Updated: Sep 5
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Built in 625 BC, the Eternal City is loaded with ruins that give a glimpse of what life was like in ancient times. There's much to see, so my husband and I didn't waste a second after getting off the plane and checking into our hotel. It was the first stop on our two weeks in Italy, and it ended up being my favorite. If you're looking to save money, the Rome and Vatican pass will land you tons of discounts and free entry to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. When in Rome, here are all the things you must see and do.
The Vatican City
The Catholic capital of the world, the Vatican City could easily take a whole day of exploration, but the highlights can be seen in about half that time. When going to the Vatican, you'll first run into St. Peter's Basillica and St. Peter's Square. Take some time to explore the area before heading toward the Vatican Museums, home of the Sistine Chapel. It's smart to book Sistene Chapel tickets online in advance to spare you the hour-long lines present year round.
If you wish, you can climb to the top of St. Peter's Basillica's Dome, which offers incredible views of the Vatican and Rome. If you do wish to climb, it's recommended to go around 8 a.m. when the basillica opens for reduced lines and better temperatures. There are 551 total steps, but an elevator can save 320 of those steps for a few more euros.
The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and The Roman Forum
I clumped these three together because they are located side-by-side and are accessed using the same ticket. You're probably well-aware that the Colosseum is a must-visit while you're in Rome. This massive amphitheater spans six acres and began construction in 70 AD. It served as a hub for gladiator fights and other large events.
The Palatine Hill offers a view of the Roman Forum, an ancient village where government buildings, a marketplace, and meetings once occurred. It's said that speeches, elections, and other events were held here as well. Also in the forum is the resting place of Julius Caesar. When Caesar was killed, he was carried back to the forum and burnt at what is now called the Temple of Caesar. Today, many visit and throw flowers and coins on the "grave." The lines to the forum and Colosseum can be long during peak tourist season, so consider booking a skip-the-line ticket.
The Trevi Fountain
One of the most famous fountains in the world is the Trevi Fountain. The fountain is connected to an aqueduct that supplied water to ancient Rome for 400 years. Today, this modern marvel is a true sight to see. Legend has it, if you toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you will return to Rome in the future. It is said that 1.5 million euros are collected every year from the fountain. The money collected goes to supply numerous charities throughout the city, so even though it no longer supplies water to the masses, it still supplies blessings to the less fortunate.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps were built to connect the Trinità dei Monti church to the Spanish Square below. They are a great place to relax, meet, and take in the city views. The steps were also a popular place for poets, artists, and painters to get inspiration. Today, they are located at one of the most visited squares in Rome, partially because of the high-end shopping strip across the street.
The Spanish Steps were completed in 1725, and were commissioned by a French diplomat, Étienne Gueffier, instead of a Spanish man as the name suggests. At the mid-way point of the steps is the Keats-Shelley House, where the English romantic poet John Keats lived before dying of tuberculosis. The house is now a museum.
The Pantheon, an architectural sensation, is even bigger in person. The church is the best preserved example of ancient Roman architecture, with a dome center that provides natural light from above to illuminate inside. It is free to enter and walk around, and the inside is just as picturesque as the massive exterior.
The Pantheon was turned into a church in 609 AD, although it was built as we know it today in 120 AD. The word Pantheon actually means "honor all Gods" in Greek, as the building was first built as a temple to the Gods. The impressive dome remains the largest unsupported dome in the world today, and it measures 142 feet in diameter.
Largo di Torre Argentina
The Roman temples of Largo di Torre Argentina, the square where Caesar was murdered, is now home to a non-profit feral cat sanctuary. Volunteers watch over the more than 200 cats at the ruin, feeding them and getting them spayed and neutered. Since the city of Rome doesn't give the volunteers any money, they sale calendars, T-shirts, and various goodies inside the gift shop to help care for the cats. You are welcome to pet some of the cats resting inside and talk to some of the ladies who take care of them. It is quite an interesting sight to see cats lying on the ancient ruins.
Altar of the Fatherhood
We stumbled upon The Altar of the Fatherhood by accident, but we are so glad that we did. The altar holds the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, which honors the first king of Rome. Also, there is the tomb of the unknown solider, which is guarded by armed military officials. The statues and design are beautiful like much of Rome, but what really made the experience worth it was the astonishing view. You could see a great deal of the city from the top, including the Colosseum.
When you hear about the catacombs of Rome, it is actually quite a broad term. There are many different catacomb burial grounds to explore in The Eternal City. The Roman people used to bury their dead in underground corridors for many reasons, one being the lack of land above ground. Some of the catacombs include: Catacombs of Priscilla, Catacombs of San Sebastiano, and the Catacombs of Santa Domitilla. To decide which one to visit, you should see which is closest to you, most affordable, or most easily accessible.
The Baths of Caracalla
Rome's second largest public bathhouse can be visited for a fee, with blocked walkways to ensure no further damage to the mosaic floors. They were in use for likely a little over 300 years before being abandoned in 537 AD. The baths were built by the Emperor of Caracalla in 200 AD, hence the name. They were first drawn by Caracalla's father, Septimius Severus, but were not built until Caracalla's rein. The baths were heated and included two exercise courtyards as well as a space with changing rooms. There were once balconies overlooking the courtyards, but they have since been removed. When the baths were active, 1,600 people could use them at a time.
It's very easy to get around Rome using the Metro, so as long as you're in walking distance of a train station, you are in a prime position in the city. The hotel I stayed at was called Hotel Picasso, and it was pretty budget friendly. Still, the staff was polite and the hotel served free wine nightly. If you're looking for a level up, stay at the Borgofico Realis & Wellness. It's only 0.6 miles away from the city center. For a luxury option, check out Bettoja Hotel Mediterraneoneo.
As you can see, Rome has a copious amount of things to do, but if planned carefully, they can be done in two or three days. By reading through these ideas, selecting your favorites, and compiling a schedule, you'll be sure to not miss out on anything Rome has to offer.