What To Do In Rome To Avoid The Lines
For as many times as I have been there, I have never had troubles finding what do to in Rome. The range of Rome attractions is just incredible. I don’t think many other places in the world can offer such a great mixture of historical landmarks, archaeological sites, churches, museums, antique and modern art. The only one I can think of is Jerusalem, and even then the Israeli capital, to me, lacks the grandeur that Rome has.
To read more about Jerusalem, check my post “Traditional And Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem.”
But aside from the many things to see in Rome, I enjoy its amazing restaurants and “trattorie” – where the locals enjoy going; I would never stop eating the fantastic street food and gelato; and I find the temper and the dry sense of humor of the locals incredibly funny.
Rome is vibrant and lively; it’s chaotic yet lovely; it’s 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 lived there and could not get enough of it: there’s simply too many places to see in Rome.
There’s only one issue that travelers may have when they visit Rome: it is a major tourist site and Rome attractions do get crowded, with lines that can at times be discouraging and make them regret going, especially if they only have a couple of days to visit. Sure enough, I don’t like waiting in line for hours. But worry not! I know what to do in Rome to avoid the lines and still visit all the iconic attractions.
So, here’s an outline of all the top Rome attractions and a few tips about what to do in Rome to avoid the massive lines.
What To Do In Rome To Avoid The Lines
The Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica
Without the shadow of a doubt, the Vatican is among the top Rome attractions. St. Peter’s Basilica is the most famous church in Christendom. The church is sumptuous and splendid in its Renaissance and Baroque style, and inside there are works of Bernini, Michelangelo’s Pietà, and Vignola’s cupolas.
Right next to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums well deserve to be included in the top places to see in Rome. This is where the Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms are located. They are incredible works of art. The rest of the collection of the Vatican Museums is stunning: some of the most important world art. The museums are housed in palaces originally built for Renaissance popes.
Every time I go to Rome I promise myself that I will pay a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. I have been to the Basilica a few times already, and to the museums once. I would love to go again. But visiting the Vatican isn’t that easy: last time I was in town I saw a line so long that I was completely put off. I could not work out the patience to stand for hours at end – not even if visiting is among the top things to do in Rome.
But I finally realized what to do in Rome to avoid the humongous lines at the Vatican: I can either get a fast track admission online, or I can even opt to skip the line entirely and on top of that, I will even have a guide to take me around. That means saving a lot of time that I can use to explore other Rome attractions, and I don’t even have to print the voucher because mobile vouchers are accepted (I love it when I can save paper).
Unfortunately, these fast track and skip the line tickets don’t include access to St. Peter’s Top of the Dome, one of the most amazing Rome attractions, but I know of a way to get there.
St. Peter’s Top of the Dome
There aren’t many places to get a proper view of Rome. Yet, one of the coolest things to see in Rome is precisely that – a gorgeous panorama. St. Peter’s Top of the Dome has the most spectacular view ever, I think. It shows St. Peter’s Square, Via della Conciliazione, Castel Sant’Angelo and the Tiber River. In other words, it would be a pity to miss it.
The bad news is that there’s always the longest line to reach the elevator that goes all the way to the first level of Dome (and then there’s stairs to get to the top). Last time I went to the Top of the Dome it was 2006 and I remember standing in line for a while, with my ex boyfriend becoming increasingly impatient despite me saying that this was one of the top things to do in Rome.
The good news is that I know exactly what to do in Rome in order to skip this line: it is now finally possible to get online tickets, which can either be printed or saved on the phone. No more excuses not to go!
Castel Sant’Angelo is one of my favorite Rome attractions. 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.
One fun fact about Castel Sant’Angelo is that it was the the set of Angels and Demons, one of Dan Brown’s most famous novels. One more reason to include it in the list of things to see in Rome.
The lines to get inside Castel Sant’Angelo are not nearly as bad as those at St. Peter’s Basilica and at the Vatican. Yet, I’d rather book my ticket in advance and get in through the fast track than have to wait for my turn to then dodge money out of my purse and wait for change. Sure enough, getting a fast track advance ticket to Castel Sant’Angelo is what to do in Rome.
The Capitoline Hill and Museums
Among the places to see in Rome, there are the Capitoline Hill and Museums. The palace was designed by Michelangelo and it is a real work of art in and of itself – easy to see why it is one of the top Rome attractions.
Inside the Capitoline Museums there is a fabulous collection of classical sculptures kept there since Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze sculptures to the city of Rome in 1471. There’s also paintings by Caravaggio.
A guided tour of the Capitoline Hill and Museums generally includes a visit to the St. Mary of Aracoeli Basilica. Buying it online is what to do in Rome in order to skip the line and avoid any hassle.
In proper unsuccessful backpacker style, hitting all the places that many avoid labelling them as “too touristy” and trying to distinguish themselves from tourists and pointing out they are travelers, I would never dream of visiting the Italian capital and skipping what is considered to be one of the top things to see in Rome – the Colosseum.
Learn how to care less about what other travelers think on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”
The Colosseum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the historic center or Rome, is perhaps among the most well known among Rome attractions, the most iconic and photographed one. I still think that not even the best photos do it justice. It is just that beautiful that nobody with a pinch of salt in his brain would dream of skipping it when in Rome.
Yes, the line to get inside the Colosseum is long and if one has limited time in the city, it can be annoying. But once again, I suggest getting online and buying a guided tour (that’s when a guided tour does come in handy!) with a skip the line entrance: this is what to do in Rome in order to enjoy one of its top attractions completely hassle free. The bonus is that the guided tours usually include a visit of the arena floor, of the third tier and even of the undergrounds.
The Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
The Roman Forum is one of the greatest places to see in Rome, and it is located right next to the Colosseum – so most people visit in on the same day. 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.
As this is one of the top Rome attractions, there obviously is an entrance fee to go in – well worth the price in my opinion. However, on certain days the line to get in is long and one my be discouraged. Trust me though, it is worth the effort.
Anyways, if one can’t be fussed standing in line to get a ticket, getting an online ticket for a guided tour and to skip the line is what to do in Rome. The good news is that tours of the Roman Forum sold online are generally sold together with visits to the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, thus allowing the visit of three of the best Rome attractions in one go and skipping the lines for both.
The Palatine is one of my favorite places to see in Rome. 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. Historically speaking, the Palatine was once the residence of emperors and aristocrats.
I certainly wouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit all these top attractions in Rome in one go, especially if I could do it completely hassle free.
Villa and Galleria Borghese
Villa Borghese is one of the most interesting places to see in Rome. The gardens are a truly enchanting place – especially the Pincio terrace. But art lovers also enjoy the incredible art exhibit with paintings and sculptures of Bernini, Canova, Caravaggio and Titian.
Going on a small group tour of Villa and Galleria Borghese is what to do in Rome to fully enjoy this incredible place – not to mention, purchasing the tour in advance allows to save time and to skip the lines at the entrance. They even have VIP tours, for an even more intimate experience.
What to do in Rome for fun
Most people who visit Rome go there to immerse themselves in its incredible history and millenary culture. However, Rome is an incredible vibrant and fun city. Places like Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, Via del Corso are not only among the best Rome attractions, but also the go-to places for a stroll, for a bit of shopping and to enjoy a good gelato (the best gelaterie are Grom in Piazza Navona and Lemon Grass in Via Ottaviano).
But going for a stroll, shopping, eating gelato, going to open air concerts and to the White Night are old classics. So I have put together a short selection of what to do in Rome for fun.
I grew up watching old movies like Roman Holidays and La Dolce Vita, and with the myth of Vespa scooters – I used to have one, but sold it once I moved overseas. Needless to say, going around in a Vespa scooter is what to do in Rome to appreciate the city a bit like the locals do. Vespa Tours can be booked online. Some can be done independently and they include itinerary and maps.
Those who are not too confident to dodge the streets of Rome by themselves can opt for a guided Vespa tour. Personally, I’d prefer that: Rome is huge and it is easy to get lost in the maze of boulevards and narrow alleys. A local guide is bound to take tourists to the places to see in Rome without getting lost.
Other cool tours are the Vintage Vespa one – but it’s only for those who already know how to drive a manual transmission Vespa; and Rome by Night. Considering that public transportation in Rome isn’t the best at night, a night tour may be what to do in Rome to enjoy a bit of sightseeing and nightlife at the same time.
Ape Calessino Tours
One of the most fun things I did in 2016 was touring Sardinia on an Ape Calessino (tuc tuc). I can only imagine how much fun it would be to go around Rome in one and I was really glad to find out that it is now possible to rent Ape Calessino to drive around town – this is certainly what to do in Rome for fun.
To read more about my experience driving a tuc tuc around Sardinia, check my post “Why I toured Sardinia on a tuc tuc.”
Street art spotting
It is only obvious that art galleries rank among the best known Rome attractions. But let’s face it: art can at times be a bit boring. I enjoy a museum every now and then, but I find street art and urban renovation projects to be more fun – even if only because they need to be discovered throughout a city.
Going to Quadraro is what to do in Rome to admire some incredible street art projects. This part of town is not nearly as touristy as the rest, so the benefits in going are many: it is local, it is free and it is fun.
Off-The-Beaten Track Tours
All travelers like going local – including a proper tourist like myself. But in a city like Rome this isn’t exactly easy, because it is huge and extremely touristy. The good news is that there is a company, called Withlocals, that offers off-the-beaten track tours guides by a local. This is definitely what to do in Rome if wanting to learn a bit more about the culture and way of life of its people (without getting lost).
If there is one thing that I truly enjoy in Rome, that’s eating. I am not even a foodie at all, but the food in Rome is heavenly. Whether eating at a fine restaurant or at a local trattoria; grabbing gelato on the go; biting into some street food it’s really hard to go wrong. Going on a food tour is what to do in Rome to enjoy all of its flavor.
The good news is that there’s a variety of tours that can all be bought online. There’s wine and food tasting tours; beer and food tasting tours; day tours and evening tours; Michelin stars food tours for extremely refined palates; Withlocals Roman Food Tour: the 10 tastings (I’d personally opt for this: eating street food is what to do in Rome!). They even organize food tours based on location – Testaccio food tour and Trastevere food tour are just two examples.
What to do in Rome if on a low budget
I won’t deny it: Rome isn’t exactly a budget friendly destination. Any long term traveler will agree with me if I say that the best way to travel on a budget is to travel slow and spend longer in a place. Flash packers who only have a few days to enjoy Rome attractions are bound to book hotels in the city center, to eat out all the time and will benefit from all the skip the line tickets.
However, I also know what to do in Rome when on a tight budget. My first advice is to rent an apartment rather than go to a hotel or bed and breakfast. That means having a kitchen and being able to cook, thus saving massively on meals – besides it is fun to shop for groceries in the many markets of Rome and to cook using fresh local produce.
I know that eating out is one of the most fun things to do in Rome, and it is still possible to do so – eating in trattorie or gorging on street food is what to do in Rome in this case.
The good news is that there’s a wide range of Rome attractions that are completely free to visit. All the squares in Rome can be accessed for free. Going to places like Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza di Trevi (with its famous fountain) and even Piazza Venezia with its view of Campidoglio is what to do in Rome to enjoy free attractions.
Churches – which are among the best Rome attractions – are also free to visit (at times there is a really small fee to access the cloister).
But there’s more: a bunch of museums and other Rome attractions, including the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine, and Castel Sant’Angelo – are free on the first Sunday of each month. The entire list can be seen here: it’s in Italian (no equivalent on the English version of the site) but it is rather self explanatory. Of course, free access implies waiting in line to get in, but if time is not an issue this is definitely what to do in Rome if on a tight budget.
Where to stay in Rome
As any proper tourist destination, Rome has a wealth of accommodation options that range from budget backpacker hostels, to holiday rentals, guest houses and bed and breakfasts, hotels and luxury hotels. Choosing where to stay in Rome is more a matter of location than anything else – checking what unmissable Rome attractions are nearby may be a good way to select a hotel.
I find that staying in the area around Vittorio Emanuele metro station is what to do in Rome to have easy access to a number of attractions, including the Coliseum which is a bit of a walk, but totally doable, and San Giovanni in Laterano Church. Not to mention my favorite restaurant in town (Trattoria Vecchia Roma) is located there. A good place to stay in Vittorio Emanuele is Zefiro Home.
If the Vatican is one of the top things to see in Rome, the Orange Garden B&B may literally be the top choice. I stayed there during one of my last visits in Rome and the view of the Dome of the Vatican from the dining room is simply stunning.
How to get to Rome
As one of the world’s most visited city, Rome is really easy to get to. There are two airports: Fiumicino, which is the main airport, a bit outside of Rome; and Ciampino, which is closer to the center and used by budget airlines.
While there are no trains connecting Ciampino to Rome city center, getting the train from Fiumicino to Roma Termini Station is what to do in Rome to get there on the cheap – a one-way ticket costs €14.00 euro. Tickets can be bought online on Trenitalia website, or directly at the station.
An even cheaper way to get from either Fiumicino or Ciampino airport to the center of Rome (where all Rome attractions are located) is via bus or shuttle. Tickets can be bought directly online. There’s even shuttle and transfer services connecting Civitavecchia (the nearest port) to Rome – they also can be bought online.
Best time to visit Rome
If you ask me, it is always a good time to visit Rome. Yet, there are some months where Rome attractions are even more crowded than usual. I tend to avoid the summer months for example, because it is too hot and there are too many tourists (and even if I can get skip the lines tickets, I still don’t enjoy a place when it is too crowded).
I find that going in October is what do in Rome to be able to enjoy great weather, less tourists and all that the city has to offer.
Have you ever been to Rome? What are your recommendations on what to do in Rome to fully enjoy it and to avoid the lines?