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Italy

First Timers to Rome – Top Things to Do

Ah beautiful Roma. The Eternal City known for its ancient architecture and monuments. Its beautiful streets and piazzas. Its scrumptious food and wine, and wonderful fashion. Need I say more? Rome is the capital city of Italy and spans 28 centuries. It acts like an outside museum with its ancient ruins on display, amidst more current architecture from the 16th to 18th centuries.

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

There is an endless supply of attractions to visit. 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 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 to Rome, here are three walking tours taking you to the top sites, all at a dolce vita pace.

The Best Fountains and Piazzas

Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps

The beautiful Spanish Steps (Scalina Spagna) 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.

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At the bottom of the Spanish Steps sits the 17th century Fountain of the Old Boat (Fontana della Barcaccia), spouting water as she sinks. The inspiration was due to the Tiber River often flooding the city before the city walls were built. In 1598, the Piazza di Spagna was flooded with water. Once the water withdrew, a boat was left behind in the square, hence the inspiration was formed.

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. In and around this area, there are an endless supply of small boutique shops, luxury hotels, and fine dining restaurants.

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. 

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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.

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. 

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

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

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.

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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.

Total time on this walking tour 2 to 3 hours

The Best 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. 

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.

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

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.

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. 

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

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.

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

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

The Best 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

Walking tour 2-3 hours

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26 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.

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