Rome, Italy is one of the great cities of the world. With its history spanning thousands of years, the city features monumental architecture, fabulous piazzas (squares), colorful mercatos (markets), and character-filled streets. It is truly dazzling at every turn. Rome's top tourist attractions include famous ruins as well as majestic churches, high-caliber art museums, charming piazzas, amazing food and shopping, and more.
Those going to the Eternal City will need a strategy to avoid being overwhelmed by the huge number of things to see. Tourists may need several visits to see everything in Rome, but even one trip will bring a lifetime of memories.
Many people go to Italy to try the remarkable food, which is well-known around the world. So when in Rome, do as the Romans do: dine on the delicious pizza, pasta, gelato (Italian ice cream), and more. Grab something to eat at the mercatos, full of colorful, fresh produce. Sip on an espresso or a cappuccino at a local café. Some of the best-known cafés in Rome are Tazza d’Oro near Pantheon—started in 1946 and known for the granita, a partially frozen coffee with whipped cream—and Sant 'Eustachio Il Caffè, dating back to 1938 and located near Piazza Navona.
MAXXI—National Museum of 21st Century Art is located in the Flaminio neighborhood of northern Rome. The museum designed by architect Zaha Hadid opened in 2010. Known Italian and international artists display their photography, paintings, and multimedia installations. Guests can also view conferences, workshops, screenings, shows, and more. Also, check out the Mediterranean Ristorante e Giardino, The Palombini Cafeteria for some coffee and chocolate, and the Museum Bookshop.
The ancient city of Ostia Antica, around 35 minutes southwest of Rome, makes an exciting day trip. See well-preserved apartment buildings, a bakery, and even public toilets from this community that was abandoned by the fifth century.
Naples, a vibrant city just over an hour from Rome on the high-speed train, is a worthwhile destination. History buffs love the old markets, churches, castles, and more. Plus, it's the birthplace of pizza and a wonderful chance to eat a delicious one made in a wood-burning oven.
Lovely beaches aren't far from Rome, either. If you'd enjoy partying along with many young Romans, check out Fregene, about a 40-minute drive from Rome. Santa Marinella, around one hour by car, offers pleasant beaches, along with seafood restaurants and bars. An attractive town an approximately two-hour drive from Rome, Sperlonga is one of the best day trips. Expect clean water and sand along with a great place to relax and enjoy cafés, eateries, and shops.
Italy is famous for its fashion, and Rome has some of the country's best designer shops to explore. Via del Corso, one of Rome’s main shopping streets, has plenty of reputable clothing stores. Stroll down Via Condotti and the surrounding streets or Via Veneto for designer boutiques. If you are seeking antiques or art, try Via del Babuino, which connects Piazza di Spagna to Piazza del Popolo.
Dating back to 1922, the Galleria Alberto Sordi, a mall with skylights made of stained-glass and mosaic floors, is among the most beautiful places to shop in Europe. You'll find everything from clothing and accessories to books and cosmetics in the mall.
If you would like an early evening aperitivo (drink before your meal) or some after-dark explorations of Roman nightlife, the city offers plenty of options. The colorful Trastevere neighborhood, about 15 minutes from the city center, is one of the top areas, offering craft beer in various creative bars, some featuring live entertainment. Pigneto, a trendy neighborhood around 15 minutes east of the Colosseum, has pubs and live music venues, LGBTQ+ clubs, and places to see modern dance and theater. Dance clubs and bars can also be found just outside of the city center, in neighborhoods such as Ostiense.
Dedicated by Emperor Vespasian in A.D. 80, the Colosseum (so-named for a colossal statue of Emperor Nero that once stood on the site) once held up to 50,000 people and was the scene of countless deadly gladiatorial and wild animal fights. The ancient amphitheater—located in the city center a bit east of the Roman Forum—is now the symbol of Rome and a requisite stop on most tourist itineraries.
Buy your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in a long, slow-moving line to see one of the largest arenas in the world.
Adjacent to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum is a huge complex of ruined temples, basilicas, and arches. One of the top ancient sites in the city, the Roman Forum was the ceremonial, legal, social, and business center of ancient Rome. Wandering its iconic ruins dating back to as early as the seventh century B.C. is an essential part of any Rome visit.
Your ticket to the Colosseum includes entry at the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, and tours of all three sites are available.
Many visitors to the Colosseum and Forum don't make the climb up to the adjacent Palatine Hill, and they're missing out. One of the famous Seven Hills of Rome near the Tiber River, this was the high-rent district of ancient Rome, where emperors, senators, and other wealthy nobles built their homes. Though it's difficult to make sense of the many layers of ruins, it's rarely very crowded, and there is plenty of shade.
One of the most important churches in all Christendom and one of the largest in the world, St. Peter's Basilica is majestic and awe-inspiring, from its grand exterior to the soaring ceiling and ornate decoration of its interiors. You can limit your visit to the inside, or see the underground tombs of the popes. An alternative is to climb the dome (or take the elevator part-way) for an unforgettable view of Rome.
The vastness of the art and antiquities collection of the popes, coupled with the volume of people who visit every day means you'll need to devote at least half a day just to hit the highlights at the Vatican Museums in the Vatican City. From ancient Roman and Egyptian sculptures and artifacts to works by some of the greatest painters in Western art, the collections are mind-boggling. The Raphael Rooms in the Papal apartments are a must-see as is the Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling and wall frescoes by Michelangelo depicting stories from the Old Testament.
Even though it's often overrun with tourists and souvenir vendors, Piazza Navona is one of Rome's most stunning squares (though this one is an oval shape). It's also one of the city's largest. The entire piazza is a pedestrian area, lined with touristy restaurants and shops, plus the 17th-century church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. In the center of the piazza is Gian Lorenzo Bernini's famous Fountain of the Four Rivers.
Note that while Piazza Navona is beautiful for a daytime or evening stroll, we don't recommend dining here—instead, find someplace more authentic off the piazza.
There's nothing quite like exiting the narrow medieval streets of Rome's centro storico (historic district) and stumbling upon the Pantheon, one of the world's best-preserved ancient buildings. The round structure was the "temple to all gods" for the ancient Romans. It's been a church since the 7th century A.D., which is one reason why it has managed to stay standing all these years. The only source of natural light in the cylinder-shaped, domed building is the 7.8-meter oculus (round skylight) at the top. One of the prettiest piazzas in Rome is the Piazza della Rotunda on which the Pantheon sits.
Built by the French in the 1720s, the Spanish Steps are not particularly important historically, but the elegant site draws visitors to Rome. Many people photograph and climb the 138 shallow steps, take a drink of water from the 18th century Fontana della Barcaccia, and enjoy a gelato while window shopping—or dropping some serious cash—in the designer shops lining the streets around the steps. In the springtime, the steps are decked out with colorful azaleas, and make for an even better photo op.
Rome's most famous fountain was completed in 1762 in the historic city center and is a grand example of high baroque public sculpture. The gleaming white marble Trevi Fountain depicts sea god Neptune surrounded by mermen, seahorses, and cascading pools. In an effort to control the dense crowds gathered in front of the fountain, guards keep people moving along. You'll still have time to toss a coin over your should (said to guarantee a return trip to Rome) and take a picture, but don't expect to sit and eat a gelato in front of the rushing waters.
Set on top of the Capitoline Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, the Capitoline Museums in the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo buildings house archaeological treasures from antiquity, as well as paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
Established by Pope Clement XII in 1734, the Capitoline Museums were the first in the world opened to the public. Some of the most famous pieces include fragments and a bust from a colossal statue of Constantine, a gigantic equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, and an ancient sculpture of twins Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf.
Galleria Borghese, one of Rome's top museums for art lovers, requires advance reservations, as attendance is limited via timed entry. So plan ahead to visit this world-class collection of art and antiquities, including masterful sculptures from Bernini, and paintings from Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, and other giants of the Renaissance and Baroque.
The Galleria Borghese is within the grounds of the Villa Borghese, a vast public park that was once the private gardens of the popes. Tourists enjoy the lake with boat rentals, plus playgrounds, and picnic areas. In the summertime, kids love the amusement rides and pony rides.
Imagine the Past at Baths of Caracalla
Completed in 216 A.D., the massive complex of the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla) could hold up to 1,600 bathers simultaneously, who soaked in hot, cold, and tepid pools, and exercised in the gymnasium. Nobles, freemen, and slaves mingled at the baths. The Baths of Caracalla were richly decorated with mosaics, sculptures, and frescoes though today only fragments of the mosaics remain. The site impresses visitors with its sheer size and the genius of the engineering and design that kept the giant bathing complex operating for hundreds of years.
Check Out Coins and Sculptures at National Roman Museum
The Museo Nazionale, or National Museum of Rome, is actually four different museums run by the same entity: The Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, the Palazzo Altemps, Baths of Diocletian, and the Crypta Balbi. A huge collection of Roman sculpture, coins, frescoes, and inscriptions can be found at The Palazzo Massimo, while the Palazzo Altemps is a more intimate collection of Roman works. The Baths of Diocletian were once Rome's largest—the Renaissance church built on top of them was designed by Michelangelo. Finally, the Crypta Balbi museum examines the development of a city block, from ancient Roman to medieval times.
Your admission ticket gains you entrance to all four museums within a three-day period.
Like the majority of churches in Rome, the Basilica di San Clemente was built on top of a pagan site of worship. It's one of the best places in the city for understanding the complex "layering" of Rome, and of how buildings developed on top of other buildings. While the church itself is ornately beautiful, the real attraction here is the underground, self-guided tour, which includes a second-century Mithraeum, where worshipers would ritually slaughter bulls, an early Roman house. an underground river, and some of the oldest Christian frescoes in Rome.
See the Ancient Trajan's Markets/Museum
This highly-recommended site often falls off many tourists' radar, and that's too bad. Trajan's Markets were a multi-level, arcaded shopping complex—basically the world's first mall—with individual stores that sold everything from food to clothing to housewares. The Museum of the Imperial Forums presents the history and development of the businesses and adjacent forums, and you can walk through the ancient market arcades, which are usually free of crowds.
One of Italy's largest piazzas, this grand space centers around an Egyptian obelisk and is anchored by three churches. The most important one, Santa Maria del Popolo, is on the north end of the square and contains works by Bernini, Raphael, and Caravaggio. Above the piazza, the Pincio Hill offers sweeping views of the city and behind it, elegant Villa Borghese park spreads out for acres. Piazza del Popolo is a rare Roman piazza in that it is not lined with cafés and restaurants, though there are many in the vicinity.
Built as the mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, this massive, round building near St. Peter's was subsequently used as a fortress, a prison, and as private apartments for the popes—its history is especially entwined with the infamous Borgia family. The Castel Sant'Angelo tour begins on the sixth-floor terrace, which is famous from Puccini's opera, "Tosca," and offers terrific views of Rome, then winds on a circular route down to the lower levels of the castle.
Though it is now a charming neighborhood and a great place to sample traditional Roman-Jewish fare, the Roman Ghetto has a grim past. The walled neighborhood was established by a papal bull (a public decree) in 1555, and all Rome's Jewish population were required to live in the swampy, disease-prone district near the Tiber. While the ghetto was abolished in 1882, in the waning years of WWII, Nazis deported most of the area's Jews to concentration camps—and only a handful returned to Rome.
Appreciate the Catacombs & the Appian Way
Plan at least a half-day of exploring this fascinating area on the outskirts of Rome. The Via Appia Antica is the most famous of Rome's roads. It is lined with the tombs of ancient Romans, from the massive Tomb of Cecilia Metella, a Roman Consul's daughter, to those with humble portrait busts of their occupants. There are miles of Christian catacombs along the Appian Way, but only three areas are open to the public: the catacombs of Saint Domitilla, Saint Callixtus, and Saint Sebastian. Some people only see one set of catacombs, so choose the one that works best for your interests and schedule.
Glance at Ancient Art at Palazzo Barberini
Despite its name, this art museum in the magnificent Barberini palace has mostly works from the Renaissance onwards, including important paintings from Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio and other names you'd recognize from art history class. The palace itself, as well as the famous fountain out front, were designed by Bernini.
Admission to Palazzo Barberini also includes entrance to its sister museum, Galleria Corsini, housed in a handsome 16th-century palace.