Top 10 Things To Do In Rome
Rome, Italy - A Must See For Any World Traveler
Honestly, I've been dragging my feet for several months as I mulled over what to include in this lens. Choosing the Top 10 Things To Do in Rome is nearly impossible because there is not only such a diverse collection of things to see, but also an overwhelming number of things to do. Me thinks that you could live in Rome for a lifetime and still not visit all the great sites around the Eternal City. I equate the Eternal City with the city that takes an eternity to see.
With that in mind, I've chosen the Top 10 Things that I recommend any first time visitor to Rome include on their itinerary. Of course, if you have a week or two to spend in Rome and its environs, many more items would be included (see my additional things to do list near the bottom of this lens). Enjoy your journey!
NOTE - All of the photos in this lens are from our personal collection of photos taken during visits to Rome unless otherwise noted. Taking photos inside churches and museums in Italy is almost always prohibited so most of those pictures are from others (my husband refuses to break the rules even when I'm giving him a nudge).
Rome Travel Guides
I never leave home without a great travel guide. Usually I choose Frommers or Fodors....I just like how they arrange and present the information. Here are some of the best Rome travel guides available from Amazon.
Winner of The Purple Star Award
This lens was awarded a purple star on July 2, 2010. The giant squid organizers here at Squidoo award purple stars each week to their favorite lenses created by all-star Giant Squids.
#1) Hop On - Hop Off Rome Bus Tour - A must for any first time visitor!
I've said it before and I'll say it again here. I ALWAYS recommend taking the hop on/off bus tour the first day (or two) in major European cities. It is a great way to get the lay of the land and to take in all the sites quickly. No less than 20 groups operate bus tours in Rome so it can be a bit overwhelming to choose one. That said, I suggest looking for one that has a drop off and pick-up spot close to your hotel and one that has open top seating so that you can get plenty of photos and enjoy the outdoors. Of course if you are visiting Rome in extremely hot weather of July and August, you may want to consider an open top bus that has a retractable shade screen. Otherwise, you just might get roasted. If possible, visit Rome in May or September when the crowds have dwindled a bit and the weather is normally nice.
Most of the hop on/off bus tour operators have several bus routes with 15 to 20 stops at the major sites around Rome. Usually they have running commentary available in multiple languages via headphones with jacks near every bus seat. Tickets are usually good for 24 to 48 hours depending on the operator and what options you choose. I recommend waiting until you get to Rome to purchase tickets (you can do this at any stop for most of the buses). However if you'd like an overview of the bus stops and routes for one of the major operators, visit Viator.com.
My Tips - If you want to have a fun, leisurely tour of the city, avoid peak weekend afternoon bus hours. Do the tour on weekend mornings and during the week if at all possible. Check to make sure that your headphone jack works before getting settled into your bus seat. You really miss out if you can't get the commentary about the sites that you are seeing around Rome.
Rome Bus Tour Video - An excellent open top tour video!
#2) The Colosseum & Arch of Constantine
No visit to Rome would be complete without a visit to the Colosseum. It is amazingly well preserved. Built between 70AD and 80AD, the Roman Colosseum held up to 70,000 spectators for gladiator contests and animal hunts. If you saw Russell Crowe in the Gladiator movie, then you know what I'm talking about. It is estimated that over 500,000 people and 1 million animals were killed during the Roman games.
The exterior of the building features numerous arches some of which led to interior corridors from the base of the stadium. The arches around the upper floors were each filled with statues of gladiator figures. The interior consisted of a wood floor that covered a complex set of rooms and passages where the elaborate show scenery, the gladiator men, and the animals were housed. Doors in the floor allowed the men and animals to get to the "stage" on a counter-weighted "elevator". Spectators sat in sectors within the Colosseum according to their class with the least important citizens at the top and the Senators and more important people near the bottom.
And don't miss the beautiful Arch of Constantine which sits just outside the main entrance to the Colosseum. The arch was built in 315 to commemorate Constantine the first's victory over Maxentius. Wedding photographers with couples in tow flock to this area to get the perfect picture for photo wedding favors of the bride and groom with both the arch and the Colosseum behind them. In the photo, you can see one such couple. Can you imagine getting married in Rome? What a memorable bride and groom gift that would be! And if you just happen to be getting married in Rome, be sure to buy some Italian themed wedding favors.
My Tips - The Colosseum has the longest tourist ticket lines so to avoid standing in that long line, buy a combo ticket for the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum at the Palatine Hill ticket office which is just up the street from the Colosseum (past the Arch of Constantine). You will literally save yourself hours of waiting in line to by tickets because you can bypass the line if you already have a ticket in hand.
#3) Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was the heart of ancient Roman civilization. It was where the central government of the Roman empire was seated and was the central hub for economic and commercial activities. The ruins date from the 7th century BC. Amongst the ruins, you'll see countless temples and sanctuaries (as it served as the religious center as well), rows of shops, columns and arches commemorating people and battle victories, Senate buildings, and much more.
My Tip - Vendors just outside the forum and near the Colosseum sell a little red book called Rome Past and Present by Vision Publications (some versions come with a free DVD). It has plastic overlays that show how the current ruins looked 2,000 years ago. It is a MUST HAVE. I can't tell you how much more enjoyable this book made our visit to the ALL the ancient sites in Rome. If you only heed one bit of my advice, BUY THIS BOOK!!
Rome - Past & Present with Reconstructions - The Book EVERY Rome Tourist Needs!
Roman Forum PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Pantheon was constructed between and 27 and 25 AD as a temple to the Olympian gods. Pantheon literally means "of all the gods" in Greek. The original temple was destroyed by fire in 80 AD and was rebuilt with the columns and interior hall that you can see today. The dome spans 142 feet and was the largest in the world until the dome was completed on Florence's Cathedral in 1436. Even today, the Pantheon dome is the largest reinforced concrete dome in the world....pretty amazing considering it was built 2000 years ago.
In 609, the building was converted into a Christian church and is still occasionally used for services today. Inside the Pantheon, you can see the tombs of Raphael the painter and Vittorio Emanuele II.
The area around the Pantheon is surrounded by all kinds of small cafes where you can grab lunch and souvenir shops where you can pick up some unique holiday gifts for yourself or your family back home.
#5) San Clemente Basilica
San Clemente Basilica was built in 1100 on the ruins of a 4th century Christian church which was built on the ruins of a 1st century pagan temple. The excavation of this three layered church makes for an interesting tour which is why I add this basilica to my Top 10 Things To Do in Rome list. In the photos above, you can see the exterior of the current church along with the current interior with the golden Triumph of the Cross domed area....it is made up of millions of tiny mosaic pieces. Yes that entire thing is constructed from little 1 centimeter square pieces of mosaic. Unbelievable and stunning! The middle right photo shows the altar to Mithras in the 1st century pagan temple under the basilica.
Photos are from Flickr.
#6) Trevi Fountain
You can't turn a street corner in Rome without seeing a beautiful fountain. That said, the largest baroque fountain in Rome is not to be missed. Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762 as a collaborative effort between many artists including Salvi, Bracci, and Pannini. It was built on the site of an original fountain fed by the Roman Aqueducts (as are most of the fountains in Rome).
Legend has it that if a visitor tosses a coin into the fountain over their shoulder, they are assured to return to Rome someday. Don't forget to give it a try.
My Tip - Be sure to stop at San Crispino (on a side street near Trevi Fountain) for a cup of the best gelato you'll ever taste. Honestly, I tried gelato all over Italy and this was the best BY FAR!
#7) Spanish Steps
One of the timeless, classic sites in Rome are the 138 steps that rise the steep slope from the Piazza di Spagna to the church of TrinitÃ dei Monti at the top of the hill. You can't beat the people watching around the Spanish steps so just grab a seat, a cup of gelato, and watch the world pass you by. The view at night is amazing as well.
#8) Vittorio Emanuele II Monument's Glass Elevator
Get incredible views of Rome from this vantage point!
The big white marble monstrosity that was completed in 1935 as a monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (the first kind of a united Italy) sits on a hill right next to the ancient Roman Forum and Capitoline Hill. The location and architecture have left a severe distaste in the mouths of most of the Roman citizens. The one good thing about the monument is that you can ride a glass elevator to the top observation deck for amazing views of Rome and the ancient ruins.
Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
#9) Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona was the site of a 1st century ancient Roman Circus (a competition arena in an oval shape). Even today, the piazza follows the same elliptical shape. It is best known for Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers which was unveiled in 1651. Four gods on the four corners of the fountain represent the world's four major rivers. It sits at the center of the piazza while two other fountains sit at the North and South ends.
If you saw the Angels and Demons movie starring Tom Hanks, then you may remember that the obelisk atop the Four Rivers Fountain was the 4th Illuminati marker and it is where Cardinal Baggia was placed to fulfill the death by drowning. He was to be weighted down and drowned in the fountain pool. You'll have to see the movie to get the final chapter on how that went for him.
#10) Villa Borghese
The villa sits in Rome's Borghese garden park....one of the few green spaces in Rome. The home was commissioned by Cardinal Borghese to act as his residence and to house his art collection. Today, the villa is a gallery where precious artworks are displayed. The most impressive pieces are the sculptures by world renowned artists such as Bernini, Caravaggio, and Canova.
My Tip - This gallery was one of the biggest surprises of our last trip to Rome. We had no idea how much great artwork was housed in this home gallery. If you have a free afternoon, I HIGHLY recommend that you make a trip to the Borghese Gallery. NOTE - reservations are required and the gallery tends to be booked out for a few days in advance so make your reservation when you arrive in Rome so you don't miss it! We were told by our concierge that the gallery was sold out the day we wanted to go so we looked online and were able to book tickets directly online (you could actually book them from the U.S. if you go this route).
Villa Borghese Photo Gallery - Photos from FlickrClick thumbnail to view full-size
Vote For Your Favorite Activity in Rome
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5 More of My Favorite Activities in Rome
Capuchin Crypt - made up of 6 tiny rooms beneath Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini near Barberini Square in Rome. All but one room has displays of human bones in intricate patterns (even chandeliers). It is interesting, but not for everyone.
Santa Maria Maggiore- one of the four papal basilicas in Rome. It dates from the 12th century and the interior is ridiculously ornate.
Strolling Neighborhoods like Travestere- The best way to get a feel for any city is by strolling the neighborhoods. Travestere is one of the most charming with its medieval streets, churches, and restaurants.
Popolo Square- One of Rome's most popular squares. It features a Ramses II Egyptian obelisk at the center which was brought to Rome in 10 B.C. The churches surrounding the square were featured in the Angels and Demons movie.
Piazza Campo dei Fiori- The square where you'll find a market every morning (except Sunday) with stalls selling flowers, fruit, veggies, household goods and bread. At night, the square is a great place to grab dinner and people watch.
I wanted to add a quick note about Rome and Vatican City. Obviously no trip to Rome is complete without taking in the sites inside Vatican City so check out my Top 10 Things To Do in Vatican City page. It deserves to have its own lens and to give Vatican City (which is technically its own country and not part of Rome) one line item in my list of Rome's Top 10 seemed ridiculous.
That said, you need to leave a day or two for exploring Vatican City when you visit Rome!