Rome, the ancient city in Italy, is known for piazzas, fountains and architecture. Visiting Rome for the first time and want to know what to see and do, this travel guide higlights the top things to do in Rome.
Italy

First Timers to Rome – Top Things to Do

Ah beautiful Roma Italia. The Eternal City known for its ancient architecture and monuments. Its beautiful streets and piazzas. Its 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.  

There is an endless supply of places to visit when 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  |  Check out our Guide ‘Things You Need to Know Before you Go…to Italy’

Must-See 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. 

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.  

10-minute walk from Spanish Steps to Trevi Fountain

TREVI FOUNTAIN

In the heart of 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.

First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

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 is 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.

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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 when 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. This is the perfect place to hang out and people watch in one of the restaurants that line the piazza.

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

Must-See Ancient Sites in Rome

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. 

First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

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 where caged and stage sets prepared the games in which gladiators fought wild animals or each other. 

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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 can book your tickets in advance. 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 and where all significant political and social events took place dating back to the 6th century. 

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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. 

First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

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.

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

The 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.

First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com
First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

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, 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 being echoed throughout.

First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

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 is 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.  

First Timers to Rome - Top Things to Do | www.DreamPlanExperience.com

Plan on wandering this area for 2-3 hours

As a holidaymaker…

Rome is a 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 on what to do in Rome. 

Visiting Rome, Italy for the first time? Here is your walking tour of all the top sites.
Visiting Rome, Italy for the first time? Here is your walking tour of all the top sites.

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44 Comments

  • Angela

    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.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      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!

  • Eric Gamble

    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!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      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.

  • Damien

    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.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      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.

  • Lydia

    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

    • The.Holidaymaker

      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.

  • WanderlustBeautyDreams

    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!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      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.

  • Carly-jo

    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!

    • The.Holidaymaker

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

      • Mei

        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.

        • The.Holidaymaker

          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.

  • Josy A

    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.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      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.

  • Suzanne Jones

    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.

  • Carol Colborn

    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”!

    • The.Holidaymaker

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

  • Lara Dunning

    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.

  • Anda

    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.

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    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!

  • Tami

    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.

  • Hannah

    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!

  • Megan

    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!

  • Natascha

    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.

  • Jenn | By Land and Sea

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

  • Sophia Bawany

    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.

  • Umiko

    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.

  • Ambica Gulati

    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!

  • Bea

    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

  • Clarice

    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.

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