Rome

14 must do’s when visiting Rome

Rome really does have something for everyone: historical landmarks, archaeological sites, world-famous museums and the most beautiful churches. And don’t get us started on the food. It is a city rich in history and subsequently rich in things to do. We’ve put together this list of 14 must do’s when visiting Rome, no matter your travel preferences. Both famous monuments and places, and relatively hidden gems are included.

1. Colosseum

Must do's when visiting Rome: Colosseum

Being one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it is pretty obvious that you can’t skip the Colosseum when visiting Rome. It is Rome’s most internationally recognized symbol, you simply cannot leave the city without seeing it. The view from outside the site is already impressive, but the inside will literally blow you away. The monument is full of long and bloody history, it is really crazy to dwell on the fact that gladiatorial combats and animal fights took place here daily.

Since this is one of the most popular attractions, you should book tickets well in advance. On the day itself, tickets are virtually never available, unless you are open to a guided tour that costs twice as much as usual. There are also different types of tickets, make sure to buy tickets that include access to the Arena Floor! It allows you to go to the actual place where the fights took place, so you can admire the Colosseum from even closer by. There’s also a possibility to visit the underground areas, but our ticket unfortunately did not include this. This is definitely still on our bucket list, as we found it so unfortunate to not be able to visit those as well.

2. Forum Romanum

Must do's when visiting Rome: Forum Romanum

The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was the most important site in ancient Rome. It was the scene of important religious, political and social activities. You could find some of the most impressive temples and monuments here. Nowadays, tourists can visit the ancient ruins and architectural fragments that were left behind. Although the Roman Forum requires quite a lot of imagination to be able to picture yourself 2000 years ago, there are still some areas that are practically untouched. A ticket to the Forum Romanum is included when buying tickets to the Colosseum, and can not be bought separately.

Pro tip
If you are looking for the best view of the Roman Forum, you should head to Via Monte Tarpeo.

3. Pantheon

Pantheon

Another impressive building is the Pantheon, one of the best-preserved buildings in Rome. You would hardly believe that it has been in continuous use for nearly two millennia! Both the inside and outside are very impressive and well worth a visit. Admission is free, so it can get very crowded here. The wait is fairly quick since it’s not that big, but we still recommend arriving as early as possible for the best experience. Also, as with most churches in Italy, it is required to cover your shoulders and knees when entering, both for men and women. The people that work there do pay attention to this so dress accordingly!

Fun fact
In the off-chance it’s raining when you’re visiting Rome, don’t take shelter in the Pantheon as the dome at the top is completely open. When it rains, it rains inside the Pantheon too!

4. Fontana di Trevi

Must do's when visiting Rome: Fontana di Trevi

Cliché but true: our favorite spot is undoubtedly the Trevi Fountain. This enormous masterpiece is one of Italy’s most famous landmarks, and we totally get why! Before our departure to Rome, we came across numerous reels on Instagram that reflected how crowded it can get at the Trevi Fountain. We didn’t want to take the risk so we got up at 5 AM to enjoy this iconic fountain at 6 AM without crowds. Some people were already there, like 20 tops, but not to say we didn’t have room. The only downside is that the sun had not yet risen so it was quite dark. When we returned an hour later to have breakfast, the place was so crowded that you just didn’t have a single spot to yourself! So we recommend, if you want to enjoy yourself in peace and also take some photos, to arrive as early as possible. But we do have to mention that, if you’re visiting during peak “rush hour” (practically the whole day during 8 AM – 10 PM) “picture-spots” do open op quickly, so you won’t have to wait an hour in line to take your photos!

A visit to the Trevi Fountain is not complete without tossing a coin. And so we did, we both threw a coin with our right hand over our left shoulder, hoping to return to Rome one day. 🥹

5. Galleria Sciarra

Galleria Sciarra

Located just a few steps away from the Trevi Fountain you can find Galleria Sciarra. It is a little architectural beauty and a beautiful example of Art Nouveau. Every wall features brilliant, colorful artwork. The ceiling is made of glass, allowing sunlight to illuminate the details in the frescoes. It is an obligatory stop that, too often, is forgotten. We noticed that most people use this as a passage way, but we actually stood there about 15 minutes looking up. Our necks didn’t like this, but our eyes did. 😂 Make sure to add Galleria Sciarra to your to do list!

6. Piazza Navona

Must do's when visiting Rome: Piazza Navona

Rome contains a lot of beautiful piazza squares, yet for us Piazza Navona stands out. We think it is Rome’s most charming and stunning piazza square. It is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy some people watching. There are a lot of restaurants and cafes here, but since this is a tourist spot, the prices are also a bit more expensive! This shouldn’t stop you from taking a coffee break here, as you can spend hours of people-watching (especially when the sun is shining).

We also came here once early in the morning to take some pictures without too many people. You can also find three fountains here, including the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. It is by far the most impressive one with the tall Roman obelisk. Make sure to go all the way round!

Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone

What few people know is that you can also find a hidden gem here. Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone is a magnificent 17th century church and definitely worth a visit. The inside of the church is truly marvelous. You can look around for hours and discover something new each time. Best of all, this is completely free, just be sure to dress appropriately as we stated before.

7. Capuchin Crypt

Visiting a crypt is not the first thing one thinks of when visiting Rome. We also wanted to do this in Paris, but unfortunately there were no tickets available during our time there. So it went without saying that we were definitely going to put this on our to do list in Rome! There are several crypts in Rome, we chose to visit the Capuchin Crypt as we found this the most impressive one. On your visit, there first is a museum you have to go through with some history about the capuchin monks. We found this really informative, and you should definitely take some time here. At the end of the museum there is a staircase down to where the crypt begins. This was both shocking and fascinating, thousands of bones meet you on all sides. There are several small chapels that contain the bones and mummified remains of an estimated 4000 individuals. We also came across the following chilling words: “What you are now, we once were. What we are now, you will become.” This immediately gave us something to think about.

When we got outside, we had to take a moment to recover, as this is quite intense to see. It is also important to know that you are not allowed to take pictures here. We saw many people doing this, which we personally found very disrespectful. The people who work there do pay attention to this, as we heard them declare “no photos” multiple times through a microphone.

We paid less than € 15 for the two of us, so well worth it if you’re into crypts! Note: you cannot purchase tickets in advance, they must be purchased at the box office. Again, you must wear appropriate clothing, your knees and shoulders must be covered.

8. Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Located at Piazza di Spagna you can find the Spanish Steps, a monumental stairway of 135 steps. It can get very crowded here, so come as early as possible if you want to get some good photos. Good to know is that you are not allowed to sit or eat on the Spanish Steps, there are even fines for this! It should only be used as a passageway and nothing more. These Italians and their rules…

After admiring the Spanish Steps and taking some pictures, you can do some window shopping at Italy’s most famous shopping street. Via dei Condotti is located in front of the Spanish Steps, with some amazing luxury stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Jimmy Choo,… Heaven for all fashion lovers!

9. Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola

Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola

If we had to choose a favorite church in Rome, it would definitely be Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola. The painted ceiling was really spectacular. There was even a mirror in the middle of the church in which you could stare at the ceiling. Compared to when we visited Galleria Sciarra, this mirror was a miracle as we didn’t have to look up all the time.

At some point you think you’re seeing a dome, but nothing could be further from the truth! It is an optical illusion, it is actually a flat painting with 3D effect. Everywhere you look you see fine beauty and detail, this is truly mesmerizing.

10. Victor Emanuel II Monument

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

From the balcony of our hotel we could admire the Victor Emanuel II Monument, situated at Piazza Venezia. It is an impressive white marble building dedicated to Vittorio Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy.

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

We climbed to the top to enjoy a splendid view. Up to here is free, if you want to go up another floor you have to pay. We did not do this so cannot say if it is worth it. Personally we found the free part already very spectacular so we did not find it worthwhile to go even higher. We spend around 45 minutes to 1 hour here, so not too bad for a free monument!

11. St. Peter’s Basilica

Must do's when visiting Rome: St Peter's Basilica

The most famous church in Christendom, St. Peter’s Basilica, cannot be missed during your visit to Rome. The entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free of charge, but be prepared for (semi-)long waits! We had to wait an hour in the full sun, it was 33 degrees Celsius at that time. Reason for the long waits is that everyone needs to go through security clearance, and if you want to go up the stairs to the dome, you’ll have a second line waiting for you after you get through security. We recommend being smarter than us and bringing a bottle of water, thank us later! Once you are inside, the impressive basilica will make you quickly forget the long waits, though.

We think that even non-believers will appreciate the church’s architectural majesty. The architecture and decoration is simply divine. Both Michelangelo and Bernini contributed to the design, making it one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Keep in mind that you must dress appropriately here as well.

12. Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Within walking distance of the St. Peter’s Basilica you will find the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. It is a world-renowned museum located in Vatican City that houses some of the most important pieces of artwork in the world. It is really big here, in our opinion you cannot have seen everything in one day. Put on your walking shoes, you will be surprised how many steps you take here! They do have multiple cafeterias to take a quick lunch or coffee break, which is nice. We visited when the sun was shining bright, so their gardens were amazing to walk through as well.

The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums, here you can find Michelangelo’s masterpiece, The Last Judgement. We really loved the detailed decorations in the painted artwork, this is truly magnificent. But, as with all tourist things, the Sistine Chapel was soooo crowded. People spend hours here, it seems. We get why, but it is a rare sight to enter a room where hundreds of people are just looking up (and listening to their audio guides). Well worth it though! Don’t forget to purchase tickets in advance and to dress appropriately.

13. The keyhole of the Knights of Malta

Hidden behind a giant green door you can find one of the most unique views of St. Peter’s Basilica. You have to peek through the keyhole to see the dome of St. Peter’s, symmetrically framed by some bushes. We tried to capture this beautiful view with our phone, unfortunately the picture doesn’t do the view justice. You have to experience in person to understand what we’re talking about!

These days, this is a popular spot for anyone seeking off-the-beaten-path experiences, which leads to queuing to take a peek. This passes quickly, so it is definitely worth the wait! When we arrived, around 7 people/couples were waiting, but after a less than 10 minutes wait, it was our turn. We must admit that we didn’t think peeking through a keyhole could be so spectacular!

14. Galleria Borghese

Galleria Borghese

All art lovers should add Galleria Borghese to their bucket list. This important art museums contains some amazing paintings, sculptures and antiques.  You must book tickets in advance, as only a limited number of people can enter at a time. We found this a great advantage, you can admire all the art without too many crowds. Don’t forget to admire the ceilings as well! There are 20 rooms full of art, featuring masterpieces of the Renaissance and Baroque art. We really enjoyed our time here, and spent around 2 hours to visit all the rooms and see the amazing art.

Where to stay in Rome

These were top picks for things to do in Rome! We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did. If you’re looking for the perfect 3-day itinerary for Rome, check out this blog post from Two in Rome. We also made a selection of must try dishes when in Rome and the most charming bars in Rome. Enjoy!

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