Rome is the ultimate bucket list city! There are iconic ancient wonders, movie-worthy backdrops, incredible cuisine, fountains and architecture. It’s a city I could happily return to time and time again. You will keep finding new hidden gems and you’ll never tire of the Rome classics. For a first trip or to make every moment in Rome count, here are my top things to see and do in Rome. It’s your ultimate Rome bucket list.
The Colosseum is the essence of Rome and often of Italy itself. Its size and atmosphere are immense and the emotions when you step into this ancient amphitheatre are overwhelming. With over 2000 years of history, the Colosseum was started in 72 A.D and finished in 80 by Emperor Titus. The 188m long and 156m wide Colosseum (or Flavian Amphitheatre as known back then) allowed more than 50,000 Roman spectators to enjoy exotic animals, gladiator fights, recreated battles and executions. It remained active for 500 years before lootings, earthquakes and even bombings undeniably took their toll. Despite this, the Colosseum is now one of the seven wonders of the modern world and over 6 million tourists visit annually.
Book in advance! and take a guided tour. I’d recommend one of the ‘Full experience ticket’ tours with entry to the arena of the Colosseum or arena and underground if available. You can also get combo tickets to include The Forum and Palatine Hill.
The Roman Forum
Symbolic and gloriously atmospheric, the Roman Forum is a large rectangular plaza surrounded by ruins of important ancient government buildings. It was the heart of ancient Roman life – where speeches, trials, processions, elections and gladiator battles took place. Walking around the Forum is a wonderfully immersive experience.
The most famous of Rome’s 7 hills, Palatine Hill offers wonderful views of the graceful ruins of the Roman Forum some 40m below. It was an impressive location for the homes of aristocrats and emperors. The area housed Roman palaces, a vast complex of pools, saunas and even a gym for the Emperors. Find a shady spot to sit and enjoy panoramic views across the city.
The Trevi Fountain
La Fontana di Trevi (The Trevi Fountain) is perhaps the most famous fountain in the world. This Baroque fountain on the piazza was built between 1732 and 1762. At 20m high and 26m wide, it’s Rome’s largest fountain. Its name – La Fontana di Trevi, comes from the fact that 3 (Tre) roads bisected this point back in Roman times. The water glistens turquoise and the stonework is a crisp, cool and clean backdrop for wonderful photos.
Want to return to Rome? With your back to the fountain, throw a coin with your eyes closed over your left shoulder using your right hand. Over a million Euros are thrown into the fountain each year going to charities.
TOP TIP: For the best photos and to experience the fountain without the tourist hustle, visit before 7 a.m.
Enjoy local foods
Testaccio is the original foodie neighbourhood of Rome. Less busy than other popular food areas, you can enjoy Testaccio Market as well as a wonderful choice of restaurants. Pretty Trastevere with its cobbled streets and alleys is another lovely place to dine.
What should you try? These are some of my favourites…
- Amaratriciana Pasta – a sauce of tomato, pecorino romano and guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl – which tastes better than it sounds)
- Pasta alla Gricia – a sauce of guanciale, pepper and pecorino romano
- Carbonara – a sauce of guanciale, egg and parmigiano reggiano
- Cacio e Pepe – a sauce of pecorino romano and pepper
- Carciofi alle gudia – deep-fried artichoke
- Suppli – breadcrumbed and deep-fried rice and tomato spheres stuffed with cheese
- Porchetta – slow roasted pork with garlic, sage, salt and rosemary
Coffee – the Rome way
Look out for Italian coffee bars, rather than cafes. Don’t sit to drink your coffee, instead order at the bar, stand and drink it in a few gulps. Milky coffee is generally only deemed acceptable at breakfast. For something cooling in the summer Rome heat, try a granita de cafe topped with whipped cream – Delicious! If you are heading home after dinner you might like to stop for something ‘stronger.’ Try a caffe corretto – a shot of espresso with a liquor of your choice to ‘correct’ the coffee.
Admire the view
With so many historic landmarks, ruins and fountains – admiring Rome from above allows you to appreciate the immense scale of Rome. Palatine Hill offers a wonderful view but there’s a way to get higher and see more. The Vittorio Emanuel ii Monument is on an epic scale in a striking position next to the Roman Forum. A super cool bonus is the glass-walled elevator that can take you to the rooftop. Aptly named ‘Rome from the Sky,’ there are the most amazing views over the city and surrounding areas. Although it’s a relatively expensive ticket for an elevator ride – the view is really worth it and generally the rooftop is extremely quiet by tourist Rome standards. The ticket will also give you a museum entry – so you may want to allow extra time.
Spend an evening in a piazza
Resting your weary walking feet in a piazza restaurant as sun sets is a pure joy. Piazza Navona treats you to three grand fountains and you can enjoy street performances from one of the restaurants that line the square. From the Piazza della Rotonda, you can take in the wonder of the Parthenon which is beautifully lit at night. So many piazza’s and so little time.
Enjoy a real Gelato
So here’s the scoop… (sorry I couldn’t resist)
Is gelato different to ice cream? Yes – because gelato uses much less fat than ice cream and it’s churned at a slower speed giving it a denser texture and more intense flavour. It’s also served at a higher temperature than ice cream so the flavour pops more. But as the word gelato and artisanal are not regulated in Italy – how do you find the real deal? You can look for:
- Natural and muted colours
- Seasonal flavours
- The use of a metal space, not a scoop
- Gelato that isn’t piled too high but is stored in a lidded metal container
- Gelato that isn’t shiny
One of the most recognisable buildings in Rome, building work commenced in 27 BC and its original use is still unknown. In 609, the Pantheon started to be used as a church. To this day, it’s one of the best preserved monuments of ancient Rome. You can buy entrance tickets online here including tours and audio guides. This opulent building is also beautiful to enjoy from a pretty piazza restaurant.
Rome is a heady mix of history, archaeology, architecture, culture, art and food. It’s a romantic, exciting and atmospheric city to visit and explore – one you just can’t get enough of. I hope this list of top things to see and do in Rome will help get your adventures underway.