When I’m planning my travel itineraries, I’m always looking for the short list of the most important things to do or see. Rome is so full of history and culture, that it would be easy to write a list of the top 50 things to see! For those of you looking for the absolute must do activities in the Eternal City, here’s my list of the top 10 things to see in Rome.
As one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the Colosseum tops every list of things to do in Rome. Completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum was home to many gladiatorial competitions. If you are visiting in the summer, I recommend going early to beat the crowds and the midday heat. Note that one ticket will grant access to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. I recommend buying the ticket at Palatine Hill where there is much less of a crowd. You can then make a beeline for the Colosseum and skip the line of people waiting to buy tickets.
2. Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
While these are two distinct sites, you can access them both from the same entrance. The Roman Forum was the center of life in Ancient Rome. Key highlights include the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Arch of Septimius Severus. Palatine Hill is the most famous of Rome’s seven hills. Overlooking the Forum, this archeological site includes ruins such as the Stadium of Domitian and the remains of the houses of the emperor Augustus and his wife Livia.
The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill will take at least 3-4 hours. Drink plenty of water…it gets really hot out there.
3. Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain was completed in 1762. The work was started by Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini after Salvi’s death. It may be one of Rome’s busiest tourist spots, but it’s a must see. I recommend seeing it during the day and again at night. The Trevi Fountain is a quick stop, but it may take you a while to fight the crowds to snap the quintessential coin toss photo!
4. Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps consist of 135 steps between the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinità. Finished in 1725, the steps connected the Spanish Embassy and the Trinità dei Monti church. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are about 0.5 miles apart so it’s easy to knock these two off your list at the same time.
Originally built as a Roman temple during the reign of Augustus, the current structure was built between 118 and 128 AD on the site of the original temple. The oculus in the center of the dome opens to the sky. This is one of the best free sites in Rome and is usually not too busy.
6. St. Peter’s Basilica
For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, St. Peter’s cannot be missed. The original basilica was built in 349 AD covering the tomb of St. Peter. However, the basilica we see today was built in 1626. If you book early enough, you can take a tour under the Basilica to see the tomb of St. Peter and the ancient necropolis on which the basilica sits.
7. Vatican Museums / Sistine Chapel
The Vatican Museums boasts a massive collection of Renaissance art including Raphael’s Transfiguration and of course, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo in the 16th century. The Vatican Museums is always busy so I recommend going first thing in the morning. Save yourself at least 1-2 hours of waiting by buying your ticket ahead of time.
8. Basilica di San Clemente
This church looks unassuming from the outside. On the ground level you’ll see a basilica from the 12th century, but what you can’t see is that this basilica was build on top of one from the 4th century. Even crazier, that basilica was build on a Roman temple from the 2nd century. And yes, you get to go deeper and deeper underground to visit all three. I recommend booking a tour of this church because there is so much interesting information that is not obvious just by walking through.
9. Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is a square in Rome with noteworthy monuments including the Fountain of Neptune and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. This a great spot to stop and rest for a bit. The piazza is also known for its street performers.
10. Villa Borghese
Villa Borghese is Rome’s second largest park and home to attractions such as Galleria Borghese, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, and even a zoo! The land was first used in 1580 as a small vineyard owned by the Borghese family. In 1633, a beautiful villa was built to house the family’s art, which is now known as the Galleria Borghese. Even if you don’t buy tickets to the Galleria, this park is still a nice place for an afternoon stroll.
Click here to check out my full 4-day Rome itinerary.