Rome is one of those very special cities with so much history and culture that you could easily spend weeks there and still feel you didn’t want to leave. Rome is included in our best European cities to visit post. Our top tips for what to do in Rome is a collation of posts by the Europe a la Carte blogging team, with insider tips from local resident Kimberly Sullivan.
Exploring Roman Architecture and Famous Sights
When you’re planning your trip to Rome, do consider whether a Roma Pass might be of use to you – Arwa has provided a good summary and if you are heading to places like the Colosseum you can end up saving a lot of money.
If you are curious about medieval Rome, take a look at the Basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo along the small street named Via San Paolo della Croce. The church dates back to 410 AD with additions made by Pope Pascal II in the eleventh century.
SS Giovanni e Paolo by Kimberly Sullivan
Near the Colosseum, you can explore the remnants of what used to be Rome’s largest training school for gladiators! Of course, it’s been closed for some two thousand years but at Ludus Magnus you can see part of the barracks and arena where they trained.
And if you consider the crowds too large at the Trevi Fountain, try this alternative: the Turtle Fountain in the Jewish Ghetto (known as the Fontana delle Tartarughe).
You can see the graves of many famous writers and artists, such as the English poet Keates, at the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio.
The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners by Kimberly Sullivan
If your itinerary features sights scattered throughout the city, it’s probably a good idea to book a taxi in Rome. When we visited Rome we walked so much that our feet were sore.
Kimberly recommends a breath of scented air at the Rose Garden on Aventine Hill which also offers views over Circus Maximus and the Palatine.
Rome’s Rose Garden by Kimberly Sullivan
Eating and Drinking in Rome
If you are feeling peckish (possibly unlikely if you are enjoying large Italian meals, but you never know!) then a must visit is the Volpetti Delicatessen. It’s full of amazing snacks and food and also has typical Italian dishes you can take home and cook up yourself if you have self-contained accommodation.
Arrancini and pasta at Volpetti by Kimberly Sullivan
You could also try the Market in Campo Defiori which is full of the freshest fruits and vegetables as well as pizza and other snacks.
Kimberly also suggested a lovely local cafe in a park very close to the Colosseum, the Collio Oppi cafe. You can sit under the trees with your coffee and you’re not so likely to be in the thick of tourist groups.
Collio Oppi park by Kimberly Sullivan
For some fantastic Italian bread, try one of Rome’s most famous bakeries, Panella. The artful bread displays in the window are almost as enticing as the fresh bread itself.
Panella bakery by Kimberly Sullivan
If gelato is what you’re craving, then a unique place to find one is on the Island in the Tiber, a small island in the middle of the Tiber River which featured in Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons.
Gelati by Heather Cowper
Museums and Galleries in Rome
The Centrale Montemartini Museum is a little off the beaten track but comes highly recommended. It is an annex of the Capitoline Museum and houses an interesting combination of ancient Roman statues amongst the building’s original power plant equipment!
Centrale Montemartini Museum by Kimberly Sullivan
Various exhibitions take place at the Scuderie del Quirinale, a renovated eighteenth century palace. It houses travelling art exhibitions and always has something different to offer.
You can read about more fascinating Rome museums in Pinar’s post.
Religious Sightseeing in Rome
There are a huge number of churches in Rome, but Kimberly recommends one a little of the beaten track, the Basilica di Santa Prassede. It doesn’t look much from outside, but inside you’ll find incredible Byzantine mosaics.
Santa Prassede by Kimberly Sullivan
Heather’s recommended church is the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It is very colourful inside and is full of beautiful frescoes and mosaics.
Santa Maria by Heather Cowper
A visit to the Vatican is almost compulsory while you’re in Rome, and if you make it there and are feeling fit, try climbing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. The close-up views of the mosaics are incredible and you can also see out and down into the rest of the Vatican City.
Mosaics in St Peter’s Basilica by Heather Cowper
And while you’re at the Vatican, do consider the novelty of the Vatican post office! Buying some Vatican stamps can be a fun souvenir or gift and is an essential if you have any stamp-collecting friends.
Vatican stamps by Kimberly Sullivan
Why not go to the shrine of Pope Joan, whom medieval legend claims was an English woman disguised a man. There are numerous other religious sights to visit in Rome and if you are interested, check out Heather’s post on How to be a religious tourist in Rome for even more ideas, or for options on staying in a religious guesthouse.
Spending Christmas in Rome
Rome is a fantastic Christmas destination and there are many special events to be found around the city in December. Many Roman churches construct impressive nativity scenes, such as this one at the Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano.
Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano nativity scene by Kimberly Sullivan
In the lead up to Christmas and even continuing a little beyond, there is a fantastic Christmas market held in the Piazza Navona. Because Italians celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, the stalls continue and often sell witches, as an old witch is part of their Epiphany tradition. (And if you miss the Christmas timeslot, you should still take a stroll around Piazza Navona – Arwa named it her favourite square in Rome.)
Witches in Piazza Navona by Kimberly Sullivan
Day Trips from Rome
West of Rome and easily reached by train you can find the village of Tivoli, and a great place to visit here is the Villa d’Este. This is a villa dating back to the sixteenth century and its large garden is full of interesting fountains.
Villa d’Este fountains by Kimberly Sullivan
Especially if you’re travelling with kids, a fun day trip from Rome is to the Monster Park in Bomarzo, northern Lazio. It is full of enormous sculptures of monsters and dragons housed in a beautiful green park.
Other potential day trips from Rome include a trip to Assisi, including the World Heritage listed Basilica de San Franceso, or a day in the “dying city” of Civita di Bagnoregio, which unfortunately is built on cliffs which are slowly crumbling – most residents have been moved out but tourists are still welcome!
Civita di Bagnoregio by Kimberly Sullivan
If you fancy a day at the seaside, follow in the footsteps of the Roman Emperor Tiberius to the Tyrrhenian Sea resort of Sprelonga.
Sperlonga beach by Kimberly Sullivan
More Tips for Rome
You can find more tips for things to do in Rome from readers as comments on our Rome Week post.
Accommodation in Rome
It is possible to find cheap hotels in Rome if you do some research, book early and aren’t too fussy about the exact location of your lodgings.
Guides to Other Cities in Italy
Our Europe city guides cover these Italian cities: