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The best things to do in Rome

Photo of Anna HardyPhoto of Anna Hardy
By Anna Hardy

7 December 20238 min read

Twilight view of a white marble fountain with statues of horses and Neptune fighting an octopus with the baroque Piazza Navona square behind it

An exhilarating mix of ancient ruins, world-class art and cuisine that’s celebrated all around the world, Italy’s charismatic capital is worth visiting at least once in your lifetime.

Whether you want to tick off the city’s most iconic landmarks or get a taste of traditional Roman fare, here are ten of the best things to do in Rome.

1. Step back in time at the Roman Forum and Colosseum

Located beneath Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum was considered the heartland of social and political civilisation in ancient Rome. Take a trip back to 7th-century BC as you explore this colossal collection of temples, churches and monuments. Top sights to see include the Arco di Settimio Severo — a 23m-high triumphal marble arch, the Tempio di Saturno — a temple dedicated to Roman god Saturn, and the Curio — the Senate’s House.

To its east lies the Colosseum — the largest amphitheatre ever to be built. Once hosting gladiator games to some 50,000 spectators, it’s now a legacy of Roman architecture where you can admire its famed external arches and catch seasonal concerts.

A day ticket to both sites is well worth the €16 entrance fee — they are Rome’s pièce de résistance, after all.

2. Be enchanted by art and antiquities in Vatican City

History lover or not, you’ll find no better place in Italy to gaze in awe at ancient masterpieces than the Vatican Museums. Founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th-century, the vast complex of 26 museums is housed within the Palazzo Apostolico — two palaces covering a staggering 5.5 hectares (13.6 acres).

But the museums’ exterior is just the tip of the iceberg. Head inside (general admission is €17) and you’ll discover jaw-dropping collections of sculptures and artefacts, rooms painted exquisitely by Rapheal and of course, the Sistine Chapel.

The chapel’s famed ceiling, covered entirely by Michelangelo’s series of Renaissance frescoes, is one sight that’s sure to leave a lasting impression. His ‘Last Judgement’ composition takes centre stage behind the altar and equally epic works painted by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and others surround the side walls.

Not forgetting the Vatican’s most religiously important site, St Peter’s Basilica. Accommodating up to 20,000 people and with a 136m-high (448ft) dome, it’s one of the largest churches in the world. Visit early in the morning to skip the queues (entry is free) and marvel at its ornately decorated ceiling and notable works of art from Michelangelo and Bernini.

3. Explore gardens and galleries at Villa Borghese

With a wealth of sculptures, monuments and fountains covering almost 80 hectares (197 acres) of land, the allure of Rome’s glorious green heart is hard to resist.

Originally the 17th-century estate of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Villa Borghese became a public garden in 1903, and you can now enjoy the wooded walkways and open-air artwork at your leisure. Don’t miss the sweeping panorama of Rome’s rooftops from the Terrazza del Pincio viewpoint.

It’s also the location of one of the city’s most famous art galleries, the Borghese Gallery and Museum. Home to a revered collection of private art, it boasts works by Caravaggio and Titian, as well as magnificent sculptures by Bernini.

Unsurprisingly, it's high on most tourists’ itineraries, so you’ll need to pre-book tickets. Adult admission costs €15.

4. Shop like a local at Testaccio Market

If you’re looking to get a taste of local life in Rome, the city’s oldest community market is the place to be.

With close to 100 stalls, you’ll find everything from fresh produce and street food to clothes, shoes and homeware. Expect heaped piles of artichokes and tomatoes neighboured by fishmongers and butchers, all perfumed by the aromas of freshly baked pizzas and grilled meats served at the ready-to-go food vendors.

Open 7am to 2.30pm Monday to Saturday (until 3.30pm on Saturdays), it's the perfect spot to spend a morning picking up local ingredients and knick-knacks before enjoying some lunch — get in line for one of Rome’s best sandwiches at Mordi e Vai.

5. See some of Italy’s finest sculptures at the Capitoline Museums

Dating back to 1471, the Capitoline Museums are the world's oldest public museums and house some of the most renowned sculptures in Italian history.

Sat atop of the Capitoline Hill, the museums are made up of two palaces, the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo. In the former, you’ll find classical sculptures iconic to Rome such as the ‘Capitoline Wolf’ — the she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus, whereas the latter is dedicated primarily to statues, busts and mosaics, including the ‘Dying Gaul’.

Throw in masterpieces by Caravaggio, Van Dyck and Rubens and you’ll find yourself in an artist's heaven. Tickets cost €16.

6. Whet your appetite with an aperitivo in trendy Trastevere

For a taste of bohemian Rome, head across the Tiber River to Trastevere. Formerly a working class district, this hip neighbourhood is a heady mix of cobbled lanes and medieval buildings, bustling with lively trattorias, boho pubs and artisan shops. It’s also a top spot to join the locals in enjoying an aperitivo — Italy’s sophisticated take on happy hour.

A tradition that started in Milan and Turin, the pre-dinner drink is now just as loved in Rome as it is anywhere in Italy, and is typically enjoyed with light snacks like arancini and bruschetta.

Grab a table in Trastevere’s central square, Piazza di Santa Maria, and order a classic such as a Prosecco or Aperol spritz, or a Negroni cocktail.

7. Admire ancient architecture at its best at the Pantheon

Dating back to 125 AD, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s oldest and best preserved buildings. It was built as a temple for the Roman gods by Emperor Hadrian and used as burial tombs for important Italian kings, artists and architects, including Raphael. Today, it functions as a church and houses various collections of paintings.

Its architecture is a masterpiece in itself, with the diameter of the circular building exactly matching its height at 43.5m (142ft), and topped by a dome of the same diameter. A 9m (29ft) opening in its top floods the interior with natural light.

Entrance fees were introduced in July 2023, so you’ll need to buy a ticket to visit (€5 for adults, €2 for under 25s).

8. Discover military memorabilia at Castel Sant’Angelo

It’s hard to miss Castel Sant’Angelo. The towering circular fortress looms over the Tiber River, just east of Vatican City.

Originally built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum, it was later turned into a fortress (providing refuge to many popes in times of danger thanks to a secret passageway to the Vatican). Nowadays, it's a museum housing a treasure trove of ancient weaponry and medieval artefacts.

The €13 entrance ticket allows access to all seven levels of the castle. On the lower floors, head to the underground prison and armoury to view extensive collections of medieval weapons and see Hadrian’s tomb. On the upper floors, you’ll find rooms exquisitely decorated with Renaissance frescoes and the Terrace of the Angel, offering unparalleled views of Rome.

9. Have your fill of traditional Roman fare

As the saying goes: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. When it comes to food in Italy’s capital, you won’t find any better advice.

Feast on traditional staples such as carbonara and cacio e pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper), allesso di bollito (tender beef served in a bun), rich risottos and of course, pizza — made with a deliciously thin and crispy base. For afters, it has to be gelato or maritozzi (sweet pastry buns filled with cream).

Be sure to check out local food markets too (Campo de Fiori is one of the city’s most famed), where you can pick up fresh breads, cheeses and cured hams that are sure to make restaurant-worthy picnics.

Or, if you want to always eat like the Romans do, take some Italian cooking skills home with you with a cooking class.

10. Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain and guarantee your return to Rome

Taking up the entire side wall of 17th-century Palazzo Poli, the Trevi is Rome’s largest and most visited fountain. Its world-famous sculpted scene depicts the sea-god Oceanus and was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732.

The ensemble of mythical figures aren’t the only myths associated with the Trevi Fountain though. Originating from the 1954 film, Three Coins in the Fountain, myth has it that if you throw one coin into the fountain then you will return to Rome, two and you will fall in love, and three to marry the person that you met.

Whether you believe in the fountain’s tradition or not, throw at least one coin in the hope of returning one day.

Colony Hotel

  • Rome, Rome Area, Italy
  • 20 March 2024
  • Room Only
  • From Manchester

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