At first thought, it shouldn’t be that difficult to find top things to do in Rome. After all, it’s the Eternal City, one of the most visited places on Earth. However, the closer you get to your trip to Rome, the more confused you become as to what sites you should visit and what things you should avoid for the fear of tourist traps.
That is exactly why, we have put our experience, and the verdict from local Roman friends to craft a list of top 20 things to do in Rome.
#1 Top Things To Do in Rome: Visit the quirky and misfit neighborhood of Quartiere Coppedè
Rome is full of tourists. That’s just a fact you will have to embrace while visiting the Eternal City. Having said that, the first entry on our list of top things to do in Rome takes you to one of its best kept secrets: the Quartiere Coppedè.
There are no cafés, no restaurants, no famous-all-over-the-world monuments to visit in this area. The Coppedè neighborhood is for gently strolling, looking, soaking in the architecture, the sights, which basically is why travelling should be done. Chill, breathe in, you in one of the most picturesque parts of Rome away from the hordes of tourists.
Talking about architecture, boy oh boy is this neighborhood eccentric, electric, a frenzied mix of curves, shapes and lines seeking to stand out from the rest of Rome. Architect Gino Coppedè from Florence designed this neighborhood with a whimsical mixture of Art Nouveau, Ancient Greek, Roman Baroque, Mannerist, and even Medieval styles making it a feast for the eyes. The kiosk having the statue of Madonna and Child, the arching welcome gate with its iron chandelier, the fountain of Rane built in 1924, the buildings of Palazzina del Rango, and Villino Delle Fate make visiting Coppedè one of the nest things to do in Rome.
#2 Top Things To Do in Rome: Visit the underground section of the Colosseum
Does it sound a bit touristy? Is it crowded? Is it an obvious thing to do in Rome? Yes, yes and yes. But, for the wider world, the Colosseum is the most famous, and the most searched landmark of Rome for very solid reasons. Visiting the Colosseum is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Rome.
Don’t let the crowds of tourists at the Colosseum turn you back after merely clicking few photos from its exterior. You have to visit the arena floor which has been reconstructed so as to let the visitors get a sense of how ancient gladiators felt standing inside the magnificent structure. Better yet, is a tour to the Hypogeum (underground section) of the Colosseum whose tickets sell out like ice cream on a hot July day.
Pro tip: Visit the Colosseum at night during Summer months for a stunning view and less crowds.
#3 Top Things To Do in Rome: Visit the Roman Forum
Roman Forum is the most important archeological ruin from the Roman times in all of Italy. With the Colosseum and Palatine Hill being nearby, this was the center of political and general life in ancient Rome with criminal trials, public speeches, victory marches, commercial trade being carried out here. The well preserved ruins of Temple of Saturn, Titus, Vesta and Arches of Severus still stand here.
#4 Top Things To Do in Rome: Visit the first nucleus of the Roman Empire
Often the importance and history of this place is overshadowed by the sheer number of tourists. However, the Palatine Hill is called as the First Nucleus of the Roman Empire for its historical and mythical roots that gave rise to the Roman Empire and the city of Rome. For this, it makes into our list of top things to do in Rome despite being one of the most touristy things to do in Rome.
The Palatine Hill is said to be the place where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa who kept them safe and alive and they later went onto build the city of Rome. The ruins of palaces of Augustus who was the first emperor of Rome, Tiberius, and Domitian can be seen here as this hill was exclusive to imperial palaces and later to homes of affluent Romans. Situated 40 meters above the Roman Forum and forming the central part of the seven hills, the Palatine Hill also has House of Livia, the 3rd wife of Augustus with the well preserved frescoes in it.
#5 Top Things To Do in Rome: See Michelangelo’s design masterpiece of Capitoline Hill/Campidoglio
Once containing the massive Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the Capitoline Hill is one of the seven hills in Rome and was regarded as a symbol of eternity by the ancient Romans. You can still see the important Clivus Capitolinus road built during the ancient times that goes from the Roman Forums up the Capitoline Hill. For its historical importance, architectural brilliance and sheer beauty, a visit to collo Capitoline is one of the top things to do in Rome.
The Hill is now vastly different from what it was in the ancient times however, the Piazza of Campidoglio and the surrounding palazzi were designed by one of the most important artists of the Renaissance period: Michelangelo in the 16th Century. The way the piazza is designed can be seen as a deliberate attempt by Michelangelo to turn the direction of Rome as a city from the old Roman Empire in the form of Roman Forum and its temples and face it more to Papal Rome in the form of St. Peter’s Basilica. Maybe that is why he wasn’t very fond of the idea of having a statue Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius on a horse in the middle of the piazza.
After you climb up the staircase or the Cordonata you will be greeted by three beautiful buildings which were also designed by Michelangelo. On your left will be the Palazzo Nuovo housing many busts and statues like the Dying Gaul, statue of Oceanus, Capitoline Venus, Marforio, etc. The central building is the Palazzo Senatorio which is the oldest town hall in the world. To the right will be the Palazzo dei Conservatori which along with the Palazzi Nuovo and Palazzo Senatorio now forms the Capitoline Museum housing the most important artifacts from the Roman times.
#6 Top Things To Do in Rome: Climb the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica
Located in Vatican City within the city of Rome, lies St. Peter’s Basilica which is one of the most important churches in the Christian world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was designed by 4 major figures in architecture, painting, sculpting and is without question the most famous work of Renaissance architecture. The structure we see today was built between 1506 and 1626 to replace the Old St. Peter’s Basilica that was built by Constantine the Great and attracts millions of tourists every year.
Directly under the Altar of the Confession of the basilica is where the major apostle of Jesus and the first pope of Vatican, Saint Peter is buried according to Catholic traditions. There are so many things to see and admire in the Basilica like the ornate pillars, the Dome, the statue of Peter, the high altar, Baldachinno, the Pietá by Michelangelo. Because of its religious significance as well as architectural beauty, it is absolutely packed with visitors.
However, what many visitors miss is the opportunity to climb up the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. It isn’t free unlike the entry to the Basilica and you have to pay €2 extra to take the elevator instead of the 571 stairs but the view is absolutely worth it. There is even a small bar at the top that serves coffee at an absolutely bargain price!
Pro Tip: Avoid Wednesdays when the Papal audience takes place and arrive at 8 AM before the crowds to skip the lengthy lines.
#7 Top Things To Do in Rome: Visit the Vatican Museums
Founded in the early 16th Century, the Vatican Museums are one of the largest collections of Roman sculptures and Renaissance period art in the whole world as well as modern religious art pieces. There are over 70,000 paintings spanning 54 galleries inside the museums. Divided into various sections, like Raphael’s rooms, Gallery of Maps, Pius-Clementine Museums, etc a visit to the Vatican Museums may be arduous at times due to the crowds but undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Rome.
If you have deep enough pockets, there are 40 slots per month that allow you to visit the Vatican Museums outside of its usual times. It will cost you around $5,000 but if you have the money, it’s totally worth it. Apart from that, a tour to the well curated and maintained Vatican Gardens which isn’t free but is inexpensive will make you forget that you are in the middle of one of the most visited places on Earth.
#8 Top Things To Do in Rome: Soak in the life like frescoes of Sistine Chapel
Technically, the Sistine Chapel lies in the Apostolic Palace, the residency of the Pope. This is the private chapel of the Pope and also the place where the new Pope has been elected since the 14th Century. The admission tickets to the Vatican Museums suffice for the Sistine Chapel too as it generally is the place where the tour to the museum ends. However, for anyone who loves art and painting even in the vaguest most distant sense, a slow, detailed visit to the Sistine Chapel with a prior study of the place is one of the top things to do in Rome.
What makes it so great is when you first enter the chapel and crank your head towards the ceiling, you will be amazed to know that the ceiling is painted and not covered in sculptures because the frescoes look almost 3 dimensional. It is a testament to Michelangelo’s skill and the fact that he was primarily a sculptor and not a painter. The ceiling has 9 scenes from the Old Testament the most famous one being the center piece of the creation of Adam.
Even without the ceiling frescoes, the Sistine Chapel is full of artistic wonder and perhaps is the most valuable piece of art under the same roof. One side of the chapel wall tells the story of Moses while the other tells the story of Christ. The Last Judgement painted on the altar wall was commissioned to Michelangelo much after he had done the ceiling.
#9 Top Things To Do in Rome: Take a breather at Villa Borghese gardens
Let’s get one thing straight from the get go which a lot of blogs and travel videos seem to get wrong: The Villa Borghese refers to the Villa Borghese Pinciana, a luxurious villa on the Pincian Hill. The gardens were later made on the rise above the villa and are known as Villa Borghese gardens. Galleria Borghese, the gallery housing the artworks is housed in the villa itself and although the gardens and the Villa were integrated together, they are considered as separate tourist attractions.
Lying northeast to the historical center of Rome, Villa Borghese gardens is one of the largest public parks in Rome. It is a perfect place for visitors to take a break from the hectic dash to visit various historical and cultural sites in Rome and unwind. However, like everything in Rome, the park is deeply steeped in history, art and you can find cultural gems in every corner here.
The gardens were once a vineyard before it was converted into one of the most extensive private parks by Cardinal Scipione Borgehse. The middle of the gardens has an artificial lake where you can rent a boat for cheap, the Temple of Esculapio and a portion of the Aqua Felice aqueduct. There are more than 220 statues and busts of different writers and figures from all over the world, the Pincio water clock from the 19th century which is still functional today and the observation deck with one of the best views of Rome and Vatican.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese who was also the nephew of Pope Paul V, and his Borghese family had an extensive collection of art, Roman statues which were housed in this property. Acquired by the government in 1902, currently the Borghese collection is kept in the Villa Borghese and is popularly known as Galleria Borghese. One of the top things to do in Rome, a visit to this beautiful collection of artists like Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titan is quite popular and thus must be booked in advance.
#10 Top Things To Do in Rome: See the view of St. Peter’s Basilica from the most unlikely place
A casual walk to the Southernmost of the Seven Hills is one of the top things to do Rome as it gives you a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the core of the city. On the eastern side of the hill you have the Roseto Comunale, the Rose Gardens with 1,100 different varieties of roses while the Giardino degli Aranci, a romantic park with orange trees provides stunning views of Rome specially during sunsets. The unobstructed view of a long walk way lined with trees leading to St. Peter’s Basilica through the keyhole of the door of Knights of Malta building is absolutely worth taking a long walk.
#11 Top Things To Do in Rome: Shop and drink authentic English tea at Spanish Steps
Completed in 1725, the Spanish Steps must be the most famous flights of stairs in the whole world! There are three tiers on the steps dedicated to the Holy Trinity and they are situated in the Piazza di Spagna , “The Spanish Piazza”. However, their real name is la Scalinata and the “Spanish” Steps name came from the presence of the Spanish Embassy in Monaldeschi Palace which was present nearby the location of the steps before they were even built.
The international mixture doesn’t stop at the name as the crowning jewel of the Spanish Steps is the French Church of Santissima Trinita dei Monti which was originally constructed by Louis the XII. Wait, hold on a minute, there is the Babington’s Tea Room on the left hand side of the Spanish Steps that was opened by two English women 120 years ago! The fountain at the bottom of the steps by Pietro Bernini is said to have taken its inspirations from a boat that landed on the piazza after a flood in the Tiber river.
For shopping-heads the visit to Rome’s most famous shopping street, Via dei Condotti which lies in the Piazza di Spagna right opposite to the Spanish Steps is one of the top things to do in Rome.
Pro tip: You might have seen pictures of Spanish Steps with people sitting on it. However, since 2019, there has been a ban placed on doing so. Failure to abide by the rules may land you a whooping €400 fine.
#12 Top Things To Do in Rome: Chill at Piazza Navona
In 80 AD the Stadium of Domitian also known as Circus Agonalis which held around 20,000 ancient Romans who were there to watch the games or “agones”. The name slowly verbally changed to in avone to navone and when the Piazza was built in the 1st Century AD on the site of the Stadium of Domitian it came to be known as “navona”. Today it is a beautiful open public space, a visit to which is one of the top things to do in Rome.
The Piazza Navona is what you anyone imagines as your quintessential European square. It is lined with restaurants and terraces and has painters and street artists performing various things. The liveliness of the piazza is increased by the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and Palazzo Pamphilj.
#13 Top Things To Do in Rome: See the most well preserved building from Roman Times
The Pantheon which means “a temple of all gods” is an imposing structure in the Campus Martius. The structure we see today was built by emperor Hadrian stands on the original location of the earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, a general during the reign of Augustus. A visit to the most preserved and intact landmarks from ancient Roman times is one of the top things to do in Rome.
One of the most distinct features of this architectural wonder is how it clearly looks like a Greek building from the outside with its rectangular build and the portico which has 16 granite Corinthian columns while on the inside it clearly looks like a Roman building with its circular architecture. The reason why it still is one of the most preserved buildings from Roman times is because it was continuously used throughout history as it was later converted to a Church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs. The architectural marvel that is the dome with its oculus, the statues, the Byzantine styled image of Mary and altar are absolutely stunning.
#14 Top Things To Do in Rome: Walk across the Tiber island
Nothing fancy, nothing over the top, nothing laden with heavy info about history, religion or culture. Just a peaceful walk (or cycling if you wish) along the banks of the Tiber River. The Tiber Island is a small island on the southern bend of Tiber river that is joined to the two banks of Rome by two ancient bridges. It is the seat of the ancient temple of Asclepius, the god of medicine, and has the Fatebenefratelli Hospital as well as the minor basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island.
#15 Top Things To Do in Rome: See Rome’s best collection of art in
This 17th century palace of in the Trevi neighborhood of Rome houses the National Gallery of Art, Rome’s greatest collection of art. The chief attractions include the paintings by master of darkness and light Caravaggio like Saint Francis in Meditation, Judith Beheading Holofernes which was painted after the public beheading of Beatrice Cenci. A visit to this palace containing the haunting portrait of Beatrice Cenci by Guido Reni among many other magnificent works of art are definitely a must makes it one of the top things to do in Rome.
#16: Top Things To Do in Rome: Come back to Rome by tossing a coin at Trevi Fountain
Perhaps the world’s most famous fountain, undoubtedly the world’s most visited fountain, the Trevi Fountain is named after the district it is located in. The Baroque era fountain is full of symbolism with its beautiful statues like the 4 female statues representing 4 seasons, the central statue of Oceanus standing on an open sea shell being guided by two horses one of which is calm and the other agitated (symbolizing the nature of seas). Stunning beauty to one side, the visit to Trevi fountain is one of the top things to do in Rome because of long held belief that if you throw a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder from your right hand with your back turned against the fountain, you will come back to Rome.
Pro tip: Beware of tourist trap restaurants nearby the Trevi Fountain.
#17 Top Things To Do in Rome: roam around the neighborhood of Trastevere
My favorite neighborhood in Rome. Situated on the Western bank of the Tiber River, 20 minutes walk south from the Vatican and 15 minutes from the Colosseum and Roman Forums, “Trastevere” literally means “beyond the Tiber”. Rome can be absolutely touristy and hence a stroll in this neighborhood which holds onto its working class roots is one of the top things to do in Rome for the authentic yet laid back feel of real Rome. The architecture, the cobbled stoned narrow streets lined with chairs from cafés all seem like they come straight out of some postcard. However, it doesn’t feel like it’s catering hard to you, trying to be touristy. The neighborhood is concentrated around Piazza di Santa Maria and is buzzing with young, hip crowd specially at night.
#18 Top Things To Do in Rome: Shop local produce at Campo de’ Fiori
If you look at the map of Rome, you will see the neighborhood of Campo de’ Fiori lying almost at the center of a triangle, the angles of which represent the Vatican, Spanish Steps and the Colosseum, meaning that living here makes visiting the prime attractions of Rome easily accessible. But, it’s not just the accessibility that makes living in Campo de’ Fiori one of the top things to do in Rome. Take a break from doing all the touristy stuff in Rome and soak in the leisurely beauty of this authentic Roman neighborhood.
Technically, Campo de’ Fiori is a piazza but the locals call the entire neighborhood that touches two separate rione (districts) as “Campo”. During the day it is home to the market selling local produce which makes it a great place to get groceries if you are staying in Rome for a longer period of time. At night, the bars and cafés surrounding the Piazza extend into it serving authentic Italian food and drinks. Late in night, it is packed with younger crowds enjoying the scenery and eating and drinking.
#19 Top Things To Do in Rome: Try one of Rome’s best dishes at the Jewish Ghetto
Rising from absolutely unlivable conditions for almost 500 years, the Roman neighborhood of the Jewish Ghetto has reinvented itself into a must-visit. The history attached to it, the important landmarks in it and the food my dudes, the food makes a visit to this neighborhood one of the top things to do in Rome.
The dark, painful presence of the past is rapidly fading however its stark reminders still remain in the neighborhood with sites like the Brass Memorial Cobblestones with names, dates of birth, and other information about the 114 children who were sent to Auschwitz. There is also the Renaissance palace of Palazzo Cenci, the home where the abusive Francesco Cenci was murdered by his daughter Beatrice who was later publicly executed. One of the largest synagogues in Europe, The Great Synagogue was made immediately after the unification of Italy and is unique for its square dome.
There is no way you come to this part of Rome and not try Carciofli alla Giudia or better known worldwide as the Jewish styled artichokes. Nona Bette is a popular restaurant serving this delicacy. De Beppe and his Cheese is another stop where you can get wine, cheese and meat to pair with each other. Boccione is the oldest surviving Jewish bakery here and their crostata are absolutely delicious.
#20 Top Things To Do in Rome: Go on a food tour
Did you visit Rome if you didn’t try authentic Italian food? No, you didn’t. Try Italian comfort food and local wine at Divin Ostilia near the Colosseum, for something with pizzaz try the cocktails at Jerry Thomas Project near Piazza Navona, and pizza and cucina romana by the Roscioli group at Emma near Camo de’ Fiori. Michelin star chef Christina Bowerman has her second restaurant, Romeo near the Vatican and they serve absolutely divine sandwiches. If you want something quick to grab, dashing between different sites try Guerra near the Spanish Steps.