Some visitors are in search of Ancient Rome – the city of Caesar and Nero, some are interested in seeing St. Peter’s Basilica and the amazing collection of arts from Vatican Museums, others simply want to have a taste of La Dolce Vita. Whatever your reason for visiting it, the Eternal City will for sure not disappoint you. Considered for centuries the „capital of the world“, Rome is a fascinating city, a place like no other, an open air museum where ancient history and modern times coexist in perfect harmony.
Rome has so many wonderful spots that was hard for us to decide where to go first. We arrived in a late afternoon and we wanted to see many places that evening. “Should we visit St. Peter’s Square, or go check Fontana di Trevi?”, I asked Bogdan. “I want to see Altare della Patria, ohh… and I want gelato first”, he answered. As my wish to see Vatican was bigger, we went there first, but then, armed with a delicious gelato in hand, we continued wandering the bustling streets of Rome until midnight. And we continued to do so for the next 2 days.
Although Rome has so many tourist spots that even if you spend a month there, there will still be things to discover, here are our 14 favorite places that we recommend you visit when in Rome:
St. Peter’s Basilica
Considered “the greatest church of Christendom”, St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest and most spectacular church you will ever see. Built on what is believed to be the tomb of St. Peter, the Basilica is one of the holiest Catholic shrines and is visited by more than 5 million pilgrims and tourists every year. I was so impressed, that I wrote an entire article just about the Basilica.
Hosting the greatest works of the 2 most important Renaissance artists, Michelangelo and Raphael, as well as numerous other masterpieces collected by Popes throughout centuries, Vatican Museums are one of the largest and most spectacular museum complexes in the world. In my dedicated article, you can find more information and pictures.
Crossing the beautifully decorated Bridge of Angels on Tiber River, you will come across Castel Sant’Angelo, a monument that encompasses like no other the changes that took place in Rome throughout the centuries. Built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, the castle was later used by the Popes as a fortress and hideaway and is nowadays a museum.
Piazza Navona, Rome’s largest and most beautiful square, is always bustling with tourists, artists, street performers and hawkers. The highlights of the square are the Church of Sant’Agnese and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers – which features an obelisk and four statues, each representing a river from a different continent: the Danube, Nile, Ganges and Rio de la Plata.
Visited by thousands of people every day, Trevi Fountain is one of the most stunning and famous fountains in the world, with a spectacular architecture. Legend says that if you throw a coin in the fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder, you will surely return one day to Rome, so if you love your time in this amazing city, just don’t forgot to follow this ritual. And as a bonus, you will also participate in a good cause, as all the coins collected from the fountain are donated to an Italian charity.
Altare della Patria
The Altare della Patria is a unique and remarkable monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy, considered by the Italians the Father of the Fatherland. In front of the adorned large building that houses a museum documenting the Italian unification, you will see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame and above it the statue of a horseman depicting the king.
Even if the monument will captivate you, don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the views from the terraces of the Vittoriano.
Considered the center of Roman public life, the Roman Forum was the place of elaborate celebrations, public speeches and criminal trials. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Forum fell into ruin and many buildings and monuments were destroyed. Only when the Renaissance artists found a source of inspiration in this place, the interest for the Roman Forum returned.
Across the road from the Roman Forum, you will find the Trajan Forum, the greatest and largest of the Imperial Forums, designed by the famous architect, Apollodorus of Damascus. As a celebration of the conquest of Dacia, Trajan commended the construction of this forum and of a column, Trajan’s Column, which is embellished with bas reliefs describing the epic wars between the Dacians and the Romans.
Piazza del Campidoglio
There are multiple entrances to the Piazza del Campidoglio, but the most impressive of all is via the Cordonata staircase up from Piazza d’Aracoeli. The imposing staircase adorned at the top with two massive Egyptian statues, was designed by Michelangelo and is said to be its most impressive architectural creation.
If you enter the square from the Roman Forum, you will be greeted by the Capitoline Wolf, a mythical she-wolf suckling the twins, Romulus and Remus, from the legend of the founding of Rome.
Colosseum of Rome, a gift of the Emperor Vespasian to the Roman people, is the largest amphitheater ever built and is considered the icon of Ancient Rome. Seating more than 50.000 people, the arena was used for gladiator combats, hunts and wild animal fights. As we have already seen the interior of Verona Arena, we decided not to visit the Colosseum inside, but if you haven’t seen one before, maybe it will be interesting for you to take a tour.
Piazza del Popolo
Once the city’s northern gateway, Piazza del Popolo was the place of public executions, carnivals and competitions. The square is embellished with an Egyptian obelisk, fountains, the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto and the famous Santa Maria del Popolo church, containing two paintings of Caravaggio.
After visiting the square, go up to the Terrace of Pinzio for a splendid lookout of it and the entire city.
Considered one of the major Baroque masterpieces of Rome, the Spanish Steps were commended by Pope Innocent XII to connect the Piazza di Spagna (named after the Spanish Embassy, which was located there) and Trinità dei Monti Church. In the past, the unique design of the Spanish Steps attracted artists and poets, becoming a meeting point and a source of inspiration for them and it remained until this day a social gathering spot for both locals and tourists.
The Pantheon is the best preserved ancient Roman building in Rome and its dome remains the single largest, unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world. Although initially it was a pagan temple for all gods, the Pantheon is nowadays a Catholic church and the burial place of many famous kings and Italian artists, among them being Raphael, the famous Renaissance painter.
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four major Papal Basilicas, along with the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. The church was built in the 5th century and is the largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Why you should visit it? Because you can see the tomb of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, some invaluable 5th-century mosaics depicting Old Testament scenes and a fragment from the crib used to hold Jesus when he was born.
Archbasilica of St. John Lateran
St. Peter’s Basilica may be the largest and most famous Catholic Church in the world, but Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is the oldest basilica in Rome and the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is also the Pope. Although not as impressive as St. Peter’s, the interior of the church is adorned with colossal statues of the 12 Apostles, massive columns, mosaic floor, gilt ceiling, elaborate frescos and a gothic baldachin.
Beside the Colosseum, Vatican or Trevi Fountain, Rome is famous for its gelato, so no trip to the Eternal City is complete without at least a visit to a Gelateria. If time had allowed us, we would have gladly tried all Gelaterias in Rome, but in less than 3 days, we only had time to tried 3 of them and one had definitely stood out: Gelateria Venchi. If you stumble upon it, just go inside and enjoy one of the best gelatos you will ever taste.
What’s your favourite place in Rome?