Though often described as a “living museum”, Rome offers so much more than its staggering stock of artistic treasures – not least its fantastic food. Here’s our guide on what to do in Rome.
Chock-full of ancient monuments and picturesque piazzas, Rome’s historic core must be one of the world’s most seductive. But make time too for the neighborhoods outside the centre, such as winsome Trastevere, which comes alive after dark; or rough-around-the-edges Testaccio, with its lively market and traditional trattorias.
However long you’ve got to explore the city, you’ll be left wanting more.
4 essential things to do in Rome
Rome’s list of must-sees is longer than most cities’, but its historic centre is very compact, with the highlights reachable on foot.
1. Go back in time to ancient Rome
The granddaddy of all Roman monuments, the Colosseum was built in 72 AD as the venue for bloodthirsty gladiatorial contests. You can pay to see it from the inside, scale its tiers and take a tour of the underground area, but the view from the outside is arguably more stirring (and free). Nearby, the sprawling Roman Forum is littered with the remnants of what was once the heart of the ancient world.
2. Get neck ache at the Pantheon
Once inside this hulking ancient Roman structure, look up and admire its unique oculus. A full 30 feet across, this perfectly round hole in the roof is a feat of ancient Roman engineering.
3. Wander the historic centre
Don’t leave town without sipping a Campari in one of Rome’s picturesque piazzas: Piazza Navona, built on the site of an ancient stadium, hence its oval shape; and Campo de’ Fiori, lined with cafés and with a colourful morning market. Wander east for more must-sees: the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, recently restored to the tune of €2.2 million, and a marvel of gushing water and sculptures of frolicking horses and mythical creatures.
4. Take in the Vatican, the world’s smallest sovereign city state
The Vatican Museums are the world’s richest treasure trove of art, with over nine miles of museums holding many of Italy’s most celebrated artworks. Nearby, St Peter’s Basilica, the largest Catholic church in the world, is a masterpiece designed by the greatest Italian architects of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
5 alternative Rome highlights
Escaping the crowds isn’t easy in Rome, but these alternative attractions offer a bit of breathing space.
1. Pay your respects at the Protestant Cemetery
This historic, gorgeously overgrown cemetery, in the Testaccio district, is famous for the graves of Keats and Shelley, but the ordinary gravestones of foreigners who died far from home are just as moving.
2. Explore Nero’s Domus Aurea
A stone’s throw from the Colosseum, the Emperor Nero’s “Golden House” is currently undergoing a €39 million restoration, but it’s still open for guided tours. Guides take you underground to explore what was once a vast, opulent palace covering more than half a square mile.
3. Take in the view from the Aventine Hill
This shady, well-to-do enclave offers some welcome peace and quiet. Head to the Giardino degli Aranci, a garden filled with orange trees, for the knockout view from its terrace. A little further up the road is the Priory of the Knights of Malta; it’s closed to the public, but peek through the keyhole to see a perfectly framed view of St Peter’s.
4. Hit the shops on Via del Governo Vecchio
This serpentine back alley near Piazza Navona holds lots of tempting one-off boutiques, with a clutch of good vintage shops – a reliable hunting ground for Italian leather bags and quirky accessories.
5. Check out Rome’s street art scene
Rome’s street art scene has exploded in recent years, thanks to a council-run initiative that gives artists the freedom to transform formerly downtrodden areas such as Pigneto, Ostiense and Quadraro with bold, colourful murals.