Are you wondering what are the best things to do in Rome, Italy? I have been to Rome a handful of times during the summer and autumn seasons. I have seen the famous attractions and done different things to do in Rome also known as “the Eternal City“.
I absolutely enjoy my time in Rome even if it’s mainly hectic due to its popularity as one of the main cities in Europe. Let me share with you some of my recommendations on the best things to do in Rome, Italy to make sure you will see the highlights of the Roman city. As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome!
Read More: Where To Go In Italy: The Beautiful Places To Visit In Italy
Here are best things to do in Rome, Italy for first time visitors:
A visit to Rome won’t be complete without going to the Vatican City, The home of the Roman Catholic church and the Pope. The St. Peter Basilica and square are the main destinations of the Catholic pilgrims from all over the world who wishes to lay eyes and be present with the Holy See.
I’m a Roman Catholic and it was a surreal experience for me when I first step foot in Vatican City. It was like a dream come true to see it when all my life I can only see and read it in books.
Inside the St. Peter’s Basilica houses the various sacred statues including the Pietà of Michelangelo. The Vatican Necropolis that is located beneath the basilica is also the location of the tomb of St. Peter (One of the 12 apostles and the first pope) and some of the previous famous Popes.
The Vatican Necropolis is open for scheduled tours for about 1.5 – 2 hours long. The scheduled tours as pre-approved by the Scavi office and only 250 people are allowed per day.
A visit to the Vatican city won’t be complete without going to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. The Vatican museum is composed of four different departments including the iconic Momo Staircase (Bramante Staircase), Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Museo Storico and the Vatican Apostolic Library.
The Vatican museum is a haven for art and history enthusiasts. It has had tens of thousands of historical paintings and sculptures over the centuries. The Sistine chapel inside the Vatican museum is one of the highlights of every visitor of Vatican city.
The Sistine chapel is brimming with intricately detailed and colourful frescoes that depict various biblical stories. The Creation of Adam fresco painted by Michaelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the highlights of the chapel.
The Creation of Adam fresco is one of the most iconic European arts. Created by Michaelangelo in 1512 that depicts the biblical narrative of the Book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam, the first man.
It was a surreal experience when I first went inside the Sistine chapel. Coming from a devout Catholic family, it was like a “Judgement day” feeling. Seeing the beautiful frescoes inside the chapel was a joyous moment when I have never imagined I would see in the flesh.
The Spanish steps is an iconic stairway in Rome. It is consist of 135 steps that leads to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top and the Piazza di Spagna and the Fontana della Barcaccia at the bottom. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Spechi.
At the centre of Piazza de Spagna (Square of Spain) is the Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Boat) a baroque style fountain made by Pietro Bernini in 1623 and finished by 1627. The project was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII as part of the Papal project to build a fountain in every major plaza in Rome.
When I first visited the Spanish steps, It was during the heat of the summer in Rome. The steps were beautifully decorated with lovely colourful flowers that leads to the church at the top. The tourists flocked to rest at the steps to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Piazza de Spagna and the Fontana della Barcaccia. A quintessential romantic Italian scene.
I personally think that one of the best things to do in Rome is to visit and throw a coin at the iconic Trevi Fountain. As the saying and movie go, tossing a coin at the Trevi Fountain would ensure that you will come back to visit the Eternal city again. As clichè as it may sound, I did it the first time I went to Rome and a few years later I was back in Rome and in front of Trevi Fountain again.
Trevi Fountain was designed by architect Nicola Salvi and other Italian architects. It is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the iconic fountains in the world. The Trevi fountain construction started in 1732 and finished in 1762.
The Palazzo Poli is the backdrop building of the fountain. The main focal point of the Trevi fountain is the sculpture of Triton (Son of Poseidon) on his Oceanus’ shell chariot taming hippocamps. On top of the grand statues and fountain is the Papal Coat of Arms.
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre in Rome and in the world. It is also called the Flavian Amphitheatre. It is one of the iconic landmarks of the Eternal city. The construction of the Colosseum started in 69 – 79 AD and finished in 80 AD.
The Colosseum was originally used as a gruesome entertainment pit for the gladiator shows and the exotic animal hunt that was mainly imported from Africa and Asia. During medieval times and the spread of Christianity, the Colosseum was used as a church, for big gatherings and fortress.
I can’t help to be amazed by the grandeur style and size of the Colosseum when I first visited Rome. My husband and I went to visit the Colosseum using our Roma Pass. Even what’s left now is mainly the ruins and foundations of the Colosseum, the classic Roman architecture and style can still see through its museum and exhibitions.
The Roman Forum (Foro Romano) is an area in Rome where several ancient Roman government buildings were located. The Roman Forum is just a stone throw away from the Colosseum.
The Roman Forum was the heart of the city where the Romans gather to do triumphal procession for military success, elections, criminal trials, Gladiator matches, public gatherings, religious ceremonies and everyday trade.
When my husband and I went to visit the Roman forum, we enjoyed the history of the area as we walked around the site. Inside the complex, you can find some important sites: The Palatine Hill, The Senate House, Temple of Saturn, Arch of Titus, Temple of Vesta, The Rostra, Temple of Castor and Pollux and The Sacra Via.
The Victor Emmanuel II National Monument is also known as The Vittoriano is a national patriotic monument in Italy. It is dedicated to the late King Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy that helps to unite all the different kingdoms of what we currently know as Italy as one nation.
Inside and around the external of the Vittoriano you can find various important statues and artistic works. These are the Altar of the Fatherland, the tomb of the Unknown soldier, fountains of the two seas (Adriatic sea and the Tyrrhenian sea), Statue of Goddess Roma, Statue of King Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, and two quadrigae with Winged Victory statues.
When I visited the Vittoriano, I appreciated the patriotic tribute of Italy and its history. The majestic landmark immensely shows this through the detailed artistic works and the architectural grandeur. In front of the Vittoriano is the historical Piazza Venezia.
The Capitoline Hill is part of Roman’s early settlement and where they initially form the first fortification of Rome. They used the location to their advantage, where they can have clear higher ground views of the River Tiber and the surrounding grounds and hills.
There are a few temples built on Capitoline hills such as the temple of Juno Moneta, the temple of Virtus and the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus.
The current buildings in the Capitoline hill are the Palace of Senators, Palazzo Dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo. The Piazza del Campidoglio was designed by the renowned Italian artist, Michaelangelo. In the middle of Piazza del Campidoglio is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Castel Sant’ Angelo
The Castel Sant’ Angelo is the mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. It is also commonly called Hadrian’s Mole and it was completed in 139 AC. Its unique cylindrical architectural feature has been its distinguishing style in the Eternal city’s skyline.
In around 590 AC, Pope Gregory I has a vision of Archangel Michael digging his sword into Hadrian’s Mole during a procession to get rid of the plague at the time. Believed to be a divine intervention, the Roman started calling the mausoleum the Castel Sant’ Angelo.
I highly suggest visiting the Castel Sant’ Angelo to watch the sunset from the top of the building. The Castel Sant’ Angelo top viewing deck has gorgeous vantage points to capture the sunset sky over the Vatican and Rome.
Trastevere neighbourhood is located on the other side of the Tiber river adjacent to the touristy areas of Rome. Hence the neighbourhood’s name derives from a Latin word Tiberim which means “beyond the Tiber”. The Basilica of Santa Maria one of the oldest churches in Rome is located in Trastevere.
The Trastevere neighbourhood is known for charming cobblestone streets, colourful and intricately decorated homes with balconies and the charming vines of the plants that are beautifully draping on the windows, walls and doors of the houses. Trastevere is one of the Instagram worthy places in Rome.
When I visited Trastevere it was like travelling back in time with the old pretty houses and charming streets that you typically see in the movies. Trastevere also has local flea markets to enjoy fresh produce and bric-a-brac.
Piazza Navona is one of the popular public open spaces in Rome. It is known for its beautiful three fountains: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) at the centre of the piazza, Fontana del Moro (south end) and Fontana del Nettuno (north end).
Piazza Navona was originally a stadium built during the Domitian’s time. During ancient times, Romans went to the stadium to watch “agones” which means games. The known Roman stadium was then called “Circus Agonalis”. This name evolves to “Avone” and then to “Navone”, which derives from the name of Navona that we currently know.
The Sant’ Agnese in Agone in the 17th-century Baroque church facing the Piazza Navona. The old foundations of the ruined stadium can still be found underneath the cellars of the church and the buildings that surround the Piazza Navona.
Every time I visit Rome, Piazza Navona is my favourite place to have lunch. The characteristics of the Piazza gives me classic Roman vibes with its beautiful fountains and open space.
The Pantheon is the most preserved, historical and iconic ancient landmark in Rome. It was built by Agrippa between 25BC – 27 BC dedicated to the twelve Greek Gods (Twelve Olympians):
- Hestia or Dionysus
Hence the name Pantheon comes from the Greek words “pan” and “theon” that translate “all and gods”.
Over the centuries, the Patheon was converted to Christianity by Pope Boniface VI in 608. Pope Boniface VI ordered the move of many of the Christian martyrs remains to the Pantheon. From then, the Patheon acquired a new Christian name as the Basilica of Santa Maria ad Martyres.
The front inscription on the Patheon facade translates as “Marco Agrippa, son of Lucio, consulate for the third time built”. A visit to Patheon is one of the best things to do in Rome given its great ancient historical value to the Eternal city.
I have been to the Pantheon a number of times, and it never ceases to amaze me with its history and great architectural design. Across the Patheon is the Piazza della Rotonda.
Mouth of Truth
The Mouth of Truth ( Bocca della Verità) is a circular marble mask that is located at the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church. The Mouth of Truth depicts the face of the sea titan god Oceanus.
The medieval legend goes that the Mouth of Truth mask will bite off the hand of any liar who places their hand in its mouth or anyone utters lies while their hand is in the mouth. The Mouth of Truth was also featured in the Hollywood classic film ” Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
The Mouth of Truth attracts a lot of tourists in Rome to have their photos taken and place a hand inside the mouth of the marble mask. The fun novelty of this ancient sculpture surely brings fun to the visitors of the Eternal city.
Of course, I dare not to miss visiting the Mouth of Truth when I visited Rome. Be warned, the queue is long to see the Mouth of Truth and you might lose your hand if you are a liar.
Catacombs of St. Callixtus
The Catacombs of St. Callixtus is probably one of the most important and historical catacombs in Rome. It was built around the 2nd century and around 90 acres of complex labyrinth 12 miles long in 4 levels and over 20 metres deep.
St. Callixtus was appointed to become the administrator of the cemetery. The catacombs became the cemetery of the Church of Rome. Wherein, it became the final resting place for 10 Christian martyrs, 16 popes and hundreds of Christians.
Inside the catacombs, it is divided into five different routes. These are:
- The crypt of the Popes
- The crypt of St. Cecilia
- The cubicles of the sacraments
- The area of Pope Melziades
- The crypt of St. Gaius and St. Eusebius
Since the Christian faith has a lot of symbolism, inside the crypts you can also find various Christian symbols including the: Good Shepherd, the “orante”, The Monogram of Christ (The two Greek letters – X and P interlacing), The Fish, the dove, the Alpha and the Omega, the Anchor and the Phoenix.
Rome has hundreds of churches and basilica dotted around the city. After all, Vatican and Rome is the centre of the Christian faith. There are four major Basilicas in Rome & Vatican:
- St. Peter’s Basilica
- Saint John Lateran Basilica
- Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica
- St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica
It is next to impossible not to visit and admire the beauty of the churches in Rome and the Vatican. The great history and importance of these sacred places are paramount to the Christian faith. I would like to encourage visitors to dress appropriately when visiting churches in Rome and the Vatican.
During medieval times the adventure for great pilgrimages to Rome from England became a popular route for the Christians. This became the holy vow for any Christians to take to uphold their beliefs. Around 1553 when St. Philip Neri made a tradition to visit seven churches in Rome to strengthen the common religious experience among peers and fellow pilgrims.
These are the seven holy Pilgrim churches in Rome:
- Basilica of St. John Lateran
- St. Peter’s Basilica
- Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
- Basilica of St. Mary Major
- Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls
- Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem
- Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love
The Philippines, as a devoutly Catholic country, have a tradition of “Visita Iglesia” during Holy Week (Semana Santa). Visita Iglesia’s general practice is to visit seven churches and recite the Station of the Cross. This tradition has originated most probably from the Seven Holy Pilgrim churches tradition in Rome.
Pyramid of Cestius
The Pyramid of Cestius is located on the outskirts of the Eternal city. It is a tomb for Gaius Cestius built around 18 – 12 BC. The pyramid is one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome.
You can visit the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome by catching the metro and getting off at the Pyramide station. It is standing tall in front of the metro station and next to the Porta San Paolo and the Protestant Cemetery.
It might be odd to see a pyramid in Rome, however, it is not the first and only pyramid that once towered the Eternal city. The Pyramid of Romulus was once stood between the Vatican and the Mausoleum of Hadrian. However, it has been dismantled in the 16th century by Pope Alexandre VI and the marble was used for the steps of the St. Peter Basilica in the Vatican.
A visit to Rome won’t be complete without enjoying the delicious Italian dishes and local produce. A gastronomical tour of Italian food is one of the best things to do in Rome. You can visit different charming cafes and restaurants located in Trastevere wherein you can enjoy Italian food like a local.
Eataly Roma is a multi-level food haven for everything and anything Italian food and produce. From the delectable pizza up to the most delicious Italian wine, they got you covered!
When I visited Eataly Roma, it was a great gastronomical adventure. You can pretty much stay all day in that place stuffed with the most delicious Italian food and wine.
I hope that inspires you to visit and enjoy the best things to do in Rome, Italy!