Rome’s nickname of “The Eternal City” may refer to something else, but sometimes I think it also means you could spend an eternity in the Italian capital and still not see everything on your list. The place is just packed with world famous attractions, fascinating history, incredible art, delicious food, and designer shops. What to do in Rome? I could be flippant and say, “Everything,” and I wouldn’t be far wrong.
Of course, when we’re on vacation we don’t have time to do everything. And most of us aren’t interested in all attractions equally. So while Rome still presents the visitor with a must-see list as lo as an eight-year-old’s arm, your vacation time is short enough that you’ve got to make some tough choices. Think of it this way – the next time you’re in Rome, you’ll pick up where you left off.
This list isn’t comprehensive of everything there is to do and see in Rome, but it’ll give you a head-start with your planning. I like mixing my sightseeing up – visit the top sights in a city, then pick one or two off-the-wall attractions just to spice things up – but this is your trip. My best advice is to make a priority list of the things you most want to see, putting the “if I don’t see that before I leave Rome I will consider this trip a failure” sights at the top, and work your way down.
And please remember that Rome is big. Do yourself a favor and learn about Rome’s public transportation system before you set out, so you can hop on a bus or tram every so often to give your feet a break.
For more help in planning your trip, don’t miss my Rome travel guide.
Rome’s Top Attractions
Colosseum || creative commons photo by Bert Kaufmann
- Colosseum – One of Italy’s most iconic sights, the Colosseum is the largest ancient Roman amphitheater.
- Forum – The Roman Forum was the epicenter of the once massive ancient Roman empire – this was, essentially, the Roman empire’s main street.
- Pantheon – Most of ancient Rome is represented by ruins now, but the Pantheon has been in constant use for more than 2,000 years.
- Spanish Steps – This grand staircase is topped by a pretty church and is a romantic destination in the evenings.
- Trevi Fountain – The Trevi is the fountain into which you want to throw a coin or two in order to make sure you get a return trip to Rome. Or so the legend goes.
- Palatine Hill – The Palatine Hill is the central one of Rome’s seven hills, and where legend says the she-wolf cared for Romulus (later, the founder of Rome) and Remus.
- Capitoline Hill – Another of Rome’s seven hills, the Capitoline Hill is today topped by museums and a beautiful piazza designed by Michelangelo.
- Borghese Villa – This was once a private residence, and is now an art gallery (with two notable Bernini sculptures) surrounded by an enormous and popular garden.
- Piazza Navona – This oblong piazza was once the site of an ancient Roman circus.
- Trastevere Neighborhood – The Trastevere is one of the areas that maintains more of its historic look than some of the other more modern neighborhoods.
- Vatican City – This city-state within a city, the world’s smallest independent nation, is home to some of the most famous art in the world.
Guided Tours in Rome
Weird Attractions in Rome
Cats among Roman ruins || creative commons photo by Rodney
- Cappuchin Crypt – This has become popular enough that it’s almost a “top attraction” nowadays, but I think this series of tiny chapels underneath a church (decorated almost entirely with the bones of more than 4,000 Cappuchin monks) still qualifies as “weird.”
- Largo di Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary – The Largo di Torre Argentina ruins in the center of Rome aren’t weird. The site is a former complex of ancient Roman temples, including the spot where Caesar was believed to have been killed, but many visitors today are drawn to the no-kill cat shelter that operates out of the site.
- Museum of Purgatory – This little museum is exclusively dedicated to objects that have supposedly been marked by people from beyond the grave. We’re talking Bible pages with hand marks singed into them, that sort of thing.
- Criminology Museum – Before 1994, this collection of torture devices and criminial artifacts was only open to the government. Today, anyone can visit.
- Museum of the Sanitary Arts – Housed inside a hospital, this museum’s exhibits are all about the history of healing. Included among the displays are wax models used in medical school instruction and anatomical anomalies.
- Vatican Post Office – Italy’s postal system is notoriously slow. Send your postcards from the Vatican post office and you’ll not only have faster service, you’ll also be sending special Vatican-only stamps.
- Museo del Presepio – It’s Christmas year-round at Rome’s Presepio Museum, where the history of the Italian craft of nativity scenes is on display.