City Guide to Rome, Italy: Part 2 | Must See Attractions
Planning your Rome, Italy ultimate must see attraction itinerary? Let us take you through a tour of Rome as we saw it. From piazzas, ancient ruins, and the Roman Colosseum, to Vatican City, Trevi fountain, churches and so much more...
Disclosure: We may receive a commission for links on our blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very appreciative when you do. Thanks again for your support, we hope you find our posts and information helpful!
- The Roman Colosseum
- Trevi Fountain
- The Vatican (Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica)
- Vatican Tips
- Villa Borghese Gardens
- Basilica di Santa maria in Ara Coeli
- Campo de' Fiori
- Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore)
- Aventine Hill
- Arch of Titus
- Arch of Constantine
- Monster House
- St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri)
- Via Rasella – Remembrance of the Massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine
- Piazza Navona
Rome, Italy was a particularly exciting destination that we’d both had on our must visit list. The culture is vibrant, the food is indulgent, and the history isn’t old… it’s ancient!
For us, visiting the epicenter of the Ancient Roman Empire was right up there with the Giza Pyramids and the Ancient Acropolis. We definitely wanted to see everything we could pack into our short five days in Rome. We’re always thorough on our sightseeing itineraries, however Rome was particularly well researched. We explored by foot and metro and we definitely put some miles on our shoes (over 22 miles actually!). The experience was fantastic and we felt that we not only obtained a great feel for Rome’s culture and people, but also the history, sites, and traditions of Ancient Rome.
We firmly believe in being wise about our resources and not re-inventing the wheel. Just as we appreciate tips and information from others who’ve ‘been there, done that’, we want to share what we’ve discovered.
So, to possibly make your research on sightseeing in Rome and Vatican City State (and other destinations) easier, we’ve kept our maps with all of the information we gathered (accurate at the time of our sightseeing). Finding hours, prices, and general information can sometimes be challenging, so we’ve tried to include these details on our maps and provide appropriate links below.
And finally, not every attraction is suitable for every visitor, but the copywriters and marketing departments for the destinations sure make it sound like it. How many times have you read “Great for kids and adults alike” and shown up at the venue to wonder why anyone over 20 years-old without kids would go out of their way to be there? Below we’ve included our full itinerary on the map and highlighted some of our favorite must see attractions with tips, impressions, and our takeaways that, when combined with the official attraction information and website, may help you decide if it’s a destination for your travel adventure or not.
NOTE: We used this sightseeing map for our personal sightseeing adventures, because of that, some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated. Information on this map was valid at the time of creation. All prices are shown in US dollars but are actually Euros (local currency). That being said, feel free to save it to your Google account and use it as a starting point (or modify it accordingly) for planning out your personalized itinerary in Rome.
The Roman Colosseum
We’d seen it in movies and read about it in our history classes, so a visit to the Roman Colosseum (also known as the Flavian Amphitheater)was essential during our visit in Rome. Plus, you can’t go far in the city without it and the ruins that surround it, calling out to you.
Luckily, an entry ticket to the Colosseum not only gets you admission into it, but also includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. And, as if that wasn’t cool enough, the ticket is valid for two days! You can purchase your entry ticket ahead of time online and skip the long ticket queues at the Colosseum; however you’ll pay an extra €2 for the privilege and you’ll still need to pick the tickets up at the Colosseum reservations window.
Alternatively, you can purchase Colosseum Entry Tickets at Palatine Hill, where the lines are considerably shorter, if there's one at all!
Tip: Visit the Colosseum early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid larger crowds.
If you're looking for the full experience of the Roman Colosseum and want to venture to the underground portions, as well as the third and fifth levels, then you'll need to join a tour.
When we purchased our tour tickets only the underground and the third level were open to the public. So you can imagine our delight when we received a message letting us know that just four days before our scheduled tour they'd opened the fifth level to the public!
Lucky for us, only visitors with the tour we'd purchased would have access to the top/5th level with amazing views. We were able to see the entirety of the Colosseum from one of the highest vantage points, and to top it off, we were also treated with a view of the surrounding city. It was fantastic!
Since the opening of the fifth level of the Roman Colosseum, the ticket options for tours have changed. Now, instead of just an Underground Tour, visitors can choose from three options:
- Underground Tour (access to the underground and the arena) €9.00*
- Panoramic View Tour (access to the upper levels) €9.00*
- Underground + Panoramic View Tour (access to both the underground and the upper levels) €15.00*
All Roman Colosseum tour options can be seen and purchased on the Colosseum tours page of the Coopculture website.
Be aware, English language tour tickets are very challenging to purchase and we recommend you try to obtain them as soon as they go on sale.
When we purchased our tickets, we had three concurrent web browsers open on two computers, and still couldn’t get the English tour tickets. The problem seemed to be that the website’s servers were so overloaded that they couldn’t accommodate the sheer number of concurrent connections. Every time we attempted to ‘check out’ we couldn’t complete the transaction!
Ultimately, we missed securing tickets for the English Underground Tour. We had two alternative options: Purchase a tour from a tour company (although it’s said they often can’t get tickets either and have to cancel your tour) or take the Underground Tour in a different language (Italian, Spanish, or French).
Fortunately, since Sergio speaks fluent Spanish and Shannon is brushing up on hers, we gladly opted into joining a Spanish tour instead. After the fact, we discovered that this occurrence isn’t unusual, as many English speakers book a tour in another language just to get access to the Roman Colosseum’s restricted areas.
Tip: Securing Colosseum tickets for the experience you want can be a challenge. Learn the tips and tricks to securing your Colosseum tour ticket in our City Guide to Rome, Italy: Part 1 | Travel Tips & Tourist Information.
The most famous fountain in Rome, Italy is Trevi Fountain. The fountain is fed by the Roman Aqua Virgo Aqueduct and was given its name because it was built at the point where three streets met. Hence 'Trevi', which is derived from the Latin word 'trivium', meaning three streets.
The original fountain on this spot was purely functional and provided residents with drinking water, but in the mid 18th century Pope Clement XII commissioned the monumental fountain visitors flock to see today.
Many think the fountain’s main sculpture is of the god Neptune, but if you look closely, you’ll see that the figure doesn’t wield the trident and isn’t accompanied by a dolphin. Instead he has a wand and is accompanied by sea-horses and Tritons (half men, half mermen). This indicates that the sculpture is actually of the Greek God Oceanus.
Over €3,000 in coins are said to be collected by officials each night and donated to charitable causes. For those curious about the origin and superstition of tossing coins into the fountain and bodies of water, it’s been traced back to the Ancient Romans who tossed a coin in a lake to appease the gods and ensure a safe return home.
Tip: The fountain is immensely popular for tourists, so arrive early! We put it at the top of our sightseeing list and arrived before sunrise and there were still three or four groups of visitors already there.
Vatican City State: Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica
The Vatican has the privilege of being its own micro country as well as the world’s smallest country! This alone may be a reason to venture into the boundaries of Vatican City, however its great architectural beauty and religious significance are huge draws as well.
If you want to see Michael Angelo’s famous painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you’ll want to visit the Vatican Museums. Lines get long quickly, so either arrive first thing in the morning (however tours also arrive at the opening of the museum), or in the afternoon.
The museum is often overshadowed by the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, but the museum as a whole is worth exploring if you have time. However, if you’re making a bee-line to the Sistine Chapel, keep in mind that it’s a bit of a trek, as it’s at the far side of the museum.
After the Vatican Museum, don’t miss St. Peter’s Basilica. The basilica is free to enter, but if you want to go to the dome and the outlook, be prepared to climb 551 steps to the top (or cut the steps to 320 with a ride on the elevator) and pay €6.00 to €8.00 for entrance tickets. As you can imagine, the basilica is absolutely stunning, huge, and has a plethora of things to see inside! At minimum, we recommend you don’t miss:
Michelangelo’s Sculpture Pietà
It’s one of Michelangelo’s first works and depicts the Madonna holding the body of the crucified Jesus. It’s also the only piece of work Michelangelo ever signed, the story being that he feared he wouldn’t get credit for the piece.
Visitors can’t get close enough to see the signature on the Madonna’s sash though, as it’s now protected by bulletproof glass and placed a distance away from onlookers. This is in large part due to the Geologist who stormed the sculpture, damaging it with a hammer in 1972.
You can find the piece on your right-hand side immediately after entering the basilica.
The Spot where Charlemagne was Crowned
Find the red disk on the floor and you’ve found the spot where Carlemagne and other Holy Roman Emperors were crowned by the pope.
When you enter the basilica, look straight ahead you’ll surely see the dominating baldachin (a ceremonial canopy over an alter) by the artist Bernini, that rests on the site of St. Peter’s grave. It’s supported by four columns that were made with bronze taken from the Pantheon and the Pope is the only priest permitted to serve at the alter it covers.
Statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio or 5th Century Casting?
St. Peter is portrayed giving blessings and preaching as he holds the keys to heaven. It’s been attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio by many scholars, however others think it’s a fifth century casting.
When visiting, you may notice that the statue’s feet have worn thin, as it’s a tradition since the Middle Ages for pilgrims to touch and kiss the foot of St. Peter for his mercy if they were to die during their pilgrimage.
Tips for Seeing Vatican City State
- If you’re going to both the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, we suggest going to the Vatican Museum first.
- Logically, because of the location and exits/entrances, the distance from the museum to the basilica is shorter than the other way around.
- Ticket queues for the museum can get long as the day progresses; however entrance to the basilica is free. So, get your tickets first while the line is shorter and then enjoy the remainder of your time in Vatican City State.
- Skip a second security check for St. Peter’s Basilica after the Sistine Chapel by exiting through a lesser known exit. It’s generally for use by tour groups, but other visitors are usually allowed to pass. Once you’ve been through the Sistine Chapel you’ll find yourself in a smaller room. Instead of exiting with everyone else on the left, exit on the right side to go straight to the basilica!
- Climb the stairs and visit the outlook from the dome at St. Peter's Basilica and you'll be treated to the well known view from above of St Peter's Square. However, we suggest avoiding the early morning hours, as the sun will be shining in your eyes and washing out most of your photos.
Villa Borghese Gardens
Take a break from city center and the crowds of tourists by going where the locals go, Villa Borghese Gardens. When visiting, you may be tempted to think you’re in the largest park in Rome at nearly 200 acres, but surprisingly it’s only the third largest park in the city. The park is great for a stroll, a relaxing picnic, or fun and games with the kids.
Here are a few key points of interest in Villa Borghese Gardens:
The Water Clock at Pincio
Time is kept by the force of the water flowing beneath it to swing the pendulum and wind the clock, while the ringtone is powered by water filling two basins. The clock dates back to 1867 when it was presented at the Paris Expo. (GPS coordinates 41.91157, 12.48083)
Temple of Asclepius
Built for aesthetics only, the temple is set on a pond and surrounded by trees. (GPS coordinates 41.91493, 12.48277)
Borghese Gallery and Museum
It was once part of the park, but now is a separate attraction that contains a collection of paintings, sculptures, and antiquities. Visiting information can be found on the museum’s website.
Points of Interest Nearby Villa Borhese Gardens
Nearby the Villa Borghese Gardens is the Piazza del Popolo, literally translated to ‘People’s Square’, but historically derived from the poplar tree. The square marks the starting point of an important ancient route to the north, and the gate in the square (Porta Flaminia) was the first thing travelers’ saw of Rome when they arrived.
Visitors may also choose to walk one of the most elegant, expensive streets in Rome, Via Vittorio Veneto, but colloquially known as Via Veneto. Built in the 1880s, the street, like most others in the neighborhood was dedicated to a region in Italy, in this case Venetia. In the mid 20th century the street became well known as ‘La Dolce Vita’, or ‘The Sweet Life’ when it attracted Hollywood stars.
Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli
If you’re looking for a miracle, or simply want to see some beautiful architecture, then be sure to put Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli on your itinerary!
Built in the sixth century, the basilica has passed through a few hands, including the Benedictines and the Franciscans, and incredibly it was even used as a stable in the late 18th century. It’s once again a church and one with a particularly interesting architectural feature that shouldn’t be overlooked. Most visitors and pilgrims come to see Santo Bambino, a wooden depiction of the baby Jesus who is believed by the devout to resurrect the dead. However, on your way to the rear of the basilica to visit Santo Bambino, be sure to pay special attention to the unique columns that line the center of the cathedral. There are 22 in total and not a single pair are alike, as they were all taken from various Roman ruins.
Note: We won’t venture to say whether or not Santo Bambino performs miracles, but we’d like to mention that the fifth century Santo Bambino was stolen in 1994 and never recovered. Standing in its place today is a replica.
If you’re visiting Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, we’d also recommend you visit these nearby sites:
Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio)
The smallest of the seven Ancient Roman hills, but arguably one of the most important for its political and religious implications at the center of the city. At the center of the hill is Piazza del Campidoglio, a public square that was designed by Michelangelo. The facades of the three bordering buildings were also designed by Michelangelo; the main one being Rome’s City hall and the other two the Capitoline Museums.
Intrigued by Roman history? Then this Roman art and archaeology museum will be a highlight of your visit! Dating back to 1471, the treasures held in the museum’s collections will give you an impressive look into Roman history.
Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria or Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II)
You’ll want to visit here early to avoid the crowds, but it’s worth it! Like many other sites in Rome, this monument is massive, yet built with eloquent detail. It was inaugurated in 1911 on the 50th anniversary of the kingdom and is in honor of Victor Emmanual II, the first king of a United Italy (Risorgimento).
Campo de' Fiori
By day Capo de’ Fiori is a bustling market and by night a hot spot for nightlife. We found it’s a vibrant public market full of fresh produce, cheese, meats, and spices, along with tourist items, home goods and clothing. Surrounding the vendor booths are cafes and restaurants that keep the square alive when the market shuts down for the day.
In addition, between your shopping, be sure to make your way to the center of the square where a sculpture marks the spot of Bruno Giordano’s public execution in 1600. Not only was Giordano a philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer who was executed in the square, but tragicaly over several centuries many others came to the same fate at Campo de’ Fiori.
Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore)
This church is absolutely stunning, from the glittering mosaics on the exterior to the ornate interior design. Given the title of ‘Major’ (Maggiore), this church is one of the four Patriarchal Basilicas in Rome and is the largest Marian church in the city.
When visiting, you’ll notice that you’ll be required to pass through a security check point, but of particular interest is that since this basilica is part of the Vatican City State, it’s protected by Vatican police, not Rome city police.
Tip: If your schedule permits, visit on August 5th to witness a ceremony consisting of thousands of white petals being released from the covered ceiling. It’s a sight to see as believers commemorate the miracle of snow falling on this spot during the summer of 358 CE.
Aventine Hill Keyhole
The door usually has a line of onlookers waiting their turn to see what lies beyond the door. Once you make it to the front of the line, you’ll see layers of paint worn thin from visitors putting their hand on the door and focusing their sight on the garden inside and beyond.
On our visit, Sergio made this spot a secret for Shannon to discover! When she looked through and saw the perfectly framed St. Peter’s Basilica within Vatican City State, she was in awe and had to pry herself away to be respectful of those waiting for their chance. We left with a curiosity of what seems to be an untold story. How was the garden so perfectly aligned, or was it just a seemingly spectacular coincidence?
Find this keyhole tucked away from the popular tourist areas in Rome by setting your marker to the intersection of Via di S. Sabina and Via di Porta Lavernale on Aventine Hill, or use the GPS Coordinates 41.88248, 12.47764.
Tip: Before leaving Aventine Hill, walk down Via di Santa Sabina until you reach Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci). Here you’ll be treated to a terrace at the far side of the garden that offers a spectacular view of Rome, Italy.
Arch of Titus
This arch is said to be the inspiration for the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. It was constructed in 82 CE to commemorate the victories of Titus during the Siege of Jerusalem.
Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine is one of three remaining triumphal arches in Rome and can be found outside the Colosseum, on its western side. The arch was built in 315 CE to commemorate Constantine’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. It’s said that this arch marks a major religious turning point in history, as Constantine converted the empire to Christianity.
Monster House (Palazzetto Zuccari)
For a unique and fun architectural experience, venture a few blocks from the famous Spanish Steps to the Monster House. It’s earned its name because of the monster faces with gaping wide mouths that seem to be swallowing the windows and the doors. If you dare, enter the mouth of the monster to visit the palace that is now the Max Planck Institute for Art History (Bibliotheca Hertziana).
St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri)
The meridian clock within St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs was commissioned by the Pope in the late 18th century, and is in working order to this day.
We recommend you visit at noon for the full effect. At this time the sun lines up perfectly with a hole in the basilica’s domed ceiling and you’ll be able to witness the ray of light shining down on the bronze line that runs across the marble floor. Onlookers can also tell the time of year by the astronomical symbols placed along the floor, as the beam of light moves closer to either end of the line as the days approach the solstice.
Via Rasella – Remembrance of the Massacre of the Fosse Ardeatine
Most people walk down Via Rasella without a second look at the building that sits on the corner of Via Rasella and Via del Boccaccio. Although, doing so would be a mistake!
Most of the buildings in this area have been remodeled over the years; however, the one on the corner has been left with an untouched exterior on purpose.
During World War II, partisans attacked Nazi SS Policemen with a bomb, killing 28 soldiers. In the immediate aftermath, the surviving Nazi SS Policemen sprayed gunfire in all directions to protect themselves. The incident became well known, and in a counter attack Hitler ordered the death of 10 Italians for every Nazi that had been killed.
Jews, prisoners, men, and boys were all rounded up from across the streets of Rome to account for the current death toll of 33 Nazis. Sadly, instead of the 330 people that were ordered to death by Hitler, five extra people were rounded up. The mistake was realized but it was too late since they didn’t want any witnesses. All the bodies, including the five additional people were buried in a mass grave that wasn’t found until 1944, when Rome was liberated.
Piazza Navona isn’t only a popular public square, but like many places in Rome, it’s grandiose and elegant! We suggest you visit not only for the atmosphere of the meeting space where both locals and tourists congregate, but also for the beautiful Saint Agnese church and the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) in the center.
Tip: Admiration of the Fountain of the Four Rivers can’t be helped, but before your visit enrich the experience by learning that the fountain portrays the four River Gods of the major rivers that had Papal authority: the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia and the Rio de la Plata in the Americas. Above the river gods is an ancient Egyptian obelisk with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove and an olive twig.
After our visit to Rome, Italy, we completely understood why it, along with Paris and London, are considered some of the top cities to visit in the world. Everywhere we turned there seemed to be something of interest. The culture was vibrant, the streets walkable, and the sites magnificent in scale and grandeur!