Ever since I was a little girl, if you asked me where I dreamed of going one day, I would tell you Italy and specifically Rome! When my dream of visiting Rome finally came true, I was overwhelmed with excitement, and rightfully so. Rome is full of amazing historic sites surrounded by all the modern luxuries a girl could need. I must admit I was smitten with Rome! To ensure that you have an amazing experience in Rome as well, I have put together this list of 25 Awesome Things to do in Rome! Now granted, several items on this list are touristy, but do them anyway, especially if you are here for the first time. It’s ok to be a cheesy tourist sometimes!
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So buckle your seatbelt and get ready for….25 Awesome Things to do in Rome!
1. Throw a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
I know, I know, super touristy! Keep in mind though that the saying is that if you throw a coin in the Trevi that you will return to Rome again. Well, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t willing to risk it. I had to throw a coin in the Trevi! I mean really, putting a coin into that fountain was one of my top things to do in Rome. This ritual was going to ensure I was coming back!
I just hope that you have better luck than we did. Marty and I planned our walk to the Trevi one evening as we had heard it was more romantic to visit at night. Strolling on the cobblestone streets hand and hand, anticipating that glimpse of the beautiful fountain was pretty romantic. Well, until we arrived at the Trevi that is. We arrived to find our anticipated fountain completely drained and covered in scaffolding and glass barrier?! What the what?? Apparently, it was closed for cleaning and maintenance! Really?! In the middle of summer high season? Needless to say, I was a little disappointed.
Seeing a large crowd gathering toward the front, we made our way over to see people taking selfies and throwing coins over their shoulder. Observing a little further, I noticed there was a small pool of water left in the very front ensuring that tourist could still toss their coins. Pushing our way through the crowds, we did the same. After taking the iconic selfie and tossing our coin, I just knew we would return to Rome!
2. Pretend to be a Gladiator at the Colosseum
In our post, Ultimate Guide to Visiting Ancient Rome, we tell you all the ins and outs of visiting the major sites of Ancient Rome, including the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum, all of which are awesome things to do in Rome.
Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to see the Colosseum like every other tourist. It’s much more fun to get down in the tunnels and experience the Colosseum like a gladiator would have! So don your favorite gladiator outfit, complete with sword and shield, and get ready to see the Colosseum on a totally different level than most tourists (literally, you will be able to go to the lower levels that are off limits to the general public). If people ask you why you’re wearing a gladiator outfit, just tell them it was one of the 25 Awesome Things to do in Rome!
Begin by booking your underground tour, then get ready to be amazed! This 3.5-hour tour allows you to skip the line and have access to areas normally off limits like the underground tunnels. When looking down into the Colosseum from the stands, you are viewing the underground tunnels. The tunnels would have been covered by a floor that was the actual arena where all the action would take place. The tunnels were where the animals used to be housed while waiting for their appearance above. Gladiators would also roam the tunnels below warming up and preparing for their fight as well. The underground tour also includes the Forum and Palatine Hill, areas that you will definitely want to visit as well!
3. Walk in Caesar’s Footsteps in the Forum
Literally, you are walking where Caesar walked when you step foot into the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was the center of life in the city. Here you would have found political, commercial, and religious activities taking place on a daily basis. The streets would have been bustling with activity and lined with the grandest buildings in the land. Gawk at the amazing ruins and imagine life as it would have been when Rome was an incredible empire ruling this vast land.
If you booked the underground tour mentioned above, then your guide will walk you through the Roman Forum as well, explaining the significance of this area and the buildings. If the underground tour is not for you, you might want to consider a walking tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill instead. Having a guide is so beneficial to get the most out of your experience to Ancient Rome.
4. Take in the Amazing Views From Palatine Hill
Think of Palatine Hill as the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous of Ancient Rome. This is where the Roman elite built their incredible houses and lived out their daily lives. I mean, this is where you would have wanted to live if you could afford it also. The hill allowed you to be above the dirt and squalor below while also giving you some amazing views of the sights below including the Colosseum and the Forum. Pretty sweet digs!
We go into more detail on visiting Palatine Hill in our post, Ultimate Guide to Visiting Ancient Rome.
5. People Watch on the Spanish Steps
Now granted, this one doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing, but it could be! Let me paint a quick picture for you. Marty and I are making our way to the Spanish Steps. On the way, we get hassled by a guy trying to give me a rose (which I didn’t touch because I know they are just after my money). Upon arriving at the beautiful Spanish Steps, there are people sitting everywhere. I mean, why not, it’s a gorgeous summer evening in Rome!
Marty and I find our spot and sit down on the famous steps and begin our people watching. Suddenly, a guy leaps over my legs, missing me only by a couple of inches. Of course, we are wondering why this crazy guy is running down the steps leaping over people when all of a sudden about 20 more guys start doing the same thing. Now we are really wondering what in the world is happening. Then we see it, a wall of police officers are now running down the stairs also, chasing these guys. If I had only known sooner, I could have for sure nabbed the one jumping over me for them. I mean, one quick grab of the ankle and he would have eaten the Spanish Steps! LOL! And that, my friends, is why sitting on the Spanish Steps is one of the awesome things to do in Rome!
6. Visit Castel Sant’Angelo
Originally built as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian, Castel Sant’Angelo has served many purposes throughout history. Castel Sant’Angelo has been a prison, a castle, a refuge, and is now a museum. Take note that the castle is closed on Monday, so plan accordingly. Now once you’re inside, be ready to get a workout, there are a lot of stairs! After touring the museum, be sure and take time to go up to the rooftop for an amazing view of Rome.
7. Check Out St. Peter’s Basilica
The land where St. Peter’s is located was originally the site of Nero’s Circus, a huge chariot racecourse. For half-time entertainment, the Romans forced Christians to fight wild animals and gladiators. One of these Christians was Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. After his death, his remains were buried in a cemetery located where the basilica stands today. Today the beautiful chapel, with it’s Michelangelo designed dome, is surrounded by St. Peter’s Square, with its beautiful ring of columns. Standing here, you can’t help but feel all of the history that surrounds you.
In our post, 21 Things to Know Before Visiting Rome, we remind you of the importance of bringing the right clothes to Rome. Visiting Rome’s famous churches is the reason for this reminder. You have to have modest clothing to go inside, no bare knees or shoulders.
Because it is on everyone’s list of things to do in Rome, St. Peter’s is almost always crowded, so just be ready. You can avoid the crowds by visiting early (before 10:00 am) or come later in the evening (after 4:00 pm). Do note if you are visiting after 4:00 pm, the crypt is closed, and the area around the altar is roped off to prepare for the 5:00 pm mass. The Vatican offers free tours of St. Peter’s that last about 1.5 hours. The tours depart from the information center at 2:15 Monday-Friday, and then 9:45 am on Tuesday and Thursday. You can also rent an audioguide from the information desk if you prefer.
For a more intimate experience, you might consider taking a small group tour with early access to the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.
8. Admire the Sistine Chapel
You can’t pass up a chance to admire the beautiful work of Michelangelo. Believe it or not, Michelangelo didn’t want to be involved in the Sistine Chapel project, but after much bribery and threatening from Pope Julius II, he finally conceded and created the masterpiece that still draws millions of visitors today.
Do some shoulder rolls and neck stretches to prepare for the neck craning that’s about to take place. You may also want to prepare yourself for the crowds of people that are about to be around you, this place gets crowded. To avoid some of this, consider taking a private guided tour in order to get the full history and effect of the Vatican as this too is one of the top things to do in Rome.
9. Walk Along the Ancient Appian Way
Finding a little quiet from the bustling city streets of Rome doesn’t hurt anyone, and you will find just that on the Appian Way. Walking down the Appian Way was a surreal experience to me. I mean, I was literally walking on a road that was created in 312 B.C. Those of you from Texas know what I’m saying when I tell you we can’t build a road that lasts 20 years, much less 2,000!
Surrounded by crumbling monuments, catacombs, and peaceful surroundings, the Appian Way is definitely an awesome thing to do in Rome. From Rome, take the Metro line A to the Colli Albani stop, and then catch bus #660 and ride about 15 minutes to the last stop-Cecilia Metella/via Appia Antica. Easy peasy!
10. Discover the Roman Aqueducts
Rome’s grand aqueducts kept water flowing into the city for years, and amazingly many are still standing today. Now, the locals enjoy the park around them, rightfully named Aqueduct Park, but for a tourist, they are truly a sight to behold. I think this was one of Marty’s favorite things to do in Rome. He loved seeing the ancient aqueducts.
From Rome, take the Metro line A to Giulio Agricola, then follow the signs to Viale Giulio Agricola. Head down the street toward the church. At the end of the street, enter the park to the right of the church and then pass under the small brick arches of the first set of aqueducts. Don’t stop here and think, really Michelle? No, these are the small aqueducts. I would not have sent you all the way out here for just that. Keep walking across the field and up the small hill to the Acqua Claudia, still standing from the first century A.D. After you have seen these, continue on the path to the left and come to the best preserved large section of aqueducts before having a picnic in the park.
11. View the Vittorio Emanuele Monument
You really can’t miss this oversize monument, so you might as well check it out. Standing over 200 feet high and 500 feet wide, the scale of the monument is crazy in and of itself. Notice the statue of the king on his horse, I mean his mustache forms a five-foot-long arch?! It is cool to note that the base of the statue contains the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier. The monument is free to visit and has bathrooms inside, which is good to know in Rome. Don’t miss going to the rooftop to get a great view of Rome.
12. See Pieces of Jesus’ Crib at Santa Maria Maggiore
Celebrating the Mary, the mother of Jesus, Santa Maria is one of Rome’s oldest churches. Built in 432 A.D., Santa Maria is an important church, thus indicated by the “Maggiore” in its name. The term “Maggiore” indicates that this church is owned by the Vatican and therefore significant. Inside you will find several pieces of wood that are said to be from Jesus’ crib along with several beautiful paintings and mosaics.
13. Roam Around the Piazzas
As you’re roaming through Rome (see what I did there? LOL!), you will notice that piazzas are everywhere. Rome’s piazzas, or squares, are not only a wonderful social hub, but many of them carry a great about of historical significance as well. I really liked how so many of the piazzas were surrounded by quaint cafes and charming restaurants. Find your favorite piazza and join the locals to enjoy the sweet life in Italy! Trust me, this made the list of top things to do in Rome for a reason, try it out, I think you will be glad you did!
14. Grab a Snack from the Campo de’Fiori Market
Campo de’Fiori was easily one of my favorite piazzas in Rome. The piazza hosts a fruit and vegetable market in the morning and then transforms into a great spot full of cafes and bar hoppers in the evening, thus making it a great place for one of my favorite things to do in Rome, people watch! On the weekend nights, the piazza is transformed into a big Roman street party. It’s awesome!
15. Become Inspired by the Pantheon
The Pantheon is hands down Rome’s best-preserved monument, and therefore has to be on your list of things to do in Rome! The sheer architecture of this building will amaze you. While you visit, try to imagine building this perfectly precise mathematical structure without the use of modern technology. That alone makes this building awesome.
The original structure was built in 27 B.C. as a temple dedicated to all of the gods. The temple burned and the structure you see today was built around 120 A.D. Once inside, you will notice the beautiful stone floor surrounding you that is still over 80 percent original. You can also view all of the tombs of famous people like Raphael and King Victor Emmanuel II.
16. Day Trip to Tivoli
There are so many day trips that you can take out of Rome. While planning these, I think Tivoli should definitely be included on your list. Tivoli is a great little town located 18 miles east of Rome. It is super simple to get to by train, or you can book a guided tour and let them do all the planning for you.
Tivoli’s highlights are the Villa d’Este, Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa Gregoriana. Avoid going on Monday if you want to visit the Villa d’Este, and trust us, you want to visit this villa, as the Villa d’Este is closed on Monday. We tell you all about our awesome trip to Tivoli in our post, Tivoli-The Perfect Day Trip from Rome.
17. Uncover Years of History in Pompeii
A town truly frozen in time has to be on everyone’s list of things to do in Rome. Now, of course, Pompeii is not in Rome, but it is close enough to do a day trip, or better yet, do an overnight in Capri like we did before going to Pompeii. Read all about our excursion to Capri in our post, How to Spend 24 Hours in Capri. Be prepared if you are doing Pompeii as a day trip, it is going to be a long day. Allow the experts to do all the work for you by booking a Pompeii excursion like one of these.
I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of Pompeii. This once thriving commercial port was literally stopped in its tracks when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. Today you can see the incredible remains that help to tell an amazing story about daily Roman life during this time period. Marty and I chose to explore Pompeii on our own, but I wish we would have hired a guide to help make the stories and history come to life that much more.
18. Eat Fabulous Gelato
Yes, eating gelato makes the list of awesome things to do in Rome. I mean, it’s gelato! If you’ve never had true gelato then you are in for a treat my friend. First, realize that gelato and ice cream are different. In my opinion, gelato is better than ice cream. You see, gelato is made with milk instead of cream like ice cream. Gelato is also turned more slowly, creating a more dense texture. Gelato became one of our go-to staples while in Rome. The little gelato shop across the street from our hotel got to know us, and despite the language barrier always got our order just right!
I do think that I turned into a gelato snob while in Rome. You see, there is a difference in homemade gelato and mass-produced gelato. Look for gelateries that display the words artiginale, nostra produzione, or produzione propia, meaning that the gelato is fresh produces there on sight! Avoid places that have their gelato in plastic buckets with colors that don’t appear natural. True gelato shops will have their gelato displayed in metal tins and the color of their gelato will be more natural looking.
19. Head Underground at the Catacombs
The burial places for those who died in Rome during the ancient times was the catacombs. Located along the Appian Way, the catacombs were very interesting to visit. There are two catacombs of note along the Appian Way, the Catacombs of San Sebastiano and the Catacombs of San Callisto. Each has their own interesting history and are truly fascinating to explore. The Catacombs of San Callisto was the official cemetery for Rome’s early Christians, while the Catacombs of San Sebastiano was said to have the bodies of Peter and Paul kept there for several decades.
Marty and I chose to visit the Catacombs of San Sebastiano. We marveled at the underground chapel and at the incredible pagan Roman tombs. You can’t be claustrophobic while visiting, there are narrow spaces that at times make you feel like the walls are closing in on you. Take a deep breath and continue on the tour as soon you will enter into a large open area. After the tour, be sure to visit the basilica on site to see the relics it houses.
20. Drink the Wine
Of course, one of my absolute favorite things to do in Rome was drinking wine. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the house wine was at the restaurants we visited. When I can get a 1/2 liter of wine as cheap as water, you better believe that I’m choosing wine! Try out the different varieties and find the one you like best!
21. Take a Food Walking Tour
This probably goes without saying, but the top of my list, besides drinking wine, is eating awesome Italian food. There is truly so much great food surrounding you in Rome. For a great introduction to this, take a food tour. We love taking food tours when we travel. Not only do they introduce you to the cuisine of the region, but it will likely force you to try food that you might not normally try. Taking a food tour also allows you direct access to a local foodie, your tour guide, to get recommendations from. A definite win!
22. Cross the Tiber to Trastevere
Venture across the Tiber river to the great neighborhood of Trastevere. Stepping into Trastevere, you will feel like you have stepped into a true medieval village. Take some time during the day to just wander around the neighborhood, or come at night to enjoy some of the nightlife of the area. Highlights of Trastevere include Villa Farnesina, the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, and the Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Get an in-depth locals perspective on Trastevere by taking one of the many Trastevere tours offered by Viator.
23. View the Relics of the Passion of the Lord
Located in the area of Santa Croce, you will find a very significant place in the Christian community, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This historic church is one of the Seven Pilgrimage Churches of Rome. Inside you will find several relics from Jesus’ time on Calvary hill, including a part of the Cross, the nail, the Titulus, and the thorns from Jesus’ crown. The church also houses notable artwork, including several medieval frescoes.
Marty and I actually stayed in the hotel that is attached to the basilica, Domus Sessoriana. The old monk quarters have been transformed into a modern hotel complete with air conditioning and private bathrooms. It was truly cool experience staying here.
24. Tour the Baths of Diocletian
The public baths of the ancient Romans must be on everyone’s list of things to do in Rome. Known for their extravagance and grandeur, the Baths of Diocletian were some of the most spectacular. Built around 300 A.D. and spreading over 30 acres, these baths could cleanse 3,000 people at a time! Today, you can visit one section of the baths, the former main hall that has been transformed into the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
25. See if You Can Survive the “Mouth of Truth”
See if you can survive the “Mouth of Truth” located in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. According to legend, if you put your hand in the gaping hole of the mouth of the stone face in the porch wall and your hand gets gobbled up, then you are a liar. LOL! OK, this for sure is a quirky thing to make our list of things to do in Rome, but life needs a little quirky sometimes! Besides, since you’re here, you might as well step inside the church to see the beautiful medieval interior.
So there you have it, our list of 25 Awesome Things to do in Rome!
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