Top things to see and do in Rome
A global city steeped in history and instantly recognisable by its ornate landmarks and rich culture, it’s no wonder that Rome has long been a drawcard for travellers from all walks of life.
The Eternal City is pure spectacle, awash with the sounds of honking vespas and the spirited conversations of locals set against the most theatrical of backdrops.
Yet in Rome, you are encouraged to do as the Romans do: slow down, soak in all of the wonderful art and culture, and indulge in the famous dolce vita for which the Italians are renowned.
Here’s a city guide to the top things to see and do in Rome.
The founding of Rome in 753 BC is a story of mythological proportions, paving the way for centuries of political drama and theatre involving invasions, revolts, assassinations and secret plots. From the turbulent reign of Julius Caesar to the humanist ideas of the Renaissance, you’ll need to dedicate plenty of time to even skim the surface of this magnificent city’s notable history that has so heavily influenced the trajectory of the Western world.
There is no shortage of spectacular sights to take in while exploring the city, and you will be guaranteed an impromptu history lesson as you traverse the charming cobblestoned streets and medieval piazze.
Listen to a podcast of our tips for top things to see and do in Rome:
Visit the majestic Colosseum amphitheatre and envision the epic gladiatorial battles of the past taking place; wander around the archeological site of the Roman Forum, formerly the hub of Roman public life; and admire the architecturally magnificent Pantheon, one of the best preserved buildings of Ancient Rome (remember to look up!).
There are countless museums and galleries in Rome but make time to marvel at the works of Titian and Caravaggio in the Borghese Gallery, which houses an impressive collection of artwork and sculptures as well as being surrounded by the beautiful Villa Borghese gardens – just be sure to book in advance.
And although technically its own city-state, the enigmatic walled Vatican City is a must-see, with people from all religious backgrounds lining up to view the awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel. The opulence and grandeur that you will encounter is on another scale altogether.
Your culinary expectations will be surpassed in this epicurean city and don’t be surprised if you quickly become attached to the Italian pastime of having an aperitivo before your evening meal.
In Rome, pasta takes on superlative qualities, the produce seems fresher and the overall taste is sharper, richer and abundantly more satisfying.
Settle in at a cosy trattoria such as family-run La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali or the more contemporary Antico Arco; or perhaps amble over to Testaccio, the birthplace of traditional cucina romana, and dine at the frequently lauded Flavio al Velavevodetto.
For dessert, treat yourself to a mouth-watering gelato at Rome’s original gourmet gelateria, Il Gelato di San Crispino, or try Gelateria del Teatro for unique flavour combinations.
Romans are serious about their coffee, so be sure to drink espresso to keep you going throughout the day and remember that cappuccinos are served only during breakfast. It’s usually cheaper to get your caffeine fix standing at the bar than taking up a table.
Pick up some genuine Italian leather goods on Via Condotti, perfectly positioned near the Spanish Steps, and peruse the multitudes of designer labels on offer.
Adjacent to this strip is Via del Corso which houses a more affordable mix of high-end chainstores and smaller designer boutiques as well as the elegant Galleria Alberto Sordi, a shopping arcade set in a striking art-nouveau style building.
The Porta Portese Flea Market in Trastevere is a massive market held every Sunday morning. Here you will find all kinds of treasures and a whole lot of trash – old and new, authentic and fake – among the endless rows of stalls.
Brush up on your haggling skills and join in on the rowdiness by using some of your new-found Italian charm to grab yourself a bargain. Just beware of pickpockets!
Although you could spend your entire time in Rome flitting between famous landmarks, the true Roman experience lies in the quaint neighbourhoods tucked away from the well-beaten tourist path.
Venture across the Tiber River to picturesque Trastevere (literally ‘beyond the Tiber’) and get lost in the labyrinth of ochre-coloured buildings that make up this spirited and lively neighbourhood. The always-busy Freni e Frizioni serves up a great aperitivo and is popular with both locals and travellers.
Monti is located just down the road from the Colosseum but somehow manages to remain relatively free from the hoards of snap-happy tourists. Largely home to a community of creatives and bohemians, this clandestine enclave boasts a myriad of cafes, bookstores and wine bars to whet the appetite.
For something more alternative, head to Testaccio, a grittier working-class neighbourhood known for its vivacious nightlife and top-notch eateries. It’s an authentic Roman experience without all of the fancy packaging.
Do you have any tips for top things to see and do in Rome? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Camha Pham is a freelance writer and editor who has recently swapped the cosmopolitan laneways of Melbourne for the sunny beaches of Perth. Struck with the wanderlust bug from an early age, she has travelled extensively through Asia, Europe and parts of North America. When she isn’t travelling, Camha is planning her next adventure and loves nothing more than the thrill of exploring new destinations and learning about other cultures. Travel highlights to date include chasing waterfalls in enchanting Iceland, hot-air ballooning over the lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia and accepting a surprise marriage proposal from her now fiancé at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto!