You’ve probably heard or read Rome referred to as “The Eternal city” and the term couldn’t be more accurate. While walking around the city you will come across ancient ruins, churches and monument spanning the centuries from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to more modern times, buildings from the 19th century. Rome is living history and for that alone it’s worth a visit! There are a lot of things to do and see in Rome, so I’ve rounded up the highlights – along with some tips for visiting Rome.
1) Visit St Peter’s Basilica
Let’s start our visit in Rome with St Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, adorned by creations of Michelangelo and Bernini among others. Entrance is free but depending on the time of day (and of course season) there may be a long queue to get inside.
2) Visit the Vatican Museums
The Museums are the best place to marvel at masterpieces of the Renaissance. My favorite parts are: the maps arcade for its beautiful ceiling, Raphael’s frescoes, and of course the Sistine Chapel (which is always full of people and where, alas, photos are not allowed)
Tip: Book your tickets online as the queue is long. The museums are open until 18.00 so, if you are relatively flexible with your schedule, it’s better to visit later in the day (after 1pm) – it’ll take you much less time to get in, and the tour itself won’t be as crowded.
3) Castel Sant’ Angelo bridge
Sant’ Angelo bridge is a lovely pedestrian bridge crossing Tiber river, lined on both sides with statues of angels – hence the name. You can also visit Castel Sant Angelo which features Renaissance art, but it’s never been a priority for me. The bridge on the other hand is certainly one of my favorites.
4) Visit the Pantheon
The Pantheon was initially commissioned by Marcus Agrippa and was dedicated to all (pagan) deities. Today it is a Christian church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs. The building’s most prominent feature is the hole on the ceiling called oculus. The Pantheon was mentioned in Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, where Robert Langdon mistakenly searched for Raphael’s tomb inside the church.
5) Walk around Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona occupies the place of Domitian’s stadium, and that’s the reason for its oval shape. Right in the center is the fountain of four rivers sculpted by Bernini and yet another location mentioned in Angels and Demons book and film.
6) Explore Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo is located on the northern end of shopping street Via del Corso, and feature the obelisk of Ramses II right at the center. On its NE corner is Santa Maria del Popolo, a small church where you are going to come across art from Bernini, Raphael and Caravaggio. (P.S. Also featured in Angels and Demons). You can also walk up the stairs on the east of the square to Pincio, an elevated terrace with beautiful views over the square and all the way to St. Peter’s Basilica.
7) Walk up the stairs in Piazza di Spagna
When we arrived in Rome, the airport was full of photos from emblematic landmarks in the city, and Piazza di Spagna was one of them. The photo was shot very early in the morning – probably the only time of the day when nobody sits on its famous stairs! Walk up to admire more views of Rome and visit the Trinita dei Monti church.
8) Throw a coin in Fontana di Trevi
Visiting Fontana di Trevi and throwing a coin is a cult thing to do in Rome. I didn’t throw one this time but I scored this beautiful photo by standing on a railing because this place is packed! Linger around for a while and then head to Gelateria di San Crispino a few blocks down the road for ice cream.
9) Visit the Colosseum
Colosseum also tops the things to do in Rome list. If I must be brutally honest, I rather prefer the exterior of the Colosseum to the interior, but what I enjoyed was learning the history of the building after it stopped being used for gladiatorial contests and other spectacles. If you wish to visit, the ticket covers a visit in the Roman Forum and Palatine hill as well, which is handy for getting a grasp of Ancient Rome. Tip: Buy tickets on line. There is a 2€ surcharge but totally worth it.
10) Visit the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
The Forum is located just opposite the Colosseum and was for centuries the center of Roman life. Today you are mostly going to come across ruins of ancient temples. I liked Palatine Hill the most for its view. Palatine Hill was the place of many palaces: those of Domitian, Augustus and Severus among others. Tip: do enter the site from the Palatine Hill entrance as it has far less people waiting to enter than the Roman Forum one (the two are a single archaeological site so it does not matter which entrance you use).
11) Visit San Giovanni in Laterano
While St Peters Basilica is located in the Vatican city and is where the Pope presides at a number of masses and other religious functions, San Giovanni is actually the Cathedral of Rome, where the Pope’s throne (cathedra) is located. It was the first Christian church built in Rome by Constantine the Great back in the 4th century.
12) Visit the Altar of the Fatherland (Vittorio Emmanuelle II monument)
The monument is located on the northern side of the Capitoline Hill, very close to the Roman Forum and the Imperial Fora. It is dedicated to Vittorio Emmanuelle II, the first King of unified Italy, and hosts the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inside the monument, you’ll find the museum of Italy’s unification. Entrance to the monument is free, but there is a fee for the museum.
13) Visit Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore is another grand church to visit in Rome. It was built back in the 5th century, but restorations and modifications continued until the 17th.
14) Explore the art of Galleria Borghese (and explore its gardens)
The gallery houses an exquisite collection of sculptures by Bernini and paintings by Caravaggio and Titian. You will also get a glimpse of how this beautiful villa looked back in the day. The park surrounding is ideal for walking and exploring. You can reach both Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo from the park.
Trastevere is mostly recommended for nightlife but there are many more things to see in this area of Rome. There are old churches, parks and fountains to be explored and of course restaurants and bars. Stay tuned for a more detailed post about this area of Rome.