1. The Trevi fountain
Tucked between the busy city walls of Rome you can hear the raging water that flows from the statues from afar.
The Trevi fountain is a gigantic structure with detailed sculptures, which annually attracts millions of tourists to this city.
The square around the fountain is filled almost non-stop with spectators, and to keep all those people in check you hear the whistle of one of the many overseers quite regularly.
Don’t forget to toss a coin in the fountain (with your back to the fountain, left hand over your right shoulder) and make a wish!
Every day thousands of euros are fished out of the fountain, and all that money is given away to the red cross of Rome.
2. The Pantheon
One of the most visited monuments in Rome is the Pantheon (7 million visitors a year)!
This gigantic building with its magnificent dome houses many prominent figures from the Roman history. Maybe these people don’t ring a bell right away, but the majestic interior and the magnificent sculptures are also worth discovering this monument.
This church, it used to be a temple, is now more than two thousand years old and the concrete, unreinforced dome is still there! So you could say that it’s a strong piece of craftsmanship!
Some prominent people have been buried in the Pantheon since the Renaissance. Umberto I and Victor Emmanuel II of Italy might say little to you, but Raphael and Peruzzi might ring a bell.
Note: at this time the Pantheon is still free, but in the course of 2018 you will have to pay to enter. The cost would then be €3. Once more information is available, I’ll update this page.
3. The Colosseum
The Colosseum is perhaps the most famous place to see in Rome.
For centuries, the Flavian amphitheater served as the battlefield of bloodthirsty gladiators, and all of that just to amuse the people of Rome a little more.
Fights between gladiators and wild animals were staged almost daily, and these fighters were therefore given a Hollywood status.
Visiting the Colosseum is one of the most booked activities in Rome. So expect long queues!
I recommend to definitely book a guide (€5 extra) to lead you through this amphitheater. It’s much more interesting, and you’ll appreciate your visit much more.
A normal ticket costs €12 (or €7 for residents of the EU), a guide costs €5 extra and an audio guide costs €5.50. So I recommend to take the much more interesting real-life guide.
A skip-the-line ticket with audioguide costs €22 and a tour with a guide is €28.
4. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is very beautiful. To enter the building, there are often very long queues. The visit itself is free, but the firm control by an army post causes some delays… The advantage of this long waiting time is that not many people are in the church when you’re finally let in. As a result, you can see everything in this wonderful cathedral without stressing out.
Treat your eyes and let them sail in all directions. The floor, the ceiling, the walls and the many sculptures are to be enjoyed.
At the very back of the church is a magnificent crypt from where you get a nice view over the church dome (photo).
There is a lot to see in the church, so don’t leave too soon!
5. The Cimitero Acattolico (Cemetery for non-Catholics)
You wouldn’t expect it in Rome, but there were also a lot of non-Catholics living on this holy ground!
Of course, these “heathens” couldn’t be buried at the same cemeteries as the pious Catholics… One of the cemeteries for non-Catholics is the Cimitero Acattolico.
This small cemetery houses many known and unknown deceased people.
Most of these graves are beautiful sculptures, and that gives this place something magical and creepy at the same time.
Cross the cemetery and don’t forget to visit the large marble pyramid as well.
One of the somewhat stranger places to see in Rome, but one that I certainly wouldn’t skip!
6. The Basilica of Madonna del Miracolo
It’s not always the big churches that need your attention.
The Basilica Madonna del Miracolo is relatively small, but it’s stuffed with beautiful sculptures by, among others, Bernini.
According to a legend, the holy virgin Mary was observed several times in this place.
One man found his meeting with Mary so impressive that he suddenly became a priest and devoted his entire life to the church. Spoken of devotion!
7. The Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola
There are so many churches in Rome, and it is impossible to visit them all. But one that certainly deserves your attention is the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola.
From the outside, the church looks beautiful – like most churches in Rome – but the inside is really spectacular.
The gigantic ceiling reminded me a bit of the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo.
A beautiful ceiling painting with biblical and mythical scenes is to be admired above your head. Make sure you don’t get a stiff neck, because you could easily gaze at this artwork for a few hours.
To get a better view of the ceiling painting (and to make nicer pictures) you can also light up the ceiling. On the right side of the church you can find a vending machine where you can put a coin in to illuminate the dome.
From the outside you might notice that this church doesn’t have a dome, but from the inside it really is a dome! Or not?
The artwork is in fact an optical illusion! By working with shadows and perspectives, the artist made it look like this church has an impressive dome, but nothing is less true…
Besides this masterpiece you’ll also find many other paintings and sculptures in the church that deserve your attention. But the absolute highlight of your visit is without a doubt the amazing ceiling.
8. St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square
A city trip to this city isn’t complete without also visiting St. Peter’s Basilica and the adjacent square.
This majestic cathedral is the main church of the Vatican, and of course you can also find it in Vatican City. The exterior of the church is decorated with dozens of saints placed on the pillars and walls of St. Peter’s Square.
The outside is impressive, but it really is the inside that will make your mouth fall open.
Dozens of marble statues – all of them to honor one of the many popes or saints-, lavishly decorated lusters, ceilings and floors, richly embellished tombs and priceless works of art adorn this church.
To view this exceptionally beautiful building from the inside you have to have a lot of patience… The admission is free, but the queues easily take up several hours.
If you visit the Vatican Museums, I recommend to do this with the help of a guide. After seeing the Sistine Chapel there is a side entrance (only for guided tours, but you can always try to slip through this door with a tour) that leads directly to St. Peter’s Basilica.
9. Vatican museums
The Vatican museums are definitely one of the highlights of Rome. Let me immediately start with an important tip: book your tickets in advance.
Buying your ticket on the spot is simply a waste of time, because on average you wait three hours before you can take a look inside the Vatican.
Ordering tickets online is fast and efficient, but you have to do it in advance because the tickets are often sold out days in advance.
I also recommend choosing a guided tour straight away, because that makes a visit to the Vatican Museums much more interesting.
During your visit, you will see thousands of beautiful works of art by famous artists, often with a funny (or sad) background story.
Along the way you’ll also hear a lot about the popes, the history of the Vatican and of course also about Michelangelo.
The highlight of the tour is undoubtedly the Sistine Chapel, but in fact the entire Vatican is a series of impressive works of art that you must see when in Rome.
10. Castel Sant’ Angelo
Near Vatican City you can find the Castel Sant’Angelo or the ‘Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo’.
This circular fortress houses some valuable sculptures, has some beautiful ceiling paintings and an impressive collection of weapons. The history of this building is equally interesting.
Climb to the panoramic roof terrace for one of the best views of Rome.
After your visit you should definitely also step over the bridge. There are dozens of beautiful sculptures which make this one of the best places to see in Rome.
11. The Catacombs of Rome
Just outside the city center of Rome you can find dozens of catacombs. Many people were buried here during the Middle Ages.
With an underground visit you descend into the underground corridors of Rome, which are a total of several hundred miles in length. You see tiny or gigantic graves of rich and poor. Some of these cemeteries are decorated with frescoes, and occasionally you can also find some bones.
You can’t take pictures in any of the catacombs, so don’t be disappointed.
A visit to one of these underground cemeteries costs €8. The most popular places are the catacombs of Callixtus, San Domitilla, Priscilla, San Agnes or San Sebastiano.
In Valkenburg (The Netherlands) you can also see the Roman catacombs and photograph them. The underground corridors were perfectly imitated here in one of the many marl caves (you can read more about this in this article).
12. Villa Borghese and the Borghese garden
One of the most beautiful city parks in Rome is the Borghese garden. The large park offers you a beautiful view of Rome, but there is also a lot to see in the park itself. There are some beautiful fountains and beautiful sculptures.
Would you rather do something sporty in this green lung of Rome? Jog or cycle around in the park, or rent a boat to paddle on one of the big ponds.
Of course you can also visit the famous Villa Borghese. Don’t forget that you have to book your stopover prior to visiting, and that tickets are often sold out several days in advance.
13. The Capuchin crypt
Under the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church, near the beautiful Piazza Barberini, lies one of the strangest places to see in Rome. You’ll find tombs in which the skeletons of more than 3,700 monks are laid out. The macabre church looks a bit like the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, but much bigger. Almost all the different rooms of this underground chapel are decorated with skulls and bones. Think of bones as wall decoration, paintings framed with human bones and a lot of stacked skulls. Unfortunately you can’t take pictures of this unique attraction.
14. Terme di Caracalla
The Terme di Caracalla were the second largest public baths of Rome. In the meantime they have long since fallen into disrepair, but these ruins are still very well preserved and consequently a nice tourist attraction in Rome.
Hot water was led to these baths with the help of beautiful aqueducts.
The Romans didn’t only dive in the baths here! The Terme di Caracalla were an excellent place to socialize. Walking, studying and reading together, playing sports, … Around the large domain you’ll also find a beautiful library, a boxing room and a swimming pool. In addition to all these activities, worship was also regularly done, although this mainly took place in the underground corridors of the baths.
Don’t forget to show your identity card from the EU (if you have one). If you’re -25 years old you’ll receive a substantial discount on the admission price.
15. The St. Catherine Russian Orthodox Church
In Rome and Vatican City you can find hundreds, perhaps thousands of churches, chapels and other religious buildings belonging to the Catholics. But did you know that there also is one beautiful Russian Orthodox church in the eternal city?
Both the Italians and the Russian Tsar gave permission in 1913 to start building the St. Catherine Russian Orthodox Church. However, construction was soon stopped when in 1917 the Bolshevik revolution was uttered. In the 1990s, the Russian government decided to revive the building plans, and since 2007 Rome has also established its first Russian Orthodox Church. The sober interior is a relief after all the excesses of the Roman Catholic churches.
16. The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj (Galleria Doria Pamphilj)
The family Doria Pamphilj was a very prominent family throughout the history of Rome. With their wealth (and through many marriages…) the family bought numerous art collections, furniture and other valuable objects. Nowadays all these objects can be seen in the Doria Pamphilj gallery. The collection includes works by Pieter Bruegel, Raphael, Hans Memling, Jan Gossart and Caravaggio.
17. Piazza Navona
This large square in Rome was one of my favorite places to just sit down and watch people. In the middle of the square you’ll find the magnificent ‘Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi’ or the ‘Fountain of the four rivers’. Other attractions on this square include the Sant’Agnese church and the Pamphili palace. This is definitely one of the better places to see in Rome if you just want to do some people watching.
18. San Luigi dei Francesi
Near the Piazza Navona is the San Luigi dei Francesi or the “Holy Louis of the French”. This church is the national church of France in Rome. And that immediately explains its name, dedicated to St. Louis IX: king of France.
On the outside of the church you can immediately see that this church was built by the French. You’ll find beautiful carved scenes from French history. Inside the church you can find beautiful works of art by both French and Italian masters, but the most famous works are probably those of Caravaggio.
Just like in the rest of Rome, you can also find a magnificent ceiling painting in this church. A lot of gold, and a biblical scene. Same old, same old.
19. Basilica of St John Lateran
The oldest and most important church in Rome is not located in the Vatican City! This papal cathedral even has a higher status than the St. Peter’s Basilica, and therefore was named ‘arch basilica’. The highest possible rank for a cathedral. This holy place has a gigantic art collection, beautiful marble statues and is the final resting place for many popes (now all Popes are buried in St. Peter’s Basilica). You should definitely look at the ceiling inside this gigantic church. Beautiful paintings with a detailed golden framework all honor this grand church. The adjoining cloister with its beautiful courtyard (make sure to check out the beautiful columns!) Will also make your mouth fall open.
I think this church is at least as impressive as the St. Peter’s Basilica!
20. The Bocca della Verita
Next to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin you’ll find one of the strangest sights in Rome. To this day, people don’t know exactly what the strange marble face was used for. Historians think that it was used to get flood water out or to catch the blood of animal sacrifices. Since the film ‘Roman Holiday’ came out in 1953, the Bocca della Verità became world famous. In this film the sculpture is used as a kind of lie detector. In the book ‘The secret of the bitten fingers’ by Rindert Kromhout, the fingers of children who are lying are bitten off.
Do you dare to put your hand in the hungry mouth of the Bocca della Verita?
21. The Palatine
If you bought entrance tickets to the Coliseum, you may also visit the Roman Forum and the Palatine.
Perhaps you already know the legend of Romulus and Remus. According to this story, Rome was founded by two boys who were raised by a she-wolf. Romulus and Remus got into a fight, Romulus won. Result: the city he founded was named after him.
The Palatine hill would be the place where the two boys were raised in the she-wolf’s cave.
Because of this popular myth, this mountain was well liked, and it was very popular with the nobility. In addition, it was said that the air here was much cleaner, and therefore the rich shouldn’t have to breathe in diseases of the poor mob living in the lower areas of Rome.
The beautiful villas and palaces of rich Romans have long since been reduced to ruins, but many are still in very good condition. Be sure to visit one of the roof terraces after your visit. You get a beautiful view over the Palatine, but also over the Colosseum and the rest of Rome. The perfect place for a romantic sunset!
22. The Roman forum
In addition to the Coliseum and the Palatine, you can also visit the Roman Forum with the same entrance ticket.
The Roman Forum is a drained swamp, which over time was transformed into the social and then political center of the city.
Triumphal tours were organized on this spot, and later also parades of gladiators. It was also here that some of the most important buildings of the Roman city were built. And you can still see the ruins.
The Roman Forum is huge, and I definitely recommend booking a guide during your visit. I think the remains aren’t very interesting if you don’t know what you’re seeing.
23. Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (Altare della Patria)
Not far from the Colosseum and the Palatine is a somewhat newer monument of Rome. The ‘Altare della Patria’ (the altar for the fatherland) was built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of modern Italy.
Like every good national monument, you’ll also find a monument in honor of the ‘unknown soldier’, which is permanently guarded by a flame and some Italian soldiers.
Climb the stairs of this imposing building and be amazed by the gigantic sculptures that adorn this masterpiece. From the highest level you also get a beautiful view of Rome.
24. Look out for the bees!
There are tens of thousands of bees at any time in Rome. Yes, even during the winter!
The buildings of Rome (and Vatican City) are full of coats of arms and sculptures. If you look closely, you’ll notice that a few bees are depicted on many buildings.
These brightly colored insects refer to the Barberini’s. One of the most important families that Rome has ever had.
This family had such a big influence at one point that the Pope himself was chosen from this family.
The Barberini’s got more prestige, power and money and as a result they stuck the bees from their coat of arms just about everywhere.
In total, several thousand bees are scattered all over the city. How much can you find?
Trastevere is, according to many people, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Rome. The cozy region is recommended by both locals and tourists, and that has everything to do with the excellent restaurants and the nice shops that you find there. In this area you’ll also find some other attractions such as the Bocca della Verita and the Doria Pamphilj gallery.
Tips to make your visit to Rome more pleasant
Rome receives millions of visitors every year. It’s therefore not exceptional that you have to wait for a long time to enter certain places of interest. To make your visit to Rome as pleasant as possible I give you these useful tips:
- If you don’t mind paying extra (often only a few euros), buy skip-the-line tickets. In Rome I think it’s really worth the money. With these admission tickets you can skip the queues and you can visit certain monuments much faster. Check out websites such as GetYourGuide or Tiqets for the best deals on these tickets.
- Are you a resident of the European Union? Show your identity card! At many attractions in Rome, residents of the EU receive a hefty discount on presentation of their ID.
- Don’t plan your visit in high season (the holiday periods) if you want to escape the hustle and bustle. The least crowded months in Rome and Vatican City are November, the first weeks of December, February and March.
Every first Sunday of the month, all museums in Rome can be visited free of charge. The Vatican museums are not.
But be warned: on this day it gets even busier than usual…
Book excursions in Rome
Rome is great. Phenomenal even! There is a lot to do, and much more to discover. Book guided tours, and don’t forget to buy skip-the-line tickets for some sights. Trust me: you will need all the time that you have when you’re visiting Rome!
Article in other languages
Wat te doen in Rome (BE) | Bezienswaardigheden in Rome (NL) | Highlights Rom (DE)
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.