The historical centre of the city of Rome is ancient, beautiful and impressive. Like most first time visitors to Rome, I couldn’t wait to explore the city, and check long-standing items off my bucket list like marveling in the shadow of the Colosseum, wandering through the Roman Forum, and sitting upon the Spanish Steps.
I was driven to Rome to see the famous landmarks. I love it now because of how much I learned about the eternal city during my visit. Rome is oozing with ancient history, incredible stories, and unparalleled character. Walking through the streets made me wish I had become a historian in my adult life. There’s just so much to appreciate about Rome.
where to stay in Rome
For accommodations in Rome, I would recommend the Hotel de Monti. Located in the Monti area of Rome, near the Roma Termini (train station) and the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, the Hotel De Monti is a small, clean, boutique-style hotel with wonderful owners and management. It’s located on the third floor of an old building with no lift, but the rooms are lovely, affordable, and the hotel itself is very well situated. In fact, just down the street is an incredible restaurant called La Carbonara. We enjoyed the most delicious Spaghetti Alla Carbonara here. It’s worth at least one visit!
what to do in Rome
(These are my personal highlights – there is so much more to see, do and explore outside this list!)
The Colosseum, The Roman Forum & Palatine Hill. I know it sounds obvious to say, but the Colosseum in Rome is one of the most stunning, beautifully preserved artifacts of the Imperial Roman Empire that still stands. Once a place of gladiatorial contests, public spectacles and entertainment such as mock sea battles, animal hunts and executions, the Colosseum today is merely the bones of what it once was. However, through preservation and refurbishment efforts, this incredible structure stands proud, and provides visitors with an incredible insight into ancient Roman architecture and culture. This iconic stone amphitheater takes at least two hours to see properly. It’s incredible to learn how architecturally advanced the Roman’s were when building the Colosseum. Fun fact… they even built fountain-like water irrigation lines throughout all the levels of the Colosseum to help keep everyone hydrated and to encourage the spectators to stay and watch longer! The re-telling of the gladiatorial battles fought by both humans and animals in the center of the Colosseum on your audio guide is enough alone to hold anyone’s attention for hours. Russel Crowe in The Gladiator anyone?!
As you roam through the Forum and Palatine Hill, you can visualize what everyday life might have looked like during the age of the Roman Empire. There are signs with information written on them scattered throughout the Forum and Palatine Hill, outlining where landmarks such as churches, halls and public markets once stood. We took our time here. The ruins are beautiful.
Experiencing these historic sites early in the day will allow you to beat the heat and avoid throngs of tourists. For 12 euros, you can purchase a two-day pass that allows you one entrance to the Colosseum, The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. If you’re planning to experience at least two of these attractions, then this pass is worth purchasing. Keep in mind, these three attractions combined will take at least a day. We split our visits in two – one morning we visited the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, and the following morning we visited the Colosseum.
When visiting the Colosseum, be sure to purchase an audio guide for an additional 5.50 euros. If you want a more in depth experience, opt for a guided tour, or splurge and book the additional underground and third ring guided tour. Visitors under 18 visit the attractions free of charge, and there is free admission for all on the first Sunday of every month!
The Spanish Steps. Made iconic throughout time in movies such as Roman Holiday and the Lizzie McGuire Movie (you know you loved it), the Spanish steps are a place of romance and poetry, where locals and tourists alike can sit, rest, and marvel in the classic Roman architecture that surrounds the area.
Vatican City. No trip to Rome is complete without a trip to the city-state of Vatican City. Vatican City is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, and even if you’re not a religious person, it’s worth a visit to see the Vatican museums, St Peter’s Basilica, Roman sculptures such as the Laocoön, Renaissance frescoes in the Raphael Rooms, and of course, Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel. I found myself very overwhelmed when trying to determine how to go about experiencing Vatican City. Through my research, I came across a company called What a Life Tours. They offered small guided group tours of Vatican City. I highly recommend this option. With What a Life Tours, you bypass the lines, and tour the Vatican Museums with an extremely knowledgeable guide.
Pantheon. Built by Emperor Hadrian (A.D 118-125), the Roman Pantheon is the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome. It is a temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome and is free for visitors today to experience. It’s a must see.
Piazza Navona & the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Built on top of the ruins of Domitian’s stadium in the 15th century, Piazza Navona is one of the most famous and arguably the most beautiful of Rome’s many public squares. The lively square features magnificent fountains, the most well-known being Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers.
Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately for us, the Trevi Fountain was under construction when we visited Rome, but when it’s not covered in scaffolding, it’s one of the most beautiful Baroque fountains you’ll ever see. Tradition has it that you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the fountain’s water basin. The correct way to toss your coin is with your right hand over your left shoulder (or left hand over your right shoulder) with your back to the fountain. And no peeking when you toss!
walk along the River Tiber. Besides the city of Toronto (yes I realize I am biased), all great cities are built around great rivers that now run through them. The River Tiber is no exception. Take a break from looking at buildings and ruins and enjoy a stroll alongside this beautiful river.
walk… get lost. Rome is the perfect city in which to get lost. Literally. Wander the streets, turn right instead of left, and try the local restaurants. In doing this, you’ll have the chance to experience the every day, authentic Rome that many tourists don’t get to see.
know before you go
(Let’s be honest, all you really need to know when visiting Rome is… “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” … and eat what the Romans eat… and drink what the Romans drink!)
Rome is large, and bursting with ancient buildings, landmarks and museums just waiting to be explored. The best way to experience the city is to walk it. Explore the piazza’s, markets and side streets in addition to the major attractions.
Don’t try to be brave or fashionable and wear footwear with a heel. Cobblestone streets = obviously flat shoes are the right choice!
Rome is hot! Always carry a water bottle with you. There are lots of public fountains where you can fill up free of charge on the go. You are going to want to stay well hydrated in between enjoying all that delicious Italian wine!
Roman food is delicious. When in Rome, you must try Roman-style pizza, Cacio e Pepe (a simple pasta dish consisting of cracked black pepper, pecorino cheese and the finest of olive oils) and authentic Spaghetti alla Carbonara (pasta with eggs, bacon, black pepper and absolutely no cream!) Also, eat all the gelato! How else are you going to find your favourite?!
Three days is a great amount of time to explore the highlights of Rome without feeling rushed. If you are looking for a more in-depth and detailed experience in Rome, spend four to five days exploring the city. There’s so much to see, do and eat!
*All photos & opinions are my own.