Rome is known as the Eternal City because the ancient Romans believed that no matter what happened to our world, Rome would remain forever. Italy’s capital city is beautiful, vibrant and bursting with enough iconic landmarks, ancient remains and masterpieces to keep you coming back for years, for an eternity even. And that’s before you’ve even started on the food. So, what to do in Rome? Here are my top ten best things to do in Rome that’ll give you a taste of la dolce vita and put Rome in your heart forever.
Insider Tip: If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing while in Rome, you might want to get the Vatican & Rome City Pass. The pass gives you discounted or free entry to the city’s world-class museums and monuments, as well as free access to public transportation.
1. Visit Vatican City
I’ll start with the big one because you absolutely cannot go to Rome without paying a visit to Vatican City. I say the ‘big one’, but Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. Highlights are St Peter’s Basilica; climb the steps (or take the lift) to the top of the church dome and the viewing platforms for spectacular views of the city. With your feet back on the floor, head to the Vatican Museums which are home to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and countless old master paintings and sculptures. As you leave through the Piazza di San Pietro, look back for a view of the basilica in all its glory.
Insider Tip: You’ll need at least a day to explore, but book online in advance to avoid queuing for hours. For more information on how to get tickets to the Vatican and skip the long lines click here.
2. Cross the River to Trastevere
Trastevere means “beyond the Tiber,” and as soon as you arrive on the other side of the river you’ll feel the difference and know why it’s deemed one of the best things to do in Rome. Trastevere is a mooch-worthy maze of cobblestone streets and ochre painted buildings tumbling with ivy. Its relaxed bohemian vibe makes it the perfect area to chill or explore the myriad of trattorias, bars and boutiques.
3. Climb Gianicolo Hill
From Trastevere, climb the steps and take a short walk to Gianicolo Hill aka The Janiculum. It’s the highest vantage point in the city and from the terrace you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Rome. You’ll be able to see some of the city’s most iconic buildings, including St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vittoriano, Palazzo Venezia and the Spanish Steps. Stop awhile and breathe it all in.
4. Eat the Best Pizza in Rome
Eating pizza at the Pizzarium is one of the best things to do in Rome for foodies. It is owned by master pizza maker Gabriele Bonci, also known as the ‘Michelangelo of pizza.’ Toppings come in a cornucopia of mouth-watering combinations designed to complement the seasons. The base is the lightest, softest dough. There are over 60 off-the-wall toppings made with fresh quality ingredients. Pizza is sold by the slice and cut to size with scissors and priced per kilo according to toppings.
Insider Tip: If you’re in a group, ask to have each pizza slice cut into small squares so you can all have a taster of each.
5. The Pantheon
Check out the Pantheon dome which was built by the Romans in 125 A.D. It’s bigger than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and it’s not reinforced. That makes it the single largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Step inside to see The Eye of the Pantheon (the oculus) which measures 8.2m in diameter and is open to the sky. There are special channels in the floor which drain the rainwater away during wet weather. The area around the Pantheon is buzzy and vibrant with eateries, cafes and gelato shops. It’s also a prime spot for people watching.
6. Spritz It Up at Piazza Navona
The stunning Piazza Navona is lined with trattorias, restaurants, bars and the magnificent Renaissance Palazzo Braschi, which is home of the Museo di Roma. Taking centre stage is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. The beautifully carved figures represent the world’s four great rivers. Pick one of the many cafes or bars and enjoy an early evening l’aperitivo. The classic Roman aperitivo is a spritz, made with white wine or Prosecco, Campari or Aperol and soda water. Often light nibbles are included in the price of the drink.
7. Visit Rome’s Food Market
Rome’s most authentic market, and the largest, is the Mercato Trionfale. Romans are very serious about their food and here you’ll get to taste some quality DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) wines, cheeses and meats. The market is vast, vibrant and filled with an incredible array of home-grown produce, tastes, smells and sounds. I visited during one of the best food tours I’ve ever been on. And I’ve been on a few!
8. Colosseum & the Roman Forum
A visit to one of Rome’s most iconic and recognizable buildings, the Colosseum, is a must. As you walk the galleries you can almost imagine the roar of the spectators as they watched gladiators battling, chariots racing and maybe even the odd sacrifice in the arena. Built around 80AD the Colosseum with its 80 arched entrances was built as a gift to the people of Rome. Entry was free and seats were allocated according to nobility. Nowadays you’ll have to pay to get in and to get the best from your visit it’s definitely worth paying a little extra by taking a guided tour where you’ll get to see the underground areas, top tier and avoid the queues.
Make sure to take a look at our guide on how to buy tickets for the Colosseum and skip the long lines as well.
The Roman Forum leading from the Colosseum to Capitoline Hill is a vast area of ruins but was once the focal point of the ancient city. On a walk along Via Sacra, ancient Rome’s main street, you’ll pass by some of the Forum’s most important temples, basilicas and triumphal arches and get a real feel of how life was in ancient Rome.
9. Find the Secret Keyhole in the Aventino
There’s a door to the Priory of the Knights of Malta up on Aventine Hill which holds a delicious secret. Peek through the keyhole and you’ll be rewarded with a perfectly aligned view of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the distance.
10. Throw a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
Finally, no list of the best things to do in Rome would be complete without a trip to Nicola Salvi’s Trevi Fountain. Neptune with his tritons and galloping white horses are a sight to behold. Throw a coin into the fountain because if you do, legend says you’ll be sure to return to Rome. Just as well because by now it’ll have taken a piece of your heart.
Where to Stay in Rome
- Best Hostel: The Yellow
- Best Budget Hotel: Hotel Hiberia
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hotel Quirinale
- Best Luxury Hotel: Rome Cavalieri
- Best Airport Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Rome Airport
Don’t forget to also take a look at Airbnb. There are many beautiful apartment rentals available in Rome, many of which are cheaper than your average hotel. For recommendations check out our list of the best Airbnbs in Rome.
Popular Day Trips from Rome
Below are some popular day trips from Rome that you might enjoy doing.
- Villa D’Este & Hadrian’s Villa Tivoli Day Tour from Rome
- Pompeii Full-Day Trip from Rome
- Ancient Appian Way, Aqueducts & Catacombs Bike Tour
- Capri & Blue Grotto Day Trip from Rome
- Best of Tuscany Day Tour from Rome
- Ponza Island Day Trip from Rome
Be sure to check out my other article for some practical tips on visiting Rome with useful information on airport transfers, getting around, best time to visit and sightseeing tips.