The Eternal City dazzles with ancient ruins, a wealth of art and architecture, and lively historic squares. To check off as many highlights as possible during your time in Italy’s capital city, here are our must-do recommendations.Less
Rome is home to two of the most famous and visited monuments in the world: the Colosseum and Vatican Museums. Kick off your visit by crossing these two headliners off your list, but book in advance to avoid wasting hours waiting in long lines to enter.
The heart of Rome is its attraction-dense historic center, where you’ll find A-list sights from the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon to Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori. Toss out the map and guidebook and stroll through the Centro Storico with a guide who can bring these emblematic monuments and squares to life.
Piazza di Spagna beckons with two show-stopping attractions that embody the culture and high life that have earned Rome the name, "The Great Beauty." The first is the monumental marble staircase known as the Spanish Steps, one of the most photographed landmarks in the city (you can walk and pose on the steps but can’t sit or picnic on them). The second is the famous Italian haute couture boutiques that line the square and nearby Via Condotti, such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana.
To maximize your time, take a guided walking tour to discover the charms of bohemian Trastevere’s cobbled lanes and squares, browse the vintage shops and independent boutiques in the chic Monti area, or learn about the history that stretches from ancient Rome to WWII in the former Jewish Ghetto. Many of these quarters are ideal for a food tour that encompasses local markets, landmark delis, bakeries, and restaurants.
Rome has a proud culinary tradition, and its outdoor food markets are the centers of community life. Rub elbows with the locals and see what’s in season with a morning walk through stalls bursting with fresh produce, artisan cheeses, cold cuts, and other specialties in Campo de’ Fiori or the mercati in Trastevere, Testaccio, or Trionfale.
Rome is often described as a lasagna, a rich layering of historical eras that still exist beneath the city streets—if you know where to look. Ancient history buffs can explore buried Roman ruins like the Domus Aurea (Nero’s “Golden Palace”), Domus Romana at Palazzo Valentini, or the Stadium of Domitian beneath today’s Piazza Navona. Other spectacular underground sites include the underground churches beneath San Clemente and Rome’s many crypts and catacombs.
Romans know that their city is at its finest in the soft light of early morning or the golden rays of sunset. If you choose early entry or after-hour tours, not only can you extend your sightseeing day to the max (plus enjoy the added benefits of fewer crowds and cooler temperatures), but you’ll also be able to admire the city when it's most photogenic. Experience la dolce vita vibe of the historic center at dusk, and the timeless romance of the Colosseum by moonlight.
Rome’s delights aren’t confined to its urban center. Just outside the city walls, you can bike along the ancient Appian Way in the Parco dell’Appia Antica, head to the Frascati wine country in Castelli Romani for a winery tour and tasting, see where popes have summered for centuries at Castel Gandolfo, or visit the garden at Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este in Tivoli.
The crowds in Rome can be relentless, especially if you focus on visiting only the top-tier sights where most tourists cluster. But this cultural capital has plenty of world-class art far from the fray if you know where to look. Spend a few hours marveling at masterpieces in the sumptuous halls of Galleria Doria Pamphilij, at the National Gallery of Ancient Art (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica) in Palazzo Barberini; and in Galleria Spada housed in Palazzo Spada.
Rome has one of the most enchanting cityscapes in the world. Pause at its scenic viewpoints to take it all in (and snap a few keepsake photos) at sunset, when the Eternal City is bathed in golden light. The best views can be had from the dome summit atop St. Peter’s Basilica or the rooftop terrace at Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument (Vittoriano), as well as from public overlooks like the Pincio Gardens in Villa Borghese or Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo), high above the rooftops.