Things to Do in Rome
The Colosseum has been a symbol of Rome since 80 AD, and today it’s a top monument in Italy. Some 50,000 spectators once gathered in the amphitheater’s tiered seats to watch gladiatorial games, and though parts of its original marble facade were pilfered over the years to build the likes of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum remains remarkably intact 2,000 years later.
A sprawling mass of ruins, the Roman Forum (Foro Romano) was once the center of ancient Rome, with temples, courts, markets, and government buildings in full swing until the 4th century AD. While all that remains today is an array of ancient columns and arches, the forum is one of the most important archaeological sites in Italy, and excavations occur to this day. Aside from a lesson in Roman history, visitors can get a great view of the Eternal City from the overlooking Palatine and Capitoline hills.
The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina), part of Rome’s Vatican Museums, was decorated by art masters Sandro Botticelli and Pinturicchio in the 15th century before being completed with Michelangelo’s stunning 16th-century ceilings frescoes and monumental “The Last Judgement,” which covers the apse wall. The fresco-covered ceiling is the artist’s greatest work and one of the most important masterpieces in history, while the Sistine Chapel serves as a glorious homage to Renaissance art and one of the most visited sights in all of Italy.
The enormous St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) dominates Vatican City, and its dome can be seen from all over Rome. Built on the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion and over his tomb, it’s the epicenter of the Catholic Church and the burial place of many popes, including Pope John Paul II. The lavishly adorned basilica is the largest church in Italy and all of Christendom, and it's also a museum full of priceless works of art—including Michelangelo’s spectacular “Pietà” and Bernini’s bronze baldachin.
The Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) is an enormous complex of galleries holding some of Italy’s most important art, from paintings and sculptures to tapestries and classical antiquities. Adjoining St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums' miles of corridors connect buildings and courtyards housing the Pinacoteca, Egyptian Museum, Gallery of Tapestries, Pius-Clementine Museum, and Gallery of Maps. But the crown jewels are the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo's ceiling andThe Last Judgment, and the 16th-century frescoes in the Raphael Rooms.
Best recognized for its massive dome and center oculus, the Pantheon attracts millions of visitors as one of the most influential and well-preserved buildings of ancient Rome—its proximity to the gelaterias along Via della Maddalena is a bonus. Since AD 125, the temple-turned-church has astounded visitors with its awe-inspiring architecture, beautiful art, and Roman history. It also serves as the burial ground for the first king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, and Renaissance artist Raphael. You'll find tourists and locals admiring the structure from the steps of the obelisk in Piazza della Rotonda, a popular break spot.
The incredibly ornate Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) is the most famous fountain in Rome—and perhaps in all of Italy. At the baroque masterpiece’s center stands the Greek sea god Oceanus, who is surrounded by Tritons, seahorses, and other figures from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Visitors to the Eternal City flock to the Trevi Fountain, as it is internationally recognized thanks to its appearances in many films, and for the legendary good-luck connotations of throwing a coin into its waters.
One of the most famous and sumptuous squares in Rome, Piazza Navona is home to the Baroque Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and Palazzo Pamphili, both overlooking Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famousFountain of the Four Rivers. Bustling outdoor cafes and rowdy buskers lend a lively air to the otherwise stately square.
Climbing from Piazza di Spagna to the Trinità dei Monti church, the Spanish Steps is one of Rome’s most recognized landmarks, immortalized in countless postcards and films. Built between 1723 and 1725, the 138-step staircase recently underwent a meticulous cleaning, restoring the marble landmark to its former glory.
Rome’s Circus Maximus(Circo Massimo)—a massive arena for chariot races, games, religious ceremonies, and civic events—was the largest stadium in the Roman Empire. A major restoration in 2016 yielded a spruced-up archaeological site comprising arched walkways, ancient shops, a newly excavated cobbled road, and the Circus track’s oblong outline and starting gates.
More Things to Do in Rome
Of Rome’s seven legendary hills, Palatine Hill (Palatino) figures most importantly in the capital’s history and lore. It is said that Romulus founded Rome on this hilltop, and many of the city’s most important archaeological sites dating from ancient times are located here.
The heart of Rome's Vatican City is St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro), the grand space that provides a magnificent approach to St. Peter's Basilica. Designed by Bernini in the 17th century, Piazza San Pietro is lined by semicircular colonnades four columns deep on either side that seem to reach out and enfold visitors in an embrace.
One of the mainstays of daily life in Italy is shopping at the market, and the market, for many Romans, means Campo de’ Fiori. This historic square in the city center hosts one of the largest and most famous outdoor food markets each morning,, offering visitors the perfect opportunity to rub elbows with locals.
Most visitors to Rome pass through the Piazza Venezia intersection, home to the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, at least once. This busy, sprawling intersection has a vast grassy island at its center, making it a square, but its function is to keep the Eternal City’s car and bus traffic flowing, rather than act as a leisure space.
The miles of underground cemetery that comprise the Catacombs of Rome (Catacombe di Roma) are some of the oldest burial tunnels in the world. Located just outside the city and hidden deep underground, the catacombs were created in the second century in response to a shortage of land for deceased’s remains. Today the narrow tunnels are eerily quiet and full of Roman history, including some of the best-preserved early Christian frescoes and sculptures—and, in the bone-adorned Capuchin Crypt, a Caravaggio. Look out for ancient wall paintings and mosaics lining the walls, as well as the catacombs of St. Agnes, Domitilla, and Priscilla, home to the oldest known depiction of the Virgin Mary.
Located 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Rome, the Rome Civitavecchia cruise port (Civitavecchia terminal crociere) is a popular jumping-off point for shore excursions to Italy’s capital city. Home to some of the world’s most important art and architecture, and bursting with bustling piazzas and lively restaurants, Rome is a highlight of any Mediterranean cruise.
The third-longest river in Italy, the Tiber (Tevere) winds down from the Apennine Mountains, passing through the city of Rome on its way to the coast at Ostia. This famous waterway, more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) long, has played a fundamental role in Roman history since its founding.
Raphael's Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) are four interconnected halls inside the Vatican Museums, each decorated with sumptuous frescoes by painter Raphael (1483–1520). These High Renaissance masterpieces are second in fame and beauty only to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the whole of the enormous Vatican collection.
Vatican City (Città del Vaticano) may be the smallest sovereign nation-state in the world, but it is a religious and cultural superpower, home to some of the world’s greatest artistic and architectural marvels—namely St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. It is located wholly within the confines of Rome, covers 110 acres (44 hectares), and has an official population of about 800. Having gained recognition of full independence in 1929 and today governed by the pope, Vatican City has its own post office that issues official stamps and a banking system that mints coins (though the euro is used for commerce).
Rome’s Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese), housed in a former villa of the eponymous family, houses a large part of the family’s vast collection of antiquities, paintings, and sculptures. Its 22 rooms across two floors showcase many important pieces including paintings by Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Rubens. The city of Rome acquired the Villa Borghese in 1903, opening its collection and gardens to the public. The 1911 World Exposition was held in the park and some of the various countries’ pavilions still exist.
Bohemian Trastevere is one of Rome’s most historic and picturesque neighborhoods—a maze of cobbled streets lined with atmospheric restaurants serving some of Italy’s best cuisine. At dusk, trendy crowds pour into its fashionable sidewalk cafés and bars to enjoy the vibrant Roman nightlife. Trastevere lies across the river—hence the name, which means “across the Tiber”—from the center of Rome, and at its heart is Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, home to one of Rome’s oldest churches (from AD 340) and a majestic 15th-century fountain. Other neighborhood sights include the beautiful Santa Cecilia in Trastevere church, dating from the fifth century, and Villa Farnesina, filled with stunning frescoes—including two attributed to Raphael.
Piazza di Spagna is one of Rome's best-known meeting places, thanks to a stunning statue, the iconic Fontana della Barcaccia and an attractive square that lies at the foot of the famed Spanish Steps. The landmark's central location grants travelers easy access to top attractions like nearby Trinita dei Monti, Keats-Shelley Memorial House and the Column of the Immaculate Conception.
Piazza di Spagna is also a prime destination for people-watching, thanks to the large number of visitors and locals who gather in the public garden and scenic space to celebrate sunshine when there's warmer weather.
Standing proud behind the Colosseum and steps away from the beginning of the Via Sacra, the imposing triumphal Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino) was erected by the Roma Senate in 315 AD in honor of Emperor Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge that took place three years earlier. At 69 feet (21 meters) tall, the ornate monument was carved from a single enormous block of gray and white marble. In typical Classical style, the great central gateway is mirrored by two smaller side arches and supported by eight Corinthian columns. The arch is decorated with reliefs plundered from other long-forgotten memorials that describe feats of bravery by earlier Roman emperors, as well as inscriptions praising the achievements of Constantine.
Thanks to its close proximity to the Colosseum and its sheer size, the Arch of Constantine is an easy landmark to find and a popular spot for photos. Many walking tours stop to admire the arch before continuing on to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum or to Palatine Hill.
The first modern civic square in Rome, Piazza del Campidoglio was designed by Michelangelo in 1536. Perched at the top of the Capitoline Hill overlooking the Roman Forum, the space is lined by the monumental Cordonata staircase and three Renaissance palaces, now home to city hall and the Capitoline Museums.
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