Top Things to See and Do in Rome

Piazza Navona

You will need several lifetimes to see all there is to see in Rome.

Rome is so full of everything, from big monuments to tiny details, that you will definitely feel overwhelmed by it all.

The problem with visiting Rome is not figuring out what to see, but what not to see, especially if you only have a few days.

The best rule of thumb when visiting Rome is to know yourself and what you like to do. Then fit in what you can handle, making sure to schedule in time for aimless piazza strolls, long lunches, and gelato and coffee breaks.

Top Tours in Rome and Vatican City

No matter if it is your first or fifteenth time in Rome, a specialized tour is an ideal way to see the city and learn about its history.

  • Complete Vatican Tour. Explore the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, and pay a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • “The Great Beauty” E-Bike Tour. This tour is inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time, La Grande Bellezza. See many of the sites featured in the movie, from the Janiculum Hill down to Piazza Navona, while cruising around on an electric bike.

For private tours with individual guides, I recommend my friends at The Catholic Traveler and Understanding Rome.

Rome and Vatican City Sightseeing by Category

Ancient Sites in Rome

  1. Colosseum. The symbol of Rome.
  2. Roman Forum. The heart of ancient Rome. World’s most famous ruins.
  3. Palatine Hill. One of the 7 Hills of Rome. Former home of emperors.
  4. Circus Maximus. Site of ancient chariot races below the Palatine Hill.
  5. Imperial Fora. Forum ruins from the eras of Caesar, Augustus, and Trajan.
  6. Domus Aurea. Nero’s “Golden House.”
  7. Pantheon. Most ancient building in Rome, famed for its dome.
  8. Baths of Caracalla. Extensive bathhouse ruins from Ancient Rome period.
  9. Bocca della Verità. Mouth of Truth. Ancient sewer cover turned oracle.
  10. Baths of Diocletian. Ancient bathhouse ruins, now part of church and museum.
  11. Appia Antica. Appian Way. Famed Roman road lined with ruins and tombs.
  12. Ancient Catacombs. Underground burial chambers on Appia Antica and beyond.
  13. Ancient Egyptian Obelisks. Monumental marble needles that now dot the city.
  14. Teatro Marcello. Ancient theater with medieval and modern add-ons.
  15. Ara Pacis. Augustus Altar of Peace. Protected inside modern museum.
  16. Castel Sant’Angelo. Hadrian’s tomb-turned medieval fortress. Connected to the Vatican by an elevated passage called the Passeto so popes could flee danger.
  17. Mausoleum of Augustus. Ancient imperial tomb of Augustus and others. Reopened in 2021.

Museums and Monuments

  1. Vatican Museums. Ancient sculpture to Renaissance art, including the Sistine Chapel.
  2. Capitoline Museums. Rome’s municipal museum for ancient history and art.
  3. Galleria Borghese. Best small museum for Baroque sculpture and Renaissance art.
  4. National Roman Museum. Extensive Roman history collection spread out in four separate locations: Baths of Diocletian, Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, and Crypto Balbi.
  5. Palazzo Barberini. Huge palace museum containing works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Borromini, others. Same ticket as Galleria Corsini.
  6. Galleria Corsini. Palace museum in Trastevere with a Caravaggio. Same ticket as Palazzo Barberini.
  7. Palazzo Colonna. Luxurious palace museum in the heart of Rome.
  8. House Museums of Rome. Introduction to Palazzo Spada, Palazzo Doria Pamphili, and other city palaces and homes with art and artifacts on display.
  9. Museo di Roma at Palazzo Braschi. Beautiful palazzo with views over Piazza Navona. Covers Rome art and city history from the 17th-20th centuries.
  10. National Gallery of Modern Art. Masterpieces from the 19th and 20th centuries from Italian and international artists.
  11. MAXXI Museum. Zaha Hadid-designed museum of 21st-century art.
  12. Victor Emanuel II Monument. Altare della Patria or Il Vittoriano. This hulking monument to the first King of Italy caps the end of Via del Corso. Contains the tomb of the unknown soldier and wonderful rooftop views.
  13. National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia. Learn more about the ancient Etruscan people, their art, and their culture at this beautiful villa museum.

Must-See Churches and Holy Sites in Rome and Vatican City

  1. Saint Peter’s Basilica. The seat of the Catholic Church and the largest church in the world.
  2. Saint John Lateran. San Giovanni in Laterano. Known for the huge statues decorating the top of its facade. Contains the papal throne, table from the Last Supper, some papal tombs, and a peaceful cloister.
  3. Scala Sancta. Holy Stairs on which Christ carried his cross. Brought from the Holy Land to Rome by Constantine’s mother. Across from Saint John Lateran.
  4. Saint Mary Major. Santa Maria Maggiore. Built on the site of a “miraculous snow.” Contains 5th-century mosaics, the relic of the Holy Crib, and a sacred Byzantine icon.
  5. Saint Paul Outside the Walls. San Paolo Fuori Le Mura. Massive church with beautiful grounds and cloister. Built over the tomb of Saint Paul.
  6. San Luigi dei Francesi. Saint Louis of the French. National Church of France in Rome contains three of Caravaggio’s most famous paintings.
  7. San Pietro in Vincoli. Saint Peter in Chains, located near the Colosseum and Monti neighborhood, contains Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture.
  8. San Lorenzo Outside the Walls. An ancient church in a hip urban neighborhood near the university. Built over the tomb of Saint Lawrence.
  9. Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Holy Cross in Jerusalem basilica contains pieces of the True Cross, Saint Thomas’s doubting finger, and other relics.
  10. San Clemente. Multiple churches in one near the Colosseum. Medieval church descends down to Byzantine church which sits atop ancient Mithraeum. Dazzling mosaics.
  11. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Gothic-style church near the Pantheon. Contains a Michelangelo sculpture and Renaissance frescoes.
  12. Synagogue. Tempio Maggiore or Sinagoga. The great synagogue of Rome is at the heart of Rome’s ancient Jewish Quarter/ex-Ghetto.
  13. Protestant Cemetery. Cimitero Acattolico. Peaceful oasis in the shadow of Rome’s pyramid. Final resting place of many Keats, Shelley, Gramsci, and others.

Fountains and Squares

  1. Trevi Fountain. Rome’s most famous fountain.
  2. Spanish Steps. Located on Piazza di Spagna, these are the famous steps that descend from the church of Trinità dei Monti.
  3. Piazza Navona. Grand, oval piazza built over the ruins of ancient chariot stadium. Home to Bernini fountains and lively with people day and night.
  4. Campo de’ Fiori. Site of a daytime food market and many bars. Popular meeting point.
  5. Piazza del Popolo. “The People’s Square.” Another favorite gathering spot for residents and tourists. Huge piazza with a central fountain and obelisk.
  6. Saint Peter’s Square. The square in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Bernini designed the colonnade that surrounds it.

Must-See Art in Rome

  1. Where to See Michelangelo’s Art in Rome
  2. Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Art in Rome
  3. Raphael’s Art in Italy (many works are in Rome)
  4. Five Fabulous Art Works in Rome You May Have Missed

Other Ideas to Explore in Rome

  1. Best Places to Kiss in Rome
  2. Places to Propose in Rome
  3. Take an Italian Immersion Course in Rome
  4. Go to a Soccer Game in Rome
  5. Scary Places to Visit in Rome (for Halloween or Anytime)