This is your free Rome City Guide! Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world, and large parts of that history are still visible today. You’ll enjoy ancient temples, good food, bustling piazzas and more churches than you’ve ever seen in your life. Here are our personal recommendations to you…
WHAT TO DO IN ROME
St Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) – You’ll have seen this open space in Vatican City many times on TV but to be there, surrounded by people, is a real experience. It’s not unusual to find some kind of service or ceremony in the piazza, but even if there’s nothing particularly going on, it’s a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. The steps under the huge columns which mark the edge of the piazza are often lined with visitors doing just that. Bernini designed these sets of columns which are topped by a sweeping stone roof, lined with statues of the saints looking down on the piazza. The oval lines of columns lead to the vast but beautiful St Peter’s Basilica which looks out onto the open space. There are two water fountains and a central obelisk in the piazza too. Nearest Metro stop is Ottaviano.
Rome St Peter’s Square: Read more, pictures & map…
St Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) – This is one of the world’s most important churches and it has all the finery to prove it. The sheer size of the Basilica is the first thing that blows you away and then you start to marvel at the ornate decoration, beautiful statues, stunning chapels, works of art and memorials to former popes. Michelangelo designed the massive dome on the roof which you can see across most of central Rome, whilst Carlo Moderno came up with the façade, which looks more like a palace than a church. Entry to the Basilica is free, but there is usually quite a long line to gain entry through the security point. Expect to wait half an hour or more and don’t get caught out by the dress code which is strictly enforced. For women – no shoulders or knees, for men – no shoulders. Nearest Metro stop is Ottaviano.
St Peter’s Basilica: Full review, pictures & map..
The Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel (Musei Vaticani & Cappella Sistina) – No trip to Rome would be complete without seeing the Sistine Chapel, but you can only do this by visiting the Vatican Museums. We simply wanted to see the chapel and get a feel for the museums and as such our visit took around 2 hours. If you take the audio tour, you’ll get more out of your visit, but it will also take you a lot longer. You could easily spend all day in the Vatican Museums if you wanted to, but after a while the ornately decorated rooms, statues, busts and works of art start to blend into one. If you head to the Museums around opening time, you will find a very long line to get in. It’s normal for this to stretch right down 2 whole sides of the Vatican walls. From the moment you join the queue, you’ll be hassled by people trying to sell you guided tours so you can “skip the line”. The line took around 50 minutes when we last visited, so don’t believe anyone who tries to sell you a tour saying you’ll be waiting 3 hours! The tours are expensive and they’re probably only worth taking if you really want a guided tour rather than just to beat the line. The easiest way to “beat the line” is to book tickets in advance online at the official Vatican website. However, if you are interested in a “skip the line” tour, go for one that gets consistently good reviews, like this Viator Tour. Nearest Metro stop is Ottaviano.
The Vatican Museums & SIstene Chapel: Full Review…
The Colosseum (Colloseo) – It’s another icon of Rome and one of the most impressive ancient structures you’re ever likely to see. Sadly, part of the outer walls fell down in an earthquake, but there’s still plenty left to get a feel for what the Colosseum would have been like in the days of the Gladiators. We think the building is most impressive on the outside, but it’s still worth a trip inside too. 55,000 Romans would have squeezed into the arena and when you’re inside you can see how they would have all fitted in. This is another building where you’re likely to find a long wait to get in, but taking the audio tour or an official guided tour costs only 4 or so Euros extra (2010 prices) and means you bypass the line. We took an official guided tour, but the guide’s English wasn’t great and we wished we’d gone for the audio tour instead. As such we learned little from the guide, but the experience of being there was one we’ll never forget. Nearest metro stop is Colloseo.
The Colosseum: Full Review, prices & map…
The Roman Forum (Foro Romano) – Across from the Colosseum you’ll find the rest of the ruins of Ancient Rome. You’ll find the ruins of temples, basilicas, palaces, houses, gardens and even a brothel! We liked the view from the greener Palatine Hill down onto the main Forum. The Forum used to be free, but there is now an admission fee which covers both Palatine and the Forum ruins. Check your ticket if you’ve been to the Colosseum as admission is usually included to the Forum and Palatine area too. Many people don’t realise and then buy an extra ticket they don’t need. We found the Forum area fascinating, but also frustrating as little is labelled. You probably need the audio tour to get the most out of it (at extra cost). Nearest metro stop is Collosseo.
The Roman Forum: Full Review, hours & map..
The Pantheon – Dating back to the first century AD, this former Roman temple is probably the oldest still used building you’ll ever have been in. It’s certainly the best preserved Roman building in Rome, partly because it was converted into a church by a Pope in around 609AD. Outside, the building shows its age with a huge stone canopy and ancient brickwork, but inside you get the full view of the magnificent dome. The building is lit by a single portal opening in the roof which lets in an amazing amount of light. We found the way the ball of light from the roof moves around the inside of the building quite hypnotic. Even today, it would be difficult to construct such a dome with the technology they had at the time safely. The Italian painter Raphael is buried here. The Pantheon is still a working church and as such admission is free. It is occasionally closed for services and events though. The Pantheon is in Piazza della Rotonda where you can also spend some time gazing at the stunning water fountain.
The Pantheon: Full review, opening times & map…
Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) – Without doubt this is Rome’s best water feature and it draws a huge crowd day and night. It dates back to 1762 and shows Neptune flanked by two horses. The water gushes with so much force that sitting on the edge of the feature will get you quite wet! The Piazza di Trevi, which is dominated by the fountain, is just off Largo Chigi, not far from the main thoroughfare Via del Corso.
Trevi Fountain: Read more, pictures & map…
Castel Sant’Angelo – This castle sits alongside the River Tiber and the central part of it was originally constructed as the mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian, but was converted by a Pope into the defensive fortress you see today. Inside, you enter up the original Roman passageway that Hadrian’s body would have been taken along, but the newer parts of the building contain beautifully decorated ornate papal apartments, courtyards, passageways and ramparts. Take the audio tour as little is marked and take your camera for some terrific views of Rome from the rooftop. Outside, spend some time on the bridge (Pont Sant Angelo) which is lined with Bernini statues. Nearest Metro stop is Lepanto.
Castel Sant’Angelo: Full review, opening times & map..
Piazza Navona – Almost 24 hours a day, this piazza is the heart of Rome’s social life. There are several routes into the piazza, and all offer striking views of the Bernini water fountain at the centre which was featured in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons book. Cafe’s surround the edge of the open space and the centre is filled with street entertainers, artists and musicians. We loved it here – there was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and it’s a beautiful place to while away some time. Piazza Navona is just off Via della Scrofa, and is only a 2 minute walk from the Pantheon.
Piazza Navona: Read more, pictures & map…
Piazza di Spagna – This piazza is home to the Spanish Steps, one of the tourist spots of Rome. The steps were designed in 1720 to connect the piazza to the church up the hill of Trinita dei Monti and many claim the are the longest and widest set of steps in Europe. Today the steps are usually covered with tourists, but the piazza is a also meeting place for locals, a popular location for street sellers and a starting point for Rome’s horse and trap rides.
Piazza di Spagna: Read more, pictures & map…
SEE OUR MINI GUIDE TO ROME’S BEST CHURCHES…
SEE OUR MINI GUIDE TO ROME’S BEST PIAZZAS…
SEE OUR MINI GUIDE TO ROME LOCATIONS IN DAN BROWN’S ANGELS & DEMONS…
OUR TOP TIP IN ROME
They say the population of Rome doubles during the daytime, but even with so many tourists there are some truly lovely streets and piazzas that remain fairly quiet. Our top tip for you is to spend a bit of time wandering around these areas, soaking up the simple beauty of the city. Our favourites are Via del Coronari near Piazza Navona, Piazza d. Pietre near Templo Adriano and Via Aquiro near Palazzo Chigi (the Prime Ministers house), but there are many more you can discover just by walking off the beaten track a little.
MORE THINGS TO DO IN ROME
If you like guided tours, you can get them for just about everywhere in Rome! The two most popular tours are the Vatican Museums Walking Tour and the Ancient Rome & Colosseum Half Day Tour. Both give you the opportunity to “skip the line” and both consistently get 5 star reviews from other tourists who’ve been on them – click on the “traveller reviews” tab to read what others have said. You can also use Rome as a base to visit other Italian locations on organised tours. The most popular options are the day trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast or the day trip to Naples and Pompeii. Again we recommend that you read the other traveller review before booking. For a bit of fun, next time we go to Rome, we plan to book the Rome Segway Tour! If you prefer to see prices in UK Pounds, click here.
We stayed at the 4* River Palace Hotel located near Piazza del Popolo in the northern bit of the city centre of Rome and we would thoroughly recommend it. It was beautifully decorated, immaculately clean and there was great customer service. Most attractions were within walking distance although we used the Metro for the Colosseum and occasionally for Vatican City. The only quibble was that the classic rooms are rather small, but how much time do you spend in your room in a city like Rome? Get latest prices for the River Palace Hotel here with Hotels.com.
GETTING AROUND ROME
Rome has busses, trams and a two line underground Metro system. We found the Metro easy to use for journeys that were too far to walk. You buy your ticket from the machines in stations which have an option for English. Journeys anywhere were only 1 Euro (2010 prices). You may choose to take a hop on, hop off tour bus too, although they’re quite expensive for what they are. Many of the tickets last 24 or 48 hours so you can use them for the tour one evening and then to get around the next day. We would NOT recommend the red CitySightSeeing Roma tour bus however as the commentary was constantly interrupted by the on board guide, the staff we encountered were rude and had no idea what customer service was and the busses were always overcrowded and not frequent enough.
Getting from the airport is best done by train. There are services from both of Rome’s main airports to the massive Termini Station. We tried 2 alternatives from Fiumicino Airport. Going into Rome we took the shuttle bus with got stuck in Rome’s traffic and took well over an hour, but was cheaper at 8 Euros. Going back we took the Leonardo Express from Termini costing 12 Euros with a journey time of 30 minutes. There are however lots of other transfer options – click the Airport Transfers button to see them with latest prices.
MORE ON ROME
More Things to Do In Rome – Top sightseeing tours and bookable activities (US Dollars)
More Things to Do In Rome – Top sightseeing tours and bookable activities (UK Pounds)
Rome Hotels – Great rates from Hotels.com
Vatican Museums Walking Tour – The most booked tour in Rome
Ancient Rome & Colosseum Half Day Tour – The second most booked tour
Guide Books on Rome – Amazon.co.uk (UK)
Rome Guide Books – Amazon.com (US & Canada)