Rome, the Eternal City, is often considered the greatest city that ever was. With a history spanning three millennia, Rome – the epicenter of the Roman civilization, is revered as the harbinger or founder of the Western Civilization. The city of Rome was apparently founded by Romulus on the Palatine Hill way back in the 8th Century BC. The Roman Republic was founded by 500 BC and gradually grew to be a superpower over the next five centuries, culminating with the rule of Julius Caesar, the last consul of Rome. Doused in history and Christianity, today, there is art and architecture in the form of ancient ruins, palatial mansions, and opulent fountains in almost every corner, nook, and cranny. It is then not surprising that Rome receives the highest tourists in all of Italy! With so much to see and do, the problem with Rome is to choose what to see and what to leave.
Let us explore the best things to do in Rome:
The most iconic and renowned landmark of Rome – and one of the Seven Wonders – no trip to Rome is complete without the Colosseum. Constructed in the first century A.D., this massive amphitheater was estimated to hold as many as 80,000 spectators. It was used to host gladiator tournaments, fights with wild animals, games, and other forms of entertainment that would be attended by the emperors and nobility. Today, its ruins evoke grand memories and are worth a guided tour inside to imagine the enormity of this spectacle with its grand seating stands over two millennia old.
Pro tip: book in advance to get skip-the-line tickets and don’t waste time standing in line. Use the time saved to enjoy a gelato instead (that’s what I did!).
2. St. Peter’s Square
Rome boasts to be the only city in the world that encloses a country within it – the Vatican. In this smallest country of the world, St. Peter’s square is the most important plaza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica – the bastion of the Roman Catholic Church. An oval plaza, St. Peter’s square is an enormous open space dotted with beautiful columns on its circumference, topped with the statues of various religious figures and popes, and with an Egyptian obelisk in the center. On days when the Pope appears in public, this square is thronged with visitors and followers and is a sight to behold!
3. St. Peter’s Basilica
The most famous religious landmark anywhere in the world, ST. Peter’s Basilica is the seat of the Catholic Church and is a grand edifice whose architectural treasures will leave you mesmerized. This Renaissance styled wonder was designed by the likes of Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and is the largest church in the world. The basilica holds the burial site of St. Peter and is topped with a magnificent dome, topped with statues of the Apostles and Christ.
4. The Pantheon
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, and is today a Catholic church, named the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs, but is popularly known to locals as Santa Maria Rotunda, owing to the cylindrical shape of the building. The square in front is known as the Piazza del Rotunda and is an energetic setting for locals to converge and socialize in the evenings. It was commenced by the Roman consul Agrippa and completed by the emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century A.D. Today, it is one of the best-preserved examples of ancient Roman architecture, its dome is the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the world.
5. The Fountain of Trevi
Close to the Pantheon lies the most celebrated fountain in the world – the Fountain of Trevi. Designed by Nicola Salvi and completed by Pannini in the 18th century, the fountain depicts the Roman God Oceanus surrounded by triton gods and the mythical hippocampi. The fountain has been depicted in numerous blockbuster movies including Roman Holiday and Fellini’s Dolce Vita. Local folklore suggests throwing a coin into the fountain is a sure-shot way to get a return trip to Rome.
6. Spanish Steps
The 135 Spanish Steps were constructed in 1725 to bridge the two popular squares of the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinita Dei Monti. The plaza at the base of the steps is filled with shops with a beautiful fountain – the Fontana Della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Boat) designed by Pietro and Lorenzo Bernini. The Spanish Steps is a great place to hang out for the locals, remains busy till late in the evening, and is a great place to spend an evening with gelato for desserts.
7. Roman Forum
Located close to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum is an ancient site strewn with rich ruins from the past including remnants of temples dedicated to Saturn and Vesta, and the more eye-catching arch of Severus.
8. Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museum complex and is world-famous for the murals of Michelangelo that decorate its ceiling, including the mesmerizing the Last Judgement. The Chapel is also significant as it hosts the Papal Enclave, which is where new popes are elected.
9. Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museum is a treasure trove of masterpieces, such as Raphael’s Transfiguration and Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ along with over 70,000 artifacts strewn among multiple museums including the Museo Pio-Clementino, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco and Museo Gregoriano Egiziano. Dual tickets are available to check the Vatican Museums along with the Sistine Chapel.
10. Piazza Navona
Close to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona is a bustling square filled with artists and musicians and gets particularly bustling towards the evenings. Interesting artworks around the square include the Fountain of Neptune, Fontana del Moro, and the Saint Agnese Church.
11. Castel Sant’Angelo
Once the tallest building in all of Rome, the Castel Sant’Angelo holds the mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and was built around 130 A.D. Over time, the Castle became a part of the Vatican City and is connected to St. Peter’s Basilica by a special corridor. The walk up the Castle is worth the effort for the amazing views of St. Peter’s basilica and the skyline of Rome.
12. Palatine Hill
The palatine Hill is apparently the birthplace of Rome – this is where Romulus founded the Roman city in the 7th Century B.C. Today, it offers majestic views of Rome. Notable structures still standing here today include the Temple of Cybele and the Flavian Palace.
13. Galleria Borghese
Located in the Borghese Villa, and close to the equally popular Borghese gardens, this art gallery holds paintings, sculptures, and artworks that were collected by the rich Borghese family, patrons to many Roman artists in medieval times. This includes world-famous paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, and Titian and is a must-see if you are an art aficionado.
14. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the largest churches in the city and is located in the plaza with the same name. With grand architecture, the Basilica is very popular for its rich collection of golden mosaics along with its reliquary. The Borghese chapel is particularly sought after by visitors for its lavish paintings and gold sculptures.
15. Villa Borghese Gardens
Adjacent to the Galleria Borghese in the Borghese Villa complex, these gardens are a peaceful place to escape to, amidst the bustle of the city. The Borghese gardens are the third-largest gardens in Rome with the Spanish steps leading to its main entry. It has reputed sculptures by Bernini and makes for rejuvenating walks by its flower beds and water bodies.
Trastevere is the 13th Rione (or administrative division) of Rome. It is located on the west of the Tiber River and is replete with narrow cobbled streets, ancient packed houses, and charming synagogues and churches. Walking through this place will seem like a trip in nostalgia, with the down-to-earth and often loud culture of daily Roman life laid bare, so far removed from the touristy and commercialized side of Rome. Do visit Trastevere to enjoy its culture and also to celebrate its night markets and vivid nightlife.
17. Altar of the Fatherland
Located close to the Pantheon in the heart of the city, this monument is a dedication to the first king of unified Italy – King Victor Emmanuel. The Altar includes a massive colonnaded monument with a bronze statue of the king on horseback. It also includes an interesting museum dedicated to the unification of Italy.
18. Ponte Sant Angelo
The Ponte Sant Angelo is an ancient bridge over the Tiber river, constructed by Emperor Hadrian in 129 A.D. to connect the-then existing city to his mausoleum at Castle Sant Angelo. With five large arches, this bridge is a photographer’s delight and is renowned for the intricate statues of angels on it, sculpted by masters such as Giorgetti, Ferrata Guidi, and Bernini.
19. Quirinale Palace
Located in Quirinale Hill, the Quirinale Palace is the official residence of the President of Italy. Spanning over 110,000 sq. meters, it is undoubtedly one of the largest palaces in the world. Despite its security, guided tours are available in select sections to admire the precinct’s beautifully maintained gardens and stately rooms, rich in history and architecture.
20. Piazza del Popolo
The Piazza del Popolo is one of the most charming squares of Rome. Though it translates to or the People’s Plaza, the name comes actually from the Poplar trees around the square. It was designed in the neoclassical style by Valadier and houses an Egyptian obelisk from Heliopolis in its center (similar to St. Peter’s Square). All around the square are architectural riches such as the Neptune Fountain, the Fontana dell ’Obelisco, and magnificent churches.
21. Arch of Constantine
Located close to the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine was dedicated in the fourth century A.D. to Roman Emperor Constantine’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. It is the city’s largest triumphal arch and has remnant inscriptions and artwork still standing after two millennia, making it a historical relic that is worth visiting as a detour from the Colosseum.
22. Basilica di San Clemente
Though less popular in the tourist circles, the Basilica di San Clemente is as and ancient as St. Peter’s Basilica. Constructed in three tiers, the Church was originally built in the 2nd century, though its current form was completed in the 12th century. Its interior is quite spectacular for its golden frescoes, murals, and other artworks.
23. Piazza Venezia
The Piazza Venezia is one of the most bustling squares of Rome, forming a hub of intersection for many of the important roads in the city. It lies at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and straddles beautiful monuments such as Trajan’s Column and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, part of the complex for the Altar to the Fatherland. In late 2009, construction for the metro led to the discovery and excavation of Hadrian’s Athenaeum or School, reinforcing the riches of this ancient city and how much of it is left to be discovered.
24. Villa Farnesina
Located in the Trastevere district, the Villa Farnesina is a suburban Renaissance mansion built for Agostino Chigi, a rich banker from Sienna, in the 16th Century. Chigi commissioned beautiful frescoes in his villa by masters such as Raphael, Romano and Piombo. Today, Villa Farnesina serves as a museum to house these frescoes along with other glorious artworks from Chigi’s times.
25. Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Located in the centre of the Piazza Navona, the Fountain of the four rivers was erected by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the height of his artistic career, for Pope Innocent X. It is a grand piece of architecture, showing four river gods in four continents – the Ganges, Danube, Nile, and Rio de la Plata – culminating with an Egyptian styled obelisk.