Rome is sometimes referred to as the Eternal City because of its long history and enduring culture. Today, it is the political and cultural heart of Italy and one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Not only was Rome the capital of the ancient world’s most powerful empire, it was also an important center for new styles of art, technological innovations and architectural advances. The city’s complex and fascinating past is still on display in museums, ancient buildings, and historic ruins. But Rome does not only live for its past glory. The cuisine, art, and culture of modern Rome are just as exciting as its history-themed attractions.
Here are the 100 most memorable attractions, both modern and ancient, in the Eternal City.
This museum has one of the world’s largest collections of religious art. It is, however, best known for its circular staircase, which spirals up between the museum’s different levels. The museum has a virtually endless network of halls that act as exhibit spaces. Many Renaissance art luminaries created work that now hangs in these galleries. The most famous: the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo covered the walls and ceilings with detailed, religious-themed frescos.
This is not something you expect to find in Rome: a museum featuring the artifacts and history of Napoleon Bonaparte and his family. The museum includes information about the famous/infamous leader and his family. Why is this museum here? After Napoleon died, his family was allowed to live in Rome after receiving permission from the pope.
Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia
There are many art galleries and history museums in Rome. This is one of the most unique. Villa Giulia houses the world’s largest collection of Etruscan art and artifacts. While the Roman ruins are more popular amongst history buffs, these remnants of the Etruscan civilization are even more ancient, dating back to several hundred years before Roman times.
This exhibit space is situated near the Colosseum. While most tourists simply stop by the famous ancient stadium and then leave the area, the Capitoline Museum is definitely worth a look for those interested in the history of the Roman Empire. It contains numerous works of art, including larger than life statues and busts of Roman leaders like Nero, Constantine and Marcus Aurelius. Other works of art, including replicas of ancient Greek sculptures, are also housed here.
Casino Nobile Museum
This museum features art works collected by a family of Roman art patrons in the 1700s. The Casino Nobile is connected to Villa Torlonia, a lareg compound with landscaped gardens. The World War II-era dictator Benito Mussolini stayed here during the early part of his reign. Some of the furnishings and photographs from his time are displayed in the museum along with the original works of Baroque-era art.
Museo di Civilta Romana (Museum of Rome’s Civilization)
This museum in Southern Rome near the Apian Way is probably best known for its large, lifelike model of Ancient Rome. The detailed reconstruction includes the most famous buildings in the city. There are plenty of other exhibits in the Museo di Civilta Romana as well. These use plaster cast figures, detailed reconstructions, and life-like models to show of what life was like in Rome during the height of the Roman Empire.
Museo delle Paste Alimentari (The Pasta Museum)
While ancient history and world-class art dominate Rome’s museums scene, visitors should not forget about the other aspects of the city’s culture. The Museo delle Paste Alimentari provides in depth insights into Italy’s most famous contribution to global cuisine: pasta. This is a great attraction for people who want to take a break from ancient history and high-brow art and focus on something a little more lighthearted. It would be a mistake for anyone interested in food or cooking to leave this museum off of their itinerary.
Museum of Walls
This is a museum that is located at a gate in the Aurelian Walls near the Apian Way Zone in southern Rome. The walls themselves, built during Roman times, remain in good condition and are a major attraction in and of themselves. The museum, which features exhibits about the walls original construction and recent restoration, is only part of the attraction. You can actually access a top section of the wall through the museum and look out just as Roman guards did Centuries ago.
Here is another great spot for people wanting to take a break from history-themed sightseeing and focus on a different subject for a few hours. The Planetarium features regular light and solar system shows. There is also a good museum adjacent to the theater area with a number of exhibits about planets and outer space.
National Museum of Musical Instruments
This museum explores another important aspect of Italian culture: classic music and opera. The museum houses a collection that was amassed by an opera singer during his lifetime. Over 3,000 pieces are in the collection and more than 800 are displayed at any one time. Musical implements from Greek and Egyptian times are also found in the exhibit halls, as are more exotic instruments from the Far East and Africa.
This is one of the most popular and easily accessible parks in Rome. It sits on its namesake hill and overlooks the Piazza del Popolo. From the park’s overlook points, visitors can see some of Rome’s most famous landmarks, including the Vatican, Monte Marlo, and the Vittoriano Monument. The park has an impressive collection of statues and ample green-space. It is directly adjacent to Villa Borghese, a compound that houses the most famous of Rome’s gardens and museums.
This plaza feature Baroque design and statues by some of its era’s best artists, including Bernini. The piazza was built around an ancient Roman stadium (the Stadium of Domitian). The arena’s shape was kept when the plaza was designed. Today, Navona is one of the best remaining examples of the many Baroque-style public squares in Italy. Aside from the architecture and design, this is a great place to sip a wine or a cappuccino in a plaza-side cafe while you watch the city go by.
Piazza della Rotonda
People often overlook this plaza as they make a b-line for the Pantheon, which sits on one side of the Rotunda. This square has a fountain and a very colorful history. For most of the past, the Pantheon sat ignored and market stalls and shops were set up in front of it. At one point, a bird market took up a large portion of the Rotonda. Today, the piazza is definitely worth exploring as part of a Pantheon-themed afternoon of sightseeing.
Campo dei Fiori
Known for its produce market, which takes place in the daytime, the Campo is one of the most recognizable squares in Rome. However, there is more to do here than browse fruits, flowers, vegetables, and Italian spices. In the evenings, vendors head home and the square fills with young people socializing, lovers out for a romantic stroll, and tourists relaxing after a day of sightseeing. This is one of Rome’s most atmospheric public spaces and a great place to spend an afternoon and evening.
These steps, the background for many Rome vacation snapshots, were built in the 1720s. Their name comes from their original purpose, which was to link the Spanish embassy of that time with the Vatican. Today, they connect two plazas, but are arguably a bigger attraction than the plazas and other area sights. Along with the Pantheon and Colosseum, a picture on the Spanish Steps is must for many Rome tourists.
Via Veneto and the Palazzo Margherita
The Margherita Palace, on Via Veneto, is young by Roman standards. It is just over 120 years old. This building now houses the American embassy. However, appreciating the Margherita’s architecture is only one reason to visit the area. Via Veneto was the setting for some of the films of famed Italina auteur Federico Fellini. Film buffs will appreciate the fact that some of the places from his best-known work, La Dolce Vida, are still in operation today.
Piazza Barberini (Triton Fountain)
This square is know for its fountain, which is topped by a statue of the sea-god Triton. Originally built in the Barque style and skirted by a palace and other ornate buildings, it has outlived many of its original surroundings Almost all of the square’s buildings have been rebuilt or replaced at least once since the mid-1600s. Barberini is at the crossroads of central Rome and many people pass by on their way to the Trevi Fountain or to take in Rome from the top of the Quiniral Hill.
Saint Peter’s Square
This square covers a large part of Vatican City, the world’s smallest independent state. The Vatican’s cathedral and the pope’s residence are visible from the square, which is often the setting for religious-themed events and papal appearances. The expansive size of this square and the surrounding buildings make it a unique place to visit even if you are not interested in the religious aspect of the space. Visiting on days other than Sunday and Wednesday allow you to miss the heaviest crowds.
Piazza del Campidoglio
This piazza, at the heart of Capitoline Hill, was originally designed by Michelangelo. Today, it is a popular stopping point for visitors who are on their way to one of the hill’s many attractions. The plaza features numerous statues, which depict important Italian historic figures.
Piazza del Popolo
This large public space features several fountains and statues, as well as an Egyptian monument, which was brought to Rome more than 2,000 years ago and still stands today inside the plaza. Popolo is also home to the oft-photographed twin churches. The domed structures sit side-by-side in the shadow of the Egyptian monument. With such an array sights from different cultural and religious traditions, this is one of the most interesting sightseeing spots in Rome.
If you visit one site in all of Rome, it had better be this one. The reasonably well-kept ruins of this Roman arena create a picture that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of the Eternal City. This is a place of deep history and atmosphere. It is also a very crowded place. People can avoid the crowds and lines by taking part in an organized tours, which will allow them access to a guide and to a special entrance that is off limits to the general public.
Arguably more interesting that the Colosseum, the Roman Forum contains the ruins of buildings that were once at the heart of history’s most powerful empire. Many of these 2,000 year old structures are still standing, though most are crumbling and only a shadow of what they once were. Still, for history buffs and curiosity seekers, this is as close as you can get to the most important relics of the Roman empire.
The Apian Way
This is the road that led to Rome. Though the cement has worn away, the road itself is still in good shape and the cobblestones which form the base are still in place. An attraction in and of itself, the Apian Way is also located in a scenic natural area outside of Rome. A host of other attractions, including Roman walls, cemeteries, and museums are located in the Apian Way Zone, making it a great day-trip destination.
Arch of Constantine
This aged but well preserved arch from the Roman era still stands in Rome. Known for its three doorways, the arch boasts intricate designs. Aside from still-visible inscriptions, including the names of some of Rome’s most influential military and political leaders, the arch features scenes of military glory from the time when Rome enjoyed unprecedented success in its conquest of the known world.
One of the original Seven Hills of Rome, Palatine offers good views of the Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum. The ruins of a palace complex are still standing on the hill, as are villas used by Roman government officials and their families. Archeologists suggest that Rome’s very first emperor, Augustus, was born in a building on Palatine Hill. So this hill is a good place to visit both for its ruins and for the views it offers of Rome’s more well-known ruins.
This building was one of Rome’s main records rooms. It is a very significant place because it was where the written history of the Roman empire was stored. The Tabelarium is also one of the best and most complete examples of architecture in the Roman Forum. It is largely intact and can be accessed from the Capitonline Museum.
Trajan’s Markets are another collection of 2,000-year-old ruins in Rome. Sections of this area are still largely intact. When they were first discovered, the markets led to new insights about life in ancient Rome and about Roman architecture. Once thought to be the world’s oldest retail district, most scholars now think that the “markets” were a mix of shopping and administrative buildings. Marble floors are still visible inside some of the structures, and there are remains of what scholars think was a library.
Mausoleo di Augusto (Mausoleum of Augustus)
This is the mausoleum of one of the Roman Empire’s first and most famous rulers, Augustus. Many people consider Augustus to be the founder of the Roman Empire. He built this tomb for himself when he was still alive. The ruins cannot be entered by the general public, but they are still a prominent landmark and a must-visit for people who are interested in the history of ancient Rome and its ambitious rulers.
These walls, which once surrounded all of ancient Rome, are surprisingly well kept. They have been renovated since their original construction and are arguably among the best remaining examples of structures built by the ancient Romans. The walls were used as fortifications even into the 18th Century. Certain sections remain more intact than others; the section near the Villa Borghese and another near the Apian Way are among the most stunningly preserved.
Rome’s National Museum at the Baths of Diocletian
This is the largest and grandest public bathhouse built in all of Ancient Rome. The baths are still preserved, though most of the structure is taken up by the exhibits of the National Museum. The National Museum’s halls features works by Michelangelo and artifacts found in this and other bath houses around Rome. There is also a section of even more ancient artifacts dating back to Etruscan times.
Take in a soccer match at the Stadio Olimpico
Built for the 1960 Olympics, Rome’s Stadio Olimpico remains a major venue for sporting events. It was renovated since its construction and now has a roof to keep out cold or rainy weather. Two Italian football clubs play their home matches at Olimpico: AC Roma and Lazio. International matches in both football and rugby are hosted regularly at the stadium, as are concerts and performances. If you are looking to attend a premier sporting event in Rome, this is probably the best place to do it.
Concerts at the auditorium in Parco della Musica
The auditorium at Parco della Musica has three theaters. Each theater is built separately to ensure complete soundproofing. Aside from the excellent acoustics, this is a great venue for catching all types of musical performances, especially opera. The venue’s operators claim that the Parco della Muscia is one of the most visited classical music concert spaces in the world, with more than 1 million annual tickets sold.
Spending time with the Pope
The pope, one of the most recognizable religious figures in the world, appears every Sunday at noon on the balcony of his apartment in Saint Peter’s Square. Crowds gather to hear him give his weekly blessing at this time. There is a another appearance on Wednesdays, in the morning. You have to get tickets for this appearance, but they are completely free. If the pope is traveling, as he often is, then the appearances are canceled, so it is best to make sure in advance if you plan to attend.
Piazza Vittorio movies and festivals
This is a large public space with gardens and art from the 1800s. It is Rome’s largest piazza and always has a bustling atmosphere and a rather fast pace (it is not necessarily the first place you would want to go when you need some quiet relaxation). However, if excitement and energy are on your itinerary, Vittorio is a great place to visit because it hosts festivals and outdoor events throughout the year. A large film festival takes place with movies shown in the plaza during the summertime.
White Night (Notte Bianca)
Each September Rome hosts a series of events that take place throughout the night. Different museums open their doors to the public and stop charging admission. Many are open for the entire night. There are also concerts and other types of performances taking place outdoors. Even churches, art galleries and historic monuments open their doors throughout the night so that people can visit free of charge.
Estate Romana Festival
Estate Romana is a diverse festival with all sorts of outdoor entertainment. Events range from concerts (classical, opera, jazz, and rock) to street performances, art shows and family events. These events take place regularly between June and early September. If you have to choose a time of year to visit, Estate Romana makes summer a great option because there will always be something going on no matter what days of the week you are in Rome.
Roma Europa Festival
This is another arts-focused festival in Rome. It takes place in late autumn and features a more contemporary tone. Performance artists, modern dance troupes and fresh takes on classic works of art and music make this one of the more interesting and inventive festivals on Rome’s calendar. This event is a must for modern art aficionados and tourists looking for a hipper side of Rome.
Rome Jazz Festival
This festival has been running for more than thirty years. Before you start thinking that this is just another series of concerts featuring bland elevator music, consider this: past performers include everyone from Miles Davis and Fats Domino to Bob Dylan and Norah Jones. The festival takes place in November at venues around the city.
Rome Cinema Fest
This is another major fall event. It is a juried film festival that draws some of Europe’s best independent producers and filmmakers. Despite launching in 2006, the festival is already a huge success and draws celebrities and auteurs from around the world, including some of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces. There are a few premiere of major films each year, as well as a juried contest for newer directors, actors, and children’s films.
This springtime race passes some of Rome’s most recognizable tourist attractions. Since the course is quite flat, it is a good race for casual runners who want to combine their racing with some sightseeing. You don’t have to run 26-plus miles to enjoy the route, which passes many of the most famous sites in Rome. Spectators line the streets to cheer on the racers.
Via dei Condotti
This street is one of the busiest and hippest shopping streets in Rome, and, arguably, in all of Europe. Major Italian fashion design labels have boutiques along this often-crowded street. Condetti is comparable to the best shopping streets in Milan, New York and Paris, making it a must stop for everyone from fashion-aficionados to shoppers looking to splurge to people who are just curious. The likes of Valentino, Armani, and Ferragamo have stores along Condetti.
This store-heavy street runs parallel to Via Condetti. It has a number of fashion boutiques, including stores run by Dolce and Gabbana, Fendi, and Biagiotti. Like its peers, Borgogna is not a cheap place to shop. It is easy to find price tags that run into the thousands of dollars or euros. However, this street is always busy and has a good energy, making it one of the better places to window shop in Italy (if you don’t want to make a four-figure purchase).
This ancient market was recently moved indoors after spending centuries in its original outdoor location. It is the place to come if you are searching for good deals. Cheap-but-well-made clothing is found in one section of the market, while foods, from fish and meat to produce and artesanal goods, take up the rest of the large retail space. If you find Rome’s boutiques too expensive, or if you simply want to see a traditional Italian market, Mercato Esquilino is a good addition to your Rome itinerary.
Campo de’ Fiori
This square is used as a market during the daytime and overtaken by young Romans and tourists at night. Obviously, shoppers want to come in the day, when the atmosphere of the square adds to the overall experience of browsing through the market stalls. Most of the stalls here sell food, and there are plenty of cafes and small bistros along the square that are ideal spots to take a break from shopping.
Viale di Trastevere
This long street in the Trastevere District is another great place to find goods that are cheap but of reasonable quality. Stands set up along the street sell fruit, flowers and other types of edibles. Savvy locals and in-the-known tourists come here for the high quality knock-offs of popular Italian brands. You can find clothing and accessories that look like brand-name items, but without the high price tag.
Via del Corso
This remarkably straight street in the heart of Rome is a tourist attraction in and of itself. It is intersected at one point by Via Condetti (see above), another shopping mecca. However, Corso has more than high-end fashion boutiques and catwalk-ready clothing. Stores along the Corso include Disney, Diesel, Adidas, Nike and Lacoste. Plazas and historic buildings make this a great place to visit even if you aren’t in the market for a new shirt or some new shoes.
If you want to see what the Roman shopping mall scene is like, you can head out of the city center to the EUR District. This is where the gigantic Euroma2 is located. This shopping mall has over 200 shops and restaurants. Most sell fashion accessories and clothing, though there are other types of retail outlets as well. Even if you aren’t in the market for new clothes, this could be a good place to spend a hot summer afternoon because of its powerful air conditioning and good choice of eateries.
This high-end department store is one of Italy’s most popular chains. The chain was founded in Milan, but there are now locations in major cities all over Italy. Rome has two locations, one of which was the first department store in the entire city. You probably wouldn’t consider any of La Rinascente’s products to be bargain priced, but they have everything you could want in a department store, including designer fashions, casual clothes, beauty products and accessories for both men and women.
If you want brand-name fashions but don’t want to pay boutique prices, the best option in Rome is Castel Romano. This is an outlet mall with shops selling brand name fashions at discounts of 30 % or, if you’re lucky, even more. The mall is actually located outside of Rome, but is worth the trip if you want to find bargains. Unfortunately, Castel Romano lacks the atmosphere and charm of Rome’s inner city shopping streets.
Via del Tritone
This street in the heart of Rome near major landmarks like the Tevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. This is arguably the most centrally-located place to shop. Stores and prices tend towards the high end, though there are all sorts of options. Tritone is near to Via Corso, giving shoppers even more choices.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna
This Roman Gallery is dedicated to modern art. If you want to experience something besides Ancient Roman and Renaissance art, this is where to look. 75 rooms feature art from 19th and 20th Century Italian artists. Though the focus is on Italian neoclassical art and other recent styles, there are some non-Italian works by world-famous artists like Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and Cezanne.
Borghese Museum and Gallery
If you are interested in Renaissance art, one of the best places to start your high brow sightseeing is the Borghese Gallery. It has one of the best collections of Italian Renaissance art in the world. However, paintings and sculptures are not the only things inside this villa. Antiques dating back to Roman times and mosaics that date back well over 2,000 years are also shown in the gallery. The National Museum of Musical Instruments is in an adjoining exhibit space, and the compound where the museum is housed also boasts an extensive garden.
This Renaissance-era palace is a work or art itself: it features angular design, a portico and classic columns. The interior is equally impressive. It features ornate frescos, inlays and paintings.
Santa Maria del Popolo
This church has some of the most famous religious art in all of Rome. The domed ceiling features a mosaic telling the story of the creation of the earth. It was created by the famous Renaissance artist Rafael. Another 16th Century art superstar, Caravaggio, contributed two paintings on canvas to the church. Aside from the main area, there are several smaller chapels, which contain other works of art, from paintings to mosaics. Aside from the Sistine Chapel, this is one of the best places to see the religious-themed work of Renaissance-era masters.
This Renaissance villa sits in Rome’s Trastevere district. An angular, multi-storey structure like many villas of its era, Farnesina’s owner commissioned the best artists of his day to decorate his villa. Frescos by Rafael, depicting mythical scenes with Cupid and Psyche, are found inside the house, as are some amazing works of perspective by another Renaissance great, Peruzzi. All the main rooms inside the villa are open to visitors.
MAXXI (Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo)
This is another contemporary gallery space that proves that Rome’s artists are not living in the past. Italian artists play a central role in the galleries of MAXXI, though artists from all over the world are represented. The museum’s entire collection is valued at over €100 million. The building itself, designed by British-Iraqi celebrity architect Zaha Hadid (whose structures are found all over Europe), is as much of an attraction as the work found in the galleries themselves.
MACRO is an acronym for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome. This is a municipal art museum that is focused on recent works of art. Whereas some museums take “modern art” to mean anything that was created in the past 200 years, MACRO displays works that are less than 50 years old. If you are seeking to get some insight into modern Italian art, MACRO is actually a better option that the more-globally-oriented MAXXI.
Casa di Goethe (Goethe’s House)
Goethe, a famous German writer, lived in Rome with several of his creative countrymen late in the 1700s. They stayed in a house that has been turned into a museum. The museum has its own collection of art work, poems, diary entries and letters. The venue also has an impressive collection of period furnishing and décor, which helps visitors to experience the time period in a more realistic way. This is definitely one of the most unique art-related exhibit spaces in all of Rome.
This huge fountain (it stands nearly 26 meters tall) is arguably the most famous fountain in the entire world. It features multiple figures carved out of stone and set in a rocky surrounding. The fountain was originally built following the Roman tradition of placing a fountain at the endpoint of a major aqueduct (the main source of water in ancient Rome). It remains one of the best remaining examples of Baroque sculpture in the entire world. It is lit up at night to create an even more atmospheric scene.
Le Quattro Fontane
Perhaps more interesting, but definitely less publicized, are the Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains). They are located at the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale in Central Rome. The fountains depict different scenes: the Tiber River, the Arno River (near Florence), the goddess Juno, and the goddess Diana. Smaller and less intricate than Trevi, they often pass unnoticed, but for visitors who know their history and the skill that went into making these fountains, they are an exciting and photo-worthy attraction.
This is one of the true architectural marvels of the ancient world. It is easily recognizable because of its straight, tall columns and domed roof. Statues and ornate inlays characterize the interior, though the architecture itself is arguably the most impressive feature of this popular attraction. The Pantheon was primarily used as a burial place. Important Italian historic figures have their tombs inside the building.
Temple of Hadrian
This temple is in the Campus Martius (along with the Pantheon and other historic sites like the Tomb of Augustus). Though it has not been as well-kept as the Pantheon, the parts of this building that remain are nonetheless impressive. Towering Corinthian columns still survive from the original structure. Some of the stones from the temple also survived, but they are no longer in the walls of building. Many of the stones from the original temple were used to create the adjacent Piazza di Pietra.
Nearly 2,000 years old, this castle is also a relic of the reign of Hadrian. It was originally built as a mausoleum, but has been used as a fortress and a castle by various leaders, including several popes. It was even used as a prison and place of execution from time to time over its long history. Artwork, including several baroque statues, was added to the grounds over 1000 years after the original construction.
Saint Peter’s Basilica
This massive church in Vatican City is considered the most important worship space in the Christian religious tradition. It is built in the style of the late Renaissance with arching ceilings and intricate decorations throughout. Though it is not an official papal church, it is considered by many to be the most important Catholic worship space in the world. The basilica is built over a site where a church stood more than 1,800 years ago. Michelangelo designed the church’s dome, making this an impressive site even if you are not interested in its religious significance.
Santa Maria Maggiore
This church is an interesting attraction for a couple of reasons. The structure itself is attractive, with a long, column-lined interior and an impressive collection of detailed statues. Second, Santa Maria holds some of the most well-kept mosaics from the early days of Christianity. Some of these detailed works of art date back to as early as the 5th Century and are remarkably well-preserved.
This monument is an example of more modern Italian art and architecture. It was originally built to honor Victor Emmanuel, the man who was the first king of Italy after it was unified under one ruler. The structure was recently renovated after being originally constructed less than 100 years ago. Along with a depiction of the famous leader, the monument features rows of Corinthian-style columns. The monument is built with white marble and boasts a towering hight of almost 82 meters.
This villa, built by a powerful Roman family in the early 1800s, is a great example of Italian neoclassical architecture. Aside from the villa, the grounds house a circular theater and a series of Swiss-style cottages. Long before World War II, Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator, used this villa as secondary residence. An onsite museum puts the villa and its many resdients in historic context.
This amazing post-Renaissance structure and the surrounding landscapes are a great example of Roman architectural ambitions in the 1700s and 1800s. The area surrounding the main building is now a public park. After being the scene of fierce fighting during Italy’s many conflicts before unification, the villas was renovated and its interiors were given an Art Nouveau flair. True architecture aficionados will be able to see Pamphili’s history in its many different influences.
Not only is this district a great place for food and culture, it is also a good place to see the quintessential architecture of urban Rome. The narrow lane-ways and plazas are lined with buildings that have their own sense of history. Famous architects and Renaissance artists were not involved in their construction, but Italian cinema and modern travel literature have nonetheless made these streets a legendary part of Rome and a necessary sight for those seeking a true Roman experience.
Saint Peter Square
This square covers a large portion of the world’s smallest nation: Vatican City. This is a popular and much-photographed place, lined by famous buildings like the Papal apartment and Saint Peter’s Basilica. Sometimes the scene of religious events involving the pope, it is an impressive sight even for those not interested in its religious significance.
Catacomb of Priscilla
These burial grounds were used in the 2nd Century. The walls and ceiling of certain chambers contain paintings, which are thought to be some of the earliest examples of religious art. Some chambers are also decorated with well-preserved mosaics.
Pyramid of Gaius Cestius
This pyramid was used throughout Rome’s history as part of its fortifications. It was incorporated with the Aurelian Walls that once surrounded Rome. This means that it has been well preserved and is one of the most complete Ancient Roman structures in the city today. It stands out because it sits right next to a modern roadway. While it is impossible to enter the pyramid, you can enjoy the structure and its many inscriptions from the outside.
Parco di Veio
This park sits on a site that was a major Etruscan settlement until these early inhabitants of Italy were defeated by the Romans about 2,300 years ago. Many of the items found during earlier archeological excavations were taken to Villa Giulia, which houses Rome’s biggest collection of Etruscan artifacts. However, the ruins, including the remains of a temple built to the god Apollo, still sit in the park grounds.
The Catacombs of San Sebastian
This small burial ground has long been one of Rome’s most accessible catacombs. Various parts of the structure have been built at later dates or renovated, but the original crypts and wall paintings from the 4th Century still remain. Perhaps the most interesting feature of this site is the graffiti, written by mourners and funeral attendees in the 4th and 5th Centuries. The Latin phrases are scrawled all over the catacombs original walls.
This was once one of Rome’s great public spaces: a stadium built for chariot races and other public events. Its remains can still be seen today. By some estimates, the stadium was the largest built in the entire Roman Empire, and it could seat well over 100,000 spectators. Unfortunately, most of the seating and structure has disappeared. However, it is still possible to see the track area and some of the starting gates, as well as several other sections of the stadium. The Circus is easily accessible because it is now a public park.
This villa is at the center of a large compound that was acquired by the Medici, one of Italian history’s most famous families, during the Renaissance era. The building has been the site of the French Academy since the early 1800s. It was used by French artists who came to Rome to study and hone their craft. Guided tours of the expansive gardens are held daily and concerts and other events often take place on the villas grounds.
Cimitero del Verano (Campo Verano)
This is one of Rome’s largest cemeteries. Founded in the early 1800s, it features a host of neoclassical monuments and statues. The grounds of the cemetery are divided into different parts. A section was used by Jewish people, a section reserved for Catholics and a more recent section reserved for those who were killed in World War I. A large monument was built to remember those killed in this war. This is definitely one of the most art-oriented and interesting cemeteries that you will ever visit.
This building was used as an embassy for Venetian diplomats in the time before Italy was unified. Today it is a museum and one of the most interesting examples of architecture, both inside and out, from its era. The museum and art gallery inside draw serious museum aficionados and people looking an alternative to the more well-known Roman art museums.
Terme di Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla were not the largest public bath houses in Rome. However, they were the most opulent and luxurious. They are also one of the most well-preserved of the remaining public spaces from Imperial Rome. If you visit during the summertime, you can see opera performances at Caracalla. In fact, the famous Three Tenors concert took place here in the early 1990s.
Ostia is a popular place for Romans because of its beaches. However, the seaside town also has an accessible and uncrowded ancient site called Ostia Antica. Originally a colony of Rome, Ostia’s ruins include a forum, two bathhouses with well-preserved mosaics, the remains of an arena, and, perhaps the most impressive structures, a series of warehouses and docks that are among the most well-preserved buildings remaining from their era. If Rome’s crowds and entrance fees are too much, Ostia Antica is a very good alternative.
This is arguably the most authentic of all the markets in Rome (complete with elderly shoppers who have no problem elbowing you aside to get to the front of the queue). Produce is everywhere, as are meats, seafood and baked goods. If you are self-catering or in search of some authentic picnic foods, this is the best place to look. A flower market is also located in Testaccio.
Trattorias of Aventino
The small neighborhood eateries that are found in the back streets and lanes of the Aventino District offer some of the best, most authentic food in Rome. Many times, the waiter is also the cook and the owner. These places are usually pretty welcoming with staff stopping by your table to chat and give you the details about how your meal was prepared.
Trattorias of Testaccio
Not only is Testaccio home to Rome’s most bustling market, it is also another great place for local restaurants. Known as trattorias, some of these eateries have outdoor seating as well as indoor seating. Like the eateries in Aventino and other districts around Rome, dining is usually a casual affair, with most of these venues offering a warm atmosphere to go along with their fresh, authentic food.
This is another good place to eat at small-scale restaurants. It is arguably the best district to find quality eats at cheap prices. You can forego fast food joints and restaurants that obviously cater to tourists and scan the atmospheric side streets for local tratorias and cafes serving authentic Roman fare that is made using only the freshest ingredients. Good local restaurants don’t fill up until 8 or so in the evening, which is meal time for locals.
This neighborhood has many students, so it is an obvious place to find cheap food and drink. Lorenzo features lots of nightlife options and plenty of cafes that are more welcoming and laid-back than the upscale ones found in the more central parts of the city. Some younger people simply take their wine or beer into the plazas and enjoy a cheap night out. The advantage of San Lorenzo is that, although the food is cheap and relatively simple, the ingredients are still of high quality and the dishes often have a homemade taste.
What trip to Rome would be complete without some gelato? Rich ice cream flavors that will put anything you could get on the other side of the Atlantic to shame are easy to find at small ice cream shops around the city. Ingredients are fresh and real (yes, those are real berries in the berry flavored ice creams) and prices are usually quite reasonable.
Rome is the cultural and economic center of Italy, so the best wines from all the grape-growing regions of Italy are found here. Bottles from Tuscany and Umbria are easy to find in Roman restaurants, bars, and shops. But it is finding some of the lesser known gems from Eastern and Southern Italy that will be the most memorable Rome experience for wine aficionados.
Coffee drinks are another essential beverage for anyone who wants a complete Rome experience. Cafes serve up authentic versions of all those drinks that have become so popular because of Starbucks and other coffee chains. In Rome, you can get real cappuccinos and espressos, and maybe some coffee-based drinks that you have never heard of. Global coffee culture is, more or less, based on Italy’s cafe scene, so it is interesting to see and taste these bean-based drinks at their source.
High-end food is still a part of Rome’s eating scene, even though trattorias offer an arguably more authentic experience. La Pergola is a three-Michelin star restaurant. A huge wine cellar is only one aspect of this eatery. There is a menu for mineral waters, olive oils and vinegars as well. This is a jacket-required kind of place, but it is hard to argue with three Michelin stars (the highest rating possible) and the best ingredients Italy and the Mediterranean have to offer.
This is another gourmet spot. Its focus is seafood. Fish is delivered throughout the day, making it possible for the restaurant to serve the freshest ingredients. Oysters and other shellfish are also on the menu, as are cuttlefish and octopus. This is definitely a gourmet take on seafood, but anyone who loves food from the sea will appreciate the attention to freshness and detail at Rome’s best seafood restaurant.
Though it is not one of the famous seven hills of ancient Rome, Janiculum Hill is the second highest point in the city and the best place to enjoy scenic views. Located in the Trastevere District, this is a good stopping point if you want to catch a glimpse of Rome from on high. If you are ambitious enough to walk up the hill, you will pass through the atmospheric and historic neighborhoods of Trastevere, an attraction in their own right.
Orto Botanico (Botanical Gardens)
This garden, also located in the Trastevere area, features a huge array of native and exotic plants. The garden has been welcoming visitors for nearly 130 years. It has over 3,000 species of plants. One of the most interesting services is for visually impaired visitors, who are welcomed to touch and smell certain plants as they tour the grounds.
These ornate gardens are overseen by the authorities of Vatican City. Unfortunately, you cannot visit these gardens on your own. Visitors are required to be a part of a guided tour. Booking in advance is recommended. Still, horticulture enthusiasts will enjoy the beautifully landscaped green-spaces and collection of colorful plant life.
Located in Aventino, on top of the district’s namesake hill, the Keyhole View is one of the more unique attractions in Rome. Basically, visitors look through two rows of trees and through a key-hole-like gate that perfectly frames Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City. This is a great place for a unique skyline picture.
There are a couple of reasons to visit this park. It is located near the top of the Aventino Hill, not far from the location of the Keyhole View. The grounds and orange grove in the area make it a pleasant place to take a break from sightseeing. Also, the park offers good views of Rome’s skyline, arguably challenging Janiculum Hill for the title of best skyline views in Rome.
Rose Garden, (overlooking Circus Maximus)
The Rose Garden, which is near the Circus Maximus, is another green-space and garden that is ideal for taking a few minutes to rest from the tourist rat race and relaxing in a natural setting. The garden features a permanent collection of heirloom roses. A collection of roses that are bred annually for competitive purposes is also housed inside the garden.
Villa Celimontana Park
This park, on one of the Seven Hills of Rome, was formerly a vineyard, but was converted into a garden and used by a wealthy Roman family to entertain guests during the Renaissance era. Marble sculptures, fountains, and a fish pond lend a sense of peace to this quiet green-space. Celimontana also has a deep sense of history. Only a few tourists find their way here, but it is a very popular spot for locals who come to shoot pictures for their wedding album.
One doesn’t really think of Rome as a beach city. However, the nearby town of Ostia has a scenic section of seafront that draws sun-seekers and swimmers from all around the Greater Rome area. In fact, the town is sometimes referred to as the Roman Riviera. The beach is lined with lounge chairs during the summer and can be quite crowded. So people looking for a quiet swim might be disappointed, but people who want to experience a lively and social beach scene will find Ostia the perfect place.
The Borghese Gardens are much more than a park and garden, though the quiet natural landscapes do lend themselves nicely to a relaxing stroll or a picnic lunch. The garden grounds include a zoo, an art museum, and a lake that is perfect for rowing or paddle-boating. Events, from concerts to horse show-jumping contests, are held regularly at the gardens.
This is the highest hill in the modern city of Rome. It features a large nature preserve, which sits on the hill’s slopes. The top of the hill has an observatory. Yes, like Rome’s other high points, it has good views of the skyline. However, the well-maintained wooded paths and fresh air make it a great place for a stroll even if you have already had your fill of skyline views.
With all these attractions to choose from, it is easy to see why Rome is such a popular tourist destination. Even seeing a few of these many sightseeing options will make for a memorable vacation.
Header image credit: jonrawlinson