Even though we were only in Rome for a short week, our packed schedule allowed us to see and do as much as possible. On the strength of this experience, I can draw up a list of our favorite activities, along with a few we would have liked to have done.
I hope this list of the best things to do in Rome will help you create your own agenda for your stay.
1. The Colosseum
It’s the number 1 thing to do in Rome. The Colosseum has become the symbol of the city. Every year, several million tourists visit it.
A huge amphitheater dating from the year 70, it’s as majestic on the outside as it is on the inside.
As the box office is often fully booked (in which case no tickets can be purchased on the spot), you need to reserve your seats in advance. We did this “only” 10 days in advance, and the best times were fully booked.
Several types of ticket are available: simple tour, tour including the Forum and Mount Palatine, audiotours, tour with a guide…
2. The Forum and Mount Palatine
The visit is complementary to that of the Colosseum. The Forum and Mount Palatine are next to the Colosseum. We had bought a ticket to see all three at the same price.
The area is very large, with several entrances and exits. Look at the site map on your phone and make sure you see everything that interests you. With the crowds, the size of the grounds and the end-of-day fatigue, it’s easy to miss things.
We had no audiotour and were on our own. Don’t do as we did, as you’ll be wandering around the ruins without really knowing what they’re all about (the signs are nowhere to be seen). In my opinion, an audiotour is essential to fully enjoy the visit.
3. St. Peter’s Basilica and square
We were totally amazed by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The most famous Catholic building in the world, it is located in the Vatican.
Architecture, sculptures, paintings, every nook and cranny is packed with wonders. If you’re a believer, there’s no doubt that you’ll experience strong emotions when you enter the Papal residence.
If you like details, your visit can quickly exceed an hour.
Admission to the basilica is free. However, access to the Dome and its unique view is not free.
St. Peter’s Square is the name of the square in front of the Basilica. Tens of thousands of Catholics gather here for religious events. There are several shady areas where you can stop and admire the sights before resuming your walk.
4. The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are a paying visit to the Vatican City. Like the Colosseum, they welcome a huge number of visitors every year. We therefore booked a guided tour in advance, which is very useful for understanding the history of the site and its works.
For almost 2 hours, you’ll visit the most important museums: the Pio-Clementino Museum, the Candelabra Gallery, the Map Gallery… You’ll finish with a visit to the Sistine Chapel.
Your admission also entitles you to visit other museums in the Vatican: the Pavilion of the Carriages, the Ethnological Museum, the Etruscan Museum, the Egyptian Museum…
To see only the Vatican’s best-known museums, expect a visit from around 3 hours. To see them all, you’ll need almost the whole day.
5. The Sistine Chapel
Who hasn’t heard of the Sistine Chapel? Built in the 15th century, this chapel in the heart of the Vatican has benefited from the work of the greatest contemporary artists. Michelangelo’s vault and paintings are the best-known works, but others such as Botticcelli and Perugino have also contributed to the edifice.
Admission to the Sistine Chapel is included in Vatican Museums tickets. It is also possible to purchase a supplement for a very small group visit before the Museums open to the general public.
It’s a really good plan, because if you visit in the middle of the morning, as we did, you’ll be over a hundred visitors looking in vain for angles to admire the paintings or quiet to soak up the history of the place..
6. Castel Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant’ Angelo is not far from the Vatican. Just go straight ahead on the road opposite St. Peter’s Basilica to reach it.
Magnificently illuminated at night, Castel Sant’ Angelo is also beautiful by day. Once erected as Hadrian’s Mausoleum, over the centuries it has become the Vatican’s defensive castle and fortress.
You have to pay to visit the castle’s rooms and enjoy the best views. We were disappointed by the castle’s interior, but its highest terrace offers an exceptional panorama of Rome. The whole point of paying for a ticket lies in this view!
Below the castle is the Ponte San Angelo.
7. The Pantheon
This is the first activity on our list that we didn’t do. The reason is simple: we walked past it on a Saturday morning and the queue was simply monstrous.
So we admired the exterior of the Pantheon. It’s a religious building dating back to antiquity. Inside, the rotunda and dome surprise visitors who might not expect such dimensions.
Admission is free. Guided tours are also available..
8. Trajan’s markets
Trajan’s markets are at the end of Via dei Fori Imperiali. These markets date back to the beginning of our era and are in a remarkable state of preservation. From the street, you can see the entire complex of remains. A number of footpaths allow you to get up close and personal to take photos and admire the work.
At night, lighting highlights this historic heritage.
Viewing it from the street is, of course, free of charge. You can also buy tickets to walk through the ruins and gain access to the Imperial Forums museum.
At the entrance to the grounds stands Trajan’s famous column.
9. Borghese Gardens
The Borghese Gardens are not in the same place as the ancient ruins. You have to go a little north of Rome to discover them. Spacious, they offer a relaxed walk in verdant surroundings. We did it on a Sunday morning and it was pleasant.
The highlight of the park is the Temple of Aesculapius, enthroned in the middle of a small lake. Pedal boats are available for sailing on the lake, but it is relatively small. Given the number of pedal boats, you shouldn’t expect a moment of solitude in the middle of the water.
Access to the parks is free. Only access to the gallery is subject to a fee.
10. The Borghese Gallery
The Borghese Gallery is located in the center of the gardens. The gallery displays the art collection of the Borghese family. This began with Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century.
The Gallery has 20 rooms spread over 2 levels. Admission is relatively inexpensive, but reservations and planning are essential. If you arrive without a ticket, you won’t get in, and you won’t be able to buy one on the spot.
This controlled access is a disadvantage if you haven’t made reservations, but an advantage for visitors. You’re not in crowded rooms, and you can enjoy admiring some of the world’s most beautiful works.
11. The Circus Maximus
Chariot races forged the legend of the gladiators of Ancient Rome. The best memory of this activity is undoubtedly the Circus Maximus. In Italian, it is translated as Circo Massimo.
Today’s Circus Maximus consists of a section of ruins and a large grassy area, which was once the arena. The arena is free of charge. You can walk around it, and popular festivals are even held there.
As for the ruins, you can see them very well, but they’re in a fenced-in area. To get as close as possible, you have to pay an entrance fee. For some years now, this entrance has also offered an augmented reality tour. With glasses and a headset, you can step back in time to the games of the Roman Circus and learn more about the history of the Circo Massimo.
This activity is available in many languages, including French.
12. Via dei Fori Imperiali by night
Via dei Fori Imperiali is THE street of ancient ruins. It starts at the Colosseum and leads to Trajan’s Markets. To the right and left of the street, you’ll find ruins to admire. Tourists flock here during the day.
At night, the experience is different and well worth the detour. We were delighted to discover it. Most of the remains are illuminated. I loved seeing Trajan’s markets lit up, while the lights in the Colosseum allowed me to see busts on the walls of the amphitheater that I hadn’t seen during the day.
The experience is free and can be enjoyed at any time of the year, as the Via dei Fori Imperiali is open to passers-by and cars 24 hours a day.
13. The Domus Aurea
The Domus Aurea is an imperial palace built for Nero. It was opened in AD 68. It stands right next to the Colosseum.
To enter, you need to buy a Colosseum “Full Experience” ticket. In addition to the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine trio, it allows you to enter the Domus Aurea, the House of Augustus, the Courtyard Iulia…
14. Capitoline Museum
The Musei Capitolini are in Piazza del Campidoglio, or if you prefer the French version, the Capitoline Museums are in Piazza del Campidoglio. Knowing the translations is important for finding your way around the city and understanding the signs…
The museums comprise the Palais Neuf and the Palais des Conservateurs.
These museums are among the oldest in the world, having been open since 1471. They include famous works of art such as the Capitoline She-wolf, a large sculpture symbolizing the birth of Rome.
15. Colonna Palace
Close to Piazza Venezia, Palazzo Colonna belongs to the Colonna family. Like the Borghese, part of the residence is open to the public.
The Palazzo Colonna features a gallery of works of art inaugurated in the 17th century and the magnificent apartment of Princess Isabella.
To discover it, you need to book and plan your visit.
16. The Vittorio Emmanuele II monument
The Vittorio Emmanuele II monument was the building that surprised us most. We had planned to visit the ancient ruins, but as we approached the site, we saw a gigantic white edifice.
This gigantism is what earned the monument some criticism at the time of its construction. In fact, it’s not very old. Vittorio Emmanuele II monument was built in 1885. It is a symbol of Italian unification.
Admission to the terrace is free. You’ll have a wonderful view of the Piazza Venezia, and a better view of the monument’s large sculptures.
There’s also a paying section, which we didn’t visit. It includes an elevator that takes you up to the roof for an even more impressive view, as well as a museum dedicated to the War (the Risorgimento Museum).
17. Caracalla Baths
The Caracalla Baths are one of our small regrets. We went on a Monday… and it was closing day!
It’s a pity, because the visit looks interesting. These baths, built in 216, are imposing. At the time, they were the most luxurious in Rome.
Today, many sections of the walls are still standing and well maintained.
Admission is charged. The various reviews I’ve read recommend taking an audiotour, as there is little written information. Without the audio, you’re wandering around the ruins without understanding the history and use of the site.
18. The Baths of Diocletian
These other thermal baths are less famous than those of Caracalla. Yet visitor reviews are good. They were built between 298 and 306.
They are a little off the beaten track, next to the Roma Termini railway station. This location is justified by their ancient use. They were intended for densely populated districts.
Part of Diocletian’s baths were converted in the 16th century to create the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri.
We didn’t visit the thermal baths, but saw the exterior after our visit to the basilica.
Access to the basilica is free, while the thermal baths are not.
19. The Forum of Augustus
This Imperial Forum is located opposite Caesar’s Forum. As its name suggests, it was built under Augustus.
Some of the ruins are still standing. During the day, we passed by without lingering. We appreciated it even more during our evening stroll along Via dei Fori Imperiali.
When faced with such ruins, don’t hesitate to search the web for a drawing of the monument in its period, to better understand the remains.
In the evening, night-time illuminations take place. You can see the images from the street, but it’s best to pay. Enter through Trajan’s Markets and proceed to the Forum. Equipped with headphones, you can listen to the history of the Forum.
The current price is 15€. If you’d also like to see the Forum de César show, the total price for both shows is €25.
20. Caesar’s Forum
As Caesar’s reign predated that of Augustus, his Forum is slightly older. It’s right next door. The ruins are relatively small, which is not surprising given that many new buildings were erected after its creation.
As with the Forum of Augustus, shows are organized at night to recreate period scenes using lights and audio.
21. Cinecitta Studios
Cinecitta is a mythical place for all film lovers. The studios date back to 1937. During your visit, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the studios, as well as a number of film sets.
One part can be visited on its own, while a second must be done in the company of a guide. After all, you won’t be wandering around a studio on your own…
If you’d like to take the guided tour in French, book in advance or check the time before you go. Of course, it’s not available at all times.
22. Saint-Callixtus Catacombs
There are several catacombs in Rome. The most visited are those of St. Calixtus. According to experts, over 500,000 people are buried in these catacombs. Among them are Christian martyrs, buried while being persecuted for their faith.
The tour can be taken with or without a guide. For a guided tour, allow 30 to 40 minutes for the entire tour. The presence of a guide is very useful for learning more about the customs of the time, the symbols engraved on the stone and the history of these catacombs..
23. The Trastevere District
In the mood for a simple stroll rather than multiple visits? Take a stroll through the Trastevere District. It’s considered the city’s trendy, bohemian district.
Despite its stores, bars and restaurants, Trastevere has retained its charm. The narrow, ancient streets are a reminder of Rome’s past.
24. The Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine lies between the entrance to the Colosseum and the Palatine. Nevertheless, you can visit it free of charge. Of course, don’t think of it as a one-hour activity. It’s a triumphal arch built in 315 in honor of Constantine. Constantine was the emperor who made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.
It is surrounded by a fence to protect it from damage, but you can approach it from a few meters away.
You’re not allowed to sit in the grass next to it, but small railings can be used as seats all around the Arc.
25. Largo di Torre Argentina
The Largo di Torre Argentina is a park of ruins right in the center of one of Rome’s less touristy districts. Many people discover this square by chance. It has even become a paradise for stray cats, as many of them live among the ruins.
However, if you learn the history of the square, you’re bound to see it differently. It boasts the ruins of four Roman temples and the columns of the Hecatostylum, all built before Christ.
It was also here that Julius Caesar was assassinated.
The ruins can be seen from the street. On one side of this rectangular square, you’ll find benches and a few information panels.
26. Quirinal Palace
The Palazzo Quirinale is the palace of the President of the Italian Republic. It dates back to the 16th century and was once a papal residence.
We drove past the palace, but were unable to visit. Reservations are required in advance. As you’re in a secure area, all visits are accompanied by an official guide. But don’t worry, prices are very low. The standard 1h30 tour costs just €1.50.
A longer tour is also available. It includes porcelain, carriages and gardens.
27. Major basilicas
Rome is the city of Catholicism. You only have to walk the streets to realize this. You see churches everywhere. When you get up high, it’s the domes of the basilicas that surprise you; there are so many of them!
Among all these domes are those of the major basilicas. There are 4 papal basilicas in Rome:
- The Basilica of St. John Lateran
- Saint Peter’s Basilica
- The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
- The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
They are both places of worship and tourist attractions, as thousands of people visit them every day. If you’re a believer, I strongly recommend attending a Sunday mass.
Visits to these basilicas are entirely free of charge. You are free to leave an offering, as in all churches.
Other basilicas, which are not considered “major”, are also worth a visit. We were particularly impressed by the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, located next to the Baths of Diocletian. Before entering the building, you’d have no idea that such splendor could be found there.
There are many other churches in Rome worth visiting. Always do so with respect to the rules and, above all, for other visitors.
28. Antique doors
Scattered throughout the city of Rome, ancient gates in varying degrees of preservation are a reminder of the city’s grandiose past.
While locals are accustomed to passing by without paying them any attention, tourists are more likely to look at them and photograph them. For them, it’s not every day they see constructions dating back almost two millennia!
You have many antique Roman doors. Discovering them involves looking at them more or less briefly. In a busy schedule, we don’t recommend dedicating an entire day to these gates. But look upstream to see where they are, and if you have an activity close to a gate, take a short detour to see it.
These include Porta Maggiore, Porta del Popolo, Porta Asinaria, Porta Tiburtine, Porta Pinciana, Porta Pia…
29. Famous Roman squares
Without focusing your agenda on squares, you can already see a lot of them by doing the activities mentioned above. In fact, most Roman squares have famous monuments directly overlooking them or located nearby.
Roman squares are therefore a collection of monuments, fountains, sculptures and artists attracting onlookers. Some are very large, and you’ll feel right at home. Others are smaller, with no benches and too many people to be pleasant.
Some of Rome’s best-known squares include: Piazza San Pietro, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Campidoglio, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza della Rotonda, Campo de Fiori, Piazza Farnese…
30. The city’s most beautiful fountains
As mentioned in the previous section, squares generally have one or more fountains. Some of these fountains are absolutely magnificent.
The most famous and beautiful is the Trevi Fountain. We saw it on a Sunday, and it was so crowded that it was difficult to get close. However, despite the crowds, we had the pleasure of admiring and photographing it. It’s well worth a visit. It’s the fountain to see in Rome.
Other fountains are worth a visit if they are close to another activity, such as the Fountain of Moses (also called Fontana dell’Acqua Felice), the Fountain of the Tritones, the Fountain of Barcaccia, the Fountain of the Turtles, the Fountain of the Naäides, the Fountain of the Moor, the Fountain of the Pantheon…
31. Italian gastronomy
Forget the monuments and history of Rome for something a little more down-to-earth: your belly! Italian gastronomy is considered one of the best in the world. You can’t be in Rome and neglect good food.
Two must-haves immediately spring to mind: pizza and gelato.
You’ll find a large number of pizzerias. Search for reviews on Google to be sure you’ve come across a good establishment.
As for gelato (Italian ice cream), it’s ideal after a long walk. You can enjoy it on a bench, recovering and telling yourself that life is beautiful. Could this be La Dolce Vita?
32. An opera
Rome and Vienna are the cities of opera and classical music. In Rome, there are many operas. Verdi and Vivaldi are the most popular, but they are not the only ones.
The variety of venues means you’re sure to find an opera that fits your budget. We paid around thirty euros for opera in a church.
For a concert in an exceptional venue, try the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. This magnificent late 19th-century theater seats over 2,000.
33. A soccer match at the Stadio Olimpico
Italians love soccer and Rome vibrates for AS Roma. Lazio also plays at the Stadio Olimpico, but the popular fervor is less intense.
The Stadio Olimpico is a little off the beaten track from Rome’s historic center. Take the metro or a cab to get there.
Book your tickets several weeks in advance, especially if you want to see the big games such as AS Roma – Juventus or AS Roma – AC Milan.
This Olympic stadium is neither the most beautiful nor the most suitable for soccer, not least because of its large athletics track, which distances the stands from the pitch. However, with 70,000 tifosis present for the best matches, the atmosphere is just right!