Best Things To Do in Rome
Take time to enjoy la dolce vita – even a week isn't long enough to experience everything Roma has to offer. From historic tours through ancient Rome (Colosseum, Roman Forum) to Sunday morning shopping at the Porta Portese flea market to climbing to the top of St. Peter's Basilica, this city is bursting with things to do. You can help your chances of returning to Roma by tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain; fate might just bring you back to the Eternal City, or so the legend goes.
Updated June 4, 2019
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A must-see on many travelers' itineraries, the Trevi Fountain is situated amongst a high concentration of hotels, shopping and nightlife. Finished in the mid-1700s, the Trevi is a powerful example of a baroque design with a distinctly mythological character. The god of the sea, Oceanus, emerges from the pool, flanked by his trusty Tritons. The fountain underwent an extensive, mutlimillion euro restoration and reopened in its full splendor in November 2015.
According to Roman lore, throwing one, two or three coins into the Trevi, with your right hand over your left shoulder ensures you'll return to Rome; you'll fall in love with an attractive Roman; and you'll marry that same Roman.
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The epicenter of Roman Catholicism, St. Peter's Basilica is centered in Vatican City and open daily for free. (Though it's closed on Wednesday mornings for pope appearances.) Many visitors enjoy trekking to the top of the dome. For a fee of 6 euros (about $7.50), you can climb the 551 steps to the summit; for a fee of 8 euros (about $10), you can take an elevator to a terrace where you'll climb just 320. Regardless, you'll take in a panorama of Rome's spectacular landscape. If you've come hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope, you should consider attending the Wednesday General Audience, when he address the crowd in St. Peter's Square with prayers and songs. It's free to attend, but tickets are required. You'll also want to make sure he is in residence; check the Vatican website to view the schedule. No ticket is required to see the pope on Sundays, when he usually address the crowd in St. Peter's Square at noon.
Keep in mind that this is an active church with daily Mass services. Likewise, a stringent dress code is enforced: No short skirts, hats or bare shoulders. And because St. Peter's Basilica is one of the area's major attractions, there is almost always a long queue – though it tends to go fast. Recent travelers recommend you spring for a tour guide; the depth of insight they bring to the basilica really makes the experience.
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The Pantheon, a former Roman temple and now a present-day church, is known for its perfect proportions, which is amazing, seeing as it was raised in A.D. 120. While you're there, you can also pay your respects to Raphael, as well as Italian kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I, who are all buried there.
Recent visitors described this free attraction as a must-see; they also say the Piazza della Rotonda, in which it's located, is a cozy setting for a coffee, pizza slice or gelato. Other recommended paying for a tour guide to better understand the ancient history you're seeing. Beat the crowds by visiting early in the morning.
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The site of many bloody gladiatorial fights, the Colosseum, which was opened in 80 A.D., could then hold about 50,000 spectators. With a circumference of 573 yards and sitting on marshland, experts say the Colosseum is an engineering wonder… not to mention an animal- and human-rights atrocity.
Today, the massive complex is a favorite site amongst travelers. That said, you'll find lengthy lines almost anytime you visit. To beat the queues, you can purchase a ticket at the Roman Forum, which allows you admittance to both, as well as Palatine Hill, and a line jump at the Colosseum.
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You'll find one of Vatican City's most notorious attractions housed within these walls – the Sistine Chapel (and Michelangelo's famous frescos). A tour of the Vatican Museums grants access to various sections of the palaces, the Sistine Chapel included. But don't overlook the treasures housed within the museums themselves, including the spiral staircase and the Raphael Rooms. The Vatican Museums are so immense that guided tours are highly recommended though they make the price of visiting pretty expensive. Audio guides are a much cheaper alternative.
Recent visitors gushed about the Vatican Museums, but warned future visitors to reserve tickets online well in advance. Others suggested splurging for the guided tours as they offer a wealth of knowledge (and may allow you to skip the line or enter the site before it opens to the public). If you don't want to spend on a guided tour, consider doing your homework and reading up on the site before visiting – a recommendation from past travelers.
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Not as popular as the Colosseum (but located nearby), some say the Roman Forum is more interesting. The Roman Forum comprises much of the Ancient Rome's most important structures, from shrines to government houses to monuments. Although much of the complex is in ruins, you can see the remains and imagine the former glory of the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Titus and the House of the Vestal Virgins, among other structures.
Recent travelers called a visit to the Roman Forum a "must," but they do advise future visitors to rent or stream an audio guide or hire a local guide (according to reviewers is little written on the informational plaques). Past visitors also suggest allotting plenty of time to see the ruins and wearing weather-appropriate attire (there is little to no shade at the site).
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If you're a fan of Caravaggio, you'll want to visit the San Luigi dei Francesi. Inside this church in Piazza Navona are three of the baroque artist's works, including the "The Calling of St. Matthew" (one of his most famous paintings), "Saint Matthew and the Angel" and "The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew."
Recent visitors recommend stopping in the church, especially if want to get a glimpse of some of Caravaggio's most famous works. Several reviewers recommended reading up on the works before visiting as there is no information within the church. Travelers also recommend parting with a few coins to feed a meter that briefly illuminates the paintings. When you've had your fill of gazing inside the church, step outside to admire the view of Rome from the church's Franciscan garden, another highlight for past visitors.
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This featured chapel from Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons" is now heavily trafficked by Robert Langdon wannabes. But baroque art fans might want to brave the crowds for a look at Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Cornaro Chapel, which features the Ecstasy of St. Teresa statue.
Recent visitors can't stop gushing about Santa Maria della Vittoria. Many said the church is nothing short of stunning, noting that the detail of Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is truly incredible. However, travelers also noted that the church is relatively small compared to some of the city's other masterpieces, so prepare for a tight space during peak tourist season (summer).
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If you want a look at the real Rome, experts and travelers strongly recommend you visit Trastevere. Located south of Vatican City, this neighborhood is home to the Santa Maria in Trastevere, as well as numerous restaurants and neighborhood shops (it's often compared to New York City's Greenwich Village or Paris's Left Bank thanks to its charming cobblestone streets and narrow roads).
Although a little farther from the city center, Trastevere is a hit with visitors who appreciated the distance, noting that after so many days weaving through crowds and getting stuck in tourist traps, it's nice to explore a quieter neighborhood (with cheaper, more authentic food). Travelers also said they felt like they experienced a genuine look into life as a Roman after having visited Trastevere.
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Archaeology buffs might find the Basilica di San Clemente interesting as it's a veritable nesting doll of churches. It's a second century pagan temple, underneath a fourth-century church, which is underneath a 12th-century church. Enter the 12th-century church from the street level, take stairs down to the fourth-century one and finally end up at a shrine for Mithras, the god whom was known to gain popularity in the second and third centuries. The oldest structure is believed to have been an ancient mint.
Travelers are fascinated by the story of the church and recommend visiting for the history lesson that it provides. Past travelers also said you should ignore the beggars around the church, as some pretend to be affiliated with the church and tell visitors they can't enter unless they give a donation. The church is free to enter, but there is a small fee to go down to the lower levels, which people say is worth the cost.
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Perhaps one of the best known of Rome's public squares, the Piazza Navona dates back to the end of the 15th century. Today, it fills with modern people sipping coffees while watching street performers and artists. Cafes abound, and there are a number of shops too, although recent visitors said both tend to be expensive. You'll also find a number of impressive monuments, including one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Fountain of the Four Rivers) and another by Francesco Borromini (Sant'Agnese in Agone).
You can reach Piazza Navona by hopping off the metro at Barberini and walking about a mile west. It is free to visit 24/7.
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To the west of the Tiber River (near another top attraction, Trastevere), Gianicolo Hill, or the Janiculum, is just waiting to be climbed. Although a hike, the site provides unobstructed, panoramic views of the Eternal City. Once at the top, visitors will be able to spot some of Rome's most famous buildings, including St. Peter's Basilica and the Altare della Patria. Interestingly, since it sits outside the ancient city, it's not considered one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Along with the spectacular views, you'll also spot a few monuments, including the Fontana dell'Acqua Paola, or Il Fontanone, which was originally built in the early 1600s.
Travelers report being impressed by the views of Gianicolo Hill, with many recommending a visit at sunrise or sunset for a truly breathtaking experience. Though many don't consider it a "must-see," reviewers did concede that a trek here offers a nice respite from the city's crowded tourist spots.
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The Campo de' Fiori is worth visiting twice in a trip – once during the day for its bustling market, and again as the sun sets for its convivial nightlife. According to travel experts, the Campo de' Fiori looks much the same as it did in the early 1800s, except for the numerous pizzerias, cafes and gelaterias that line the periphery.
Recent travelers raved about the people-watching throughout the day; the fresh veggies and fruits at the market and the hopping bar scene at night. Some warned that the restaurant prices are a bit inflated in this area, but conceded that the atmosphere is electric. Even if you don't plan on eating or buying anything within the area, the architecture alone may be enough of a draw, as it was for some.
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Porta Portese is a Sunday morning market (about 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.) in Trastevere that travel experts say fashionistas won't want to miss. While vendors sell everything from books to antiques (and antique lookalikes), the market's main focus is clothes – both new and used.
Recent travelers' reviews are mixed: Some enjoyed the flea market experience, while others found little that piqued their interest. The travelers that didn't enjoy the market suggest you scout out smaller, more intimate markets, selling perhaps more authentic goods.
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Found at the Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps (which get their name from the nearby Embassy of Spain among the Holy See) are another must-do for many travelers. Here, visitors can tread the same stairs that writers Balzac and Byron climbed for inspiration in the 19th century. The steps are especially alluring come spring when they're flanked by blooming azaleas.
This site earns mixed reviews from travelers: Many say it's a must-see, especially for first-time visitors, while others reported feeling underwhelmed. Those who did enjoy the steps say it's a great place to take a coffee or gelato and people-watch. Those same travelers also recommend going at night when there are fewer crowds. Visitors who weren't impressed said they were nothing more than just steps, and that the aggressive local vendors detracted from the experience. Both sets of travelers agree, however, that the views from the top are worth the climb up all 135 steps.
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A favorite among travelers to Rome, the Galleria Borghese is half-villa/half-museum, and it has some resplendent gardens too. Originally commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century to shelter his massive art collection, it's now considered one of the premier art galleries in the city. The villa's extravagant rooms, spread across two floors, are filled with famous works, including Canova's Venus Victrix, Bernini's sculptures David and Apollo and Daphne, and Caravaggio's "Boy with a Basket of Fruit" and "David and Goliath," among other masterpieces.
Recent visitors said that because the gallery regulates how many visitors are in the gallery at one time (a maximum of 360 people), viewing the works by Caravaggio and Bernini was a very intimate and pleasurable experience. Make sure you hold onto your ticket throughout your entire visit – according to past travelers, you'll be asked to present your ticket if you need to use the on-site restrooms.
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The Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) was the first public museum in the world, and it holds Rome's symbol, the bronze Capitoline Wolf. According to lore, the wolf nursed the half-wolf, half-god founders of the city, twins Romulus and Remus. Its namesake museum contains busts of Roman emperors, from Augustus to Caligula, statues, including a famous one of Marcus Aurelius, and paintings by Caravaggio and Battista, among others. Comprising three separate buildings surrounding the Piazza del Campidoglio, the collections include hundreds of sculptures.
Several travelers mentioned that though the Capitoline Museums wasn't high on their list of things to do or see, they're very happy they did see it. Tourists also praise the in-house restaurant for its affordable lunch and picturesque views of the city. Reviewers also urged visitors to look up at the magnificent ceilings while touring and make time to enjoy the sweeping city views from the rooftop.
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The Ancient Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) has a history that dates back to 312 B.C. and includes the 71 B.C. execution of Spartacus' army, the burial of Caecilia Metella, and many a Roman military march. These days, it makes for a good walk with numerous monuments to stop and see along the way.
Recent visitors said Appian Way is worth the long trek. Some even recommend hiring a tour guide to tag along with you, as even the smallest details along the walk provide a lot of insight into days past. Many agreed that visitors should come prepared with good walking shoes and water, and also to visit during the day as the area becomes a bit seedy come nightfall.
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For many visitors, this was the highlight of their trip to Rome. And what better souvenir to take home than a collection of Italian recipes and cooking techniques you can use when you return from vacation? During the five-hour class, you'll learn how to make authentic Italian dishes with a local Roman chef, Andrea Consoli, as your guide.
Past visitors raved about their experience, saying chef Consoli was patient, engaging and a great communicator. Others were pleased that he was able to accommodate different diets and skill sets. The use of fresh ingredients was another highlight for travelers. Some suggested splurging on the wine pairing for the full experience.
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