Rome is the biggest and arguably the most fascinating city in Italy. You could spend a month here and still only scratch the surface. It’s an ancient place, packed with the relics of over two thousand years of inhabitation, yet it’s so much more than an open-air museum. Rome’s culture, food, and people make up a modern, vibrant city that is deserving of all the visitors that travel there every year. As a historic centre, it is special enough; as a contemporary European capital, it is utterly unique. Discover the best places to visit, where to stay, and travel tips with our Rome Travel Guide.
The former heart of the mighty Roman Empire, and still the home of the papacy, the city is made up of layers of history. There are Rome’s ancient features, most visibly the Colosseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill. Beyond these, there’s an almost uninterrupted sequence of monuments, from early Christian basilicas and Romanesque churches to Renaissance palaces and the fountains and churches of the Baroque period, which perhaps more than any other era, has determined the look of the city today.
The modern epoch has left its mark too, from the ponderous Neoclassical architecture of the post-Unification period to prestige projects like Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI exhibition space. These various eras crowd in on one another to an almost overwhelming degree: medieval churches sit atop ancient basilicas above Roman palaces; houses and apartment blocks incorporate fragments of eroded Roman columns, carvings and inscriptions; and roads and piazzas follow the lines of ancient amphitheatres and stadiums.
You won’t enjoy visiting Rome if you spend your time frantically trying to tick off sights. However, there are some places that it would be a pity to leave the city without seeing. Read on for our guide to the best things to see in Rome.
The Vatican is perhaps the most obvious places to not miss, most notably St Peter’s and the amazing stock of loot in the Vatican Museums. The star attractions of the ancient city are the Forum and Palatine, the Colosseum. These are worth a day or two in their own right. Read more about what there is to see in Rome’s ancient city.
The churches, fountains and works of art from the baroque period and in particular the works of Borromini and Bernini, whose efforts compete for space and attention throughout the city. Bernini was responsible for the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the city’s most famous square, Piazza Navona. Arguably, his best sculptural work is in the Galleria Borghese, or in various churches, like his statue of St Theresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria.
Borromini, his great rival at the time, built the churches of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and Sant’Ivo, both buildings intricately squeezed into small sites. Other great palaces are themselves treasure-troves of great art, such as the Doria Pamphilj and Palazzo Barberini.
Some unmissable museums in Rome include the galleries of the Capitoline and the main collections of the Museo Nazionale Romano in the Palazzo Altemps and Palazzo Massimo, all of which hold staggering collections of the cream of the city’s ancient art and sculpture.
Much of Rome’s hidden charm is in its outer districts dotted with trattorias, cafes, bars and piazzas. Explore further than the main tourist haunts and you’ll see why Rome is so special. Stroll through the centro storico in the early morning, or through charming Trastevere at sunset. Or head up to the Janiculum Hill on a clear day, and gaze down at the roofs and domes - you’ll quickly realize that there’s no place like Rome. Discover some of Rome’s off-the-beaten track highlights.
Visiting Rome can be overwhelming, with so much to see and do. To simplify your trip, we have selected seven of the best cultural attractions. Plus, check out our round-up of the must-see Roman ruins to visit in Rome.
The main focus of picturesque Piazza della Rotonda is the Pantheon, easily the most complete ancient Roman structure in the city. Originally a temple that formed part of Marcus Agrippa’s redesign of the Campus Martius in around 27 BC, it’s since been proved that the building was entirely rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian and finished around the year 125 AD. It’s an impressive architectural achievement even by today’s standards. Most impressively, there are no visible arches or vaults to hold the whole thing up. Apart from its sheer size, the main points of interest are the tombs of two Italian kings and the tomb of Raphael, between the second and third chapel on the left, inscripted by the humanist bishop Pietro Bembo.
Designed by Michelangelo in his last years, and located in one of Rome’s most elegant squares, Piazza del Campidoglio, are the facades of what is now the Palazzo dei Conservatori and projecting an identical building across the way, known as the Palazzo Nuovo. Both are angled slightly to focus on Palazzo Senatorio, Rome’s town hall. The Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo together make up the Capitoline Museums, containing some of the city’s most important ancient sculpture and art.
The Galleria Borghese is one of the city’s finest art galleries, and home to the cream of the work of the city’s favourite sculptors, Bernini. Located on the far eastern edge of the Villa Borghese park, this wonderful gallery was built in the early seventeenth century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and turned over to the state in 1902. Today it’s one of Rome’s great treasure houses of art and should not be missed. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
However much you may have enjoyed Rome’s other museums, nothing else in the city quite measures up to the Vatican Museums. So much booty from the city’s history has ended up here, from both classical and later times, and so many of the Renaissance’s finest artists were in the employ of the pope, that not surprisingly, the result is a set of museums stuffed with enough exhibits to put most other European collections to shame.
As its name suggests, the Vatican Museums complex actually holds a series of museums on very diverse subjects. There’s no point in trying to see everything, at least not on one visit, and the only features you really shouldn’t miss are the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. Above all, decide how long you want to spend here, and what you want to see, before you start; you could spend anything from an hour to a whole day here, and it’s easy to collapse from museum fatigue before you’ve even got to your target.
In high season at least there is likely to be a queue to get into the museums. Arriving late morning or after lunch can often mean a shorter wait, and it’s also a good idea to avoid Mondays, when many of the city’s other museums are closed. But the best thing to do is to book online, thereby jumping the queues altogether.
The old port of Rome is one of the best-preserved and most intriguing ancient sites in the country. Not to be confused with Lido di Ostia, the excavations of Ostia Antica are on a par with anything you’ll see in Rome itself and easily merit the half-day journey out from the city.
The site of Ostia Antica marked the coastline in classical times, and the town that grew up here was the port of ancient Rome. The excavations are relatively free of tourists, and it’s much easier to reconstruct a Roman town from these than from any amount of pottering around the Roman Forum. The site is also very spread out, so be prepared for a fair amount of walking.
Perched high on a hill just 40km from Rome, Tivoli has always been something of a retreat from the city. It’s the site of Hadrian’s villa, as well as the splendid landscaped gardens of Villa d’Este. In classical days it was a retirement town for wealthy Romans. During Renaissance times, it became the playground of the city’s most well-to-do families who built their country villas out here. Nowadays, the moneyed classes have mostly gone, but Tivoli does very nicely on the fruits of its still-thriving travertine business, exporting the precious stone worldwide. To do justice to its gardens and villas, especially Villa Adriana, you’ll need time, so it’s worth setting out early.
Subiaco is beautifully set around a hill topped by the Rocca Abbazia Castle. The town is home to St Benedict’s two monasteries, which are among Italy’s most spiritual and peaceful locations. The hermit dwelled in a mountain cave here for three years before leaving to found the monastery at Montecassino, but his legacy here continues today. There’s nothing much to the town centre. The nicest bit is arguably the riverside, where there’s a crumbling medieval bridge over the fast-flowing Aniene, footpaths, and even the chance to go canoeing.
There’s plenty of accommodation in Rome, and overall the choice of hotels in the city centre has improved a lot over recent years, with lots of new boutique hotels and contemporary B&Bs opening up. But it’s always worth booking in advance, especially when the city is at its busiest. The busiest periods are from Easter to July, September to the end of October, and during Christmas and New Year.
Deciding where to stay in Rome can be difficult as it is such a large city. Many of the city’s cheapest places are located close to Termini station, but this isn’t the nicest part of town. Alternatively, there are plenty of moderately priced places in the centro storico or around Campo de’ Fiori. However, you’ll need to book well in advance to be sure of a cheaper option in the centre.
The Tridente, Trevi and the Quirinale Hill, towards Via Veneto and around the Spanish Steps, are home to more upscale accommodation, although there are a few affordable options here too.
Consider also staying across the river in Prati, a pleasant neighbourhood, nicely distanced from the hubbub of the city centre proper and handy for the Vatican, or in lively Trastevere, also on the west side of the river but an easy walk into the centre.
Read more about the best places to stay in Rome.
The Italian capital is a year-round city. There’s no best time to visit Rome, and you can really plan a trip at any time of year. That said, you could have fairly different experiences travelling to Rome in the heat of summer, than you would in the cooler, quieter shoulder seasons.
Visit Rome in Summer - If you can, avoid visiting in July and August, when the weather is hot and sticky, and those Romans who don’t make their living exclusively from the tourist industry have left town; many businesses close in August.
The weather is more pleasant in May, June and September, when the days will be warm but not unbearably so. April, outside Easter, and October, are quieter and the weather can still be clement.
Visit Rome in Winter - Visiting Rome during the winter months can also be nice, with many of the city’s more popular sights relatively uncrowded. There may be rain but temperatures are usually mild.
Put simply, Rome is a great place to eat. Its denizens know a good deal about freshness and authenticity, and can be very demanding when it comes to the quality of the dishes they are served.
Most city-centre restaurants offer standard Italian menus, with the emphasis on traditional Roman dishes, although a few more adventurous places have been popping up of late. There are also numerous establishments dedicated to a variety of regional cuisines.
The city is also blessed with an abundance of good pizzerias, churning out thin, crispy-baked Roman pizza from wood-fired ovens. In recent years a number of successful exponents of the thicker, airier, Neapolitan style have also found favour.
Rome has plenty of places in which to refuel during a long day’s sightseeing, and it’s easy to find places that aren’t just targeted at tourists. Most bars sell panini and sandwiches (tramezzini), and there are plenty of stand-up rosticcerie for roast chicken and the like. There is also no shortage of excellent gelato shops spread across the city.
There are lots of good restaurants in the centro storico, and it’s surprisingly easy to find places that are not tourist traps. The area around Via Cavour and Termini is packed with inexpensive places, but you’re better off heading to the nearby student area of San Lorenzo, where you can often eat far better for the same money, or to Monti. South of the centre, Testaccio is well endowed with good, inexpensive trattorias. Trastevere, across the river, has more and more samey tourist joints but a little research will pay off.
Here is a list of restaurants we think are the best places to eat in Rome. These places are often very busy, so always book in advance to avoid disappointment.
The best way to get around the centre of Rome is to walk. However, the ATAC-run public transport system, incorporating buses, metros and trams, is cheap, reliable and fairly quick. Information and a route planner are available on the ATAC website. There is also an information office in Piazza dei Cinquecento outside Termini station. Alternatively, the Muoversi a Roma website has a journey planner that uses real-time data to find the quickest route.
Buses run till around midnight, when a network of night buses comes into service, accessing most parts of the city and operating until about 5.30am.
The metro operates from 5.30am to 11.30pm (until 1.30am on Fri and Sat). Its two main lines, A (red) and B (blue), crossing at Termini, only have a few stops in the city centre.
Metro line A - Useful stops on line A include:
Metro line B - Useful stops on line B include:
Metro line C
A new line, C, most of which is still under construction, crosses line A at San Giovanni. The first section opened in 2014, extending to Pigneto in 2015 and to San Giovanni in 2018. With funds running out, planned stations at Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum may not open for years.
The easiest way to get a taxi is to find the nearest taxi rank (fermata dei taxi). Central ones include Termini, Piazza Venezia, Largo Argentina, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Barberini. Alternatively, you can call a taxi, but bear in mind that these cost more – €3.50 for the call, plus the meter starts ticking the moment the taxi is dispatched to collect you. A journey from one side of the city centre to the other should cost around €15, or around €20 on Sunday or at night.
Renting a bike or scooter is an efficient way of nipping around Rome’s clogged streets. Rates are around €4/hr or €13/day for bikes, and €40–80/day for scooters. You must have a full driving licence to be able to rent a scooter. Try Barberini at Via della Purificazione 84, or Bici e Baci at Via del Viminale 5.
Beyond Rome, the region of Lazio inevitably pales in comparison. There is still plenty to draw you there, not least the landscape, which varies from the green hills and lakes of the northern reaches to the drier, more mountainous south. Much of the area can be easily seen on a day-trip from the capital, primarily the ancient sites of Ostia Antica and the various attractions of Tivoli. In northern Lazio, the Etruscan sites of Tarquinia and Cerveteri provide the most obvious tourist focus, as does the pleasant provincial town of Viterbo and the gentle beauty of lakes Bracciano, Vico and Bolsena. The south arguably holds Lazio’s most appealing enclaves, not least unpretentious resorts like Terracina and Sperlonga, and the alluring island of Ponza.
Northern Lazio is quite a different entity from the region south of the capital. Green and wooded in the centre, with few large towns, its steadily more undulating hills are similar to the landscapes of Tuscany and Umbria further north. With determination, you can see much of it on day-trips from Rome, made easier if you have a car. Foremost among the area’s attractions is the legacy of the Etruscans. To the west, some of their most important sites, Cerveteri and Tarquinia, are readily accessible by road or rail. Alternatively, there’s the town and lake at Bracciano, and pleasant beaches from Tarquinia to Civitavecchia. Viterbo can serve as a base if you’re thinking of a two- or three-day visit, particularly if you’re touring without a car. It’s close to some fine examples of the region’s Mannerist villas and gardens at Caprarola and Bagnaia and the amazing monster park at Bomarzo.
D.H. Lawrence had pretty much the last word on the plain, low hills stretching north from Rome towards the Tuscan border, describing the landscape as “lifeless looking … as if it had given up its last gasp and was now forever inert.” His Etruscan Places, published in 1932, is one of the best introductions to this pre-Roman civilization and its cities, which, one or two beaches excepted, are the main reasons for venturing out here.
Cerveteri provides the most accessible Etruscan taster from Rome. The settlement here dates back to the tenth century BC. Once known as Caere, it ranked among the top three cities in the twelve-strong Etruscan federation, its wealth derived largely from the mineral-rich Tolfa hills to the northeast – a gentle range that gives the plain a much-needed touch of scenic colour. In its heyday, the town spread over 150 hectares (something like thirty times its present size), controlling territory 50km up the coast. By the third century BC, Caere was under Roman control, leading to the decline of Etruscan culture in the region. The present town is a thirteenth-century creation, dismissed by D.H. Lawrence – and you really can't blame him – as "forlorn beyond words".
The necropolis at Tarquinia is second only to Cerveteri among northern Lazio’s Etruscan sites. Founded in the tenth century BC, the city’s population peaked at around one hundred thousand but the Roman juggernaut triggered its decline six hundred years later and only a warren of graves remains. The town itself is pleasant, its partial walls and crop of medieval towers making it a good place to pass an afternoon after seeing the ruins. Its museum is also the region’s finest outside Rome.
The Lago di Bracciano fills an enormous volcanic crater, a smooth, roughly circular expanse of water that’s popular – but not too popular – with Romans keen to escape the city’s summer heat; its shores are fairly peaceful even on summer Sundays. The best place to swim is from the beach at Lungolago Argenti, a ten-minute walk along Via del Lago from Bracciano Town. You can rent a boat and picnic on the beach – or eat in one of the nearby restaurants.
The smallest of northern Lazio’s lakes is the only one deemed worthy of nature-reserve status. Lago di Vico is a former volcanic crater ringed by mountains, the highest of which, Monte Fogliano, rises to 963m on the western shore. The Via Cimina traverses the summit ridges and is a popular scenic drive, dotted with restaurants, but there’s a quieter road (closed to cars) near the shoreline, and lovely spots to swim from, with small beaches.
The capital of its province, and indeed of northern Lazio as a whole, Viterbo is easily the region’s most historic centre, a medieval town which, during the thirteenth century, was once something of a rival to Rome. It was, for a time, the residence of popes, a succession of whom relocated here after friction in the capital, and today there are some vestiges of its vanquished prestige – a handful of grand palaces and medieval churches, enclosed by an intact set of walls. The town is a well-kept place and refreshingly untouched by much tourist traffic; buses and trains run frequently to Rome and you can comfortably see the town in a day, but it makes the best base for seeing the rest of northern Lazio.
North along the Via Cassia from Viterbo, Lago Di Bolsena is a popular destination, though rarely overcrowded; its western shore is more picturesque and better for camping rough. On the northern shore of the lake, Bolsena is the main focus, a relaxed and likeable place that’s worth a brief stop. The town itself is set back from the water, around the main square, Piazza Matteotti, off which run medieval nooks and alleyways to the deconsecrated thirteenth-century church of San Francesco, which occasionally hosts concerts and exhibitions. The adjacent sixteenth-century portal is the entrance to the medieval borgo, with the well-preserved thirteenth-century Rocca Monaldeschi perched over its western end. Inside the castle is the local museum, with modest displays on underwater archaeology and Villanovan and Etruscan finds, plus stunning views from the ramparts.
East of Piazza Matteotti, the twelfth-century basilica of Santa Cristina conceals a good Romanesque interior behind a wide Renaissance facade added in 1494.
The saying goes that the Italian South begins with the first petrol station below Rome, and certainly there’s a radically different feel here. Green wooded hills give way to flat marshy land and harsh unyielding mountains that possess a poor, almost desperate, look in places. The resorts here, especially Terracina and Sperlonga, are fine places to take it easy after the rigours of the capital. Ponza, a couple of hours offshore, is truly one of Italy’s undiscovered treasures. Inland, the day-trip towns of the Castelli Romani, the peaceful retreat of Subiaco, and Cassino with its nearby abbey of Montecassino, are all rewarding points to head for.
A further 15km down the coast from San Felice, Terracina is an immediately likeable little town, divided between a tumbledown old quarter high on the hill and a lively newer area by the sea. During classical times, it was an important staging post on the Appian Way, which meets the ocean here; nowadays it’s primarily a seaside resort with good beaches and frequent connections with the other points of interest, including daily ferries and hydrofoils to Ponza. Apart from the scrubby oval of sand fringing the centre, Terracina’s beaches stretch west pretty much indefinitely from the main harbour and are large enough to be uncrowded.
The Lazio coast to the south of Rome is a more attractive proposition than the northern stretches. Its towns have a bit more charm, the water is cleaner, and in the further reaches, beyond the flats of the Pontine Marshes and Monte Circeo, the shoreline begins to pucker into cliffs and coves that hint gently at the glories of Campania – all good either for day-trips and overnight outings from the city, or for a pleasingly wayward route to Naples.
Scattered across the sea between Rome and Naples, the Pontine islands are relatively unknown to foreign travellers. Volcanic in origin, only two are inhabited – the small island of Ventotene and its larger neighbour Ponza. The latter bustles with Italian tourists, especially Romans, between mid-June and the end of August, but at any other time, it’s yours for the asking.
The group’s main island, Ponza, is only 8km long and 2km across at its widest point. Ponza Town is a sight to behold: a jumble of pastel-coloured, flat-roofed houses heaped above a pink semicircle of promenade that curls around the harbour. It makes a marvellous place to rest up for a few days, having so far escaped the clutches of designer boutiques and souvenir shops. Although the island lacks specific sights, Ponza is great for aimless wanderings; in the early evening, locals parade along the yellow-painted Municipio arcade of shops and cafés. For lazing and swimming, there’s a small, clean cove in the town.
The coast south of Terracina is probably Lazio’s prettiest stretch, the cliff punctured by tiny beaches signposted enticingly from the road. Sperlonga, built high on a rocky promontory, is a fashionable spot for Roman and Neapolitan families, its whitewashed houses, arched alleys and stepped narrow streets almost Moorish in feel. Both the old upper town and modern lower district are almost given over entirely to tourists during summer, but it’s still a pleasant spot, with cars not allowed into the old centre. There are beaches either side of Sperlonga’s headland, and although a lot of space is private, it’s never too difficult to find a decent spot.