You will never have troubles finding incredible things to do in Rome.
Not many places in the world can offer such a great mixture of historical landmarks, archaeological sites, churches, museums, antique and modern art such as that of the Eternal City, all served with an abundant side of delicious local food (best if enjoyed in the many “trattorie” – AKA local restaurants) and gelato.
Rome is vibrant and lively; it’s chaotic yet lovely; it’s dirty yet utterly gorgeous. If you are curious to know more about everything that the Italian capital has to offer, you are in the right place. Continue reading to discover the best landmarks in Rome; some hidden gems and to get a few tips on how to make the most of the city.
18 Classic Things To Do In Rome
Visit St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is actually located in Vatican City, a small city-state in the very center of Rome. Built over a site thought to be the tomb of St. Peter and only completed in 1626, this is the most famous church in Christendom, the largest and most important Catholic church in the world, and a sumptuous example of Renaissance and Baroque style. It’s also the tallest building in the city – and nothing taller than that can actually be built in town.
Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll find the works of prominent artists such a Michelangelo’s Pietà; Bernini’s Baldacchino and Chair of St. Peter’s; Bramante and Vignola. The church has 11 chapels, 45 altars and many beautiful mosaics. I also recommend exploring the underground crypts, where popes are usually buries.
You can opt to visit independently or take a guided tour. I actually recommend a guided tour, as there is a lot to take in and only a guide will be able to uncover all the secrets of the construction of the church, and give meaning to all the art inside it.
The church is free to access, but you’ll have to go through security to get in, and you’ll need to be dressed modestly – cover your shoulder, chest and knees and you’ll have no trouble walking in.
To make the most of the church, join a guided tour. You can book it here.
For a tour that also goes to the underground grottoes and the Dome, click here. One of the best tours is this St. Peter’s Basilica from Top to Bottom with Dome Climb & Crypt – it really is all inclusive and with a fantastic local guide.
You should also read my post A Curated Guide To Visiting St Peter’s Basilica.
Walk up St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
There are several places from where you can get incredible views of Rome. One is St. Peter’s Basilica Dome, which will offer you stunning views of the square below, Via della Conciliazione, Castel Sant’Angelo and the Tiber River. But climbing the Dome is also about the experience, and about learning about this masterpiece itself.
Michelangelo’s masterpiece – which measures 36 meters (446 feet) in height and has a diameter of 42 meters (almost 138 feet) – was designed following the style of the Pantheon. Construction started when Michelangelo was already 71, in 1546, and was not completed before he died in 1564. The Dome was finally completed in 1590 thanks to the work of Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana.
While the church is free to visit, access to the Dome costs €8 – if you walk the 551 steps to the top – or €10 if you opt to take the elevator to the first terrace and then walk the remaining 320 steps.
You can book your guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with Dome climb here, here or here.
For more information, head over to my post A Complete Guide To Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica Dome.
Wander around St. Peter’s Square
This enormous, airy square is framed by two sets of colonnades on top of which there are statues of religious figures and popes. At the center there is an obelisk taken from Nero’s circus, and on its sides two beautiful fountains – one by Carlo Maderno, and the other one by Bernini.
The square and St. Peter’s Basilica are actually guarded by the famous Swiss Guards, which you’ll recognize because of their colorful uniforms. You will definitely find them on the right of the church, guarding the official entrance.
If you happen to be in Rome on a Sunday, you may want to head to St. Peter’s Square just before 12:00 pm. That’s when the Pope addresses his audience during the Angelus. He will show up from a window on the right, located in the Papal apartments. His address lasts around 20 minutes and it’s in Italian, but it’s very moving even to non-religious people (it certainly was to me!).
Keep in mind that to get into St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus you’ll have to go through security checks.
Go to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
Right next to St. Peter’s Basilica you will find the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel was originally built in the 15th century and called Cappella Magna, but was then named after Pope Sixtus IV, upon whose wishes it had been built. This is where you’ll find Michelangelo’s masterpiece, The Last Judgement, which he painted between 1508 and 1512.
The Vatican Museums are housed in palaces originally built for Renaissance popes and house one of the most impressive art collections in the world, spread across 54 chambers – including the famous Raphael’s Rooms, the Gallery of the Maps, and an impressive collection of classic statues.
Visits to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel must be booked in advance. You can get your tickets here.
If you’d rather join a guided tour, you can book it here.
You could also consider joining this Pristine Sistine Early Entrance Small Group Vatican Tour – I have taken it and wholeheartedly recommend it. It starts early, which means you’ll be exploring the museum and the Sistine Chapel before the larger crowds arrive, and includes a fabulous buffet breakfast on the premises.
Alternatively, there’s also this Complete Vatican Tour which includes a visit of St. Peter’s Basilica too, which you will access through a special “secret” gate.
You should also read my post How To Get Vatican Tickets.
Visit the Vatican Gardens
If you are visiting in the spring months, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Rome! Taking much of the actual land of the Vatican State, the gardens were open to the public in 2014 upon wishes of Pope Francis. You can only visit them on guided bus tours that depart on a regular basis from the Vatican Museums – in fact, you can use the same tickets you have for the museums. You can’t get off the bus, but the views along the tour (and the photo opportunities) are incredible.
Divided into Italian Gardens, English Gardens and French Gardens, inside there are many variety of plants and flowers, statues and impressive fountains. During the tour you’ll also be able to spot the Vatican Radio, the Vatican Railway Station, and get impressive views of the Bramante’s Belvedere Courtyard.
You can book a guided tour of the Vatican Gardens via the official site here.
For more detailed information, head over to my post The Complete Guide To Visiting The Vatican Gardens, Rome.
Explore Castel Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant’Angelo is massive fortress whose construction started in 139 AD. Initially intended as Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum, it then became a medieval citadel, a prison and a place of safety for popes during times of political unrest – there is a corridor known as the Passetto di Borgo – that connects the Vatican Palace to the Castle and that provided an escape route for popes. It was also the set of Angels and Demons, one of Dan Brown’s most famous novels.
Today, Castel Sant’Angelo remains an impressive building. You can walk inside to visit the permanent exhibit, admire the beautifully frescoed rooms, and to get breathtaking views of the Italian capital and of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Should you want to visit, get your tickets in advance here.
You should also read my post A Guide To Visiting Castel Sant’Angelo Rome.
Cross Ponte Sant’Angelo
Linking the two sides of the Tiber River there are many bridges. Ponte dell’Angelo, right outside Castel Sant’Angelo and lined with angel statues (five on each side) which are the work of Bernini and his scholars (commissioned by Pope Clemens IX), is by far the prettiest in town.
The bridge was built upon wishes of Emperor Hadrian in 134 AD. It was intended to link the city on the other side of the river with his mausoleum (now Castel Sant’Angelo). Today, you can cross the bridge to get to the castle and to walk all the way to the Vatican. For impressive views of the Castel Sant’Angelo and the bridge, you can stand on the other side of the Tiber River, or walk to one of the other bridges – Ponte Vittorio Emanuele or Ponte Umberto.
Discover the Capitoline Hill and Museums
Among the most beautiful places to visit in Rome there are the Capitoline Hill and Museums. The square – Piazza del Campidoglio – was designed by Michelangelo. This is where Rome’s City Hall is located.
Inside the Capitoline Museums – spread across the Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo – there is a fabulous collection of classical sculptures (Egyptian, Greek and Roman) kept there since Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze sculptures to the city of Rome in 1471. There are also paintings by Caravaggio, and the famous statue of the she-wolf (the Capitoline Wolf), symbol of Rome from ancient times.
Make sure to also pop into the terrace, as from there you’ll be able to get one of the most special views of the Roman Forum. I walked by at night and could not resist the temptation to stop and take a photo!
To get tickets to the Capitoline Museums, click here.
Pop by Quirinal Palace
One of the Seven Hills of Rome, Quirinal Hill is home to the Palazzo del Quirinale, completed in 1583 and the 11th largest palace in the world by area. Prominent Italian artists such as Maderno and Bernini worked on the palace, once the summer residence of the Pope.
After the unification of Italy it became the residence of the king, and now it is the residence of the Italian head of state. Inside, there are beautifully frescoed rooms. Make sure to also take your time to explore the square – it’s quite impressive. You’ll be able to admire the Obelisk, the statues of the Horse Tamers, and the Palazzo della Consulta among others.
You can tour the reception rooms and the grand gardens. Book your visit on the official site here.
Head over to my post A Guide To The Quirinal Hill, Rome.
Go to the Colosseum
Visiting the Colosseum is one of the ultimate things to do in Rome. If it is your first time in the city (and even your second or third) there is no way you can miss it!
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most iconic and photographed places in the city. The Colosseum was built between 72 and 82 AD – initially on orders of Emperor Vespasian, but completed under Titus. At its highest capacity it held up to 80,000 spectators, who enjoyed shows of gladiators, among others.
While a visit of the Colosseum appears to be simple enough, you should know that a plain ticket will only get you on the main level, but you should also take the opportunity to visit the Arena – where the fights actually took place – and the Colosseum Underground, which can give you a better idea of what happened behind the scene of every show and give you a better understanding of how masterful Roman technology actually was.
Tickets to the Colosseum include admission to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. You can get them here.
Guided tours are recommended for a more in depth experience. They usually include a visit of the arena floor, of the third tier and at times even the undergrounds. You can book your tour of the Colosseum here.
I actually also recommend this guided tour run by Touriks – you may want to ask them to have Mario as your guide: he’s my favorite in Rome!
Make sure you also read my post How To Get Tickets To The Colosseum.
Admire the Arch of Constantine
Built in 315 AD to celebrate Constantine victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge, the arch is located next to the Colosseum and is one of the many commemorative and celebrative arches found in Rome. It is 21 meters tall and carved in it you will be able to depict many representations of Roman history.
Head to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
During the early Republic the Roman Forum was a chaotic place with food stalls, brothels, as well as temples and the Senate house. Eventually the food stalls were replaced by business centers and law courts and the Forum remained a ceremonial center under the Empire. Today, the Roman Forum remains one of the most impressive archeological sites in the world, testimony of the grandiose empire that Rome once was.
Legend says that the Palatine Hill is where the twins Romulus and Remus were brought up by a wolf and where Romulus, having killed his brother, founded the village that later on became Rome. Historically speaking, the Palatine was once the residence of emperors and aristocrats.
Nowadays, exploring this open-air museum is one of the best things to do in Rome to understand the life of Roman aristocrats – and to appreciate the impressive views of the Roman Forum from the Terrazza del Palatino.
The sites are quite spread out and there is a lot to see – not to mention, they can get very crowded – so you may want to opt for a guided tour that will help you put everything in perspective.
Tickets to the Colosseum include admission to the Roman Forum, and viceversa, and most tours of the Colosseum will also take you to the Forum and the Palatine hill!
Make sure to also read my posts A Guide To Visiting The Roman Forum, Rome and A Short Guide To The Palatine Hill, Rome.
Visit Trajan’s Markets
The Mercati di Traiano were part of Trajan’s Forum, one of the most impressive imperial forums. Known as the first shopping mall in history, researchers suggest it housed the offices of local administration. Now it’s home to a fantastic museum with an impressive collection of archeological pieces. The views of the forum from there are impressive. You can definitely visit them, but if you don’t feel like walking in,
To get tickets to Trajan’s Markets, click here.
Visit the Baths of Caracalla
Not far from Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, the Baths of Caracalla are an enormous bathing complex (around 1,600 people could bathe there at the same time, with peaks of 8,000 daily bathers) built between 211 and 217 AD and in operation until the 530s.
The Baths of Caracalla suffered the passing of time way more than other sites in town, but it is still pleasant to explore. The most impressive sight here are the mosaics – some incredibly well kept to this day. The black and white geometric pattern here is actually typical of Roman bath complex. Interestingly, the most famous bit of the mosaics – with figurines of gladiators – is now found at the Vatican Museums.
To book your time-slot and get your tickets for the Baths of Caracalla, check out the official site here.
For more information, you should also read my post A Short Guide To Visiting The Baths Of Caracalla, Rome.
Marvel at the Pantheon
Built in 126 AD upon orders of Emperor Hadrian as a temple, Rome Pantheon later on became a Catholic church. Its Dome is considered one of the best preserved buildings from antiquity,. and today the Pantheon remains the oldest building in use – in the world! Inside you will be able to see the tombs of famous Italian artist Raphael and of King Victor Emmanuel II, and spot the famous Oculus.
As it is a church, you can’t visit the Pantheon during mass. Otherwise, it’s completely free to access but you’ll have to be prepared to stand in line as this is one of the most popular attractions in Rome!
You can definitely explore the Pantheon on your own. For a more in depth visit, you could get an audioguide (get it here) or – even better – join this guided tour run by Touriks, my favorite tour company in Rome.
You should also read my post A Guide To Visiting The Pantheon, Rome.
Go on a tour of Galleria Borghese and Borghese Gardens
One of the best things to do in Rome if you love classic art is visiting Borghese Gallery, quite probably the most impressive art collection in town, with paintings and sculptures of Bernini, Canova, Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian.
The villa that houses the gallery belonged to the Borghese family (one of the most prominent in town) and was built in the early 17th century by architect Flaminio Ponzio. The building in and of itself is impressive. I remember wowing once or twice when I got the first glimpse of the interior!
The collection you get to see was started by Scipione Borghese, a Cardinal and one of the patrons of Bernini. The statues are honestly stunning, almost alive looking. Visiting the Gallery will take you two hours – you’d probably like to spend more time inside, but unfortunately admission is timed and you’ll be asked to leave after your time slot is over.
Surrounding the villa there is a gorgeous park that you can access from (or explore untiul you get to) Piazza del Popolo – make sure to spot the Giardini del Pincio (Pincian Hill). You can explore the gardens on foot, or rent a bike for your visit. This is also a locals’ favorite spot for a run.
From the Pincian Hill, you can indeed walk down to the square below to spot the Obelisk, the Fountain of the Lions and the “twin churches” Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto. You can also walk all the way to Porta Flaminia, one of the city’s old gates.
Visits to Borghese Gallery are timed and must be booked in advance – you can do that here.
You can book your small group tour here. For a tour of the gallery and the gardens, click here. You can book your private tour here.
Make sure to also read my posts How To Get Galleria Borghese Tickets and A Guide To Visiting Villa Borghese Gardens.
Admire the most amazing views of the city
One of the nicest things to do in Rome is taking in the views. There is no shortage of panoramic spots in the city – and with time and many many visits I have certainly developed a few preferences.
For impressive views, head to the Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci) on the Aventine Hill (Aventino). They were designed in 1932 by Raffaele de Vico. Head there for sunset for a romantic experience.
You should also read my post A Guide To The Aventine Hill, Rome.
For more views of Rome, head to the Gianicolo, or Janiculum. The second highest hill in Rome can be accessed from Trastevere (just walk past Porta Settimiana). Once there you can also visit the small Renaissance Tempietto del Bramante and the 16th century Fontana dell’Acqua Paola.
Another view of Rome you will love is that from the terrace of the Altar of the Fatherland. There are several levels you can access – most of them are free, but there is a small fee (and a bit of a line) to access the upper terrace by elevator. Once on top, you can enjoy views of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, as well as Piazza Venezia.
Take a day trip to Ostia Antica
If you take just one day trip from Rome, go to Ostia Antica. Once the main port city of the Roman Empire, it was abandoned after the collapse of Rome. Gorgeous temples, apartments blocks, theaters, warehouses and even a firefighters’ station were left behind. Mud from the river covered the city, but excavation works brought its marvels back to life.
Visiting Ostia Antica you’ll be able to understand of how life was in a Roman port city. Walking around the site is incredibly pleasant – especially as it is not nearly as crowded as other sites in Rome. It was a massive town – to give you an idea, it was actually larger than Pompeii.
Getting to Ostia Antica from Rome is easy: take the train from Roma Porta San Paolo Station towards Roma-Lido. To make the most of the site I recommend a guided tour. Click here for more information.
You should also read my post How To Visit Ostia Antica, Rome.
7 Not-So-Famous Things To Do In Rome
Explore the Domus Aurea
The Domus Aurea is a beautiful villa built by Emperor Nero after the great fire of 64 AD destroyed most of the city.
At the time of Trajan it was used as a foundation for his public baths and he demanded that doors and windows were sealed and art covered – but thanks to the excavation and restoration works today you can see some of the frescoes, the stuccos, the marbles – and they are stunning.
Most of the Domus Area is still being excavated and it is covered in dirt, while restoration works painstakingly bring them back to their original beauty. Even then, visiting is one of the most interesting things to do in Rome.
You can only visit the Domus Aurea on guided tours which you must book on the official site here.
Admire Teatro Marcello
Teatro Marcello was completed in 12 BC – so it’s actually older than the Colosseum – and back then it could hold up to 20,000 spectators. In the 16th century a building was placed right on top of it, and most of it is actually now a luxury apartment complex. Rumor has it that there even is a fabulous bed and breakfast there.
The theater is actually right between the Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) and the Jewish Ghetto, in the heart of the city, so you really have no excuse not to go. And access is free.
Don’t forget to also read my post How To Make The Most Of Teatro Marcello, Rome.
Explore the Isola Tiberina
The only island on the Tiber River, Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) is connected to the city via two bridges – Ponte Cestio, one of the oldest bridges in Rome, and Ponte Fabricio. The island was once home to the Temple of Aesculapius – the Greek God of medicine and healing. One of Rome’s most famous hospitals, the Fatebenefratelli, is located there: it was built in 1584.
Today, the island is a nice hangout spot for locals, especially in the summer, and it hosts music and film festivals too.
You will find the Isola Tiberina right between the Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood.
For more information make sure to read my post A Guide To The Tiber Island / Isola Tiberina, Rome.
Visit San Clemente Basilica
If you want to visit a (once) lesser known church head to San Clemente Basilica, built over a site that Christians used to pray when they still had to hide their faith. The site of one of Rome’s Mythraic Temples, subsequent excavations brought out various levels: one dates back to the 1st century, and one to the 4th century. There’s an even older one that went destroyed during the 64 AD fire caused by Nero.
Contrary to most churches in Rome, visiting San Clemente Basilica isn’t entirely free. You can explore the main church for free, but if you want to visit the archeological excavation you’ll have to pay a fee. Once inside, the panels will guide your visit.
And St. John in the Lateran
San Giovanni in Laterano – St. John in the Lateran, in English, is located in the Esquilino neighborhood and is Rome’s Cathedral and the oldest Basilica in town. Much of what you see today is actually Baroque, as the church faced several reconstructions after fires.
Inside St. John in the Lateran you can see the 1367 Gothic tabernacle and the 315 baptistery built upon wishes of Emperor Constantine in AD 315. The church is also famous for the next-door Scala Sancta, a stairway of 28 steps said to be the ones Jesus climbed to go to his trial in Jerusalem.
Outside the church you can spot the Lateran Obelisk, the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world.
For a guided tour of St John in the Lateran, click here.
For more information, you may want to read my post A Useful Guide To St. John In The Lateran Basilica, Rome.
Go to Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica
This beautiful church is beloved by locals but still lesser known to tourists, as it is located in the Equilino neighborhood and not in the historic center of Rome. As it is quite close to Termini Station, it’s actually really easy to add it to your itinerary.
Built in the 4th century upon orders of Pope Liberius over a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Cybele, this is the largest of the 26 churches in Rome that are entirely dedicated to the Virgin Mary. According to legend, the Virgin appeared before the Pope and demanded the construction of a church. Inside, the style is a mixture of early Christian and Baroque.
For more information, read my post A Guide To Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.
Explore the The Catacombs and the Appian Way
If you are staying in town long enough, visiting the Appian Way and the sites along it is one of the best things to do in Rome. This famous road was built between 312 and 264 BC to connect Rome to cities such as Naples and Brindisi. It was used for commercial and military purposes.
Since Rome forbid the burual of people inside the city’s walls, there are many catacombs built along the Appian Way. On a simple visit (best if on a tour) you can check out the 9th cenutry Church of Domine Quo Vadis, and the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, where 16 popes have been buried.
You may also want to visit the Catacombs of Domitilla, named after the family that ordered their digging. They are 16 meters (52.5 feet) underground and 2 km (1.2 miles) south of the Appia Antica and still have the remains of humans, unlike the other sites.
You can certainly visit the Appian Way independently, but to be fair, it’s not the best idea. There’s a lot to see along the way, there’s traffic, getting there may not be as straightforward as you wish. A guided tour is definitely a better idea!
Lots of tours in Rome go to the Catacombs and the Appian Way. For the best reviewed tours, click here or here.
The best tours are actually bike tours, as they allow you to see quite a bit and avoid the terrible traffic of Rome too. For a bike tour, click here.
8 Unusual Things To Do In Rome
See the Optical Illusion of St.Peter’s Dome
If you have enough time, go up Via Niccolò Piccolomini to see the optical Illusion of St. Peter’s Dome. The street is aligned with St. Peter’s Dome in a way that, as you walk along, the Dome appears at first huge and then smaller and smaller!
Peep in through the Knights of Malta Keyhole
Located on the Aventine Hill, in the lovely Piazza Cavalieri di Malta – designed by Giovan Battista Piranesi in 1765 – the Knights of Malta Keyhole is part of the Priory of the Knights of Malta, a Catholic order with a prominent role during the crusades and a sovereign entity according to international law.
You literally only go there to peep through the keyhole to spot St. Peter’s Basilica Dome in the distance. It’s worth it! Mind you, taking actual good photos is quite hard. A phone – however good the camera – won’t do the trick so if that is all you have just take in the views and go. Chances are there will be a small line of people waiting behind you!
Visit the spectral Capuchin Crypt
Officially called Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins and affectionately known as the Church of Bones, this church was commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII, whose brother Antonio was a Capuchin friar. Construction ended in 1631.
The crypt – where taking photos is prohibited – contains the bodies of around 4000 friars who died between 1500 and 1870 – they were placed there upon orders of Cardinal Antonio Barberini after they had been exhumed from the friary of Via dei Lucchesi.
There is a small admission fee to visit the church and the crypt. For guided tours click here.
Go to Villa Farnesina
Located in Via della Lungara 230, between Vatican City and Trastevere, Villa Farnesina was built in the 16th century by the Farnese family. When Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534, he started collecting art. Inside, you can see some of Raphael’s best frescoes, as well as works by Giacomo della Porta, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Michelangelo.
For guided tours, click here.
And to Palazzo Barberini
Purchased by the state in 1949, Palazzo Barberini, commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1623, houses the National Gallery of Ancient Art, with more than 1,400 works of art including pieces by El Greco and Raphael. The best is by far Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes – to me it’s worth visiting just for that!
Marvel at Galleria Doria Pamphilj
Built in the 17th century by Pope Innocent X, this palace is located in Via del Corso 305. It’s shocking how – despite being in the heart of the historic center of Rome, it doesn’t get more visitors (though don’t expect to have all to yourself).
What’s special about it is that Doria Pamphilj Gallery is actually a private collection and the family still lives on the premises. Even better, if you get an audio guide you’ll be guided through the exhibit by a member of the family nonetheless.
The building is magnificent and in the gallery where you can admire paintings and ceilings by Caravaggio, Caracci and Bernini. I also loved the paintings by the Flemish Masters.
For tickets to Doria Pamphilj Gallery, click here.
Don’t forget to read my post A Concise Guide To Visiting Doria Pamphilj Gallery.
Then pop into Keats-Shelley Memorial House
Not far from Doria Pamphilj Gallery, right by the Spanish Steps, this is one of the most unusual things to do in Rome. The museum is small but well curated. You basically see the place where English Romantic poets Keats and Shelley lived – their room, the library. The views from the terrace overlooking the Spanish Steps and Trinità dei Monti are fabulous too!
You should also read my post A Useful Guide To Visiting Keats Shelley House, Rome.
Admire the Ara Pacis of Augustus
The Altar of Peace was commissioned in 13 BC when Augustus returned after three years in Hispania and Gaul. The altar was actually in a different location and only moved where it currently is in 1938. A new – and quite fancy – building was created around it, designed by American Architect Richard Meier and finally opened to the public in 2006. It’s a small but interesting museum.
14 Absolutely Fun Things To Do In Rome
Chances are that when you visit Rome you will want to immerse yourself in its incredible history and millenary culture. However, this is also a city to have lots of fun! Places like Trastevere, Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Navona, Via del Corso are the go-to places for a stroll, for a bit of shopping and to enjoy a good gelato – the best is Fior di Luna in Trastevere, by the way!
Continue reading for a selection of the most fun things to do in Rome.
Put your hand in the Mouth of Truth
Located right by the entrance of Santa Maria in Cosmedin church, what we now know as the Mouth of Truth was originally a large marble manhole that dates back to the 1st century and which was placed by the church in 1632. According to a Medieval legend, the Mouth of Truth bites off the hand of liars. You can give it a try and see what happens!
The Mouth of Truth became famous thanks to the movie Roman Holidays, with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.
For more information, read my post A Short Guide To Visiting The Mouth Of Truth, Rome.
Go on a Vespa tour
If you ever watched movies like the above mentioned Roman Holidays and La Dolce Vita, you will love riding around Rome on a Vespa scooter.
If you are brave enough and not worried about getting lost, rent a scooter and go around independently. Otherwise, you can opt for a guided Vespa tour. Personally, I’d prefer that: Rome is huge and it is easy to get lost in the maze of boulevards and narrow alleys.
There are several Vespa tours of Rome for sale online. If you are a fan of the vintage Vespa with manual transmission, you can consider this tour here.
If you just want to rent a Vespa, click here.
For more guidance, head over to my post Your Guide To Scooter Rental In Rome.
Explore Rome on board a vintage Fiat 500
The vintage Fiat 500 is one of the most iconic Italian cars. My dad used to have one and I never stop teasing him for having sold it – they are quite valuable now.
You can occasionally spot some shiny, super well-kept ones along the streets of Rome. Yet, for a real fun experience, consider riding one. Fiat 500 guided tours of Rome don’t come cheap, but keep in mind that keeping these cars come at high costs.
You can book a guided Fiat 500 tour of Rome here.
Spot all the street art
If you like art with a bit of a twist, a street art tour is is one of the best things to do in Rome. Areas like the Quadraro have been completely renovated thanks to street art projects. This part of town is not nearly as touristy as the rest, so you will be away from the crowds.
Other places I recommend for the best street are in Rome are Ostiense, which you can easily get to by getting off the metro at Piramide, or Tor Marancia, which a bit further away from the center. In the case of Tor Marancia especially, you will be better off going with a guide as the area can be a bit tricky to get to, and there are quite a few murals to see, with lots to take in.
For a guided tour of street art in Ostiense, you can consider this one. For a street art tour of Tor Marancia, click here.
You should also read my post The Best Murals In Rome: A Guide To Tor Marancia Street Art.
Visit Rome’s quirkiest museum
Centrale Montemartini, in Ostiense, is one of the most interesting museums in Rome. It’s located in Rome’s first electrical power plant, which has been beautifully converted to house the exhibit. This includes Green and Roman statues, strikingly at odds with the industrial machinery and wide spaces of the building. When I last visited, there was also an interesting exhibit of Roman mosaics. You can also see the carriage of a train purposely built for Pope Pius IX.
You can get tickets to Centrale Montemartini here.
For a more detailed guide, read my post A Useful Guide To Centrale Montemartini Museum.
Get off the beaten path
To get away from the crowds, join a tour with a local guide. This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Rome if you are keen on visiting places that you may have never heard of before.
One of my favorite spots is the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome in the Testaccio neighborhood. This is the resting place of famous non-catholics that lived in Rome, including artists such as Percy Shelley. The cemetery is also home to one of Rome’s many cat sanctuaries, and offers views of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, built around 12 BC.
For more unusual places to visit in Rome, read my post 31 Incredible Places To Explore Rome Off The Beaten Path.
Have lunch with a view
If eating and admiring the views of the city are two of the best things to do in Rome, why not do it at the same time?
For a fabulous lunch with a view head to Aroma, a Michelin starred restaurant run by chef Di Iorio. The restaurant – one of the best in Rome – is located on the terrace of Palazzo Manfredi and offers breathtaking views of the Colosseum and of the Altar of the Fatherland in the distance.
Needless to say, food is absolutely delicious – but this is not a budget experience: expect to pay a minimum of €110 for a tasting menu without wine and book well in advance. I promise you it is worth it!
Join a food tour
There is little doubt that eating is one of the unmissable things to to in Rome. Food in Rome is heavenly. Whether eating at a fine restaurant or at a local trattoria; grabbing gelato on the go; biting into some street food – it’s really hard to go wrong.
A food tour is a good idea to take in all the city’s flavors. There are so many to pick from: wine and food tasting tours; beer and food tasting tours; day tours and evening tours; Michelin stars food tours for extremely refined palates, and more. There are also food tours based on location – Testaccio food tours and Trastevere food tours are just two examples.
For the most popular food tour in Rome, click here.
For a street food tour, click here.
If you’d rather opt for a night tour, consider this one.
Finally, take a look at this tour of Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto.
Take a cooking class
To learn how to cook local dishes, one of the most fun things to do in Rome is attending a cooking class. You can then master the art of pasta, gelato, saltimbocca, abbacchio (lamb), and the many specialties of Roman Kosher cuisine. It’s also a great way to meet local families and learn a bit more about the local way of life.
To book your cooking class in Rome, click here.
Everyone will agree that having gelato is one of the unmissable things to do in Rome, but you have to do it right! Not all gelato was created equally, by which I mean that not all gelato in Rome is good. In general, my tip is to stay away from the large chain gelaterie – there are a few in the historic center. Look for the smaller places that scream local.
My overall favorite gelateria in Rome is Fior di Luna and you’ll find it in Trastevere. Its gelato is the perfect combination of creamy, smooth and melts in your mouth. Also in Trastevere, Otaleg makes some excellent fruit flavors – you won’t even realize they don’t have milk! And for one of the most historic gelaterie in town, head to Fassi in the Esquilino district.
You will want to read my post Where To Have The Best Gelato In Rome.
Visit a cat sanctuary
If you love cats as much as I do, visit one of the many cat sanctuaries in Rome. The most famous one is that of Largo di Torre Argentina, right between Piazza Navona and Piazza Venezia. It’s located in an archeological side thought to be the place where Julius Cesar was murdered (though in fact he was killed a couple of blocks away, at the Theater of Pompey).
The sanctuary is open to visitors, so you can go in to pet the resident cats, and shop for small souvenirs such as a cat of Rome calendar or to make a donation to support the charity that runs the sanctuary. I even participate in a distance-adoption program and support a cat from there. His name is Mozart, so if you go visit make sure to go say hi!
For more information, read my post Where To See The Lovely Cats Of Rome.
Explore Rome’s coolest neighborhoods
Testaccio, Trastevere, Garbatella and more: you may have heard of them already. They are great places to people-watch. Here is a brief overview of each of them.
TESTACCIO – Known as Rome’s original foodie neighborhood – there is no way to avoid it if you are a food lover. It’s where you will find the Non-Catholic cemetery of Rome and the Pyramid of Caius Cestius.
JEWISH GHETTO – This charming neighborhood was established in 1555 in Rione Sant’Angelo by a Papal order issued by Pope Paul IV, to house Rome’s Jewish population. Now, it is home to the Synagogue of Rome and to lots of kosher restaurants.
TRASTEVERE – The nightlife hotspot of Rome, Trastevere is packed with cool bars, cafés, pubs and restaurants, and it is overall very lively. It’s maze of pretty alleys is simply fun to explore.
GARBATELLA – Often unknown to foreigners, the neighborhood, which was first created in the 1920s, used to have a bad reputation but it is now thought to be one of the best ones to live in Rome.
EUR – One of the most interesting neighborhoods in Rome, EUR—an acronym of Esposizione Universale Roma—was built to house 1942 World Fair, which was however cancelled due to World War II. It’s completely different from the rest of Rome, so it makes for an interesting addition to your itinerary.
Go in search of Art Nouveau
If you are a fan of Art Nouveau, head to Quartiere Coppedé, not far from Borghese Gardens. Another place to look for Art Nouveau is Galleria Sciarra, a short distance from Trevi Fountain. This was built between 1885 and 1888 upon orders of Prince Maffeo Sciarra and was meant to serve as an upscale shopping mall, but it now hosts mostly offices.
You should also read my post A Short Guide to Quartiere Coppede, Rome.
Visit a market or two
The Italian capital is packed with markets. Some remain a local affair, and you’d literally only go there to bag some fresh produce. Others, while continuing to offer good produce, are located in more accessible locations, so you can easily visit them too even if you are in town for a short time.
Campo de’ Fiori is probably the most famous one. The name means “field of flowers” and refers to the meadow on top of which the square was built. The market takes place every day but Sundays since 1869! Once there, don’t forget to spot the statue of Giordano Bruno, burnt alive in the 16th century because of his progressive thinking.
Check out this guided tour of Campo de’ Fiori market with plenty of food tastings.
You should also read my post A Useful Guide To Campo De’ Fiori, Rome.
4+ Budget Friendly And Free Things To Do In Rome
Rome isn’t exactly a budget friendly destination. Yet, you will find plenty of free things to do in Rome, and many others that are budget friendly. To save a bit when in town, use public transport instead of taxis to cover longer distances – locals love complaining about it, but it’s actually quite efficient.
Trattorie are a good option for food as they are significantly cheaper than regular restaurants. And then, there are lots of attractions that don’t charge a fee. Here is what you can’t miss!
Enjoy the views from the Altar of the Fatherland
Known as Vittoriano as it was built in honor of Victor Emmanuel II, the Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria in Italian) is located in Piazza Venezia, which you’ll pass on your way to the Colosseum. Locals don’t love it at all – in fact they dismiss it and call it the wedding cake.
The reason for that is that it reminds them of the time when Mussolini had an entire area of Rome wiped out for its construction. Yet, there’s no denying that the views of the Colosseum, the Forum and the Palatine Hill are impressive.
You can get to main terrace of the Altar of the Fatherland for free. Access to the upper terrace is by elevator only and there’s a fee for that.
Visit all the squares and fountains
This is one of the best free things to do in Rome, perfect for some old good people-watching! Here is a selection of the squares in Rome you can’t miss:
CAMPO DE’ FIORI – Home to Rome’s most famous market.
PIAZZA NAVONA – Situated on the ancient Stadium of Domitian, founded in the 1st century AD, the square is known for Bernini’s masterpiece the Fountain of the Four River; but make sure not to miss the Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuno, and Borromini’s church of Santa Agnese in Agone. I also recommend this tour of Navona underground.
PIAZZA DEL POPOLO – One of the largest squares in Rome, at its center you’ll be able to spot the Egyptian obelisk, built on the orders Ramses II (1279-1213 BC) and brought to Rome in 10 BC at the request of Augustus.
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA – Known as the Spanish Steps, it’s named after the Spanish embassy for the Vatican City, the Palazzo di Spagna, located here since the 17th century. It’s where you’ll find Bernini’s gorgeous Fontana della Barcaccia. At the top of the stairs there’s the beautiful church of Trinità dei Monti. Remember that sitting on the Spanish Steps is now forbidden.
PIAZZA VENEZIA – The very heart of the city, it’s named after Cardinal Venezia, whose nearby palace was built in 1455. It’s where you’ll find the Altar of the Fatherland.
PIAZZA DI TREVI – Perhaps the most iconic square in Rome, thanks to the beautiful Trevi Fountain. Make sure to throw a coin in it – if you do, you’ll go back for sure. It’s also supposed to help you find love in Rome. Trevi is probably the most crowded square in Rome during the day, so you may want to go at odd hours to have it to yourself. You can also go on a tour of Trevi underground to learn more about this marvel.
And the churches
Visiting churches is very budget friendly – at times there is a really small fee to access the cloister, the undergrounds or the museum, but most of them are free. Here are a few (other than those I have already talked of above) you may want to consider visiting.
SANTA MARINA IN TRASTEVERE – The main church in Trastevere is a beautiful Basilica with a stunning light and painted glass.
SANTA CECILIA IN TRASTEVERE – Devoted to Roman martyr Saint Cecilia, who died at age 14, this 5th century church was built to house the remains of the saint. Go inside to see the 13th century fresco of the Last Judgement by Pietro Cavallini.
SANTA MARIA DEL POPOLO – Located in Piazza del Popolo, legend says it was built in 1099 upon wishes of local residents, who wanted a religious building to scare away the ghost of Nero who was haunting the area. It was enlarged by Bramante in 1505 and then by Bernini. Go inside to admire the works of Bernini, Caravaggio and Raphael.
SANTA MARIA SOPRA MINERVA – Close to the Pantheon and built over the Temple of Minerva, its construction started in 1280 and finished in 1453. Inside, you can see the the 1521 statue of the Risen Christ by Michelangelo.
SAN PIETRO IN VINCOLI – Construction of this church, known as Basilica Eudoxiana, started in 431. Inside you can see Michelangelo’s statue of the Moses, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II, as well as the chains that St. Peter worn in the Mamertine Prison of Jerusalem.
SAN LUIGI DEI FRANCESI – Close to Piazza Navona, it was designed by Giacomo della Porta and then built by Domenico Fontana between 1518 and 1589. Other than the gorgeous façade, the church is worth visiting to admire Contarelli Chapel, with Caravaggio’s paintings about the life of St. Matthews.
Take a walk in the park
If you want to spend some time relaxing in the sun (or in the shade, depending on the season); if you are looking for a place to go running to shed the excess of calories you’ve been getting with all the delicious food; if you are looking for a nice picnic spot for you and your family, one of the best things to do in Rome is to head to a park.
The good news is that there are many beautiful parks in Rome, with some of the nicest one literally in the historic center, and others a bit outside. For a truly unique one, check out the Parco degli Aquedotti – it’s close to the Appia Antica, and is home to an incredible array of breath-taking ancient ruins – including the aqueducts that give it its name.
Have you ever been to Rome? What other things to do in Rome can you recommend?
Make sure to read my other posts about Rome for more itineraries and ideas:
- Why Visit Rome?
- 18 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Rome
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In 2 Days
- A Fantastic Itinerary For 4 Days In Rome
- A Wonderful Itinerary For 5 Days In Rome
- A Great Itinerary For A Fabulous Week In Rome
- How To Get From Fiumicino Airport To Rome City Center
- 20 Great Day Trips From Rome
- The Best Roma Pass Options And How To Make The Most Of It
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- A Guide To The Best Places To Visit In Italy
27 thoughts on “51 Best Things To Do In Rome”
I visited Rome in July this year. A wonderful city for me only rivalled in its Grandeur by Vienna.The most off putting thing about th city was the constant harassment from street vendors, trying to sell me tickets, take items, water and tat. My tip is to start answering them in a language they won’t understand. I started using Ghaidlig (Scottish), they just fire you a quick look and walk away. Just one phrase will do…”Tha mi gu math, tapadh leibh.” (I’m good, thank you).
Hello! Thanks for the tips. I’m a feeelance travel writer and editor, and the correct spelling is “the Colosseum.” Happy travels!
Touts can be found in any major tourist city. I never found Rome to be so bad – though mind you, I am Italian! In any case, I think that either ignoring or saying a simple “no thank you” in the local language (which is “no, grazie” in Italian) is what to do in Rome to keep touts away – and actually, that applies to any country.
Hi Allie, thanks for the comment and thanks for the clarification. I am Italian, we say “Colosseo” and in my first draft of this post I had written Colosseum all over, and it kept being marked as misspelled. I then checked online and saw that in American English it is written Coliseum and indeed the spell check didn’t mark it as misspelled anymore. To be fair, I like Colosseum better than Coliseum, so I will change it back 🙂
Some handy suggestions here. I’m keen to travel to Rome for a Six Nations rugby game, so I suppose that will be out of season in terms of mass tourism. Nonetheless, thanks for the ideas.
I hardly think Rome is ever off season… but I am sure you will be able to enjoy it!!
I’m visiting Rome in February with my husband. You’ve given me a lot of good advice. Thanks!
You will love it! Don’t forget to try tonnarelli cacio e pepe. My mouth is watering at the thought!
Rome is a place of great beauty and history. A very interesting place to visit. And I am fascinated with one of the famous architecture in Rome which is the Colosseum, the intact ruins from the time of the Roman empire are really amazing. Visiting the city is a worthwhile experience, the city is simply superb…
The most beautiful city in the world!
Thanks for all the tips, I’m spending 4 nights in Rome in mid January, first time with a child. Is this enough time to see most of the major attractions and are they open every day during winter? Also is it likely to snow?
Hi Angela, thank you for leaving a comment and I am glad you found my post useful. 4 days is enough to cover all the main attractions – which will be open, except on holiday days. I have detailed guides on the Colosseum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s that you may want to read for more details, including opening hours and closing days, and they have plenty of tips on how to get tickets (you need to book in advance). I am also planning a series of itineraries to explore Rome – so you may want to subscribe to be notified of when the posts come out 🙂
Also – the chances of snow in Rome are very very slim!
Itinerary would be extremely helpful! I’ve read your posts in regards to passes, transport etc, there is so many that I don’t know which to book. I have a ten year old child and was wondering what would be the best itinerary with children. How far in advance should I book the tickets and also is it worth reserving a day to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa? We have two full days in Venice prior Rome, would it be best to see Pisa from Venice?
I honestly don’t recommend going to Pisa for a day trip from either Venice or Rome – stay closer to the area. If you go so far, you waste your day while you could visit something just as nice (if not nicer) much much closer. For day trips from Rome – stay tuned as I also have that post coming out soon that will give you plenty of ideas. As for tickets: keep in mind that places like the Colosseum get sold out quick, so I’d say even 4 months in advance or more is good!!
Thanks for this article, very helpful as I am planning to visit Rome in November.
This was the most accurate article I have found so far. I am already feeling that I’m gonna love this city 🙂
So glad to know you find it useful. Make sure to read my itineraries too – they will come in handy with the planning 🙂
We were in Rome just recently , my husband and myself where we met up with our daughter and son who went on their own Euro vacation. First week of October and though there were still a lot of tourists jut like us , our guides on several tours said it was a lot less compared to the summer months, and if we really wanted the top tourist places of Rome to ourselves we should visit during the winter months – like January -February. : ) We did all the skip the line tours with wonderful and very knowledgeable guides ,we took the Palatine Hill , Roman Forum and Colosseo guided tours as well as the Vatican Museum , Sistine Chapel and St Peters Basilica tours. On our own we went up the Janiculum Hill and Aventine Hill and peeked thru the Aventine keyhole(must do). We also walked through Via del Corso and visited on our own The Pantheon (free) , Piazza de Spagna , Piazza Navona where you can have coffee in one of the restaurants / coffee bar and do people watching. We also visited endless churches, and dont forget Trevi Fountain , toss your coin and wish to come back , I did 30 years ago and I did came back this time with my husband, its my favorite spot in Rome. Drop by Campo di Fiori theres an Osteria there that prepares their own hand made pasta to die for… Wednesday , fall in line early to get a good spot for the Pope’s Liturgical reading… Rome is beautiful and hard not to fall in love with. And oh ! we did a day trip to Firenze / Florence, it was beautiful too… We will be coming back next year , may I ask what other places to do a day trip to coming from Rome or spend a day or two ? Thank you.
Have you checked my post on the best day trips from Rome? That will inspire you!
Nice article. I just spent two months in Rome and enjoyed the easy, slow uptake of layers upon layers of history, art, music and food. I would suggest a day trip to Ostio Antica (use your metro ticket for the train), To Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius (use a bus tour), may be the architectural museum in Naples for the limited Gladiator exhibit (train). Also recommend getting some of the tickets in advance, check for the summer time concert/ opera/play schedules in advance and buy tickets. Often times they’re held at archeological sites on special times (Baths of Caraccala). Villa Cellimontana (in Celio district) has weekend live music concerts both mid day and evening. Read up on your the sites you visit briefly t will make more sense to you. Take a 3 hour bike tour of the Appian way. The pandemic, during my visit has seemingly eliminated the need for “pass the line tickets” as there are hardly any lines, specially if you get your tickets ahead of time online. Check out the summer evening/night time special hours for places like the Colosseum, the Vatican, Baths of Caraccala..etc Don’t try to see everything in a short time, just go with the flow. You may have to come back.
I was there for 2 weeks – returned on Sunday. Thanks for the tips. This post refers to things that are strictly in Rome, not to places visited on day trips (I have a separate post for that). Baths of Caracalla concerts were suspended (I certainly searched for them). Skip the Line tickets are still necessary in many places as even less visitors are allowed at the moment. Did you see the loooong line at the Pantheon, to check the Green Pass?