Rome is a bucket list destination for many travelers. The Eternal City offers so much to see and do that no single list of things to do in Rome can capture every wonderful experience you can enjoy here.
From visiting the Colosseum to gawking at the art in the Vatican Museums, and from people-watching in Piazza Navona to posing for a photo at the Trevi Fountain, travelers from all over the world come to Rome to enjoy its striking sights and its unique ambience.
If your time in Rome is limited (we spent almost four full days here on our first visit and still didn’t get to everything we wanted to see and do in Rome), our list offers a great compilation to start you off on an exploration of the Eternal City.
So read on to discover the best things to do in Rome on your first visit!
Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world. Its allure begins with the drama surrounding its founding.
Romulus and Remus, babes abandoned and suckled by a she-wolf, were eventually brought up by a shepherd. The brothers grew up to be strong leaders.
As adults, they reportedly disagreed on where to found the Roman Empire. Romulus killed his brother, founded Rome on Palatine Hill, and became the first king of the city that is named after him.
Over the centuries, numerous stunning structures were erected in Rome.
From the spectacular monuments of Ancient Rome to the churches and palaces of Baroque Rome, you will find a treasure trove here if you love history, art, architecture, and culture.
But Rome is a fun place to visit even if you are not an avid history or art buff, with fabulous food, wonderful wine, endless people watching opportunities, numerous outdoor activities, and great shopping options.
The BEST THINGS TO DO IN ROME, Italy
It can be overwhelming to figure out the best things to do on your first visit to Rome. There’s so much history, art, and architecture all around you!
Planning is crucial, to make sure you can accommodate all your top things to do in Rome into your itinerary, especially if you do not think you will return soon.
But it’s good to also leave a little room for spontaneity, and just to wander round, being in Rome.
Although our round-up here includes things we think you absolutely must do on your very first visit to Rome, we would happily do all of them on a repeat visit as well.
The monuments of Rome are classic, many large in scale, and come with copious historical backgrounds.
Even at your second or third visit, you’ll find plenty more to appreciate at the classic attractions, while making time for new discoveries.
So here is our list of the best things to do in Rome, Italy!
#1 Gawk at the Colosseum
The Colosseum definitely ranks up there as one of the bucket-list items to check off when you visit Rome.
For many first-time visitors to the Eternal City, that moment when you first set eyes upon the magnificent structure is nothing short of epic.
I know I waited with bated breath for my first look at it in person!
Every time you pass by the Colosseum, you cannot help but be awed by what it must have taken to construct the huge structure all those years ago.
The Colosseum played host to an average of 65,000 spectators when events were held here. Completed in the year 80 AD, it is still the largest standing amphitheatre in the world!
Used for everything from gladiator contests to executions and theater in the ancient to early medieval times, the structure was later relegated to more mundane uses such as housing.
Sadly, a lot of the stone from the Colosseum was stolen, and earthquakes damaged it as well, leaving the well-known partial structure we recognize today.
As one of the top attractions in Rome, the Colosseum draws huge crowds and visits require advance skip-the-line tickets or, for a more immersive experience, we suggest joining a guided tour.
This super popular and highly rated tour combines the Colosseum with the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and lasts 3 hours, so it’s an efficient way to see all three Ancient Rome sites. You’ll get an English-speaking expert guide.
Book the combined tour of the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill now!
Visitors seeking more of the Colosseum should consider this semi-private tour that includes the underground portions of the Colosseum and the gladiators’ arena, along with a visit to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
For a special experience, consider also touring the Colosseum by night if your itinerary and budget allow for two visits. At night, you can admire the Colosseum without the daytime congestion and in cooler temperatures, for a more relaxing time.
#2 Wander around the Roman Forum…
Walking around the ruins of the Roman Forum is one of the most interesting things to do in Rome.
The Forum was the heart of the city for hundreds of years, serving as the stage for meetings, processions, public trials, and contests.
You can feel history all around you, more so perhaps than any other part of this history-filled city. It’s no wonder that the Forum is one of the Rome attractions you just cannot miss.
Did you know that Marc Antony’s famous speech on Julius Caesar’s death was delivered here at the Forum? In the year 44 BC!
Here also the public burning of Caesar’s body took place.
By the eighth century, the Forum was already falling apart, its glory days gone forever.
Do not miss what’s left of the impressive Temple of Saturn…only eight columns remain, but you can get a sense for how impressive the early temple must have been when whole.
The Arch of Titus is another impressive sight in the Forum. It’s located on the Via Sacra, the main street of Ancient Rome, so remember to look down!
A guide is helpful in the Forum if you like context for what you are seeing. The site is large, and there are many things to see, from temples to arches.
#3 …And climb Palatine Hill for wonderful views
Palatine Hill towers over the Roman Forum.
It is one of the seven hills upon which Rome was built, and you will definitely want to include climbing to the top of Palatine Hill in your list of things to do in Rome.
Here’s where the she-wolf is supposed to have come upon Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
The higher points on the hill offer gorgeous views on both sides.
From one side you look down on Circus Maximus and across at Aventine Hill.
From the other, you get a bird’s eye view of the ruins of the Forum as well as views over the city, clear across to St. Peter’s dome in the distance.
You can see the Colosseum from here as well, and Capitoline Hill.
Planted with lots of olives, other trees, roses and other flower bushes, Palatine Hill is a lovely green space in the historical center. We loved the time we spent here!
#4 Be awed by the Basilica di San Pietro
Visiting the Papal Basilica di San Pietro, the stunning Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, should be at the top of your list of things to do in Rome.
The sheer scale of the largest church in the world will leave you awe struck.
So large is St. Peter’s Square that the hundreds of people you see milling around feel like ants. The interior is enormous as well.
Walk around the interior on the marble floor of the church, admiring the beautiful colors and gilding, the architectural elements, and the sculptures and reliefs.
Take a few minutes to pay homage to the master sculptor Michelangelo as you gaze in awe at his Pietà, poetry in Carrara marble.
Be entranced by the huge bronze canopy over the main altar by Bernini. Look for the gorgeous bronze cathedra of Saint Peter in the apse, also designed by Bernini.
And gaze up to admire the interior of Michelangelo’s dome.
If you have the time, return to see the dome lit up at night. It is a sight that will stay with you for a long time.
If you plan to visit independently, early morning is the least crowded time of day. Like other popular attractions in Rome, Saint Peter’s can have long lines for entry during the day.
Visit on a combined guided tour with the Vatican Museums for priority entry and to get lots of information on the many things to see and admire in the church.
Book a tour of the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica now!
This small group early access tour for the Sistine Chapel also includes the Saint Peter’s Basilica. With a group size of max 6 people, you’ll get a much better experience at these bucket-list sights!
Book a semi-private early-access tour of the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica now!
#5 Climb the Cupola of the Basilica di San Pietro in Vatican City
If you love panoramic views, you must put this difficult but rewarding climb on your list of the best things to do in Rome on your first visit.
Once you get to the top of Saint Peter’s Dome, all of Rome is literally at your feet!
Don’t forget your camera or smartphone when you make this climb, and check heavy bags in at the desk downstairs.
From the viewing gallery at the top of Michelangelo’s dome, you get fabulous views of St. Peter’s Square below, the gardens of the Vatican, the Vatican Museums, the rooftops of Rome, and the River Tiber.
The iconic view of St. Peter’s Square from way up high is definitely one of the best things to see in Rome!
The climb isn’t easy, even with an elevator that can take you part of the way. The elevator deposits you on a terrace from where you can get an up-close look at the exterior of the dome.
Then you climb stairs to get to the balcony in the interior of the dome. From the balcony, you get great views of the floor of the Basilica below, the main altarpiece, and the frescoes on the interior ceiling of the dome.
Then it’s up a narrow staircase of steep steps to the top, where you can draw in great gulps of air and stare awestruck at the views.
Trust me, once you reach the top, you’ll not begrudge the leg-busting climb!
Looking for a guided tour of just Saint Peter’s Basilica with dome access? This well-reviewed tour includes a guided walk through the famous interior of the church, along with a tour of the Vatican crypts and access to the dome of Saint Peter’s.
Book a guided tour of Saint Peter’s Basilica with dome and crypt access now!
#6 Visit the Musei Vaticani
The Vatican Museums house some of the best art on the planet: admire the works of Michelangelo, of course, but also Raphael, da Vinci, Caravaggio, and more.
We recommend a guided tour for the best experience: there is so much to see that unless you are an expert art historian, you’ll feel overwhelmed and likely miss pieces of import.
Also, the Vatican Museums are hugely crowded during the day.
You will have to resign yourself to having to wade through a sea of people to see the gorgeous ceilings and world-class art at the Vatican Museums, unless you visit early in the day (or in the evening in summer).
Definitely reserve a spot on an early access tour so that you deal with fewer people at least when trying to absorb the scale and beauty of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
No photos are allowed, so you can focus on just viewing it.
There are way too many museums in the complex to appreciate in one visit, so after the Sistine Chapel, you will get to see the highlights if you are part of a guided tour.
If you visit on your own, do not miss the Raphael exhibits. The beautiful frescoes in the four rooms, which include the famous School of Athens, will take your breath away.
Make sure to look up as you progress through the complex: the ceilings are spectacular.
Also remember to snap photos of the famous double helix spiral staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo, and outside, look for the Vatican guards in their colorful costumes.
Visit on a combined guided tour with the Basilica of Saint Peter for priority entry and to get lots of information on the many things to see and admire in the church.
Book a tour of the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica now!
This small group early access tour for the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums also includes the Saint Peter’s Basilica. With a group size of max 6 people, you’ll get a much better experience at these bucket-list sights!
Book a semi-private early-access tour of the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica now!
We love the tours offered by Take Walks (previously Walks of Italy). For a superior Vatican Museums experience, consider the VIP Key Master’s Tour (very early access) or the Pristine Sistine Tour with breakfast.
The folks at Take Walks also offer an evening tour in the summer, where you will tour the museums right before they close, then visit the Sistine Chapel after hours, followed by aperitivo in the Pinecone Courtyard.
#7 Visit the Pantheon, the Temple to All Gods
The Pantheon is one of the coolest structures you’ll see anywhere on the planet, and one of the top places to visit in Rome.
Built over 2,000 years ago, it still stands solid, and continues to function as an active church. How remarkable is that?
The massive dome of the Pantheon is the largest unsupported dome in the world. It is larger than the dome of St. Peter’s!
And you won’t see any windows anywhere in this building. The only light streams in from the oculus, the hole at the very top of the ceiling.
You’ll be awestruck by the vastness of the interior. Here you’ll see the tomb of the Renaissance artist Raphael, as well as Italian royalty and poets. The ceiling originally had a lot of bronze in it, but Pope Urban VIII had it all melted, changing its look forever.
The stunning portico with its Marcus Agrippa inscription is supported by sixteen huge Corinthian columns, brought here all the way from Egypt. Don’t miss the beautiful Fountain of the Pantheon outside.
Touring the Pantheon is a must for your Rome to do list, no matter how short your time in Rome. It’s free to visit on weekdays, but you do need reservations on the weekends and on holidays (or you can get in on a third-party guided tour.)
Reservations are made on the official site through the purchase of an audio guide or a guided tour, for a specific time slot.
#8 Take a Food Tour!
Walk around with a local guide to sample some of the best foods on offer in Rome, and ask your guide for recommendations for places to eat during your stay in the city.
A tour that’s held in a quieter neighborhood, such as Prati or Trastevere, comes with the added charm of strolling around a part of the city that’s away from the main tourist sights.
Prati is a neighborhood across the River Tiber, with beautiful early 20th century architecture, shops, and eateries.
This highly-rated evening tour in Prati lasts four hours, and you’ll pop into several local shops for tastings of pizza, cheeses, pasta cured meats, and more. The tour is limited to a maximum of 13 people, and you’ll eat enough to skip dinner.
#9 Get Your Fill of Fabulous Art at the Borghese Gallery
If you are an admirer of the Baroque sculptor Bernini, head to the Galleria Borghese to view some of his seminal works.
You’ll see his famous Apollo and Daphne, the Rape of Proserpine, and David here.
The Galleria Borghese contains works by many other greats such as Titian, Raphael, Rubens, and Caravaggio. It is a beautifully arranged treasure trove of art!
You must have advance reservations to enter, and you must show up on time for your reserved two-hour slot. We booked online, several weeks ahead of our visit.
If you like, you can upgrade to a guided tour when you purchase tickets.
This collection is stunning, and you must definitely add it to your list of things to do in Rome if you love art and art history!
And as an experience, it is our favorite museum in Rome, because visitors are limited and you have room and time to enjoy the art.
#10 Pose for a photo on the Spanish Steps
If you’ve wondered why the famous steps of Rome are called the Spanish Steps, it’s because they were built to connect the Piazza di Spagna below with the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.
“Meet me at the Spanish Steps!” has been a refrain in Rome since way back when the steps were built. They are such a convenient and popular spot to meet and be seen!
There are 135 steps, and they look gorgeous as they fan out against the backdrop of the church. And they have recently undergone an extensive makeover and cleaning financed by Bulgari, so they look even better now.
Definitely an item to add to your list of the best things to do in Rome! Be warned though: you can’t sit on the steps or eat here.
If you want photos with fewer people in them, your best chance is early in the day. The only time we saw the steps even remotely free of people was really early in the morning.
#11 Eat gelato at the best gelaterias in Rome!
No matter where you are in Rome, chances are you’ll find a great gelateria near you. In our four days in Rome, we probably sampled the offerings at twelve gelato shops!
For the most decadent gelato you’ll ever eat, you’ll have a walk a little ways from the historic center to Come il Latte. With a name meaning “like milk,” this gelateria serves up creamy goodness in every scoop.
Not only are the flavors delicious, you get white or dark chocolate swirled around in your cone before the gelato is scooped in. And you can opt to top off your gelato with fresh whipped cream and a crisp cookie.
The result is a sweet treat you won’t forget in a hurry.
Other gelaterias we loved? Fatamorgana, near the Piazza del Popolo. Gelateria dei Gracchi, near the Vatican. Gelateria I Caruso, just around the corner from Come il Latte. And Gelateria del Teatro, a short walk from Piazza Navona.
#12 Marvel at the interior of the Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
There are several beautiful churches you must include in your list of what to see in Rome, and one of the most impressive is the Cathedral-Church of St. John Lateran.
The exterior is deceptive: once you enter, you will be blown away by the ornate gilded beauty of the ceilings, the art on the walls, and the sheer opulence of the interior.
Note the large statues of the twelve Apostles: Judas was replaced by St. Paul. The statues were the work of multiple sculptors of Baroque Rome, and they are a striking feature of the church.
Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered when you visit, or you might be turned away. This is true for all the churches in Rome.
#13 See Michelangelo’s Moses at the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli
The famous statue of Moses is reason enough to visit this gem of a church. You’ll be able to appreciate the maestro’s work without, for the most part, having to deal with crowds of tourists jockeying for selfies.
When we visited, there were just a handful of devotees worshiping in the church. Donate the modest fee to have the sculpture illuminated so you can take in the details.
The church itself is beautiful. You can see the chains of St. Peter under the main altar.
The lovely coffered ceiling has at its center the The Miracle of the Chains fresco. It shows Pope Alexander healing the goiter of St. Balbina by touching her neck with the chains that once bound St. Peter.
And the walk from the center through the “real” neighborhoods of Rome to get to this church is wonderful.
#14 Enjoy a stroll in the Piazza Navona
In the evenings, it can seem like all of Roma is congregated at this famous piazza!
With its iconic fountains, Piazza Navona is definitely a must for your Rome sightseeing itinerary.
It is a wonderful place to stroll at night, people watching and enjoying the lit fountains. Piazza Navona was historically the venue for parades and shows in Rome, and today it’s no less a source of entertainment.
Architecturally, you’ll see the best of Baroque Rome on display here, with contributions from the two major architects of the time, Bernini and Borromini.
Occupying pride of place in the center is Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers.
The Fountain of Neptune and the Fountain of the Moor are on either side. The church that dominates the square is Sant’Agnese in Agone.
Borromini, Bernini’s bitter rival and major competitor for commissions in Rome, is credited with much of the design of the church.
Although the stunning architecture is a bonus, you will experience Piazza Navona at its best by just being there, soaking in Rome.
You will definitely want to include an evening here on your list of the best things to do in Rome!
#15 Sample treats at the morning market at Campo de’ Fiori
Campo de’ Fiori translates of Field of Flowers: the area got its name because apparently this spot was a meadow in the Middle Ages.
Whether that’s true or not, the Campo de’ Fiori is definitely one of the places you go to get fresh flowers in today’s Rome.
A daily fresh produce and foods market has been held in this square all the way since 1869! A much better use of the square than the previous one: it was a spot for many public executions.
Today you can get not just fresh veggies, fruit, and flowers, but also meats and fish, truffles, oils and vinegars, cheeses, fresh pastas, fresh squeezed juice, and prepared treats and souvenirs geared toward tourists.
Stroll around and take in the sights and sounds of a morning market and sample some treats. We enjoyed some fresh bread, cheese, and olive oil from the market.
Even if you just have two days in Rome, plan on spending an hour or two at a market. It’s a great way to see locals going about their day, and you’ll be able to buy local treats of fresh products to sample.
#16 Try cacio e pepe, Rome’s famous pasta dish
Every part of Italy has a definitive pasta dish, and in Rome, one of the four signature pastas is cacio e pepe, which translates to simply cheese and pepper.
The dish is supremely simple and has just three ingredients: tonnarelli, a long pasta made in the Lazio and Abruzzo regions of Italy, (or other types of pasta), pecorino, a sheep’s milk hard cheese, and pungent aromatic fresh cracked black pepper.
When cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of pasta water coating the noodles, the dish is sublime. Where should you try cacio e pepe in Roma?
Here are some of my favorite places:
Pigneto Quarantuno is a 10-minute taxi ride from the historic center, and you will love the creamy traditional rendering of this iconic dish.
Hostaria Romana is a 20-minute walk from the Colosseum, and serves lots of classic dishes, including a delicious version of cacio e pepe.
Da Felice in Testaccio offers drama with taste: your server tosses the dish in your presence, combining the ingredients into the perfect plate of pasta for you.
Other than cacio e pepe, if you visit in the spring, you must try the famous carciofi alla giudia, fried artichokes, and fiori di zucca fritti, fried zucchini blossoms, plain or sometimes stuffed with cheese. Even on a short trip, you can eat like a local in Rome if you do your research ahead of time.
A food tour is a great way to enjoy tastings at great restaurants under the guidance of a local expert. Check out this highly rated experience from Walks of Italy! Make your own pizza and enjoy local starters, cheese, and charcuterie. Sample the city’s best gelato. Yum!
Or try this 2.5-hour street food and walking tour in the historic center that allows you to get to know Rome’s cuisine with tastings of different items, from suppli to pizza and gelato. It’s an ideal lunch time walking tour!
#17 Throw that coin into the Fontana di Trevi!
You’ll be impressed by the size of the Trevi Fountain when you see it in person. It is huge: the largest fountain in a city full of large fountains.
One of Rome’s most beloved tourist attractions, the Fontana di Trevi is a Baroque masterpiece completed in 1762.
The statues in the famous fountain are made of Carrara marble. You see bearded Ocean in the center, sitting in his chariot pulled by two horses. On either side are statues of Abundance and Health.
Your only chance of appreciating Trevi Fountain in any semblance of quiet is very early in the morning. At most other times of the day, it is beyond elbow room only, as tourists wielding selfie sticks jam the area.
So sacrifice some early morning zzzs and make your way at daybreak to get your fill of the Fontana di Trevi. You should pass by again at night to see it lit up.
Don’t forget to throw a coin into the fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder to ensure your return to the Eternal City!
#18 Explore the lovely Piazza del Popolo
Anchoring one end of the Via Corso, the main street through Rome’s historical center, Piazza del Popolo deserves a spot on your list of the best things to do in Rome.
View the tall slender Flaminio Obelisk in the center of the plaza. Admire the twin domes of the Santa Maria di Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli churches. Watch street performers ply their art. People watch.
If you have the time, climb the steps at the edge of the piazza to the Pincio overlook for great views of the square. Or walk around the square and view the fountains up close.
Don’t miss two beautiful works by Caravaggio in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo: the Conversion of St. Paul, and the Crucifixion of St. Peter. The rest of this basilica is beautiful as well.
#19 Browse the designer shops at Via Condotti
If you love to shop, head to Via Condotti at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. This is the most famous shopping street in Rome, on par with Fifth Avenue in New York City or Bond Street in London.
Boasting stores of top Italian labels such as Gucci, Prada, and Bulgari, Via Condotti will enthrall you, whether you are actively shopping or just browsing.
If you visit Rome during the holidays, you will find Via Condotti sparkling even more, with holiday lights everywhere, and shoppers out enjoying the special time of year.
For more Italian brands, scout the streets on either side of Via Condotti: Via Borgognona and Via delle Carrozze. Here you will find labels such as Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, and Bruno Cucinelli.
#20 Experience Trastevere in the evening!
Visit Trastevere, one of Rome’s most iconic neighborhoods, in the evening, when it comes alive. It is lively and bustling, with street performers at every corner, and soft light making the warm yellows and oranges of the walls glow.
You will love getting lost in Trastevere’s charming streets. Don’t miss viewing the gorgeous church of Santa Maria, beautifully lit up. If it’s open, step inside to enjoy the lovely mosaics.
If you love photography, you should also visit during the day to capture the lovely streets and warm colors of the houses. It is a quiet place during the day, and you can do lunch and a photo walk.
Trastevere is definitely one of the most charming places to visit in Rome.
Trastevere is on the other side of the River Tiber from the historic center, so it’s convenient to visit on the day you tour St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums.
Of course, you can also choose to base yourself in Trastevere for a true Rome neighborhood experience!
#21 Take the lift to the top at Monumento de Vittorio Emanuele II
You will pass by this huge white monument several times during your time in Rome, because it is so centrally located.
Anchoring the incredibly busy Piazza Venezia, where crossing the street is an adventure unto itself, the monument is somewhat controversial. Locals sometimes refer to it derisively as “the wedding cake.”
But there is no dissent on one thing: that the views from the top of the monument are simply breathtaking. Take the lift to the top. There’s a fee, but well worth it.
You’ll get fabulous views of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, and many other famous Rome landmarks, framed by the iconic stone pine trees for which Rome is famous.
The view from the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument is definitely something you’ll want to include in your Rome sightseeing, especially if you enjoy photography.
I actually thought the monument looked lovely at twilight, with the setting sun mellowing the brilliant white marble. Walk to the island in the middle of the piazza to get good photos of the building.
#22 Experience Via del Corso at night
Walking Via del Corso is one of the most fun things to do in Rome.
The Via del Corso, from which you access many of the attractions in the historic center, is a historic road. It connects the Piazza del Popolo and the northern entrance to the city with the Piazza Venezia in the south.
Lined with stores, cafes, and restaurants on both sides, Via del Corso is incredibly crowded all through the day. On this road, you can literally hear the heart of Rome beating.
Walk the street in the evening, like the locals taking their passegiatta. Enjoy the free entertainment all around you. Apart from people watching, you can stop to see sidewalk artists creating their works on the pavement, and street performers doing their acts.
Window shop, or stop for a drink at one of the sidewalk cafes. You can pick up souvenirs here as well.
#23 Take in the views from Gianicolo Hill at sunset
You can walk up to the top of the Colle del Gianicolo, or zip up to the top on a Vespa, or take a taxi.
Any way you go, you will love the gorgeous views from the top. You get a panoramic view of the city from one spot and of St. Peter’s Basilica from another.
This hill, also known as Janiculum, is across the Tiber, and not one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built. It is very near the Vatican and Trastevere. Here you will see a statue of Garibaldi on horseback, as well as busts of various other Italian heroes.
Coming up here at sunset is truly special. You will get beautiful photos, and the memory of the city bathed in the glow of the setting sun is one you will cherish forever.
I always love to get a bird’s eye view of the city on my last evening from a quiet place, and Gianicolo is one of the best spots in Rome for this last view of the city.
#24 Get up close to noteworthy nuggets
History and art are everywhere in Rome. As you walk to and from major monuments, take the time to appreciate smaller yet no less interesting works.
Stop to view the impressive Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna. You will find the detail on the relief amazing. Even more interesting, the column is actually hollow, and people would climb to the top in times past! Just thinking about that gives me an attack of claustrophobia.
Or walk across to Trajan’s Forum to gaze up at the equally impressive Trajan’s Column. It has the story of Trajan’s wars running up the column in a spiral.
Or pop over to the Piazza Mattei, just a two-minute walk from the Piazza Venezia, to view the Turtle Fountain. Bernini inserted the four turtles in place of the dolphins envisioned by the original creator of the fountain, more than 100 years after the fountain was created!
Or look for the Aventine Keyhole, for the perfect cameo of St. Peter’s Dome!
Near the Pantheon, you will find the Elephant and Obelisk statue designed by Bernini, in the Piazza della Minerva. The obelisk was actually excavated in the cloister of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva that presides over the square. A lovely little bit of history, and one of the many smaller treasures of Rome!
#25 Walk the Ponte Sant’Angelo at night
Many of Rome’s stunning monuments take on an added luster when you see them lit at night. If you want to see them beautifully lit up, join a guided walking tour to do it efficiently.
My favorite night walk memory from Rome is viewing the lit dome of the Basilica di San Pietro from the Ponte Sant’Angelo. When I think about our visit to the Eternal City, that’s the first image that comes to mind.
You’ll find the bridge itself stunning. It’s made of travertine marble! Stop to admire each of the ten angel statues that adorns the bridge, all designed by Bernini.
Two of the angels were sculpted by Bernini and his son, although the ones on the bridge are copies. You can see the originals at the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte. Each of the angels is shown holding something: a column, a cross, a crown of thorns, and so on.
Castel Sant’Angelo looks gorgeous lit up as well, glowing gold against the night sky. Although you will find the bridge quieter at night than by day, you will still see lots of people enjoying the walk.
#26 Walk the ancient Appian Way
Walking at least part of the Via Appia Antica, one of the world’s oldest highways, should definitely be on your list of the best things to do in Rome.
This important road connected Rome with many of its distant settlements, leading all the way to Brindisi in Puglia.
The first ten miles of the road in Rome are now a park, auto free on Sundays.
You can take the bus to see the Appian Way: bus 118 travels a good section of the Appian Way and stops at the Colosseum on all days except Sundays, when you can take it from the Circus Maximus stop. It runs about every 20 minutes.
You can also take a taxi, but on the way back, negotiate a fare before you step into the vehicle. You can also opt for a guided tour.
Getting around in Rome
Expect to be on your feet a lot. The historic center of Rome is eminently walkable, and walking in Rome provides on-the-go entertainment as well. Plus, it’s a great way to work off all those calories from the delicious pasta and wine meals and gelato crawls.
But of course, you may not want to walk all day, and not all the best sights can be reached conveniently on foot. Your best option for public transport is the bus system.
Buses run 24 hours a day and cover the entire city. Arm yourself with a city map that has bus routes listed. You can buy single use tickets or passes that are good for 1, 3 or 7 days.
The Roma 48- or 72-hour Pass offers free bus, metro, and tram rides. You can also use taxis, which tend to be plentiful in tourist hotspots. You have to walk to the taxi stand and get into the first one in the line.
When to visit Rome
Like other large cities and tourist venues in Italy, Rome can get uncomfortably crowded in the summer months.
Summers in Rome are also hot and humid, making you easily tired.
So the best months to visit are April and October, when the weather is pleasant and the crowds less.
The winter months aren’t too bad from a weather perspective although you will need layers and a warm coat.
Where to stay in Rome
We stayed in a fabulous luxury apartment just off the Via del Corso near the Spanish steps. I found it on VRBO, but it’s also listed on Expedia.
You can find beautiful apartments in Rome and they make a good option, with more space and the opportunity to cook a meal with fresh local ingredients if you so choose.
This chic apartment is located close to the Spanish Steps and offers a king bed and a full kitchen. Furnishings are elegant and contemporary.
If you prefer a hotel, you have a huge list of luxury and more modest options to choose from.
Located at the top of the Spanish Steps, the Hotel Hassler offers spectacular views, contemporary rooms, and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The service is exemplary as well.
Hotel Valadier is a mid-range option located near the Spanish Steps. The rooftop terrace has panoramic views of the historic center of Rome.
Rooms feature classic decor and some have marble bathrooms.
Villa Agrippa Gran Melia is a fabulous resort-style luxury hotel, just a 5-minute walk from the Vatican and about 15 minutes from the Pantheon.
The hotel offers an onsite spa and an outdoor swimming pool. Rooms feature classic art work and modern furniture.
The NH Collection Roma Fori Imperiali specializes in supreme comfort with elegant styling and has a stunning location overlooking the Roman Forum.
The rooftop terrace bar is a must-experience!
Hotel Modigliani is located not too far from the Spanish Steps, and offers elegantly appointed rooms and an expansive continental breakfast, served in the courtyard on nice weather days.
The Omnia Pass
The Omnia Pass may benefit you if you plan to be in the city for 3 days or more. It allows you fast track free entry to top sights in Vatican City, a 3-day Hop On Hop Off bus tour, plus the benefits of the Roma Pass: free entry to 2 out of 6 top attractions in Rome plus a whole host of discounts and a travel card for use on the public transport system.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are so many wonderful things to do in Rome that you could spend three months here and still have more to see and do. But in three busy, active days in Rome, you can see many of the major sights like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and Vatican City, and maybe savor some of Rome’s special ambience as well.
For most first-time visitors to the Eternal City, the Colosseum is the number 1 must-see in Rome. Visited by millions of people each year, the ancient amphitheater will leave you awe-struck. Be sure to buy tickets or book a guided tour ahead of time to save time spent standing in line.
The historic center of Rome is fairly compact, and most visitors can walk around the historic core to take in the sights and enjoy the ambience. In fact, a walking tour of the historic center is one of the best things to do in Rome, because the city itself is a museum. So get those walking shoes on and enjoy the city during the day and at night, when the monuments are lit.
If your itinerary allows, 3-5 days is a good amount of time to reserve for your first visit to Rome. Of course, the longer you have, the more you can see and experience, but with careful planning, 3-5 days is great for enjoying the major sights, sampling local cuisine, and even some chill time in Piazza Navona or a bit of shopping.
Where to next?
If you have more than three days in the Eternal City, you may want to consider some day trips from Rome! Visit the beautiful villas in Tivoli, or Orvieto in Umbria, just an hour away by train.
We went south from Rome, taking a train to Naples, and then a private transfer to Sorrento. With day trips from Sorrento, you can explore many surrounding places of interest!
From Sorrento, we explored the beautiful Isle of Capri and the spectacular Amalfi Coast, including the charming towns of Positano and Ravello.
If you are going north, visit the beautiful hill town of Orvieto in Umbria. Or go straight to the medieval Tuscan hill town of Siena, making it your base to explore the charming Val d’Orcia as well. Or head to Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance.
There’s a lot to see in Tuscany: check out our one-week Tuscany itinerary for the best places to visit in this picturesque region.
So there you have it: my curated list of the top experiences to enjoy on your first visit to Rome, Italy! Have you been? I’d love to hear what you loved best about the Eternal City: comment below to respond.
If you haven’t yet visited, I hope I have inspired you to plan a visit soon!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO ITALY
Cinque Terre: Two Magical Days in the Cinque Terre
Venice: How to Spend Two Perfect Days in Venice
Itinerary: The Perfect Three-Week Itinerary for Your First Visit to Italy!
Sorrento: 10 Best Day Trips from Sorrento
Ravenna: See the Best of the Ravenna Mosaics in One Day
Liguria: Visit Lerici and Portovenere
Tuscany: The Perfect One Week Tuscany Itinerary
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6 thoughts on “26 Best Things to Do in Rome for First-Timers!”
I visited Rome more than 20 years ago but I still remember most of the things on this list. Your post makes me want to visit again!
You can never get enough of Rome, right? I can’t wait to return either, to explore more of this amazing city. I am so gad my post brought back beautiful memories of your visit.
A great itinerary for your first trip to Rome. There’s so much to see and do there.
Thank you…I loved Rome, and can’t wait to go back!
Been to Rome a few times and haven’t done all of these yet, particularly #23, 24, 25
Gives you at least 3 reasons to return, right?