Rome Things to Do
One of the greatest cities on earth, you’ll be able to admire its treasures of art, architecture, and history. It is endlessly fascinating, utterly compelling and a feast for the eye with fountains, churches, palaces, and ancient monuments at every turn. The historic heart of Rome (Roma) is quite compact, bordered by the Tiber River to the west and the central train station, Stazione Termini, to the east. Take time to wander through the streets and see everything this magical place has to offer. Places like the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica instantly conjure up images of beauty and perfection.
Monuments and Museums
The Roman Forum
Situated in a valley between the Capitoline and Palatine hills, the Roman Forum was the commercial, political, and religious center of ancient Rome. Constructed over a period of about 900 years (construction started in 72 AD), it was originally an amazing juxtaposition of buildings and temples reflecting vastly different eras. Crowds gathered to hear the daily gossip and meet people while senators came to discuss the fate of the Republic. The site fell into disrepair and disintegration when the Roman Empire fell. Wander among the ruins of its temples, basilicas, and churches. Don’t miss the Arch of Septimus Severus, the Temple of Saturn, the House of the Vestals, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and the Arch of Titus—all in the Forum. The Roman Forum was the center of political, religious, and business life in ancient Rome. Until modern excavations began in the 18th century, most of the ruins in the Forum were buried underground. The Roman Forum, like many of's ancient sites, is well below the current street level.
From the Forum you can climb the Palatine, a small hill honey-combed with vast brick cellar ruins and some of the most pleasant garden walks imaginable. The wealthy and powerful of ancient Rome (Roma) built their palaces and temples here. Emperor Nero Domus Aurea built his “Golden House” here, regarded as the most pretentious palace ever built. Make sure to visit the House of Livia, the Domus Augustana, the Palace of the Flavians and the ruins of the Baths of Septimus Severus. At the top of the hill, overlooking the Forum, are the Farnese Gardens. Numerous varieties of plants including oleanders, boxwoods, roses, and orange trees are planted here.
Emperor Vespasian began building the Coliseum in 72 AD, and his son Titus completed it in 80 AD thanks to the forced labor of 12,000 Jewish captives. The Coliseum is still regarded as the greatest architectural inheritance from ancient Rome. At its peak, this enormous amphitheatre had seating for more than 80,000 people and was the setting for fierce gladiator combats. The crowd watched spine-chilling bloody shows involving exotic animals shipped in from the far corners of the Roman Empire and beyond. Naval battle simulations were staged because the Coliseum could also be flooded. Even the Emperor Commodus is reputed to have fought with wild beasts and human gladiators alike in the Coliseum. He wore a lion skin on such occasions in imitation of Hercules. The Coliseum remained intact until the 8th century. The decline of the Coliseum began when Pope Paul III granted his nephew permission to quarry the Coliseum’s stones to build his own palace. The Papal grant allowed the Cardinal to remove as much material as he could in 12 hours. The Coliseum was saved when it was consecrated to the memory of the martyrs.
The Catacombs of St. Callixtus
St. Callixtus was in charge of these catacombs before he was elected pope in 217. The catacombs stretch for nearly 12 miles. There are five levels that reach a depth of about 65 feet. With almost half a million tombs and numerous paintings, sculptures and epigraphs inside, these catacombs offer rare and invaluable information about the life and culture of the ancient Christians buried here. On entering the catacombs you will see the crypt of the nine popes with the original marble tablets of their tombs still preserved.
Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) was built between 1475 and 1483 for Pope Sixtus IV as a private papal chapel. It is world-famous for its ceiling frescoes and the Last Judgment on the end wall. Both painted by Michelangelo, they have recently been restored.
The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved buildings of ancient Rome, and is probably the most recognizable of Roma’s buildings. Originally built in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa and reconstructed by Hadrian in the early 2nd century AD. With its extraordinary cupola 142 feet wide and 142 feet high, it is a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder. The walls measure 25 feet wide and the bronze entrance doors weigh 20 tons each. The building is regarded as one of the architectural wonders of the world due to its dome and its concept of space. Michelangelo studied the dome before designing the cupola of St. Peter’s. Raphael, Vittorio Emanuele II, and his successor, Umberto I, are all interred at the Pantheon.
The Baths of Caracalla
The Baths of Caracalla are a series of ruins that give a real insight into the splendor and opulence of ancient Rome. Many of the aristocracy would have spent their time here, bathing and socializing. The Baths of Caracalla once consisted of a 27-acre complex with marble seats for more than 1600 people. The facilities at Caracalla ranged from steam rooms to “tepidariums” as well as immense pools and “frigidariums” for the cooling-out process. The complex also housed fountains, statues, mosaics, gardens, playing fields, gymnasiums, restaurants, libraries, promenades, galleries, theaters, and concert halls.
The Mouth of Truth
The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita') hangs on the wall of the entrance to the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The cracked marble disk, resembling a human face, was once considered a lie detector. It was thought that a liar would loose his hands if he placed them in the mouth of the Bocca del Verita'. It is said to have originally been a Roman ornamental drain cover.
Designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732, the Trevi fountain is one of Roma’s most famous landmarks. The fountain is serviced by one of Roma’s oldest aqueducts. Made famous in the film "Three Coins in the Fountain", the Trevi Fountain has recently been restored. Its history dates back to ancient Rome and it was re-built several times until its final version was designed by architect Francesco Salvi in the 17th century. It is a masterpiece that mesmerizes visitors from all over the world. The design centers on the god Neptune riding his winged chariot through gushing waters from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct. The shell chariot is drawn by winged steeds and is led by a pair of tritons; the figures in the side niches represent good health and fertility. Visitors still honor the ancient tradition of throwing a coin in this fountain before leaving Rome, thus assuring their return.
The Spanish Steps
Another great Roman landmark, the Spanish Steps were built in 1725 to unite Via del Babuino with Via Felice. The square in which the Spanish Steps lie takes its name from the Spanish Embassy, which used to have its headquarters here. Designed by Italian architect Francesco de Sanctis, the Spanish Steps were built from 1723 to 1725. A mesmerizing mix of curves, straight flights, and vistas and terraces interspersed with pots of flowers, the Spanish Steps are a favorite meeting point.
The Vatican has been a state since 1920 with the pope as its head. Vatican City is an independent country within Rome with its own currency, postal service, and army. This tiny enclave in the heart of Rome is the administrative and spiritual capital of Roman Catholicism as well as the world’s smallest independent state. The Vatican is the richest country in the world per square foot and has a total population of only 750. The Vatican has an astonishing collection of priceless art treasures and some of the most captivating architecture in the world including St Peter’s Catholic Church designed by Michelangelo. Vast and beautiful, St. Peter’s can hold more than 60,000 people and houses Michelangelo’s wonderful Pieta'. The Sistine Chapel is the main chapel in the Vatican Palace. Frescoes adorning the walls include works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Perugino. The ceiling of the Sistine chapel is famous and was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. There are separate galleries dedicated to maps, tapestries, and candelabras; there are the series of rooms decorated by Raphael; the Borgia Apartments, the Sistine Chapel, museums of classical sculpture, early Christian sarcophagi…the list goes on.
The Campidoglio is the center of the political life of the city of Rome. Michelangelo designed the square and the facades of the three buildings that face it; however, he died before the project was completed. In the center of the square stands a statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Castel San'Angelo (former Hadria's Mausoleum)
This massive construction, the second largest architectural structure in Rome after the Coliseum, was built in 117-139 AD and looms high above the Tiber river. It was first named Hadria's Mausoleum, since it was built by the Emperor Hadrian to house his remains and those of his family, the future emperors of Rome until Caracalla. Begun in 117, it was completed by the Emperor Antoninus Pius in 139 A.D. The cylindrical structure built over a square base became a papal fortress in the 6th century, and was renamed as Castel San'Angelo after the huge bronze angel at its top. The building was later incorporated in the Aurelian walls and in the 9th century a tower was added. Century after century, Castel San'Angelo became increasingly fortified and battlements were added in the 11th century. In 1277, under Pope Nicholas II, Castel San'Angelo became part of the Vatican, and the papal chambers were added. The castle was a fortified place for the pontiffs in time of danger, and it was connected to the Vatican by a famous secret passage running along the top of the encircling walls of the Vatican. The castle today has five floors and houses a national Museum. At the very top, right under the huge bronze angel, there is a terrace with a charming al fresco bar. From there, you can enjoy a stupendous panorama of the city. The view in the evening, when Rome is lit up, is particularly enchanting.
The Vatican Museums houses one of the world’s most important art collections. These buildings were originally papal palaces, and the long courtyards and galleries were commissioned for Julius II in 1503. Most of the later additions to the buildings were made in the 18th century when priceless works of art accumulated by earlier popes were first put on display. Not to be missed are the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms. Some of the Vatican’s greatest treasures are its Greek and Roman antiquities, which have been on display since the 18th century.
A collection of Classical statues has been kept on the Capitoline hill since the Renaissance. Pope Sixtus IV gave the first group of bronze sculptures to the city in 1471 and Pope Pius V made more additions in 1566.
Designed by Michelangelo as part of the renovation of the Piazza del Campidoglio, and after its completion in1655, a number of the statues were transferred here. In 1735 Pope Clement XII Corsini decreed that the building be turned into the world’s first public museum. The Palazzo Nuovo is devoted chiefly to sculpture, and most of its finest works, such as the Capitoline Venus, are Roman copies of Greek masterpieces.
Palazzo dei Conservatori
Formerly the seat of the city’s magistrates during the late middle ages, its frescoed halls are still used occasionally for political meetings. The rooms on the first floor are remarkable for their original 16th- and 17th-century decoration and classical statues. The second-floor gallery houses paintings and a collection of porcelain. You’ll see works by Veronese, Guercino, Tintoretto, Rubens, Caravaggio, Van Dyck, and Titian.
The finest Etruscan collections in the world are displayed in this beautiful Renaissance villa.
This gallery houses 17th- and 18th-century paintings including A Visitation by Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530).
You’ll find works by Caravaggio, Rubens, and Van Dyck, as well as a painting of the Baroque sculptor Bernini –a rare portrait by Il Baciccia (1639-1709).
Museo and Galleria Borghese
The ground floor museum houses ancient Greek and Roman sculptures as well as early Bernini masterpieces, such as his David (1619). Upstairs are paintings by Titian, Rubens, and other masters.
The works of art here date mainly from the 13th to the 16th century and includes the figure of Providence from Pietro da Cortona’s The Triumph of Divine Providence (1633-9).
Some of the most interesting shops in Rome are in the old center —you can easily combine shopping with sightseeing as many of the shops are often housed in medieval or Renaissance buildings. Street names often refer to the old tradesmen, such as locksmiths in Via dei Chiavari, leather jerkin makers in Via dei Giubbonari, and chairs in Via dei Sediari.
Via dei Coronari
Shop for art nouveau and antiques in the shops that line this street just northwest of Piazza Navona.
Via del Pellegrino
Visit the bookshops and art shops in this historic center. Not to be missed is the mirror-lined alley near Campo de’ Fiori.
Via dei Cappellari
A narrow, medieval street where artisans gather to ply their crafts. Including furniture restorers.
Visit the designer shops where you can find exclusive jewelers, gifts shops, show designers, and tailors.
You’ll find antique shops on this cobbled street.
Via del Babuino
Renowned for designer furniture, lighting and glass, you’ll also find interesting antique and fashion shops.
Via Cola di Rienzo
Located close to the Vatican Museums, you’ll find the finest food shops, as well as clothes, books, and gifts.
Campo de’ Fiori Market (Field of flowers' Market)
Located in the heart of the old city, Roma’s most picturesque market is also its most historical. A market has been held in this beautiful piazza for many centuries. Despite its name, which would lead you to expect a flower market, the name derives from Campus Florae (Flora’s square)—Flora was the lover of the great Roman general Pompey. Every morning except Sunday, you can purchase fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish. There are also flower stalls near the fountain. The excellent delicatessens on the square and bread shops nearby complement the market.
Porta Portese Market
Visit Trastevere’s Sunday morning flea market where you can purchase anything from antiques to art.
Print Market (Mercato delle Stampe)
Visit this market if you are interested in old prints, books, and magazines. It has a wonderful selection of illustrated art books and old prints of Rome.
Flower Market (Mercato dei Fiori)
The Flower Market, just north of Via Andrea Doria, is open to the public only on Tuesday. Housed in a covered hall, it has two floors brimming over with cut flowers upstairs and all kinds of potted plants on the lower floor.
Testaccio Market (Mercato di Testaccio)
A lively market where you’ll find a feast of fruit and vegetables. Popular with local residents, this covered market, which occupies the central area of the Testaccio Piazza, offers super fresh, high-quality produce at reasonable prices, in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Andrea Doria Market
Located northwest of the Vatican Museums, you’ll find magnificent displays of fruits and vegetables, numerous stalls selling meat, poultry, and fish, as well as an interesting clothes and shoe section.
New Esquiliano Market (Nuovo Mercato Esquiliano)
Bargain-hunting Romans buy their food at this popular market.
Between mid-June and mid-July, this exhibition offers Italian regional arts and crafts, and also sells pasta, jam, olive oil, wines, and liqueurs.
Antique Fair (Fiera dell’Antiquariato)
Antique fairs that take place in the Via dei Coronari; the first starts in the second half of May and the second occurs in mid-October or late September. It’s memorable at night when lighted torches line the carpeted street. Look for leatherwork, jewelry, and other gifts.
Via Margutta Art Fair
Usually takes place around Christmas and in the spring, and is set in one of the most charming and exclusive streets in Rome.
A traditional Christmas Fair held in Piazza Navona from mid-December until January 6 with stalls selling clay statues for nativity scenes and sweets that look like pieces of coal.
Hosts art fairs occasionally and is open evenings when the antique and art galleries stay open late and also offer food and wine to all visitors.
Day trips from Rome (Roma)
Rome (Roma) is close to the sea and to the hills, and you don't have to travel far to appreciate completely diverse scenery. Lazio is full of sites of enormous archeological interest, including very fine Etruscan remains. Alternatively, you can enjoy a day at the seaside, visiting one of the beaches near Rome.
Southwest of Rome, toward the sea, is Ostia Antica, Roma’s Pompeii. The ancient city of Ostia served as a shipyard and a distribution center for Rome. Being the closest port to Rome, the town had commercial significance and expanded in size and grandeur to match this position. However, during the 3rd century AD, its place of prominence was taken over by a new port at Fiumicino, and within the next couple of centuries Ostia had begun its decline. The Tiber was no longer navigable, the roads were overgrown, and Ostia sank into muddy oblivion. Excavations have uncovered the ancient town and this archaeological site is very impressive. Buried for centuries by sand, the city is remarkably well preserved and gives a complete picture of life under the Roman Empire. People of all social classes and from all over the Mediterranean lived and worked here. The main streets of Ostia have been unearthed as well as some of the principal monuments. There are impressive mosaics and columns everywhere (statues are mostly taken away for safekeeping). You’ll see the fishermen's marble slab, the bar with its wares illustrated on the wall, the communal public toilets, and the residential villas with courtyards – one of the more elegant was the House of Diana. You’ll also see mosaics indicating the nature of each of the businesses once housed along the street. The theater is still in use today where you can see performances of works by modern and ancient authors during July.
A popular summer resort since the days of the Roman Republic, famous men who owned villas here included the poets Catullus and Horace, Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Cassius, and the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Tivoli’s main attractions were its clean air and beautiful location on the slopes of the Tiburtini hills, its healthy sulphur springs and the waterfalls of the Aniene. One of its famous sights is the Villa d’Este which occupies the site of an old Benedictine convent. In the 16th century, the estate was developed by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, son of Lucrezia Borgia, and is famous for its terraced gardens and fountains.
Built as a private summer retreat between 118 and 134 AD, Hadrian’s Villa was a vast open air museum of the finest architecture of the Roman world. The grounds of the palace covered an area of 300 acres and were filled with full-scale reproductions of the emperor’s favorite buildings from Greece and Egypt. A lover of Greek philosophy as well as architecture, Hadrian reproduced the Grove of Academe, where Plato lectured to his students and also had a replica built of the Stoà Poikile, a beautiful painted colonnade in Athens. Another picturesque spot in the grounds is the Vale of Tempe, the legendary haunt of the goddess Diana, with a stream representing the river Peneios. Statues unearthed in the grounds are displayed in museums around Europe. The Vatican’s Egyptian Collection has many fine works that were found here. Plundered by barbarians who camped here in the 6th and 8th centuries, the villa fell into disrepair.
The Castelli Romani
The Castelli Romani, the hill towns surrounding Rome to the southeast are famous for their history and the production of excellent wine and foodstuffs. Each town is dominated by its own castle—the smallest called a rocca—and is surrounded by fertile countryside. The Castelli towns are Albano, Ariccia, Castel Gandolfo, Frascati, Genzano, Marino, Nemi, and Rocca di Papa. Frascati is known for the white wine produced there. Every weekend these hill towns, and Frascati in particular, fill up with Romans looking for a change of pace, clean air, good food, and wine.
Carnevale: Street celebrations Sunday to Tuesday each year before Lent, February or March.
Festa di Santa Francesca Romana, 9 March: Roman drivers bring cars to Church of Santa Francesca Romana to have them blessed by the patron saint of motorists.
Palm Sunday celebrated by Pope, who says Mass in St. Peter's Square.
Holy Week: Catholics from around world make pilgrimages to Rome to hear Pope give address.
Good Friday: Procession of the Cross that takes place from the Colosseum to Capitoline Hill.
Easter Sunday: Papal blessing at St. Peter's Square.
Festa della Primavera (late April): Azaleas in terracotta on Spanish Steps.
International Horse Show at Piazza di Siena in Villa Borghese.
Rose Show at Via di Valle Murcia.
Antiques Fair in Via dei Coronari (lit by candles at night).
Festa della Repubblica, 2 June
Festa di San Giovanni, 24 June, meals of snails and suckling pig.
Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Roma’s patron Saints.
Spanish Steps Alta Moda Fashion Show: a fairly new event that does not have a set date (so far it has been held mid- to late July). Although the seating is filled by invitation only, the public can squeeze in the back to enjoy a display of Italian designer fashion.
Romauropa Festival of Film, dance, theater and concerts at the Villa Medici, late June to late July
Tevere Expo, last two weeks of July, stalls along Tiber near Ponte Sant'Angelo display arts, crafts, food, wine, and folk music.
Festa delle Catene, August 1, at San Pietro in Vincoli. Chains of St Peter shown to faithful during prayer.
Festa della Madonna delle Neve, 5 August, at Santa Maria Maggiore. At Gloria in the Mass, flower petals fall on congregation in re-enactment of fourth century legend.
Torch-lit street and craft fair in Via'Orso, 23 September to 7 October.
Castelli wine festivals (first Sunday of October).
Festa di Santa Cecilia, 22 November.
Festa d'Immacolata Concezione, 8 December: religious services in Piazza di Spagna, often attended by Pope.
Natale Oggi, a well-established event that takes place during the Christmas season displaying special Italian Christmas treats.
Children’s Fair, 12 December to 6 January
Midnight Masses at Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Maria in Aracoeli and Papal Mass at St. Peter’s, onChristmas Eve.
Mid-morning Christmas Masse at St. Peter's, on Christmas Day.