Rome is just one of those cities that’s bound to impress even the most pessimistic of travellers. There’s just so much amazing history behind (and indeed historical sights within) the city and let’s not even to begin to talk about the food… oh, the food!!! Despite popular sentiments that visiting Rome is best done in summer, there’s really no ‘bad’ time to visit Rome, each season has it benefit in Rome (for instance, escaping huge crowds is one notable benefit of visiting Rome in winter).
All of this being said, and with a HUGE amount of things to see and do here, what sights should you pop by first when you arrive in the eternal city? Here are 15 sights you absolutely have to see when you visit Rome… and don’t forget to have a gelato or two with you while you visit them all (okay, fine you can have 3…).
1.) The Colosseum
This one really needs no introduction. The mighty Coliseum still stands proud in Rome and is without a doubt the most obvious number one stop for any visitor to this city. For this reason of course, it’s best to book in advance to avoid disappointment as it can get very crowded. (Unless of course if you choose to visit in winter like we mentioned earlier…)
2.) Appian Way and Catacombs
Dating back to 312 BC (yup, it’s old – though you’re in Rome so that shouldn’t surprise you), these catacombs have tombs that sit both above and below ground and are probably best avoided if you’re claustrophobic as there are 18 miles of tunnels that stretch under the city and include the remains of nine former popes. These are a more ‘hidden part’ of Rome that quite a few tourists surprisingly miss out on when they visit so you should definitely pop by, even if just to be obnoxious to your friends who visited and missed it.
3.) Domus Romane
Domus Romane is the home of a former Roman resident that has been excavated, restored and brought to life with some interactive installations that use computer wizardry to tell the story of ancient Rome. As well as the exhibits, you can opt into the daily tours here and get a more in-depth look at its history.
4.) Borghese Gallery
Often touted as one of the best collections of art in the entire world, the Borghese Gallery has all the classics that you would expect, including some gorgeous works by Caravaggio. As with a lot of important sights in the city, you’ll probably find it best to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
5.) Baths of Caracalla
Originally constructed in 217 AD, this massive bathing complex is definitely a sight you do not want to miss out on (those Romans sure do love a good bath house). You can even visit the tunnels under the baths that heated the water running to the baths. In the summer months, the baths also play hosts to several outdoors events so perhaps a nice way to visit is to actually attend one of the events here in summer!
6.) Capitoline Museums
The Capitoline Museums contain a range of art work collected by former popes. I know, I was surprised that you could see paintings by Popes too – I kinda assumed (rather naively and prior to visiting) that most Italian art was done by the old art masters who did the stuff for a living.The museums first opened in 1734 and these days many people flock here for the paintings by Caravaggio as well as its amazing collection of statues which are said to be one of the best and most comprehensive in all of Rome.
7.) Museum of 21st Century Arts
The Museum of 21st Century Arts or MAXXI makes for a great pit-stop/break if you are a little jaded from looking at period pieces. Dedicated to contemporary art and housed in a cutting edge building that is a work of art in itself, this makes for the perfect contrast to crumbling ruins.
8.) Roman Forum and Palatine
The Roman Forum is the place where former emperors would have lived in the days of old, and you will find the majestic ruins of their palaces here. Built on a hill, you will also be afforded amazing views over the rest of the city below.
9.) Crypta Balbi
No actually not a crypt at all but a small museum, Crypta Balbi was once a Roman theatre and is now dedicated to showcasing life in Rome through the ages. This is not one of the largest or most famous museums in the city but it is one of the most interesting when it comes to depicting ancient life in Rome.
10.) Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums sit in front of the Sistine Chapel, and while many people eschew the museums in order to get to the main event, this would be a mistake. The Vatican Museums are filled with works of art and historical pieces related to all things papal and are well worth a leisurely visit before you continue on.
11.) Museum and Crypt of the Capuchins
A rather macabre visit, the Crypt of the Capuchins is the final resting place of former monks whose bones have been arranged around the crypt. The museum part of the experience aims to tell the story of the monks, including their propensity for self-flagellation (i.e. flogging themselves).
12.) Palazzo Altemps
If you’re really into your statues, then Rome is perfect for you. There are famous and iconic statues at almost every turn in Rome. For those looking for an afternoon spent perusing said statues, Palazzo Altemps is without a doubt one of the best places to pop into. Filled with works that have been restored and/or preserved, this started as a series of private collections by Roman residents and is now open to the public for general .
13.) San Luigi dei Francesi
If you want to see 3 of famed Baroque master Caravaggio’s most famous works, all about the life of St Matthew (The Calling of St Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) then you definitely need to visit this church. You know what? Even if you’re not a super fan of Caravaggio, these are still very important sights to see in, not just Rome, but in Italy as a whole so do make some time to pop in and marvel at Caravaggio’s masterpieces.
14.) The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque style fountain in the world and one of the most iconic sights to see in all of Rome. Needless to say, you’ve gotta go here when you’re in Rome. No ifs or buts… its just gotta be done. 🙂
15.) The Vatican (especially St Peter’s Basilica)
Technically and politically speaking, this is its own country and hence isn’t even in Italy however, it RIGHT THERE in the centre of Rome (you couldn’t miss it even if you tried) so while it may not be ‘Rome’, the Vatican is without a doubt one of those places you have to visit when you’re in Rome. Built in 1506, St Peter’s Basilica is considered one of the holiest places of worship for Catholics across the world and if you visit on sundays you can even get an audience with the Pope. If you’ve got the legs for it and aren’t too claustrophobic, you definitely need to climb the dome of St Peter’s Basilica (the higher you climb, the tighter it gets) where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Rome and the Vatican.