Being in the city of Rome gives you an undeniable sense of wonder. From the ancient architecture to the Italian traditions and superstitions held deep within the city, here are the essentials to a successful first trip to the City of Rome.
Before I start the list, I would recommend that – if you have the time and money –indulge in the experience of a Rome tour guide to get a fascinating glimpse into early Roman life. Having your own private guide in Rome will give you more context to the historic city.
Traverse through the Vatican Museum
The Sistine Chapel is arguably one of the most famous work of art in human history. That alone is worth the trip to Rome itself and the Vatican Museums. Don’t stop at the Sistine Chapel though. There are 54 different galleries and additional courtyards within the Vatican Museums to explore that feature paintings and sculptures collected throughout the centuries.
A pro tip: the Vatican Museums are one of the busiest places within this list. I would recommend starting your day there right at 9am when it opens.
Visit St. Peter’s Basilica
Just like the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica is within the religious city-state of Vatican City. The church is the largest in the world and is the burial site of Saint Peter – considered widely to be the first pope in human history.
The entrance to the church itself is free, but if you have a little extra time and money, pay the small fee to climb the stairs to the top of the Basilica’s dome. From there you will be able to enjoy an amazing view of the entire city.
Hang out in the Piazzas
Piazzas are public squares – not necessarily shaped like squares – that the city is built around. These are beautiful gathering spaces and more often than not, they feature famous landmarks and/or monuments, making them the perfect place to take a breather and people watch.
Take a lunch break there and witness things that are only seen in cities like Rome. Some notable piazzas are the busy Piazza del Popolo (perfect to watch sunsets) and the beautiful Piazza Navona.
Get Under the Famous Pantheon Dome
When you are heading to the Pantheon, be prepared to feel as though it looks a little out of place.Thanks to the modern buildings surrounding one of Rome’s most famous older temples, don’t be surprised when you see a modern shops and fast food restaurants in the same square as the Pantheon.
But don’t let that throw you off. Once you get inside the Pantheon itself, you’ll feel as though you’ve been thrown back in time. While the Pantheon has served as a church since the 7th century, it was first built and used as a temple. Entrance is free but it is closed every day for mass to tourists. It’s best to visit on a sunny day so you can enjoy the light coming through the circular opening in the dome.
Walk Along the River Tiber
Definitely explore the city, but if you want a more peaceful setting with much less people, the banks of the Tiber is the place to go. The walking path on the western bank of the river is accessible through steps down to the riverbank at any one of the bridges that cross the river.
While you will still be able to spot murals and small things like that on this route don’t take this if sightseeing is your objective. Take this walk at sunset, though other times would be just as good as long as the day does not get too hot.
Sit on the Spanish Steps
This is hands down the best place in Rome to stop and take a break. From these steps you’re able to soak up all the Italian culture and atmosphere in the city of Rome. In total, there are 135 steps connecting the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinità dei Monti.
For over 300 years, these steps have been attracting tourists, artists, film enthusiasts and filmmakers from all over the world. It’s worth checking out and maybe even walking to the top of the steps if you have the time and energy.
Toss a Coin into the Trevi Fountain
This is not only the largest fountain in Rome, but also one of the most well-known fountains due to its unique superstitions and traditions. Used in countless movies, you can join in on the traditions by tossing a coin in there yourself – but make sure you do it right!
Apparently, if you toss one coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, it ensures your return to Rome one day. However, if you throw THREE coins over your shoulder you will: ensure your return to Rome, find the love of your life, and that love will lead to marriage.
I know what you’re thinking – ‘that’s a lot of money’. You’d be correct! In fact, so many people toss coins into the fountain that nearly 3,000 euros are collected every evening and given to a non-profit to benefit the homeless in Rome. So why not? You’re taking part in tradition, ensuring your return to Rome, and donating to a charitable cause.
Tour the Colosseum
No trip to Rome would be complete without seeing the Colosseum. The Colosseum was originally used for entertainment (mostly the killing type entertainment) in the largest and best-preserved amphitheater from the Roman Empire. This is an amazing piece of history that you can’t miss when visiting Rome.
The cheaper way to visit the Colosseum is to purchase a standard ticket that gives you access to the Colosseum and both the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. However, if you have the time and money, pay for the guided tour. Through this guided tour, you will see more places in the Colosseum than you could with the standard ticket and it’s always a good idea to hear the history from someone that knows what they are talking about.
Take a Walk through the Ruins at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
The standard ticket to the Colosseum also gives you access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Tickets are good for two days so don’t feel like you have to do all three of these amazing sights into one day. Honestly, that would be extremely taxing if you did.
Palatine Hill is known for being the where the first settlement in Rome was all the back in the 8th Century and the Roman Forum is a large plaza near the hill that was where the city’s more important buildings and structures were located.