There is something incredibly special about Rome. Not only is it the Ancient Capital of the Roman Empire, but it’s the second most visited city in Europe – and for good reason.
Home to some of the finest artwork by Renaissance artists Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Pippo, it’s a culture vulture’s haven. But even if you’re not clued up on art, anyone can be awed by the impressive feats of Roman engineering.
It’s where you’ll find the Seventh Wonder of the World, and is the gateway to the Vatican City – the smallest country in the world (and one you don’t need your passport stamped to enter). Needless to say, you can never run out of exciting things to do in Rome.
Whether you plan to stay for a weekend or a week, the sheer amount of attractions in Rome can make deciding on what to do incredibly difficult, as the likelihood is, you just can’t do all of them.
If you’re not sure what to do in Rome, this guide to the most memorable things to see and do in Rome will help you map out your itinerary.
Top Tip for Exploring Rome:
If you intend on visiting several of Rome’s top attractions, consider purchasing a Rome attraction pass by Go City. With the Explorer Pass, you can pick 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 attractions to visit from a list of top Rome sights, tours and must-sees. Get your pass here.
1. Spend a day Exploring The Vatican City, Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
The number one thing to do in Rome is to spend the day in another country. No, you don’t need to board a plane or pass through immigration, the Vatican City is within walking distance of Rome’s city center and is considered the smallest country in the world.
Though it’s small in size, it’s packed full of unmissable attractions. It’s most famous for being home to the Pope, leader of the Catholic Church, but it’s also home to several important landmarks you mustn’t miss.
The Vatican Museum is just one of them. The museum is an art enthusiast’s haven. With over 1,000 rooms, each decorated with the finest pieces of Renaissance art and frescos, you could actually spend a whole day here and not see it all.
As well as exhibiting some of the most famous paintings such as The Last Judgment by Michaelangelo and St. Jerome by Leonardo Da Vinci, the Museum is an architectural gem that has been beautifully designed in Roman, Baroque, and Gothic styles.
It also connects to The Sistine Chapel, which is most famous for its fresco paintings that adorn the walls and ceiling. These paintings were created by the famous Renaissance artist and sculptor, Michelangelo. It’s where you can see the original of his most famous painting – The Hand of God.
Visitors to The Sistine Chapel are not allowed to take photos inside, and if you do try you can expect to hear the booming voice of an angry Italian security guard which will turn a few heads your way.
However, there are plenty of benches against the walls so you can sit for as long as you want and admire the paintings on the ceiling.
The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel are possibly the most popular and consequently busiest attractions in Rome, seeing 40,000 visitors a day. To make sure you can get a ticket, and avoid a three-hour wait in a long queue, book a ticket beforehand.
If you want to avoid the crowds, go as early as possible.
- Address: 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
- Hours: 8.30am – 6.30pm (Monday-Thursday) 8.30am – 10.30pm (Friday and Saturday) closed Sunday
2. Admire Renaissance Fresco’s in St Peter’s Basilica
As the home of the Catholic church, you can expect Rome’s basilicas (or churches) to be some of the most ornately detailed and beautiful in the world. The crown for the most beautiful has to go to St Peter’s Basilica or Papal Basilica of Saint Peter.
Though it’s technically not in Rome, it’s in the Vatican City, it’s certainly one of the most unmissable attractions in Rome because of its stunning fresco paintings inside.
The paintings, and even the architecture, were designed by some of the most famous classical artists such as Donato Bramante (who designed its facade), Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
One of the most famous paintings in the basilica is Michelangelo’s Pieta. While admiring the paintings, please be quiet and respectful. St Peter’s Basilica is often regarded as the holiest Catholic shrine and many people come here from all over the world to pray. So please keep noise levels to a minimum.
- Hours: 7:00am – 6:00pm (7pm in April – September)
- Address: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
A visit to St Peter’s Basilica is free, but queues can be extremely long. Either arrive at opening or purchase special skip-the-line tickets or join a guided tour as they have access to special security line. Here is a guided tour with an art historian tour guide, and includes a climb to the top Michelangelo’s magnificent Dome.
3. Step Back in Time at The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill
Possibly the most famous attraction in Rome, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is the Colosseum.
Built in the year 70 AD, this impressive structure was built as a stadium for 50,000 spectators. It was where the Romans watched gladiator games during ancient times, from fights to chariot races.
Across the road from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, the ancient ruins of the old market of Rome. Here you can see the remains of temples, several ancient government buildings, and what was once the market.
At the top of the Forum is Palatine Hill, one of seven hills in Rome. It is said that the hill is home to the cave where Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus, were taken in by the she-wolf. It is also supposedly the place where Hercules defeated Cacus.
Since all of these Rome attractions lie next to each other, it makes sense to see them altogether. Luckily, it’s possible to book combined tickets before you visit.
- Hours: 9.00am – 7:15pm
- Address: Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Rome, Italy
4. Marvel at Roman Engineering in The Pantheon
If you’ve already visited the Colosseum and The Forum, you might be thinking this is all very impressive but it’s still a ruin. If you want to see some of the best preserved Roman architecture and engineering, then you’ll want to check out The Pantheon.
It was originally built as a Pagan temple and then converted into a church, which is most famous for the circular opening in the ceiling. The oculus, sometimes referred to as ‘The Eye of the Pantheon’ or ‘Eye of God’ was built as the only light source in the building.
You might be asking yourself “what happens when it rains?” since there is no cover. The answer is that the floor is tilted, so the water drains through 22 hidden holes that lead to the underground cisterns built by the Romans. This is just another marvel of Roman engineering that leaves your mind boggled.
The Pantheon is also home to the tombs of many of Rome’s greatest artists and royals, such as King Vittorio Emanuele II, King Umberto 1, and his wife Queen Margherita of Savoy, and the Renaissance artist, Raphael.
It’s not a huge building and there’s not too much to see, so we recommend getting the audio guide to give you a brief history lesson of this marvel in Rome.
- Hours: 9.00am – 6:45pm (closed Tuesdays)
- Address: Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Rome, Italy
5. Throw a Coin in The Trevi Fountain
You cannot take a trip to Rome without visiting the Trevi Fountain. Perhaps THE most unmissable thing to do in Rome is to throw a coin in the fountain for good luck.
To do this, you need to stand with your back to the fountain and throw the coin over your left shoulder with your right hand.
Fair warning, the fountain is another one of Rome’s most popular attractions and is nearly always busy. You may need to wait a while before you can find a spot near the fountain to throw your coin.
You should also note that the fountain is drained for cleaning every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8am-9am, so try to avoid these times.
- Hours: 24 hours
- Address: Piazza di Trevi, 00187 Rome, Italy
6. Shop Luxury Brands Around The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are another attraction that is often regarded as one of the top places to visit in Rome. And while they are gorgeous and intricately designed, the steps themselves don’t take too long to see.
Starting in the Piazza di Spagna, the steps lead up to the Trinità dei Monti church, which was built in the 16th century. It’s definitely worth getting a photo on the steps, but if you’re looking for things to do nearby, then it is also the perfect spot to do some luxury shopping.
Fair warning, the brands around the Spanish Steps tend to be high-end designer brands, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Dior. If your wallet doesn’t stretch for these brands, don’t worry, Italy is known for its fashion, and you’ll find more affordable boutique stores around this area too.
- Hours: steps open 24 hours, shops generally open between 10.00am – 7.30pm
- Address: Piazza di Spagna, 00187 Rome, Italy
7. Drink An Espresso in Piazza Navona
Rome is full of amazing Piazzas and one thing they all have in common is they are lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes with outdoor seating areas. If you’re feeling tired after exploring all the best sites in Rome, then sitting back with an espresso is the perfect pick-me-up.
The Piazza Navona is one of the oldest piazzas in the city. It was built in the 1st Century AD, as the Stadium of Domitian. It was once a competition arena where the Romans went to see games. You could argue it was the Colosseum before the Colosseum.
Today you can see two fountains in the center of the piazza, which is surrounded by palaces and churches. The piazza was made famous by the movie Angels and Demons starring Tom Hanks, which was a movie adaptation of the book, also set in Rome.
- Hours: Piazza is open 24 hours, restaurants usually operate between 9.00am – 2.00am
- Address: Piazza Navona, 00186 Rome, Italy
8. Explore the Villa Borghese Gardens
If you’re looking for relaxing and free things to do in Rome then you might enjoy meandering around the Villa Borghese gardens.
The gardens are the largest urban park in Europe and are also where you’ll find the Rome Zoo, Pincio’s Water Clock, and Silvano Toti Globe Theatre.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Rome with kids, it’s possible to hire roller blades and bikes from the main gates and whizz around the historic gardens.
As well as visiting the gardens, the Borghese Gallery is also worth a visit. It’s located inside the Villa Borghese and is where you can see paintings by artists such as Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio.
- Hours: 9.00am to 7.00pm (Last admission to the Gallery at 5.00pm)
- Address: Piazzale Napoleone I, 00197 Rome, Italy
9. Visit the Roman Catacombs
The catacombs in Rome are one of the more unusual and interesting attractions in the city. You can only visit the catacombs with a guide, who will explain the ancient burial rituals and point out the unique archaeological wonders.
The catacombs are underground, subterranean passageways and the former burial grounds for the Christians and Jews in the 3rd century AD. It is said half a million Christians and Jews were buried here, including 16 Popes.
There are several catacombs in Rome, but the largest and most important is the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus. Join a guided tour of that here.
- Hours: 9.00am – 11.45pm, 2.00pm-5.00pm (closed Wednesdays)
- Address: Via Appia Antica, 110/126, 00179 Rome, Italy
10. Explore the Castel Sant’Angelo
The Castel Sant’Angelo lies just outside the Vatican City and was built as the tomb for Emperor Hadrian and his family in 135 AD. It was also used as a fortress and prison of the Papal Residence.
It’s the oldest castle in Italy and is now one of the most important museums. It has seven levels of exhibits, including the Papal quarters, execution ground, and of course, some ancient frescos. For history lovers, you’ll not want to miss this enlightening attraction in Rome.
- Hours: 9.00am – 7.30pm (Monday – Sunday)
- Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Rome, Italy
11. Enjoy A Gelato
While you might be thinking gelato is just ice cream, you had better not say this to any Italians! Gelato is much softer and is traditionally made with less fat, so it’s slightly better for you than ice cream.
If you’re visiting Rome in the summer, it can get quite hot and there’s very little cloud cover, so gelato is a perfect way to cool down on a warm day.
A famous gelato shop in Rome is Gelateria dei Gracchi just a few minutes’ walk from the Vatican. What’s great about this shop is that they not only use fresh, seasonal fruits but they have gluten-free and lactose-free options too.
One of our writers, Adam, enjoyed sampling gelato on his Rome food walking tour.
- Hours: 1.00pm – 8.00pm
- Address: Via dei Gracchi 272 00193, Rome, Italy
12. Kick Back and Relax in the Trastevere District
If you’re finding all the historical things to do in Rome tiresome, then you’ll want to head to one of Rome’s outer districts for some peace and quiet. One of the best places to kick back and relax is in the Trastevere district.
Located in the south of the city, across the river from the Colosseum, this district is an ancient working-class neighborhood, famous for its quaint, narrow alleyways and medieval houses.
Many of these houses have been turned into boutique shops, cafes, and bars with outdoor terraces. Some important Roman figures built villas here, including Julius Caesar.
This area is particularly lively at night and is full of backpackers looking for a fun night out in the bars and clubs. If this isn’t your scene, don’t worry, it’s a totally different vibe in the daytime.
- Hours: 24 hours
- Address: The district starts at the Pontifical Urban University and ends at Porta Portese
13. Eat Al Fresco in Centro Storico
Italy is well known for its hearty and delicious cuisine. If you’re wondering where is a great place to eat in Rome, then you’ll find plenty of top-quality restaurants in the Centro Storico district.
This is where you’ll find many of Rome’s most beautiful piazzas and historic landmarks, which offer the perfect backdrop while you enjoy an evening meal at sunset.
Italians tend to eat quite late (sometimes around 10 pm), which is great for tourists who are used to eating in the early evening because most restaurants will have a table free. Dining in the Centro Storico restaurants is one of the best things to do in Rome at night.
Another great district for foodies is Testaccio, just south of the Colosseum. It’s a little way out of the center which means it’s much quieter. You can find many great restaurants here, or even take a food tour where you can learn about all the local delicacies.
- Hours: Restaurants often close between 2.30pm and 7.30pm, but stay open until late.
- Address: The district starts at the River Tiber and ends at the Colosseum.
14. Take a Day Trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast
The great thing about Rome is that it’s a great starting place to explore other parts of Italy.
Pompeii, for example, is a about a 2.5 hour journey from Rome, but as the city is completely in ruins, it’s not somewhere you would want to stay for more than a day. The best way to see it is on a day trip from Rome.
Pompeii was once a large city where it’s estimated around 12,000 people lived before a catastrophic volcano eruption wiped out the city and all within it. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 BCE, not only destroyed the whole city but preserved it.
The eruption covered the city in 19 feet (6 meters) of volcanic debris, burying all within its wake in a state like they are frozen in time. Archeologists began to uncover the ruins in the late 16th century, and today much of the city has been excavated, including human remains that appear as though they are sleeping.
If you’re feeling a bit somber after visiting Pompeii, just an hour away is the idyllic Amalfi Coast, known for its stunning beaches, villas, and luxurious hotels.
You would need to set aside a fair bit to stay on the Amalfi Coast, so if you want to save some cash the best way to see it is to take a day trip from Rome.
- Hours: Leaves at 8.10am
- Address: Departs from Piazza del Popolo, 00187 Rome, Italy
15. Ride Around the City on a Vespa
This may be a little gimmicky but it’s one of the few places in the world where you can hire a Vespa and whiz around the sites.
These little scooters are known for their cute design and bright colors (if you can get a red Vespa, even better!) and they are all manufactured in Italy. If you’re looking for crazy things to do in Rome for a short visit, this is going to be your highlight.
If you only have a short amount of time and you want to see as many of the top things to do in Rome as possible, then this is the ideal way to get from A to B. You can rent tour Vespas here!
- Hours: Pick up 9.00am, reserve for 24 hours
- Address: Via Cavour 80, 00184, Rome, Italy
Where to Stay in Rome
- The Hoxton, Rome: Featuring free bikes and a bar, The Hoxton, Rome is located in Rome, a 15-minute walk from Villa Borghese and 1.1 miles from Piazza Barberini. Book your stay here
- Maalot Roma is located in the heart of Rome in the Lazio region,, a 7-minute walk from Trevi Fountain and 0.4 miles from Piazza Barberini It’s a small Luxury Hotels of the World. Book your stay here.
- See more Rome hotels on Booking.com here and on Hotels.com here
- Ready to stay like a local? Check out these vacation rentals via VRBO:
Further Reading for your Italy Travels
- 15 Best Things to do in Venice, Italy
- The best 72 Hours spent in Rome with kids
- 10 reasons to visit Puglia, Southern Italy
- How to Enjoy 48 hours in Cinque Terre, Italy
- 10 Italy Honeymoon Destinations For Unforgettable Romance
- 9 Best Things to Do at Lake Garda, Italy with Kids
- Things to do at Lake Como, Italy for a captivating trip
- 3 Secret Sun, Sea and Sand Destinations in Europe