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Things to Do in Rome

An open-air museum home to two millennia of architecture, art, and culture, Rome is one of the world’s most visited cities — for good reason. You can spend hours exploring ancient wonders, traveling between attractions, or hunting for the best gelato; but those in the know stay ahead of the crowd with skip-the-line entrance tickets and guided tours. Hop-on hop-off tours allow visitors to breeze through must-do lists, while group visits to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Vatican Museums offer a more in-depth experience. For a true taste of Italy, take advantage of the city’s central location with day trips to Pompeii, Tuscany, and beyond.
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Colosseum
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The world’s famous Colosseum was built in 80 AD for the Roman emperors to stage fight to-the-death gladiator battles and hunt and kill wild animals, whilst members of the general public watched the violent spectaculars. Entry was free, although you were seated according to your social rank and wealth. Gladiatorial games were banned in 438 AD; the wild beast hunting continued until 523.

The Colosseum is amazing for its complex and advanced architecture and building technique. Despite being used as a quarry for building materials at various points in history, it is still largely intact. You can see the tiered seating, corridors and the underground rooms where the animals and gladiators awaited their fate. Today the Colosseum has set the model for all modern-day stadiums, the only difference being today's teams survive their games.

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Roman Forum (Foro Romano)
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In Ancient Rome, the Forum was the centre of the Roman Empire. Until the 4th century AD, a thousand years of decisions affecting the future of Europe were made here. When Roman soldiers were out conquering the world in the name of the Emperors, temples, courts, markets, and government buildings were thriving in the Forum.

Located between two of Rome's famous hills, the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, it is now a collection of ruins having spent centuries as a quarry for marble and a cow paddock. The Forum became a very dense collection of buildings in its time but mostly all that remains today is columns, arches, and some scattered marbles so it can be difficult to make sense of it all. Ongoing archaeological work continues, and getting a map or a guide can really bring the bustle of the ancient site to life. You can get a great view over the Forum from the overlooking hills in the Farnese Gardens and from Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio.

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Piazza del Popolo
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The Piazza del Popolo is one of Rome’s many large public squares. This piazza is in the northern part of central Rome. The architect of the present-day piazza, built in the early 19th century, removed some existing structures to alter the shape from a trapezoid to a larger circular shape. While the piazza used to be a thoroughfare for cars, it is now a pedestrian-only zone. The center of the Piazza del Popolo is marked by an Ancient Egyptian obelisk, and on one side of the piazza are two matching churches - Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto - one on each side of one of the streets leading from the piazza. The two churches are not exact copies of one another, but their features are so similar that they provide a symmetrical anchor to that end of the piazza. A third church on the Piazza del Popolo is also dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and is one of the main tourist draws on the piazza.
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Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese)
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The Borghese Gallery boasts the most famous art of Baroque Rome. Among the collection are several paintings by Raphael, Titian & Caravaggio. The immense property holds the grand palace where Cardinal Scipione Borghese lived with his famed art collection as well as Rome's most beautiful park, the Borghese Gardens. Here see Bernini's famous statues of Apollo and Daphne, David, the Rape of Proserpine & Canova's reclining nude of Paulina Borghese. Also enjoy stunning views over Piazza del Popolo.
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Piazza Farnese
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The Piazza Farnese in the historic center of Rome is named for the huge Palazzo Farnese on one side of it, and is one of the nicest public spaces in this busy city. The Palazzo Farnese was begun in the early 16th century by a cardinal in the Farnese family who would eventually become Pope Paul III in 1534. No expense was spared – in fact, when he became the pope, the size of his still-under-construction palace actually grew. It remains the city's largest Renaissance palace, today serving as the French Embassy, and the dominant building on the eponymous piazza.

Other attractions on the Piazza Farnese include the Chiesa di Santa Brigida, a former house of the Swedish saint that was converted into a church upon her death in the 1370s, and two fountains that look like bathtubs – because they are. Each has as its base a bathtub from the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla.

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Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi)
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The Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous and most beloved sights in Rome. A huge Baroque flurry (85 by 65 feet or 25 by 20 meters) where water spills from rocks under the feet of Neptune, Triton and sea-horses into a large pool, it's always surrounded by coin-tossing tourists. Superstition has it that if you toss a coin into the fountain you will one day return to Rome. It shows how much people love this city that up to $3,500 a day is thrown in! The money is collected at night by the city and distributed to charity. The Trevi Fountain began as a humble water outlet, the end of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct built in 19 BC to bring water to Roman Baths. The name comes from its location at the junction of three roads ('tre vie'). Around 1735 Pope Clement XII commissioned Niccolo Salvi to design the fountain we still love today.
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Campo de' Fiori
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Whereas most of us know the term “piazza” roughly equates to a public square, we may not immediately think the same thing when we see “campo” - especially if we know that means “field” in Italian. But Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori - literally, “field of flowers” - is a square in the historic center of the city. The name refers to a time when this was actually a field of flowers, but it also hints at one of the main attractions of the Campo de’ Fiori - the outdoor market. Each morning, the square fills with vendors selling fruit, vegetables, and flowers. It’s a genuine market for Romans to do their shopping, but it’s also a tourist attraction - so the prices have gone up accordingly over the years, driving many Romans to shop elsewhere. The scenery of an outdoor market in a pretty public square, however, is still lovely and worth getting up early.
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Trastevere
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The Trastevere neighborhood of Rome is one of the city’s oldest districts; walking through its cobbled streets during the day you’re apt to forget the busy Roman streets and crowds outside the Colosseum. In the Trastevere, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into an Italian village. Because, in a way, you have.

The name “Trastevere” means “across the Tiber” (which is “Tevere” in Italian), which should tell you it lies on the opposite side of the river from monuments like the Roman Forum and Colosseum - it’s actually on the same side of the river as Vatican City. There are many inexpensive places to eat in the Trastevere, but the area is essentially hotel-free. To stay here, you’ll need to book an apartment rental or guesthouse, as that’s basically all that’s available for lodging.

By day, the Trastevere is almost unfailingly charming, and the small Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is straight out of an Italian countryside hill town.

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Pantheon
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The Pantheon in Rome is a remarkable building architecturally. Basically a cylinder with the floating dome on top of columns, it is the largest masonry vault ever built. In the center of this dome is a hole bringing in a shaft of light to show the beauty of this building and its relatively simple, open interior. Being inside the Pantheon feels very special.

Originally built in 27 BC and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD, the temple has been damaged and plundered over time. In 609 AD it became a Christian church dedicated to the Madonna. In the 17th century some of its bronze ceiling was taken and melted down for use in St Peter's Basilica. Important figures such as King Victor Emmanuel II and the artist Raphael are buried in the Pantheon.

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More Things to Do in Rome

Piazza di Spagna

Piazza di Spagna

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Piazza di Spagna is one of Rome's best-known meeting places, thanks to a stunning statue, the iconic Fontana della Barcaccia and an attractive square that lies at the foot of the famed Spanish Steps. The landmark's central location grants travelers easy access to top attractions like nearby Trinita dei Monti, Keats-Shelley Memorial House and the Column of the Immaculate Conception.

Piazza di Spagna is also a prime destination for people-watching, thanks to the large number of visitors and locals who gather in the public garden and scenic space to celebrate sunshine when there's warmer weather.

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Paciotti Salumeria

Paciotti Salumeria

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Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

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The term “piazza” is often translated as “square,” but when you arrive in Piazza Navona you’ll understand why that doesn’t always work. This oblong-shaped space was once a stadium, where citizens of Ancient Rome would come to watch games and races in the 1st century AD. The stadium may be gone, but the shape of the space remains. Today, the Piazza Navona is home to a selection of beautiful Baroque churches and fountains, some fabulously expensive outdoor cafes, and (often) vendors selling tourist trinkets. During the holidays, a Christmas market fills much of the piazza. At the center of the Piazza Navona is Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famous Fountain of the Four Rivers, with an Egyptian obelisk sitting atop the sculpture. There are two other smaller fountains, one at each end of the piazza, both by Giacomo della Porta. The most prominent building lining the piazza is the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, at the center facing one side of Bernini’s fountain.
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Palatine Hill (Palatino)

Palatine Hill (Palatino)

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Rome is famously built on seven hills, but it’s the Palatine Hill that is the most legendary - it is said that it was on the Palatine Hill that Romulus originally founded the city. Because of this, many of Rome’s most famous archaeological sites are on or right around the Palatine Hill. Some of the structures you can still see in some form on the Palatine Hill include the Flavian Palace, a palace thought to be the residence of Emperor Augustus’ wife, and the Hippodrome of Domitian. Archaeologists are still hard at work excavating on the Palatine, and in recent years they’ve found a palace believed to be the birthplace of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, as well as a cave beneath the hill that they believe was the site of the legendary Lupercalia celebrations. These supposedly took place in the cave where the she-wolf nursed Rome’s founder Romulus and his twin brother Remus, so it’s an incredibly significant discovery.
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Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)

Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)

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In Ancient Rome, a “circus” was an oblong arena where events like chariot races, games, and other performances were held. As you might guess, the Circus Maximus was - in a word - huge. It was the Roman Empire’s largest stadium, measuring more than 2,000 feet long by 387 feet wide and capable of holding an audience of 150,000.

First built in the 6th century B.C.E., the Circus Maximus was expanded over the next several centuries (and rebuilt occasionally after fire and flood damaged), until it was rebuilt by Emperor Trajan in the early 2nd century AD. In addition to chariot and horse races, the Circus Maximus also held religious ceremonies, and parades. The last recorded uses of the Circus Maximus are in the 6th century AD, and today there’s very little left of the structures. The site is now a public park, and you can see the overall oblong shape where the Circus used to be, as well as some of the starting gates.

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Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna)

Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna)

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The famous Spanish Steps lead from the Piazza di Spagna up to the Trinita Church. The staircase was constructed between 1723 and 1725 in the Roman Baroque style and is the longest and widest in Europe. The design is an elegant series of ramps with 138 steps in a fan or butterfly wing shape. In May, they are particularly beautiful when the ramps of the staircase are covered in spring flowers.

Architecture aside, what makes the Spanish Steps a favorite spot to hang out is the people watching. It's a place for tourists and locals to sit and enjoy the spectacle of Rome life.

The adjacent Piazza di Spagna is surrounded by wonderful tea rooms and cafes as well as being adjacent to some of the best shopping streets in Rome.

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Piazza Venezia

Piazza Venezia

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The Piazza Venezia defies many assumptions one might make from the name. It’s an open space, so it can be called a piazza, but it’s really a gigantic intersection and not a public square. And it’s in central Rome, not Venice. The name comes from the nearby Palazzo Venezia, in which ambassadors from the Venetian republic once lived.

The enormous Vittorio Emmanuele Monument faces one side of Piazza Venezia, and the interchange is also at the base of the Capitoline Hill and next to Trajan’s Forum. In short, although this piazza isn’t one in which you’re likely to spend lots of leisure time, you’ll certainly pass through it on your way to and from other major attractions in central Rome.

Those of you taking the bus around Rome will find Piazza Venezia to be a major transportation hub, which is useful for getting around the city. And if you’re ambitious enough to be driving in Rome, you’ll probably pass through the intersection a number of times.

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Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

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Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano)

Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano)

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Visitors to the Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano can see not only the present-day church, but also an older church and even older excavations underneath. Evidence suggests that the oldest building on this site likely dates from at least the 1st century B.C.E. It was the home of a wealthy Roman that was probably destroyed during a fire in 64 C.E., but even that structure is thought to have been built on the foundation of an even older building.

Other lower levels of the church have been excavated to reveal a room used in the 2nd century for worship of the cult of Mithras, as well as a 4th century basilica. The church you see at street level today was begun in the late 11th century and features an ornately decorated interior. A visit to the Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano is a fascinating step back in time.

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Historic Center of Rome (Centro Storico di Roma)

Historic Center of Rome (Centro Storico di Roma)

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The area of Rome known as the “centro storico,” or “historic center,” is sometimes referred to as whatever lies inside the ancient Aurelian Walls, but the border the walls created aren't exactly the same as what many people refer to as the Centro Storico today.

UNESCO designated the “Historic Center of Rome” a World Heritage Site in 1980, declaring the area inside the Aurelian Walls plus Vatican City (which was outside the walls) to be the city's Centro Storico. To most visitors, however, the Centro Storico is much smaller, and where many of the main attractions are located. In the Centro Storico, you can visit sights such as the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and the Capitoline Hill. The Forum and Colosseum are just outside the smallest interpretation of the Centro Storico, as are Vatican City and the Trastevere neighborhood.

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Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore)

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore)

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There are many churches in Rome - and throughout the world - dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The largest one is the Basilica Papale (or Papal Basilica) of Santa Maria Maggiore near the Termini Train Station in central Rome.

As you might guess from the name, Santa Maria Maggiore is technically part of the Vatican - just as a foreign embassy might be. As part of Vatican City, the Basilica is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes all extraterritorial properties of the Holy See in Rome.

Although the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore has been expanded upon and redecorated over the centuries, it was originally built in the mid-5th century and much of the original structure is still in place. In the years after the papacy was moved back to Rome from Avignon, part of the church was used as the papal residence until renovations to the Vatican Palace was completed.

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Piazza Barberini

Piazza Barberini

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Atop the Quirinal Hill is the Piazza Barberini, one of Rome’s public squares that also serves as a bit of a traffic intersection. The piazza itself is pedestrian-only, making it at least possible to enjoy yet another of Rome’s public spaces, although the cars zipping around it make it slightly less than peaceful.

In the middle of the piazza is the Triton Fountain, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 1640s. The piazza itself takes its name from the Palazzo Barberini, former home to a noble Roman family, one of whom eventually became Pope Urban VIII. That palace is now home to the Museum of Ancient Art.

Another fountain by Bernini - the Fountain of Bees - once occupied a corner of the Piazza Barberini, but it was moved to another spot on the nearby Via Vittorio Veneto. One of Rome’s two Metro lines (Line A) has a stop at the Piazza Barberini.

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Fontana dell'Acqua Paola

Fontana dell'Acqua Paola

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Church of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli)

Church of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli)

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The Church of St Peter in Chains, also known as San Pietro in Vicoli, is a basilica for both art lovers and pilgrims. The church was originally built in the fifth century to house the chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned by the Romans in Jerusalem, which eventually made their way to Rome, where they arrived in two parts. One part of the chain was sent to Eudoxia, the wife of emperor Valentinian III, and when compared to shackles held by Pope Leo I, legend says they miraculously fused together to form a single chain, which is now kept in a big bronze and crystal urn under the main altar.

The church is maybe best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, a part of a never completed funeral monument for Pope Julius II. Forty statues were planned, but Julius’ constant efforts to immortalize himself with giant projects soon had Michelangelo’s attentions diverted to the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

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