Ah, beautiful Roma Italia. The Eternal City is known for its ancient architecture and monuments. Its beautiful streets and piazzas. The scrumptious food and wine, and wonderful fashion. You’ve made the easy decision to travel here, now comes the hard part – what to see when in Rome. (Updated: November 2022)

There is an endless supply of places to visit and things to do in Rome Italy. No matter how much time you spend, it will never be enough. Remember, a trip to Rome is all about the dolce vita, or the good life. This ancient city is meant to be savoured. That means, strolling slowly through the picturesque streets, leisurely enjoying a delicious meal, and idly watching people on those pretty piazzas. This is the Rome experience you want to have.

For first timers, the best places to visit in Rome are the fountains and piazzas, as well as seeing a couple of the ancient sites. Let this be your guide to the must-see sites in Rome all at a dolce vita pace.

Related reading |  Perfect for first timers to Rome, check out guide Things You Need to Know Before you Go…to Italy

Top Things to Do in Rome – Fountains and Piazzas

Piazza di Spagna & Spanish Steps

The beautiful Spanish Steps is the widest staircase in Europe. Built in 1725, it links the lower Piazza di Spagna with the upper Piazza Trinita dei Monti church. The 138 steps are a wide irregular mix of curves, straight flights, vistas and terraces. And, it’s always lined with bright bright pink azalea plants.

At the bottom of the Spanish Steps sits the 17th century Fountain of the Old Boat, spouting water as she sinks. The inspiration was due to the Tiber River often flooding the city before the city walls were built. 

steps in rome italy

Facing the Spanish Steps is one of the richest streets in Italy, Via dei Condotti. It’s famous for its local Italian designers like Armani, Prada, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and Gucci. Spending time in this area is really one of the top things to do in Rome.  

Did you know?
The Spanish Steps were such a popular place to gather and sit that as of 2019, you are no longer allowed to sit on the Spanish Steps. Fines have been introduced to enforce this, to protect this UNESCO World Heritage site.

10-minute walk from Spanish Steps to Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

In the heart of ancient Rome sits the Trevi Fountain. It’s the largest and most famous of all the fountains in Rome.  Built in 1732, the fountain depicts the sea-god Oceanus in a shell-shaped chariot led by Tritons with seahorses – one wild and one docile – representing the moods of the sea. The name Trevi refers to the tre vie or three roads that converge at the fountain. 

The fountain gets very busy during the day. The best time to see it without the crowds is first thing in the morning, or in the evening when it’s beautifully lit. This is really one of the best things to see when in Rome.

fountain in rome

Did you know?
According to legend, tossing one coin into the water means you’ll return to Rome. Tossing two coins means you’ll return and fall in love, and tossing three coins means you’ll return, find love, and marry. Luck or no luck, on average about €3000 is thrown in every day and those funds go directly to local charities.

10-minute walk – Trevi Fountain to Pantheon

Pantheon

The Pantheon sits in the heart of the Ancient City of Rome led in by a few narrow laneways. It has stood since 125 AD, and is considered the best preserved of all the ancient monuments. Although the graying exterior may show its age, it’s not until you pass through the massive bronze doors and gaze upward to the awe-inspiring concrete dome that it looks as if it was only built yesterday. At the center of the dome is the 8.7m diameter oculus, the dome’s only source of light. It symbolically connected the temple with the gods. 

Facing the Pantheon is the Piazza della Rotonda which is a lively square filled with cafes, restaurants, music and people.

fountain and building in rome

Did you know?
The rainwater enters the oculus but drains away through 22 almost-invisible holes in the sloping marble floor.

5-minute walk – Pantheon to Piazza Nova

Piazza Nova

Piazza Navona is one of the largest and most beautiful piazza squares in Rome. It has three impressive fountains – Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Moro and Fontana di Nettuno. This oval-shaped piazza was once the site of the Stadium of Domitian where festivals and sporting events took place. It wasn’t until the 15th century that it was paved over to create what we see today.

This piazza is full of life. It’s where street artists, painters and musicians add a lively atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to hang out and people-watch in one of the restaurants that line the piazza.

fountain in rome

Did you know?
The Fountain of the four rivers or Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, is the largest of the three fountains. The fountain consists of four figures, each representing a river, from the four continents, known by those times- Nile (Africa), Ganges (China), Danube (Europe) and Rio della Plata (The Americas).

This concludes the must-see Fountains and Piazzas. Expect the total time will be 2 to 3 hours

Visit Rome MustSee Attractions – Ancient Sites

The Colosseum

When you first lay eyes on the Colosseum you are awe-struck. This massive ancient site seems to be right smack in the middle of the city, just as if it was any regular building, and not a structure built more than 2,000 years ago. 

colosseum in rome

Once inside the Colosseum, you climb these immense uneven stone stairs to rise above the tiered encircled seating that held up to 80,000 spectators. As you look down below, you can see traces of the underground complex where animals were caged and stage sets prepared the games in which gladiators fought wild animals or each other. 

colesseum in rome

Did you know?
For the first time in 40 years (in 2019), the top level is made accessible to the public. Book online and in advance for the guided tour of the top level, and you will be rewarded with stunning views across the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

Across the street from the Colosseum is the entrance to The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which are located in the same archaeological area adjacent to each other. All three sites are included in the one admission price and you need to book your tickets in advance, click here. You can’t visit Rome without seeing this popular tourist attraction. 

Roman Forum

Walk through this sprawling area where a collection of ruins and historic buildings are scattered around giving you a glimpse into the founding of the ancient Roman Empire. Once marshland, the Romans drained the area and turned it into a lively city. It featured a large marketplace where all significant political and social events took place dating back to the 6th century. 

archway in rome

The area was abandoned in the middle ages, and it wasn’t until 1898 when excavations began that uncovered this ancient city. For true history buffs, you will want to consider getting a guide, otherwise, you are roaming this area on your own, and with no information. 

ancient columns in rome

Did you know?
The Temple of Caesar, built after his assassination on the steps of the Theater of Pompey, is sometimes referred to as the site of Caesar’s grave. But it is actually the spot where he was cremated in 44 BC. Now, the temple is in ruins, but people still leave flowers and tributes in honour of Rome’s most famous citizens.

Palatine Hill

The Palatine Hill is the most famous of Rome’s seven hills as it features towering pine trees, ancient ruins and majestic city views. It’s a lovely place to go for a quiet stroll, especially just after dawn or right before dusk. This was the starting place for Rome, and where all the myths and legends began, as well as the city’s highest society resided. There are literally hundreds of ruins from this ancient time. Palatine Hill offers the best view of the Roman Forum.

buildings in rome

Did you know?
Romulus and Remus who were the legendary founders of Rome lived in a cave on Palatine Hill. In this cave, called Lupercal, is where they were protected by the she-wolf who later became the symbol of Rome.

Plan on 3 hours to see all three, with approximately an hour each.

Best Things to Do in Rome – a Must-See Neighbourhood

I definitely saved the best for last. Across the Tiber River sits Trastevere, often referred to as a real Roman neighbourhood. There is no better place to get lost than right here. It’s wonderfully charming with its colourful buildings, cobblestone streets, old doorways, arched passageways, laundry strung from building to building, and flower-filled balconies.

river with bridge in rome

The Piazza di Santa Maria is at the heart of this neighbourhood. One of Rome’s oldest and most beautiful churches is the Basilica di Santa Maria, which dates back to the 3rd century.  I happen to wander in during a mass service – what timing and luck! I was immediately awe-struck by the delicate frescoes, the massive marble pillars, and the gold dome ceiling, all while the hum of a sermon and song echoed throughout.

piazza in rome with people

Choose one of the restaurants on the piazza as the best way to soak up the ambiance of this lively square. Over a long delicious meal, you will get a front-row seat at the pleasure of people-watching. It’s where the locals gather to talk, families stroll slowly together, children play soccer (or football), and musicians set up and provide a free concert. This piazza acts as an extension of their home and you get to be a part of it. It is magical.  

buildings in rome
Plan on wandering this area for 2-3 hours

Best Places to Stay in Rome

I’ve found some of the dreamiest places to stay in Rome, hopefully, you agree.

  1. Figo – 1-bedroom modern furnishing in a 15th-century building close to Piazza Navona
  2. Visions of Amore – a modern studio close to Trevi Fountain
  3. Soft Pastelli – lovely 2-bedroom in an old palazzo in the heart of Trastevere neighbourhood
  4. Trevi Treat – pretty 2-bedroom in steps from Trevi Fountain
  5. Golden Lion – comfortable 3-bedroom in a 14th-century building in the Trastevere neighbourhood

Or, start your own search, click here or if you like a hotel experience, click here

As a holidaymaker…

Rome is such a beautiful city. From its monuments to piazzas to its food – pleasing all the senses. Perhaps that’s why it lingers in our memories long after you leave. 

Remember, a trip to Rome is all about the dolce vita, or the good life. Don’t rush your time in the city, savour it! Use this as your guide to the very best things to do in Rome. 

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57 Comments

  1. Your post made me feel a little better about my Rome trip. I was perpetually frenzied and wished that I had more time to cover a lot more. But I think for a first timer I did most of it except for the Roman stairs. I loved the Roman forum and Colosseum. Infact, wished I could have done the underground tour of the Colosseum. Cheers

  2. Nice! I did not realize that there is so much to see and do in Rome. I would love to see the Trevi Fountain. The details are fascinating plus I get to read this in mythology books. This is actually on top of my bucket list. Thank you for the tips.

  3. Loved this article, it brought back so many memories from our first trip to Rome. We went on a great food tour on the Trestevere neighbourghood. Really great read, thank you

  4. That was an awesome visit to Rome, as I am reading about Rome in detail for the first time. You could call me a first timer. I have bookmarked this should I get to see Rome soon. The city looks marvellous and the history and attractions just blend so well with the normal life, or as you said dolce vita, to good times!

  5. I will steal this ideas when I go to Rome with my family. I’ve been there once when I was still single, and it was long time ago. I remember I used a restroom at a hotel across the top of Spanish Steps. I couldn’t hold myself anymore. It’s called Hotel Eden and apparently it’s a luxurious hotel and was mentioned in one of Sidney Sheldon books.

  6. THIS! The post I needed for our upcoming Italian getaway. Everytime we start to plan our day to day, we get overwhelmed because there is soo much to do. Our first Italian itinerary ended up being over 20 days! We really needed some tried and tested things to do. Thank you. saving this.

    1. Wow, 20 days in Italy sounds wonderful. My best tip, don’t “plan” for half those days, and live spontaneously and get lost in those places you want to go to. That is the Italian way. Travel slowly and enjoy!

  7. I adore Rome and have been missing it lately. Until I can safely travel there again, posts like these help cure my wanderlust!

  8. Great guide for first time visitors in Rome. We spent a week in Rome several years ago and did all the things you suggested. Walking through the Trastavere neighborhood was one of our favorite things to do. Another highlight for us was the Roman Forum.

  9. This makes me a little sad because we were supposed to go to Italy in 2020. It looks so amazing. I love how you organized the plazas and fountains into a little walking tour. That’s our favorite way to see a city!

  10. These are great tips for anyone planning a first time visit to Rome! We made the mistake of visiting in August for the first time and got caught up in the worst heatwave! We definitely won’t be doing that again! I didn’t know much about the Roman Forum before we went but I wish we had spent more time there. It is definitely one not to be missed! Thanks for the great guide!

  11. We went everywhere you did in Rome except the Trastevere neighborhood. I hadn’t even heard of it before! Rome was definitely amazing and you highlighted some of the best places to see. Another highlight for for us was traveling to Ostia Antica, the ancient Rome seaport, to walk among the ruins.

  12. Rome is one of those places we have visited several times. We usually pick a small number of things to see and do on each stop. But some favourites like the Spanish Stairs or Trevi Fountain seem to get more than one stop for us. I just heard they opened up the rooms under the Coliseum so that will be on our plan on a return trip. Can’t wait to savour this city again!

  13. Your post brought back so many sweet memories! Rome is the first city that we visited after emmigrating from Romania. I absolutely love all these neighborhoods and landmarks that you mention here. My favorite is Trastevere, but the historic center is by far the richest in archeology.

  14. I have yet to make it to Rome and while I want to see all the things on your list, the Colosseum is at the top. I’d definitely want to walk around Trastevere too. Looks very charming and a slice of real life.

  15. I was anxious to find out (since I had been there twice) that there are some places that I had not been to. And that is Trastevere Neighbourhood! But I have been to Piazza Navona”!

    1. Carol, you will have to return to the real Roman neighbourhood of Trastevere. It was my highlight of visiting Rome.

  16. I’ve been a couple of times but would be happy to go back and visit all of these places again. I still haven’t seen the Colosseum and the Forum so that would be my first stop next time I visit.

  17. I love all those history-filled boxes in this post Renee! I have visited Rome before, but I still just learned a bunch.

    I really love that you saved the Trastevere Neighbourhood for last (when you’re hungry and ready for food!) The tourist-filled sights are gorgeous, but it’s always more fun to visit the local areas where people actually live.

    1. You are definitely right! You can’t not visit some of the main attractions, but then you have to find those spots that you will remember forever. Trastevere was that place for me.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I can only imagine how interesting visiting the Roman Forum would be to an archaeologist.

      1. Yes, it was awesome! And we stayed there for almost the whole day, picnicking inside and exploring all the details that I learned about at the university. Did you also visit Pompeii when you were in Italy? It’s another great archaeological site.

        1. No, we didn’t have a chance to. We were planning to return last year, which got bumped to this year, and well, it looks like it will happen again. One day.

  18. I visited Rome for the first time 4 years ago and I’m really pleased to say I was able to tick off everything on your list, I think this is a fantastic guide for first time visitors!

  19. I went to Rome back in 2015 and loved it! But when I was there I was bummed that the Trevi fountain was under restoration. I need to make my way back and see it in it’s glory. Your photos are so lovely and great guide for first timmers!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. When I was there, it was the fountain at the base of the Spanish Steps that was under restoration. It must always be something every year.

  20. I really want to visit Rome! I used to have loads of books on it as a kid. It’s so interesting about the fine for sitting on the steps

    1. Thank Lydia for stopping by and commenting. I’m sure if you were to travel there those places you read about would come alive for you. Hope you get a chance to visit.

  21. It’s crazy that I have not yet been to Rome even though i spent most of my life less than a 2 hour flight away! And I love old ruins too so it would be perfect. If you loved the Colosseum, you should check out the Roman theatre in Nimes, France which is still being used to this day.

    1. Thank you for your comment Damien. I was so close to visiting Nimes when in Provence a couple years ago. I too, so close and yet hadn’t been able to visit. Hopefully we will both get there one day.

  22. I got my first time trip to Rome back in 1997! I barely remember it but I do remember walking around all the Piazzas and hanging out at the Trevi Fountain! We had a hostel near the Colosseum but I really cant wait to go back cause it will feel like my first time to Rome all over again!

    1. Thank you Eric for your comment. It is amazing when we return to places we were once in and how our perspectives change over time. Hope you get the chance to return.

  23. A great guide to Rome. I have been several times and it is definitely a city you can return to time and time again. I loved your “did you know” snippets, a great idea. I was fortunate enough to do the underground and top tier of the Colleseum about 6 years ago ( a combined tour) it was so interesting.

    1. I wish I had joined the tour, we did it on our own and I am sure you don’t have quite the same experience. Thanks for commenting Angie!

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