Top things to do in Rome, Italy (Must visit attractions!)
Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.
-Giotto di Bondone
We just came back from an amazing trip to Italy. It was all that I dreamed of and more. I’m suffering from a huge vacation hangover right now, so I am doing all I can to revisit the fond memories from this trip by looking at all the pictures and writing these blogposts. Rome was the first stop and it quickly became one of my favorites! In this post, I share a list of must visit attractions in Rome! And if you have more time in Rome, check out Off-the-beaten-path and unique things to do in Rome.
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Table of Contents
A brief history of Rome
Ahh, Roma! Where do I start? I love historical facts so I’ll start with a history lesson!
- At its height in 100AD, during the reign of Emperor Trajan, Roman Empire extended from Britain to Northeast Africa to Middle East. It was referred to “imperium sine fine” – Empire without end.
- A million people lived in Ancient Rome! Imagine that!
- If you have already visited Rome or going to visit soon, you will notice that most of the ancient ruins are at a lower level or underground. This is because modern Rome was built over Ancient Rome because the church wanted to erase any remnants of Paganism. Rome is a layered city and they affectionately sometimes refer to it as a lasagna; the more you dig in, more discoveries await! 🙂
- It is interesting how so many wars had been fought in Rome and bodies thrown away in the Tiber for centuries, but today, you only see the architectural remains but no human remnants.
Rome’s historical significance is second to none and you can see it in every corner in one form or another. Rome is one city in the world that makes you think. It makes you question human evolution, the power of the church, think about western civilization and makes you wonder what could/would have happened. That is probably why Rome is one of my favorite cities to visit, not only for its magnificent sights but the philosophical and historical learnings.
With over 2000 years of history, there is much to see in Rome. Here are some tips on how to spend your time wisely.
First timer tips
- Take your time to appreciate the city rather than checking off a list. You can’t see everything so you might as well select a few spots and thoroughly appreciate them.
- Go off the rails and get lost in the cobble stoned alleyways bustling with exuberant locals eating and chatting away well past midnight.
- Do not pack your few days in Rome with activities round the clock so as not to miss the leisurely strolls and gelato breaks in the piazzas.
- Stay in a charming neighborhood that gives you a taste of the daily life of the locals. We stayed near Piazza Navona and highly recommend the neighborhood.
- Also explore the peaceful side of Roman life by visiting places that are away from the city center.
- Study about the city’s history and do your research to appreciate the extent of Roman influence on western world and truly understand the significance of the ruins.
- TIP: If you are a history geek like me, listen to the 200 episodes of “The history of Rome” podcast (yes, I listened to all of them! :D) or watch a historically accurate TV series like Rome (on HBO) to get a glimpse into Ancient Rome or read one of the many books available.
- If you do not like to do any research, then take a tour with a guide so that you can get an idea of what that rock actually means for or why the broken pillars are significant. You could also download free audio guides by Rick Steves and listen as you visit the monuments and places.
- And finally, this is a no-brainer – be prepared to walk a lot, eat lots of carbs and drink delicious wine!
Top things to do in Rome
I’ve decided to write about Rome’s attractions in two parts. The first one covers the most famous landmarks and the second one, a slightly off-beat take on Rome. I suggest checking these must see things off your list and go on to explore more unique things to do and sights off-the-beaten-path!
Colosseo or Flavian amphitheater built by Vespasian and inaugurated by his son Titus was THE entertainment center of Ancient Rome. The Colosseum was ravaged by earthquake, plundered and looted, was once a haven for the homeless but it still stands today passing the test of time. It was Roman peoples’ venue of respite, a place where they forgot their sorrows and enjoyed the games. While it is majestic, I couldn’t help but think hard and deep. For an Empire that considered itself civilized and the rest as barbarians, they sure enjoyed watching people kill each other. I guess it is a reminder that human race has evolved after all, or did we? But I digress and the topic deserves it own article. Colosseum is what it is – A colossal amphitheater, a magnificent undertaking and a thrilling sight to see and experience. Make sure you buy the tickets early and get the skip-the-line tickets.
After listening to “The History of Rome” podcast, this was the place I was most excited about. It was the downtown of ancient Rome where all the action took place, where emperors built their arches and monuments and left their mark. It is vast and needs a guide (self or guided) to truly understand the ruins and their significance.
The arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum and the Forum is a must visit as well.
Palatine Hill is another must visit near Roman Forum and Colosseum to get a feel of Ancient Rome. This was the rich neighborhood of Ancient Rome where the Emperors lived. You could take a tour or Augustus’ home if you wish to see how the Emperor lived! The view of the Forum and the Colosseum from the Palatine Hill gardens is also worth the hike up.
Pantheon is truly an architectural marvel that is well preserved for over 1800 years and a must visit in Rome! The circular dome which was built before mathematics or science even existed, is a true masterpiece. I could not stop staring at the dome and being inside made me emotional. I am short of words to describe it as it sometimes happens with things beyond your imagination. This was my favorite of the lot in Rome!
While you are there, enjoy a Prosecco at one of the many restaurants in the piazza. We were also lucky enough to watch a live performance by talented singers and artists. 🙂
Vatican City (Sistine Chapel, St.Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums)
If Pantheon had left me emotional, Vatican’s St. Peter’s, Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums left me feeling overwhelmed and blown away. Vatican’s opulence, art, history, intricacy was all too much for my brain to process at one time. I couldn’t focus on one thing because it was all too complex and incredibly beautiful. To think that someone actually designed the basilica with all its complexity was hard to comprehend! I wasn’t sure if I should see the centuries’ old mosaic floor or the ornate ceiling or the tapestries on the walls or the sculptures by some of the greatest artists! It was an amazing experience and a must visit! Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, his sculpture Pieta, Rafael’s rooms (one of my favorites), the tapestries in Vatican Museum and of course, the basilica were some of my favorites.
FONTANA DI TREVI (Trevi Fountain)
One of the most famous and romantic fountains in the world! A beautiful place and a must in Rome even with the crowd!
This is one of the most charming piazzas! We stayed close to Piazza Navona and were so glad we made the choice. This was our favorite Piazza to hang out and people watch. We visited it everyday and found a surprise no matter the time of the day. We spotted musicians and painters expertly showing off their masterpieces! It was such a relaxing atmosphere.
If you love art, this is a must visit in Rome. Villa Borghese was the house of Cardinal Scipione Borghese who was a patron of Bernini, Caravaggio and many others. The villa and the gardens themselves are pieces of art and the sculptures blew my mind away! I was awe-struck by Bernini’s sculptures. The sculpture of Pauline Bonaparte by Antonio Canova was another unique masterpiece that left me speechless. After catching a glimpse of the sculptures of Bernini and Michelangelo, I developed a real appreciation for sculpting. It also houses many more paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, Dossi and Raphael. Too bad my phone battery tied and I could not take pictures of the sculptures!
These are the steps along a steep slope with Piazza di Spagna at the base with a beautiful fountain sculpted by Pietro Bernini. This a fun place to take a break from all the walking and people watch in the center of Rome.
With its amazing architecture, ancient monuments and churches, cobble-stoned streets, vibrant and chilled lifestyle, Rome slowly sucks you in and soon, you are longing to see more and never wanting to leave the eternal city.
More than anything, I loved the people of Rome (and Italy) and their lifestyle. It is not often that you see servers chatting with you like they’ve known you for years and people taking their time to relax and chill for hours during lunch and dinner. Even in a big city like Rome, there is a sense of community and togetherness that is to be appreciated.
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I am Aswani Kurra. I am an engineer, dreamer and part-time wanderlust, writer and wine lover. I always had an urge to write, create and travel. So I created this space to satisfy my creative itch and combine all my skills to help you plan your Charming Escape.