Rome is an incredible city packed with landmarks and attractions which will take your breath away. Despite Rome being awash with tourist attractions, and as such often awash with tourists, you can still feel like you’re walking in antiquity. Sites like the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain aren’t just famous in Italy – they are infamous across the world. Rome is a city that will amaze you.
There are so many famous landmarks and historical sites in Rome that it is easy to become overwhelmed. Don’t forget that part of enjoying Rome is to simply indulge in pasta, drink wine, enjoy gelato, watch the world go by and be immersed in la dolce vita! Make sure you balance your itinerary with landmarks, attractions and historical sites, with time to simply soak up the atmosphere and enjoy being in one of the most incredible cities on earth. Or book a private sightseeing tour for a more personal experience of the city.
Take your pick from the Rome landmarks and attractions below and plan a trip to remember.
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Let’s kick off with the number one attraction and of course one of the most famous landmarks in Rome: the Colosseum. This magnificent amphitheatre once welcomed 65,000 spectators to marvel at the scenes of gladiators and wild animals battling it out in the arena.
Did you know that the Colosseum is the largest structure that remains from Roman times? Marvel at the scale and history as you explore the Colosseum and it will certainly leave you amazed. While you’re here, make sure you visit the adjacent Arch of Constantine. This triumphal arch is almost as iconic as its neighbour.
Want to really get into the gladiator spirit? There are gladiator classes nearby which will teach you everything you need to know, all while you sport a fetching gladiator tunic and belt! It’s fun and will definitely get you into the spirit!
Good to know: The Colosseum is always exceptionally busy. Do not turn up without booking a ‘Skip the Line’ ticket in advance.
2. Vatican City, St Peter’s Square & Sistine Chapel
The smallest independent state in the world, weighing in at just half a square kilometre, Vatican City is also a state which vastly punches above its weight. This isn’t just the case in terms of importance to the Roman Catholic Church, but also in terms of some of Rome’s most important historical sites and monuments.
Inside the Vatican walls you’ll find the Vatican Palace. Complete with beautiful gardens, as well as St Peter’s Square and it’s Basilica, which is home to the Sistine Chapel and its awe-inspiring frescoed ceiling. In the Basilica there are incredible works of art by Michelangelo, Bernini and other artists.
Be brave and make your way up the 551 crowded spiral steps to the dome for incredible views across the city. However, while the panorama is wonderful, hold fire if you suffer from claustrophobia.
There is an enormous amount to see in Vatican City alone. From the Borgia Apartments to the Vatican Library, you’ll need to cherry pick what’s most interesting to you. Unless of course you’ve got heaps of time!
Good to know: Remember that all of the attractions in the Vatican City, but particularly St Peter’s Basilica, are holy sites. Dress and act in accordance with this, covering knees and shoulders and remaining respectfully quiet. Also check where photography is allowed.
Roman history is everywhere in Rome and the Pantheon is another example. This ancient Roman temple is astoundingly well-maintained and helps you really get a feel for Rome of old.
The dome inside the Pantheon will amaze you as you consider just how Roman builders succeeded with building the 43-metre structure.
Good to know: You can visit the Pantheon for free!
4. Trevi Fountain
I wholeheartedly assure you that pushing your way through crowds of tourists is worth it to see the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is another Rome landmark that truly puts it on the map. Indeed, the Trevi Fountain must be the most famous fountain in the world and with good reason!
This baroque fountain is impressive and seems even bigger in real life. Neptune on his chariot is resplendently majestic and of course you must take time to toss in a coin. The story here is that by throwing in a coin, you’ll be sure to return to Rome one day – and believe me, you’ll want to!
Good to know: Visit just after dawn for a crowd-free experience and a photo that showcases the Trevi Fountain at its best. I promise you, it’s worth it.
5. Spanish Steps
In the Centro Storico – the historic heart of Rome – you’ll find the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) at the foot of the relatively simplistic church, the Trinita dei Monti. These steps date from the 18th century and, like the Trevi Fountain, draw astronomical crowds. Again, I really recommend an early start to get a snap or two of these steps without battling with hundreds of others trying to do the same. You can always go back to your hotel for breakfast afterwards.
If you can, step back a little and enjoy a gelato in the square. Or, in winter maybe wrap your hands around a cone of roasted chestnuts. Then head off for a wander down Via Condotti – the street most beckoning for fashionistas in Rome.
Good to know: It’s actually illegal to sit on the Spanish Steps! So if you’re thinking of posing for a photo – best to stay standing or you could face a hefty fine.
6. Roman Forum
Another of the Rome monuments from the past worth a visit is the Roman Forum, which is now in the bustling heart of modern Rome. Picture the splendour of Rome during the Roman Empire as you explore, with the triumphal arches and mighty columns towering over you. This was the centre of political life. Close your eyes and imagine the markets and meeting places which would have bubbled up here.
Make sure you take a look at the Temple of Castor and Pollux, as well as the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Antoninus Pius.
Good to know: If you’re interested in history then it’s worth downloading the Parco Colosseo app. It’s free and provides insights into the different areas of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
7. Santa Maria Maggiore
I know you’ll be diving into other churches in Rome, but do make time to dip into Santa Maria Maggiore. It’s definitely one of the Rome historical sites that you should visit as it’s still a living breathing part of history, with mass being celebrated here every day for over 1,500 years!
Good to know: Have a go at spotting Rome’s oldest mosaics – some are as old as the fourth century.
8. Piazza Navona
Not sat and enjoyed a leisurely coffee and done some people watching yet? Piazza Navona is calling you. Definitely one of Rome’s top attractions, Piazza Navona is a classic Baroque square designed by Borromini. However, taking pride of place in the square is the Fontana dei Fiumi which was created by Borromini’s rival, Bernini. There are two other impressive fountains in the square to explore too – the Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuno.
Make sure you spot the striking church of Sant’Agnese on one side and marvel at the architectural balance. In the crypt you can see the Roman remains of a mosaic. If you think the church looks familiar, it’s because Sant’Agnese was the blueprint for many other churches both in Italy and beyond.
Good to know: If you are visiting Rome before Christmas, definitely make sure Piazza Navona is on your itinerary. It’s home to one of the city’s best Christmas markets.
9. Palatine Hill
Next door to the Roman Forum you’ll find Palatine Hill. There are many Rome landmarks to choose from, but Palatine Hill is worth your attention, especially if you’re a history buff.
The hill looms over the Tiber and there is so much history to see here, spanning multiple different eras with human evidence dating from as far back as the ninth century BC. More ‘recently’ (the 16th century!) the hill became home to the Farnese Gardens with delightful terraces, flowerbeds and fountains.
Visit the dominating Baths of Septimius Severus, as well as other important historical sites such as the House of Livia, Domus Augustana, Domus Flavia and the Cryptoporticus.
Good to know: If you want to scoot around seeing lots of different Rome attractions in this area, you could zip around on a Segway tour, electric bike or electric scooter – bring modern sightseeing methods to ancient sites!
10. Villa Borghese Gallery and Gardens
One of the Rome attractions that pulls in many visitors every year is Villa Borghese. Amble through the gardens and find yourself beckoned into the white stone villa, which is now a museum. Inside you’ll find a wonderful gallery containing 15th to 18th century artworks by masters such as Rubens, Raphael, da Vinci, and Caravaggio.
If you have time, also make sure you stop off at Villa Giulia which was a summer home for Pope Julius III. It now houses the Etruscan Museum.
The park is such a gorgeous place to relax and unwind. Rent a rowing boat or a bike if you’re feeling marginally energetic, or simply amble along the pathways enjoying the scene.
Good to know: If you’re travelling with children, you might also like to know that Bioparco di Roma, a popular zoo, is here too.
11. Castel Sant’Angelo National Museum
If you visit one museum in Rome, you’ll probably want to pick this one. The impressive arrival route passing Bernini’s angels gives a hint of what’s to come.
Castel Sant’Angelo started life as Hadrian’s mausoleum and is an enormous drum-shaped building close to the Vatican. It’s had many uses over its lifetime, and is now a National Museum. It often served as a fortress for popes, especially in the Middle Ages. They would escape through the Passetto di Borgo, an elevated corridor which provided the secret escape route. In the process, treasures were kept safe here.
Inside you’ll find quite a mixture of things to see – from prison cells to memorably decorated papal apartments. Be sure to grab a drink at the rooftop café before you leave for stunning views.
Good to know: The Castel Sant’Angelo was used as a key setting in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons. You’ll probably recognise it in the film as the Chapel of Illuminati, as well as the Passetto di Borgo.
12. Baths of Caracalla
Finished in 216, these weren’t just your run of the mill Roman baths. Think luxury spa meets sports centre with a shopping centre alongside. There seems to have been everything here and the archaeological history is enough to amaze you as you try to understand how they worked everything out!
Here there would have been a gigantic 300 square metre structure held up with pillars and domes, with space for around 1,500 people at any one time. They might be ruins, but you can be sure that you’ll get a real sense of what life was like in Rome in its heyday.
Good to know: The Baths of Caracalla are often used as a concert and performance venue. Check whether there are any events or performances during your stay. There is something special about seeing world-class performers showcase their talents against an ancient setting.
13. San Giovanni in Laterano
The San Giovanni in Laterano, or Basilica of St John Lateran, is the episcopal church of the Pope and is an impressive church to visit. Don’t let the Baroque façade fool you. Inside you’re looking at its original Constantine form.
Look up and be amazed at the attractive 16th century wooden ceiling. Look at the baptistery. If again this seems familiar, this is because many later European churches built their baptistery on its design.
Good to know: Opposite the San Giovanni Basilica is the Santuario della Scala Santa (Palace of the Holy Steps). You’re only able to ascend these steps on your knees to the altar at the top. If you have dodgy knees, don’t worry – there is an alternative flight of stairs you can use, which you can ascend as normal!
14. The Catacombs
Like in many cities, the Catacombs in Rome are one of the most popular attractions. In the Via Appia Antica, you’ll find the Catacombs of San Sebastiano and San Callisto (St Calixtus). They spread like a spider’s web underground, spanning hundreds and hundreds of metres.
There’s an incredible amount to see here but definitely don’t miss out on seeing the Papal Crypt. Not far away, you’ll then find the astoundingly large Catacombs of Domitilla with its 15 kilometres of tunnels and chambers and a complete underground basilica.
Good to know: The Catacombs are best avoided if you’re claustrophobic. Also remember to bring water and snacks, as many of the Catacombs are quite far from cafés and restaurants.
15. Terme di Diocleziano (Baths of Diocletian)
Here is another National Museum, the Terme di Diocleziano. These baths were truly huge and are now occupied by two churches and a museum. Inside the museum you’ll see all sorts of treasures. These include mosaics and frescoes, as well as sculptures and sarcophagi from through the ages.
Good to know: At the time of writing, the museum is undergoing restoration, so only some sections are open.
There is so much to see in Rome with famous landmarks and attractions galore. Don’t forget that Tivoli and Pompeii, as well as the glorious island of Capri, are also doable as day trips from Rome. If you’ve got enough time after seeing everything else!
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