Top Things to See in Rome
Every corner of Rome seems to be full of history, beautiful architecture, ancient ruins, or a grandiose church. While walking through this amazing city we encountered tons of beautiful places and although we only had two days to spend in Rome, we managed to see lots of the most iconic sights. We got to try some traditional Italian food, enjoyed a traditional apperetivo (free appetizers with your drinks), and learned about Roman history.
We started our sightseeing spree around Rome in the smallest country in the world and the home of the pope: the Vatican. Walking there from the city center we first had to pass the famous Angel Bridge, which was built originally in 134 AD and has been worked on by the likes of the great artist Rafael. Once we crossed the bridge we caught a glimpse of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the distance. When we were walking toward the Basilica a girl approached us, trying to sell us a guided tour. It would have cost 50 Euro per person and included the entrance fees to the three major sights in the Vatican and you could skip the lines. She kept telling us that we would pay just as much for the entrance tickets alone and that it would be a great deal. It turned out it wasn’t much of a deal as the entrance to those sites wasn’t even 25 Euro each, so we decided against it.
We wanted to go into Saint Peter’s Basilica first, so we lined up to get through a quick security check. Saint Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world and considered one of the holiest places for Catholics. The entrance to the Basilica is free, you just may need some patience in the lines, only guided tours get to skip them. We walked through the beautiful Saint Peter’s Square to get to the entrance of the Basilica.
We’ve seen a lot of churches all over Europe, however Saint Peter’s Basilica took our breath away. The size and detail of the decorations were very impressive and one of the highlights of our time in Rome. The Basilica was completed in 1626 and it seems even more stunning knowing it was constructed under the means and measures they had back then.
After seeing the Basilica we thought about climbing the stairs into the Dome, however it would have cost 8 Euros each and being a bit broke at the time, we decided against it. Instead we headed toward the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. To get there you have to exit Saint Peter’s Square and walk all the way around Vatican City. The entrance to the museums and the chapel was 16 Euros per person. We walked for about 30 minutes through the various sections of the museum, where we got to see a ton of statues, paintings, tapestries, amazingly decorated rooms, and other artwork.
After walking for a while we finally we reached the Sistine Chapel. Upon entering we saw the walls and ceiling covered in frescoes, with the ceiling decorated by the famous artist Michelangelo. Pictures are not allowed inside the chapel, but it was so crowded that we managed to sneak one or two of the ceiling, including the famous Creation of Adam.
On our way back from the Vatican City we past another iconic site and one of Rome’s best preserved antique buildings – the Pantheon. It was built almost 2000 years ago and to date is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Heading inside the impressive site is free.
During the 7th century the Pantheon was used as a Christian church. Inside there are still religious statues and people come for prayer. The remains of the famous artist Raphael lie inside the Pantheon, along with two kings of Italy and one queen. The only natural light that reaches the inside comes from one big hole in the ceiling.
Another must-do in Rome is visiting the Colosseum. The Colosseum was built in the span of only eight years from sand and concrete and is the largest amphitheater ever built. Seeing it from the outside is impressive, and seeing it inside is well worth the money. When we got there the line for the ticket counter was dauntingly long. Luckily we had read that you can purchase a ticket at the Foro Romano just steps from the front of the Colosseum, where the line is much shorter. The ticket for the Colosseum and the Foro Romano combined costs 12 Euro and is valid for 48 hours. It is also possible to buy the ticket online, but as it charges an additional service fee, we decided against it.
Once we got our ticket, we could skip the line and enter the Colosseum without any problems. Inside there is a visitors walk which leads you around the Colosseum and up and down the different levels. It was very impressive seeing and learning about one of Rome’s most important buildings, where they held the famous gladiator fights among other events. Most of the inner structure is damaged or destroyed (mainly by earthquakes), but its still possible to image how it must have looked almost 2,000 years ago, when it held an estimated 50,000+ visitors.
After our visit to the Colosseum, we walked over to the Foro Romano, which is right next to it. The Foro Romano is a huge archaeological complex, with the ruins of several important ancient government buildings on it. The site used to be the downtown area of Rome and houses ruins of a palace, houses of important people, and other structures. We were walking through the site for a few hours and didn’t see all of it.
Next on our list of the most important sights to see in Rome was the Trevi Fountain. This beautiful fountain, which was built in the 18th century, is one of the most famous in the world. When we got there we had to fight our way through the crowds to get a good look at it and we joined in with the tradition of throwing coins with our right hand over our left shoulder. You’ll see visitors throwing three coins over their shoulder in hopes that they’ll come back to Rome and have luck on that trip.
Victor Emmanuel II Monument
While walking through Rome we stumbled across the gigantic Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. Victor Emmanuel II was the king that united Italy and the monument stands for unity within the country and houses the Museum of Italian Unification. The building is right next to the Foro Romano and is built of white marble. We headed up the stairs and out onto a balcony with a nice view of the city. There’s an elevator for seven Euro that can take you even higher up for a better view if you’re so inclined.
While walking toward the Vatican City we came across the beautiful Piazza Navona. This huge square is surrounded by beautiful old buildings, tons of restaurants, and bars. In the middle, just in front of yet another impressive church is another stunning fountain – the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi – or Fountain of the Four Rivers. The statures on the fountain represent the four river gods, one from each continent where Catholicism had spread, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Topping off the fountain is an Egyptian obelisk that was built in 81 AD for Rome.
How to get around
The center of Rome is easily covered by foot. During our two days in Rome we walked almost everywhere – from the Colosseum to the Vatican or the Spanish Steps – without any problems. Most of the big attractions have signs to lead the way, or you can just bring a paper map or use the app maps.me, which is a navigation app that works without internet connection, once the map for the country is downloaded. If you get tired of walking, there is also the Metro. It takes you to most of the famous sights. Besides running quite regularly, at 1.50 Euros per ride it isn’t expensive.
Another popular way to get around in Rome is to rent a scooter. There are various places in the city which offer that service.
Eat and Drink
Italy is famous for its food. In Rome we found all the traditional Italian food, like pasta, pizza, and seafood on almost every corner. Most of the restaurants we found are pretty expensive, but especially around lunchtime you can find a cheap slice of pizza in most places. For dinner the locals love to have an apperetivo. An apperetivo is a drink like wine or beer combined with a bit of food, not a whole meal but more like an appetizer. They can be expensive but if you look around some you might find an apperetivo for as cheap as 7 or 8 Euros. A cheaper dinner option that we found were small pasta restaurants, which aren’t particularly nice to sit in but the food was good and we only paid about 5 Euro for a plate of pasta. These places are usually down an alleyway or two and advertise their prices on the door or in the window.
David loves his coffee, and Italy has great coffee, so we had to try one of the places that is said to serve the best coffee in Rome. Sant Eustachio, only a view streets from the Pantheon, is this tiny little Cafe which is crowded and has a small bar where you can drink your coffee. The coffee is very unique and delicious and very reasonably priced.
Where to Stay
There are a number of hostels in Rome, but we decided to go with AirBnb as it was cheaper for us to rent a private room there than two beds in a dorm in a hostel. For a single traveler or another time of the year, a hostel might be a better choice. Consider that some of them charge an additional tourist fee on top of the advertised price, which may be collected upon check in.
We stayed close to the Termini Train and Metro Station, which seemed to be a good starting point for sightseeing. From there it takes about 20 minutes by foot to the Colosseum and Foro Romano. There are a number of hostels near there and the area seemed safe even at night.
Also don’t forget to check out our Top Things to See in Bavaria post if you haven’t yet!