15 of the best things to do in Rome on your first visit
Looking for the best things to do in Rome? I don’t blame you…let’s face it, these past few years have had a lot of ups and downs. During the pandemic many of our happiest moments were when we were eating an entire tub of cookie dough ice cream whilst spending 3 hours watching TikTok videos of dogs singing to Bruno Mars. No? Just me… never mind then…
But NOW…we’re free, the summer season approaches, and it’s time to live life again. And the best way to do that is by living as the Romans do, quite literally (except for the gladiator fight to the death thing, of course). It’s time to book a plane ticket and take that trip to Rome!
And to help you on your way, here are 15 of our top recommendations:
1. Visit the Vatican Museum
First stop on our Roman express is the good old Vatican City. Known for being the Pope’s number 1 hangout spot and for its breath-taking architecture, the Vatican City is the place to be, so a visit here is one of the best things to do in Rome.
It is home to the beautiful Vatican Museum, a goldmine that houses over 70,000 pieces of classical and historical artwork! Whilst there I would recommend checking out the famous statue of Laocoön and His Sons or the statue of Charity with Four Children. Both pieces and many more are there to suck you up in history and transport you to a more heavenly world.
All the iconic Lizzie McGuire destinations in Rome you need to see before the reboot
2. Visit the Sistine chapel
Vatican City has another icon to explore: the Sistine chapel. A renowned religious chapel, it’s famous for its elaborate and intricate architecture, including a fantastic fresco by the one and only Michelangelo. (It’s also where new Popes are oriented).
Fun fact: did you know that residents of the Vatican City drink more wine than anywhere else in the world? About 54.26 litres of wine exactly. It’s for Jesus, ok? So after the tour, why not grab a glass of chianti and join in the fun.
3. Palatine Hill
Next stop is the majestic Palatine Hill. Considered to be one of the most desirable places in Ancient Rome, and a place where emperors and aristocrats frequently visited, these ruins will truly make you feel honoured to be immersed in ancient history. Palatine’s neighbours include the impressive Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, and the Roman Forum.
These striking ruins can be enjoyed from its central location providing a stunning view of Rome. Better yet, the cooler temperatures in the summer, and the cleaner air only make this a place for ultimate summer satisfaction.
If you’re a fan of mythology, then I’m happy to tell you it’s believed to be the location of the temple of the Vestal Virgins and the cave where Romulus and Remus were raised by the she-wolf. So if you like an origin story, Palatine Hill is for sure one of the best things to do in Rome!
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4. Castle Sant Angelo
Built by Emperor Hadrian for his family, what started off as a humble beginning turned into a historical horror show. The castle is connected to the Vatican City and used as a place for the Pope to escape to for refuge. Not only was the castle used as a military base with a collection of impressive weapons, but it was also a place for execution and imprisonment. It held some of the most important historical figures in history, such as Giordano Bruno.
Even though its history may not be comforting, seeing it in person will give you an appreciation for its spectacular architecture!
By the way, did you know that you could be locked up just for wearing the colour purple back then? Yeah, information like this makes me appreciate living in modern times…
5. St Peter’s Basilica
As many of you know Rome has an important connection to Christianity, so obviously its churches are decked out with sculptures, relics and art. St. Peter’s Basilica doesn’t disappoint in this area! Known as one of THE iconic works of Renaissance architecture it lives up to its name as one of the greatest buildings of its age. It includes art such as the famous statue of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Trust me: seeing this incredible church is 100% one of the best things to do in Rome!
6. The Spanish Steps
Known to be one of Rome’s most famous attractions, the Spanish steps (not the Italian steps?) lead from the Piazza Di Spagna to the French monastery church, Trinita dei Monti, and they aren’t something not to miss. Also, the top of the steps near the Egyptian Obelisk offers a beautiful view of the city of Rome. It’s an ideal place to sit and relax in the heat!
Better yet, you won’t have to worry about skipping leg day after climbing all 135 steps. So not only will you come back with an amazing tan you’ll be able to show off your toned calves to all your jealous friends when you’re back from holiday!
7. Check out the Fountains of Piazza Navona
Extravagant streets, entertaining street artists, and delicious restaurants, the Piazza Navona is Rome’s showstopper. More importantly, its fountains will take your breath away.
Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (fountains of the four rivers) is a flamboyant fountain that stays true to its name, with 4 statues serving as the muscular embodiment of the most important rivers of the continents, the Nile, Rio De La Plate, Ganges and Danube.
Fontana del Nettuno and Fontana del Moro are also alluring to the eye. Created by Giacomo Della Porta, these artefacts will show you what true art is. While Piazza Navona are surrounded by many incredible restaurants and terraces making them a delightful place to visit.
8. Galleria Borghese
The private collection of cardinal Scipione Borghese’s Galleria Borghese is a monumental museum. It has sculptures, paintings, and antiques, and is known to be one of the most renowned art museums in the world. Famous statues include Apollo and Daphne’ by Bernini and paintings by Leonardo da Vinci.
If you want to see the museum in all of its glory, why not hop on a guided tour? Who doesn’t want to skip the queue to look at the toned body of a Greek God?
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9. Marvel at the Colosseum
Nothing screams Rome like a trip to the Colosseum. This iconic monument will make you feel the insurmountable power of the Roman Empire, which makes this one of the best things to do in Rome.
50,000 people once enjoyed the exhibition of exotic animals, chariot races and the recreation of battles in all their glory! Measuring at an impressive 57 meters in height, 188 meters in length and 156 meters in width this will undeniably take your breath away.
Gladiators endured 100 days of games, which ranged from boxing with metal gloves to fighting hungry animals. Yeah, I never said those games were pretty…
This is one of Rome’s greatest tourist attractions and is one of the Seven Wonders of the World (!) so is definitely worth the visit.
10. The Catacombs
The Catacombs really do transport you through time. This was used as a burial site for centuries, and its purpose was used as an alternate way of burying the dead instead of the Roman tradition to burn bodies. These catacombs allowed Christians the privilege of burying their own, under their traditions and to freely use their Christian symbols.
You wouldn’t want to get lost during your visit here as the catacombs underground pathways can be a real maze that are several kilometres long. So, if I were you, I’d stick closely by your tour guide’s side unless you want to be an added member of the Catacombs burial site.
11. The Pantheon
Our good old friend, Emperor Hadrian, carried out the construction of the Pantheon in 126 A.D and he’s done a good job of that as it’s now regarded as one of the architectural masterpieces of Rome. It was originally made in honour of the Roman Gods.
During the 7th century the Pope, Boniface IV then transformed it into a church which has now been carried out for this purpose ever since.
Great in name it’s also great in influence. The Pantheon became the inspiration for many of the great Renaissance architects’ work, even inspiring Andrea Palladio himself!
12. Make a wish at Fontana di Trevi
Fontana di Trevi is a real stunner! It’s often said to be the most beautiful fountain in the world both in the morning and night, which makes a visit here one of the best things to do in Rome. (Which is more than can be said for most of us.) With Greek Gods and Goddesses posing at the forefront of the structure, crystal clear water and architecture that leaves one wanting to see more, it definitely deserves the title awarded it. Another reason for it to be admired is for its impressive size. Measuring more than 20 meters in width and 26 meters in height, the Trevi Fountain is one you won’t be able to miss even if you tried.
Not just the beauty but also the myth of Trevi Fountain always attracts a hoard of people around it. But this myth may mean emptying your purse. Whether your wish is returning to Rome or falling in love with an attractive Italian, it makes sense that over a million coins are collected from the fountain every year!
13. Explore Campo de’ Fiori
A significant part of everyday Roman life, the Campo De’ Fiori in the Parione district is Rome’s oldest open air market. Beloved by tourists and locals alike, the market plays dual purpose, transforming in the evening to become a raucous, bustling open-air pub.
14. Enjoy the views from the Janiculum Hill
Commonly referred to as the 8th Hill of Rome (referring to the 7 hills Ancient Rome was built on), the Janiculum is THE place to go for the best views in all of Rome. Found in the Trastevere neighbourhood of the left bank of the Tiber River, this is the place to go for the money shot; as the river sweeps out in front of you, spot everything from the Pincio gardens on the left to the Colosseum on the right, not forgetting the majesty of Rome city centre in the middle.
15. Explore the Trastevere
Over the river from central Rome and literally translated as ‘beyond the Tiber’, you’ll find the Trastevere district – one of Rome’s prettiest and most vibrant neighbourhoods. Picture perfect, the quaint cobbled streets and colourful palazzi are the quintessential Rome you’ve been dreaming of, and you could spend hours here watching time go by in one of the many trendy restaurants, cafes or pizzerias. For the ultimate people watching spot, head to the Piazza Santa Maria – by day a yummy mummy hangout, by night a student favourite for soaking up that Dolce Vita Roman spirit.