You could spend a lifetime in Rome and just scratch the surface. Rome is a generous city, bustling with sights and offering something for everyone, from fashion and contemporary art to some of western civilization’s most important antiquities, grand baroque churches to quaint cobbled neighborhoods and cozy trattorie. There are so many ways to do Rome, and so many things to see.
If you are just starting out, here are some of our favorite spots.
1. The Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums are a must for any visitor. Don’t miss the Raphael Rooms. And please stay longer and explore the whole museum. Explore St. Peter’s basilica and the narrow lanes of the Borgo district afterwards, or venture north into bustling Prati. Visit early in the morning to avoid the heaviest crowds, and reserve in advance.
2. Join a Papal audience on Wednesdays or the Papal blessing on Sunday at St. Peter’s square. Even if you are not Catholic, it is an interesting experience!
3. Follow the paths of the Caesars and explore the heart of Rome’s archaeological sites: The Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill are a good place to start. We strongly recommend a good book and audio tour to help you make sense of the ruins. For a more intimate, close-up view of ancient Roman life, visit the excavated ruins of a senator’s house, the Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini. Reservations are required.
4. The Galleria Borghese is one of our favorite museums. It is small and packed with incredible paintings and sculptures. The best part? Entry is strictly by timed reservation for a 2-hour visit. Yes, there is a kick-out time too, to truly control crowds. So the experience is a comfortable one, with just enough time to take it all in. Stroll the gardens and the other nearby museums after your visit. Reserve in advance.
5. The Pantheon, of course, is a must see. Happy hour drinks in the cafes outside give you a nice way to gaze upon it. Rick Steves offers a nice audio tour podcast. And visit in the rain if you can to see some feats in ancient drainage.
6. Despite its central location, the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is much overlooked. It holds an impressive collection of art, set in an opulent yet intimate palace. The audio tour is excellent. Don’t miss this museum!
7. The piazzas of the Centro Storico, or historic core of Rome, are a treasure of commerce and people watching. They are linked by a network of narrow, if crowded, pedestrian streets. Start in the Piazza Navona, bustling with tourists and filled with stunning fountains. Make your way to Campo dei Fiori to stroll the stalls of the outdoor food market. Go as early in the morning as possible to avoid the onslaught of tourists. Continue on to Piazza Farnese, named for the lovely palace that fronts this much less touristed spot. Stop here for your coffee and enjoy the more local people watching.
8. Cross the Tiber on the Ponte Sisto and explore the charming pedestrian lanes of Trastevere. Santa Maria in Trastevere fronts the main square and hold lovely Byzantine mosaics. And if you venture further south on a Sunday, you’ll find the rambling Porta Portese flea market, a real slice of life with everything from household wares to antiques, drawing a local crowd.
9. Venture a little outside the walls to see San Paolo Fuori le Mura. It is one of the most spectacular of Rome’s major cathedrals. If you have time, visit the other major churches of Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Giovanni in Laterano, where you can take in the sacred steps.
10. We know, we know, it’s a little cliche, but toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain to insure your return to the Eternal City. This fountain, and the surrounding area, full of magnificent monuments, obelisks, fountains, and facades, is especially magical at night, awash in warm streetlight. Stroll the historic center late into the evening, after the tourist masses have tucked into bed.
Enjoy your time in Rome! Carpe diem!