Rome may be one of the most popular cities to visit on earth, but if you wander off the main tourist path, you’ll find some incredible hidden gems that most visitors overlook. Having lived in the Eternal City for over 12 years, I’ve put together this list of the most unforgettable things to do in Rome — from the must-see attractions to the lesser-known sights that are just as worthy of your time.
You’ll also find tons of useful travel tips so that you can avoid tourist traps (we all know there are many of them in Rome) and have a smooth and pleasant visit. I would suggest spending at least 3 days in Rome to be able to cover all these activities without rushing too much!
The Best Things to do in Rome
Climb Up The St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
After you’re done exploring the Vatican Museums, be sure to stop by the other main attraction in the Vatican: the St. Peter’s Basilica. The highlight of visiting this cathedral is that you can climb up to its dome (or cupola) to get an incredible view of the whole city.
You can either climb all 551 steps by foot for €6 or take a lift to the terrace and climb the remaining 320 steps by foot for €8. The dome opens at 8 am, and if you’re visiting in the summer, I recommend climbing up before noon so that you avoid the heat of the sun once you’re up there!
Watch Street Performers In Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is one of the most picturesque squares in Rome. Home to the famous fountain Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, it’s always bustling with street artists and performers. You can get your portrait drawn by an artist or watch a clown show off his latest tricks. It’s also just an incredible place to grab some gelato and take a relaxing stroll — the atmosphere is simply incredible.
Walk up the Spanish Steps
One of the best things to do in Rome is head to the Spanish Steps. Just a few minutes by foot from the Trevi Fountain is the incredible Spanish Steps, which you can climb up to get an awesome view of parts of the historic center. These steps sit inside a very picturesque square surrounded by luxury shops lining the streets leading up to it. There is also a Metro station called “Spagna” at the end of the square, which makes it super convenient to get to other parts of the city.
Please note: Sitting on the Spanish Steps is no longer allowed, and you risk getting fined if you dirty the steps in any way.
Marvel At The Majestic Colosseum
No trip to Rome, or trip to Italy for that matter, would be complete without wandering the ancient grounds of the Colosseum, where gladiators fought for over 500 years as spectators cheered on. Walking inside this amphitheater, you’ll learn tons of interesting facts about Ancient Rome and the lives of the gladiators.
To make the most of your experience at the Colosseum, I highly recommend you join a guided tour. This way, you’ll avoid the long lines at the entrance and will get a detailed explanation of the history behind this place. If you’d prefer to visit on your own, though, be sure to arrive right when the gates open at 8:30 am during peak season to avoid waiting in line for too long.
A ticket to the Colosseum costs €16 and includes entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hills as well. You should book your ticket in advance.
Explore The Roman Forum & The Palatine Hills
As mentioned before, entrance to both of these places is included in your ticket to the Colosseum, and you can learn even more about the history of Rome here. The Roman Forum, in fact, is home to some of the most important monuments from Ancient Rome, and the Palatine Hills will give you a stunning view of the Colosseum. Give yourself roughly 1-2 hours to admire these ancient ruins — it’s essentially like walking in an open-air museum.
Try The Local ‘Pizza Al Taglio’
Rome has tons of delicious local specialties, and one of them is undoubtedly the pizza al taglio, which is essentially pizza sliced in rectangles or squares. There’s a variety of different toppings that can go on these pizzas, such as mushrooms, olives, and artichokes.
You can enjoy this exquisite specialty at La Prezzemolina, which is located in a hidden back street near the Colosseum. It’s actually one of the best places in town to taste local pizza!
Admire The Ancient Pantheon
The Pantheon is one of the most ancient sites in the entire city, and it’s definitely worth spending at least 20 minutes wandering inside this monument. Make sure to stop by the Tomb of Raphael and to look up while standing right underneath the building’s dome — it opens up to the sky! Entrance to the Pantheon is free, and its opening hours are 8:30 am – 7:15 pm from Mondays to Saturdays and 9 am – 5:45 pm on Sundays.
Toss a Coin into the Trevi Fountain
One cannot visit the Eternal City without stopping by the iconic Trevi Fountain, the beating heart of the historic center. Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome. Toss three coins, and you’ll get married in Rome upon your return!
Top tip: Come back to this fountain on a night tour of Rome to see it beautifully lit up and with much fewer people around. You’ll have a much more peaceful experience because as you can imagine, it’s incredibly crowded there during the day!
Explore The Vatican Museums
The Vatican is an essential part of any Rome itinerary, and visiting the Vatican Museums is a must mostly because it is home to the majestic Sistine Chapel, which took Michelangelo four years to paint.
There are also tons of other spectacular galleries and ancient art inside these museums. I highly recommend booking your ticket in advance and to arrive early to avoid long lines. Tickets are €17 for adults and €8 for kids.
Get An Incredible View From Gianicolo
To get more bird’s-eye view panoramas of Rome, head over to the hidden gem of Belvedere del Gianicolo. This hill is rarely visited by tourists, but very popular among locals — especially teens — because it’s really romantic. After a short walk up Gianicolo Hill, you’ll come across a 360-degree viewing platform where you can sit down with a bottle of wine and take in the magnificent scenery in front of you.
Have Tiramisù At Two Sizes Tiramisù
If you’re in Italy, you probably want to indulge in some delicious tiramisù. The best place in Rome to enjoy this dessert is Two Sizes, which is conveniently located in the historic center. They have a variety of tiramisù flavors for you to choose from as well, including pistachio, caramel, and peanut butter. If you want some more dessert, get some of their cannoli too!
Discover Art & History at Galleria Borghese
If you’re into art history, then the Galleria Borghese is a must-visit. This magnificent gallery and museum is filled with paintings and sculptures by famous artists such as Bernini, Caravaggio, and Raphael.
It is located inside Villa Borghese, a stunning park in central Rome. You will need to book your ticket in advance as you won’t be let into the gallery otherwise. A regular ticket is €13, but if you’re between the ages of 18 to 25, then you only have to pay €2.
Catch an Epic Sunset at the Pincio Terrace
Villa Borghese is also home to a breathtaking viewing platform — the Pincio Terrace, which offers a splendid view of the historic center. Be sure to get there in time for sunset and to get your camera ready! From this terrace, you can see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica as well as other stunning landmarks of the Eternal City. You can reach this terrace from the Galleria Borghese by cutting through the park, or by climbing up a set of stairs from Piazza del Popolo.
Shop At Via Del Corso & Via Nazionale
The historic center of Rome is filled with boutique shops and luxury stores. While winter isn’t exactly the best time to visit Italy, If you visit here in January, you will be there during the big sales season and can take advantage of lots of great deals.
Either way, you’ll find plenty of clothing stores on the popular Via del Corso and on Via Nazionale. The latter street is also not far from the main train station of Rome (Termini), so it could be a great place to pass some spare time before boarding your train to other cities.
Climb Up The Altare Della Patria
There are many breathtaking monuments in the historic center of Rome, and one of them is the Altare della Patria, a stunning structure made out of white marble. Sitting proudly inside Piazza Venezia, this monument is dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy. There’s a viewing terrace on this monument, which you can climb up to via elevators for €7. This is a beautiful place to unwind if you’re tired of all the walking around.
Get A History Lesson At Circo Massimo
If you’re a fan of history, you’ll want to stop by Circo Massimo, which is not too far from Trastevere. This arena used to hold horse races and religious ceremonies back in the days, and it was actually the biggest stadium of the Ancient Roman empire.
In fact, it could accommodate up to 250,000 spectators at once. Today, you can pay €5 to visit the archeological areas inside this arena, which includes ancient shops and taverns.
Taste Authentic Cuisine In Trastevere
While you’ll find plenty of great food near the famous attractions in Rome, there are also tons of tourist traps in those areas, and it can be hard to distinguish between the two. That’s why I recommend wandering off the beaten path to the neighborhood of Trastevere, the #1 foodie neighborhood of Rome.
This is where the absolute best restaurants in town are, and you’ll also find a lot fewer tourists here. Head over to Bar San Calisto for an aperitivo (a local pre-meal drink) and then to Pasta e Vino Osteria for a delicious meal!
Note* One of my top Italy travel tips is to understand “Coperto”which is essentially a fee or cover charge that you will see at most Italian restaurants. While tipping is not common, we’ve found copertos range anywhere from €1.50-4 per person.
Go On A Guided Food Tour
It’s a well-known fact about Italy that some of the best food in the world can be found in the country. Being the capital of one of the best foodie countries on earth, you’re probably not surprised to hear that there are plenty of amazing food tours to take in Rome. These tours will take you to various renowned eateries in town, where you’ll meet food experts who will not only feed you the most exquisite local specialties but also share their best secrets and food tips with you.
For instance, if you want to learn how to distinguish between real and fake gelato, going on a food tour will help you find out!
Snap A Photo At Castel Sant’Angelo
Rome is also home to tons of beautiful bridges, as the famous Tiber River runs through the city. One of the most postcard-worthy bridges is the Ponte Sant’Angelo, which leads you to the stunning Castel Sant’Angelo, an ancient fortress built in AD 139.
While it’s not really worth going inside this castle as the entrance ticket is a whopping €15 (and honestly, it’s just not worth that price), you should definitely still admire the beautiful view of the castle from the bridge in front of it. It’s a remarkable photo spot too.
Enjoy Nightlife at Campo de’ Fiori
Last but not least, don’t forget about the vibrant nightlife of Rome, right in the historic center. Campo de’ Fiori is a square that hosts fresh food markets by day and a big party scene by night. In fact, it is the center of Rome’s nightlife thanks to the numerous bars and pubs inside the square. You can do some bar-hopping in this area and enjoy some late-night drinks and snacks. You’ll even find some American bars here like The Drunken Ship.
Hope you make the most out of these things to do in Rome, now go out and enjoy the Italian capital!
About the Author
Jiayi is the writer and photographer behind The Diary of a Nomad, a travel and photography blog with a special love for hidden gems and less-visited destinations. She was raised in Rome, Italy, and calls it her hometown. She hopes her tips and recommendations will make your trip to the Eternal City even more pleasant and enjoyable! You can follow her adventures around the world on her Instagram.