It would take more than one lifetime to see everything the Eternal City has to offer, so we’ve compiled a handy list of 20 favorites you absolutely can’t miss during your trip.
One of the most recognizable sites in the world, the Colosseum attracts over 4 million tourists per year. The 2,000 year old structure which was used for gladiatorial combat as well as public spectacles, remains the largest amphitheater ever built. It is also referred to as the Flavian Amphitheater because it was built during the Flavian dynasty in 72-80 AD.
The Roman Forum today largely consists of ruins and fragments of the past, but originally it was the teeming focal point of the ancient city. The Forum was not only a busy marketplace, it was the center of religious and public life in the city and was filled temples, government buildings and commercial enterprises. Development of the Forum began in the 7th century BC and it was abandoned after the fall of Rome in 476 AD when Romulus was overthrown by Germanic tribes.
St. Peter’s Basilica
One of the holiest sites for the Christian faith, the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, as it is so-named is one of the greatest examples of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. It contains the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ and the first Pope. St. Peter’s Basilica is best known for its enormous dome, designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century.
The Vatican Museums
Among the largest museum complexes in existence, the Vatican Museums contain some of the most significant classical sculptures and Renaissance works of art in the world. The museums contain around 70,000 works of art that were collected by Popes throughout the centuries. They are most famous for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms (containing The School of Athens) and the Map Room.
Erected on the banks of the Tiber River, this cylindrical fortress was built by Roman emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family in the 2nd century AD. Due to its proximity to the Vatican, the tomb was subsequently used by the popes as a fortress and castle. It also includes a secret corridor that connects it to Vatican City and two popes used it as an escape route in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today the structure is a museum that offers a great view onto St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance.
The best preserved ancient structure in the city, the Pantheon was originally a Roman temple dedicated to the pagan gods: the word “Pantheon” in fact means “Honor all Gods.” The exact age of the Pantheon is unknown but it is believed to be nearly 2000 years old, impressive for withstanding the test of time. It has been used as a church since the 7th century.
The Trevi Fountain
The impressive Trevi Fountain is one of the most beautiful examples of Baroque design and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It was designed by architect Nicola Salvi in the 18th century at the junction of three roads that funneled water from the countryside to the city. Like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain is primarily made of white Travertine stone.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps connect Piazza di Spagna with Piazza Trinità dei Monti, and are another excellent example of Baroque Roman architecture. They consist of 138 steps and were financed by a French diplomat who wanted to link the French Trinità dei Monti church with the Spanish piazza below (so named for the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See). This area is a buzzing commercial center and attracted artists throughout the centuries – Giorgio de Chirico and John Keats had studios overlooking the piazza.
Circus Maximus, was an ancient stadium for chariot racing constructed in the 6th century. Like the Colosseum, it was used for games and gladiator fights and was one of the city’s most important public spaces. It is strategically located under the Palatine and Aventine hills and today is used for large concerts and events.
Terme di Caracalla
The ancient city of Rome had hundreds of bath structures and the Terme di Caracalla are the most impressive remains that shed light on these important culture spaces. The Baths were built in the 3rd century AD and were the second largest public baths in the city, originally covering 25 hectares (62 acres). Today, the Rome Opera hosts its summer operas and ballets inside the ruins.
After the Vatican Museums, Galleria Borghese has the most famous art collection in the city. The gallery is located inside the Villa Borghese park to hold Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s impressive works of art. Key pieces include sculptures by Canova and Bernini, paintings by Caravaggio and works by Titian.
Located at the heart of Rome, Piazza Venezia is a large hub and thoroughfare built during the 19th and 20th centuries, along with the enormous Altare della Patria or Monument, dedicated to honor Vittorio Emanuele II, who was the first king to serve under a unified Italy in 1861 and known as the “Father of the Fatherland”. Via del Corso and Via dei Fori Imperiali are two important streets that intersect in Piazza Venezia.
Bocca della Verità
The Mouth of Truth marble sculpture is located in the Santa Maria in the Cosmedin church between Circo Massimo and the Tiber River. It depicts the sea god Oceanus and was likely originally used as a drain cover, though today it is famous for “biting the hand of liars”. The Mouth of Truth was featured prominently in the 1953 classic Roman Holiday featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
The Ara Pacis is a 2,000 year old “Altar of Peace” dedicated to the Roman goddess of peace, “Pax”. It was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus in 9BC to mark the Roman emperor’s return to the city after spending three years in Hispania (Spain) and Gaul (a large region in Western Europe that encompassed most of the continent). Today the monument is housed within the Ara Pacis Museum, a contemporary glass construction designed by American architect Richard Meier.
Via Appia, or the Appian Way, is one of the most famous and strategically important roads in Ancient Rome. Built by emperor Appius Claudius Caecus in 312 BC, it connected Rome to Campania and southern Italy, and was especially useful for transporting military supplies. It’s incredibly well-preserved and visitors can still take a walk through history by walking upon the original stones.
This gorgeous Renaissance villa is located in Trastevere and houses some of Raphael’s greatest frescoes. It was built for the wealthy banker Agostino Chigi, who was also treasurer of the sitting pope. It contains elaborate trompe-l’œil frescoes and a magnificent depiction of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.
Located on Capitoline Hill, the Capitoline Museums are considered the oldest museum in the world. The noteworthy collection began to be amassed by Pope Sixtus IV in the 15th century and the works of art were made public in 1734 by Pope Clement XII, who wanted the collection to be enjoyed by the larger public. The collection includes many ancient sculptures, bronze statues and busts among other works.
Built upon the site of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, Piazza Navona is an enormous open-space piazza that follows the form of a stadium. It is an important example of Baroque architecture and contains three large fountains, including Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers in the center. The piazza is dominated by the 17th century Sant’Agnese in Agone church.
Campo de’ Fiori
Campo de’ Fiori literally translates to “field of flowers” because this piazza used to be a meadow in the Middle Ages. Today, it is a busy marketplace that hosts a daily market and boasts numerous shops and restaurants. The square began to be developed in the 15th century and hosted public executions. One of the most notable figures who was condemned in Campo de’ Fiori was philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burnt alive for heresy. A statue in the center of the piazza pays tribute to his sacrifice.
Piazza del Popolo
Located at the top of the Tridente neighborhood, Piazza del Popolo is a large neoclassical square characterized by two twin churches and an enormous Egyptian obelisk that was brought to Rome in 10BC. It has a number of ornate fountains within it and three of the city’s main roads branch off from the piazza, including the busy Via del Corso. Look up and you’ll see the Pincio terrace in Villa Borghese overlooking the square.