One of the most visited cities in Europe, Rome is a magnet for millions of tourists from all over the world. And it’s not hard to see why. This city is home to a number of famous landmarks such as the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Colosseum and many other cultural centerpieces of the ancient Roman empire.
Since the Eternal City ( Rome’s nickname ) has thousands and thousands of years of history, it requires time. However, it’s still possible to hit some of the major tourist spots in just a couple of days. My itinerary covers the main highlights of Rome, the best time to visit them and some of the tips on how to make the best time out of your visit.
Highlights of Rome
The Vatican Museums
The smallest country in the world, Vatican City is located entirely within Rome. Home to the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican also has some of the most celebrated pieces of art in its museums.
Today Vatican museums are home to over 70,000 pieces of art in many forms and genres. Among the sections in the Vatican Museum are the Museum Chiaramonti, the Museo Pio-Clementino, and the Museo Etrusco.
One of the most prominent museums of the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel, home to the famous Michelangelo’s ceiling design. The Sistine Chapel is visited by thousands of people, so unless you are visiting Rome during offseason, brace for a huge crowd.
HOW TO VISIT VATICAN MUSEUMS: The Vatican Museums are notoriously crowded, so your best bet is to book your tickets online to skip the miles-long lines. In addition, you can also purchase a guided tour online that will give you an overview of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.
The Vatican Museums see most crowds from March through November, so if you want to avoid crowds plan your trip during the off-season.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The crown feature of Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world that dominates St. Peter’s Square. The basilica is situated in front of St. Peter’s Square and a famous pilgrimage site that attracts pilgrims from all over the world. The inside of St. Peter’s Basilica contains some of the most important pieces of art including artworks of Michelangelo, and Bernini.
Dress code is strictly enforced in St. Peter’s Basilica and most parts of the Vatican. Men must wear long pants and cover their shoulders. Women also can’t have their shoulders exposed. No shorts are allowed and all skirts have to be below the knees.
PRO TIP: If you want to skip the line, I recommend taking the secret passageway from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica.
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to Colosseum. This ancient Flavian Amphitheater is a former home to gladiator fights and other bloody spectacles such as executions and animal hunts that took place during 500 years when Colosseum remained open. Later, it was looted and suffered several earthquakes and used as a church and cemetery.
In 2007, Colosseum became one of the Seven Wonders of the World. While this place is a must-visit, you should make every effort to avoid the crowds as they can steal up to a few hours of your time.
To skip endless lines, arrive before the opening at 8:30 a.m. Another good option is to purchase your tickets online and print them out ahead of your visit.
If you want to purchase tickets on-site, I recommend buying your ticket in the Palatine Hill, the most famous of Seven Hills of Rome where Romulus founded Rome according to the legend.
Learn more about the main Roman Ruins in Rome here
Roman Forum ( Foro Romano )
Located near Colosseum, Roman Forum is a large archeological area surrounded by the ruins of former government buildings, within walking distance to most other spots you will want to visit. Nestled between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill, it’s one of the most popular tourist sites in today’s world.
In ancient Rome, this place often served as the scene for public meetings and court sessions, and later as a site for religious ceremonies.
To enter the Roman Forum, you will have to purchase a ticket that will cover the access to the Palatine Hill, Colosseum, and the Roman Forum.
Trevi Fountain ( Italian Fontana di Trevi )
One of the most popular places in Rome, The Trevi Fountain is always packed with tourists. The fountain designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi is considered one of the most beautiful fountains in the world.
Just remember, it’s illegal to take coins out of the fountain. But you should, however, throw a coin in the fountain if you want to make a wish. Also, if you want to take a clear photo of the fountain, I suggest arriving there as early as the sunset.
Check this list of places to visit in Rome to avoid crowds
From the Vatican, you can take a short walk to Piazza Navona, another popular spot in Rome. Piazza Navona provides a great opportunity to relax after the busy Vatican as it’s surrounded by various eateries and also attracts plenty of street performers and artists of different sorts.
Located just a few hundred meters away from Piazza Navona is The Roman Pantheon, one of the main architectural masterpieces in Rome. A former Roman temple, Pantheon is the best-preserved Ancient Roman monument of its age.
As with other landmarks in Rome, I recommend visiting Pantheon early morning. Not only you will get a clear shot of the outside, but you will also see the uncrowded inside of this remarkable historic landmark.
One of the main features of the Pantheon is its 43-meters wide dome. The vantage point of the dome is an oculus or an eight-meter hole that provides an opening to heaven.
You can easily reach Pantheon on foot as it’s located between Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain.
Spanish Steps ( Scalina Spagna )
Located in Piazza di Spagna, Spanish Steps is another example of the Roman Baroque Style. Spanish Steps is a baroque-style stairway that connects Pizza di Spagna with the upper-level Piazza Trinita Dei Monti, home to Trinita Dei Monti, a twin-tower church at the top.
The Spanish Steps is a popular place to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of this place.
If you want to get a taste of what local living in Rome, cross over the Tiber River and head to Trastevere. This Bohemian neighborhood is a perfect place to roam around and take photos before stopping in one of the trattorias, gelaterias and coffee shops. You could spend as little as a few hours in Trastevere or as much as one day depending on what you want to
Don’t forget to check out Piazza di Santa Maria, the heart of this colorful neighborhood where you can people watch and relax on the stairs of the fountain. The dominant feature of Piazza di Santa Maria is Basilica di Santa Maria, that has several Cavallini mosaics. Another prominent spot in Trastevere is Piazza di Santa Cecilia, home to Basilica di Santa Cecilia.
Besides the cultural landmarks, Trastevere also boasts great nightlife options. When the lights go down, dozens of bars and nightclubs open their doors to visitors.
The Mouth of Truth ( Italian: Bocca Della Verita )
One of the most interesting spots in Rome, The Mouth of Truth is a round piece of marble with a man’s face carved into it. The centuries-old legend attached to the artifact said that the mouth would close every time someone would put his or her hand in it and say a lie.
To find the Mouth of Truth, head to the Piazza Della Bocca Della Verita. The artifact is located inside the Santa Maria in Cosmedin. When you find the mask, you will see plenty of tourists sick their hands inside the mask’s mouth.
BIO: The Discovery Nut is a travel blog focused on sustainability and encouraging others to get out of their comfort zone. Daria has founded The Discovery Nut because she wanted to share her passion for travel with others and show them some of the coolest places she has visited. Through her blog, she hopes to inspire others to venture out into the world and discover new destinations.