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18 Incredible Things to Do in Rome: A First Timer’s Guide

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Trajan Column

With over two thousand years of history up its sleeve and an incredible number of tourist attractions, Rome can be an overwhelming city to explore. Don’t worry if you can’t fit everything in your Italy itinerary. Rome is a city that’s definitely worth a return visit. We had three days to explore Rome and we have plenty of excuses to go back. Nevertheless, we saw just about enough for our first trip to get a feel of what Rome is like. Here is a list of the best things to do in Rome for first timers:

Explore the Colosseum

No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to its most famous icon, the Colosseum. It’s definitely one of the places we were most excited about and one of the top things in our couples’ travel bucket list! Named one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Roman Colosseum, also known as the Coliseum or the Flavian Amphitheater, was built by emperors of the Flavian dynasty between 72 to 80 AD. With a capacity of around 75,000 spectators, this magnificent piece of architecture was used for gladiator fights, animal hunts and executions. It’s a lot bigger than you think and it can be pretty busy inside. Spend less time queuing for a ticket and more time exploring the Colosseum by purchasing a combined ticket at the Roman Forum.

Entrance Fee:
Colosseum + Roman Forum / Palatine Hill Combined Ticket (Valid for 2 Days): € 12

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - The Colosseum

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - The Colloseum Interior

Wander around the Roman Forum

One of Rome’s most important archaeological sites, the Roman Forum was once the center of social and political affairs of the Roman empire. Depending on your level of interest, there are many ruins to uncover in the Roman Forum including old temples, buildings and statues that can take an hour or two to explore.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Roman Forum

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Roman Forum

Embrace the Views at Palatine Hill

Next to the Roman Forum is Palatine Hill, the center-most of the seven hills in Rome. Palatine Hill is supposedly where Romulus founded the city of Rome in 753 BC. The best part about Palatine Hill? It holds spectacular views of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Palatine Hill View

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - The Colloseum

Admire the Trajan Column

Towering over the ruins of the Trajan Forum, the Trajan Column, which measures 30m high, celebrates the victory of the Roman Emperor Trajan in the Dacian Wars. Meticulously carved on the exterior of the Trajan column are hundreds of scenes from this epic victory.

Things to Do in Rome - Trajan Column

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Trajan Column

See the Imperial Fora

The Imperial Fora (or Fora Imperiali in Italian) is a series of squares that were constructed between 46 BC and 113 AD. The Imperial Fora is located close to the Roman Forum so it should be easy to explore one after the other. Apart from the Trajan Forum, the Imperial Fora includes the following: Forum of Caesar, Forum of Augustus, Forum of Nerva and Forum of Peace.

Admire the Arch of Constantine

Yes, Romans love to commemorate their triumphs with lavish architecture. The Arch of Constantine commemorates the victory of Emperor Constantine I at the Battle of Milvian Bridge against Maxentius. The size of this structure along with its impeccable details make it worthwhile to visit.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Arch of Constantine

Visit the Il Vittoriano

One of the hard to miss buildings in Piazza Venezia, Il Vittoriano (also Altare della Patria and the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II) is a 19th Century monument dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. The beauty of this massive monument is subject for debate (many Italians find it ugly). Nevertheless, this unique piece of work has plenty to offer — from its numerous sculptures to its unbeatable panoramic views of Rome. To get to the viewing area of Il Vittoriano, you have to take the glass lift and pay a fee of €7.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Il Vittoriano

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Il Vittoriano

Eat Some Italian Gelato

Take a quick break from sightseeing and enjoy a delicious afternoon treat — the Italian gelato. From fruity to chocolatey, this mouth-watering snack is sure to satisfy your palette. It’s definitely one of the must-try food in Europe!

We had our gelato fix several times from Gelateria Wonderful Ice Cream, located along Via Nazionale. They have so many flavours to choose from. We recommend a combination or strawberry, orange and lime.

Wander around Piazza Navona

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares in Rome, Piazza Navona, with its ornate fountains and Baroque architecture, displays true beauty. The highlight of this square is Berninis Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (or Fountain of the Four Rivers) which displays personifications of four of the world’s great rivers — Nile, Ganges, Danube and La Plata.

  • Are you looking for other romantic places in Italy? Check out out posts about Venice and Amalfi Coast

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Piazza Navona

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Piazza Navona

Visit the Pantheon

The Pantheon in Rome, a former Roman temple turned church is a world renowned engineering marvel. Apart from its incredible symmetry (the diameter of the dome is equal to the height of the building), the Pantheon’s dome remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. The Pantheon, once a “temple for all gods” turned church dedicated to the Virgin Mary is also the best preserved ancient monument in Rome and final resting place of many prominent Italians, including the artist Raphael. Did you know there is another Pantheon in Paris?

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Pantheon

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Pantheon Dome

Walk around Campo de’ Fiori (Market)

If you love street markets, you’ll enjoy a walk at Campo dei Fiori — a bustling square which transforms into a food market every morning (except Sundays). If you don’t like shopping, enjoy a stroll at Campo de’ Fiori’s charming alleys.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Campo Dei Fiori

Throw a Coin into Trevi Fountain

The Trevi fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome which measures 26m high and 49m long. Legend says that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder, you will one day return to Rome.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Trevi Fountain

Photo Courtesy of Karen Echavez

Climb the Spanish Steps

Made popular by Audrey Hepburn’s movie Roman Holiday, the Spanish Steps (or Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) is one of Rome’s famous tourist attractions. It has been under going renovation for some time now but hopefully we can experience its beauty soon.

See the Baths of Diocletian and Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Located in Rome’s Piazza della Repubblica are the Baths of Diocletian, once the largest public baths in Rome. Aside from the crumbling ruins in these baths, its biggest attractions it its large portion converted into the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, designed by Michelangelo. Unfortunately, the front entrance of the basilica was blocked off by a people’s demonstration during our visit so we only saw the ruins portion from the outside. I’ve seen photos of the church online — the interior details are very impressive.

  • If you’re looking for a Roman bath experience, Budapest, Hungary is higly recommended!

Cross Ponte Sant’Angelo (Castelo di Sant Angelo)

Built in 134 AD by Emperor Hadrian, Pont Sant’Angelo is a beautiful Roman bridge across Rome’s Tiber River. You can easily visit this bridge on your way to the Vatican City. This pedestrian bridge reminded me a lot of Charles Bridge in Prague with its strikingly beautiful angel sculptures. If you have more time, you can also visit the magnificent fortress at the end of the bridge — Castel Sant’Angelo.

Visit the Saint Peter’s Basilica (and Saint Peter’s Square) in the Vatican City

One of the largest and most beautiful churches in the world, Saint Peter’s Basilica is one of the holiest sites in Christendom. St. Peter’s Basilica stands on the burial site of St. Peter the Apostle, the first pope.

St. Peter’s Basilica features the work many great artists. One of the well renowned sculptures in St. Peter’s Basilica is Michelangelo’s Pieta, which captures the scene where Mary cradles her lost son, Jesus.

There is no entrance fee to St. Peter’s Basilica but make sure to come early as the queues can be pretty long. It took us over an hour to enter the church. Security is also tight in the Vatican City and a dress code is strictly enforced — no shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Vatican City

Things to Do in Rome - Vatican City

If you want to attend a Papal Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica or see the Pope during a General Audience (usually Wednesdays) at Saint Peter’s Square, you may need to reserve tickets ahead (tickets are free). You can find more information about attending Papal Masses and the Papal Audience in the Vatican website.

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Vatican City

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Saint Peter's Basilica

Appreciate Art at the Vatican Museums

From paintings to sculptures, the Vatican Museums have some of the world’s most incredible art collections.

Entrance Fee:
Vatican Museums + Sistine Chapel (Valid for 1 Day): € 16

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Vatican Museum

Incredible Things to Do in Rome Italy - Vatican Museum

Admire the Frescoes in the Sistine Chapel

Housed within the Vatican Museums is the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is famous around the world for its magnificent interior which features remarkable frescoes painted by Michaelangelo, particularly the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and the Last Judgement. Unfortunately, taking photographs is strictly prohibited in the Sistine Chapel.

Are you travelling around other places in Italy? Check out our recommended itinerary below. 

RELATED POST:  10 Days in Italy Itinerary: Venice, Rome and the Amalfi Coast

Where to Stay in Rome

Luxury – Hotel Martis Palace

Mid-Range – Hotel Della Conciliazione

Budget – Hotel Di Rienzo

Have you been to Rome, Italy? What other things to do in Rome do you recommend? Let us know.

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About the author

Gia Kristel Algie

Currently based in New Zealand, Gia grew up in Manila, lived in Singapore for three years and travelled the world for nearly two years. From watching sunsets to hiking mountains, she loves the outdoors. She enjoys living in big cities but takes pleasure staying in quaint, small towns. An aspiring photographer and budding writer, she is the voice behind Mismatched Passports, a travel blog dedicated to the journey around the world with her husband, Jon.


  • Wow, there’s literally nothing original, interesting, or off-the-beaten path here. I could have found all of these in any old guidebook… What about the smaller, more intimate piazze, the lesser-known museums, Rome’s many sprawling parks, a real farmer’s market (other than a stand or two of vegetables, Campo de’ Fiori caters just to tourists), a charming neighbourhood to stroll and a good spot to take in the sunset? Rome is more than just its major attractions, first-time visit or not. I wish so-called “travel bloggers” would stop pretending to be authorities on cities they truly have no understanding of.

    • The Coliseum isn’t interesting? Should people skip that and go to a “real farmer’s market”? Trajan’s Column isn’t a good place to watch the sunset? I guess people should go to an off the beaten path place to see it instead of this iconic piece of history? It’s great that you live in Rome and all, but a lot of people only have a few days and don’t have time to see it all. Many of those would prefer to see the places they learnt about as kids and have always wanted to visit. I know it’s fashionable these days to “be a traveller and not a tourist” etc but people who constantly spout that come across as really pretentious, as you have done in your comment. Also, I’m not pretending to be an authority on Rome (the clue is in the title). We spent a couple of days there and, for us, it was time well spent. You may have done it differently, but that’s the whole point of a travel blog.

    • As a traveler about to be in Rome for 4 days at the end of April, I appreciate posts like this one. It tells me the hot spots that I wont regret missing later. Every city has a farmers market, charming neighborhoods and parks BUT every city doesn’t have a colesseum or St. Peters basillica. So thank you Gia for the wonderful list!?

      • thanks for the positive feedback Liz! I think posts like this just helps people have a grasp of how much can actually be done in a certain number of days in a city. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed with planning so it’s good to know which sites you shouldn’t miss and how much time you will actually need if you want to see all of them! Of course, it’s always possible to add a few more days if you want to see other off the beaten track places. Rome will be awesome! Have a great trip!

    • Hey! I really could make use of some other blog that actually showed the little Rome gems and secret places I’m sure it has. As it looks like you seem to know something else from the usual attractions travel bloggers use to show as unique, I would really appreciate it if you could help me. Im travelling in January 2019. Thank you! By the way, it isn’t a bad post, it’s just that it couldn’t help me at all, it doesn’t show any new stuff.

  • Not as a travelling couple, but a few years ago I went to Rome in JULY…yep BIG mistake!! Can’t wait to go back, maybe May/June or even September. When did you guys visit? 🙂

    • we were there around November so it was fairly quiet. It would have been completely different during the peak season! it’s a city that’s hard not to love nonetheless! I’m sure it was still awesome (apart from the crowds).

      • Hi Gia! Thanks great blog.
        Quite Q : We (4 adults) will be in Rome DV in July for 3nights. Must we do the hop-on-hop-off bus or rather not, what about walking tours…& skip the line tickets for Colosseum and Vatican city?

        • The Roma pass is well recommended. It coveres hop on hop off for buses as well as entrance to most attractions in Rome and Vatican city. It would be good to consider if you are short on time.

    • I’m an American who has been lucky enough to visit Rome eight times. In 1983 (my first trip to this absolutely beautiful city), I saw most of the sites mentioned in Gia’s blog. They were what made me fall in love with Rome and want to return again and again.
      On subsequent trips, I returned to some of those same sites, but also explored neighborhood streets, spent time in neighborhood parks to enjoy watching Roman children at play, and ate in tiny establishments filled with mostly locals. In 2009, I took my daughter to Italy, including Rome where I introduced her to most of Gia’s suggestions, as well as other cities in Italy. In 2014, we returned to Rome, expanding her knowledge of the city, before traveling to other places in Italy.
      But please, “A Girl”, remember that Gia’s blog was for “First-Time Visitors.” A chance for them to “get their feet wet” and decide what more they would like to see of Rome, if they had a chance to visit this eternal city again.

  • Awesome list, Gia! I’m heading to Rome in exactly two weeks and this list pretty much made it’s way to my daily itinerary! Not really sure why there’d be ANY negative response to this list but keep on posting! You’ve got the “sauce” and I’m sure there’s MANY who agree with me! Cheers to ROME!!

  • Hi Gia we will be traveling to Rome in 3 weeks do have recommendations on where to buy the Roma Pass? We did buy tickets for a tour of the Colusseum but nothing else yet. We will be traveling the very end of August beginning of September can hardly wait!

  • Thank you, Gia for this great post. I’m going to Rome in October with my Mom for the first time. We have only two full days and there is so much to see!

    Happy travels 🙂
    Ioanna (A Woman Afoot)

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