Rome is a bucket list destination for travelers looking for historically rich places, romance, delicious food, jaw dropping museums, world-renowned art treasures and a rich cultural heritage. Despite not being the most budget-friendly European city, Rome it’s a magnet for thousands of visitors every year.
Americans arriving by a rental car, can take advantage of their mobility and spend some time visiting surrounding cities such as Assisi, Civita di Bagnoregio, Capri or Ostia Antica that are charming and beautiful. They can easily travel from one city to the other while driving safely with a reliable insurance against car rental damage.
Rome is vibrant, lovely and chaotic and it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with it. Hopefully, you’ll love the selection of things to do, see and enjoy during your first visit to the city.
Visit The Colosseum
Inaugurated in 80 A.D., the Colosseum is the most recognized symbol of Rome. It was the largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire and up to 50 thousand people could see the games, gladiatorial combats and animal fights that were held there. Today, millions of people visit it daily and you are advised to purchase your tickets online unless you want to queue for a really long time. A combined ticket for the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and Palatine Hill is a great idea as you can skip the line at the Colosseum.
It’s a mighty and colossal structure and an iconic Roman landmark. It played an important role during the Roman Empire times as Emperors attended shows there frequently and hoards of people sat there watching atrocious performances that included man slaughtering and animal killing.
From the architectonic point of view, the Colosseum is stunning. The outer walls have three levels of arches framed by decorative columns topped by capitals of the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian orders. They were originally covered in travertine and there were marble statues in the niches of the 2nd and 3rd storeys. The 80 entrance arches allowed spectators to enter and leave the venue in minutes.
When the Roman Empire fell in the V century, the Colosseum was abandoned. In the Middle Ages, it became a fortress occupied by the powerful Frangipani family. Later it was plundered of its precious travertine and marble.
The top three floors and hypogeum are accessible only by guided tour and require advance booking on top of the normal Colosseum ticket.
Lose Your Breath At the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums are a must-see attraction in Rome. This is where the Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms are located and where you can appreciate some of the most beautiful and incredible works of art in the world. The Vatican Museums are housed in palaces that were originally built for Renaissance popes.
Set across 54 galleries, hallways and courtyards, visitors can admire over 70,000 of ancient sculptures, Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and works by Raphael. With so much to see, we suggest you to purchase a ticket for the Sistine Chapel and the museums and make sure you’ve got plenty of time to explore them both properly.
From the architectonic point of view, get ready to appreciate the lavishly decorated halls of the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano, a 5.5-hectare complex that consists of two palaces joined by two long galleries and three internal courtyards.
Often overlooked by visitors, the Pinacoteca or papal picture gallery is definitely worth seeing. There’s Raphael’s last work, La Transfigurazione, and paintings by Giotto, Perugino, Caravaggio and Leonardo Da Vincci’s unfinished last work: San Gerolamo.
At the Museo Chiaromonti & Braccio Nuovo visitors can admire walls lined with thousands of statues and busts representing cherubs, immortal gods or ugly Roman patricians plus a beautiful statue of the Nile as a reclining god covered by 16 babies.
The stunning Museo Pio-Clementino is home of some of the finest classical statuary, including the peerless Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon or the Apoxyomenos from the I century. Inside, the Sala degli Animali is filled with sculpted creatures and magnificent mosaics. Following, the Sala delle Muse, centred on the Torso Belvedere, is another of the must-sees!
The next room is the Sala Rotonda. It houses various colossal status including a gilded-bronze Ercole and an enormous basin that was found at Nero’s Domus Aurea and is made of a single piece of red porphyry stone.
The Museo Gregoriano or Egyptian Museum contains pieces taken from Egypt in Roman times. The exhibits are absolutely fascinating: a fragment of a statue of Ramses II on his throne, vividly painted sarcophagi dating from around 1000 BC and a scary mummy.
The Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, located at the top of the XVIII-century Simonetti staircase, contains artifacts unearthed in the Etruscan tombs of northern Lazio and a fantastic collection of Roman antiquities and vases.
The Stanze di Raffaello or Raphael Rooms were painted by the artist himself or decorated by students following his designs. Some famous works there are the Incendio di Borgo, which depicts Pope Leo IV extinguishing a fire by making the sign of the cross.
The Sistine Chapel is one one of the most important tourist attractions in the city and a must-see for anyone interested in artistic treasures. The Sistine Chapel is home to two of the world’s most famous works of art: Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes and his Giudizio Universale.
Michelangelo’s ceiling design is best viewed from the main entrance in the far east wall and it covers the 800sq metre surface. It’s centred on nine panels depicting stories from the book of Genesis. The Creation of Adam is one of the most famous paintings that visitors can admire there. Opposite, on the west wall, is Michelangelo’s mesmeric Giudizio Universale. It’s a cherishable building for Catholics as it is there where the Pope is selected.
Reach a Heavenly State at St Peter’s Basilica and St Peter’s Square
Located in Vatican City, an independent state within Rome, St Peter’s Basilica and its Square are two important must-see attractions for anyone spending some time in the Eternal City.
St Peter’s Basilica attracts Catholics and non catholics as it is a site of pilgrimage and an architectonic jewel at the same time. The original dates back to 349 A.D. when Constantine had a basilica built over the tomb of St. Peter, the first Pope. That church was razed to make way for the current one which has been standing since 1626.
St Peter’s Basilica is home to some of the most beautiful and renowned works of art: Michelangelo’s Pietá or Bernini’s masterful altarpiece: the great bronze baldacchino. It has a beautifully designed front facade and is crowned with statues of the Apostles and Jesus. It is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and its interior is exquisitely decorated.
The Basilica is open daily but those hoping to see the Pope should attend the Wednesday General Audience, when he addresses the crowd in St Peter’s Square with prayers and songs. Even though it’s free to attend, tickets are required
The facade is immense, with its eight 27m-high columns supporting the upper attic on which 13 statues stand representing Christ the Redeemer, St John the Baptist and the 11 apostles. The central balcony, known as the Loggia della Benedizione, is from where the pope delivers his Urbi et Orbi message.
The stunning interior contains many artistic masterpieces. Including the beautiful Pietá by Michelangelo. Nearby, a red disc marks the spot where Charlemagne and later Holy Roman Emperors were crowned by the Pope. The centre of the Basilica is dominated by Bernini’s baldacchino. Made with bronze taken from the Pantheon, it stands over the high altar which itself sits on the site of St Peter’s grave. Above, the impressive Michelangelo’s dome soars to a height of almost 120m. From the dome entrance on the right of the basilica’s main portico, walk the 551 steps to the top or take a small lift halfway. Follow on foot for the last 320 steps and, once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the city.
Those interested, can book a guided tour to the excavations beneath the Basilica that have uncovered part of the original church and what archaeologists believe is the Tomb of St Peter.
The circular St Peter’s Square is framed by two huge sets of colonnades from which beautiful statues of religious figures stand. In the centre, there’s an imposing obelisk.
Admire Artistic Masterpieces at Galleria Borghese
Galleria Borghese is one of the most important museums in Rome and visitors can expect to see exceptional works of art by Bernini and Caravaggio amongst others. Some of the museum highlights are “Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini, “Boy with a Basket of Fruit” by Caravaggio or “Paolina Bonaparte” by Canova. It’s an impressive building surrounded by the extensive Borghese’s gardens.
The Galleria is world famous for its rich collection of Baroque art so take your time to admire the beautiful works of art you can find there, including sculptures and reliefs. After that, we invite you to take a leisurely stroll through the idyllic gardens with their blooming flowers and orange trees.
Visit the Capitoline Museums
Set across three buildings in Piazza del Campidoglio, the Capitoline Museums are another must-see artistic venues in Rome. They’re considered the first public museums in the world and they’re home to Renaissance marble statues and Roman bronzes such as the Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius and the Capitoline Wolf. The museum also gives visitors the chance to admire the Roman Forum from the Galleria Lapidaria, an underground tunnel that connects the two main buildings.
There’s an excellent in-house restaurant that offers affordable lunch and picturesque views of the city.
Despite the museums’ rich collection, it’s rarely crowded so you’ll be able to admire the hundreds of sculptures and paintings comfortably. Thanks to being close to the city’s main archaeological attractions, it’s a great place to stop after visiting the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Highlights not to miss are the bust of Commodus as Hercules, the Bust of Medusa by Bernini and the Hall of Hannibal with the bronze Capitoline Wolf.
Trastevere is a Roman neighborhood across the Tiber famous for its bohemian and hip atmosphere where you’ll find lots of boutiques that will tempt you with their perfumes, pieces of jewelry and handicrafts. Its cobblestoned streets and ochre buildings contribute to this instagrammable area of the city.
Trastevere is a great place to be during the evenings and nights, as there are people hanging out, enjoying a drink at bars or wandering around.
Explore Trastevere to experience a real slice of Roman culture!
Throw A Coin In The Trevi Fountain
Your trip to the Eternal City will be incomplete unless you visit the Trevi Fountain: Nicola Salvi’s awe-inspiring Baroque masterpiece that features a marble statue of Neptune surrounded by tritons. Don’t think it twice and throw a coin in the fountain! If you do, you’ll return to Rome!
However, those looking forward to having an instagrammable memory of Trevi Fountain should bear in mind that it is usually crowded with tourists! Visit it early in the morning or late at night when the crowds disperse.
It’s probably the most famous planet in the world and you can’t miss it during your stay in Rome!