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Things to do in Rome: 13 beautiful places you must see

The Eternal City in the heart of Italy - Rome shines with thousands of years of history, which makes the complete metropolis on the Tiber virtually a huge museum. The name "Eternal City" alone dates back to the first century BC!

Of course, the gladiators and the Colosseum play a role but that's not all. In this article, I would therefore like to tell you all the important places to see and attractions in Rome but also some additional sights and secret places. Of course, some food and travel recommendations are also in the game. In this sense - Benvenuti a Roma!

Updated on 26.02.2023
Biggi & Flo from the travel blog Phototravellers

The top 13 attractions at a glance

Here you can see a list of the top 13 attractions in Rome. A long weekend is enough to see them all. However, if you want to visit them in more detail or discover some additional insider tips, you should plan a little more time. Here’s a great sample itinerary for Rome in three days.

  1. Villa Borghese with Galleria Borghese
  2. Piazza del Popolo
  3. Spanish Steps
  4. Trevi Fountain
  5. Pantheon
  6. Piazza Navona
  7. Castel Sant’Angelo
  8. Vatican Museums & St. Peter’s Basilica
  9. Monumento Nazionale to Vittorio Emanuele II
  10. Trajan’s Column
  11. Roman Forum
  12. Colosseum
  13. Giardino degli Aranci

Tip: To explore Rome and the many great sights of the city, we recommend the Go City Pass Rome (order here*).

1. Villa Borghese with Galleria Borghese

View over Rome
This great view over Rome you have from the somewhat less known viewpoint

We start directly with one of the coolest things to do in Rome and one of the best spots in Rome for sunset. It’s Villa Borghese, a large park north of the city center. The name of the sight goes back to an ancient Roman noble family. In the past, Villa Borghese housed vineyards, gardens, stables, and a zoo, among other things, as well as large art collections.

A well-known activity in the park even today is the casino – that doesn’t mean a gambling hall but a castle. This former summer residence of the Borgheses is home to the Galleria Borghese, which houses an art museum with numerous valuable works.

Here you can see the Piazza del Popolo with the obelisk and the twin churches on the left side. In addition, on the approximately 5 km² large area of the Villa Borghese, there is, for example, a well-known small lake with the Temple of Asclepius and a zoo. Various viewpoints are also part of the ensemble. Probably the best known is the Terrazza del Pincio (Google Maps). From there you have an excellent view of the city and the Piazza del Popolo (more on this in a moment) but there are a lot of people here, especially at sunset.

⭐ Things are much more relaxed a bit further southeast at the intersection of Viale del Belvedere and Viale di Villa Medici (Google Maps). I would even argue that the view from here is even better!

2. Piazza del Popolo

The Piazza del Popolo
Where to visit the obelisk and the twin churches? At the Piazza del Popolo!

Immediately below the Terrazza del Pincio is the Piazza del Popolo– a top thing to do in Rome! The well-known “square of the people” was already in ancient times the central northern entrance to the city. Today it is designed in neoclassical style and houses several popular sights.

There are, among others, the Obelisco Flaminio – the second oldest and second largest Egyptian obelisk in Rome-, the Porta del Popolo, and the church of Santa Maria del Popolo with the adjacent Augustinian monastery. At the southern end of the square are the famous twin 17th-century churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

Three main streets branch off from the piazza: Via del Corso, Via del Babuino, and Via di Ripetta. This intersection is therefore often referred to as the Tridente or Trident.

3. Spanish Steps

If you follow Via del Babuino from Piazza del Popolo, after about 5 to 10 minutes you will reach Piazza di Spagna with the Colonna dell’Immacolata, the Column of the Immaculate. The area around the square is a well-known fashion district.

The Colonna dell'Immacolata in the evening
The Colonna dell’Immacolata in the evening is a great thing to do in Rome!

Since the Vatican City State is too small to house all embassies and missions, Rome has all embassies twice – once for Italy, and once for the Vatican. The Vatican’s Spanish Embassy is housed in the Palazzo di Spagna, which is next to the Colonna dell’Immacolata. This is where the name Piazza di Spagna comes from.

From this is also derived the name of the famous Spanish Steps, which is also located there. With a width of more than 40 meters and a total of 136 steps, the staircase is a popular tourist attraction. You are no longer allowed to sit there since 2019, however, it’s an impressive place to visit.

The Spanish Steps lead from the Baroque fountain Fontana della Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna to the church Santissima Trinità dei Monti and the Obelisco Sallustiano. This view is one of the most popular photo motifs in Rome.

Tip: During the day and in the evening it is extremely busy at the Spanish Steps. For a picture without crowds, it’s definitely worth getting up early. Around 7 or 8 in the morning is relatively good. Also, the view from the head of the stairs is especially great in the morning light.

The Spanish Steps in the evening
In the evening, this is what the Spanish Steps look like….
The Spanish Steps in the morning
…and like this in the morning
The view from the Spanish Steps in Rome
The view from the top is also not to be underestimated- it’s a cool place to go!

⭐ Recommended travel guides for your city trip to Rome

These travel guides are the ideal companions for your trip to the Italian capital. With them, you’re guaranteed to become a Rome expert! Have a look at Rome Travel Guide 2023: The Ultimate Pocket Guide to the Eternal City (get it here*). Also Rick Steves Pocket Rome (buy it here*) is fabulous for your trip to the most interesting city in Italy.

4. Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain in the evening
This great sight to see, the Trevi Fountain, is greatly illuminated in the evening!
The Trevi Fountain
During the day, this sight is at least as impressive

Let’s move on to the next amazing thing to do in Rome. The Trevi Fountain is called Fontana di Trevi in Italian, which presumably goes back to the three springs – or “tre vie” – from which the water bubbles into the fountain. It comes from the Sabine Mountains, which are about 26 kilometers from Rome. The fountain, by the way, is the only aqueduct that has been in continuous operation since ancient times.

If that’s not impressive enough, you should take a look at the dimensions of the Trevi Fountain. It’s directly connected to the wall of the Palazzo Poli and is 26 meters high and 50 meters wide. You won’t be able to get out of your amazement- it’s a must-do!

Sitting on the edge of the fountain is also forbidden here. There are actually policemen present almost around the clock, who immediately make use of their whistle if you do not comply. And there are always incredibly many people here as well, which is why you should be early again. Then you have the company of a few travel and fashion bloggers. However, the fountain is also absolutely worth seeing in the evening because it’s then beautifully illuminated.

⭐ By the way, it’s traditional to throw a coin in with your left hand over your right shoulder with your back to the fountain. It makes a difference whether you toss one, two, or three coins – in that order, it means you’ll return to Rome, fall in love with a Roman, or even marry that person. Try it, it’s a fun thing to do!

5. Pantheon

The Pantheon is one of the most popular sights in Rome
The Pantheon is one of the most popular things to do in Rome

Just five minutes from the Trevi Fountain is one of the most impressive sights in Rome. The Pantheon was completed as early as the first century AD, making it one of the best-preserved buildings of Roman antiquity. While it was once dedicated to the many different gods of pantheism, it was later rededicated to the Roman Catholic Church.

Access to the circular domed building is through a kind of entrance hall with a temple-like facade. What makes the Pantheon special is that the dome is open at the top. This makes for unique lighting effects when the sun shines through the circular hole in the center of the spectacular building.

The Pantheon from the inside
The spectacular Pantheon from the inside is a wonderful thing to see!
The dome of the Pantheon
The dome is open at the top – meaning when it rains, it rains in. However, when the sun is shining, you can see exciting light effects

In the Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon is the Obelisco Macuteo, not even 7 meters high. The smallest obelisk in Rome, the Obelisco della Minerva, is just five and a half meters high and stands directly behind the Pantheon.

The Pantheon is located in Piazza della Rotonda (Google Maps) and is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m., Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.. Admission is free.

An obelisk in front of the Pantheon
In front of the Pantheon, there is one of the smallest obelisks in Rome- make a stop here on your sightseeing tour!

6. Piazza Navona

Just around the corner is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. Piazza Navona already existed in ancient times and is an unusual thing to do in Rome. There it was used as a stadium for athletic competitions originating from Greece, called Agon – hence the oval shape of the square. The name became “in Agone”, then “n’ Agone” and finally Navona.

You can still find the original name in the baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, located on the west side of the square. Moreover, there is also an obelisk here, in the middle of a baroque marble fountain.

The Fountain of the Four Streams and the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona
What is to see in Piazza Navona? The Fountain of the Four Streams and the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona

The magnificent Four Rivers Fountain features four male figures, each symbolizing one of four rivers: Danube, Ganges, Nile, and Río de la Plata. They, in turn, represent each of the four continents known in the 17th century.

In addition, there are two older but smaller fountains in Piazza Navona: the Fountain of Neptune to the north and the Fontana del Moro to the south. In addition, other churches and palaces, as well as tourist cafes and souvenir stores, line the beautiful square in the heart of Rome.

The Fountain of Neptune
The smaller Fountain of Neptune is also located in Piazza Navona and is one of the best things to see here!

7. Castel Sant’Angelo

If you turn from Piazza Navona into Via dei Coronari (Google Maps), you can stroll down a long, beautiful, and typically Italian alley. Here you will also find a great bar secret tip, which I share with you in the article about food and drinks in Rome. Once you reach the end of the alley, just turn right and you’ll be in front of the next sight.

Narrow alley in Rome
The way to the next top thing to do leads through such picturesque alleys

Originally built as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Castel Sant’Angelo today houses a museum with a great viewing platform. In the meantime, Castel Sant’Angelo served as a papal refuge and prison, among other things. Incidentally, the name comes from the fact that the archangel Michael supposedly appeared above the castle and announced the end of the plague. That is why his bronze figure still adorns the top of the building.

⭐ Illuminati fans should also be familiar with Castel Sant’Angelo: In Dan Brown’s novel, it was once the meeting place of the secret society.

To get to Castel Sant’Angelo, you first have to cross the Tiber. The Angel Bridge, which leads directly to the castle, is also decorated with ten baroque angel figures. So, especially in the evening, when everything is illuminated, it offers a magical sight.

View of the Bridge of Angels and Castel Sant'Angelo with the Archangel Michael
View of the Bridge of Angels and the Castel Sant’Angelo with the Archangel Michael on the top

8. Vatican Museums & St. Peter’s Basilica

You’ll already see it from the Bridge of Angels – St. Peter’s Basilica. This world-famous sight is definitely a top thing to do in Rome. Or rather, in the Vatican City, of course. With an area of only 44 hectares, this is the smallest state in the world and the seat of government of the Pope.

St. Peter’s Square with St. Peter’s Basilica is the central attraction of the Vatican. The cathedral is the largest of the papal basilicas and one of the largest and most important churches in the world. The symmetrical colonnaded St. Peter’s Square with the Vatican Obelisk in the center is also the venue of the Pope’s General Audience, which is held there every Wednesday – weather permitting.

St. Peter's Basilica in St. Peter's Square
What else to do in Rome? The famous St. Peter’s Basilica in St. Peter’s Square is incredible!

The Vatican Museums are also very popular. However, I have to say honestly that I was quite disappointed – of course, the rooms are very impressive but the crowds, unfortunately, ruin the experience a bit. The Sistine Chapel in particular is rather “underwhelming” and the famous painting depicting the creation of Adam then turns out to be very small.

Inside the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are quite impressive but also overcrowded
A spiral staircase
This spiral staircase marks the exit of the Vatican Museums
A spiral staircase
A great photo opportunity as you exit the sight

⭐ If you’d still like to visit the Vatican Museums, be sure to buy tickets online. There are on-site ticket windows but it takes much longer there. With an online ticket, you can also skip the first line in front of the building directly – supposedly, without a ticket, you sometimes wait up to three hours here. Get your online ticket here*.

9. Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II is far better known as the Typewriter, due to its construction. The colossal white marble building was built starting in 1885 as a monument to the first king of the newly founded Kingdom of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.

The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II
The “typewriter” is another highlight and a top thing to do in Rome

It’s also him you can admire on a horse in front of the typewriter. The equestrian statue is a whopping 12 meters high – in the horse’s belly alone, for example, a grown man can easily stand upright! As with many national monuments, there is also a tomb of the unknown soldier and the “Altar of the Fatherland” with an eternal flame guarded day and night by two soldiers.

The equestrian statue of King Victor Emmanuel II
The colossal equestrian statue of King Victor Emmanuel II

The building itself houses, among other things, the Museo del Risorgimento, which commemorates the Italian state-founding movement in the 19th century. You can also enjoy a panoramic view from a height of 80 meters from the Terrazza delle Quadrighe observation deck. For current prices and opening hours, visit the Rome Museum blog.

10. Trajan’s Column

Just like the typewriter, the next sight is also located in Piazza Venezia. Trajan’s Column was erected on this spot as early as 113, making it the impressive highlight of the relatively well-preserved Trajan’s Forum today.

The remains of Trajan's Forum with Trajan's Column
The remains of the Trajan’s Forum with the Trajan’s Column is a great thing to do in Rome!

The special thing about the column of honor is the numerous, extremely detailed decorations. In fact, a total of about 2500 human figures of about 60-75 centimeters in height decorate Trajan’s Column. On the representations, you can learn, for example, a lot about clothing and weapons in the 2nd century.

The column of Trajan in detail
The column of Trajan in detail

In the hollow interior of the column, a spiral staircase leads to the viewing platform, from which one had a great view over Rome in ancient times. At the top was originally a gilded statue of Emperor Trajan but it was replaced by the Pope in the 16th century with a statue of the Apostle Peter, which you can still see there today.

⭐ Incidentally, the Column of Marcus Aurelius in the city center (Google Maps) was modeled on Trajan’s column about 80 years later than it.

11. Roman Forum

Trajan’s Forum is just an extension of the famous Roman Forum. This can be roughly translated as “Roman marketplace”, which describes it quite aptly. In fact, the Roman Forum was the center of the city’s political, economic, cultural, and religious life as early as the 6th century BC.

Today, one of the most important excavation sites of ancient Rome is located there. In addition, you can visit the Palatine, one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built. Today, there is a large archaeological park there, where you can discover a lot.

The archaeological park on the Palatine
The archaeological park on the Palatine is a top thing to do in Rome

⭐ By the way, the typical view of the Roman Forum is free from this point.

However, it’s well worth waiting in line for admission to the Roman Forum and the Palatine and allowing a little extra time for that. The park is really big, which means that the crowds are well distributed. There are also many exciting things to see. In my opinion, you have the best view from the observation terrace on the Palatine (Google Maps). You have to climb some steps but the view definitely compensates for that!

View of the Roman Forum from outside
View of the Roman Forum from outside – on the right you can see the panorama terrace on Palatine Hill high above
The Roman Forum
What to see in the Roman Forum? The terrace is located in the area of the Forum Romanum, for which you have to pay an entrance fee – but in return, you have this outstanding view

Admission to the Roman Forum and the Palatine also includes admission to the Colosseum and vice versa. I would recommend buying tickets either at the Colosseum (beware of long queues) or online*.

12. Colosseum

The Colosseum is one of the top sights in Rome
The Colosseum is probably the most famous thing to do in Rome

Almost at the end, we now come to the most famous landmark of the Italian capital. The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world and was far ahead of its time with its architecture and technology. After all, it was already built around 80 AD. Even today, modern arenas and stadiums are designed along the lines of the Colosseum.

The Colosseum from the inside
The Colosseum also impresses from the inside and is one of the best places to see

Admission to the Colosseum also includes admission to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and vice versa. I recommend buying tickets online here*. There are always long lines at the ticket booths at the Colosseum!

13. Giardino degli Aranci

We’re closing this list the same way we started it – with one of the best sunset spots in Rome. Savello Park, known as Giardino degli Aranci or Orange Garden in English, is located on the Aventine. This is the southernmost of the seven hills.

It’s a bit uphill but the view from the terrace is worth it! Of course, this spot is no longer a secret place, and you will have to share the panorama of Rome at sunset with many people.

The view from the Giardino degli Aranci at sunset
What’s in the Giardino degli Aranci to do? The view from the Giardino degli Aranci at sunset is breathtaking! It’s an impressive thing to do here!

⭐ Also no longer a real insider tip is the keyhole (Google Maps). It’s located just a bit further on the Aventine and looks very unspectacular at first glance. But if you look through it, you’ll have a very nice hedge-lined view of St. Peter’s Basilica. However, you may have to wait in line for up to an hour – and quite honestly, it’s not really worth it to look through a hole for about five seconds. Especially since it’s really difficult to take a good picture through the small opening.

A long queue
This was the queue at the keyhole – we stood in line for 40 minutes
View of St. Peter's Basilica through the keyhole
And this is our attempt to take a picture in the dark. Success was limited

Additional attractions

Of course, there is infinitely more to discover in the Eternal City besides these top sights. Several highlights are located right next to the Orange Garden.

The Circus Maximus (Google Maps) was the largest arena in ancient Rome, where chariot races were primarily held. Today, with the help of a green area and some excavations of the grandstands, you can only guess how spectacular it must have been. The picturesque old neighborhood of Trastevere (Google Maps) is also nearby.

The Bocca de la Verità (Google Maps) is also not far away. There are numerous legends surrounding the “Mouth of Truth” – if you put your hand in the mouth of the stone face, it supposedly closes when you tell a lie. Nowadays, that’s why there are usually long lines in front of the popular attraction.

Another beautiful place you shouldn’t miss is the Campo de’ Fiori (Google Maps) near Piazza Navona. Except on Sunday, there is a daily market here with flowers and food, and the square is also a popular meeting place in the evening thanks to the surrounding bars.

Two things there are plenty of in Rome: museums and churches. If you want to see the famous statue of the Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus, the Capitoline Museums are the place to go. For more great museum tips, check out Rome Museum. One of the most beautiful churches in Rome that is always recommended, along with St. Peter’s Basilica, is the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Google Maps).

The last two sights are a bit outside but still definitely worth a visit. There are more than 60 catacombs in Rome. The most famous are the catacombs of St. Callistus. They are located near the ancient Via Appia (Google Maps), which was laid out as early as 312 BC and served as the main thoroughfare. Today, for example, bicycle tours* along the ancient route are a great option.

Eating and drinking: There is certainly no shortage of restaurants, bars, and cafés in Rome. You’ll find a great place to eat on almost every corner. Just be careful not to fall into the typical tourist traps.

Where to stay in Rome – the best tips

In addition to luxurious furnishings and an excellent location in close proximity to Piazza Navona, the 5-star Bio Hotel Raphael – Relais & Châteaux (check rates here*) has its own rooftop bar with breathtaking views over Rome.

However, the 3-star Hotel Smeraldo (check prices here*) also has all this to offer. The Hotel Paolo II (check prices here*) also has 3 stars and is located right next to the Vatican. Guests nevertheless praise above all the quiet location of this first-class accommodation.

Those who prefer to have an entire vacation apartment to themselves should pay particular attention to the next three tips. The Core de Roma apartment (check prices here*) with 60 m² is also close to Piazza Navona, while the somewhat larger and country-style Casa Cimini (check prices here*) is located further south in the direction of the Orange Garden.

Across the river, in the picturesque Trastevere district, you’ll find the Unforgettable Trastevere vacation rental (check prices here*). It’s beautifully decorated with great attention to detail and even has a lush balcony.

Getting to Rome

If you’re traveling by plane, you’ll arrive at one of Rome’s two airports, depending on the airline. The larger one is almost directly on the sea and is called Fiumicino, while the smaller Ciampino airport is located southeast of the city.

View of Rome from the plane
Fiumicino airport is located directly by the sea

From Fiumicino, you can take the train to downtown Rome. This is faster but also more expensive than the bus. Shuttle buses run from both airports, usually every half hour. You will be on the road longer but you will pay much less. With cabs, you usually have to expect a fixed price of between 30 and 40 euros.

The train can be a good alternative to flying. This is a super comfortable and climate-friendly way to travel and if you travel at night, you still have the whole day for sightseeing.

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