The Best Places to Visit and Must-See Attractions in Rome
Rome's heady mix of ancient ruins, museums, monuments and churches make the Eternal City one of the world's most romantic and visually stunning capitals. The city's vast cultural and historic richness make it impossible to see everything, even after multiple visits. We have outlined 29 of Rome's "must see" sites, from famous to lesser-known landmarks, to help you experience this amazing city at its best.
This sumptuous palace, which has been the home of the noble Colonna family for eight centuries, contains a stellar private art collection including works by Caracci, Pietro di Cortona and Veronese. A highlight of the Galleria Colonna is its stately Great Hall, a Baroque jewel whose steps contain a cannon ball fired by the French Army from the Janiculum Hill in 1849 during the period of the Roman Republic. The palace can only be visited on Saturday mornings, from 09.00-13.15.
Aventine Hill Keyhole
This popular peep-hole on the Aventine Hill contains a glorious surprise: a magical view of the dome of St Peter's, framed by trees, allowing the viewer to see across three countries: the sovereign territory of the property's owners - the Knights of Malta, then Italy, and in the distance the Vatican. While exploring the Aventino, visit the nearby Orange Garden as well as the city's Rose Garden, open April to June.
Little-known by Rome's tourists, the Coppedè quarter is marked by an eclectic and original mixture of architectural styles and building materials, giving it the feel of walking through a fairytale. Highlights include the three fairy houses in Piazza Mincio, the spider building, and the Frog Fountain which gained fame after The Beatles jumped into it in 1965.
The Spanish Steps need little introduction and recently the 18th-century monument made international headlines after the city enforced a no-sitting policy. The base of this splendid Baroque staircase, which dates to 1725, is flanked by two cultural landmarks: the Keats-Shelley House where John Keats died in 1821; and Babingtons, the historic English tea-rooms founded in 1893.
If you can't make it down to Pompeii or Herculaneum then hop on a train from Piramide station and within half an hour you will be wandering through Ostia Antica, what was once Rome's main harbour city during the Roman Republic (509 BC–27 BC). Exploring the well-preserved remains of this former seaport – including a Roman theatre – makes an enchanting day trip from Rome.
One of Rome's quirkiest and least-visited museums, Centrale Montemartini is a former industrial power plant housing over 400 ancient marble sculptures, exhibited among giant engines and boilers. Located in the multi-cultural Ostiense district, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and can be visited Tues-Sun 09.00-19.00.
This Renaissance palace near Piazza Navona houses a highly important collection of classical Greek and Roman sculpture. Designed in the 15th century by Melozzo da Forlì, Palazzo Altemps is an architectural work of art in itself. In addition to an exquisite private chapel, the palace's highlights include the Galatian Suicide, the remarkable Grande Ludovisi sarcophagus, and the Ludovisi Throne.
View from Janiculum Hill
The Janiculum Hill offers a sweeping panorama over Trastevere and the entire city, stretching across to the Castelli Romani and the Apennines in the far distance. The view over Rome is particularly attractive as the sun sets. The hill is best known for the unmissable “Fontanone”, a monumental fountain built in 1612 to mark the end of the Acqua Paola aqueduct. However if you walk downhill a couple of minutes to the courtyard of S. Pietro in Montorio you will come across a hidden surprise: the Tempietto, a masterpiece of High Renaissance architecture designed by Bramante.
Casina delle Civette
Tucked away in the grounds of Villa Torlonia is a remarkably unexpected building known as the little house of the owls. This curious complex was designed originally, in 1840, as a 'Swiss cabin' for Prince Alessandro Torlonia. However it was later transformed into the style of a 'mediaeval hamlet', becoming a glorious homage to Art Nouveau. Expect to marvel at the building's bespoke motifs of owls, swans and peacocks, while its nooks and crannies are a delight to explore, particularly for children.
Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum
A trip to Rome would certainly be incomplete without visiting the Colosseum, an ancient landmark of truly colossal proportions. The Colosseum's integrated ticket also includes entry to the majestic Roman Forum and the vast Palatine Hill, both of which are located in the same archaeological area. If all this is not too much, try and reserve tickets for the nearby Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero's golden palace, built after the great fire of Rome in 64 AD and today buried under the Oppian Hill opposite the Colosseum.
Campo de' Fiori area
While tourists swamp Campo de' Fiori, many complain - somewhat ironically - that the market is “too touristy”. Fear not, as nearby there are two little-visited gems worth checking out: Arco degli Acetari, an internal courtyard – trapped in a mediaeval past – where Rome's vinegar makers once worked; and Passetto del Biscione, a hidden laneway decorated with frescoes of cherubs. According to tradition, in 1796 the tiny lane was the scene of a miracle when its mural of the Madonna allegedly moved her eyes.
Borromini's optical illusion
Located in an inner courtyard at Palazzo Spada (whose gallery houses works by Caravaggio, Titian and Rubens) is a stunning example of forced perspective by Baroque genius Francesco Borromini. Dating to 1632, this optical illusion is centred around a colonnade whose diminishing rows of columns and rising floor level trick the eye into thinking the corridor is 37 metres long instead of its actual nine-metre length. The effect is compounded by what appears to be a life-size statue but which is in fact only 60cm high.
Despite its ever-increasing crowds, a visit to the Pantheon is unmissable. Built by Emperor Hadrian between 119-128 AD, this former temple is best known for containing the world’s largest concrete dome suspended without reinforcement. Each year, on the feast of Pentecost, firemen drop thousands of rose petals through the oculus at the centre of the dome. The hugely popular ceremony sees hordes of people queue up, hours in advance, to watch the petals flutter to the floor of the Pantheon, which is also the burial place of two Italian kings and the Renaissance master Raphael.
Chiostro del Bramante
Commissioned around 1500, Bramante's square cloister is an extraordinary example of High Renaissance architecture, forming part of the complex of the adjoining church of S. Maria della Pace. Visitors to the building – today an art museum housing important temporary exhibitions – can enjoy a coffee while sitting in the splendid upper gallery, whose tables are nestled between Corinthian columns.
Experience the Roman countryside by tracing the footsteps of Rome's emperors and saints by walking along the flagstoned Appia Antica, through the Parco dell'Appia Antica. Once ancient Rome’s most important military and economic artery, the road remains largely intact and makes for a fascinating walk (or bumpy cycle), stopping off to visit the Catacombs of S. Calisto and S. Sebastiano along the way.
Doria Pamphilj Palace
Rome's best-known private gallery, the Doria Pamphilj collection contains works by masters such as Bernini, Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and Velàzquez (whose fearsome portrait of the Pamphilj Pope, Innocent X, is a highlight). The Doria Pamphilj palace was built in the 17th century and is located on Via del Corso, Rome's main thoroughfare.
Caravaggio walking tour
Rome hosts about 25 Caravaggio masterpieces that can be viewed by the public: several can be seen for free in churches, others as part of a visit to some of the city's most important art collections in palaces and museums. With the exception of Galleria Borghese and Casino Boncompagni Ludovisi, the masterpieces can be admired without booking in advance.
Rome's Non-Catholic Cemetery
Also known as the Protestant Graveyard, this cemetery in the shadow of the city's pyramid is the final resting place of the English Romantic poets Keats and Shelley. It also contains the grave of Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party, and modern-day writers and poets, from Gregory Corso to Andrea Camilleri. The cemetery is one of Rome's most romantic and enchanting places.
Open-air street art museum
The Big City Life street art project was designed to regenerate the forgotten suburb of Tor Marancia by turning its social housing tower blocks in an open-air urban art museum. Completed in 2015, the street art scheme features 18 giant murals by Italian and international street artists. The area can be reached by the 160 bus from the city centre but why not take the scenic route and ramble through beautiful Garbatella which celebrates its centenary in 2020.
Rome's oldest pharmacy
The Spezieria di S. Maria della Scala is located in the Trastevere quarter and dates to the second half of the 16th century. The ancient Spezieria was originally established by friars who grew medicinal plants in their monastery garden. By the end of the 17th century it gained such a reputation that its customers included princes, cardinals and even the doctors of the popes, earning it the nickname "pharmacy of the popes." Visits are by appointment only.
Visiting the crypt in the Capuchin Church of S. Maria della Concezione on Via Veneto is one of the eeriest things to do in Rome. The vaults and walls of the six small rooms are decorated with the bones and skulls of some 3,700 monks who died between 1528 and 1870. With the death of each monk over the centuries, the dead were buried in the crypt, without coffins. The longest-buried monks were exhumed to make space for the newly deceased, with the reclaimed bones added to the decorative motifs on the walls. The crypt can be visited daily 09.00-18.30.
Trevi Fountain at dawn
Who hasn't heard of the Trevi Fountain? This late Baroque jewel was completed in 1762, based on designs by Nicola Salvi, and featuring the work of four sculptors, principally Pietro Bracci who created the central statue of Oceanus. In the mid-20th century the monument was popularised in the film La Dolce Vita which featured Anita Ekberg wading into the fountain's waters. These days the Trevi Fountain is under strain from a constant stream of tourists, however a visit at dawn or late at night is unforgettable.
After visiting the Trevi Fountain, make sure to seek out this hidden gem located around the corner. The glass-domed structure was built as a fashionable shopping centre in 1888, following Rome's designation as capital of a united Italy in 1870. The building no longer functions in its original role but its magnificent Art Nouveau frescoes surrounding the interior courtyard can still be enjoyed. Galleria Sciarra is open as a public pedestrian thoroughfare, during office hours.
No visit to Rome is complete without briefly leaving Italy to light a candle in St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Almost all of the great Renaissance architects and artists had a hand in its design and it can be visited for free. There is a papal audience every Wednesday morning while on Sundays at noon the pope imparts his blessing on crowds for the Angelus. Bear in mind that the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, are separate to St Peter's.
Take some time away from the bustle of the city and head for Villa Borghese, an 85-hectare park which houses one of Rome's greatest museums: Galleria Borghese. This treasure trove contains sculptures by Bernini and Canova, paintings by Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael and Correggio. The park is also home to the city's zoo, a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and the world's smallest cinema. It is possible to rent bicycles and take a rowing boat out on the park's little lake.
The church of St Peter in Chains is a minor basilica hidden away in the Monti quarter, not far from the Colosseum. The church takes its name from an important relic: the chains said to have bound St Peter in Jerusalem and Rome, which can be viewed in a reliquary under the main altar. The church is also home to a magnificent marble statue of Moses, carved in 1515 by Michelangelo who viewed the statue as his most lifelike creation. The church can be reached via the steep Scalinata di Borgia near Cavour metro stop.
Regarded by many as Rome's most beautiful piazza, this Baroque gem has its roots in the first-century AD Stadium of Domitian, whose ruins can still be visited. Piazza Navona as we know it today dates to the 17th century and is dominated by Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers. Opposite is Borromini's splendid Church of S. Agnes d'Agone which, according to legend, is built on the site of a brothel where the fourth-century Saint Agnes was stripped of her clothes and martyred.
Rome's archaeological site at Largo di Torre Argentina is best known as being the scene of Julius Caesar's assassination, an event which is re-enacted by historical groups each 15 March. The so-called sacred area also contains ruins of the Theatre of Pompey and is home to a popular cat sanctuary. In 2019 the luxury jeweller Bulgari announced a major restoration project of the site.
Baths of Caracalla
This enormous complex of Roman public baths or thermae, was likely built between 212 and 216 AD, during the reigns of emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla. The baths remained in operation until the sixth century before falling into disuse and suffering major damage in the earthquake of 847. The site contains a maze of underground areas whose ruins can be visited today. During the summer the grounds hosts open-air opera, dance and concerts staged by Rome's Opera House.