Top Attractions in Rome
Rome’s best attractions zigzag through centuries, from 5th-century basilicas and ruins to modern-day street art in funky Garbatella. Whether you’re a history buff, an art fiend, or an Instagram star, the Eternal City will not disappoint.
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.
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.
Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
No wonder the lines to get inside St. Peter’s Basilica are some of the longest in Europe: It’s home to world-famous architecture (many consider the dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica to be Michelangelo’s greatest achievement), one of the best views of Rome, and, oh yeah, the pope. The best way to visit this legendary site is to stroll in just after its 7 a.m. opening, make your way up to the dome, and look outside: You’ll get the spectacular view practically to yourself. You can take a free English-language tour if you visit between October and May. And keep in mind, there’s a strict dress code.
Largo di Villa Peretti, 2, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
If one single space encapsulates the Roman Empire, it would be Palazzo Massimo, Rome’s multilevel museum housing one of Italy’s richest collections of antiquities. The entire history of Rome, from the rise of the Republic to its imperial transition to its fall, is told through sculpture, mosaic, frescoes (watercolor paintings), and coins. Get to know generations of emperors by checking out their marble busts, then hang out in the 1st-century Villa of Livia dining room of Caesar Augustus’s wife. Note: Palazzo Massimo is part of the National Museum circuit, which means ticket holders can also access three more national museums (Terme di Diocleziano, Palazzo Altemps, and the Crypta Balbi) over a three-day period.
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy
For 120 years, Italy’s national gallery of modern and contemporary art, La Galleria Nazionale, maintained a relatively low profile in its gorgeous neoclassical palace on the edge of Villa Borghese—but no longer. The 2016 renovations reintroduced the collection, which covers 5,000-plus Italian works from the late 1700s to yesterday. Blockbuster Italian and international artists represented include Canova, Clemente, Modigliani, Beecroft, Penone, Calder, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Pollock, and Twombly.
Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
Many believe the Basilica di Santa Maria was the first church built in Rome. While archaeologists can’t definitively corroborate this claim, this landmark remains of supreme importance to locals who come to worship beneath its gilded ceiling. The church was continuously updated over the course of centuries, which means you’ll get to see an accumulation of embellishments stretching back to the 12th century. Among the most impressive are Pietro Cavallini’s gold and glass mosaic behind the altar and the ancient stone floor laid out in a dizzying geometric design.
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 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.
Via Garibaldi, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
The ancient Romans used aqueducts to carry water from distant springs into central Rome. As the empire decayed, so too did these ambitious public works. When Rome experienced a renaissance—not to mention a population boom—in the modern age, popes took cues from the emperors before them and repaired these ancient water channels. To celebrate their grand projects, they built massive public fountains like the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola on Janiculum Hill. Dubbed er fontanone (“the big fountain”), this 17th-century structure was commissioned by Pope Paul V to commemorate the repair of the Traiana aqueduct that tapped a spring near Lake Bracciano north of Rome.
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy
In 2010, street artist Davide Diavù rebooted Rome’s sleepy Quadraro neighborhood by launching MURo, an outdoor urban art museum where artists from around the world come to adorn large structures with even larger murals. The result is a vibrant arts district covered in neon works by geniuses like Alice Pasquini, Camilla Falsini, Gary Baseman, Jim Avignon, and Diavù himself. Take the English walking tour to learn about the works’ (often political) hidden meanings.
00154 Garbatella RM, Italy
The angular fascist architecture of Rome’s Garbatella neighborhood is a far cry from the charming cobblestoned streets found elsewhere in the city. Modern art fans flock here to visit galleries like 999 and 10b Photography, and street artists such as Herbert Baglione, Moneyless, and Invader have “tattooed” the concrete walls and houses with bold murals depicting images of lovers embracing and music playing. (A local favorite is the 2013 mural Your Act by Sten + Lex, which was almost fully sponsored by crowd-funding.)
Via Catalana, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
In 1555, Pope Paul IV ordered the establishment of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, confining the city’s Jewish population to a micro-neighborhood near Campo de’ Fiori for over three centuries. The medieval townhouses of the ghetto—once a walled quarter with gates that locked at night (seriously)—are now filled with art galleries and restaurants. Walk the main thoroughfare via Portico d’Ottavia to get to the neighborhood’s Art Nouveau masterpiece: the beautiful 20th-century Great Synagogue of Rome.
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 di S. Pancrazio, 00152 Roma RM, Italy
Rome’s largest landscaped public park, Villa Pamphili, was a resplendent 17th-century villa before it became state property. The historic villa is where the Italian government officially receives guests, while its 450 acres of rolling hills, panoramic terraces, and historic villas are where Romans come daily for picnics, jogs, dog walks, and relaxation. The bucolic setting includes the remains of a Roman aqueduct, medieval structures, and baroque architecture and sculpture.
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 Labicana, 95, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
In 1857, the prior of the Basilica di San Clemente thought there might be something underneath his 12th-century church, already renowned for its relics and striking mosaic of the Crucifixion. When he excavated, he found not only the original, 4th-century basilica—with numerous frescoes—but a 2nd-century Mithraic cult temple and a 1st-century Roman home. Visit the church and descend through these layers of the city’s history.
00120 Città del Vaticano, Roma RM
As tourists gaze up at Michelangelo’s dome in St. Peter’s Basilica, many have no idea that one of Vatican City’s most compelling historic sites is directly beneath their feet: the Vatican Necropolis, also known as the scavi (excavations). This multilevel subterranean area tells the story of Vatican Hill’s ancient Roman suburban beginnings. Take a walk through a 1st-century C.E. necropolis (once a cemetery and mausoleum), 5th-century Christian burial area, the Vatican grottoes, and the original 4th-century church foundation walls.
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.
Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore, 00100 Roma RM, Italy
The largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Mary Major contains almost a millennia’s worth of Italian architecture, from an 18th-century baroque exterior to the 5th-century mosaics lining its interior arch. Though the church is one of Rome’s four basilicas, the lines usually aren’t comically long like they can be at St. Peter’s. Be sure to see the relics of what is believed to be pieces of Jesus Christ’s manger from the day he was born.
1 Piazza Pietro D'Illiria
The Church of Santa Sabina is easy to overlook if you don’t know what you’re searching for, making it all the more worthy of finding. Built on the site of the Temple of Juno Regina, the 5th-century church is hidden on the residential Aventino Minore, the smaller of Rome’s Aventine hills, with a medieval fortress wall and entrance gate opening to a gorgeous courtyard lined with ancient columns, tomb decorations, and orange trees. Santa Sabina’s exterior and interior decoration is a celebration of recycled history, from ancient ruins to its campanile (bell tower).
Piazza Venezia, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
The Monument of Victor Emmanuel II in Rome, nicknamed the Wedding Cake (and, alternately, the Typewriter) for its distinctive boxy shape, offers some of the most stunning panoramic views to be had of the Eternal City, in every direction. There is an elevator to the top and a large roof deck from which to take it all in—not to be missed, and particularly glorious at sunset, as the shadows fall across the Roman Forum.
Viale della Marina, 41, 00122 Lido di Ostia RM, Italy
According to legend, Rome’s first orange tree—St. Dominic’s gift to the pope—was planted in Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of the Oranges) in the 13th century. The secluded park provides a panoramic view of the city, from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica to the Vittorio Emanuele monument. Sit below the aromatic trees and watch the sun set over the Tiber River.
Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano, 4, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
Known as the mother of all churches, the Basilica of St. John Lateran is the seat of the bishop of Rome, a.k.a. the pope. Though slightly less grandiose than St. Peter’s, the Lateran is a masterpiece, known for its massive stacked portico facade designed by Alessandro Galilei. A line of apostles runs the 230-foot length of the church, while a 13th-century mosaic decorates the apse—there’s even a fresco fragment by Giotto. The Lateran’s best-kept secret? The 13th-century side cloister. For a few euro in spare change, the cloister, its unique spiral columns, and the cosmatesque mosaics are all yours.
Piazza Mattei, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Step back in time and visit the ruins that lie deep beneath the Palazzo Valentini, located near the whirlwind Piazza Venezia. Modern technology fills in the missing mosaics and walls in this remarkable hidden attraction, once the home of a wealthy Roman family. The whimsical Fontana delle Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain) in the Piazza Mattei is a legendary testament to love. To win the respect of the father of his beloved, a Renaissance duke had the fountain constructed overnight. Take a midnight saunter to the Michelangelo-designed Campidoglio Capitoline Hill, and just the two of you can stand at what was once the center of the Roman world.
Piazza del Campidoglio
Stand at the feet of the Marcus Aurelius statue in this Michelangelo-designed, elliptical-shaped Renaissance piazza, and you will be at what was once the center of the world (or at least the Roman Empire). Today this space, which is surrounded by three palaces, is home to local government offices and the Capitoline Museums. From the bottom of the Cordonata Steps, take in architecture from Roman, medieval, Renaissance, baroque, and neoclassical eras.
Via Ludovisi, 49, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
After a 2017 renovation, Rome’s historic Hotel Eden re-emerged with an extensive face-lift. The 128-year-old hotel’s marble and gold lobby hints at the 98 opulent guest rooms that have been refreshed with gold detailing and original artwork. The new spa uses products from the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, founded in 1612. The top-floor restaurant, La Terrazza, serves Italian cuisine with views of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Via di S. Ambrogio, 17, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
One of the best ways to forget about the daily grind is to make like an emperor and head to the spa. Designed as an ancient Roman thermae, AcquaMadre is a multiroom spa with a tepidarium (warm bath), caldarium (hot bath), and frigidarium (cold bath)—just as Nero would’ve expected! The spa is set within the architecture of a medieval building, and its exposed brick and vaulted ceilings are reminiscent of ancient Rome. Channel the bygone era via the menu of pampering treatments including scrubs, massages, and masks. AcquaMadre’s schedule includes female-exclusive, male-exclusive, and male and female treatment times.
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.
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.
Piazza Campo de' Fiori, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Like all outdoor markets in Rome, Campo de’ Fiori is a bustling social center where locals push past throngs of tourists to complete their errands. Every morning you can find nonni shopping for produce with their grandchildren, feisty butchers running the day’s orders, and barmen hand-delivering trays of espresso to the vendors. By late afternoon, the market quiets down as vendors head home for the evening, and slowly buskers and musicians make their way to the square. By sunset, Campo once again surges with energy, this time to fuel the nightlife.
3 Via A. Doria
There are dozens of markets throughout Rome, and while many are threatened by the popularity of supermarkets, the Mercato Trionfale thrives just north of the Vatican. Some 200 stalls sell produce, cheese, eggs, meat, honey, fish, and housewares of a quality that’s hard to replicate. Enter from Via Andrea Doria and explore the butchers’ stalls, then head to the back where Rome’s largest number of fish stalls are clustered next to farmers selling fresh-picked produce.
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).
22-30 Piazza di Spagna
Often called the Spanish Steps, Rome‘s famous scalinata (monumental staircase) is the centerpiece of Piazza di Spagna. Built in the early 1700s, the steps connect the piazza (now a busy shopping area) with the Trinità dei Monti church on the hill above. The area became a hangout for models and artists and one of Rome‘s most photographed sites. Head to the top to see the sunset, or make like Hepburn and Peck in the film Roman Holiday and stroll around the piazza.
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy
Piazza Pasquino is a humble square named after Rome’s most famous “talking” statue, a centuries-old male torso so poorly preserved that generations of Italians have argued about whom it represents. (The leading candidate is Spartan king Menelaus of Greek mythology.) Since the early 16th century, Romans have posted satirical messages at the statue’s base to protest the Italian government. When you’re finished exploring, head for nearby Via del Governo Vecchio, a windy pedestrian strip lined with antique shops, restaurants, and boutiques.
Viale Vaticano, 00165 Roma RM
There is a staggering amount of artwork on display here. It is said that if you stood at each piece for just one minute, it would take you four years to see everything. Created by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the museums have expanded over the past 500 years to their current size of more than 12 acres! Highlights include the Borgia Apartments, the Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, and of course, the sublime Sistine Chapel.
Via dell'Oca, 38, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Artisanal Cornucopia is both art space and concept store, curated entirely by owner Elif Sallorenzo. Sallorenzo has an eclectic eye for design and fashion, and introduces Rome to pieces by established designers like Aquazzura to emerging, one-of-a-kind artisans like Giulia Barela and Benedetta Bruzziches. Her shop has a “salon” vibe: You’ll want to spend time getting to know Sallorenzo in the hopes that she’ll impart her some of her innate sense on you, or just give you straight-forward suggestions.
Via Appia Antica, Città Metropolitana di Roma, Italy
Getting out of Rome and into the country doesn’t take much of an effort. Head a few miles out of the city on the Via Appia Antica, the oldest and longest road in the Roman Empire, and you’ll find yourself at the Parco Appia Antica, a regional reserve park with beautiful green pastures and Roman tombs. From the Porta San Paolo (the entry gate to Rome) through the park, the ancient Appia Way has retained much of its original basalt pavement, making an easy riding surface for beginners as well as experts. For history buffs, ancient monuments, archaeological sites, and catacombs populate the area and are open for exploration. Nature-lovers can get up close with the sheep that produce Rome’s favorite ricotta cheese, as the area is free range for local shepherds herding sheep. There are several bike rental stands, including a favorite at the Appia Antica Caffè