When in Rome: The top things to do

Rome, the capital city of Italy and one of the oldest and most historic cities in the world, and a city that once controlled most of Europe.

Planning a mini-break to Rome but haven’t got your itinerary sorted? I know how stressful it can be trying to plan a trip, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. If you’re on a time budget, it’s a great idea to plan your trip before you go, especially for a city like Rome that has so much to see and do and you could easily spend longer than 3 days here. Rome is also an extremely busy city, this makes planning your days even more important, after all, you don’t want to be spending hours in queues if you can help it. Hopefully, this post can help you get the most out of your trip.

The Eternal city

Rome is a special city for many reasons and was referred to as the Eternal City by poet Albius Tibullus, partly thanks to its strength and domination in Europe. Rome dates back more than 2800 years and is a city that is known for its stunning architecture like the Colleseum, the Trevi Fountain, its culture, buzzing streets and amazing foods like pizzas, carbonara, and suppli. Just strolling through this ancient city feels like a history lesson in itself.

If Rome has been on your list of places to visit for some time, you may already have an idea of where you want to visit and what you plan to do while you’re here but read on to find out some of the places I recommend and add them to your list, if they’re not already on it. Let’s make your trip to Rome unforgettable.

The Colosseum

the-colosseum in rome

Of course, it goes without saying that any visitor to Rome should visit the Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, after all, it’s the ultimate symbol of Rome and its most famous site. Located in the centre of Rome, the Colosseum is not only beautiful to look at, but it’s also steeped in history and a symbol of the power of the roman empire. It was actually built by 60,000 Jewish slaves over 1900 years ago and it’s the largest Amphitheatre in the world it could hold up to 80,000 spectators, all packed in to watch the gladiators do battle. During its long history, the Colosseum was in use for nearly 400 years, seeing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and millions of animals. But when the fall of the roman empire in the west came, came the disuse if the Colosseum.

Today, the Colosseum is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, attracting more than 6 million visitors each year, in fact, it’s on the list of the 7 wonders of the new world. With this in mind, if you do plan to visit, I would advise you to plan your visit in advance as visitors are now required to book a time slot as it gets extremely busy, especially in the high season, between the months of April-October. It gets extremely hot in Rome in the summer months, so if you want to avoid the heat but you still wanted to visit in the summer, then visit at night, which is less busy and cooler, although attractions such as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill won’t be open. The quietest time to visit the Colosseum is in the low season, between November-March.

Once inside the Colosseum, you can stand on the arena floor where the gladiators did battle, from here you get to see the sheer scale of the huge arena. Go down to the underground tunnels and corridors beneath the arena floor and explore when prisoners, animals, slaves, and gladiators were held, and it’s now possible to go to the third tier of the Colosseum and see this spectacular arena from above and gets some incredible views of not just the structure but also Rome itself. Although the underground tunnels and the third tier are only available on guided tours and not available to the general public. Booking a tour is well worth it if you wanted to visit these areas and also the tours are very educational and you will learn more about the Colosseum and its history.

The colosseum lit up at night

Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum

Included in your ticket for the Colosseum you will also get entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Two must-visit historical sites to see while you are in Rome especially if you like your archaeological history and are keen to learn more about the Roman Empire. They are two of the most ancient parts of the city. But don’t worry about doing it all on the same day, your admission ticket is valid for 2 days.

Just a short stroll away from the Colosseum you will find the Roman Forum, another spectacular site of Roman ruins. The forum was originally known as the centre of Rome. With events such as public meetings, criminals standing trial, and also before the Colosseum was built, gladiators used to fight here. But after the fall of the Roman empire, most of the sites within the forum were destroyed and left to ruin.

But despite the fact that the Forum has mainly been destroyed, efforts are being made in a bid to restore this historical site, and it really is worth a visit, especially if you would like to learn more about ancient Rome. It’s fascinating just standing where Julias Ceaser might have stood and thinking about what might have gone on here nearly 2000 years ago.

Palatine Hill is believed to be one of the oldest parts of the city and is the most famous of Rome’s 7 hills. These beautiful collections of ruins are located close to the Colosseum and the Forum, and the view overlooking the Forum and Colosseum and the city of Rome is magnificent. The Palatine Hill is a must-visit if you are keen to learn more about the Roman Empire, in fact, no visit to Rome is really complete until you walk around Palatine Hill. A little advice though, wear flat and comfortable shoes and if you are planning to visit in summer, come early when it’s a little cooler.

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous fountains in the world and one of Rome’s most famous landmarks. But what makes a fountain such a huge tourist attraction?

The Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s oldest water sources, dating back to ancient Roman times, and is actually built using the same material as the Colosseum (Travertine limestone). It was built in 1732 and stands about 26 meters high. It is a beautiful piece of architecture and somewhere you really should visit. You may have heard the myths about the coin throwing into the Trevi Fountain, something that has become a tradition by all that visit here. Every day people who visit the fountain throw coins over their shoulder into the fountain, roughly around €3000 a day is thrown in, the legend says that a coin thrown means a return to Rome.

Don’t be tempted to drink from the Fountain, the water is recycled due to it using 2,824,800 cubic meters of water a day. There are plenty of other fountains around the city where you can get water to drink from.

Vatican City

The Vatican City is a state surrounded by the city of Rome, in fact, it’s the smallest independent state in the world and is home to the pope and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church. The state was declared independent from the rest of Italy in 1929 due largely to the dispute between the Italian government and the catholic church. The Vatican is still an extremely important state because it’s seen as the centre of Christianity.

The Vatican is a very small state and has a population of just over 800. But the Vatican also supports itself financially and generates its own revenue by minting its own currency, museum, and souvenir sales and making its own stamps. Did you know the Vatican also has its own national anthem?

There is so much to see at the Vatican City, so I would recommend allowing yourself a whole day because it gets very busy and queue times can be very long. In addition to this, if you don’t fancy a very long wait in an enormous queue, I would suggest you buy a skip-the-line ticket and join a tour, or better still, depending on your budget, hire a private guide – there are many tours available to suit your needs and a bit of research beforehand will be time well spent.  A tour guide will point out the most exciting treasures and the stories behind them, although you will still leave having seen only a fraction of the items housed in the Vatican collection!  Here are the best sites in Vatican City.

St Peter’s Basilica

St Peters Basilica located in the Vatican City in Rome is one of the biggest churches in the world, covering over 22,000 square meters, and also one of the world’s holiest catholic sites. The church with its famous dome, designed by Michelangelo, dominates the Rome skyline and attracts millions of people to the city each year, for its stunning architecture, breathtaking beauty, and its fascinating history. This is a must-visit on any trip to Rome.

The church was built on the grave of Saint Peter, who was the first leader of the church and the first pope. Inside the Church, there are many famous pieces of art, including Michelangelo’s famous Renaissance Pieta sculpture, which is protected by bulletproof glass. There is also the bronze statue of St Peter.

Entrance to the Basilica is free but if you wanted to visit St Peters’s dome or the Vatican Necropolis there is an extra charge, but both are more than worth the few extra €’s.

While you’re inside the Basilica be sure to visit the Vatican Grottoes, a vast underground graveyard, and the burial place of 91 past popes. it’s also the home to the tomb of St Peter. My advice is to take a guided tour of the Vatican Grottoes to make sure you don’t miss anything and understand fully its history.

If you feel fit, climb the 551 steps to the top of St Peters Dome for an incredible 360 panoramic view of the Vatican City, or if that’s too many steps, take the lift and save yourself 231 steps, although you will still have to take another 320 steps to reach the top, the view is more than worth it.

A couple of tips when visiting the Basilica, make sure you don’t wear shorts and vests or you be refused entry, regardless of how hot it is, this applies to both women and men. And be mindful of pickpockets and petty thieves around the Vatican.

Vatican Museums

In the Museums, you will find one of the world’s largest private art collections.  At peak times, visitors shuffle along the galleries shoulder to shoulder.  However, if you cannot avoid peak time, it is worth the discomfort.  The various rooms are hung with paintings, tapestries, and maps from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and the walkways are lined with sculptures and other fabulous objects.  Don’t forget to look up at the ceilings – the architecture and decorations are nothing short of heavenly.  It is unfair perhaps to pick out individual artists but the works of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bernini are abundant and truly magnificent.    

The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is the most famous chapel in the Apostolic Palace.  We have Popes Sixtus IV and Julius II to thank for their current status.  Although unadorned on the outside, Pope Sixtus restored the interior of the building between 1473 and 1481, with a team of artists employed to paint the walls.  However, it is the ceiling that will take your breath away.  Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted his little heart out here between 1508 and 1512, the most famous panel being ’The Creation of Adam’ and 21 years later he returned and painted the wall behind the altar with ‘The Last Judgment.  Although, a sculptor by preference, Michelangelo, as a painter, left us with a masterpiece that millions of people have enjoyed ever since!  You may be asked to remain silent during your visit and for ladies to cover bare shoulders. 


Piazza Navona

Another of Rome’s most picturesque places is the Piazza Navona, With its beautiful architecture, three impressive water fountains including the eye-catching Fountain of the four rivers, and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, and these all contribute to giving the square a stunning backdrop and making it such a popular attraction for artists and tourists alike. The original site was once the stadium of domination where sporting events such as Athletics, and festivals took place, and this is why the Navona square is actually a long oval shape.

The streets surrounding the square are full of restaurants, cafes, street artists, and music which gives the whole place a very energetic atmosphere. Sit back and relax in a nearby cafe and watch the world go by, or brush up on some basic Italian while sipping on Rome’s finest Espresso. The Piazza Navona is a great place to spend a few hours and get snappy with the camera.

Trastevere neighbourhood

Cross over the river Tiber and into Trastevere, Rome’s best neighbourhood and for me, an area that represents true Italy. With lots of little boutique shops, bars restaurants, and nightlife, this neighbourhood is one to put on your to-do list while you’re in Rome. Just a short walk from the city centre, this lively district is full of picturesque medieval streets and hundreds of bars, cafes, and restaurants, ranging from fine dining to pizzerias. The Trastevere really comes to life at night too, with locals and tourists all partying long into the night. If it’s the bustling nightlife you’re looking for, then this is where to come.

There is more here than just the nightlife though, you have beautiful gardens and picturesque churches and a calming relaxing vibe. The Trastevere offers a different side of Rome and it’s a little less crowded too.

Climb the Spanish steps

The Spanish steps in Rome

The Spanish steps are another of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions and are located between the Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinità Dei Monti church. Constructed between 1723-1725 the steps were originally constructed to link the Spanish embassy to the church of Trinità Dei Monti and shortly afterwards became a meeting place for artists, and even today you will see artists working on their next masterpiece up the top of the steps. There are 138 steps to the top, although there is a lift close by that can take you to the top of the steps. Around the area, there are plenty of places to get something to eat, restaurants, bars, cafes, and some tasty ice cream on offer.

A quick tip, don’t sit on the steps, it’s been banned and you will be given a fine if caught.

Hop on hop off Tour bus

A great way to see the city’s sights is by taking the hop-on-hop-off bus. This is an ideal way to get an idea of the places you want to visit most. The bus drops you off right in front of some of the best attractions, making this a good way of saving some energy on your legs! And why not combine your bus ticket with the hop-on-hop-off boat tour and see some of the sites from the river? There are various different ticket combinations, so just choose what’s right for you.

Underground Rome tour

Come and see Rome from a totally different perspective by exploring the spooky underground sites such as buried churches, crypts, corridors, and trek under sites such as the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. There is almost as much to see underneath Rome as there is on the streets. There are many tours available all offering a different underground experience and the only way to experience these is by a guide, and it’s small groups only so book early.

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