An overview of Rome attractions
I have traveled wide and far, and visited many cities across a variety of continents. Don’t get me wrong, Granada, in Nicaragua, is gorgeous. Havana in Cuba is decadently beautiful. I am totally in love with Buenos Aires, in Argentina. But travel as I might, I have yet to find a city that I like and enjoy as much as Rome. So much I love it that, as there are no direct intercontinental flights from Sardinia and I have to go through Rome anyways, I stop for a couple of days, just to breathe its energy.
The range of Rome attractions is just incredible. I don’t think any other place in the world can offer such a great mixture of historical landmarks, archeological sites, churches, museums, antique and modern art. There is a very good reason that a great part of Rome is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Put this together with some amazing restaurants and “trattorie” – where the locals enjoy going; fantastic street food and gelato; and the incredible temper and sense of humor of the locals and it is easy to understand why I love Rome.
Rome is vibrant and lively; its chaotic yet lovely; its dirty yet utterly gorgeous. It is a place anybody should travel to, at least once in a lifetime – but more than that, if possible. I have been there many times, I have even lived there for a while, and I am far from being done exploring. Rome attractions are just too many: there are so many places to visit in Rome, so many things to do in Rome that not even a year of constant, every day exploration would be enough. So, mine is just a short overview of the most popular among Rome attractions.
Rome attractions: an overview
Ancient Rome attractions
One of the first things I do whenever I travel to the eternal city is visiting the ancient Rome attractions. This is easier said than done, as there are way too many places to visit in Rome. A good deal of them, though, are simply unmissable. Luckily enough, many are right next to each other. I know my way around quite well and it is fairly easy for me to go on a self guided walking tour, which can be really pleasant when the sun is out. I pride myself for showing my friends around ancient Rome in just a day!
Among the things to see in Rome, I truly believe that the Colosseum deserves a special mention. This is perhaps among the most well known Rome attractions. Rome’s greatest amphitheater was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and it was the stage of deadly combats between gladiators and wild animals. I love walking around it, finding the perfect spot to take a good photo (I will never share my secret spot!), and visiting the incredible inside.
Right next to the Colosseum, another of the places to visit in Rome is the Arch of Constantine, one of Imperial Rome’s last monuments built in AD 315 before the capital of the Empire was moved to Byzantium. The best views of it are actually from the Colosseum – and from a bit of a distance anyways.
One of the top things to do in Rome, for me, is walking through the Roman Forum, another one of Rome attractions. In the early Republic days this was a chaotic place with food stalls, brothels, as well as temples and the Senate house. Eventually the food stalls were replaced by business centers and law courts and the Forum remained a ceremonial centre under the Empire. There obviously is an entrance fee, but I find this is well worth the price: the site is huge and walking around it feels like walking through history!
I leave a place of honor within ancient Rome attractions to the Forum of Caesar, as it is the first of Rome’s Imperial fora and was built by Julius Caesar to relieve the congestion of the Roman Forum when the population of the city started expanding. The Forum also included a temple dedicated to Venus Genetrix, although all that remains today is a platform and three Corinthian columns.
Another of Rome attractions that I think should not be missed is the Forum of Augustus, built to celebrate Augustus victory over Brutus and Cassius (the assassins of Julius Caesar) in 41 BC.
Trajan’s Forum and Markets well deserves to be mentioned among the places to visit in Rome. This was built by Trajan starting in AD 107 to celebrate the conquer of Dacia (today’s Romania). The site is dominated by Trajan’s Column, which is one of Rome attractions, spiraling up to 30 meters with minutely detailed scenes of the Dacian campaign. I find it interesting to think that the market complex must have been the equivalent of a modern shopping mall, as it had around 150 shops that sold anything from oriental silks to spices, fruits, fish and flowers.
The Palatine is one of the places to visit in Rome – and one of my favorite ones, for history and legend mix well here. According to legend, this hill is where the twins Romulus and Remus were brought up by a wolf and where Romulus, having killed his brother, founded the village that later on became Rome. The Palatine was once the residence of emperors and aristocrats. Among Rome attractions, this is the most pleasant to visit as it is a beautiful, spread site with ruins that range from the simple house in which Augustus is thought to have lived, to the Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana – the public and private wings of a luxurious palace built by Domitian.
Iconic Rome attractions
I would never dare not to include the Pantheon in a list of the most iconic among Rome attractions. I find it simply fascinating. The temple of all the gods is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. The first temple on the site was actually a traditional rectangular building constructed under Agrippa between 27 and 25 BC. The present structure was built under Emperor Hadrian in 118 AD.
What makes the Pantheon one of the top places to visit in Rome is its spectacular structure which I think is better appreciated from the inside. It is a large dome that has a circular opening in the ceiling, which lets light in and gives it a special aura.
Castel Sant’Angelo is one of my favorite places to visit in Rome. It is a massive fortress whose construction started in 139 AD. It was initially intended as Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum but it then became a medieval citadel, a prison and a place of safety for popes during times of political unrest – there is a corridor that connects the Vatican Palace to the Castle and that provided an escape route for popes. This Rome attraction was also the set of Angels and Demons, one of Dan Brown’s novels.
One of my favorite Rome attractions is the Victor Emmanuel Monument, inaugurated in 1911 to celebrate Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. The best view is actually from Piazza Venezia. This is where locals often go to celebrate victories of their football team. I happened to be there in 2006 when Italy won the world football cup and it was – to put it mildly – insane (and a lot of fun!).
The many churches of Rome
There are so many churches in Rome that it would be impossible for me to mention them all. Most of them, however, are rightly included among the top Rome attractions.
Included in the places to visit in Rome there is one place that – technically speaking – isn’t even Rome, although we Italians like to think it is: St Peter’s Basilica. Most of the great architect of the Renaissance and Baroque had a hand in the design of the Basilica, which is the most famous church in Christendom. It is sumptuous and splendid, and inside there are works of Bernini, Michelangelo’s Pietà, Vignola’s cupolas. One of the things I like the most is the view from the summit of the dome. Simply spectacular.
A church that I definitely must mention among Rome attractions is Trinità dei Monti, a 16th century church at the top of the Spanish Steps and from which there are lovely views of Rome.
Santa Maria Maggiore is another of the places to visit on Rome. This church is a good blend of architectural styles – from early Christian to late Baroque. What makes it special among Rome attractions is the mosaics present in the church, which was founded in 420 AD.
One of the most popular churches in Rome is San Giovanni in Laterano. I particularly love this church, as I used to walk by it every single day when I lived in Rome, and I must include it among the places to visit in Rome. San Giovanni in Laterano is the cathedral of Rome, founded by Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century and rebuilt several times. In 1646 Borromini restyled the interior. However, the basilica shape is still the original one.
I only discovered Basilica di San Clemente in 2014, when I moved to Rome from Sardinia and I got word of a church that also had interesting undergrounds. Basilica di San Clemente is among the most interesting Rome attractions. Below the 12th century basilica there’s another church, belonging to the 4th century, and further below a number of even more ancient buildings. Both basilicas are dedicated to St Clement, the fourth pope. Definitely one of the places to visit in Rome.
The fantastic fountains and squares of Rome
One of the most famous scenes of internationally acclaimed Italian director Federico Fellini’s movie La Dolce Vita is set in the Trevi fountain. A beautiful Anita Ekberg jumps in the fountain and invites the handsome but reluctant Marcello Mastroianni to join her. Other movies show all sort of anecdotes about Trevi and other fountains of the eternal city, which remain among Rome attractions.
Piazza di Trevi and its recently restored fountain and the fountain of Piazza di Spagna are among Rome attractions.
One of places to visit in Rome that I particularly enjoy is the beautiful square of Piazza Navona, Rome’s most beautiful Baroque piazza with the fountain, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi – a work of art by Bernini.
I also love Campo de’ Fiori, perhaps my favorite square in Rome and for this reason considered one of the best Rome attractions. This was one of the liveliest and roughest areas of medieval and Renaissance Rome. It is where painter Caravaggio killed a rival after losing a game of tennis on the square. Today, Campo de’ Fiori has a colorful market, trattorias and other lovely restaurants as well as lively bars.
One of the places to visit in Rome is Piazza di Montecitorio is dominated by Palazzo di Montecitorio, designed by Bernini and completed in 1697. It is the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies since the 19th century.
Included in Rome attractions there’s also Piazza Colonna, home to Palazzo Chigi which is the residence of the Italian prime minister and dominated by and named after the majestic column of Marcus Aurelius, erected after his death in 180 AD to commemorate the victories over the Barbarian tribes of the Danube. Hint: it is a clear imitation of Trajan’s Column!
Piazza del Campidoglio, located in the Capitoline Hill, is one of Rome attractions for it was designed by Michelangelo under orders of Pope Paul III Farnese when Emperor Charles V announced he was going to visit Rome.
The fabulous museums of Rome
Among the places to see in Rome, there are some fantastic museums. The Capitoline museums are considered one of Rome attractions, for a collection of classical sculptures is kept there since Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze sculptures to the city of Rome in 1471. These, along with paintings, are kept in two palaces designed by Michelangelo.
Yet, I think that among the things to do in Rome that are an absolute must there is visiting the Vatican Museums. There often are long lines to get in, but it is possible to schedule an appointment. Also, as for every museum in Rome, it is free to get in on the last Sunday of the month. What makes the Vatican Museum the top among Rome attractions is the Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms – real, outwordly works of art – as well as one of the most important world art collections. The museums are housed in palaces originally built for renaissance popes.
These are just a few of the many incredible Rome attractions. As I have already said, it would be impossible to mention them all! The good news in my case is that there are plenty of cheap flights connecting Cagliari, where I live, to Rome and that between those and finding a good deal for a really good hotel with Expedia hotel with Expedia, I can plan a short escape to enjoy more of it!
Have you ever been to Rome? What are your favorite Rome attractions? Let us know in the comments below!
This article forms part of a collaboration with Expedia Ireland.