Nothing can quite prepare you for the beauty of Rome. This ancient capital boasts a treasure trove of history, with traces of its rich heritage etched all over the city. Roman, medieval, renaissance, baroque – there’s an endless time warp of architecture and attractions to discover.
There’s no doubt this spellbinding city will charm you. And the cobbled streets, family-run trattorias and pretty squares all add to the magic of the place.
With so much to see, knowing what to do in Rome can be a little overwhelming. Here’s our pick of the best things to do in the Eternal City.
- Vatican Museums
- St Peter's Basilica
- Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
- Villa Borghese
- Piazza Navona
- Trevi Fountain
One of Rome’s most iconic attractions, the Colosseum is a real beauty. As the photo spot of the city, it’s one of the first ports of call for any visitor.
Admire the arches of the outer walls, before heading into the ancient arena where animals and gladiators once battled to the death in front of 50,000 people. An audio guide will provide you with an in-depth history of the Colosseum, which was created all the way back in 80 AD.
2. Vatican Museums
Spend a morning exploring the world-class collection of art hidden within the walls of the Vatican Museums. Since their inauguration in the 16th century, the exhibitions have grown to become some of the largest and greatest on the planet. Where else can you marvel at frescoes by Raphael and paintings by Da Vinci?
Wander the halls, passing by Egyptian mummies and centuries-old topographical maps, in the direction of the museum’s true highlight – the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s masterpiece is truly breathtaking. Turn your gaze skywards to study the awe-inspiring ceiling frescoes, depicting biblical characters in a riot of colour.
3. St Peter’s Basilica
Any sightseeing trip to Rome requires a visit to St Peter’s Basilica, the biggest and most lavish church in the world. Its soaring dome pierces the city’s skyline and the enormous square that stands before it is surrounded by more than 250 angel-topped columns. Quite simply, it’s magnificent.
Inside, the ornate and vast architectural detailing continues. There’s something to see everywhere you look, from the bronze baldachin to the marble-clad chapels. Explore the spacious interior, including the Vatican Grottoes beneath where you’ll find tombs of popes dating from the 10th century. Don’t miss the chance to head up Michelangelo’s beautiful dome. Scale more than 300 steps to the top and experience sweeping views across Rome.
4. Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
Neighbouring the Colosseum is the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, once the heart of ancient Rome.
Strolling through the ruins of the Forum is like taking a step back in time, with reminders of the city’s former power everywhere. Temples, arches and churches create a jaw-dropping patchwork of history. Look out for the Arch of Titus, the House of the Vestals and the trio of columns that remain of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.
Continue on to Palatine Hill. More ruins can be found among the soaring pine trees, but the best part of this area is Orti Farnesiani. This 16th century garden has a gorgeous viewing balcony, with incredible vistas of the Forum below.
Another contender for one of the best things to do in Rome, the Pantheon is a one-of-a-kind attraction. This temple-cum-church has stood in the city centre for more than 2,000 years and is an important slice of the capital’s history. Its key appeal is that it is one of the most perfectly preserved Roman sites in the world. Here, you’ll get a sense of the grandeur of its ancient interior.
Stand outside in Piazza della Rotonda and gaze at the inscriptions decorating the columned-façade, before heading inside. The Pantheon is vast, topped by a soaring dome with a hole in its centre, known as an oculus. Visit on a rainy day to see raindrops patter on the marble floor at your feet. Simply wander around and soak up the incredible architecture on show.
6. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary and a papal basilica, this must-see church was established in the 4th century but has evolved greatly over the years. The belfry, columns, façade and mosaics all date from different eras but together create a harmonious blend of architecture.
Step inside the church to learn more about its history and the legends surrounding its conception. You can also see important religious relics, Roman remains and an incredible renaissance ceiling.
7. Villa Borghese
Discover a beautiful oasis of green in Rome’s centre at Villa Borghese. This much-loved park is home to gorgeous gardens, brilliant museums and a manmade lake.
Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the 226-acre plot, wandering past tinkling fountains and a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe. Museo e Galleria Borghese, a former palace, is one of the park’s highlights, where works from Raphael, Titian and Bernini grace the walls.
8. Piazza Navona
Pretty squares are aplenty in Rome, but Piazza Navona takes the mantle as the city’s best. This vibrant pocket of the capital buzzes with tourists and street artists, drawn here by the baroque architecture.
The trio of eye-catching fountains are worth checking out - Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuno. Two palaces can also be found here, neoclassical Palazzo Braschi and 16th century Palazzo Torres.
9. Trevi Fountain
No city break to Rome would be complete without a trip to the Trevi Fountain. This gorgeous feat of 18th century architecture is more than 26 metres tall, meticulously sculpted with a collection of mythical figures.
Turn your back to the fountain and toss a coin into the gurgling water, as is tradition here. One coin and you’ll return to Rome; two and you’ll fall in love with a local; three and you’ll get married.
As night falls, cross the River Tiber into Trastevere. This medieval district of the city is bewitching, with a tangle of cobbled streets to explore.
Among them you’ll find quaint churches, bustling squares and cosy trattorias. This is one of the best places to stop off and try the local cuisine. Slurp down a bowl of cacio e pepe – a humble pasta dish made from black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese and Parmigiano cheese. Delicious.
Tick off the top things to do in Rome with our handy guide. Not booked your break yet?
Posted: 1st Jan 2020.