33 unmissable experiences in Rome

33 unmissable experiences in Rome

From classic sights to out-of-the-box activities, discover the many experiences waiting for you in the Eternal City.

Rome is a spectacular city, bursting with modern energy yet steeped in ancient history. Visiting it at least once in a lifetime is practically mandatory, while returning several times is always a pleasure. With a rich history spanning several centuries, exceptional museums and works of art, monumental squares and mouth-watering gastronomy, it’s a city with timeless appeal – it wasn’t called the Eternal City for nothing.

But with so much to see and do in Rome, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve created our own mini guide, divided into sections according to what you’re looking for, whether its top attractions, family-friendly activities, off-the-beaten-track gems or foodie tips.

Read on to discover our top 33 unmissable experiences in Rome.

The classics

Whether you’ve visited Rome before or it’s your first time, there are some things you have to see, such as world-class museums, monumental squares and fountains. Below we’ve rounded up some of our favorites.

1. Admire the works of the Vatican museums

One of the most beautiful museums in Rome, if not the world, the Vatican Museums is always worth a visit. Its art collection was accumulated over the centuries by various popes and is one of the world’s largest. The undisputed star of the show is the Sistine Chapel, built in the 15th century and frescoed by exceptional artists, including Michelangelo who painted the vault and the back wall with the Last Judgment. Other highlights include the Laocoön Group and Raphael’s School of Athens, along with unusually themed rooms such as the Gallery of Maps and the Hall of Animals.

These museums are truly huge, which is why we recommend joining a guided tour, so you can discover the most significant works and learn about their history and curiosities.

Recommended experience: Small group tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

2. Learn about ancient Rome at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum

Is there anything that says Rome more than the Colosseum? The largest Roman amphitheater in the world, the Colosseum is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is the only European monument on the list. Dig deeper into the history of ancient Rome by following up your visit with a visit to the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, exploring what was once the center of the city’s public and religious life.

Recommended experience: Tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum with a local guide

3. Tour the city’s historic squares

There are many squares in Rome and all have their own charm. Among the most famous is Piazza Navona. Built in a monumental style it houses three elaborate fountains: the Fontana del Moro, the Fountain of Neptune and the Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by Bernini. There’s also Piazza del Popolo, a huge square dominated by the Flaminian Obelisk and, of course, the famous Piazza di Spagna with its staircase connecting the Spanish embassy to the church of the Trinità dei Monti. And let’s not forget Piazza Venezia with the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), the small Piazza di Trevi with its world-famous fountain, or Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican, where the faithful gather to hear the Pope speak.

Recommended experience: Private tour of Rome’s squares and the Ara Pacis Museum

4. Be amazed by the Pantheon

Founded in 27 BC, the Pantheon was originally a Roman temple dedicated to all divinities, but in the 7th century it was transformed into a Christian basilica dedicated to St Mary and became informally known as the church of Santa Maria della Rotonda. Its architecture is nothing short of extraordinary. The central body, known as the “rotunda”, supports a concrete dome with a central opening, called the “oculus”, which allows light to filter into the building. Although this hole in the ceiling seems counterintuitive when it rains, thanks to the convex floor and the presence of around 20 manholes, the water that enters quickly drains away.

5. Admire the city from above

The historic center of Rome lies on the famous Seven Hills. This means many climbs (and many descents) but also many truly breathtaking viewpoints. You don’t want to miss admiring the city from above. There’s also an 8th hill, the Janiculum (Gianicolo in Italian), where you can enjoy the most beautiful view of all. Rising up around 289ft high in Trastevere, the Janiculum lets you admire the historic center from a truly privileged point, where epic sunsets are a guarantee.


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6. Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain

On a walk through the narrow streets from Piazza di Spagna you’re bound to find yourself face to face with a fantastic sight: the Trevi Fountain. Standing in a square that almost seems too small to contain it (and the crowd of tourists who visit it), it’s one of the largest Baroque fountains in Rome and has been immortalized several times on the silver screen. Legend has it that by throwing a coin into its waters your wish will come true. And even if it doesn’t, the money goes to charity, which is no bad thing.

7. Cross Ponte Sant’Angelo on foot

The most beautiful bridge in Rome is a solemn construction, adorned with religious themed statues that line your way to the Vatican. Crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo on foot undoubtedly makes for a memorable experience, not only for the bridge’s majestic beauty but also for the pretty view of the Tiber and Castel Sant’Angelo.


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Un post condiviso da Valentino Menna (@meraviglie_di_roma)

8. Visit the beautiful Galleria Borghese

Elegant and refined, Galleria Borghese is one of those attractions you simply can’t help but keep coming back to. Its art collection is famous all over the world and it boasts some of the most famous works by Bernini and Caravaggio. Booking is mandatory and, given its popularity, we suggest you plan well in advance.

9. Discover the secrets of St Peter’s Basilica

Another iconic symbol of Rome, Michelangelo’s dome has dominated the city’s skyline for over 500 years. Built in 1506 on a site believed to be the burial place of St Peter, this huge basilica contains numerous treasures, works of art and also has its fair share of secrets. The trick of perspective of the columns in the square, the popes’ tombs under the main nave and the ancient Roman necropolis on which it stands are just some of its little-known curiosities. To discover them all, we suggest you join a guided tour.


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10. Head to the top of the Altar of the Fatherland

Dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), is simply huge and takes central stage in Piazza Venezia. Its construction began in the late 19th century and, although the works had not yet been completed, in 1911 it was opened to the public. Built in neoclassical style, it is one of the symbols of Italy’s unification and freedom from foreign domination. Climb to the panoramic terrace at the top to enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of the city.

11. Peek inside all the churches you pass

This symbolic city of Catholicism boasts some of the most beautiful churches in the world, and we’re not only talking about St Peter’s Basilica. In the church of San Luigi dei Francesi you can admire three magnificent works by Caravaggio, while the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a fantastic example of a Gothic-style church, and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage listed treasure. These are just a few examples of Rome’s many churches, which combine beauty, artistic gems and a few surprises.


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12. Go back in time at the Circus Maximus

Rich in history and at the center of several legends, the Circus Maximus is a must-see on any trip to Rome. It was formerly a venue for games such as chariot racing and gladiator fights, a place to bargain and exchange goods and, according to mythology, where the rape of the Sabine women took place. Today the Circus Maximus, with its huge audience capacity, is an atmospheric location for concerts and other popular public events.

13. Climb up Capitoline Hill

One of the seven original hills on which Rome was founded, today the Capitoline houses the Palazzo Senatorio, the seat of the Municipality of Rome, and the Capitoline Museums. Although it’s the lowest of the hills, it’s one of the most interesting for its historic political significance. And if that’s not enough, from Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by none other than Michelangelo, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Piazza Venezia and the Imperial Fora.

Outside-the-box experiences in Rome

You don’t have to stick to the tried-and-true attractions of a classic itinerary. The city is packed with unusual places that are off the beaten tourist track and will give you a new perspective on the city.

14. See St Peter’s dome from Via Nicolò Piccolomini

Rome is also a city of perspective games and optical illusions. On the Janiculum, the city’s second tallest hill, in addition to enjoying a wonderful view you can also take a walk on Via Piccolomini. As you walk towards St Peter’s, keep your eyes on its dome and let yourself be amazed. Although you’re getting closer, the dome appears ever distant to you.

15. Explore the city from an e-bike

To go a little further than the historic center and whizz through the traffic-congested streets without too much effort, there’s nothing better than renting an e-bike. Plus scenic routes abound, from that of the Via Appia Antica, with its ancient history, to the Tiberina cycle path, which runs along the Tiber and the Regina Ciclarum crossing the Old Town and reaching as far as the sea.


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16. Discover Rome’s haunted houses

With such a long and rich history, it comes as no surprise that Rome is a city full of secrets, legends and haunted locations. Rediscover the city’s iconic places with an interactive tour that reveals its hidden sinister side. Otherwise immerse yourself in the world of Angels and Demons and even solve the mystery of the Illuminati.

17. Visit Rome’s underbelly

Among the many secrets of Rome is its vast underground. Hidden beneath Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain and other iconic attractions of the city, is another world of catacombs and forgotten cities. By purchasing a pass that lets you access the sites of Underground Rome, you’ll enjoy a truly unique look at Rome’s history.

18. Relax in the Orange Garden

This picture-perfect garden on Aventine Hill not only offers up a spectacular vantage point on the city, it’s also a charming urban oasis where you can unwind after a day of sight-seeing. Known for its many orange trees, it stands on the site where the monks of the adjacent convent once kept their vegetable garden. Neat and symmetrical, the Giardino degli Aranci (Orange Garden) is a real delight, a few steps from the famous “keyhole”, where you can enjoy a peep-hole view of St Peter’s Basilica.

19. Stroll down Via Margutta

If you’re looking to escape the crowds while taking a scenic stroll then a visit to Via Margutta is a must. This bohemian street connects Piazza del Popolo to Piazza di Spagna and has been known since the Middle Ages as the street of artists. Today it continues to be the home of art galleries and antique shops.

Things to do in Rome with the kids

If the chaos and grandeur of the Eternal City makes the thought of traveling with children seem somewhat unappealing, then read on. Rome is (surprisingly!) packed with activities that will fascinate and entertain all your little ones.

20. Explore the wonders of Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese is a fantastic city park, where young and old go to escape the busy city and relax in a spot of green. Stroll or bike it and don’t forget to bring the kids. Not only can they run around exploring, they can also see the sundial and maybe even be introduced to the world of art at the Borghese Gallery.


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21. Take a trip to Rome’s Biopark

Villa Borghese holds many treasures and one of them happens to be the Bioparco di Roma, the oldest zoological garden in Italy. With around 200 species of animals from all over the world, the Biopark is a paradise for children, who’ll be able to get to know their favorite animals up close and learn all about their habits and habitats.

22. Have fun with the whole family at Cinecittà World

If you’re willing to go a little further out for some good-old-fashioned family then Cinecittà World, in Castel Romano, is the destination for you. As the name suggests, this amusement park is cinema-themed and has many original movie sets inside. With about 40 attractions for all ages and a water park, Cinecittà World can be visited all year round, with reduced hours during the winter months.

23. Take part in a MAXXI workshop

MAXXI, in the Flaminio district, is not only an avant-garde museum, it’s also a multifunctional space suitable for all age groups. In addition to art collections and temporary exhibitions, MAXXI has an educational goal and it regularly holds workshops and and events for schools and families. Mixing up both the educational and the entertaining, it’s a fun and worthwhile experience both for you and your kids.


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24. Take a tour of the Catacombs of St Callixtus

For slightly older children and teenagers, a visit to the Catacombs of San Callisto is a real adventure. This underground complex is spread over about 30 hectares partly under the Via Appia Antica. The tunnels and galleries were dug in the 2nd century by the Romans and many martyrs plus nine popes were buried here. The whole family will be fascinated by the stories and mysteries embedded in its ancient history.

25. Dare to put your hand in the Mouth of Truth

Set in the wall of the Basilica of St Mary in Cosmedin is this famous mask depicting the face of a bearded man with a gaping mouth. While there are many theories on who the Mouth of Truth represents (maybe its Jupiter? Or could it be a Faun or a water deity?), what we know for sure is that it was originally a manhole that ‘swallowed’ rainwater. According to legend it will bite off the hand of any who tell a lie while their hand is in its mouth. Children and adults alike love to place their hand inside and take the risk.


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Gastronomic experiences

If there’s one thing you truly can’t miss out on in Rome, it’s the spectacular local cuisine that is rich, pasta heavy and beloved in all the country. Here are some suggestions on the best neighborhoods to dine in and some top gastronomic experiences.

26. Dinner in Trastevere

Trastevere is one of the most picturesque and photogenic neighborhoods in the whole city. The lively Piazza di Santa Maria is the place to begin any exploration of the neighborhood and it also has a basilica that’s well worth a look. Young, vibrant and with a uniquely Roman charm, Trastevere is also packed with taverns, trattorias and restaurants where you can treat your palate to some fantastic traditional cuisine.


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27. Try the famous Jewish artichokes

Foodies don’t want to miss the Jewish Ghetto. Here not only can you admire the synagogue, visit the Jewish Museum and stroll the picturesque streets, you can also enjoy some mouthwatering dishes. Home to numerous trattorias and homey restaurants you’ll be spoilt for choice. Don’t forget to try its famed Jewish artichokes, which are fried, delectable and have an ancient history, along with other Jewish-Roman specialties, such as fish broth, fried zucchini flowers and Shabbat bread.

28. Get your fill of street food

Street food in Rome is particularly tasty and you don’t want to leave town without indulging in a sandwich bursting with thick and juicy slices of porchetta (spit-roasted pork). Roman-style pizza (think thin and crunchy), supplì (rice croquettes with a heart of stringy mozzarella) and grattachecca (Roman granita) are also delicious and must be tried at least once.

29. Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, Amatriciana, Gricia

Rome is a pasta-loving city and it goes without saying that feasting on fantastic pasta dishes makes for a memorable travel experience. Carbonara, cacio e pepe, amatriciana, gricia but also penne all’arrabbiata are all palate-pleasing dishes that are so good we think they just might deserve to be UNESCO protected.


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30. Browse the stalls of the Campo de’ Fiori market

Campo de ‘Fiori is another beautiful square not far from Piazza Navona. It also happens to host a lively market that’s been the background for several neorealist films. If you have time one morning, it’s well worth stopping by. Although over the years the stalls have multiplied and become, let’s face it, rather touristy, with a discerning eye you’ll still be able to find some authentic local delicacies to taste or take home.

31. Sip cocktails on a rooftop terrace

Looking for a more glamorous side to Rome? Then make a stop at any number of rooftop bars brimming with sophistication and enchanting views. You’ll find some of the most beautiful rooftop terraces in the center, where you can get an eyeful of all of Rome’s iconic attractions beneath the stars.


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Short breaks from Rome

Have a bit more time on your hands? Then why not head further afield. Lazio is full of lesser-known beauties waiting to be discovered. Here are but a few examples, but once you start looking options seem endless.

32. Visit the Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana

Just 40 minutes from the center of Rome you’ll find two villas that are UNESCO World Heritage listed. The Villa d’Este is a Renaissance villa built in the 16th century by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, while Villa Adriana is an archaeological site where the ruins of the residence of Emperor Hadrian can be found. The first is famed around the world for its garden, with its scenic fountains and water features. The second is a fantastically preserved Roman site that whisks you well into the past.

33. Discover the Dying City and Orvieto

Civita di Bagnoregio is a unique village, so enchanting it looks like it came straight out of a story book. Located in the Valle dei Calanchi, it’s known for the erosion of its foundation that continues to this day, earning itself the nickname “La città che muore” (the Dying City). Today it can only be accessed via a pedestrian bridge, which connects it to Bagnoregio.

It’s a 30-minute car ride to the charming village of Orvieto in Umbria, which stands on a tuff spur. This small city of art is a paradise for all lovers of good food and wine.


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