The Complete Guides To The Eternal City
Rome is arguably the cultural capital of the world. There are so many things to see in Rome that it is often difficult, especially if you have just a few days, to choose from the wide range of activities in Rome and guided tours offered by thousands of tour operators in town.
When planning your trip to Rome, keep in mind that Rome is a walkable city. Unless you plan to go outside Rome (for example, if you want to go to Tivoli or Ostia Antica) most Rome attractions are fairly close to one another and if they they’re not within walking distance, they’re easily reachable by metro, bus or taxi.
Most of the time, that famous fountain or museum is just a short walk away. Forget segway tours – the best way to experience Rome is on foot. We at Roma Experience specialize in walking tours, and our itineraries are specially designed to reveal the highlights of Rome through fascinating walks in the city center, and guided visits to the main attractions.
The main Rome attractions are the spectacular Roman ruins – sites such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. A trip to Rome wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Colosseum, or a walk through the sprawling ruins of the Roman Forum, which include the magnificent remains of temples, basilicas and monuments. The Palatine Hill is often overlooked by tourists (and other tour companies), but we believe that it should be part of everybody’s Rome itinerary, with a wealth of fascinating imperial ruins and breathtaking views of Rome.
Visits to the Colosseum and similar sites require a bit of advance planning. To do justice to Rome’s most impressive archaeological sites, you’ll need to devote at least a few hours; the sites are large, and queues for the Colosseum can be lengthy during peak tourist season. For this reason, we recommend joining our Colosseum tours. You’ll get to skip the lines and enjoy an organized itinerary with an expert guide, who will show you the highlights of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, while providing you with valuable historical context, and stories of gladiators and emperors.
The sheer size of these sites – especially when combined with their eventful histories – can make them seem overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-time visitor to Rome. We aim to make the experience more manageable and enjoyable, with small group and private tours of the Colosseum and surrounding sites. For more information, check out our in-depth Rome guides.
Beyond the Colosseum
Of course, there’s much more to Rome than the Colosseum. If you’re interested in archaeology and Roman ruins, we recommend a trip to the underrated Trajan’s Market, or the enormous Baths of Caracalla. The Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) is perhaps the most atmospheric place in Rome – an ancient Roman road lined with villas, tombs and catacombs.
With so many things to see in Rome you may not feel inclined to leave the city center. However, a day trip to Ostia Antica is definitely worthwhile. This amazing archaeological site – the ruins of a Roman port town – rivals Pompeii, and is only a 30 minute train ride away.
Take a walk through the historic center of Rome and you’ll find many other famous monuments, such as the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. The Pantheon is one of the most ancient buildings in Rome — a 2nd century pagan temple that was later transformed into a church — and also one of the most atmospheric. Entrance is free (for now, so hurry up!) and the queues aren’t usually too long. The magnificent, Baroque-era Trevi Fountain is also free to visit; we suggest going late at night or in the early hours of the morning, when it’s least crowded. Read our Trevi Fountain guide for more information about visiting. Roma Experience’s Heart of Rome private tour includes visits to the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and other main attractions in Rome such as Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps. The tour is the perfect introduction to the Rome city center, and even includes a complimentary gelato!
If it seems like there are lots of churches in Rome, that’s because there are a lot of churches – more than 900. While you’re unlikely to have the time or inclination to see them all, make sure you visit at least a few. To understand the art, culture and religious history of Rome, there’s no better place to begin.
St Peter’s Basilica is one of the undisputed highlights of Rome; regardless of your religious beliefs, you can’t help but be astonished by the grandeur of the basilica. The architecture is designed to be awe-inspiring, and inside you’ll find masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Pietà and Bernini’s extraordinary baldachin. Read our St Peter’s Basilica guide for some useful tips to make the most of your visit.
San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore are smaller than St Peter’s, but still undeniably spectacular. The fourth major papal basilicas, St Paul’s Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le mura) is a little further out of the center, but also worth a visit. But while walking around the center of Rome, keep an eye out for smaller churches. Some of the most famous works of art in Rome are located in churches, such as Caravaggio’s St Matthew paintings in San Luigi dei Francesi, or Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria.
Churches are free of charge, although you now need to go through stricter security measures, especially if you enter major basilicas such as St Peter’s Basilica, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore. Expect to queue 15-20 minutes for St Peter’s Basilica.
When visiting churches during the warmer months, remember that there are strict rules about clothing – keep your chest and shoulders covered, and don’t wear shorts or short skirts. Make sure your knees are covered. Consider bringing some kind of shawl or scarf with you, as you wouldn’t want to wait in line for 20 minutes at St Peter’s only to discover that you’re not allowed to enter!
Museums and art galleries
In Rome you’re truly spoiled for choice – from the staggering collections of the Vatican Museums to the beauty of the Borghese Gallery, it can be hard to know where to begin. But of the many things to see in Rome, a couple of museums and art galleries should definitely be near the top of your list.
The Vatican Museums are truly unmissable, with a collection that spans from Roman sculptures to masterpieces by Raphael. The Sistine Chapel is also considered part of the Vatican Museums (check out our Sistine Chapel guide for more information). With hundreds of rooms and 6 million visitors a year, you might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of a visit, but our Vatican tours will make the experience easier and more enjoyable for you. If you do go alone, be prepared for long queues, and make sure you bring a guidebook to help you make sense of the collection.
The only other museum in Rome that requires some forward planning is the Borghese Gallery. Located in the Villa Borghese park, the gallery is renowned for its collection of Bernini sculptures, along with paintings by artists such as Titian, Raphael and Caravaggio. Tickets need to be booked in advance (online or on the phone), and the gallery can get fully booked at busy times such as weekends. We offer Borghese Gallery private tours, and also have an online guide with further advice and information.
Join us in Rome!
There are many simple pleasures in Rome that you can enjoy by yourself – a walk through the historic city center, an aperitivo in Trastevere, or watching the sunset from the Aventine Hill. However, to truly make the most of your time in Rome, we recommend seeing some of the main attractions in Rome with an enthusiastic, expert tour guide. Whether you want to explore the Roman Forum or discover the highlights of the Vatican Museums, we look forward to seeing you in Rome!