Rome, known as the eternal city, is one of the most visited places on earth. Not only is it Italy’s capital but it’s a sprawling, sophisticated city that has almost 3,000 years of history, architecture, and culture. There is certainly no shortage of things to do in Rome.
The city itself evokes such a deep sense of power, stature, and beauty. It’s nearly impossible to not be enthralled by it.
Famous landmarks like the Forum and the Colosseum are a sign of the power left behind from the former Roman Empire who founded the city around 753BC. Today, these landmarks still give us a sense of awe and wonder. Their sheer beauty and scale continue to be marvels of even our modern world. To top it off almost smack-dab in the middle of Rome is the Vatican, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City is home to St.Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums – which houses some of the most famous masterpieces in existence. Pieces like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s The School of Athens.
So why is Rome labeled as the Eternal City? Well, ancient Romans had a belief that no matter what occurred in the world or how many empires would rise and fall, Rome would go on to live forever. They were right. Rome continues to remain one of the most vibrant cities in the world and is a leading tourist destination in Europe (being the 3rd most visited).
It seems like Rome gets better with age.
My first visit to Rome was in high school. We took a grade twelve trip to Europe in and got to experience some of the places on this list. I had no idea there were so many different things to do in Rome. My second visit would be five years later. That visit came with a plethora of anticipation and excitement. Due to my love of the city and the anxiety that comes with trying to plan everything to do in Rome that you want when your visit is only 24 hours.
My high school trip was the first time I had ever left the country, or flown on a plane. I was both nervous and excited to experience what the rest of the world was like. Rome remains one of my favourite destinations in the world. Like I mentioned, it is enthralling. It’s culture, history, architecture, food, and people completely blew me away and immediately stole a piece of me. A piece which it will hold forever.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that my passion for Roman mythology was suddenly brought to life by the scenery. Or perhaps it was because it was one of my first experiences abroad. Either way, Rome lives up to all of the names it has been given over the years. And will (to me) remain not just an Eternal City by the Eternal City.
One that might one day capture a small piece of you too.
Planning a trip there is one of the most enjoyable and sometimes stressful experiences. There are so many things to do in Rome, to see in Rome and to experience in Rome. How do you decide what takes precedence? That’s where our list of Things To Do In Rome comes in. Although, we must warn you that a few of these are only free during certain times or for certain activities. So if you want a full-scale experience of them it may come with a small charge. But trust us, these small charges are 100% worth it.
1) The Colosseum
Naturally, the first place on our list of things to do in Rome has to be the Colosseum. Built between 72AD and 80AD the Colosseum could hold up to 80,000 spectators (with an average of 65,000). It’s also the largest amphitheater ever built by the Roman Empire. With over 80 arched entrances, it has survived earthquakes and fires, has housed gladiator fights, bullfights and was once sanctioned as a sacred site by Pope Benedict XIV.
The Colosseum is arguably the number one place people think about when they talk about things to do in Rome. It is completely free to walk around the exterior of the amphitheater the interior does have a small fee.
Just outside of the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. This monument is over 20m high and features three main arches, with the middle being the tallest. Used by emperor’s when returning to the city after a triumph, it was built around 315AD in honor of one of Constantine’s victories. The arch is another one of the free things to do in Rome, but generally, goes hand in hand with visiting the exterior for the Colosseum.
Touring the inside of the Colosseum is well worth your time.
For a small fee (around 12 Euro) you can take step back in time. You can pay a little more for a guided tour and they will explain the history of the Colosseum to you. Should you decide you want to see more, you can pay for a more in-depth visit that takes you through ‘Gladiator’s Gate.’ An entrance that real gladiators once used. You can explore the tunnels where they prepared for fights and where lions and tigers were once caged. On top of that, you will see other normally off-bound areas like the Arena floor and the third tier of the Colosseum (the highest existing level). Tickets give you access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill as well (we will get to those soon). So it’s a 3-1 kinda deal!
You can decide whether you want to experience the interior of the Colosseum for a cost or visit just the exterior for free. Our recommendation? Pay for a little extra access to view the entire Colosseum, hey when in Rome!
Tips for visiting the Colosseum:
- Book your tickets in advance, only a certain amount of people are allowed in the Colosseum at one time. It is best to book in advance, arrive early and pay to ‘skip the line’ if possible.
- Tickets to the Colosseum include access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill as well. So don’t buy tickets for all three destinations, there’s no need.
- The Colosseum offers free entry on the first Sunday of the month. But expect REALLY long queues, and chance to res no there are no reservations.
- There are people dressed up as gladiators outside of the Colosseum if you want to take photos with them, these are not free! So beware.
2) Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
Step back in time by walking through the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Of all the things to do in Rome, these two are some of the most interesting because you get to truly walk where Ancient Romans did. You get a small taste of what it could have been like to have lived in Rome during those times. It’s such a unique and mind-blowing experience that you are bound not to forget.
While the Roman Forum can be viewed free from ‘above’ the excavation site, there is not as much to see from above as there is walking through it. Which seems obvious? However, it is still amazing to see from above and see the sheer scale. But it’s well worth it to pay the price for the 12 Euro ticket we mentioned before. It’s one of those cool experiences to do in Rome that really get you up close and personal with the buildings and sculptures.
The Forum quickly became a social and political hub for the Roman Empire after it was first developed in the 7th century BC.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the forum was slowly covered with earth and buried and became a pasture for cattle. It was uncovered and excavated around 1898 and was reconstructed in 1937.
Home to many iconic and historically important artifacts – one of which is the Lapis Niger, a large piece of black marble that apparently covers the tomb of Romulus, the founder of Rome. It is also home to the Arch of Septimius Severus. This arch was built in dedication to Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons for their victory over the Parthian Empire. Triumphantly standing on the NW end of the Forum, the arch is built from white marble in 203AD.
But there’s much more than just an arch, there are a plethora of temples and ruins.
Like the Temple of Antonius & Faustina, the Tempio della Concordia, the Tempio di Vespasiano and the Portico degli Dei Consenti – just to name a few. Arguably, one of the most interesting places is the Temple of Divus Iulius – where Julius Caesar is said to be buried. To this day people continue to place flowers on the remains of the altar of Julius Caesar. Don’t forget to visit the Arch of Titus which is located just to the SE of the Forum. This arch dates back to 82AD and features a plethora of spectacular carvings. It was also an inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Palatine Hill is one of those places you have to do in Rome that a lot of people seem to forget about. It seems to get overshadowed by the Colosseum and the Forum. The hill towers over the Forum and can be seen from a distance. This was once the home of Emperors and aristocrats, was the site of many temples, and was the birthplace of the legend of Romulus and Remus. The legend of Romulus and Remus (who were twin brothers) is the events that led up to the founding of Rome by Romulus (the home of Romulus).
You’ll find the ruins of Flavian Palace and the House of Augustus along with the Stadium of Domitian and the Hut of Romulus. Palatine Hill is unique due to it being more of a green haven, where flowers grow between the ruins and small animals can be seen prancing around. This hill remained a sort-after neighborhood. Many Emporers and wealthy Romans lived in luxurious villas with private botanical gardens.
Tip for visiting the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
- While walking through the Forum, look closely at the tops of some of the columns (particularly on the Temple of Antonius & Faustina). You’ll see what looks like a circular cut-out around the columns. These are traces of the ropes that were used during one of the many attempts to pull down the columns to be re-used. Obviously, these attempts failed. A sign of the incredible engineering of the ancient Romans.
- Start by visiting Palatine Hill, then the Roman Forum, lastly the Colosseum. Palatine Hill gives you a great view from above of the Forum and the Forum exit is on the Colosseum side, which is an exit only. Viewing the sites this way is a smoother transition.
- Purchase tickets at the Roman Forum or Palatine Hill, the ticket lines tend to be much shorter than at the Colosseum. However, if you buy your ticket online you cannot get an audio guide from the Palatine Hill entrance. You will have to get them at the Roman Forum entrance.
- Give yourself a full day to visit all three locations. The morning for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill followed by the afternoon at the Colosseum. Or separate them into two mornings to avoid crowds. Tickets typically are valid for two days.
3) Trevi Fountain
Next up on our list of free things to do in Rome, is the ever-so-famous Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s most iconic landmarks and can be dated back to 1732 when construction began. It was later completed in 1762 and has since remained an integral part of Roman architecture and culture.
Did you know? Each year, over 3,000 coins are thrown into the Trevi Fountain, which usually amounts to almost 1.4 million euros. All of which is donated to charity.
Why and how do visitors throw coins in the fountain? Traditional legend states; if a visitor throws a coin over their right shoulder into the fountain, they are ensured to return to Rome one day. It is illegal to remove these coins from the fountain, although there are apparently a lot of attempts to do so anyway.
Tip for visiting the Trevi Fountain:
- The earlier in the day you go the better – there will be way fewer crowds. Same with the later you go in the day. The fountain does have LED’s installed so at night it is lit beautifully.
- Due to the crowds, there can be a lot of pick-pocketers. So it’s important to protect your gear and valuables.
- When asking someone to take a photo of you try to find another tourist, there are people who will offer but will end up trying to sell you the picture instead.
The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved of all the Ancient Roman buildings we get the pleasure of seeing today. It was a temple long ago and now acts as a church. Not only is it one of the coolest things to do in Rome, but there’s a great gelato shop right next door! Win-win.
Dating back to 113AD, somewhere around 6 million people visit this site each year! It features a large circular domed ceiling with an opening in the top giving you a view of the sky and providing natural light. They say the dome remains one of the world’s largest unreinforced concrete domes in the world, almost two thousand years after it was built! The front of the building has your typical Roman column styling.
The Pantheon has been destroyed twice by fire, once in 80AD and another in 110AD after it was rebuilt. Then in 202AD, the building was repaired by Septimius Severus and one of his sons. It became a church around 609 and is arguably one of the reasons that this building has been so well maintained and cared for. It’s the site of many important burials including famous painter Raphael (School of Athens) and Annibale Carracci (Assumption of the Virgin Mary), as well as two Italian kings. There are a total of seven people buried in the Pantheon.
Tips for visiting the Pantheon:
- Cremeria Monteforte. The best gelato shop I think I have ever found. Locals swear by it and it is right beside the Pantheon! When you exit the Pantheon head to your left and circle round the building. You’ll see it on your right side. Literally opposite of the Pantheon’s left side.
- There is absolutely no fee to visit! But it is a busy place, so be warned and protect your valuables.
- It is very easy to walk from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon and vice versa. It should take you all of ten minutes! When exiting the Pantheon go to the right and walk down Via del Seminario to Via del Corso. Turn left on Via del Corso until you reach Via di Pierta and then take a right. Follow that straight until you find the fountain!
5) Vatican Museums
Are you wondering why the Vatican Museums is on a list of free things to do in Rome when it clearly isn’t free? Well, you would be wrong to assume it wasn’t one of the free things to do in Rome! We have to warn you though, in order to get it free you need to line up EARLY and expect to be in a VERY LONG queue. Not to mention you would have to plan your visit according to specific times of the year. So you really need to be dedicated to visiting the museums free. But if you are looking to save some money it might be worth adjusting those dates!
Every last Sunday of the month (subject to museum openings/closings) and World Tourism Day (September 27th) offer free entry. FREE. Otherwise, tickets will only cost you 16 Euros when you buy in person, try to buy in person instead of online as it costs an extra 4 Euro to buy from the Vatican Museums website. However, if you really hate waiting in the line-up it might be worth it to just spend the extra 4 Euro.
There is a total of 70,000 works in the museum, 20,000 of which are displayed in 54 galleries.
The Sistine Chapel is the most notable. It was established in 1506 and receives over 6 million visitors a year. There are works from artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, Caravaggio, and the ever-so-famous Michelangelo.
The first time I visited the museums, I got extremely lucky and was one of the most memorable days in my life. I had literally 24 hours to see and do everything in Rome. And I was determined to do so. I managed to walk over 40,000 steps in one day. The Vatican Museums was a huge must-do on my list. So I got up extremely early with a friend of mine and we headed to the museum. To find a massive line-up wrapped around the building. We were blown away by the line and had no idea why it was so long. Assuming the museums were just THAT popular, we lined up.
Halfway through our nearly 1.5hr wait (which is a modest wait and we arrived around 8am), we found out the line was long because the entry was FREE. We were about to enter one of the most spectacular museums in the world without spending a penny. We toured through the museums and saw some of the greatest works of all-time, including the Sistine Chapel. Even though I am not religious, I grew up in the Catholic church. And the sheer beauty of this work and the respect I felt for it.
My eye welled up with tears of joy, excitement, and awe. It was overwhelming in the most unexpected way.
After stepping out of the busy chapel, we headed to St.Peter’s square for one last look of the Vatican. Only to find the Pope speaking to the square. THE POPE. Never in my wildest dreams had I imaged I would be seeing the Pope with my own eyes in a square in Italy filled with thousands of people. Each Sunday the Pope speaks from his window overlooking the square and says the Angelus Prayer. Again, my eyes welled up with tears. The feeling over thousands of people rejoicing in something together is exceptionally overpowering and overwhelming.
It was one of the most magical days of my life. One I will never forget.
Tips for visiting the Vatican Museums:
- Give yourself around 2-3 hours to visit the entire museum, it’s much larger than you think and is a very busy place. Especially if you go on a free day.
- You HAVE to cover yourself otherwise they will not let you in. Which means NO bare knees (skirts and shorts should cover your knees, even if they just reach the top the guards may not let you in), NO bare midriffs and NO bare shoulders. Bring pants and a sweater to switch into if need be. You don’t need to dress fancy, just cover up modestly. They are very strict about this rule.
- Due to the large crowds pick-pocketing is common, so watch your belongings closely.
- On the free Sundays the museum closes at 2pm with the last entry at 12:30. So MAKE SURE if you want to go free you line up well before 9am. BE WARNED – free days are ALWAYS the busiest, so if you choose to do this just know that the crowds will be exceptionally large.
6) St. Peters Basilica And St. Peters Square
St. Peters Basilica is essentially the headquarters of the Catholic Church. Technically it is not something to do in Rome, rather it is something to do in The Vatican, which is its own country. Construction started as early as 349AD on the ‘first church,’ however, this fell into ruin. Restoration started in 1509 and went through a plethora of updates throughout the years all the way up until 1626 with the square being completed around 1667.
Lines for getting into the Basilica can be very long as well, but most people will do the museums and St.Peter’s in one day. The time it would take you to do both depends on you, some people may take 3 hours while some may take 6. So plan to visit these areas for a full day just to be safe. The same dress code applies here as with the Vatican Museums, dress modestly and cover your knees, midriff, and shoulders.
Within the Basilica itself, you can see famous works like Michelangelo’s Pieta (which is behind bulletproof glass after a visitor in the 70’s attacked it with a hammer) and St. Peters Baldachin which was completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. Peter’s Baldachin is a large sculptured canopy that stands almost 96 feet tall, despite looking smaller under the large dome it sits under. It is believed that this structure stands on top of the burial site of St.Peter himself, the first Pope and one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ. Some bones were later found in a church in Rome that were said to be some of St. Peter’s as well, you can read a little about it here.
If you want one of the best views in Rome, climb to the top of the dome!
This is not free, it is a ticketed option but is well worth the visit as not many visitors realize you can go to the top of the massive dome. It costs 7 Euros to take the elevator and 5 Euros to take the 551 steps. Honestly, the steps are worth the effort! It is such a unique experience to be so close and personal with such spectacular architecture. Sure, you’ll be tired but it will be worth your time.
You’ll reach the first platform which will give you a view of the main altar from above and you can see some of the mosaics from up close. Continuing up the stairs the doom proceeds through some progressively narrowing and sloping stairs. Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with an amazing view of Rome, St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Gardens.
Along with a unique view of the 140 Angelic statues placed along the top of the building and square.
The last thing to see in the Basilica is the Vatican Grottoes. The Grottoes extend beneath the Basilica and contain tombs of numerous popes including John Paul II. You can enter the Grottoes from the Pier of St. Andrew which is near the high altar. There are said to be around 91 Popes buried here as well as some Queen and Stuarts. It is one of the most visited places in the Vatican. You must remain completely silent while in the tombs, photos are not allowed either. Try and do the Grottoes last, as you will exit the Basilica at the end.
Once outside, take the time to explore St. Peter’s Square. Take in the beautiful fountains and what the view of the Basilica looks like from below.
Tips for visiting St. Peters Basilica:
- Dress modestly, cover shoulders, knees, and midriff completely. They are VERY strict about this. You don’t know if you are dress acceptably until you reach the door after waiting in line. So don’t risk it.
- Visit the Museums first, they tend to be busier than the Basilica.
- Having a Guidebook isn’t a bad idea if you want to really learn about everything in the Basilica as tours can get pricey. Alternatively, take a photo of the map just outside of the Basilica doors, so you know where you’re going.
- Explore the interior of the Basilica first, then the dome, and finish off with the Grottoes for a smoother visit.
7) Piazza Navona
Of all the things to do in Rome, this is a great place to slow it down. The Piazza Navona is essentially Rome in all its glory. Riddled with tourists, artists, street performers, priests, shops, restaurants, and classic Roman architecture and fountains – the Piazza Navona screams Rome.
It has had a reputation as one of the most vibrant outdoor hubs in Rome and really holds up to that name. The second time I visited Rome I stumbled upon it by accident, a very happy accident. I instantly recalled where I was and was filled with a sense of pure joy. Bernini is one of my favourite artists, so to see the Fountain of the Four Rivers in all it’s glory strikes something in me that I can’t describe. There are two lesser known fountains in the Piazza on the opposite side, they were built as a way to ‘balance’ the Piazza.
Within the Piazza Navona is also Sant’Agnese in Agone. A 17th-century Baroque style church. It faces directly into the Piazza and is where the Saint Agnes was apparently martyred in the ancient Stadium of Domitian (which the Piazza is built upon and was once a placed where chariot races and other contests were held). Bernini’s rival Francesco Borromini was the main architect for the Sant’Agnese in Agone. Inside the church, you can see the fresco the Assumption of Mary and the skull of Saint Agnes.
Piazza Navona is a colourful hub that is bustling with life and culture.
Grab a coffee at one of the many restaurants and just slow it down. Take in the hustle and bustle of life in Rome.
Tips for visiting the Piazza Navona:
- Resturants can be expensive in the Piazza. So be prepared to spend a little extra if you choose to eat or grab a coffee here
- The Piazza Navona is located not far from the Pantheon. So it would make sense to go from the Piazza Navona, to the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain. They’re all within walking distance.
8) Altare Della Patria
The Altare Della Patria is a pretty difficult thing to miss when wandering around finding things to do in Rome. Mainly because it of it’s sheer size and stature.
Plans began for the building in 1885 and construction started in 1911 and was completed in 1925. The building itself screams Rome, with giant columns, fountains and a large equestrian sculpture and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on a chariot with four horses. It was built to honour the first king of a unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.
Most tourists tend to just admire the sheer scale and beauty of the exterior of the building. But inside there is a museum dedicated to Italian unification. Visitors can also climb or take a lift to the top of the building to get panoramic views of the city.
Tips for visiting the Altare Della Patria
- The Altare is not far from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It’s also within walking distance of the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon. You can head from the Trevi Fountain towards the Altare by going towards the Piazza Venezia. Walk along Via di S. Vincenzo away from the fountain and continue straight. Turn right down the Via Quattro Novembre, you will reach the Piazza Venezia with a few blocks.
- Guards may ask you not to sit on the steps of the building
9) Castel Sant’Angelo & Ponte Sant’Angelo Bridge
Located not far from the Vatican, the Castel Sant’Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo Bridge is a beautiful combination of Roman architecture. Construction began in 135AD and was meant to be a monumental tomb for Emperor Hadrian and his family. However, he died before it’s completion. Emperor Antoninus Pius completed it and his son Caracalla was buried in it. The bridge was built across the Tiber river as a way to connect land to the building.
On the top of the Castel is Hadrian, dressed as a god riding a bronze four-horse chariot. Over time the purpose of the building changed, and in the Middle Ages, it was transformed into a fortress. But it would change a few times after that as well. Tunnels were built underneath and were connected to the Vatican. This gave Popes a safe escape route in case of danger (named Passetto di Borgo). These tunnels were used several times throughout history. Eventually, in the 16th century, Bernini changed the whole scene and reinvented the bridge, which was renamed the Ponte Sant’Angelo Bridge. He sculpted ten angels for the bridge, each carries a symbol of the passion of Christ.
The bridge was used in Tom Hanks thriller Angels and Demons, among other locations. If you want to know more filming locations check out this article.
The interior of the Castel is not free, and might not be completely worth a visit unless you have a lot of extra time. Inside is a museum with a collection of paintings, sculptures and military memorabilia along with medieval firearms. The cost is around 15 Euros per person. Exploring the outskirts and the bridge is usually enough.
Tips for visiting the Castel Sant’Angelo & Ponte Sant’Angelo Bridge:
- The bridge and Castel are known as the doorstep of the Vatican, so it is easy to do both within the same day.
- The bridge is only for pedestrians.
- For photos with no tourists in them, go early in the morning or late in the evening.
Other recommendations of places to visit in Rome
Some of these places (which we have labeled) we have not visited (but definitely plan to). So we don’t feel fit to write about them. While others are just monuments worth seeing. Please note – since we have not visited some of these locations, we cannot guarantee they are free. They simply come highly recommended to us:
- Trajan’s Column
- Campo de’ Fiori
- Spanish Steps (have not visited)
- Bocca della Vertià (have not visited)
- Capitoline Hill (have not visited)
- Hadrian’s Villa (have not visited)
- Baths of Caracalla (have not visited)
Other Tips for visiting Rome:
- There are over 2,500 fountains in Rome and there are hundreds of small fountains and water spouts. There are fountains that look sort of like a nose and provide clean drinking water. So don’t pay for water just bring a water bottle with you and refill it!
- Taking transit in Rome is easy and way more cost effective than taking taxis. Most destinations are also within walking destinations, so wear comfortable shoes!
- There is generally a ‘bread and cover’ charge of 2 Euro per person at restaurants. Before you tip, check your bill for ‘servizio incluso,’ this means a tip was automatically added to the overall bill.
Rome is one of the best places I have had the pleasure of traveling to. It’s vibrant, bustling, and with all the different things to do in Rome, there is never a dull moment. This guide is meant to help you save as much as possible without missing out. Hopefully, your visit to Rome is as magical as it should be.
Rome may be the Eternal City but it will also leave lasting impression on you.
We would love to hear your stories about visiting Rome or some of your favourite places! Sound off in the comments below.