Everything truly is like you see it in the movies. The energy on the street is unmatched, from the smells wafting into the air from the pizzerias to the little slices of history that are evident in the architecture. Visiting Rome as a teenager felt like living out a dream. I had of course heard about places like the Trevi Fountain, The Vatican, The Colosseum, etc. But experiencing it in person is on a whole different level.
From the moment I stepped off of the airplane and rode a cab to our hotel in the center, I was captivated by the little side alleyways filled with locals and tourists alike. People heading to a grocery store tucked into the walls so well you would miss them if not for the colored flowers positioned outside them. Corner shops with glass counters that reveal flavors of gelato you didn’t even know existed. It was almost overwhelming, but in the best way. Here I will outline the best things to do in Rome so that when you have the chance to visit, you will be as prepared as possible to make this city your own.
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The Top Things To Do In Rome City: Places To Visit In Rome Italy
The hotel where my grandparents and I stayed was close to this piazza (italian for plaza) so we came here often during our trip. My senses were completely on overload when I first stepped into it. It’s not that I wasn’t used to large crowds or businesses being close to each other, I mean I grew up not far from Los Angeles in California. What I wasn’t accustomed to was the style of the plaza itself. Tall apartment buildings, painted soft pinks, yellows, and tans, with dark shutterboards on either side of their windows formed a barrier around the outer edges of the square. The occasional balcony, covered completely with plants and flowers, jetted out from the building’s faces and made the whole area feel very homey.
On one side sits La Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the Fountain of the Four Rivers. A 52 ft tall obelisk sprouts out of the top, gripping the attention of anyone who steps foot into the piazza.
To its side is Sant’Agnese in Agone, a church constructed in the 1600s rests in all its grandeur. Two other fountains, the Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuno reside here as well. Although they are a little overshadowed by the Fountain of the Four Rivers, their splendor is undeniable when you get up close to them. During the day, this square is bustling with restaurant goers and artists selling their work. At night, the space becomes even more lively. The fountains and surrounding buildings illuminate in light and street buskers like fire performers show off their talents to large crowds of onlookers.
Piazza della Rotonda
Not far from Piazza Navona was a smaller square: Piazza della Rotonda. Funny enough, though it isn’t as popular as Piazza Navona, this was one of my favorite places to visit in Rome. This is the home of the Pantheon, the former Roman temple built in the time of Caesar Augustus, which then became a Catholic Church commissioned by Emperor Hadrian. Its age is apparent in the antique look of the structure (it was said to have been re-finished in AD 126). But its long lasting materials have preserved the integrity of it impressively well and is part of the reason that it is so famous.
The front porch is accompanied by massive pillars that hold up its first ceiling. The face of the building looks like a courthouse. Behind it emerges a large dome which adds to the uniqueness of the design. Inside, visitors are met with truly breathtaking artwork, in its stones, statues, ceiling designs, and paintings.
Outside of the Pantheon is another fountain and obelisk, and lining the outskirts of the plaza are tables with red and white checked tablecloths, beckoning onlookers to stop for a bite. One night while in this plaza, my grandparents and I stopped into one of the restaurants and sat at one of the tables covered in red and white checkers.
From our seats we had an unobstructed view of the Pantheon and the setting sun began to cast the whole plaza in a golden light. It was at this restaurant that I had the BEST bruschetta of my entire life. I’m serious. My family loves to make bruschetta at home so we decided to order it for an appetizer. When I tell you that my Grandfather and I took one bite, looked at each other in awe, and then immediately flagged the waiter over to order another one, I am not joking. It’s been almost 9 years since that day and still whenever we see each other my Grandfather and I talk about how we should’ve just ordered that for the rest of the meal.
Piazza del Popolo
Named “The People’s Square” in English, Rome’s most famous piazza was designed between 1811 and 1822. The Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli churches stand next to each other and their architecture is almost completely identical. Of course, as is common with public squares, there are a plethora of shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels that will keep tourists entertained for hours. Its large walking area is perfect for exploring and it’s close to the Piazza di Spagna.
La Fontana di Trevi
While fountains aren’t exactly hard to come by in this historic city, there are none that come even close to the wonder of the Trevi Fountain. It’s the largest fountain in Rome at 86 ft high and 163 ft wide (which means that there is ample space in which to toss a coin from over your shoulder, completely Hilary Duff style). Each week, the city of Rome collects the coins and donates the earnings to families in need. So be sure to throw at least one or two in there! The statue at the back of the fountain shows the God Neptune (in the middle) with two horses with differing demeanors said to represent the changing of tides. On either side of the god stands the personifications of health and abundance.
Entrance to the fountain is free, and visitors can go either during the day or at night. I have only been during the day, but I’ve heard that the magnificence of the fountain is only heightened by the lights at night. One of the things to do in Rome that is a little off the beaten path is to take an underground tour of the Trevi district. This will lead you through different excavations that reside 9 meters deep by the Trevi Fountain.
The Spanish Steps
The 135 steps that join the Piazza di Spagna and the Trinità dei Monti church were constructed in the 17th century out of a desire to demonstrate French and Spanish connections in Rome. Named the Spanish Steps, from the top they offer stunning views of the plaza down below. While the amount of steps may seem intimidating, I would highly recommend making the trek if you are physically able to. When I came here, I brought a book and a journal and spent hours reading, writing and people watching. While you aren’t allowed to sit on the steps themselves, you can spend time on the platform up top which is plenty beautiful.
Alfredo alla Scrofa
Let me just say this right now, I love to eat. Honestly just the act of eating was one of the best things to do in Rome for me. And I know I’m not alone in that. One night my grandparents took me to a surprise dinner at Alfredo alla Scrofa, the original place of Fettuccine Alfredo. The inside of the restaurant is quiet and intimate. Photos of famous people who have visited the site since its opening in 1914 hang on the walls and remind visitors how special it is.
The charming atmosphere of the restaurant is everything that you hope a hole – in – the – wall joint embodies. And the food. Wow. Unreal. The creaminess and brilliant flavors of the sauce pair effortlessly well with the texture of the noodles. The flavors compound on each other to create something entirely new and unexpected. It’s astonishing how such a simple dish can continue to develop in your mouth. This is without a doubt one of the things to do in Rome that left a lasting impression on me, and I will be running back on my next return trip.
No one is going to Rome without seeing the Colosseum, and if you are, I don’t know what else you’re doing. While lots of people take a tour to see it, which I highly recommend that you do, there are tickets available for purchase and free tickets available the first Sunday of every month. These are distributed at the ticket office in the Piazza del Colosseo, which is near the Temple of Venice and Rome. If you try to snag a ticket one of these days, just know that they give them away on a first come first serve basis so try and get there early. To avoid the stress of standing in line for one though, you can buy a ticket for 18 euro for adults, 4 euro for EU citizens, and free if you are under 18.
Try to book a tour if you are able because you will be able to find out so much information about the history and the structure of the landmark. When my brother went, he was even able to tour the Hypogeum, the area underneath the Colosseum that consists of tunnels and corridors that were used by the gladiators, animals and workers of the space. However even if you just go and visit the Colosseum on your own, the size and historical significance of it is sure to take your breath away. So, while of course it’s a touristy activity, this is one experience you are not going to want to miss.
Home to the Pope and also the smallest country in the world, Vatican city is truly a sight to behold. Packed inside this mind blowing city-state are the Vatican Museums, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Gardens of Vatican City, and so much more. There are many incredible works of art that decorate this remarkable area, such as the School of Athens fresco by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael, and The Last Judgment by Michaelangelo. However nothing even comes close to the magnificence of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Staring up at this ceiling is mind blowing and super overwhelming. There is so much to take in, you would need days to be able to comprehend it all, and even that might not be sufficient. It’s hard to imagine that the entire thing was done by a man lying on his back. The talent he possessed is otherworldly and it should be admired properly by all who go to visit it. Unfortunately, the actual experience while being inside the Chapel is not as calming as one would hope.
There are so many people that are being shoved in and out of the room, with guards that are constantly yelling at everyone to keep moving. The whole thing felt pretty hectic when I was there. So the fact that I still recommend everyone who visits Rome to see it, is just a testament to how incredible it is. This is one of the things to do in Rome that is worth the stress.
Although I visited almost a decade ago, the memories of my visit are still vibrant in my memory. With so many things to do in Rome, trying to cover it all in an article is quite impossible. Places like the Palatine Hill, Villa Borghese and the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria are definite must-sees as well in this beautiful historic city. If I can leave you with one thing, it’s that while this city has always been popular to portray in movies, books and shows, it is not without good reason. Visiting this wondrous place will not leave you disappointed.
Because of its massive popularity, there is always something going on in the city. It’s very common for tourists and locals to walk around Rome at night. Therefore, as long as you stay in well known and well lit areas, I don’t think you should run into any problems. That being said, please use caution just like you would anywhere.
I would say that the Colosseum, Vatican, Trevi Fountain and Pantheon are the most popular things to do in the city. Although, like I mentioned before, please don’t let their large crowds detour you from going to any of them during your trip. While there are many places in the world that attract tourists and therefore the experience becomes overwhelming and makes it not fun, Rome is not one of those places.
Like I said, I am a definite foodie. While there are many different dishes that people go to Rome to try, I would say that Carbonara, Gelato, Porchetta and honestly any kind of pizza is the way to go.