There's no shortage of things to do in Rome, since the city brims with historical and architectural wonders. Few other cities have been able to build around ancient ruins and evocative palaces as successfully as Rome, and you'll find living history pretty much wherever you look. One day isn’t enough to cover it all, but we’ve selected some of the top Rome sights and attractions for you to check out first.

    Get a sense of the beauty and buzzing life of this historical city at Piazza Navona, then stroll down cobblestone streets that link marketplaces and ancient landmarks. Don’t miss the ancient gladiatorial arena, the Colosseum. You should also cross over the Tiber to see the wonders of the Vatican, such as St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, home to Michelangelo’s famous frescos. 

    What are the best things to do in Rome?

    1

    Colosseum

    Ancient Rome’s favourite entertainment venue

    The Colosseum is an iconic amphitheatre built in AD 72 and is considered one of the world's 7 wonders. Standing in the same place as the mighty Roman gladiators once battled 2,000 years ago is a thrilling experience.

    A highlight of the famous archaeological site is the hypogeum – the amphitheatre's incredible underground labyrinth with chambers and passageways. You can expect very long queues at the Colosseum. Save time by visiting early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Even better, buy tickets online and join shorter queues. 

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    Location: Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +39 06 3996 7700

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    2

    Trevi Fountain

    The hub of the Quirinale district features several amazing landmarks

    Trevi Fountain is one of the world’s most gorgeous fountains, almost 50 metres across and heavily adorned with sculptures of Roman gods, tritons and horses. Before traditionally tossing in your coins for luck or taking selfies with the magnificent Palazzo Poli palace in the background, stroll along its narrow streets, which are some of Rome’s quaintest. 

    Some of these streets are lined with great dining spots and gelaterias. Via di San Vincenzo and Via della Dataria leads you to the Quirinal Palace, as well as the Piazza del Quirinale with its obelisk and fountain of Castor and Pollux.

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    Location: Piazza di Trevi, Rome, Italy

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    3

    The Pantheon

    Climb up to the colonnade for a sweeping cityscape

    The Pantheon is one of Ancient Rome’s most famous icons, which remains a functional chapel today. This granite-domed temple houses the tombs of among Italy’s most important figures, including High Renaissance painter, Raphael. Check out the Fontana del Pantheon marble fountain with its six-metre towering obelisk in Piazza della Rotonda up front. 

    The piazza is a great place to hang out, with street music filling the air regularly. Beware of pickpockets, though. It’s around a 10-minute walk from Campo de’Fiori via the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

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    Location: Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, Italy

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +39 06 6830 0230

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    4

    Roman Forum

    A famous Roman Empire meeting place

    The Roman Forum was the heart and soul of Ancient Rome, packed with basilicas, temples, lively marketplaces, and government buildings. Today, the sprawling ruins are just as impressive and attract more than 4.5 million visitors annually who come to imagine what life was like during the Roman Empire.

    Tempio di Saturno, Aro di Tito, and the Curia are top landmarks here. Plan to visit early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday crowds. The Roman Forum is within walking distance from the metro Line B stop Colosseo.

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    Location: Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +39 06 6998 4443

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    5

    Piazza Navona

    A magical spot for night-time people-watching

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    Piazza Navona is a beautiful plaza that has been a place for Romans to socialise for over 2,000 years. The reason for its oblong shape is that a 30,000-seat stadium was built here in AD 86 to host athletic and gladiatorial competitions, horse races, and other events. Ancient Romans even flooded the stadium to hold mock naval battles.

    You can see a glimpse of the ruins of the original stadium on the northern end of the plaza – it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, the plaza features Baroque architecture, 3 impressive fountains, and a lively outdoor café atmosphere. The best time to visit is at night, when the crowds have lessened and the fountains become especially magical.

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    Location: Piazza Navona, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

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    6

    Spanish Steps

    A wildly photogenic staircase for people-watching and photo ops

    The Spanish Steps is a regal stone staircase built in 1725 that connects the Piazza di Spagna – Spanish Square – with the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. As you wander through the narrow and charming streets in the centre of Rome, you’ll inevitably stumble upon these famous steps.

    After climbing the 138 steps, catch your breath as you take in lovely views over the ancient rooftops of Rome. If the church is open, take a peek inside and enjoy a quiet escape from the crowds outside. The steps are a popular attraction, especially in spring when the staircase is covered with pots of azaleas. Be prepared for big crowds.

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    Location: Piazza di Spagna, 00187 Roma RM, Italy

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    7

    Vatican Museums

    Wander through 1,400 rooms filled with historical masterpieces

    The Vatican Museums lie inside the Vatican City and consists of 54 galleries displaying 20,000 works of art that the Catholic Church has collected throughout the centuries. Art and history lovers will be in heaven here. You can easily spend a couple of days exploring the Renaissance paintings, religious art, Roman sculptures and antiquities, and inscriptions from ancient catacombs.

    Top highlights include the Sistine Chapel, Niccoline Chapel, the Borgia Apartment, and the Gallery of Maps displaying maps created by Roman topographers in the 16th century. You can expect long queues no matter when you visit, so book skip-the-line tickets online to ensure a much shorter wait.

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    Location: Vatican City

    Open: Monday–Thursday from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, Friday and Saturday from 8.30 am to 10.30 pm (closed on Sundays)

    Phone: +39 06 6988 4676

    Map
    8

    St Peter's Basilica

    An iconic pilgrimage site in the Vatican City

    St Peter's Basilica is the largest church in the world and one of the Catholic Church's holiest sites to worship. The magnificent church was built between 1506 and 1626 on the burial site of St Peter, one of Jesus' 12 disciples, and features Renaissance architecture.

    Inside, you'll find a host of impressive sculptures, including the Pietà statue by Michelangelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini's massive statue of St Longinus and the bronze Chair of Saint Peter. Entrance to the Basilica is free, but be prepared to wait as long as 4 hours to get in. Alternatively, buy a guided tour and skip the queues. For a bird's-eye view over Rome, you can climb to the top of the dome for a reasonable fee.

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    Location: Viale Vaticano, 00165 Roma RM, Italy

    Open: October–March: daily from 7 am to 6.30 pm. April–September: daily from 7 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +39 06 6988 3114

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    9

    Piazza Venezia

    A bustling square with panoramic views of Rome

    Piazza Venezia is one of Rome's largest squares and sits at the intersection of 4 major roads. Surrounding the square are several historical sites worth visiting. These include St Mark’s Basilica, the House of Bonaparte, and the 15th-century Palace of Venice, now a museum housing medieval and Renaissance art.

    On the southern side looms the Vittoriano, a massive, 81-metre-tall building made of white marble. Pay a couple of euros to take the elevator up to the panoramic platform to enjoy stunning views of Rome and its most famous street – Via del Corso – stretching far into the distance. At the foot of the building is an impressive monument of a knight in armour riding a horse dedicated to the first King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.

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    Location: Piazza Venezia, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

    Phone: +39 06 0608

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    10

    Castel Sant'Angelo

    A landmark fortress with a fascinating history and lovely views

    Castel Sant'Angelo is a famous castle located on the Tiber River, only a short stroll from Vatican City. The massive fortress was initially built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian in AD 130 but later converted into a papal fortress and private residence. The castle was also used as a military headquarters and horrific prison.

    Today, the castle is a museum and offers visitors the chance to discover Roman history at their own pace. You can explore the passages and prisons, the papal apartments and halls, and see an impressive collection of sculptures, medieval firearms, and preserved frescoes from the Renaissance period. Be sure to visit the Castle's Terrace to enjoy a stunning panoramic view across Rome.

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    Location: Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma RM, Italy

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 7.30 pm

    Phone: +39 06 681 9111

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    11

    Campo de' Fiori Market

    Rome's vibrant market

    Campo de’ Fiori (Field of Flowers) is one of Rome’s great marketplaces, around a 5-minute walk from Piazza Navona along Via dei Baullari. The bustling streets around it are lined with a diverse array of shops, cafes and bakeries. Enter the piazza and you’ll be surrounded by neo-classical architecture. 

    Sellers set up tents throughout the square, with the statue of Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno looming in the centre. There are all sorts of souvenirs at great bargains, but most tenants sell fresh produce. Fruit stalls offer readily cut fruits; a classic sightseeing snack. 

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    Location: Piazza Campo de' Fiori, Rome, Italy

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 7 am to 2 pm

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    photo by Myrabella (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    12

    Testaccio

    One of Rome's best dining and nightlife neighbourhoods

    Testaccio has a rich history in the trade of fresh produce from all over Italy. It’s great food culture followed suit, being home to great home-style cuisine, including most of Italy’s traditional offal dishes. Check out the 19th-century Checchino dal 1887 for some of Testaccio’s authentic fare. 

    The neighbourhood has a local party scene, featuring live music and packed dance floors. You can try hopping from one disco to another. Resident DJs at Radio Londra spin funky house music until late. Expect a cover charge in most places of around €10.

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    Location: Testaccio, Rome, Italy

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    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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