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.
Colosseum + Roman Forum / Palatine Hill Combined Ticket (Valid for 2 Days): € 12
- Love to see more ruins in Italy? Check our our guide to visiting Pompeii and Herculeum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
- Heading to Spain? Check out our Spain Itinerary.
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.
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.
Appreciate Art at the Vatican Museums
From paintings to sculptures, the Vatican Museums have some of the world’s most incredible art collections.
Vatican Museums + Sistine Chapel (Valid for 1 Day): € 16
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.
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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