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15 Must-See Places in Rome on your first (or second) visit

Planning a trip to Rome can feel overwhelming, especially if it is your first visit to the city. Too many things to see, too little time. If you’re trying to figure out which attractions not to miss out on, here’s some help.

15 Must-See Places in Rome

1. Colosseum

The icon of Rome, your family and friends will certainly ask if you saw the Colosseum during your trip. As you can imagine, it gets crowded here. If you plan on visiting insider, you can book your tickets online in advance from Coop Culture. Details of opening hours, costs of tickets, and security issues (no bag packs allowed) are provided on the website.

Colosseum in Rome | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

To avoid the crowds and for a even more unique experience, visit the Colosseum at Night. This is possible from April to October and especially in summer when it’s hot and humid, visiting the Colosseum at night is a much cooler experience.

2. Roman Forum | Palatine Hill 

Roman Forum

Situated in the valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills, the Roman Forum was a place of commercial exchange, and political and judicial activities. It was also the point where important roads met such as the Sacred Way.

The Forum was gradually abandoned and buried under a thick layer of earth and became a place where cows would graze, noted as Campo Vaccino (Cow Field). Some temples were transformed into churches and during the renaissance the area was used as a quarry for marble and stone.

This is one place where we would recommend you join a guided tour. You’ll get much more from the visit as details will be pointed out. Otherwise, the ruins will just look all the same to the untrained eye.

From April to October, thanks to Viaggio nei Fori Imperiali, you can journey through Ancient Rome as virtual reconstructions and special effects bring to life the grandeur of this place. It takes place at night and we highly recommend this if you are in Rome during those months.

View of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Palatine Hill

One the seven hills in Rome, the Palatine hill is where, according to legend the birth-place of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who become the founders of Rome. Two notable buildings here are the House of Augustus and the House of Livia, the home of the 3rd wife of Augustus, both boasting well-preserved frescoes. Rarely open to the public, Walks of Italy offers an exclusive tour to see them both together with Colosseum.

Frescoes in the House of Livia on the Palatine Hill | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

From the Palatine Hill, you also get a bird’s eye view of Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), the largest stadium built in Ancient Rome,  approximately 600 meters long and 120 meters wide with a capacity that could reach up to 150,000 people.

If you prefer to explore these places on your own, you can purchase a combined ticket from Coop Culture to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill valid for 2 days. The cost of the ticket for adults is  €12 + €2 (reservation fee).

3. Capitoline Hill | Capitoline Museums

Today home to the City Hall of Rome, Piazza del Campidoglio underwent a series of transformations on account of the serious state of neglect since the Middle Ages. In 1536, on occasion of a state visit by Emperor Charles V of Spain to Rome, Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to overhaul the entire arrangement of the square, adding the beautiful equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (today the original inside the Capitoline Museums).

Capitoline Museums | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museums | | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

The Capitoline Museums date back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze statues – which had previously been housed in the Lateran – to the people of Rome, forming the initial core of the collection.

The collections were added by successive popes with pieces from excavations of Rome, the Vatican, or purchased specifically for the museum. Get a glimpse of the museum with this pretty cool virtual tour.  The website provides details of the masterpieces housed in the Capitoline Museums as well as practical information such as opening hours.

A video posted by @browsingrome on

4. Piazza Venezia | Altare della Patria

In 1878 the Italian Parliament dedicated a monument to King Vittorio Emanuele II. The original plan called for travertine marble, but the monument was made of Botticino marble, which was more easily shaped.

Although it is not particularly a favorite of residents, it’s nevertheless a prominent attraction in the city. When you are here, don’t miss the elevator that takes you all the way to the top. You’ll be treated to a jaw-dropping view of the city. More details here.

Altare della Patria | 15 Must- Visit Places to Visit on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Tip: Just a few minutes walk is Palazzo Doria Pamphilj situated on Via del Corso. Its modest facade often means visitors just walk right past it. What a mistake! The opulent rooms of this private museums are dazzling and it’s likely you will have them all to yourself.

5.  St. Peter’s Basilica | Vatican Museums

Together with Colosseum, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, are high on the list of places to see when in Rome. Though a state of its own, it’s situated within Rome.

St. Peter’s Basilica

According to tradition, St. Peter’s Basilica sits on the site where the apostle Peter was buried, and it was here in 320AD that emperor Constantine built the primitive Basilica.

The Basilica as it is today was consecrated in 1626  by Pope Urban VIII. And finally, between 1656–1665, Gian Lorenzo Bernini completed the square in front of the church, building the spectacular colonnade.

Opening hours: Daily between 7am-6.30pm (7pm in summer). Check website for more details.

Tip: If you don’t have a fear of heights or closed spaces, make your way up to the Cupola. You can take the elevator up to the terrace before tackling 320 steps on foot and the ticket costs €8.  Or if you are up for it, go on foot (551 steps). The ticket costs €6. Details here.

St. Peter's Square in Rome | | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Vatican Museums

A collection of sculptures by Pope Julius II (1503-1513) formed the first nucleus of the Vatican Museums and was exhibited in what was the “Courtyard of Statues”, today the Octagonal Courtyard. Today, it houses some of the world’s most extensive art collections and of course, you can’t miss the Sistine Chapel.

This is another visit where we would recommend going with a tour guide. If possible, join a tour that gets you in before the crowds or after closing hours. It makes a world of difference as you’ll get to enjoy the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in a serene setting versus being in the middle of a sea of people.

A few years ago, thanks to The Roman Guy, we visited the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel after closing hours. It was a once in a lifetime experience as we had the Sistine Chapel all to ourselves.

Should you decide to go on your own, skip the lines and book your tickets online ahead of time for the Vatican Museums. The lines can be extremely long and honestly, you don’t want to waste a few hours just standing in line, especially if you are only in Rome for a few days. We’d also recommend you rent an audio guide.

6. Piazza Navona

One of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome, Piazza Navona takes its shape from the Stadium of Domitian, which was built around 86 AD and could seat 30,000. In the piazza you’ll find the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, completed by Borromini in 1657, and three splendid fountains: Fountain of the Moor, Fountain of the Neptune, and the most renowned, the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini.

7. Pantheon

A must-see when in Rome, the Pantheon was built by the Emperor Hadrian between 118 and 125 AD over the ruins of another temple. Its astounding dome with a 9-metre oculus is an impressive sight. An interesting fact is that when it rains, the water drains into 22 virtually invisible holes in the floor. Check out our 15-second video on the Pantheon on Instagram.

Pantheon | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Tip: Just behind the Pantheon, as you walk towards Largo Argentina along Via della Minerva, you might notice an elephant with an obelisk in a piazza. This is the work of Bernini. In the same piazza, you’ll find Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. It’s called “Sopra Minerva” (above Minerva) as the church is built above a temple once dedicated to the goddess Minerva Calcidica.

Disguised behind a Renaissance style façade, the Gothic interior with arched vaulting painted in blue and gilded stars are quite a sight. Step in for a peek.

8. Campo de’ Fiori

Once the site of public executions, the most renowned execution is that of Giordano Bruno that took place in 1600. Today his statue looms in the middle of the piazza, overlooking a lively open-air market during the day and a hub for nightlife. If you look around, you might find that something is missing here. This is the only piazza without a church. Here’s our 15-second video on Campo de’ Fiori on Instagram.

Campo de' Fiori | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

9. Trevi Fountain

The fountain is the ‘grand finale’ of the Acqua Vergine aqueduct built by Agrippa – General of Emperor Augustus – to feed his thermal baths at the Pantheon. After several projects – never carried out – the fountain was finally rebuilt in 1732 during the pontificate of Clement XII (1730-1740) to a design by Nicola Salvi.

Last November, after 17 months of restoration work funded by Fendi, the Trevi Fountain reopened and looks even more spectacular.

Trevi Fountain | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

10. Piazza del Popolo | Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

Conceived in the 17th century as a monumental entrance to the city for pilgrims coming from the north, along the Via Flaminia, this square owes its development project to architect Giuseppe Valadier.

Piazza del Popolo | | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Work began in 1793 and was completed in the second decade of the 19th century. The design of the square included two exedrae adorned with statues and fountains on either side, and four baths with marble lions at the base of the Egyptian obelisk (the oldest after the Lateran).

Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo is one of the most important buildings of the Roman Renaissance, not only for its architectural features, but also for the paintings and sculptures that it holds. You’ll find masterpieces by Caravaggio and the Chigi Chapel was built by Raphael. And you don’t have to pay to see these incredible works of art.

Caravaggio's Crucifixion of St. Peter in Santa Maria del Popolo | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

11. Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps

The romantic centre of 18th century Rome. The architect Francesco De Sanctis designed the square and steps as a meeting place for all citizens (even today it is a meeting place known as the “living room of Rome”), with Bernini’s fountain ‘Barcaccia’, at the foot of the stairs.

Piazza di Spagna and Spanish Steps | | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

 

The Spanish Steps had undergone restoration work the past year funded by Bulgari and reopened to the public last week. Another reason to be back in Rome to see them restored to their former glory. Tip: Head there early, before 9am, to enjoy them without the crowds.

12. Villa Borghese | Galleria Borghese | Pincio Terrace

Want some quiet time in the city? Villa Borghese, a lush and tranquil park in the heart of Rome situated close to Piazza del Popolo,  covers an area of 80 hectares (148 acres). Here you’ll find Galleria Borghese, one of our favorite museums, as well as an artificial lake and 18th century neoclassical temples.

Galleria Borghese

The gallery houses sculptures, reliefs and ancient mosaics, as well as paintings and sculptures from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The collection, initially established by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the early 17th century, preserves masterpieces by Antonello da Messina, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Caravaggio and beautiful sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Canova. The portrait of Pauline Bonaparte, executed by Canova between 1805 and 1808, has been in the Villa since 1838.

Borghese Gallery | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

If you plan to visit, book at least a week in advance. Admission is limited to a two-hour visit and at the end of two hours, you will need to leave the Museum.

Prices: Adult € 15 (includes booking fee) and for the full ticket and guided tour costs €21.50. In November the full ticket will be replaced by a Special Reduction ticket €10 and the full ticket and guide tour costs €16.50.

Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 9am-7pm (access every 2 hours, last entrance 5pm). Closed Monday. Check website for more details.

Tel: 0632810 (bookings – Monday-Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday 9am-1pm)

Pincio Terrace

The Pincian Terrace, designed by architect Giovanni Valadier in 1816, dominates Piazza del Popolo from above. Such a prime spot overlooking the city, Valadier even built himself a residence on the square – the Casina Valadier – today an elegant restaurant.

Head to Pincio terrace during sunset. They are often spectacular and a perfect way to end a day in Rome.

Sunset from Pincio Terrace | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

13. Former Jewish Ghetto

A bustling neighborhood, the former Jewish Ghetto still holds strong to its Jewish culture and is home to the Jewish Museum and the Synagogue.

Great Synagogue in the former Jewish Ghetto | BrowsingRome.com

Here streets are lined with shops and restaurants offering some delicious dishes that reflect the unique Roman-Jewish cuisine, such as carciofi alla giudia (deep fried artichokes) and pizza ebraica, which is nothing like pizza at all, but rather a sweet dense cake filled with candied fruits, almonds, raisins, and pine nuts.

Note: To visit the Jewish Museum, reservations are required (Fee: €11). The guided tour lasts an hour and includes a visit to The Museum, The Great Synagogue, and The Spanish Synagogue

14. Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano

The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano is cathedral church of Rome, and considered the Mother Church of all Roman Catholic churches Yes, it’s even more important than St. Peter’s Basilica.

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano | | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Visit to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Repeatedly damaged and restored, the basilica was continuously enriched through the centuries: the cloister – a Cosmatesque masterpiece, retains architectural elements, sculptures and ornaments of the ancient basilica.

Tip: Also visit the Baptistery that is situated some what apart from the Basilica itself.

15. Trastevere | Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere 

Literally meaning over the Tevere, this neighborhood exudes charm. Just aimlessly walk through the streets of Trastevere is fun in itself.  You’re likely to come across laundry hanging between the buildings and lush hidden corners. Known for its vibrant nightlife, it’s the place to be for residents and visitors alike.

Trastevere | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere 

If you love mosaics, stop at Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. While many parts of the church date back to the 12th century such as the dazzling mosaics, legend has it that this basilica was built by Pope Callistus I, in the 3rd century AD.

Opening hours: Daily 7.30am-9pm (August: daily 8am-12pm / 4pm-9pm). Visits are not allowed during Masses. Check website for more details.

Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere | BrowsingRome.com

And here are a few more…

16. Castel Sant’Angelo

The mausoleum was finished in 139AD, one year after the death of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). Formed by a square base and a circular construction, it constitutes the lower part of Castel Sant’Angelo. The burial chamber is located in the very centre of the mausoleum and in the 14th century, it was converted into a castle by the popes.

The view from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo is fabulous, to say the least. Here’s the website for more details on how to visit.

Castel Sant'Angelo | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

17. Giardino degli Aranci | Basilica of Santa Sabina | Knights of Malta Keyhole

Giardino degli Aranci

In the 14th century the Savelli family built their castle on the Aventine, turning the hill into an impregnable fortress. Thick Medieval walls encircle what is today Savelli Park, built in 1932 by architect Raffaele De Vico.

Giardino degli Aranci | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

It is also known as the Orange Garden taking its name from the trees planted here in memory of St. Dominic, who founded his monastery here. From this small rectangular viewpoint overlooking the Tiber, one can admire Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Opening hours: From 7am until sunset. Here’s the website for more details.

Basilica of Santa Sabina

Just a few minutes walk from Giardino degli Aranci is Basilica of Santa Sabina, probably built inside the structure of an ancient house of a Sabine matriarch (lat. titulus Sabinae). In 1222, Pope Honorius III donated it to San Domenico for his Order and it was on that occasion that the bell tower and cloister were added.

This is another place that is little know, and you’ll be one of the few inside.

Opening Hours: Daily 8.15am-12.30pm/3.30pm-6pm. Visits are not permitted during Mass. More details on the website. 

Basilica Santa Sabina | 15 Must-Visit Places on Your First Trip to Rome | BrowsingRome.com

Knights of Malta Keyhole

The Villa of the Priory of Malta is the historical home of the Grand Priory of the Knights of Malta in Rome, situated on the Aventine – originally occupied in the 10th century by a fortified Benedictine monastery, and later passed to the Templars.  Today this small piazza is noted for the main entrance door keyhole, through which you can see in perfect perspective the dome of St. Peter.

Over to you…

Have you been to Rome? What other places would you add to this must-see list of attractions in Rome for first-timers?

About Diana

3 comments

  1. May I suggest both of the churches 1) Santa Maria Maggiore & 2) San Paulo fuori le Mura as additional candidates for inclusion at some later date as both are amazing examples of magnificence in creation with no admission charge!

    • Ciao Alan, I most definitely will. As you can imagine, it’s challenging to narrow the list to 15 but as Rome is overwhelming for first-timers, we’ve tried give them this list to start planning their itinerary. Thanks for your feedback.

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