You don’t need us to tell you that Rome, the old capital of the western world, has a history that is unrivaled among European capitals, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. The “Eternal City” has been inhabited for well over 2,000 years (closer to 3,000 depending on who you ask), and with such a rich history it may be difficult to decide on a list of activities when visiting.
In this article, we’ll give you an overview of our top 5 must-see attractions in Rome, all of which can be visited alongside one of GoWithGuide’s many skilled private guides.
Arguably the most famous of Rome’s landmarks, a visit to the Colosseum has to be a part of every newcomer’s travel experience. To this day, the impressive amphitheatre holds the record as the largest in the world, and continues to provide awe and wonder to millions of people.
Construction started under the reign of Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, and was mostly completed by the time his son Titus had taken over the reins of power around 81 AD. Capable of holding up to 80,000 spectators at its peak, the Colosseum is best known for hosting gladiatorial combat, re-enactments, plays, and even mock sea battles where the entire amphitheatre would be flooded with water and play host to real ships!
Unfortunately, you aren’t likely to get a dose of ancient naval combat during a visit these days, but the Colosseum still hosts various events, including serving as the starting point for Papal processions.
In addition to marveling at the sheer scale and majesty of the building, guests can visit the museum of Eros, as well as venturing into the eerie network of subterranean passages that were used to house gladiators and wild animals prior to them engaging in mortal combat before the eyes of the emperors.
St. Peter's Basilica / Vatican City
Located at the heart of Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most famous churches in the world, and a cornerstone of the Catholic faith. Famous both as the domain of the Pope, as well as being the smallest independent state (located wholly within Rome), a visit to the Vatican can be an amazingly enriching cultural experience, irrespective of your religious leanings.
St. Peter’s was designed by some of the most noted architects in renaissance Italy, including Michelangelo, and to this day is recognized as having the largest interior of any church in existence. Constructed to replace the aging old basilica that was built by Roman emperor Constantine back in the fourth century AD, work on the new (still 500-ish year old) basilica started back in 1506, and was only completed around a hundred years later!
Legend holds that the basilica serves as the burial site of Saint Peter, who is supposedly buried below the high altar, although we can’t comment as to the voracity of this. Either way, the basilica itself as well as the surrounding palace gardens and Vatican City in general plays host not only to wondrous architecture, but also a great collection of classical artwork.
Strolling through the myriad museums inside one can find masterpieces by Michelangelo (among others), including the world famous Sistine Chapel, infamous for its beautiful ceiling frescoes. Several tour options are available, but it can be hard to figure out if you aren’t familiar with the area. Of course, one of our experienced private guides can help you experience the Vatican in a way you never could have before.
Turning back to Rome’s more ancient history for our third recommendation, we would wholeheartedly advise travelers to not miss out on a visit to the legendary Pantheon. Known as the “temple of the gods”, the site has served as home to a rotating number of epic Roman temples throughout its 2,000 year plus history.
The Pantheon is the proud holder of the title of “world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome” - and while that may sound like a silly distinction to some, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about a structure built back during the days before fancy cranes, bulldozers, and even electricity.
In later years the Pantheon was refurbished into a Catholic church, and to this day it hosts Sunday masses and other ceremonies. It has also been used as a burial place for noteworthy Italians, including King Victor Emmanuel II and the famous painter Raphael.
Modern visitors can enjoy exploring the rich history of the iconic structure, with audio and guided tours available, although entry is free for those who want to make their own way. Please note that online reservation is required on weekends and public holidays due to the extra influx of visitors. While Rome in the summer can get pretty hot, it’s also important to remember that the Pantheon is technically a church, and as such a dress code is in effect (no flip-flops, and covering the shoulders and knees is mandatory).
Another recommended site (located outdoors this time), is the Trevi fountain. Designed by Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini, the 18th-century fountain is the largest in the city and one of the most famous in the world.
While the current fountain and its iconic sculptures are a product of slightly more recent history, as with most things in Rome, its true roots go much deeper. The fountain’s water is supplied by the restored Aqua Virgo, one of the ancient aqueducts that transported water to the city. Purportedly constructed as far back as 19 BC, the aqueduct carries water a staggering 22 km from its source outside the city, with the water eventually making its way to the Baths of Agrippa.
Serving the city for more than 400 years, the aqueduct was restored and the now famous fountain built under the rule of Pope Clement XII. The striking statues that make up the facade features Neptune, the god of the seas, as its centerpiece and makes for a truly beautiful photo opportunity.
While marveling at the gorgeous artistry that went into the sculpting of the fountain and its myriad of accompanying figures, another popular reason to visit the fountain is to throw a coin (or a few) into it. Tradition states that one must toss said coin into the water over your left shoulder using your right hand whilst keeping your eyes closed. If a single coin is thrown in, legend states that you will one day make your way back to the eternal city, while donating two coins means you will find love in the city, and three coins can supposedly help one get married.
Thousands of euros worth of coins make their way into the fountain every day (which is also cleaned regularly), with the contents being donated to charity. The fountain is free to visit, and is open to the public day and night, with spectacular illuminations making an evening visit particularly special. Just be careful though, taking a coin from the fountain is illegal, and so is trying to take a dip! Visitors who ignore these rules can be fined several hundred euro, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Last but not least on our list of must-see Roman landmarks is the famous Palantine Hill. One of the seven hills of Rome, and one of the most ancient parts of the city, this area served as the core of the city in antiquity.
Legend has it that the hill housed the cave where Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus were raised by the she-wolf Lupa. Today the site serves as a large open-air museum, so we’d recommend visiting on a nice day if possible to take advantage of the weather. The Palace of Domitian presides over the area, with later emperors renovating and adding to the complex over the centuries.
During the 16th century the Farnese Gardens were added to the hill, featuring a series of lawns, fountains, and terraces which can be enjoyed by visitors to this day, having undergone extensive recent restorations. The Hill also plays host to the Domus Flavia, House of Livia, and the Baths of Septimius Severus among other landmarks.
We highly recommend visiting the hill as it provides a unique window into both the ancient and more recent history of Rome, and unlike some of the other attractions on the list, can be enjoyed via a leisurely outdoor stroll.
Meandering through the ancient avenues of Rome is surely amongst the highlights of every seasoned traveler's experience. But you don’t have to take that stroll alone, and you don’t have to feel out of your depth when doing so. With GoWithGuide, you can get in touch with our team of experienced and reliable private tour guides who will give you a truly unforgettable experience of Rome. Book your tour with one of our vetted guides today!