See also: Where to Stay in Rome
Rome is synonymous to ancient history and spellbinding creations – thousands of years after its fall, the empire’s achievements still stun with their ingenuity and sheer beauty. The massive monuments of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Pantheon unveil the ambition of this former world-capital; within matching structures is a filigree of artistic heritage. If the scale of St Peter’s Basilica is inscrutable, then the city’s ornate piazzas, Baroque fountains, Byzantine mosaics and Renaissance frescoes are beyond description.
Immerse in history at The Roman Forum
The colossal Imperial Rome has yet to relinquish its grasp on the world, lingering within the Roman Forum archaeological site. It is by far the largest swathe of history in the city, exposing past life in its pillars, unveiled interiors, crumbling temples and remaining façades. The site, which dates back to 500 BC, was expanded by subsequent rulers to include the bordering monuments of Trajan’s Column, the Arch of Titus and the Circus Maximus. Do ask for a guided tour as there are no signs to indicate which buildings were what; you don’t want to miss out on riveting stories either! With much of its structure still intact, it’s as if you’re walking in the footsteps of ghostly citizens.
Marvel at The Colosseum
Where you hear ‘Rome’, the name ‘Colosseum’ follows; it is the most recognized landmark of Rome. An approximate of 4 million people visits every year, ticking off this stop along the Roman Forum-Colosseum-Palatine Hill trifecta. Some come in awe of its sheer capacity as the amphitheater can fit in 50,000 spectators; others come to marvel at its unusual construction and atmospheric quality. Others remember it as a bloody stage of gladiatorial fights and other blood-shedding displays that characterized entertainment during Imperial Rome. Inaugurated in 80 AD, it is a historical site that has born the wear of time surprisingly well.
Wander around Centro Storico
Centro Storico is where the life is at – it is the heart of everyday culture and historical tidbits. Like mighty Neptune who wields his triton and scatters the waves, the three pronged arrow of roads leading from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum fractures into a network of alleyways and streets. Mired within are art-filled churches, artisanal boutiques, private courtyards and cozy eateries. Pick up customized jewelry or peak into the estates of the wealthy; indulge in gelato or people watch from a terrace restaurant. Forgo the map for a truly authentic Roman adventure.
Seek the sunspot within the Pantheon
Rising from an even older temple is the imposing Pantheon, constructed between 118 and 128 AD. One of the best preserved architectures of Ancient Rome, the Pantheon’s solid structure is classic Roman design; striking columns, perfectly slanted outer hall roof and a hulking mass of empty space within. While it is named like a temple for the gods, it is in fact the burial grounds of Roman emperors and revered figures. Wander in to admire the largest dome of pre-modern times and stand where sunlight filters through the oculus. It will make you wonder just how was it built.
Learn more about Villa Medici’s French Academy
Situated on Pincian Hill, Villa Medici gathered intellectuals and artists as a center for Renaissance art. Founded in 1666, the French Academy hosted within would go on to produce works featured in the Louvre and Versailles. Sculptors and architects later joined the roster and Villa Medici remains today an artiste residence and cultural exhibition centre. The gardens alone are a tourist draw, done in 16th-century style to boast lawn partitions and decorative fountains. Umbrella pines are a distinctive feature added at the end of the 19th century.
Breathe poetry in Keats-Shelley Memorial House
Don’t be fooled by Keats-Shelley Memorial House’s unassuming exterior for it hides a wealth of poetic treasures. Manuscripts and letters by prolific Romantic poets feature alongside memorabilia and paintings; the words of Byron, John Keats, Oscar Wilde and Percy Bysshe Shelley are commemorated in this two-room apartment. Marvel at the 8,000-book library and watch a short background reel of these literary leaders. The darkly dressed rooms are stunning panels of wooden shelving and patterned tile.
Take in the awe-inspiring Vatican City
The Vatican is a city-enclave within Rome, cloaked in white splendor and religious significance. There is much to see in terms of everyday spaces and cultural richness; start with climbing the Castel Sant’Angelo for a view over Vatican City. You’ll also find more of Bernini’s design work such as the carved marble angels of Ponte Sant’Angelo and embracing arms of Piazza di San Pietro. Above all (even St. Peter’s Basilica) is the Vatican Museums complex, one of the largest museums in the world. Developed out of the various popes’ collections, the museum features Roman sculptures and Renaissance art with religious themes. Another highlight is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, whose ceiling is a stunning masterpiece.
Visit the Museum of 21st Century Art (MAXXI)
Rome may have some of the world’s most gorgeous ancient art but it has its share of modern works too. The Museum of 21st Century Art stands out as an architectural piece; world-renown architect Zaha Hadid drew attention to it via textured lines and open spaces. The collection boasts a veritable roster of Warhol, Clemente and Richter pieces, totaling around 350 artworks by contemporary and modern masters. There are temporary exhibits surrounding film, art and architecture as well, marking it as both a museum and center for creative discourse.
See the world’s largest church: St. Peter’s Basilica
What is an important pilgrimage site for Catholics also draws in visitors in search of history – St. Peter’s Basilica was conceived above the tomb of the very first pope. While Constantine’s original 349 AD structure was later razed and replaced by its current iteration in 1626, it was enhanced to 18,000 square yards, making it the world’s largest church. With a gleaming white dome, majestic pillars and religious motifs, St. Peter’s Basilica stands as an architectural masterpiece. Its aesthetic quality doesn’t end there either; sweep its halls in search of Bernini’s baldacchino altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Pieta.
Explore the neighborhood of Trastevere
Stray into the more mundane but atmospheric neighborhoods such as Trastevere for a taste of how locals live. As its name describes you have to first cross River Tiber, where there is a tangible change in vibe. Earthy colors coat building walls, burnished reds and yellows casting a warm glow on cobblestoned streets. Small boutiques sell jewelry and handicrafts, adjacent to cozy cafés and eateries. But the languid and bohemian pace picks up at night when the bars open, air filling with friendly chatter and clinking of cocktail glasses. If you prefer slow travel, Trastevere is definitely to your taste.
Admire the Capitoline Hill Museums
Sitting astride Capitoline Hill is the Capitoline Museums complex in Piazza del Campidoglio. The world’s first public museum, its collection spans through the ages to present Roman classics, ancients and the Baroque. Within the bedazzled halls are excavated items to feature alongside art, marking it as a lure for both archaeologists and art historians. One such highlight is the original bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Marvel at The Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla dates back to year 212, sharing its name with the emperor of the time. An extraordinary complex of public baths even in a time where baths were THE Roman past time, the Caracalla baths operated on ingenious heating and drainage systems. Libraries, gardens and imitate temples developed on the estate offered alternative entertainment. Once decorated with art works and marble that were lost after plundering, you can still gaze upon its remaining walls and dream of the splendor of Roman comfort.
Enjoy the contrasting displays of Centrale Montemartini
Who would have thought ancient sculptures and power plants went hand-in-hand? This unusual museum sits in former Giovanni Montemartini Thermoelectric Centre, a temporary exhibition space during the reconstruction works of Capitoline museums that turned permanent in 2005. Observe two distinct and opposing worlds side by side; the educational timeline of Rome’s industrial growth in sharp contrast to excavated busts and architectural monuments.
Enjoy Baroque art around Piazza Navona
Open-air Piazza Navona is a popular square that features eateries, souvenir shops and cultural goodies. Among the most eye-catching sights is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the fountain a Baroque extravagance that represents four great rivers in human form. You’ll also find Museo di Roma alongside gelato shops and other art pieces. Nearby is Via della Pace, a picturesque street that leads to Santa Maria della Pace church. If you have an afternoon to spare, Piazza Navona offers a diverse range of entertainment.
Explore the sprawling grounds of Domus Aurea
Domus Aure, translating into “Golden House”, was constructed in 64AD after the great fire that razed Palatine Hill. Emperor Nero oversaw the conception of this vast estate, whose size is estimated to be between 100 to 300 acres. Spanning Palatine, Esquiline, Oppian and Caelian hills, it encompasses pastures, vineyards, artificial lakes and more rural-city landscapes. Admire the white marbling, stuccos and frescoes which while faded, are nonetheless remnants of a great project. We highly recommend the tour the uses AR technology to help you envision its original glory.
Hop onto a Vespa for a unique city tour
Join Scooteroma on a Vespa tour around Rome, darting through backstreets and ostentatiously local neighborhoods. The tour guides route around a classic tour of Rome’s biggest landmarks, a street art tour within Quadraro and Pigneto, even one that that is cinematically-themed. Work with the company to customize your tour based on personal interests and time constraints! If you are trying to balance out a short visit with the desire to explore on foot, hopping on a Vespa is the perfect compromise.
Enjoy art at Museo di Roma
Established in 1930 to showcase Italy’s “old Rome”, Museo di Roma has transitioned from its historical premise into a celebration of art. Most of the collection hinged on donations and bequests, and later acquisitions saw thousands of illustrations. Enjoy an eclectic range of paintings, sculptures and architectural manuscripts alongside the museum’s famed drawings. Featured artists include Bottani, Panini and Nicola Savi, the latter who designed Trevi Fountain.
Look out from Trinità dei Monti Church
Gaze up at Trinità dei Monti Church from the Spanish Steps. Its unique double-tower façade takes inspiration from Gothic France, while its interior boasts large framed paintings. Most visit for its elevated location and stunning views over Rome. Bring your camera along for some panoramic shots!
Admire Rome from high up Gianicolo
Sometimes the difficulty is figuring out a starting point: how should I explore this city and where should I begin? Luckily, Rome’s hilly terrain gifts us with the perfect viewpoint to map out your travels – Gianicolo. Instead of seeking out Rome’s highest hills, aim for the one with the clearest views. This vantage spot covets the Spanish Steps, Palazzo Venezia and other major monuments. Street vendors line the open space to hustle visitors while couples canoodle during dusk; visitors however, go straight to the edge and sigh lovingly at the panoramic sweep. It’s challenging to walk up the winding path so opt for vehicle transport instead.
Look for the best gelaterias
Gelato is definitely a highlight of your trip! Nothing sounds better than a cold treat with mixed flavors after hours of walking in the sun. Depending on your preference, drop by Gelataria del Teatro for top-quality ingredients and Fatamorgana for unusual flavors. For old-school fare, visit Giolitti which has been around since 1900. Salivate over the rainbow-hued displays and dozens of flavors that range from solid vanilla to more inventive.
Tour the Castel Sant’Angelo
What began as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD later became a fortress for besieged popes in the 6th century. Only then did the name Castel Sant’Angelo come; Pope Gregory the Great saw an angel on its summit during a plea to end a plague and understood it as a symbol of hope. Now, you can tour the vaulted corridors leading to Hadrian’s tomb and carry on through a moody courtyard to open terrace views of the Passetto. Many architectural intrigues and lavish frescoes are preserved in this iconic landmark.
Admire the art-sculpted interior of Villa Borghese
If you think Villa Borghese is stunning on the outside, you’ll be blown away by its collection inside. Commissioned in the 17th century specifically to host Cardinal Borghese’s treasures, it is a museum of Baroque masterpieces. Reserve ahead for a tour of its stunning art frescoes, detailed work covering high ceilings and marble walls. You’ll see the likes of Antonio Canova and Caravaggio, Bernini’s famous Apollo and Daphne. There are sculptures outside of the villa’s galleries as well, dotting the serene Villa Borghese park. This villa is a must-visit for sculpture work.
Flip a coin into Trevi Fountain
Baroque is everywhere in Rome but none as iconic as Nicola Salvi’s Trevi Fountain. You might think it a clichéd and overdone tourist spot, but visit early morning or late evening for the magic to hit full force. Marbled Neptune stands proudly in the center, riding waves with his tritons. It is the largest fountain of its style in Rome, standing at 26.3 meters high and almost twice that width. You can reach the fountain through three streets; Via De Crocicchis, Via Poli and Via Delle Muratte.
Explore the Pigneto neighborhood
If street art is the indicator of an up-and-coming neighborhood, then Pigneto definitely makes the cut. Start your tour of this somewhat gritty neighborhood with a stroll down mural-spotted via del Pigneto and via Fanfulla da Lodi. Here is a concentrated dose of ‘working-class district emerging from its cocoon’ aesthetic; vintage stores and restaurants are being reinvented into hip spaces. Hidden speakeasy Spirito puts a twist on traditional sandwich shops, while locals stick to old habits and take light meals outside of the atmospheric Necci dal 1924.
View the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery – MACRO
Both buildings this museum is housed in are unusual; one an old Peroni beer factory and the other a former slaughterhouse. While its crowning piece is a specially designed installation by Daniel Buren, MACRO houses a wide ranging spectrum of art to complement its contemporary programs. Deigned MACROExpo, MACROLab and MACROLive, these experiences aim to foster cultural productions and a community-wide appreciation of art.
Shop at Galleria Alberto Sordi
Y-shaped Galleria Alberto Sordi deserves a mention on your itinerary, whether you’re set on a new wardrobe or just passing through. Built in Art Nouveau style with stained-glass skylights, its towering halls are impressive even at a glimpse. Enjoy browsing the stores to while away the hours or just dip in for a look.
Stock up at Campo de’ Fiori market
Street markets are the norm for Rome’s locals and Campo de’ Fiori is one of the most popular, although it has become somewhat of a tourist hotspot. Still, it is a great way for you to mingle with the locals, maybe even strike up conversation! Browse the stalls for fresh fruits and produce; if you’re renting out a self-service apartment this is the perfect grocery shopping opportunity. Pick up some freshly baked bread, cheese slices and light greens to build the perfect sandwich and salad – enjoy a picnic at small neighborhood parks or quiet plazas.
Try traditional Roman dishes
Italian dishes are heavy on the pasta, herb-marinated meats and homey fare; where does Rome stand in terms of regional cuisine? Focusing on simple but thoroughly mastered dishes, traditional Roman cuisine tends towards cheese-garnished items and fried bites for appetizer. Mains are mostly pasta with spicy tomato sauce such as bucatini all’amatriciana or a heavier carbonara; there’s also pig’s cheek referred to as guanciale. Usual spices and herbs include black pepper and pepperoncino.
Seek the secret keyhole at the Priory of the Knights of Malta
Keep today’s itinerary hush-hush as you search for the nondescript door to the Priory of the Knights of Malta. Originally a fortified palace then Benedictine monastery and home to the Knights of Templar, the centuries-old building became the headquarters for the Knights of Malta in 1834. Tours aren’t always available but we don’t need to entry to find what we seek – an unassuming keyhole that reveals a surprising secret. Bend down for a perfect framing of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the prize at the end of a green-lined viewfinder. Hint: the door is just past the orange grove on Aventine Hill.
Admire art in Santa Maria del Popolo
Art lovers converge on the otherwise overlooked Santa Maria del Popolo which stands in the corner of Piazza del Popolo. From Pinturicchio frescoes of the 15th century to Raphael’s Chigi Chapel, the church is a vault of mosaics and decorative marble. Admire the Caravaggio masterpieces that adorn one of its chapels; and at the main altar is a rare 16th-century stained glass. Annibale Carracci’s classical Assumption of the Virgin hangs above the altar in sharp contrast to the drama Caravaggio pieces.
Enjoy the nightlife in Testaccio
What used to be a working-class neighborhood has become a hub for nightlife. While the traditional buildings and riverside location maintains a nostalgic charm, the influx of bars and clubs has elevated it into a trendy hotspot. If you have energy to spare after a long day of exploration, dress up for a conversational night among the locals. You can also head over a bit earlier during sunset for a slower drawn-out meal and drinks. Fashionistas do be careful though; the cobblestone streets aren’t made for fancy footwear.
Day trip out to smaller towns of Ostia Antica, Cerveteri and Sperlonga
Visit the towns of Ostia Antica, Cerveteri and Sperlonga for more historical ruins and clifftop communities. Where Ostia Antica displays nature’s growth over ancient remnants and Cerveteri the grounds of Etruscan Necropolises, Sperlonga is shallow coast and rugged cliffs. Spare a day or two to explore culture beyond city borders.
Hunt down cinematic streets like Via Margutta
Rome is a city that calls for on-foot meandering and curious ventures. There are plenty of picturesque streets like Via Margutta; hanging vines, sun-tanned buildings and warm lights in the evening. Lose the map and be on the lookout for these hidden gems.