The Best Things to Do in Rome, Italy

Walk the Forum, queue early for the Vatican Museums, get reserved tickets for the Borghese Galleries. These and a host of other museums are all mind blowing. Stroll Trastevere, with Its vibrant local culture. Take a boat trip down the Tiber to Ostia Antica, Ancient Rome’s port city.Rome has cornered the contemporary arts scene for quite some time and now has two massive institutions to show for it, the Macro and the Zaha Hadid designed Maxxi.

Viale della Stazione di Ostia Antica, 00119 Roma RM, Italy
Hop on the commuter train at Lido Station (next to the Piramide Metro stop) and make the 25-minute trip to Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port town and administrative center. The teeming city of up to 100,000 residents is relatively well preserved and allows visitors a peek into the daily life of ancient Romans. Walk the basalt streets, visit the Forum, descend into Mithraic sanctuaries, and peruse the market stalls, which were in use until around the 5th century C.E.
00186 Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy
The Roman Forum is where ancient Rome began. The sprawling archaeological park gives us just a hint of what the Roman Empire once was—a dominant and diverse society. The Forum itself was the political, social, religious, and commercial focal point for the Roman Republic and eventually the whole Empire—for the most elite members of society as well as the common plebs. Walking through the Forum is a walk through history, from its beginning as a valley with small hilltop communities (8th century B.C.E.) to its rise as the capital of an empire. The ruins of basilicas, temples, public forum spaces, and shops can be explored, and the adventure leads to Palatine Hill, an area of high-society patrician homes including the house of Caesar Augustus.
Via di San Gregorio, 30, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
The Palatine Hill was home to an early Roman settlement and had major significance for the city’s history. Legend states that Romulus founded Rome on that hill in 753 B.C.E., and Romans even maintained a cult site sacred to the founding father for about 1,000 years. When the emperors rose to power, they chose the Palatine as the location for their sprawling villas and built enormous marble-clad structures to showcase their wealth and power. Today, the ruins of their majestic estates rise above the Forum and Circus Maximus, reminders of the grand imperial past. A visit is included in the price of a ticket to the Forum or Colosseum.
Piazza Navona, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Even with Segway tours rolling through and street performers loudly competing for audiences, the 15th-century Piazza Navona somehow retains a shred of grace and elegance in modern Rome. Calm Renaissance palazzi face the piazza’s centerpiece, the famous and complicated Bernini work, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (“Are these colossal male depictions of the four great rivers of the world writhing on top of a boulder not fancy enough? Let’s top it with an obelisk for a little visual interest.”). The piazza itself was created when a 1st-century arena was paved over to create a market square—you can still sense the oval track of the arena in the shape of the opening. Come for a gelato and some excellent people-watching, especially in the evening.
00120, Vatican City
Painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling are considered some of the finest art ever produced. These religious paintings include nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, of which The Creation of Adam is undoubtedly the most iconic.
Located across the Tiber River from the Centro Storico, Trastevere is a kaleidoscope of ivy-covered buildings, complicated Italian history, and bombastic nightlife. The heart of the neighborhood is Piazza Santa Maria, a large square where street performers show off their stuff, and Porta Portese’s massive Sunday flea market. Film buffs can take a walk through the maze-like side streets for a glimpse of director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s early life before heading off to one of the neighborhood’s many bars for a craft beer or aperitivo.
Via dei Chiavari, 34, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
One of Rome‘s best bakeries and among the city’s most historic institutions, Antico Forno Roscioli is a family-run business. Depending on the time of day, you might find patriarch Marco or his son Pierluigi hard at work. There are a variety of baked goods, including pizza by the slice, flatbreads, loaves, and sweets. The pizza bianca (flatbread brushed with olive oil) and pizza rossa (crispy flatbread dressed with light tomato sauce) are sensational, and the pane di Lariano (crusty sourdough bread) is the best in Rome. Be sure to check out their wine bar/restaurant/gourmet food shop—called, simply, Roscioli—nearby.
Piazza Campo de' Fiori, 22, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
This historic bakery in Campo de’ Fiori serves good pizza bianca and excellent pizza rossa, as well as assorted slices, cookies, and pastries. The neighboring annex across the alley (Vicolo del Gallo 14) serves sandwiches and baked goods. Drop in during August and September for a taste of the seasonal treat pizza prosciutto e fichi (pizza bianca filled with savory slices of prosciutto crudo and sweet, overripe figs).
Via Guido Reni, 4a, 00196 Roma RM, Italy
Maxxi, Rome’s first major contemporary art museum, cost €150 million and took renowned architect Zaha Hadid 10 years to complete. The result—a vast, bold space with exhibits on architecture and art—proves that modern Rome can produce masterpieces, too.

But it’s not just the building that’s worth visiting. Inside, visitors can explore a rotating set of art exhibitions dedicated to paintings, sculptures, and more from the 21st century. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am – 7 pm. It is closed on Mondays. You can get tickets in advance online.
Via degli Specchi, 6, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
This pub, owned by the Piedmont-based Baladin brewing company and Lazio’s own Birra del Borgo, opened in September 2009 and was quickly canonized as the best place to drink Italian beers in Rome. There are over 120 labels to choose from, ranging from well-known Italian brewers like Baladin and Birra del Borgo to more obscure producers like Lover Beer and Troll; there is also a handful of American beers such as Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery. In addition to 100 bottled beers, there are anywhere from 20-30 beers on tap. The outgoing staff is happy to make recommendations. The food menu includes salads, sandwiches, potato croquettes, pasta and homemade potato chips.
Piazza Orazio Giustiniani, 4, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
During the late 19th and most of the 20th centuries, the Testaccio district hummed with activity from the sprawling slaughterhouse. Thought animal slaughter was moved away from Testaccio in 1975, most of the building has been preserved. In recent decades, areas have been slowly transformed for new functions. The place houses a contemporary art exhibition space called the MACRO, a university campus, and even an organic supermarket (open Tuesday to Sunday).
Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
The Roscioli family, famous for their nearby bakery Antico Forno Roscioli, opened this restaurant/wine bar/gourmet shop in 2005. Book several days in advance for lunch or dinner and be sure to request a ground floor table near the back of the dining room, the best of the available dining areas. Start with a selection of cured meats and a plate of burrata, then move on to spaghetti alla carbonara, one of the best in town, therefore the world. The wine list is outstanding and has surprisingly affordable labels from every Italian region. If you can’t snag a table, pop in for an apertif before dinner service.
Via Lago di Lesina, 9/11, 00199 Roma RM, Italy
A few blocks from Villa Ada and the Via Salaria, Gelateria Fatamorgana sells Maria Agnese Spagnuolo’s edible works of art. Each flavor is made from all natural ingredients, without chemical additives or artificial flavors, and many are lactose free. Spagnuolo’s whimsical creations are often seasonal and always draw on quality produce, spices and herbs. In the summer, try panacea (ginseng, almond milk, and mint) with ananas e zenzero (pineapple and ginger). There are a number of chocolate variations ideal for winter, including Kentucky (dark chocolate and tobacco). Fatamorgana also offers gluten free gelato, a rarity in Rome where so many shops use additives containing gluten. There are three other branches.
Piazza della Minerva, 42, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Just behind the Pantheon hides the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a gem in its own right. The only Gothic church in Rome’s center, it’s a breath of fresh air from over-the-top Baroque opulence. Plus, it has gorgeous frescoes by Filippo Lippi (an early Renaissance master), the body of Italy’s patron saint Catherine of Siena, the tomb of painter Fra Angelico, and a statue done—at least partly—by Michelangelo himself.
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Quietly inhabiting the lovely Via dei Banchi Vecchi, Il Goccetto (not to be confused with the Italian pro-marijuana organization by the same name) is a secret hidden in plain sight: a cozy, wood-paneled wine bar with 18th-century ceiling frescoes, more than 300 bottles of Italian and French wine, and a chilled-out atmosphere. Come in the early evening to sit alongside locals reading newspapers or playing checkers, or waltz in late to experience the buzz of young, professional Romans who frequent this local favorite after dinner. No matter when you arrive, order the cheese plate.
Via di S. Teodoro, 74, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Every Saturday and Sunday on Via S. Teodoro, tucked just off Circus Maximus, Rome‘s best farmer’s market takes place. It’s run by Campagna Amica, an Italy-wide organization that promotes local, sustainable agriculture—so all of the products sold here, from jam to olive oil, bread to cheese, beer to wine, come from the Lazio region only, and are sold directly by the producers themselves. Tastings are a-plenty and the producers are more than happy to chitchat about their foodstuffs. If you come around lunchtime, you can buy a cheap lunch—maybe even including porchetta sliced right off the pig, like here—to eat on the picnic tables outside.
Piazza del Colosseo, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
No matter how many postcards you’ve seen of Rome’s iconic Colosseum, you just don’t get it until you pass beneath its crumbling arches. Built by Emperor Vespasian in 72 C.E., the huge amphitheater held 50,000 spectators and marked its opening with 100 days of brutal spectacles like gladiator combat and animal fights. The Colosseum was in use for four centuries, and now you can tour the ruins. Walk through the Hypogeum, an intricate series of tunnels and elevators originally used to transport animals, slaves, and gladiators, to the performance above, or take a moonlit tour to have one of the world’s most storied structures all to yourself.
Piazza di S. Luigi de' Francesi, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
In 1589, the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi became the official church of Rome’s French community, and with true Bourbon flair, the church’s decorations are a celebration of France’s power and wealth, with gilded stucco, lavish marbles, and detailed ornament. But it can feel as though no one is noticing, since visitors usually head directly to the Contarelli Chapel in the transept to the left of the main altar, where three incredible Caravaggio paintings reside: The Calling of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, and Saint Matthew and the Angel. Known as the Matthew Cycle, the beautifully detailed and dark oil paintings show off the best of the baroque painter.
Piazzale Napoleone I, 00197 Roma RM, Italy
Encompassing early 200 acres of rolling parkland, Villa Borghese is Rome’s verdant heart and everyone’s favorite place for an afternoon walk. The vast gardens are criss-crossed with picturesque paths, where visitors can meander past ancient statues and fountains, sit by a lake or caffè, and take in a film at one of two cinemas. For culture vultures, there is a Shakespearean Globe Theatre with a robust summer schedule, a historic puppet theater, and several world-renowned museums including Galleria Borghese with its enviable collection of Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio paintings. Younger kids enjoy playgrounds, electric train rides, and a kids museum, while children of all ages can get active with skate, bike, and paddleboat rentals.
Via Beniamino Franklin, 00118 Roma RM, Italy
The “new” Testaccio Market opened in a modern building next to the Ex-Mattatoio (former slaughterhouse) in the summer of 2012. The space was much larger than the original market, which meant there was plenty of room to grow new businesses, especially “fast food” stalls. While dining at the market is prevalent in many cities, Rome never had such a thing before Testaccio opened stalls like Mordi e Vai (meatball sandwiches).
Piazzale Scipione Borghese, 5, 00197 Roma RM, Italy
The Galleria Borghese, which is set in the large public Villa Borghese park, was born in the 16th century as the collection of Scipione Borghese, a powerful Cardinal and nephew to Pope Paul V. The Cardinal amassed an enormous number of ancient sculptures, many of which are displayed on the ground floor where several Bernini statues and Caravaggio canvases also appear. The upper story, on the other hand, is home to Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Seek out Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, Raphael’s Deposition, and Cranach’s Venus and Cupid. Unlike other collections of the era, which were kept in private palaces, the Borghese collection was intended to be open to the public, much like the surrounding grounds known as the Villa Borghese. The family collection is now property of the Italian state. Due to its dimensions and popularity, visits are limited to a fixed number of visitors every two hours and for a maximum of two hours. Be sure to book tickets well in advance and don’t bothering going to the museum without a booking.
Lungotevere in Augusta
The Altar of Peace, also known by its ancient name, Ara Pacis, is a 1st century BC monument embellished with marble reliefs. The structure’s carved stone surfaces depict religious processions and allegories, all of which glorify the family and virtues of the Emperor Augustus. Inaugurated in 9BC, the altar was a destination for ritual and sacrifice for four centuries, after which time it was neglected and ultimately buried by deposit left by Tiber floods. Its rediscovery took centuries and culminated in a Fascist-era excavation, followed by the repositioning of the monument in its current location beside the Tiber River. In 2006, American architect Richard Meier completed the Museo dell’Ara Pacis, the glass and limestone building that houses the Altar, as well as numerous exhibition spaces.
Piazza di Pasquino, 69, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
The newest addition to Rome’s growing number of boutique luxury accommodations opened in central Rome in March 2015 on a square just off the exuberantly Baroque Piazza Navona. The suites-only hotel is the work of hoteliers Emanuele Garosci and Gabriele Salini, who blend mirrored and distressed surfaces with modern design elements and Venetian artwork—a nod to G-Rough’s sister, PalazzinaG in Venice. The only things remotely “rough” about the place are the walls, which have been artfully stripped down to reveal textured strata of centuries-old paper and paint.

The G-Rough is composed of 10 suites spread over all five floors of a 16th-century palace. Half of the rooms in this former noble residence offer views of the pretty and intermittently noisy square, while the others face a quiet internal courtyard. Each floor is inspired by the work of a different Italian designer, including Giò Ponti and Ico Parisi, and rooms feature design pieces by contemporary artists.
31 Salita dè Crescenzi
Armando Al Pantheon is right around the corner from the Pantheon, but it feels a world away. The interior is small, warm and inviting. They have many classic Italian dishes and a few specials of their own. The wine list is reasonable and intriguing. Get the bruschetta with lard, quail egg, and truffle and the spaghetti alla Griscia.
Via della Meloria, 43, 00136 Roma RM, Italy
Gabriele Bonci’s famous pizza-by-the-slice joint serves some of the best pizza in town. The slow-leavened dough is made from organic stoneground flour, and toppings change throughout the day. Pizzarium also sells excellent bread and supplì (fried rice balls with various fillings). If you dare, get one of every slice. Doing so will certainly push Pizzarium out of the moderate budget range, but it is a worthwhile splurge. Pair your pizza with a craft beer from the fridge. Beware: the tiny place gets crowded at lunch, there are only a couple of benches outside to sit on, and there is no table service.
Via del Casaletto, 45, 00151 Roma RM, Italy
Cesare al Casaletto is far off the well-beaten tourist track, but it is easy to get to: just take the 8 tram from Piazza Venezia or Largo Argentina and get off at the very last stop. Fifty yards from the tram tracks sits Rome‘s best trattoria, where spectacular fried appetizers (get them all, or at least the gnocchi fritti and polpette di bollito) give way to classic pasta dishes like carbonara and gricia. The second courses are excellent and fall-off-the-tailbone braised oxtail is a favorite. Pair it all with fairly priced natural wines from all over Italy and be sure to leave room for dessert, preferably the panna cotta.
14 Via Evangelista Torricelli
In spite of being utterly delicious and in a popular destination for dining, La Torricella manages to fly under the radar. A long-established fixture in Testaccio, this pizzeria-ristorante serves delectable, consistently delicious food in a bustling, familial environment. The seafood is a particular draw and is best when deep fried or served in pasta.
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
Deep fried globe artichokes likely have their origins in the Jewish Ghetto. Yet you will find this regional specialty on menus all over the city, including at Flavio al Velavevodetto where carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichokes) are only served in season, in winter and spring. Flavio serves all sorts of typical Roman cuisine, including stewed tripe and braised oxtail. Like many Roman venues, it has its ups and downs and isn’t always consistent, but on a good day the food is phenomenal.
Piazza di Trevi, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
Fontana di Trevi is, as it should be, one of the most visited landmarks in Rome. Seeing it is worth the blind stumble through narrow stone streets and alleyways. But do so at night (and in the rain, if possible) to be rewarded with the stunning sight of the immense baroque fountain lit before a dark and shining background, like a scene from a Fellini movie. This is when the Trevi Fountain is at her most beautiful and most magical self.
Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
This 1st-century wonder will take your breath away. Not only is it one of the city’s most ancient sites, it’s been in continuous use for centuries. Originally built as a private temple, today it is a Catholic church and the resting place of Italian kings and the artist Raphael. Make the most of a wet day in Rome and watch as the rain falls through the center oculus.
Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
One of my most memorable stops in Rome was of course the Piazza San Pietro and with it, the Basilica, and Vatican City. This huge square was laid in 1657 and holds the 400,000 worshippers and visitors who crowd this vast area in times of celebration. There is a colonnade with columns and 140 statues of saints on each side of the piazza. They seem to frame the square. At the center and head of the square is the Basilica. St. Peter’s Basilica is an immense space that holds 60,000 people. It is open daily. This magnificent building holds many works of art in the church proper and in the treasury. Michelangelo’s “Pieta” is to the right of the entrance in the Basilica. Don’t miss a visit to the crypt underneath the church where you will see the simple tomb of Pope John Paul II. But most tourists will visit the tomb of St. Peter, the first Pope. You can take the elevator and walk around inside the dome. You’ll find a coffee shop on the roof. Visit Vatican City. It is the smallest state in the world. I went to the book shop and Vatican Post Office and mailed postcards from their own post office. Vatican City is the papal residence. The Sistine Chapel was a must-visit for me, as I wanted to see the ceiling in person. Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” was magnificent. I also went to a general papal audience, which was very rewarding as I had a seat about 8 rows up toward the front. Make sure you go with a guide or bring a guidebook, as you don’t want to miss anything.
Largo Marguerite Yourcenar, 1, 00010 Tivoli RM, Italy
The 2nd-century Roman emperor Hadrian spent much of his 20-year reign traveling through his empire, absorbing architectural inspiration from Greece to Egypt. His vision for a luxury villa was realized in Tivoli, a Roman suburb, where he constructed a sprawling palatial complex decked out with the finest statuary of the age. Hadrian’s Villa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it contains the ruins of over 30 epic structures. Be sure to check out the Maritime Theater, which Italian authorities managed to partially restore.
Piazza del Duomo, 26, 05018 Orvieto TR, Italy
It was love at first sight. Everything about Orvieto is charming, with the exception of the Duomo (Cathedral) which more appropriately would be described as elegant and grand, especially the facade. Originally a thriving center of Etruscan civilization, Orvieto is a little less then half way between Rome and Florence. We had a lovely meal on one of the cute cobble stone lanes before heading up the clock tower and gazing over the perfectly preserved city. You could easily spend a day or two wandering through the town, enjoying its history and culture, both past and present. We were treated with the utmost hospitality at every turn. There weren’t many visitors during our visit, which I found to be unusual, given its popularity on the tourist circuit. This will be a place to revisit, and immerse ourselves into the everyday life of this gorgeous gem.
Piazza Trento, 5, 00019 Tivoli RM, Italy
When Cardinal Ippolito d’Este narrowly lost the Papal election, he assuaged his frustrations by embellishing a spectacular villa in Tivoli, a village in the hills east of Rome. The villa itself was brilliantly outfitted in 16th century frescoes, while the gardens were the highest achievement of hydraulic engineering for the age.
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