Rome – the Eternal City. How special is it? Perhaps poet Francesco Petrarca said it best: “A fool is one who admires other cities without visiting Rome.” This Rome visitors guide will share the highlights with you, the “greatest hits,” if you will, but a lifetime could be spent visiting Rome without seeing everything worth experiencing.
She is one of the most frequented cities in the world, and for good reason. Rome, once the capital of the greatest ancient civilization the world has ever known, remains steeped in incredible history, character, charm and romance. Simply put, Rome has no equal. She is a haven for lovers, adventurers, artists, history buffs and gastronomical aficionados alike.
Paris may be the City of Love, but Roma is undoubtedly the City of Romance. It’s cafés, pizzerias, sidewalk restaurants and many fountains cast a hypnotic, romantic vibe that attracts lovers from all around the word to bask in everything Rome has to offer. And come they do to experience the amore of Roma.
To truly experience Rome, you have to see it, feel it, taste it and breathe it in until it fills your soul. Living in Italy for more than three years just a few hours from The Eternal City, my family and I were unable to resist the magnetic allure of this remarkable place for more than a few short weeks at a time. Each day trip or long weekend brought delightful new discoveries.
Since returning to the States, we have on several occasions returned, answering Rome’s siren’s call. Here are some of our absolute favorite things to do in Rome, our Rome visitors guide we are sure will dazzle your senses.
- Tour the Roman Coliseum
- Enjoy the Sensuality of Piazza Navona
- Explore the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- Visit Piazza Spagna and Climb the Spanish Steps
- Bask in Historic Romance of Rome’s Oldest Coffee Bar
- Explore The Vatican in St. Peter’s Square
- Toss a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
- Tour and Dine at the Pantheon
- Take in the View from Vittorio Emanuele II Monument
- Discover Forgotten Ruins
- Stroll Along the Tiber River
- Wandering the Villa Borghese Garden
- Drink in the Charms of Local Neighborhoods
- Where to Stay in Rome
Tour the Roman Coliseum
There’s no greater icon of the city than the massive Coliseum. An ancient relic of the past, it stands as an awe-inspiring monument to the Roman Empire’s power, prestige and glory. This technological marvel is one of the pinnacles of Roman engineering prowess. Even though ravaged and pillaged by time, the Coliseum leaves you with an everlasting impression of mighty Rome’s ancient grandeur.
This impressive amphitheater could hold over 50,000 spectators while playing host to gladiatorial contests, games and even a mock naval battle. The best way to explore the Coliseum is by guided tour as there are so many unrevealed features and secrets the average visitor will miss. An evening tour is especially memorable as the setting sun provides an ethereal golden glow to the towering ruins and the nearby massive Arch of Constantine.
Enjoy the Sensuality of Piazza Navona
From the luscious aromas of its restaurants and cafés filled with couples, families, locals and tourists, to the sight of the intricately sculpted fountains, Piazza Navona delights the senses. Whether stopping for a meal, a caffé, or just a repast from walking the streets of Rome, there’s no better place to take in the mesmerizing sensuality of the city.
This world-famous piazza is home to the richly appointed Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, the Museum of Rome (Palazzo Braschi), and Pamphilj Palace. While there, look around, admire the magnificent Baroque architecture, and just people-watch. Then pinch yourself that this is not a dream and you are indeed locked in the wondrous embrace of the Eternal City.
Explore the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
A dominating archaeological site, the Roman Forum has fascinated academics, historians and archaeologists for two thousand years. Today, the plundered ruins provide just a hint of its former grandeur. As a history lover, I had chills walking through the avenues where Roman Senators and Emperors ruled the ancient world. Several impressive structures still stand, like the Curio Senate House, the Temple of Divus Julius, and two magnificent triumphal arches.
One of Rome’s legendary seven hills, the Palatine, overlooks the Roman Forum and gave us a great platform to admire the surrounding panorama of both the city and ruins. The Palatine is considered the founding site of Rome and home to ruins of imperial palaces, temples and baths.
Visit Piazza Spagna and Climb the Spanish Steps
The busy bustling Piazza di Spagna sits at the bottom of the Spanish Steps and is home to several important structures including a famous Bernini fountain and the former home of English poet John Keats.
The Spanish Steps are featured in every Rome visitors guide and consist of 135 steps leading to Piazza Trinita di Monti where a beautiful late-Renaissance, French built church can be explored. While views from the top of the steps and upper square are picturesque it’s almost a tradition for Italians and tourists alike to just climb the stairs or simply sit on them, chilling and enjoying the atmosphere and the vibe.
Bask in Historic Romance of Rome’s Oldest Coffee Bar
Located near the Spanish Steps along the world-famous upscale shopping street Via dei Condotti, Antico Caffè Greco is Rome’s oldest and most captivating coffee bar. Dating back to 1760, this historic venue has long been a meeting place for artists, politicians and intellectuals serving the likes of Keats, Lord Byron, Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain, Orson Welles, and even Casanova, to name a few.
The Caffè is filled with their memorabilia, statues, paintings and portraits. The rich European atmosphere with its marble tables, red velvet chairs and classical music transports guests to a different era. The coffee and pastries are divine, service from the tuxedo and long-tail coated staff superb, but it’s the eclectic atmosphere that’s utterly unforgettable.
Explore The Vatican in St. Peter’s Square
As the seat of Catholic Christianity, the Vatican is technically an autonomous country of its own, although it has no border with Italy and is surrounded entirely by the city of Rome. There is so much to see and experience here, visitors will need at least one entire day.
You are literally standing on holy ground in St. Peter’s Square where thousands of Roman Catholics gather on special occasions to see and receive the Pope’s blessings. The circular square is framed by two gracefully curving colonnades and adorned with interesting mosaics, statues, fountains and even an obelisk from Roman times.
St. Peter’s Basilica dominates the Square. As the most important religious building in the Christian world, it attracts millions of tourists, visitors, pilgrims and people of all backgrounds. The interior of the Church is ornately decorated in beautiful detail with the divine touches of Renaissance masters reflecting the power and wealth of the Popes. Its towering dome is accessible for a small fee, but the view of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Square and Rome is worth it.
As the undisputed center of art in Rome, the Vatican Museums boast an immense collection of art, sculptures, frescoes and paintings by famous Renaissance masters such as Raphael and Michelangelo, making them a treasure trove of cultural heritage and legacy. The iconic Sistine Chapel, designed and beautifully painted by Michelangelo Buonarroti in the 16th century, is not to be missed.
Toss a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
Rome is indeed the city of fountains— and there are thousands scattered throughout the city – but its most treasured and famous is the Trevi. This huge, iconic fountain features impressively carved statues and is even more breathtakingly beautiful illuminated at night.
Legend says if you toss a coin in the fountain – right hand over left shoulder – it ensures your return to Rome. This is something we do on each visit to the Eternal City, and it must work as we always come back. Millions do, and although it can get crowded in the square, it is a tradition that Italians and tourists practice religiously.
Tour and Dine at the Pantheon
Perhaps Rome’s best preserved ancient Roman landmark, the aptly named Pantheon was originally an old pagan temple dedicated to the pantheon of gods worshipped by the Romans. Later it was converted to a Christian church, enabling its preservation throughout the years.
A tour of the interior with its awe-inspiring rotunda and operculum is a must. The real magic happens at night. After dark, Rome transforms into a magical wonderland. Like many of the iconic sites, the Pantheon is illuminated. Great food, soft music, and the ambience of the Parthenon’s piazza made for an unforgettably romantic moment as we toasted a tribute to Rome.
Take in the View from Vittorio Emanuele II Monument
The imposing Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, also known as Altar of the Fatherland, seems to reflect the glory of ancient Rome, but its origin and dedication are quite modern. The massive yet graceful monument near the Capitoline Hill was built to honor Victor Emanuel II, the founding King of unified Italy in 1870.
Built in a neoclassical way, the design is almost a fusion of the new and the old, as it pays respect to the old aesthetic of the Romans while embracing the new identity of the Italian peninsula. The view from the back overlooks the Roman Forum and it’s a great place to rest weary legs and take some amazing photos.
Discover Forgotten Ruins
Of course, you’ll want to stroll through the time-ravaged ruins of the Roman Forum or the Coliseum, guidebook in hand, and walk in the footstep of Emperors, but 2,774-year-old Rome is filled with countless ruins most tourists miss. On one of our first visits to Rome, we unexpectedly came across an earlier Roman Forum from Julius Caesar’s time. This older center of government predates many of the structures of the more famous Roman Forum ruins tourists flock to today.
Other fora, theaters, and structures from earlier and later periods still have a footprint within the city. Another fascinating survivor we stumbled across on our way to the Jewish Ghetto was the Theater of Marcellus, still a functioning building with lower stone portions dating back to Julius Caesar. It later served as a fortress, quarry, palace, and finally as an apartment building in more recent times. You will never run out of ancient ruins to seek out and discover in Rome.
Stroll Along the Tiber River
The Tiber River has long played a major role in the development of Rome and strolling the walkways along this historic river is like taking a journey through time. In our wanderings, we walked past an ancient island, various ruins including the Mausoleum of Augustus and several old bridges gracefully spanning the Tiber. We crossed at the Ponte Sant’Angelo, known as the bridge of angels, regarded as Rome’s number one kissing bridge, to admire the stunning Castel Sant’Angelo. This towering cylindrical structure has served as a mausoleum, fortress, castle and museum over the centuries.
Our stroll extended into evening taking us past the twinkling lights of the Castel and the river shimmered with their reflections. The upper and river-level walkways teemed with life. Along the Tiber, a street fair with rides and food venues drew tourists and locals to enjoy the night-time ambience.
Wandering the Villa Borghese Garden
Built in the 17th century, the Villa Borghese Garden is an amazingly picturesque landscaped garden surrounded by nature, art and exceptional panoramas. We love meandering through the peaceful grounds adorned with Roman statuary and structures like the Villa Borghese and magnificent Borghese Gallery and Museum.
Drink in the Charms of Local Neighborhoods
Rome is a tapestry of distinctive neighborhoods and piazzas, each with their own history and unique character waiting to be savored.
Trastevere is a busy, trendy bohemian part of Rome across the Tiber, famous for its numerous places to eat, shop and enjoy oneself. Its Piazza di Santa Maria is especially lovely. Those looking for nightlife flock to this bustling neighborhood. Whether you want a more upscale fine dining experience or family venue serving delicious pizzas, Trastevere is perfect for a night out.
The Jewish Ghetto sports the city’s largest synagogue. Despite persecution throughout the years and especially during World War II, the Ghetto has persevered. Today, patrons flock to this upscale neighborhood to enjoy traditional Jewish-Roman dishes. The Ghetto is especially renowned for its fried artichokes.
Other notable piazzas include Testaccio with its well-known market, Camp de’ Fiori, one of our personal favorites, Piazza del Campidoglio, and the large and beautiful Piazza del Popolo filled with fountains, beautiful statues, an obelisk and part of the ancient Aurelian walls.
Where to Stay in Rome
A variety of good hotel options await travelers among the ancient streets of Rome, many of them surprisingly affordable. Because of the city’s cramped quarters, you’ll do best navigating your way around without a car, and with a centrally located hotel, you should have no problem doing so provided you don’t mind a bit of walking, which is the best way to experience the city anyhow. Public transport and ride shares are also available.
Use the map below to help you select the perfect hotel.
Rome has no shortage of museums, parks, ruins and memorable neighborhoods to visit. No Rome visitors guide could list them all. Seek out your favorites and while there, tour, relax, eat, drink, and have fun as you embrace ‘la dolce vita’ – the sweet life.artdestinationhistoricRome
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