As the historic centre of the Roman Empire, Rome is home to a multitude of architectural wonders and thanks to its rich cultural heritage, there’s no shortage of sites to discover in the charismatic Italian capital. However, with so much on offer, it can be tricky to know where to begin when it comes to uncovering the metropolis' treasure trove of archaeological gems. We’ve taken on the task of compiling a list of attractions which we believe represent the best of the city’s art, architecture, culture and (of course) cuisine – read on to find out our must sees in Rome.
One of the most famous historical sites in the world, not just in Rome, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Constructed between 70 and 80 AD, the theatre could accommodate up to 80,000 spectators and was used to host gladiator battles, executions and animal hunting as public entertainment. Wander through the ancient underground tunnels or take a guided tour for a more in-depth exploration of this iconic building. Make sure to head to the recently opened fifth level for impressive 360-degree views of the entire arena.
Built by Emperor Hadrian between 118 and 125 AD, the Pantheon is one of ancient Rome’s best preserved buildings and another world-renowned attraction. It was constructed on the site of a former temple - built by Roman general Marcus Agrippa – which burnt down in 80 AD, and is located on the Piazza della Rotonda, in the heart of the city. The front is inscribed with a dedication to ‘All of the Gods’ and inside you’ll find the largest unreinforced dome in the world (with a diameter of 142 feet). The interior of the dome boasts intricate stone patterns and a central oculus, which allows a beam of natural light into the room.
St Peter’s Square and Basilica
Technically not located in the city of Rome, but instead in Vatican City (a country within a country), St Peter’s Square still makes the list for our must sees in Rome. The square, which is actually oval-shaped, is framed by giant colonnades which hold statues of historical and religious figures. St Peter’s Basilica, an outstanding example of Renaissance architecture and one of the most celebrated religious buildings in the world, stands at the far end of the square. With Michelangelo and Bernini as two of the key designers, the decoration inside the Basilica is arguably even more impressive than the façade. Head to the top of the dome for spectacular panoramic views of the square.
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Another must-see in Vatican City are the museums founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century. Here you’ll find one of the largest art collections in the world, displayed across 54 galleries and courtyards. The Sistine Chapel is part of the museum complex and one of the world’s most famous chapels, with its intricately painted frescoes and religious iconography. The interior was extensively renovated during the 1400s and Michaelangelo’s artwork on the chapel’s ceiling is widely considered as one of the most inspiring artistic achievements of humankind. On the east side of the chapel is his painting of The Last Judgement, possibly the most famous of the frescoes.
The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum, made up of various temples, arches and squares, was once the centre of the city’s political and public life. Today the site consists of the remaining ruins of these structures and is worth a visit for incredible examples of ancient Roman architecture. Located opposite the Colosseum, some stand-outs include the Temples of Vesta, Saturn and Titus, as well as the Arch of Severus.
As one of the most famous fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain is a popular tourist spot and it’s difficult to find a time to visit when it won’t be surrounded by crowds. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful example of Baroque architecture and dates back to 1732, so is worth adding to your itinerary. According to the myth of the fountain, which originated in 1954 with the movie ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, throwing different numbers of coins into the water can result in various fortunes – one for returning to Rome, two to fall in love with an Italian and three to meet the person you will marry. Thanks to this myth, approximately a million euros worth of coins are extracted from the fountain each year, and the money used to support various charitable causes.
Campo Dei Fiori Food Market
A list of must sees in Rome wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to sample the city’s world-famous cuisine. The Campo Dei Fiori food market is the Italian capital’s oldest market, dating back to 1869. Located near Piazza Navona, the colourful stalls overflowing with fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and flowers are a feast for both the eyes and tastebuds. Sample some freshly baked goods as you continue your tour of the city, or select some ingredients for a sunset picnic.
Given that Italy boasts so many gastronomic delights, it was impossible to narrow down Rome’s must-see food spots. The Testaccio neighbourhood is considered to be the birthplace of the city’s culinary traditions and the market is an excellent place to sample street food, with over 100 gourmet and fresh food stalls. We could write an entire blog post about the best stalls to visit, although a couple of mouth-watering options include the creamy cacio e pepe from Le Mani in Pasta and the braised artichoke sandwiches from Mordi e Vai.
Forno Campo de’ Fiori
One final foodie spot, Forno Campo de’ Fiori is one of Rome’s oldest bakeries and has been supplying the city with warm, baked goods for around 500 years. The bakery is located near the Campo Dei Fiori food market and their simple pizza slices are a popular snack with both locals and tourists; it’s even possible to sample the flatbreads, so you can decide between the array of delicious toppings. The fior di zucca (zucchini flower, anchovy, and mozzarella) is a particular favourite.