead take a picture and walk up and down and admire the scenery.
Enjoy a show at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Opera is thought of by many people to be synonymous with Rome, and if you plan ahead for a visit to the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma then you can enjoy it for yourself. This 1,600 seater venue was first opened in 1880 but has undergone various changes over the years, with its current design and layout dating back to 1946. In addition to the impressive interior theater, it also boasts an outdoor theater for summer performances with the Roman Forum as a beautiful backdrop. Check the opera house’s official website (https://www.operaroma.it/en/) for details on its current and upcoming shows, so that you can plan a visit around seeing a performance. Ticket prices and days of availability and showtimes will vary depending on what you choose.
Go shopping at the bustling Testaccio market
If you’re looking for souvenirs for your Italian vacation, go shopping at the bustling Testaccio market. Opened in 2012, this market hosts more than 100 local vendors selling practically anything you could imagine, including food, drink, art, clothing and much more. Sample something to eat from one of the street food vendors, or buy a keepsake from a local artist to commemorate your trip. Because there are so many stalls to see you should set aside at least an hour to explore the market. As all of the stalls are independently owned, the prices of what’s on sale will vary. It’s free to enter and explore, so you can always just go window shopping.
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday, from 6am to 2pm.
Catch up with the past at Castel Sant’Angelo
History buffs should make time to see the important site of Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Built between 123 AD and 129 AD, this massive fortification was first envisioned to serve as the mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. Over the years it has undergone many different roles including as a castle and a home for popes, but these days its primary function is as a museum. Spread over seven levels, the museum has a wide range of classic and priceless art to enjoy, including religious and historic statues and paintings — and even some ancient weapons on display.
Hours: Opens 9am every day, closing at 7.30pm Monday to Wednesday (ticket office closes at 6.30pm) and closing at midnight Thursday to Sunday (ticket office closes at 11pm)
Cost: Regular entry price is €15 but there are some discounts available
Journey out of Rome to Tivoli’s Villa d’Este
If you’re willing to make a short journey out of Rome during your vacation, head to the nearby town of Tivoli and pay a visit to the Villa d’Este. This 16th century villa is now a state-run museum with awe-inspiring grounds. Admire the rolling green Italian Renaissance garden with its many fountains before taking an indoor tour of the villa and its many rooms, all of them featuring elaborate decorations and antique furniture. The building and its grounds have such important history that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designated them a World Heritage Site. You have many options for getting to the site; you can take public transport including buses or trains, or guided tours are available for a price. These will pick you up from a designated spot in Rome and transport you to and from Tivoli.
Hours: Opens at 8.30am every day, closing hour depends on the season
Cost: A regular entry to the villa will cost about €15
See the entire city from the Complesso del Vittoriano
The Complesso del Vittoriano is an exhibition space that hosts interesting displays throughout the year, so you are bound to discover something fun. And this massive building with its huge columns and elaborate statutes is impossible to miss. But the real perk of this towering monument is not how it looks, but instead is the fact that you can take an elevator up to the top, where you’ll get to see sweeping unobstructed views of all of Rome. Access to the glass elevator is behind the monument. This is the perfect way to get an idea of the impressive size and scope of the city, and to take some pictures that you’ll always remember.
Hours: Opens at 9.30am every day, closing hours vary from 7.30pm to 10pm depending on day
Cost: Entry to the building is free but the standard elevator fare is €10
Check out the modern art at the MAXXI
Although many of the galleries and museums in Rome display artwork that is many years old, modern art lovers can still get their fix with a visit to the Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, known as the MAXXI. Established in 2010, this attraction combines two museums and is host to some fascinating permanent collections of contemporary art from internationally renowned creators such as Andy Warhol and Gilbert & George. If seeing art if the most important goal of your trip, you should check out the museum’s website (https://www.maxxi.art/events/categories/eventi/) for details of ongoing one-off events that it hosts, and time your trip around them. And if you need a rest from seeing all the exhibits, you can enjoy a snack or drink at the café located in the MAXXI’s courtyard.
Hours: Closed Monday, open every other day from 11am to 7pm
Cost: Regular entry fare is €12, although there are some discounts available