First Timers to Rome – Top Things to Do
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Figo – 1-bedroom modern furnishing in a 15th-century building close to Piazza Navona
- Visions of Amore – a modern studio close to Trevi Fountain
- Soft Pastelli – lovely 2-bedroom in an old palazzo in the heart of Trastevere neighbourhood
- Trevi Treat – pretty 2-bedroom in steps from Trevi Fountain
- 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.