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Things to Do in Rome

An open-air museum home to two millennia of architecture, art, and culture, Rome is one of the world’s most visited cities — for good reason. You can spend hours exploring ancient wonders, traveling between attractions, or hunting for the best gelato; but those in the know stay ahead of the crowd with skip-the-line entrance tickets and guided tours. Hop-on hop-off tours allow visitors to breeze through must-do lists, while group visits to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Vatican Museums offer a more in-depth experience. For a true taste of Italy, take advantage of the city’s central location with day trips to Pompeii, Tuscany, and beyond.
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Trajan's Column
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The enormous Trajan's Column near the Quirinal Hill was built in the 2nd century AD to commemorate Emperor Trajan’s victories in war. The column itself is 98 feet tall, but standing on its pedestal the entire structure is 125 feet tall.

The column is decorated with the story of Trajan’s war triumphs told in pictures, spiralling around the outside of the column, with the story starting at the bottom. Trajan’s ashes were originally interred in the base of the column. Amazingly, the column itself is actually hollow and contains a spiral staircase that leads to a viewing platform on the very top.

Trajan's Column was originally topped with a statue of Trajan himself, but in the late 16th century the then-Pope Sixtus V ordered that a statue of Saint Peter be put atop the column. It’s the statue of Saint Peter that you still see today. In order to see all of the bas relief carvings, you’ll need to visit Rome’s Museum of Roman Civilization.

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Column of Marcus Aurelius (Colonna di Marco Aurelio)
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Standing an impressive 100 feet high, the Column of Marcus Aurelius was built as a Roman victory monument and stands in what is now called the Piazza Colonna, situated in what would have been the northern boundary of Ancient Rome.

The original date of construction is unknown, but there are inscriptions of the column throughout the region that promote the idea that the construction was completed, at the very latest, by 193 AD. Most scholars believe that the construction of the column may have started directly after the Roman victories over a number of their northern rivals. Parallel to this idea are the intricate carvings on the column that work in a spiral fashion and tlel the stories of victories, war and conquest. The details show images of men, horses, women and the destruction of certain villages. By the 15th century, the statue of Marcus Aurelius atop the column had already deteriorated.

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Church of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli)
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The Church of St Peter in Chains, also known as San Pietro in Vicoli, is a basilica for both art lovers and pilgrims. The church was originally built in the fifth century to house the chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned by the Romans in Jerusalem, which eventually made their way to Rome, where they arrived in two parts. One part of the chain was sent to Eudoxia, the wife of emperor Valentinian III, and when compared to shackles held by Pope Leo I, legend says they miraculously fused together to form a single chain, which is now kept in a big bronze and crystal urn under the main altar.

The church is maybe best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, a part of a never completed funeral monument for Pope Julius II. Forty statues were planned, but Julius’ constant efforts to immortalize himself with giant projects soon had Michelangelo’s attentions diverted to the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

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Quirinale Palace (Palazzo del Quirinale)
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Quirinale Palace is the official residence of the president of Italy. It sits on Quirinale Hill, the highest of the seven hills of Rome. The palace was built in the late 1500s by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer home and was home to many popes for over three centuries. After the unification of Italy, it became the royal residence, until 1947 when the country's presidents began living there. The palace houses a wide variety of art including paintings, statues, tapestries, clocks, furniture, porcelain, glass chandeliers, and much more. In the Scalone d'Onore, the monumental staircase hall, visitors can see a frescoe by Melozzo da Forli that was once in the Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli. Another impressive part of the palace is its garden, which offers views of Rome from its high vantage point. The style of the garden has changed many times over the centuries, but today it combines influences from the 17th and 18th centuries. Visitors can also see the changing of the guard on Sundays.

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Testaccio
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The Testaccio neighborhood is one of the old districts of Rome. It sits along the eastern bank of the Tiber River to the south of the city center, and in Ancient Roman times it was the equivalent of the city’s shipyards. Many goods were brought into the city via the river, and were unloaded in Testaccio. The broken shipping containers, primarily clay pots of varying sizes, were discarded in a pile that eventually became the Testaccio Hill. As you can imagine, archaeologists have found all kinds of interesting things in and around Testaccio Hill - an Ancient Roman dump turned historic treasure trove. Today, Testaccio is changing from a mostly working-class neighborhood, with several butchers still in the area, to a neighborhood with a growing reputation as a foodie destination and nightlife hotspot. It’s still not as well-traveled as the more central parts of Rome, but tourists interested in that so-called “authentic Rome” so many people look for may find some of it in Testaccio.
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Farnese Palace (Palazzo Farnese)
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The Palazzo Farnese is a 16th century palace originally built for the noble Farnese family. Today, it serves as the French embassy in Italy, given by the Italian state in 1936 to the French for a period of 99 years.

The member of the Farnese family who commissioned the Palazzo Farnese went on to become Pope Paul III not long after, so the building got even more palatial soon after it was done. The Farnese family were well-known sculpture collectors - parts of their collection make up Naples’ archaeological museum and Capodimonte Museum today. Although the Palazzo Farnese is the French embassy in Italy, there are tours available - which is good, given the art that remains in the palace, including frescoes on walls and ceilings. Even if you don’t go inside, you can see some of Michelangelo’s handiwork on the facade. The Renaissance master is responsible for, among other things, the central window that served as a focal point and something of a stage for Pope Paul III.

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Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone (Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone)
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As a 17th century Baroque church facing Piazza Navona, the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone stands in one of the busiest areas of the in Rome’s historic city center — yet it remains a peaceful sanctuary and renowned Roman church. History tells us that the Early Christian Saint Agnes was martyred on site here in the ancient stadium built by Emperor Domitian. The structure itself was built in 1652 and meant to act as a personal chapel for the family of Pope Innocent X, who lived in the palazzo just beside it. Today it remains a beautiful chapel, known for its frescoed ceilings, many fine sculptures and altars, and impressive marble work. It is also a shrine to Saint Agnes, with her skull still on display to visitors and her body buried in the catacombs. The church’s architecture is characterized by its massive dome, Corinthian columns, and Greek cross plan.

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More Things to Do in Rome

Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin (Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin)

Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin (Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin)

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Like most of the many churches throughout Rome, Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin has an ancient past and a fascinating story. Built on an ancient worship site that was once a great temple of Hercules, it became under care of the Byzantine Papacy. Its name “Cosmedin” is the Greek word for “beautiful decoration.”

The beautiful decorations remain — with its unique characteristics including a pre-Roman crypt, a massive bell tower, marble inlaid floors, architecture and designed by the Cosmati brothers, a beautiful altar with a rare 8th century mosaic, and frescoed walls.

The famous ‘Mouth of Truth’ or Bocca della Verità can be found in the portico of the church. The face of an unknown man or god is believed to be part of an ancient Roman temple, and is said to have once functioned as a lie detector — as it would bite off the hand of a man who did not speak the truth.

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Montecitorio Palace (Palazzo Montecitorio)

Montecitorio Palace (Palazzo Montecitorio)

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The Palazzo di Montecitorio is the seat of the Chamber of Deputies, the house of Italy’s parliament. It was completed under Pope Innocent X in 1650, designed by Bernini and afterwards expanded by Carlo Fontana. It was the pope's vision to house the Pontifical Curia here, but the building ended up serving a variety of functions over the years until it became the seat of the Chamber of Deputies later on. Although the look of the building has changed over the years and it got a makeover in the Art Nouveau style in the early 20th century, the clock tower, column, window sills and the baroque Bernini façade remain the same.

A newer addition is the long salon, where informal political discussions and agreements take place, leading to it being referred to as the informal center of Italian politics. The salon’s name, Transatlantico, refers to a construction company from Palermo.

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Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta) and Chapel of San Lorenzo

Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta) and Chapel of San Lorenzo

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Containing 28 steps in total, the Scala Santa (which translates to Holy Steps) are believed to have been carried from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena in the year 326. Many make religious pilgrimages to this site, as the white marble steps are said to be those walked upon by Jesus Christ during the Passion.

It is believed that the steps of Scala Santa once led to the Praetorium of the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, where Jesus was condemned. St. Helena brought them to Rome to her son, the emperor Constantine, who was building a basilica. The stairs were installed and still lead to the Sancta Sanctorum or Chapel of San Lorenzo, the private chapel of early popes. The interior of the chapel is richly decorated with frescoes depicting both the Old and New Testament.

Today the steps are protected by a wooden boards in the old Lateran palace and by tradition must be ascended on the knees. Over the centuries, several popes have participated in this devotion.

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Tiber River (Fiume Tevere)

Tiber River (Fiume Tevere)

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The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine mountains and ending at the sea at Ostia, once the port of Ancient Rome. It is 252 miles (406 km) long. The story goes that the infants Romulus and Remus were abandoned on the waters of the Tiber, were rescued by a she-wolf, and founded Rome 15 mi (25 km) from the sea in 753 BC.

The Tiber River has also been heavy with sediment and although Romans throughout history have dredged it, the river is now navigable only to Rome and not beyond. The port of Ostia was abandoned to mud as far back as 1 AD.

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Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs (Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri)

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs (Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri)

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This stunning basilica is dedicated the Christian martyrs and has been a staple in this Italian community since the late 1500s. Visitors who journey to the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli will find a remarkable interior designed by Michelangelo and a near perfect example of Roman architecture. The church is also home to a historic sun dial that predicted the exact date of Easter each year and compete with the meridian built by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in Bologna.

This popular religious journey into Assisi is the perfect way for travelers to escape the city of Rome and explore outside the urban center. The two-hour drive is scenic and takes travelers through the rolling hills of Umbria.

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Via Margutta

Via Margutta

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Via Giulia

Via Giulia

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Via Condotti (Via dei Condotti)

Via Condotti (Via dei Condotti)

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Shopaholics in Rome, head for Via Condotti, where even the window-shopping is worth the trip.

Via Condotti (its complete name is Via dei Condotti) is a street in central Rome that dates back to the ancient Roman era. It was a fashionable address as far back as the 18th century, when the Caffe Greco opened and was frequented by the likes of Goethe, Byron, Liszt, and Keats. The cafe remains open – and popular with visitors – to this day.

Most of Via Condotti is known for its fashion boutiques. Major names in fashion have shops along the street, including Gucci, Valentino, Armani, Prada, Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, as well as many other designers – Italian and otherwise.

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Doria Pamphilj Gallery (Galleria Doria Pamphilj)

Doria Pamphilj Gallery (Galleria Doria Pamphilj)

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The Doria Pamphili Gallery, located in Rome, Italy, is one of the largest and most magnificent palaces in the center of the city. It is home to the Doria Pamphili (sometimes spelled Pamphilj) family, and some members of the family still live in one section of the palace. The original building dates back to the 15th century, though it has been renovated several times. A visit to the gallery provides a glimpse into aristocratic life in Rome. Many private rooms are now open, including a ballroom, a chapel, and living quarters, all decorated with elaborate paintings and sculptures.

The art gallery itself contains approximately 400 pieces from the 15th to 18th centuries. Some of the more famous pieces include a portrait of pope Innocent X by Velázquez and two busts of the same pope, created by Bernini. The Gallery of Mirrors is one of the most lavish rooms in the palace and includes frescoes depicting the Labors of Hercules.

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