Rome is an endlessly fascinating city.
From the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica to the iconic Colosseum, it is home to some of Italy’s most famous landmarks. Echoes of Ancient Rome resound in its cobbled streets.
Whilst one trip is never going to be enough to visit all of Rome’s must-see sights, you can certainly give it your best shot. So why not make it easy on yourself and hit the ground running with a travel guide to the best things to do in the Eternal City?
Whether you are a first-time visitor or are on a return trip, have the best time ever with this ultimate Rome bucket list.
Some articles on this website contain affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read the full disclosure here.
Top 10 Rome Experiences for Your Bucket List
1. Visit the Colosseum (Colosseo)
The majesty of the Colosseum is hard to beat.
It opened for business in 80 AD with a jamboree during which 5,000 animals met their maker in a single day. Over the succeeding 500 years, this 55,000-seat stadium was Ancient Rome’s most magnificent entertainment venue.
The Colosseum was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.
2. Walk in the footsteps of Ancient Romans at the Forum
For me, the Roman Forum (Foro Romano) is one of the most evocative places in Rome.
Built in a marshy valley between the Capitoline and Palatine hills, the Forum became the heart of civic and political life in the Roman Empire. Its fragmented pillars and stones stand as a romantic testament to the glory days of this once-powerful state.
3. Marvel at the Pantheon
The Pantheon is one of Rome’s most awe-inspiring buildings.
It started life in 27 BC as a temple built by Marcus Agrippa, Emperor Augustus’s son-in-law and right-hand man. After it was destroyed by fire, the present temple was built in AD 119-28 by Emperor Hadrian, retaining Agrippa’s original inscription on the pediment.
In 609 AD the empty Pantheon was consecrated to Christianity, becoming the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. It is the final resting place of the great and good of Italy, including the artist Raphael and kings Vittorio Emmanuele II and Umberto I.
4. Visit St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro)
The UNESCO World Heritage site of St. Peter’s Basilica barely needs an introduction. Said to be built on the site where St. Peter was buried, this is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
It’s an essential part of your itinerary, regardless of your length of stay in Rome.
Emperor Constantine built the first church here in 326 AD, which was rebuilt between 1506 and 1626. Michelangelo played a big part in its design, and the basilica is famous for his dome and intensely moving Pietà.
5. See the Last Judgement at the Sistine Chapel
One of Michelangelo’s most celebrated works is housed in the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani).
The showstopper of its Sistine Chapel is his The Last Judgement, widely held to be one of the greatest works in the history of art. Over 300 muscular figures fill the rear wall of the chapel to its edges, their fate determined.
It’s powerful stuff.
6. Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain
Is throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain super-touristy? Yes. Should you do it? Absolutely.
Described by Charles Dickens as ‘silvery to the eye and ear,’ the Fontana di Trevi is Rome’s most magnificent fountain. Tradition says that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain you will return to Rome.
All I can say is that it has worked for me.
7. Hang out with the beautiful people at the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps, connecting Piazza di Spagna with the church of Trinità dei Monti, is another of Rome’s most famous sights.
Tourism to this area is not a new phenomenon. Piazza di Spagna has been popular with foreigners since the early 16th Century and was later the headquarters of the English Romantic poets (Keats died in a house on the square).
To this day, the Spanish Steps are a popular meeting place.
8. Walk across the bridge to Castel Sant’Angelo
One of the best ways to get to know the Eternal City is to walk along the Tiber River, exploring Rome’s bridges. Lined with a parade of Baroque sculptures, Ponte Sant’Angelo is one of its most magnificent bridges.
It leads to Castel Sant’Angelo on the left bank of the river. Staring life in 130 AD as a mausoleum for Hadrian and his family, this has served as an imperial tomb, papal fortress, medieval prison and army barracks.
READ THIS NEXT: 20 Beautiful Bridges of Rome
9. Take in the view from the Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci)
The Orange Garden was one of the first places my Roman friends took me to appreciate the beauty of their city. It was an excellent choice.
From its vantage point on the Aventine Hill, there are panoramic views of Rome. Parco Savello, as it is officially known, was established in 1932 for the adjacent church of Santa Sabina,
This tranquil public garden, planted with orange and pine trees, is free to enter.
10. Stop for coffee in Piazza Navona
This certainly will not be the cheapest coffee you will drink in Rome but it will come with one of the city’s best views. Piazza Navona is a triumph of Bernini’s Baroque style and is dominated by his Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).
And it is here that the spirit of Rome is best illustrated.
Piazza Navona was originally a Roman circus, as evidenced by its unusual elongated shape. Over the succeeding centuries, it has successfully adapted to the sensibilities of the day.
Artistic Treasures for your Rome Bucket List
11. See the best sculptures in Rome at the Capitoline Museum (Musei Capitolini)
Amongst their artistic treasures are the famous Spinario and the She-Wolf of Rome.
12. Meet Michelangelo’s Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli
The charming San Pietro in Vincoli gets its name from the chains (vincoli) that were said to have bound St. Peter when he was held in the Mamertine prison. You can see these chains beneath the high altar.
But the church is best known as the home of Michelangelo’s majestic sculpture of Moses, designed for the ill-fated tomb of Pope Julius II. If you are visiting Florence, you can see the unfinished Prisoners sculptures that were also destined for this tomb in the Galleria Accademia.
13. Go on a Caravaggio trail in Rome
Caravaggio is the Baroque painter most closely associated with Rome. He lived and worked in Rome for 15 years and you can find more than 20 of his artworks across the city.
His dramatically lit and emotionally-charged paintings number among the greatest works in the history of Western art. Here is where you can find them in Rome:
- Borghese Gallery
- St. Luigi dei Francesi (Church of St. Louis of the French)
- Doria Pamphilj Gallery
- Vatican Museums, Pinacoteca Gallery
- Palazzo Barberini
- Capitoline Museums
- Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
- Basilica di Sant’Agostino
- Galleria Corsini
- Villa Aurora
- Church of Saint Mary Immaculate
14. Gawp at the artistic masterpieces of the Galleria Borghese
Villa Borghese was the 17th Century summer retreat for Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Today it is home to Galleria Borghese which has a first-class collection of paintings and sculptures.
As well as masterpieces by Caravaggio, there are works by Bernini, Raphael and Titian, to name but a few.
15. Visit Santa Maria Maggiore for its glittering mosaics
Daily Mass has been celebrated at Santa Maria Maggiore since the 5th Century. It is Rome’s finest Early Christian basilica.
Its coffered ceiling is gilded with the first gold brought back from the New World by Christopher Columbus. Glittering mosaics cover the basilica’s naves, the triumphal arch and the apse.
16. Or see the mosaics in Santa Maria in Trastevere
If you are not churched out, add Santa Maria in Trastevere to your Rome bucket list.
Whilst most of this building dates from the 1140s, the original church began as early as 222, making it the first to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This is a treasure trove of mosaics, including the Life of Mary by Cavallini in the apse.
More Items for Your Rome Bucket List
17. Smell the flowers in Campo dei Fiori
If you want to visit an area in Rome that has managed to retain a local flavour, visit Campo dei Fiori and the surrounding streets.
Literally meaning ‘field of flowers,’ Campo dei Fiori was formerly a meadow that became one of the most important squares in Rome in the 15th Century. From 1869 until the present day, it has been a lively fruit and vegetable market, with flowers of course.
18. Walk around the Jewish Ghetto
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto is one of the city’s treasures and a personal favourite.
Established in 1555 by Pope Paul IV, it is through to be the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world. Until 1849, the city’s Jewish population was obliged to live within the ghetto and were not allowed to carry out any kind of trade, except those related to rags and clothing.
Take a stroll through this charming neighbourhood, check out Bernini’s Turtle Fountain and visit the magnificent synagogue (Tempio Maggiore). The ghetto is also home to Ancient Roman monuments, including Portico d’Ottavia and Teatro Marcello.
19. Dive into Rome’s pagan past at San Clemente
Few places encapsulate Rome’s rich history better than the Basilica of San Clemente. This is not one, but two superimposed churches.
Its lower church is home to the best preserved of the 12 Mithraic temples in Rome. Mithraism was a popular pre-Christian pagan cult.
The upper church dates from 1108 and is a typical basilica, almost untouched since it was built
20. Stop and smell the roses at il Roseto di Roma
For a classic view of Rome, visit the fragrant Rose Garden on the slopes of the Aventine hill.
This lovely public garden is home to over 1,000 species of roses from across the globe and is open during spring flowering (late April to May) and during autumn flowering in October. Entry is free.
21. See where Julius Caesar met his fate
Home to four Roman temples, Largo di Torre Argentina is one of Rome’s most historic squares. It is most famous as the place where Julius Caesar was fatally stabbed on the Ides of March in 44 B.
Today, Largo di Torre Argentina is where you will find Rome’s cat sanctuary (Il Santuario dei Gatti di Torre Argentina).
22. Submerge yourself in the most luxurious baths in Ancient Rome
Built in the 3rd Century AD near the Appian Way, the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla) could accommodate as many as 1,600 bathers at a time. They were the largest and most spectacular baths in Ancient Rome.
Amongst these vast and crumbling sun-baked ruins are sea-themed mosaics.
23. Go underground at the catacombs
The Baths of Caracalla are close to the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica), an ancient road that linked Rome with Capua, a city 14 miles north of Naples.
It is honeycombed with catacombs used by early Christians as underground cemeteries outside the city walls.
Visiting these Roman catacombs on a guided tour is fascinating and the two most important are the Catacombs of San Sebastiano and the Catacombs of San Callisto.
24. See Rome’s most macabre sight at the Capuchin Crypt
Are you ready for a slightly bizarre piece of interior design?
In the five underground chapels of Santa Maria della Concezione (Church of the Cappucin) are the bones and skeletons of more than 4,000 Capuchin monks, arranged in patterns.
For the Capuchin order, this is a poignant reminder of our mortality and the passage of life on earth. For me, it was an unforgettable sight.
25. Take a day trip to Ostia Antica
This Rome bucket list item requires a short train journey but it’s well worth the effort.
Located 15 miles southwest of Rome, Ostia Antica is one of Italy’s best-preserved Roman towns. It thrived as Ancient Rome’s port until the loss of trade, increased prevalence of malaria and the decline of the Empire brought about its demise.
Among its many highlights are spectacular mosaics, multi-storey apartment blocks, warehouses and a 4,000-seat amphitheatre.
Fun Things to Do in Rome
26. Test your trustworthiness at la Bocca della Verità
If you have ever watched the classic movie Roman Holiday – and you should – you may remember that scene where the two main characters gingerly place their hands into the mouth of a stone sculpture.
This weather-beaten sculpture is the face of the sea god Oceanus, known as la Bocca della Verità, or The Mouth of Truth. It is said that if a liar places their hand in the mouth, they will lose it.
You will find la Bocca della Verità in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
27. Take a ride on a Vespa
28. Feast on artichokes in the Ghetto
I never knew that artichokes could taste so good until I stopped for lunch at one of the Ghetto’s restaurants.
The restaurants in this district specialise in carciofi alla Giudia, Jewish style deep fried artichokes. Although they are served in trattoria across Rome, they are at their best in the Jewish Ghetto.
29. Learn more about Italian food
If you want to learn more about Italian food, either join a food walking tour with a local or take an Italian cooking class.
Cooking classes are very sociable experiences and give you the chance to recreate part of your Roman holiday in your own home. I fancy this pasta and tiramisu workshop where you get to enjoy the fruits of your labour over a few glasses of red.
30. Walk along the River Tiber at sunset
Finally, for a view that will burn itself onto your retina long after the sun has set, take a walk along the Tiber at dusk. As you watch the sun go down over the dome of St Peter’s, you may never want to return home.
And that’s a wrap. I hope that this inspires you to build your own Rome bucket list. For further inspiration check out my hand-picked selection of dreamy Rome quotes.