Looking for the best things to do in Rome? I just returned from a month long stay and wanted to share some of the highlights from my trip. As you already know, I’m not one for small talk, so let’s get to it.
Who am I am why can you trust my recommendations for visiting Rome?
Fair question and good on you for asking. I’m an American traveler that spends 6 months of the year abroad. I’ve visited Rome four times (can’t stay away) and recently returned for a month-long stay. I’ve seen the sights and found joy in the never ending list of the best things to do in Rome.
If I had to describe visiting Rome in one word it’d be an easy task: relaxed. Rome, more so than any other city we’ve been to, is all about taking it slow and lounging as long as possible.
Helpful Tips for Visiting Rome
Romans are the kindest people we’ve come across
My husband and I travel often and we can both definitely say that Italians are the nicest people we’ve ever come across. As such, visiting Rome always feels like such a joy and we typically count down the days until we can return.
Sunscreen is a must
What am I, your mother? You know the drill folks, always use sunscreen. Shade is hard to come by while visiting Rome (especially when exploring the Colosseum and Forum), so make sure you pack some quality sunscreen. I saw SO many folks nursing terrible burns in the evenings.
If helpful, here’s the only sunscreen I use. I discovered it in France and now refuse to leave the house without it.
Cash is (still) king
As you probably know, cash is preferred to cards in Europe. As such, it’s always handy to have euros while visiting Rome (I typically arrive with 300-500€). Most restaurants take credit cards, but a few small shops I went to asked for cash, especially if the total was less than 10€.
However, if you find yourself short on cash there’s plenty of ATMs to be found so don’t stress it. I suggest using them minimally though because ATM fees add up fast.
Personally speaking, I don’t travel with a money belt, but my worrywart of a mother raves about this one.
Dinner is a late, long (and slow) affair
Here’s something most folks don’t realize when visiting Rome for the first time: dinner starts around 7:30-8pm. If you’re trying to get into a popular restaurant that doesn’t take reservations than I suggest showing up before 6:30pm to increase your chance of scoring a table.
Once seated, don’t expect fast service. Meals are fully enjoyed in Rome, they’re not seen as something to check off your list for the day. Lean into change of pace and embrace it. You’ll never be pushed out of a restaurant and will need to ask for the check when you’re ready to call it.
Best Things to Do Rome, Italy
Tour the Colosseum
Let’s kick off this list of the best things to see in Rome properly. Visiting Rome for the first (or fifth) time without touring the Colosseum is nothing short of a crime.
Built between 70CE and 80CE, Rome’s epic Colosseum is one of the most recognized man-made structures in the world. And indeed, the history of this monolithic structure is most of the draw.
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever made, built exclusively to entertain the masses. Romans would arrive en masse (seating capacity clocked in at 50,000!) to watch gladiators fight wild animals, each other, and whatever else came out of the trap doors. The Colosseum was also used for public executions, as well.
Admission for this top attraction in Rome is fairly priced and you can easily opt for a guided tour. You’ll (obviously) get more from the experience by signing up for a guided tour, but, honestly speaking, you’ll be just fine without it too. If anything, I suggest downloading Rick Steve’s free audio guide for the Colosseum and calling it a day.
Explore the expansive Roman Forum & Palantine Hill
After you’re done exploring the Colosseum the next natural stop is the impressive Roman Forum (which neighbors the Colosseum). During my first two visits to Rome I chose to skip touring the Roman Forum, but based on my last visit I now see what a fool I was.
As such, you can learn from my mistake. Touring the epic Roman Forum is easily one of the best things to do in Rome. Think of the Forum as an open-air museum, where all of the glories of ancient Rome lay at your feet. The sheer amount of spectacular buildings in this concentrated area is mind blowing, truly!
You’ll find gardens, churches and palaces. My favorite part of the experience was enjoying the panoramic view from Palantine Hill. I couldn’t get over it!
Visit Trevi Fountain at sunrise
The Trevi Fountain is one of the most popular attractions in Rome for a reason. Everyone visiting Rome should make an effort to see it! But the only way to experience Trevi Fountain without claustrophobia-inducing crowds is to visit at sunrise or past midnight.
While you won’t have the whole place to yourself regardless of the time you visit, you’ll definitely be able to enjoy the experience much more without the crowds. Trevi Fountain is a true masterpiece, and the monolithic statues deserve careful attention.
Take your time admiring the works of Giuseppe Pannini, because this is one of the most beautiful things you will ever see in your life. And no, it’s not just Oceanus’s chiseled abs that do it for
me visitors, it’s the breathtaking beauty and size of this undeniable masterpiece.
Legend has it that those who toss a coin into Trevi Fountain are bound to return. If that holds true, it seems like everyone want to return — an average of €3,000 is thrown into the fountain daily. Which means that roughly €1.4 million is collected annually. The best part? All of the money is donated to nonprofits that support the less fortunate.
Learn about the Pantheon before your visit
The Pantheon is one of the most recognizable buildings in Rome, second only to the Colosseum. Folks are welcome to tour the inside free of charge, making this one of the best free things to do in Rome.
But don’t make the mistake of touring the Pantheon without first learning about the history of this incredible structure. Erected in 126CE, the Pantheon served as a temple for Romans of all denominations (pantheon is Greek for “all the gods”).
In fact, the building has continuously been used as a church since the 7th century (to this very day!).
The Pantheon is important for two reasons: It speaks to the unparalleled engineering and architectural skill of Romans. And the building has withstood the test of time. Clocking in at an impressive 2,000 years, the Pantheon is considered Rome’s best-preserve red ancient monuments.
To this day, the construction of this architectural masterpiece is considered a world marvel.
Tour the Vatican Museum (& Sistine Chapel) … if you dare
If you’re visiting Rome for an extended period of time (5+ days), I suggest adding the Vatican Museum to your itinerary. However, if you’re visiting Rome for less than 4-5 days, I’m not sure I would recommend swinging by. Sounds strange, I know, but bear with me.
We toured the Vatican Museum with my in-laws towards the tail-end of our month long stay and it was an absolute madhouse! We opted for the guided tour (in order to skip the notoriously long lines for tickets) and felt like cattle being herded through.
All four of us felt claustrophobic within minutes of entering the museum and there was barely any room to turn around, let alone take photos. We were so disappointed by the overall experience that by the time we made it to the Sistine Chapel we were exhausted and anxious to get out. Not exactly how I pictured this top attraction in Rome going, but alas.
Make no mistake, seeing the Sistine Chapel in person is definitely one of the most epic things to do in Rome. But I’d be damned if I told you it was worthwhile because we couldn’t get out fast enough. I think the museum experience needs to be managed better and until that happens, I won’t recommend spending a precious vacation day feeling like cattle.
But all is not lost, because if you do tour the Vatican Museum you’ll be close to Saint Peter’s Basilica, which is a must do in Rome!
Visit Saint Peter’s Basilica
Isn’t she a beaut?
Completed in 1626, Saint Peter’s Basilica is regarded as one of the holiest shrines in the world for those of Catholic faith. The church was built atop the grave of Peter the Apostle, considered the first Pope of Rome.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is breathtaking, which is saying a lot in a city as beautiful as Rome. It was designed by a handful of notable architects and artists, not the least of which included Michelangelo and Gian Lorenzo Bernin (who we’ll cover in depth shortly because he’s the best).
Touring St. Peter’s Basilica is not only free, but it’s one of the best things to do in Rome. You’ll understand why the second you step through the (impressive) door. The only challenge is the inevitably long lines, which is why I recommend visiting after 4pm for the shortest wait time.
We swung by right after touring the Vatican and the lines were minimal. We only waited 15 minutes before finding ourselves craning our necks at the grandeur of the interior of Saint Peter’s. You can’t afford to miss Michelangelo’s Pietà or the remarkable statues by Bernini.
Also, check out the crypt where the popes are buried, located right under the Vatican. Most tourists don’t realize the area is open to the public which is a pity because it was one of the highlights for us while visiting Rome.
Helpful Tip: Try to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica after 4pm for the shortest wait times. We visited at 5pm and only stood in line for 15-minutes and had until 7pm to explore the interior (the doors close at 7pm).
Then, take in the breathtaking views of Rome from the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica
Alright, you ready for a little fun? You can climb to the top of the dome at Saint Peter’s Bascilia. This is one of the best active things to do in Rome, so you won’t want to miss it (you need to make room for pasta somehow!).
Tour the Borghese Museum
Holy cow. If you only have time to check out one museum while visiting Rome, make a beeline for the Borghese Museum. This place is a masterpiece! The stars of the show are the Bernini sculptures and paintings by Carvagio. But the Bernini sculptures are reason alone to fly 3,000 miles, they’re breathtaking.
I couldn’t get over the sculpture depicting Pluto’s kidnapping of Proserpina, which was completed when Bernini was only 23 years old.
Helpful advice: If you plan to swing by the Borghese Museum while visiting Rome (as you should!) book your tickets as soon as possible! It’s not uncommon for this top attraction in Rome to book out two weeks in advance.
Get lost in Trastevere
Chock-full of meandering cobble-stone streets peppered with colorful ivy-covered homes, it’s no wonder why getting lost in Trastevere is one of the best things to do in Rome!
This is the most charming neighborhood in Rome, making it the perfect place to get your fill of people-watching, shopping, pasta, wine and gelato.
Pop into Santa Maria while exploring Trastevere
As you probably know, Rome has no shortage of churches. Goodness, you can sometimes find two neighboring each other! It’s very easy to get “churched out” while visiting Rome, which is why I keep church recommendations pretty minimal on this page. But Santa Maria is different.
Well worth a visit, Santa Maria in Trastevere is a striking church that should be included on every “must do in Rome” list. Home to beautiful mosaics and a breathtaking gilded ceiling, this church stands as a testament to the beauty of Medieval Rome.
Dine like the Romans with an Aperitivo
One of the best things to do in Rome is to live like the locals. And dang, Romans know how to enjoy life! This is made evident in so many little ways: the slower pace, the cheery greetings, joyful whistling, etc. But one of my favorite things about the Roman way of life is their commitment to the beloved aperitivo.
Aperitivo is the act of enjoying a drink (and light snack) before dinner. The logic here is that dinner will be a long multi-course affair, so you want to open your digestive system with a drink. Does it work? Who the heck knows, but it sure is fun!
The most common aperitivo is the iconic Aperol Spritz (prosecco mixed with a bitter orange liquor called Aperol). I tried it twice and found it a tad too sweet for my liking, so I stuck with chilled white wine — to each their own!
When in Rome, right?
Visit the Galleria Doria Pamphilj
There’s something irresistible about touring private collections-turned into public museums, so I never pass an opportunity to do so. While roaming the streets aimlessly, I happened to stumble upon Galleria Doria Pamphilj.
The grandeur of the courtyard (and most notably, the lack of crowds) intrigued me so I popped in. The admission was 14€ per person which felt steep, but I kept my mind open.
Imagine my surprise when the I climbed the stairs and found myself at the door of a grand red room chock-full of massive art. I knew I was ill prepared for the tour but thankfully free audio guides were provided and I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference it made.
The museum is housed inside an extravagant palace owned by the Doria Pamphilj family to this day. The family is worth knowing about, because they had a powerful influence in Rome.
Climb the Spanish Steps
If you want to get your heart pumping and are looking for active things to do in Rome, climb the famous Spanish Steps! Often considered one of the top attractions in Rome, most folks don’t take the time to question why they exist.
The reason? Well, it’s much more practical than I was expecting. They were built to connect the church (at the top) with the piazza below. Funding for the project wasn’t materializing so the project was put on the back-burner for many years before finally getting the green light in 1725.
Which, when you think of it, makes the Spanish Steps older than the United States of America. How interesting is that?
Take in the splendor of Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is one of the most iconic landmarks in the Eternal City. As such, paying a visit is one of the best things to do in Rome.
Back in its heyday, this piazza was home to a bustling market which has since been moved a few blocks down to Campo di Fiori. Today folks flock from all over the world to see the splendors of Baroque Roman architecture firsthand.
The star of the show is the monolithic Fountain of Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) sculpted by none other than Bernini (the little devil left his mark on everything!). There’s two smaller fountains on south and north ends of the piazza that are worth admiring as well.
The southern end boasts the Moor Fountain (Fontana del Moro) which depicts a Moor wrestling a dolphin while standing atop a conch shell while being surrounded by four Tritons. Meanwhile, the northern end is home to the Fountain of Neptune which was later added to balance the Moor Fountain on the south.
P.S. Make sure to swing by Sant’Agnese in Agone, the beautiful church in the center of Piazza Navona.
Get your fill of pasta (and no, not all pasta is created equal)
It can be argued that there’s nothing more iconic in Rome than long dinners spent with a hearty al-dente pasta and glass of wine. Romans take the art of pasta making very seriously, and with proper planning you’re bound to have some knock-out meals while visiting Rome.
While I’m probably not the first (and won’t be the last) to tell you that eating pasta is a must-do in Rome, I am here to tell you that you need to do some research beforehand. I spent a few hours reading recommendations and reaching out to friends about some of the best spots for pasta in Rome and am happy to share my top 3!
Best pasta to try while visiting Rome:
- Tonnarello (very inexpensive and delicious, we came here five times while visiting Rome for a month).
- Dilla (according to my husband, the truffle pasta was the best dish he’s every had to date. Dilla was one of the more expensive restaurants we visited, but we enjoyed it so much we returned twice!).
- Roscioli Salumeria (getting reservations at this restaurant will require a miracle and the sacrificial blood of your firstborn child, but it’s all worthwhile. One of the most memorable meals we had while visiting Rome.)
Eat your weight in gelato
If there’s only one thing you must do in Rome, allow it to be this: eat your weight in gelato. The stuffy is velvety and heavenly and you’ll probably never find better gelato anywhere in the world.
I enjoyed this traditional Roman treat so much that I ate it once a day (not exaggerating, although I’m known to be dramatic). Some days I even had it twice! But here’s the thing: we were visiting Rome in June and temperatures were quite warm — there was no better way to cool off. 😉
As you can imagine, there’s a ton of great gelato shops to choose from, but a few stand a mile above the rest. So if you’re looking for the absolute best gelato in Rome, give this helpful post a read: 12 Glorious Gelato Shops in Rome.
Spend the afternoon a wine bar
When in Rome, right? Well, turns out lounging at a wine bar is one of the best things to do in Rome for locals and tourists alike. We ended most of our evenings at wine bars because we couldn’t get enough of them while visiting Rome.
The tip with wine bars is to show up early enough to get a table (especially outdoors, if you can). This is a very popular thing to do in Rome, so it’s not uncommon to see folks waiting longer than an hour for a coveted table. But true to casual Italian form, you can easily request to sip a glass while you wait for a seat.
We found a few standout wine bars while visiting Rome, if helpful, check out: 10 Charming Wine Bars in Rome that Will Make You Feel Like a Local
Catch sunset from Terrazza del Pincio
Terrazza del Pincio is a beautiful view point located within Villa Borghese (a beautiful public garden). We popped off for a sunset shortly after touring the Borghese Museum and found ourselves rubbing elbows were cheery young folks nursing beers.
Visiting Rome longer? More things to see in Rome
Explore the Tivoli Gardens
When researching the best things to do in Rome for long term stays, taking a half-day trip to the Tivoli Gardens is a must! Located an hour from Rome, Tivoli is a charming little town that attracts visitors mainly for the breathtaking garden.
Take a day trip to Florence (yes, really)
We took a handful of great day trips while visiting Rome for a month, but my favorite (by far) was our day trip to Florence. Florence is a masterpiece of a city and it’s only 1.5 hours by train from Rome.
Yes, you read that right: you can get from Rome to Florence in 1.5 hours.
Armed with such valuable information, my husband and I promptly booked train tickets for a full day trip. We left for Termini station at 7am and were back home by 10pm. We had a full day (8:30am – 8:30pm) to explore Florence and we soaked up every second!
Check out Largo di Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina, an expansive field of Roman ruins enclosed by the tall buildings that surround it, puzzles unknowing visitors every day. “What’s the significance of these ruins?” folks ask, while their bored children gaze longingly at every gelato cone that passes by.
Well, Largo di Torre Argentina is one of the most important sites in Rome because this is where Julius Caesar’s assassination occurred, some 2,000 years ago. Admittedly, there isn’t much to do here besides admiring the ruins from above or checking out the cat sanctuary. Regardless, the spot is symbolic and worth a stop while visiting Rome.
Tour the Capitoline Museum
If you have a soft spot for marble statues, make a beeline for the Capitoline Museum. Home to incredible statues, this museum exists to preserve and showcase some of Rome’s most impressive works.
Tour Santa Maria del Popolo
I’ll be honest, after visiting Rome for a month, we found ourselves churched out. However, one of our friends highly recommended the church of Santa Maria del Popolo so we made the trek.
We planned on poking our heads in and taking a quick peak before swinging by for gelato nearby. Well, we weren’t expecting the church to offer so much! Home to remarkable masterpieces by Carvaggio, Bernini and Raphael. Visiting the church is free, but make sure to have euros on hand to turn on the lights for the paintings.
See Michelangelo’s Moses
I had no idea that seeing Michelangelo’s Moses would turn out to be one of the most memorable things to do in Rome! Located within Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, the whole time I was looking at the statue I kept thinking to myself “how the heck is this thing made from marble!”
You’ve probably heard of Michaelangelo by now, but nothing compares to seeing his work in person. Most of his art is displayed in museums but his Moses masterpiece is free to the public and can be viewed at the church of San Pietro in Vincoli.
Thankfully the church is a mere 8-minute walk from the Colosseum, which makes popping in a no-brainer in my book.
Admire the ceiling at Saint Ignatius Church
Admiring the church of Saint Ignatius has to be one of the most beautiful things to do in Rome. We stumbled upon this church by accident while returning home after a delightful pasta-filled dinner. We found ourselves completely ill prepared for the breathtaking beauty of what lay ahead.
Unfortunately we visited when it was already dark, so we vowed to return in the day time and take in this masterpiece in all its glory. The ceiling is mind-numbingly cool, expect to strain your neck taking it all in.
The frescoes, painted by Andrea Pozzo, depict the life of Saint Ignatius. The ceiling has an incredible illusionist effect to it and you can easily spend hours gazing. The entire experience was spellbinding (I returned four times!), which is why I consider this one of the best things to do in Rome.
Visit Castel Sant’Angelo
Built between 123CE and 139CE, Castel Sant’Angelo was built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian. When constructed, this cylindrical fortress was the tallest building in Rome. Over time the building served as the final resting place for Hadrian and his family, later it served as both a fortress and castle for popes because it neighbors Vatican City. Today, it’s a museum that it open to the public.
Some might be surprised to see Castel Sant’Angelo this low on my list of the best things to do in Rome, but hear me out. I toured the castle and it was cool, but not € 20,50 per person cool. I found the experience too expensive for what it was, which is why I only recommend it for history buffs in search of fun things to do in Rome. Otherwise, don’t feel guilty about skipping this one and use the money on pasta instead!
Best Things to Do in Rome (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a roundup of the best things to do in Rome. Enjoy!
- Tour the Colosseum
- Explore the Roman Forum & Palantine Hill
- Visit Trevi Fountain at sunrise
- Learn about the Pantheon before your visit
- Tour the Vatican Museum (& Sistine Chapel)
- Visit Saint Peter’s Basilica
- Go to the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica
- Tour the Borghese Museums and Gardens
- Get lost in Trastevere
- Pop into Santa Maria while exploring Trastevere
- Dine like the Romans with an Aperitivo
- Relax at the Spanish Steps
- Get your fill of pasta (and no, not all pasta is created equal)
- Eat your weight in gelato
- Explore Largo di Torre Argentina
- Take in the splendor of Piazza Navona
- Spend the afternoon a wine bar
- Catch sunset from Giardino degli Aranci
- Tour the Capitoline Museums
- Explore the Tivoli Gardens
- Take a day trip to Florence (yes, really)
- Visit the Basilica di San Clemente
- Admire the famous Il Vittoriano building
- Tour Santa Maria del Popolo
- Visit the Galleria Doria Pamphilj
- See Michelangelo’s Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli
- Admire the ceiling at Il Gesu
- Have a bite at Testaccio Market
- Tour the Capuchin Monastery
- Visit Castelo Sant’Angelo
Map of the top attractions in Rome