Things to Do in Rome
The Colosseum has been a symbol of Rome since 80 AD, and today it’s a top monument in Italy. Some 50,000 spectators once gathered in the amphitheater’s tiered seats to watch gladiatorial games, and though parts of its original marble facade were pilfered over the years to build the likes of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum remains remarkably intact 2,000 years later.
Looming above the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius (Monte Vesuvio) erupted in AD 79 and covered Pompeii in ash, preserving parts of the ancient city that can still be seen today. The volcano itself is still active—the only active one in continental Europe—and, though dormant, is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. Despite this, many visitors hike the mountain to see its infamous crater and are rewarded with stunning views of Pompeii, the Bay of Naples, and the surrounding Italian countryside.
A sprawling mass of ruins, the Roman Forum (Foro Romano) was once the center of ancient Rome, with temples, courts, markets, and government buildings in full swing until the 4th century AD. While all that remains today is an array of ancient columns and arches, the forum is one of the most important archaeological sites in Italy, and excavations occur to this day. Aside from a lesson in Roman history, visitors can get a great view of the Eternal City from the overlooking Palatine and Capitoline hills.
The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina), part of Rome’s Vatican Museums, was decorated by art masters Sandro Botticelli and Pinturicchio in the 15th century before being completed with Michelangelo’s stunning 16th-century ceilings frescoes and monumental “The Last Judgement,” which covers the apse wall. The fresco-covered ceiling is the artist’s greatest work and one of the most important masterpieces in history, while the Sistine Chapel serves as a glorious homage to Renaissance art and one of the most visited sights in all of Italy.
The enormous St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) dominates Vatican City, and its dome can be seen from all over Rome. Built on the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion and over his tomb, it’s the epicenter of the Catholic Church and the burial place of many popes, including Pope John Paul II. The lavishly adorned basilica is the largest church in Italy, and it's also a museum full of priceless works of art—including Michelangelo’s spectacular Pietà and Bernini’s bronze baldachin.
Home to some of Italy’s most important artworks—from paintings and sculptures to tapestries and classical antiquities—the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) is one of the country’s top attractions. Explore the Pinacoteca, Egyptian Museum, Gallery of Tapestries, Pius-Clementine Museum, and Gallery of Maps, before admiring the crown jewels in the Sistine Chapel, famed for Michelangelo’s ceiling and The Last Judgment.
Known for its massive dome and center oculus, the well-preserved Pantheon attracts millions of annual visitors to Rome—and its proximity to the gelaterias along Via della Maddalena is just a bonus. Highlights of this temple-turned-church, which is the burial ground for Renaissance artist Raphael and the first King of Italy, include awe-inspiring architecture and beautiful art.
One of the most famous and sumptuous squares in Rome, Piazza Navona is home to the Baroque Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and Palazzo Pamphili, both overlooking Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famousFountain of the Four Rivers. Bustling outdoor cafes and rowdy buskers lend a lively air to the otherwise stately square.
The incredibly ornate Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) is the most famous fountain in Rome, and perhaps all of Italy. Centered around the Greek sea god Oceanus—as well as Tritons, seahorses, and other mythological figures—the baroque Trevi Fountain has made cameos on the silver screen and is a popular spot of superstition; throw in a coin and make a wish.
Climbing from Piazza di Spagna to the Trinità dei Monti church, the Spanish Steps are one of Rome’s most recognizable landmarks, immortalized in countless postcards and films. Built between 1723 and 1725, the 138-step staircase is also one of the widest in Europe and serves as a lively meeting place for locals and visitors alike.
More Things to Do in Rome
One of the mainstays of daily life in Italy is shopping at the market, and the market, for many Romans, means Campo de’ Fiori. This historic square in the city center hosts one of the largest and most famous outdoor food markets each morning,, offering visitors the perfect opportunity to rub elbows with locals.
Rome’s Circus Maximus(Circo Massimo)—a massive arena for chariot races, games, religious ceremonies, and civic events—was the largest stadium in the Roman Empire. A major restoration in 2016 yielded a spruced-up archaeological site comprising arched walkways, ancient shops, a newly excavated cobbled road, and the Circus track’s oblong outline and starting gates.
The heart of Rome's Vatican City is St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro), the grand space that provides a magnificent approach to St. Peter's Basilica. Designed by Bernini in the 17th century, Piazza San Pietro is lined by semicircular colonnades four columns deep on either side that seem to reach out and enfold visitors in an embrace.
Most visitors to Rome pass through the Piazza Venezia intersection, home to the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, at least once. This busy, sprawling intersection has a vast grassy island at its center, making it a square, but its function is to keep the Eternal City’s car and bus traffic flowing, rather than act as a leisure space.
Bohemian Trastevere is one of Rome’s most historic and picturesque neighborhoods—a maze of cobbled streets lined with atmospheric restaurants serving some of Italy’s best cuisine. At dusk, trendy crowds pour into its fashionable sidewalk cafés and bars to enjoy the vibrant Roman nightlife. Trastevere lies across the river—hence the name, which means “across the Tiber”—from the center of Rome, and at its heart is Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, home to one of Rome’s oldest churches (from AD 340) and a majestic 15th-century fountain. Other neighborhood sights include the beautiful Santa Cecilia in Trastevere church, dating from the fifth century, and Villa Farnesina, filled with stunning frescoes—including two attributed to Raphael.
Raphael's Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) are four interconnected halls inside the Vatican Museums, each decorated with sumptuous frescoes by painter Raphael (1483–1520). These High Renaissance masterpieces are second in fame and beauty only to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the whole of the enormous Vatican collection.
Rome’s Olympic Stadium (Stadio Olimpico) seats more than 72,000 spectators, and when the city’s deeply beloved A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio soccer teams hold their home matches here, there isn’t an empty seat in the house. But the stadium isn’t just for "football" fans; rather, the venue is also used for rock concerts and other sporting events.
Piazza di Spagna is one of Rome's best-known meeting places, thanks to a stunning statue, the iconic Fontana della Barcaccia and an attractive square that lies at the foot of the famed Spanish Steps. The landmark's central location grants travelers easy access to top attractions like nearby Trinita dei Monti, Keats-Shelley Memorial House and the Column of the Immaculate Conception.
Piazza di Spagna is also a prime destination for people-watching, thanks to the large number of visitors and locals who gather in the public garden and scenic space to celebrate sunshine when there's warmer weather.
Standing proud behind the Colosseum and steps away from the beginning of the Via Sacra, the imposing triumphal Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino) was erected by the Roma Senate in 315 AD in honor of Emperor Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge that took place three years earlier. At 69 feet (21 meters) tall, the ornate monument was carved from a single enormous block of gray and white marble. In typical Classical style, the great central gateway is mirrored by two smaller side arches and supported by eight Corinthian columns. The arch is decorated with reliefs plundered from other long-forgotten memorials that describe feats of bravery by earlier Roman emperors, as well as inscriptions praising the achievements of Constantine.
Thanks to its close proximity to the Colosseum and its sheer size, the Arch of Constantine is an easy landmark to find and a popular spot for photos. Many walking tours stop to admire the arch before continuing on to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum or to Palatine Hill.
Situated in a former Borghese family villa, Rome’s Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese) houses much of the eponymous family’s vast collection of antiquities, paintings, and sculptures across 22 rooms and two floors. Highlights include paintings by Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rubens, as well as several Bernini sculptures.
Vatican City (Città del Vaticano) may be the smallest sovereign nation-state in the world, but it's a religious and cultural superpower. Home to some of the world’s greatest artistic and architectural marvels—namely St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums—it's located wholly within the confines of Rome, covers 110 acres (44 hectares), and has an official population of about 800.
Hidden deep underground on the outskirts of Rome, the vast 2nd-century Catacombs of Rome (Catacombe di Roma) are some of the oldest burial tunnels in the world. Today, the narrow tunnels are eerily quiet and full of Roman history, including some of the best-preserved early Christian frescoes and sculptures—including the oldest known depiction of the Virgin Mary and, in the bone-adorned Capuchin Crypt, a Caravaggio.
Though Rome’s Jewish Ghetto no longer officially exists (it was abolished in 1882), the neighborhood is still the center of Rome’s Jewish community, the oldest in Italy. The city’s 19th-century synagogue— home to the Jewish Museum of Rome— is here, as are winding lanes lined with kosher restaurants, markets, and butchers.
Like many cities in Europe, Rome required its Jewish residents to live in a separate, walled-off neighborhood during the Middle Ages. The Roman Jewish Ghetto (Ghetto Ebraico di Roma) was established in 1555, when the city erected walls around this area in the historic center; these barriers were torn down only after the ghetto was abolished in 1882. Today, despite its unhappy history, the Jewish Ghetto is now one of Rome’s most beautiful neighborhoods.
The ruins of this ancient Roman city, now theHerculaneum Archaeological Park (Parco Archeologico di Ercolano), live in the shadow of their more famous neighbor, Pompeii. But many enthusiasts consider this smaller site—one of Italy’s most important UNESCO-listed spots—to be equally interesting and engaging.
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