With so many ancient and Christian landmarks in the city, it can be difficult to decide where to begin your visit. Your personal preferences will ultimately guide your choices, but certain iconic sites such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon are must-see attractions in Italy and among the top tourist destinations in the world.
When visiting Rome, mix up your itinerary by alternating between ancient sites and churches, and tourist hotspots such as the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain to ensure a well-rounded experience.
Rome is so big that it can overwhelm, so even the most devoted sightseer should take some time to kick back and enjoy la dolce vita in a park or sidewalk café. You’ll be able to choose the best places to visit with this handy list of the top attractions in Rome.
The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine are two famous landmarks in Rome, Italy.
Just as the Eiffel Tower is synonymous with Paris, the silhouette of the Flavian Amphitheatre, also known as the Colosseum, is synonymous with Rome. The Colosseum is the largest structure from Roman antiquity still in existence, and its oval design continues to influence the design of modern sports arenas, including football stadiums.
The Colosseum was built by Vespasian in AD 72 and completed by his son Titus, who added a fourth story. It was officially opened in AD 80 with grand games and was used for a variety of performances and events. The Imperial Court and high officials sat on the lowest level, while the second level was for aristocratic Roman families, and the third and fourth levels were for the general public.
Beside the Colosseum stands the almost equally familiar Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch erected by the Senate to honor the emperor as “liberator of the city and bringer of peace” after his victory in the battle of the Milvian Bridge
“Vatican City, the smallest country in the world
The Vatican, the smallest independent state in the world, spans less than half a square kilometer and is surrounded by walls. Within its boundaries are the Vatican palace and gardens, the renowned St. Peter’s Basilica, and St. Peter’s Square, all of which are governed by the Pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. This compact area is packed with sights to see, including museums and the grand basilica.
The highlight of the Vatican Museums is undoubtedly the Sistine Chapel, which features Michelangelo’s renowned frescoed ceiling as its centerpiece. Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, visitors can also view Michelangelo’s sculpture Pieta, as well as works by Bernini and other artists.
The Vatican Palace houses several notable areas such as the Raphael Rooms, Borgia Apartments, and the Vatican Library, as well as various museums including the Picture Gallery, Museum of Secular Art, and Etruscan Museum. These collections showcase a wide range of items, from papal coaches to contemporary art with religious themes.
3. The Pantheon
The Pantheon – the best-preserved monument of Roman antiquity – is remarkably intact for its 2000 years. This is despite the fact that Pope Gregory III removed the gilded bronze roof tiles, and Pope Urban VIII ordered its bronze roof stripped and melted down to cast the canopy over the altar in St. Peter’s and cannons for Castel Sant’Angelo.
Its 43-meter dome, the supreme achievement of Roman interior architecture, hangs suspended without visible supports – these are well hidden inside the walls – and its nine-meter central opening is the building’s only light source.
The harmonious effect of the interior is a result of its proportions: the height is the same as the diameter. Although the first Christian emperors forbade using this pagan temple for worship, in 609 Pope Boniface IV dedicated it to the Virgin and all the Christian martyrs, and since then, it has become the burial place of Italian kings (Victor Emmanuel II is in the second niche on the right) and other famous Italians, including the painter, Raphael.
4.The Roman Forum
Walking through the forum, now located in the midst of a bustling modern city, feels like traveling back in time to ancient Rome. Despite only a fraction of its original grandeur remaining, the columns, triumphal arches, and remaining walls still leave an impact, especially when considering that the Forum’s history is intertwined with the history of the Roman Empire and Western civilization.
Roman political and religious life was centered here, along with the courts, markets, and meeting places. After the seventh century, the buildings fell into ruin, and churches and fortresses were built amid the ancient remains. Its stones were quarried for other buildings and it was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that systematic excavations brought the ancient buildings to light from under a 10-meter layer of earth and rubble.
5.The soundscape of Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain, a 17th-century masterpiece, is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions. It has been featured in many films and is considered a must-see. Tradition holds that throwing a coin into the fountain guarantees a return trip to Rome.
The Fontana di Trevi, Rome’s largest fountain, was constructed by Nicolò Salvi between 1732 and 1751 for Pope Clement XII. It is fed by an aqueduct originally built by Agrippa, a patron of the arts in the 1st century BC, to supply water to his baths. The fountain is located against the rear wall of the palace of the Dukes of Poli.It portrays the god of the sea, Oceanus (also known as Neptune), surrounded by horses, tritons and shells, with water swirling around the figures and artificial rocks, and flowing into a large basin filled with coins.
6. Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II
It’s ironic that this grandiose monument, considered one of the national symbols of Italy, is rarely admired by Romans, who liken it to a wedding cake or a giant typewriter. Like it or not, the vast neo-classical structure crowns Capitoline Hill, symbolic center of ancient Rome, overlooking the later city across Piazza Venezia.
Constructed between 1885 and 1935, the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument pays tribute to the first king of united Italy, depicted in an equestrian statue. The site also houses Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a museum dedicated to the Italian unification. Visitors can take a lift to the top terrace for panoramic views of Rome.
7.”The Historic Center and Spanish Steps”
This is the Centro Storico, the historic center of Rome, with so many art-filled churches, resplendent palaces, and lively squares that you could spend your whole vacation strolling its ancient streets and lanes.Take a moment to soak in the ambiance of the neighborhood instead of rushing to visit all the popular landmarks.
In addition to well-known attractions like Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, also visit lesser-known churches like Santa Maria del Popolo, which feature artwork by Bernini and Caravaggio.Take a break at the Spanish Steps, a set of uneven steps and terraces that lead to the Trinità dei Monti church. These stairs are located in Piazza di Spagna, a famous square in Rome and are a popular spot for visitors.
The Barcaccia, a boat-shaped fountain located at the base of the Spanish Steps, was crafted by Pietro Bernini, the father of renowned Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The trendy shopping street Via Condotti, which runs southwest from Piazza di Spagna, is known for its high-end shops and the famous Caffè Greco which has been a popular spot among artists, writers, and musicians.
8. Basilica papale of Santa Maria
Santa Maria Maggiore has stood here since the fourth-century Pope Liberius had a vision of the Virgin directing him to build a church where snow fell the following day. Although it was August, snow did fall on the Esquiline hill the next morning, so here the great basilica was built.
Mass has been celebrated here every day since the fifth century. The three aisles of its 86-meter-long interior are separated by 40 columns of marble and four of granite, and the apse added in the 13th century is lined with mosaics of Old and New Testament themes, masterpieces of Rome’s famous mosaic artists.
Rome’s oldest mosaics, as old as the fourth century, decorate the upper walls, and the floor is inlaid with colored stone in the style of the expert 12th-century artisans of the Lake Como region. The first gold to reach Italy from the Americas shines on the coffered ceiling. Two popes are buried here; it’s one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, an important place of pilgrimage.
9. Art and Architecture of Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona still has the outline of the Roman stadium built here by Emperor Domitian. It was still used for festivals and horse races during the Middle Ages, and was rebuilt in the Baroque style by Borromini, who also designed the magnificent series of palaces and the church of Sant’Agnese, on its west side.
In the crypt of Sant’Agnese are Alessandro Algardi’s 1653 The Miracle of St. Agnes and the remains of a Roman mosaic floor. Sant’Agnese provided a model for Baroque and Rococo churches in Italy and elsewhere.
Although Borromini designed the square and its surrounding facades, it was his archrival, Bernini, who created its centerpiece, the beautiful Baroque fountain, The spirited fountain represents the four rivers then thought to be the largest on each of the known continents, with figures personifying the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio de la Plata around the large basin, each accompanied by plants and animals of their respective regions.
The two other fountains in the square are the 16th-century Fontana del Moro in front of the Palazzo Pamphili, erected by Giacomo della Porta, and the 19th-century Fontana del Nettuno with its figure of Neptune. Today, the square is filled with Romans, tourists, street artists, souvenir kiosks, cafés, and during December, one of Rome’s best Christmas markets.
10. Piazza del Popolo and Santa Maria del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo was designed in the early 19th century as the northern entrance to the city center. At its center, the Egyptian obelisk, called Flaminio, rises above a fountain, where four white marble lions spout fans of water into four round travertine pools.
Facing one side like mirror images at either side of Via Coorso are the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, and at the opposite side of the grand piazza is the Augustinian Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.Inside, you’ll find Pinturicchio frescoes and two tombs by Andrea Sansovino in the choir, and two beautiful chapels.
11.The city of seven hills.
The Palatine Hill, located 50 meters above the Tiber River, holds evidence of Rome’s earliest settlement, including rock-cuttings dating back to the 9th century BC. It was also the preferred location for palaces built by emperors and wealthy aristocratic families.
The Farnese Gardens were laid out on the hill in the 16th century for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, a pleasure park of terraces, pavilions, lawns, flowerbeds, trees, and fountains designed as a kind of stage-setting for social gatherings.The Palatine Hill features several notable attractions, including the House of Livia, the Cryptoporticus, the Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana, and the grand Baths of Septimius Severus. This historic site offers a unique blend of park and ancient Roman ruins to explore.
12. Villa Borghese Gallery and Gardens
The Borghese Gardens in Rome, one of the city’s largest parks, boasts several attractions, including the Villa Borghese. The Villa, which was originally built as a party villa and to house the Borghese art collection, features a gallery with a diverse array of 15th to 18th century artwork, including pieces by renowned artists such as Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, and Rubens. Additionally, the gardens also house two museums.
The park features an English-style landscape with walking paths and ponds for row boat rentals. Bicycle and surrey rentals are also available for exploring the park. It boasts a popular zoo, Bioparco di Roma, featuring naturalized enclosures and a connecting miniature trail. Children will enjoy the playgrounds, pony rides on weekends, and puppet shows offered.
13.National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo.
Castel Sant’Angelo, a massive drum-shaped structure overlooking the Tiber near the Vatican, was originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family in AD 135. Throughout its history, it has served as a papal residence, fortress, and National Museum.
The fortress was rebuilt several times over the centuries and underwent a major restructuring in the 16th century. During this renovation, the castle was transformed from a fortress into a Renaissance-style residence. In 1627, the castle was given to the powerful Farnese family, who lived there for more than 200 years. In 1871, the castle was declared a national monument and has since been open to the public, who can explore its many courtyards, gardens and chapels.
The castle also includes a series of galleries and rooms that house important works of art, including a number of pieces from the Sistine Chapel. There are also several chapels inside the castle, including the Chapel of St. Michael and the Chapel of the Annunciation. The castle also houses a museum which showcases a number of artifacts from the papal period.
14.The Capitoline Museum.
The Piazza del Campidoglio houses two palaces that contain Europe’s oldest public collection of art, established in 1471. The collection primarily features sculptures from ancient civilizations and includes notable pieces such as the realistic Hellenistic bronze Boy with a Thorn, the Capitoline Venus from a 4th-century BC Praxiteles original, a 4.24-meter-tall equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman sculpture of the Dying Gaul, and the 6th century BC Etruscan Capitoline She-Wolf.
The Capitoline Museum houses a diverse collection of art, including a “modern” sculpture of Medusa’s head by 17th-century Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In addition to its renowned classical sculptures, the museum’s Capitoline Picture Gallery features works by renowned painters such as Titian, Veronese, Rubens, and Caravaggio, including his captivating painting of John the Baptist.
15.The Baths of Caracalla.
Built by Caracalla in 216, the public baths were more than just a place for bathing. They were a comprehensive sports and leisure complex, featuring hot and cold baths, a swimming pool, dry and steam saunas, gymnasiums, sports facilities, social spaces, gardens, libraries, hairdressers, and shops.
The grand and enormous building spanned 300 square meters and featured a complex of massive halls with grand domes and arches supported by massive columns and piers. It had a capacity to hold 1,500 people. The floors and walls were adorned with marble, mosaics, and frescoes, and even in its current state of ruin, its former splendor remains evident.