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Things to Do in Rome - page 3

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Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere
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21 Tours and Activities

Sitting in the heart of atmospheric Trastevere, Piazza Santa Maria is the focal point of the district and has several different faces. By day it is the haunt of young families and tourists, by night clubbers and students come out of the woodwork to party in the surrounding bars.

The piazza’s western flank is dominated by the ornate Romanesque church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is one of the oldest in Rome, founded around 350 AD as Christianity was becoming prevalent. Several extensions and improvements ensued down the centuries, and now the church has a 16th-century portico and glittering medieval frescoes and mosaics in the apse as well as on its exterior, which glint when floodlit at night. The octagonal raised fountain in the center of the piazza has its origins in Ancient Roman times and was restored and added to by Baroque master architect Carlo Fontana in 1692.

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Piazza della Rotonda
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One of the liveliest squares in the Rome’s ancient heart, pedestrianized Piazza della Rotonda is lined with endlessly crowded bars, cafés and restaurants and is the perfect spot for all-day people watching. The rectangular space is also home to the Pantheon, dating from 27 BC but entirely reconstructed by Emperor Hadrian in the early second century AD. It is remarkably intact and its simple but exquisite interior is softly illuminated from the shafts of light peeping through the hole in its round dome. The church is also the resting place of Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as the artist Raphael.

Piazza della Rotonda was formed in the mid 15th century to the orders of Pope Eugenius IV, who wanted to clear the stalls, hovels and stores that were spoiling the view of the Pantheon. A fanciful marble fountain was built in 1575 by Giacomo della Porta, to which a Baroque Egyptian-style obelisk was added in 1711.

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Castel Sant'Angelo National Museum (Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo)
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The Castel Sant'Angelo is actually a tomb, Hadrian's Mausoleum. The Roman Emperor built it for himself and his family; their ashes were placed there in 138 AD. Other emperors are also buried there, but the tomb became a fortress in 401 AD; in 410 it was raided and the ashes were scattered. It is likely that Hadrian himself ended up in St. Peter's where a lot of the finest ornamentation of the mausoleum and other Roman buildings were taken.

It was named Castel Sant'Angelo after 590 AD when the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared on top of the building, signifying the end of the plague. From the 14th century, the popes turned the place into a residential castle, connecting it with St. Peter's by a fortified corridor. Since 1925, it has been a museum. The complex maze of rooms and corridors now house beautiful furnishings, paintings, sculptures, archaeological finds and historic weapons.

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Piazza del Campidoglio
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The Capitoline Hill is one of Rome’s famous seven hills, and in Italian it’s called the Campidoglio. The Piazza del Campidoglio is the trapezoidal space atop the hill, with buildings on three sides and a grand staircase on the fourth. The piazza and surrounding buildings were designed by Michelangelo in the mid-1500s.

Michelangelo employed several visual tricks to give the space a balanced feel, despite its lack of literal symmetry. He designed facades for the existing buildings, made the staircase more of a gradual ramp, and crafted a pattern to be inlaid in the piazza that deceives the eye into thinking it’s a perfect oval (it’s actually egg-shaped). The buildings once served as government buildings, but they now house the Capitoline Museums. At the center of the Piazza del Campidoglio is a replica of an Ancient Roman bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. The original bronze is nearby in the Capitoline Museums.

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Vittoriano Museum Complex (Complesso del Museo Vittoriano)
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Many visitors to Rome see the enormous Vittorio Emanuele II monument from the outside only, snapping a photo of the landmark locals often derisively call “the typewriter” before moving on. But if you climb the steps, you'll find there are sights to see inside, too.

The monument was completed in 1910 as a memorial to the first king of a united Italy. Italy's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of the monument, added in 1921, and the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento – Museum of Italian Unification – is inside the monument itself. The museum entry can be difficult to find, with unmarked doors on the main steps, but you can also enter from via San Pietro in Carcere. Also inside the monument is the Complesso del Vittoriano, an art gallery with rotating exhibits, and the Sagrario delle Bandiere, a gallery of Italian naval flags and some other historical naval displays.

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Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument (Vittoriano)
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The Vittorio Emanuele Monument in Rome goes by many names - some official, and some not at all so. In addition to “Vittorio Emmanuele Monument,” other official names include the “Altare della Patria” (Altar of the Fatherland) and simply “Il Vittoriano.” Less formal nicknames - given by Romans who don’t exactly love the monument - include “the wedding cake,” “the typewriter,” and “the fake teeth.”

No matter what you call it, it’s impossible to miss the imposing Vittorio Emmanuele Monument on the massive Piazza Venezia in central Rome. Built in the early 1900s to honor a unified Italy’s first king, the structure serves double-duty as the home of the tomb of Italy’s unknown soldier as well as the Museum of Italian Reunification.

Another reason to visit the Vittoriano is to ride the “Roma del Cielo” elevator to the top of the monument for some of the best views overlooking the city of Rome.

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Basilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano)
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Contrary to popular belief, St Peter’s Basilica isn’t the cathedral of Rome. This honor goes to “the Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist at the Lateran.” Quite the mouthful, but the church is more commonly known as the St John Lateran’s Basilica or Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. The basilica is the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome, and on top of that, it’s the seat of the Bishop of Rome—the Pope himself—and considered one of the most important Catholic church in the world.

Although one might think so, St John Lateran isn’t a person. The church is named after its location at the Lateran Palace, ancient seat of the noble Roman Laterni family and later the main papal residence. When the palace came into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, he soon donated the property to the church.

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Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana delle Quattro Fiumi)
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Rome is full of fountains, but some are more famous than others. The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona is one of the fountains that, thanks to popular culture and a colorful legend about rival artists, is on many tourist must-see lists.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini is the artist behind the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which depicts four major rivers - the Nile, the Danube, the Rio de la Plata, and the Ganges - each representing a different continent. Sitting atop Bernini’s sculptures is an Egyptian obelisk.

The fountain was built in 1651 and sits at the center of the Piazza Navona, right in front of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The statue representing the Rio de la Plata faces the church, and appears to be cowering away in horror at the design - the church was built by one of Bernini’s rivals. This is a common story, and a fun one, but it can’t be true - the church was built many years after Bernini’s fountain.

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Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura)
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The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is one of four major basilicas in Rome and was once the largest basilica in the world. It held that title until St. Peter's Basilica was completed in 1626. The original church was built in the 4th century but burned down in 1823. It was replaced with the one that stands today. It is where St. Paul is presumed to be buried, which is why it is named after him. His burial site was located outside of the Aurelian Walls that surrounded Rome at the time.

The basilica's art gallery has paintings from the original church, some dating back as far as the 13th century. There are also some rare documents and engravings that were saved from the fire. The outside of the church has 150 columns and a huge statue of St. Paul. The facade is decorated with mosaics designed from 1854 to 1874.
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Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo)
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Ancient Rome was famously composed of seven hills, but there are even more hills in modern Rome that weren't even included back then. One of them is the Janiculum Hill, or Gianicolo in Italian.

Gianicolo Hill sits on the western side of the Tiber River, near the Trastevere neighborhood, and takes its name from the god Janus – there was once an ancient cult to him located on the hill. Today, attractions on the hill include the San Pietro in Montorio church, a Bramante-designed shrine on the supposed location of St. Peter's crucifixion, and a botanical garden associated with the University of Rome. But the main draw is the view overlooking Rome – it's one of the best in the city.

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More Things to Do in Rome

Church of Saint Louis of the French (Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi)

Church of Saint Louis of the French (Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi)

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The name “San Luigi dei Francesi” means Saint Louis of the French, and this church is France's national church in Rome. It was built in the 1500s at the instruction of a Cardinal in the Medici family who would later become Pope Clement VII. Catherine de Medici had married the French king, contributed to the church's construction, and donated the land on which the church was built – further cementing the French connection. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi occupies the site of a former church, Santa Maria, which was owned by the Medici family. It was begun in 1518 and consecrated in 1589. The interior is all Baroque ornamentation, so there's no shortage of stuff to see, but the biggest attraction inside is the series of three St. Matthew paintings by Caravaggio. These paintings were commissioned for the church, so it's a great chance to see artwork in its original home rather than an art museum.

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Piazza Trilussa

Piazza Trilussa

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Located at the western end of Rome’s prettiest bridge, the Ponte Sisto, the Piazza Trilussa is in bohemian Trastevere, the city’s hard-drinking, clubbing district that comes alive at night when the backstreet bars are packed out. Named after a Roman poet from the 19th century, the cobbled square is home to a monument in his honor as well as the stately Acqua Paola water fountain, carved with the heads of dragons and lions. This travertine fountain was commissioned by Pope Paolo V, a member of the all-powerful Borghese family, and constructed in 1613 by Dutch architect and garden designer Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan van Santen in Dutch); it bears the Borghese family crest. Originally it was located on Via Giulia on the east side of the River Tiber but was reconstructed in its present home in 1898.

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Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo)

Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo)

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One of three churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary that face the large Piazza del Popolo in northern Rome is the church that bears the same name as the piazza - Santa Maria del Popolo. Of the three, this is by far the most popular tourist draw, primarily for the incredible artwork it contains.

The present-day Church of Santa Maria del Popolo was rebuilt in the 1470s from an earlier church built on the site in 1099. Gian Lorenzo Bernini updated the facade to its Baroque style in the 1650s, and also worked on the Chigi Chapel in the church.

Santa Maria del Popolo contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, mosaics by Raphael, chapels designed by Bramante and Raphael, and two fabulous paintings by Caravaggio. Because of this stunning collection of in situ art, the church is as much (if not more) a tourist attraction for art and culture lovers as it is still a house of worship.

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Ponte Sisto

Ponte Sisto

38 Tours and Activities

Ponte Sisto is a stone pedestrian bridge that crosses the Tiber River in Rome. It connects the historic center of Rome on one side of the river with the Trastevere neighborhood on the other side. The bridge dates back to the late 1400s and uses the foundations of an older Roman bridge that was destroyed in the early Middle Ages. Today the bridge is one of the few bridges crossing the Tiber River that does not allow vehicles. This makes it a pleasant crossing point for visitors exploring the city by foot.

The bridge also provides nice views of the city. From here, you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Ponte Garibaldi, Ponte Mazzini, Tiber Island, and Gianicolo Hill. The bridge connects Via dei Pettinari and Piazza Trilussa. Several boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafes can be found in this area on both sides of the bridge, some offering views of the river and the bridge itself.

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Arch of Titus (Arco di Tito)

Arch of Titus (Arco di Tito)

30 Tours and Activities

Located at the southeastern end of the Roman Forum, the triumphal Arch of Titus stands as a memorial to an emperor's brother.

Emperor Domitian commissioned the arch in the 1st century to honor his brother Titus, with the scenes showing Titus' many victories in war. Among the scenes is the Siege of Jerusalem – you can see a Jewish Menorah being carted back to Rome among the spoils.

Triumphal arches are familiar sights in Europe today – the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is one of the most famous examples – but most were based on the design of the Arch of Titus.

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Seven Hills of Rome (Sette Colli di Roma)

Seven Hills of Rome (Sette Colli di Roma)

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Before the Roman Empire rose to power, before a city called Rome even existed, the area had already been occupied for many years. The marshy valleys and steep hills offered natural protection, and while it is thought that individual communities developed on the different hills in the area, they eventually grew together as population increased.

In the 4th century B.C., what are known as the seven hills were joined together by the Servian walls—the ancient walls of Rome—and while modern Rome has far outgrown its original limits, the area around these seven hills still forms the geographical heart of the city. According to the legend, the central hill of Palatine was where Rome was founded by Romulus on the site of older settlements. Today, the whole ridge is an archaeological site that houses the residence of Augustus, the Temple of Apollo and the Great Mother. The biggest of the seven hills is Esquiline Hill.

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Column of Marcus Aurelius (Colonna di Marco Aurelio)

Column of Marcus Aurelius (Colonna di Marco Aurelio)

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Standing an impressive 100 feet high, the Column of Marcus Aurelius was built as a Roman victory monument and stands in what is now called the Piazza Colonna, situated in what would have been the northern boundary of Ancient Rome.

The original date of construction is unknown, but there are inscriptions of the column throughout the region that promote the idea that the construction was completed, at the very latest, by 193 AD. Most scholars believe that the construction of the column may have started directly after the Roman victories over a number of their northern rivals. Parallel to this idea are the intricate carvings on the column that work in a spiral fashion and tlel the stories of victories, war and conquest. The details show images of men, horses, women and the destruction of certain villages. By the 15th century, the statue of Marcus Aurelius atop the column had already deteriorated.

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Trajan's Column

Trajan's Column

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The enormous Trajan's Column near the Quirinal Hill was built in the 2nd century AD to commemorate Emperor Trajan’s victories in war. The column itself is 98 feet tall, but standing on its pedestal the entire structure is 125 feet tall.

The column is decorated with the story of Trajan’s war triumphs told in pictures, spiralling around the outside of the column, with the story starting at the bottom. Trajan’s ashes were originally interred in the base of the column. Amazingly, the column itself is actually hollow and contains a spiral staircase that leads to a viewing platform on the very top.

Trajan's Column was originally topped with a statue of Trajan himself, but in the late 16th century the then-Pope Sixtus V ordered that a statue of Saint Peter be put atop the column. It’s the statue of Saint Peter that you still see today. In order to see all of the bas relief carvings, you’ll need to visit Rome’s Museum of Roman Civilization.

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Rome Via del Corso

Rome Via del Corso

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Testaccio

Testaccio

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The Testaccio neighborhood is one of the old districts of Rome. It sits along the eastern bank of the Tiber River to the south of the city center, and in Ancient Roman times it was the equivalent of the city’s shipyards. Many goods were brought into the city via the river, and were unloaded in Testaccio. The broken shipping containers, primarily clay pots of varying sizes, were discarded in a pile that eventually became the Testaccio Hill. As you can imagine, archaeologists have found all kinds of interesting things in and around Testaccio Hill - an Ancient Roman dump turned historic treasure trove. Today, Testaccio is changing from a mostly working-class neighborhood, with several butchers still in the area, to a neighborhood with a growing reputation as a foodie destination and nightlife hotspot. It’s still not as well-traveled as the more central parts of Rome, but tourists interested in that so-called “authentic Rome” so many people look for may find some of it in Testaccio.
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Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone (Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone)

Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone (Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone)

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As a 17th century Baroque church facing Piazza Navona, the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone stands in one of the busiest areas of the in Rome’s historic city center — yet it remains a peaceful sanctuary and renowned Roman church. History tells us that the Early Christian Saint Agnes was martyred on site here in the ancient stadium built by Emperor Domitian. The structure itself was built in 1652 and meant to act as a personal chapel for the family of Pope Innocent X, who lived in the palazzo just beside it. Today it remains a beautiful chapel, known for its frescoed ceilings, many fine sculptures and altars, and impressive marble work. It is also a shrine to Saint Agnes, with her skull still on display to visitors and her body buried in the catacombs. The church’s architecture is characterized by its massive dome, Corinthian columns, and Greek cross plan.

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