Rome is Italy’s most popular travel destination and a vibrant city full of great restaurants, nightlife, lively streets and beautiful squares. Rome offers the visitor a wide range of sights, from ancient to Renaissance and modern. These top monuments are a good cross-section of what Rome has to offer and can be seen for free as you walk around the city (although you’ll have to buy a ticket to go inside the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo).
5 Famous Rome Monuments:
Rome’s Colosseum is the city’s most iconic monument. Also called the Flavian Amphitheater, it was built by the Flavian emperors Vespasian and Titus between 70 and 82 AD. Able to hold more than 50,00 spectators, the arena was used for many public events including gladiator and wild animal battles. Since the Colosseum is the most visited monument in Rome, you should buy Colosseum and Roman Forum passes in advance. The dungeons, or underground area, and upper tiers are now open to the public, but only on special guided tours.
Read more about special Colosseum tours and visiting tips, see my review of the Colosseum top levels tour, or get 5% discount with promo code ITALYMARTHA on small group tours from the Roman Guy (except tours that include Colosseum underground).
The Pantheon, the Temple of all the Gods, is the best preserved monument of ancient Rome. Originally built by Emperor Hadrian between 118-125 AD, the building was transformed into a Christian church in the 7th century. The top feature of the Pantheon is its magnificent dome. The lively piazza by the Pantheon is ringed with bars and restaurants and is a great place to sit outside and admire the view, but be aware that sitting at an outside table at a bar can be costly.
The Trevi Fountain, completed in 1732 and cleaned up in 2015, is an elaborate Baroque fountain with seahorses and cascading pools below a huge statue of Neptune. Although the fountain can be seen for free, it’s often very crowded so if you want to get a close look try to go in the early morning before tour groups start arriving. It’s said that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you’ll be assured of returning to Rome. The Trevi Fountain is on a small square below the Quirinale Palace, a former Papal residence that’s now the home of Italy’s President. Trevi Fountain photo credit: Browsing Rome.
Castel Sant’Angelo, between Rome and the Vatican, was built in the 2nd century by Emperor Hadrian to house his tomb. Later it became a military fortress, a palace for the Pope, and a prison. Inside you can see archaeological artifacts, art works and beautifully decorated apartments of the Popes. The castle’s terrace is one of the best view spots in Rome, too.
The Spanish Steps, in Rome’s Campo Marzio neighborhood, is a massive staircase leading from Piazza di Spagna to Trinita dei Monti Church above. The steps and square got their name from the Bourbon Spanish Embassy which was near the church at the top of the staircase when the steps were built in 1723-25. To the right of the steps as you start up is the Keats – Shelley House Museum in what was the house where John Keats lived and died in 1821. In spring, flowers adorn the steps and on December 8, the Pope comes to the Spanish Steps and Trinita dei Monti Church on the Day of the Immaculate Conception. Although the steps are often clogged with tourists using them as a resting place, beware that eating on them is forbidden. For great views, go up the steps to the Pincio Hill.
Visiting Vatican City
Although Vatican City is often visited on a trip to Rome, it’s actually not part of Italy but is the world’s smallest country. 5-6 million visitors a year come to see the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums so it’s highly recommended that you buy skip-the-line Vatican Museum tickets in advance.
Or better yet, take a Pre-opening Vatican small group tour or the Super Early Vatican Gold Tour to see the Sistine Chapel before the crowds. For 5% off either of these tours, or any other Vatican small group tours from the Roman Guy, use promo code ITALYMARTHA.
More Things to See and Do in Rome:
- See an authentic Roman neighborhood and eat traditional Roman food in the Testaccio or Trastevere districts. Although they are becoming more popular, there aren’t as many tourists (or tourist restaurants) in these neighborhoods and they are good areas to just wander.
- Taste the foods of Rome with a Trastevere Local Food Tour. Get 5% off with promo code ITALYMARTHA when you book online.
- Take an easy day trip to Ostia Antica to see the ruins of Rome’s ancient port, smaller and more accessible from Rome than Pompeii. See more Rome day trips.
Plan Your Visit to Rome
Find out about Rome trains and rail stations or buy train tickets on Rail Europe.
Rome Guide Books:
- Top 10 Rome (DK Eyewitness Travel Guide)
- Rick Steves Pocket Rome
- National Geographic Walking Rome: the Best of the City
See more recommended books about Rome.
Tips for Sight-seeing in Rome:
Rome is big and there’s a lot to see! Don’t expect to see everything in a few days or even in a week. I’ve been to Rome many times and still see new things every time I’m there. There are many good day trips that can easily be taken from Rome, too. If you only have 2 days, this 48 hour itinerary to top things to see can help you make the most of your time. Or if you really want to see everything in one day, take this Rome in a day small group tour that includes tours of both the Colosseum and Vatican Museums with Sistine Chapel – use promo code ITALYMARTHA for 5% discount.
You can often save money or time (by not standing in ticket lines) with one of these Combination Tickets or Passes.
The best way to see many of the sites is on foot so be sure you have good walking shoes. Public transportation is also a good way to get around but it’s often very crowded. Fun ways to get around are on an an e-bike tour or a Segway tour. There are also hop on/hop off buses that get you close to most of the major sites.
You’re unlikely to be a victim of violent crime in Rome, but you should be careful of pickpockets, as is true in many big cities around the world. They are especially common on the crowded metro and where there are lots of tourists, including in Vatican City. Never carry your passport or valuables where they can be stolen. See How to Safeguard or Replace Your Passport.
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