There’s no place like Rome. The impressive showcase of ancient history, celebrated monuments, and bustling city vibes are the ingredients for an ideal city break for anyone with an appetite for world culture.
There are relics of old worshiped gods dispersed across the city and cafe bars where both young and old take their espresso exchanging the latest news. Morning traffic is colored up by well-dressed business people on Vespa scooters, and upscale locals stroll the elegant shopping streets looking for the most recent design pieces. Rome is full of stereotypes and of world-famous attractions that visitors want to see with their own eyes, from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum to the Pantheon, and the Vatican; they are all extraordinary sights you can’t miss when you are in Rome because each of them is unique. We suggest however, also to go off-the-path for a little while to uncover alternative things to do beyond the famed churches and museums and archeological ruins. It will show you a different aspect of the city and you experience what Rome is about and what it feels like.
Here our recommended seven things you cannot miss on your next trip to Rome.
- The Colosseum & Roman Forum
The Colosseum is the most abiding sight in Rome and still remains in its perfect condition after about 2,000 years. Back then, it was the largest amphitheater, seating up to 80,000 Romans. The design of the magnificent three-tiered structure conveyed the wealth, might, and power of the city of Rome and the Roman Empire. Holding lots of history about the city, The Colosseum is such an important landmark that you simply must visit when in Rome.
There is likely to be long lines to enter the Colosseum, so to save time choose the Palatine Hill entrance at the Roman Forum (at a less than 5 minutes walk). Here you can purchase a combined ticket for the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum, which is valid for two days. The Roman Forum is one of the most prominent archaeological sites on earth, as it was once the epicenter of the massive Roman Empire. Here elections, public speeches, and important events took place.
As there is not that much of information we would recommend investing in an audio guide when visiting the Roman Forum, to help give you some context of the impressive sprawl of ruins in front of you! Also, we advise to visit the (fully intact) Pantheon first, so you get a better feeling of the grandeur this ancient Rome’s center used to be.
- The Pantheon
The Pantheon is an architectural marvel, that looks today – inside and outside – much the way it has been for almost 2,000 years. Imagine that on the marble floors people have been walking for two thousand years and that the building still possesses its original bronze doors! When you are inside (entrance is free) gaze at the domed ceiling and watch the sunlight entering the room.
- The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
The Vatican has a lot to offer to visitors, particularly if you are interested in the history of the Catholic religion. Inside the city walls, there are some fantastic museums with a seriously impressive collection of artwork and it is the home of the Sistine Chapel famous for its breathtaking ceiling painting by Michelangelo.
For most travelers, visiting the Vatican is one day out of their city trip to Rome, and that’s what we believe is the right time to spend in Vatican City. In addition to dedicating a day for the Vatican, we also recommend reserving a good guided tour here. This will not only facilitate navigating the labyrinth of the Vatican Museums but will also help you understand the context of what you see as well. Be aware that there is some serious walking involved on this day, so make sure to get out in the morning with your comfy shoes! If you book online for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, you will be able to skip most of the lines to make your way inside.
- Get lost in the labyrinthine streets of the historic center
Rome’s medieval “Centro Storico” (historic center) is a maze of narrow alleys and cobbled streets filled with churches and palaces dating from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The only way to explore it is on foot, and the best time of the day to do that is in the evening. Its heart is the bustling Piazza Navona, home to Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. It is a beautiful place to enjoy an excellent meal and a delicious “Tartufo” (a traditional chocolate ice-cream dessert) at Bar Tre Scalini. The wine bars and cafés around Piazza Navona are definitively chic, trendy and as well excellent spots to watch people. Head over the Trevi Fountain, Italy’s largest and most famous Baroque fountain, an ensemble of mythical figures and wild horses that is dominating the small Trevi Square located in the Quirinale district. Toss a coin in the fountain to ensure a trip back to Rome, as the original legend says. Continue your walk to the square in front of the Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda) which is a cool hangout spot on a warm summer day.
- Explore the Trastevere streets
If you need a break from the city vibes of Rome, go to the relatively peaceful Trastevere neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber. Trastevere is a little unconventional, has a real Roman appearance, but is at the same time very international. The cobblestone streets are mostly car-free, the restaurants serve up excellent (and cheap) dishes, and there a plenty of good pubs and wine bars for an aperitif. The piazza in front of Basilica of Santa Maria (which is beautiful) is as charming and splendid as you would find in any Tuscan hilltop village. After nightfall, the Trastevere becomes the place to be for young locals and travelers alike, who love its original scene and relaxed atmosphere.
- Stroll Rome’s food markets
Rome is a perfect city for a picnic lunch, and its food markets are ideal places for filling up your basket. The oldest market in all of Rome, and undeniably one of the most famous, is the open air market, Campo dei Fiori. Colorful vegetables and fruits, beautiful flower shops, ham and cheese to enjoy at your picnic, as well as clothes, and souvenirs. You can find all kinds of goods in this market. In the heart of Rome’s most multi-ethnic neighborhood, nearby the Termini train station, you find Nuovo Mercato Esquilino. Here you feel the atmosphere of a multicultural hub; usual grocery stands are complemented by exotic produce, perfect for an international meal.
Then there is the Mercato in Testaccio where you will experience a real taste of Rome’s authentic food and soul. Get some olives, fresh mozzarella, and bread before heading out to the gardens of Villa Borghese – the largest public park in Rome – for your picnic.
Cultural lovers should not miss the Borghese Gallery inside the park, featuring some of their most exquisite (and famous) works of Bernini and Caravaggio and offering one of the best collections of art related to sculpture, painting, and architecture (the building itself is one of the attractions.) If you plan a visit to the Gallery, buy your ticket online to avoid the long, long wait to enter.
- Go shopping
Rome is well known for its luxurious shopping; the city has many beautiful streets that are home to glamorous designer boutiques and flagship stores, while in others small exclusive stores with an authentic style are hidden. For the best upscale shopping head to the prestigious and famous Via dei Condotti and Via Borgognona near the foot of the Spanish Steps. Wander to the lively Via del Governo Vecchio for trendy boutiques and to beautiful Via Giulia for art and antiques. When it’s time to take a breath, go to Via Vittorio Veneto. Walking down this elegant boulevard – as well renowned for its stylish hotels and lively bars – it will showcase some truly unique and exclusive stores from high fashion to authentic Italian boutiques.
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