Top 10 things to do in Rome

woman in rome with umbrella
  1. Spend a day at the Colosseum and Roman Forum:  

Walking through the Colosseum and Roman Forum brings the term “field trip” to a whole new level.  There aren’t many cities that have such significant ancient structures still standing and available for touring.  It may not look quite the same from 2,000 years ago, but you’ll get to walk the same roads as Julius Caesar, and learn about the gladiator games from the days of the Roman Empire.  Or, if you’re brave enough, I’ve heard you can now take Gladiator training lessons.  That one is definitely on my must-try list for when I return. If you really want to set the stage, watch Gladiator before you depart; but, beware -- your boyfriend/husband/spouse will quote it endlessly for the whole trip.


Here are some important things to know for skipping the lines.  

  • General info:  A ticket to one of these sites will give you access to both; therefore, you don't have to buy two separate tickets.


  • For a unique experience:  Tour the Colosseum at night. You can learn more about it here.  You’ll be able to go after hours and skip the crowds. Win-win!


  • For the splurge:  You’ll save yourself hours of precious vacation time by hiring a private guide.  Private guides purchase your tickets ahead of time and have their own designated entrances with minimal lines. Additionally, a good guide can help bring the ancient structures to life with stories and fun filled historical facts.  


  • For the DIY tourist:  If you prefer to explore these sites without a guide, purchase either a Roma Pass, or Omnia CardYou’ll be required to book a reservation time.


  • For the laid back planner: If you prefer to buy a ticket at the door, it’s possible to do so, but be prepared to endure the crowds.  Head to the Roman Forum/Palatine entrance, as lines will be shorter compared to the Colosseum.
roman forum and coloseeum
view of underground part of colosseum Rome Italy
roman forum from the palantine hill
interior of colosseum Rome Italy

2. Participate in a gelato face off:

A trip to Rome is not complete without daily gelato tastings.  The famous place to go in the Eternal City is Giolitti.  It’s around the corner from the Pantheon, and I’ll admit it's quite delicious.  However, Old Bridge Gelateria wins the gold medal in my book.  I suggest going late afternoon or at night; you can enjoy the gelato in the Vatican square without the crowds.  My favorite flavors are stracciatella, cioccolato (chocolate) and fragola (strawberry).


3. Go shopping on the famous and not so famous streets:

If you’re on a mission to find the best of the best when it comes to Italian fashion, you’re in the right place.  Via del Corso and Via dei Condotti will feature some of the flashiest contemporary brand names. However, exploring the side streets and boutiques are more to my liking.  One of my favorite spots is Via Margutta.  Although it’s become a bit more popular these days, it features local artisans and has a quieter vibe. 


woman walking down via marghutta

4. Tour the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica: 

In Vatican City, there are two major “to dos” to check off your list.  First, you’ll want to visit St. Peter’s Basilica.  Did you know it took 150 years to build?!  Vatican City is also home to the Pope, so if you’re lucky, you may see him too.  

The other “must do” is to visit the Vatican Museum, which includes the artwork owned or commissioned by the Church.  You’ll find countless famous masterpieces, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and the museum includes my favorite room: the Hall of the Maps.   


Heads up: Be mentally prepared to face the crowds.  It's just part of the experience for the day!  Luckily, there are ways to skip the lines and maximize your vacation time.

  • Take a group tour of the Vatican Museum:  At the end of the tour, the groups have access to a special entrance into the Basilica.  See that long line outside? You won’t be in it.  
  • Take the necropolis tour which also gives you access to the Church at the end (more on that further below).
  • You can buy a fast track ticket to St. Peter’s Basilica:  It’s free to enter the Church if you want to save the cash, but if you’re looking to skip the lines, then nothing is quite free, and you'll have to buy a ticket ahead of time.


vatican city piazza
interior st peters bascilica rome italy
st peters bascilica interior dome

5. Experience an A.S. Roma soccer game: 

I’ll admit, I’m not a diehard soccer fan.  However, when living in Rome, I quickly learned that I would never really know the people until I knew their soccer ways of life.  Do I know the rules yet?  Not really.  However, attending a few matches gave me a glimpse into the heart of the locals.  In fact, I spend most of the game watching the fans!  My husband has made fun of me for forgetting to take photos of the actual game.  It’s hard to tear your eyes away from the giant waving flags, and it's beautiful to hear the locals sing the city anthem from the stands.  It pulled at my heartstrings and I’m now an A.S. Roma convert.   You can buy tickets here-- make sure to sit on the “curva sud” side, and arrive early to hear the Romans sing to their team.

a.s. roma soccer game

6. Walk/Bike the Borghese gardens and have a picnic: 

If you’ve already seen some of the main tourist spots mentioned above, you might be in need for a day of down time.  I feel ‘ya.  Instead of going indoors today, pack a picnic with food from an outdoor market, and head to the Villa Borghese Gardens.  There are beautiful walking paths, or you can rent bikes and tour the gardens on wheels.  Enjoy the sunshine and check out the Terrazza del Pincio for panoramic views of the city. 

couple bike riding in Villa Borghese gardens
man in villa borghese gardens
terrazza del Pincio

7. Have some fun lounging in the piazzas: 

One thing I love about European cities is the use of piazzas -- large outdoor squares for people to just sit, chat, and mingle.  Rome is no stranger to these.  Piazza del Popolo is quite large, less crowded, and it's possible to climb a short set of stairs for expansive views of the city.  I also love the farmers market stands at Campo de’ Fiori.  Lastly, there are classics like Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna.  These are a bit more crowded, but still beautiful and worth spending a lazy afternoon enjoying. 

Spanish Steps

8. Take the Necropolis/Scavi tour:

If you decide to take one guided tour, this would be my vote!  Tickets must be purchased in advance.  The Scavi tour takes you below St. Peter’s Bascilica, where some of the ancient city streets are still preserved. It is the presumed site of St. Peter’s burial tomb, and dates back to the 1st century AD!  It’s a short 90 minute tour and very exclusive!  As an added benefit, you’ll be able to enter the Basilica afterwards and skip the lines (like the one pictured below).

lines outside of st peters bascilica rome italy

9. I Spy: Spot St. Peter's Bascilica through the Aventine Keyhole

Just about every tourist makes their way to the Vatican to snap a photo, but far less venture to the Aventine Keyhole to get this IG worthy view of St. Peter’s Basilica.  You’ll meander through residential streets; as you walk, take in the sounds as of the church bells from nearby monasteries.  Start at the Clivo dei Publicii, left of the Circus Maximus.  Follow the road, which leads into Via di Santa Sabina.  Keep walking!  You’ll land at Piazza dei Calvieri di Malta: the location of the keyhole!  


Fun fact: the keyhole also provides a view into the Villa del Priorato di Malta. This means that the land you see through the door actually belongs to Malta, an international territory.  Therefore, when you stare through this keyhole you’re actually laying eyes on 3 places: Malta, Rome and Vatican City!

After you catch a glimpse and snap a photo, stroll through the Giardini degli Aranci (Garden of Oranges), which has a beautiful overlook of the city. 

Aventine keyhole - ultimate rome travel guide
google maps photo of aventine keyhole rome italy
view of rome from the garden of oranges

10. Spend time in Trastevere:

After you visit the keyhole in #9, you’ll be close to Trastevere -- a local neighborhood that is hip, fun, and full of life.  There are narrow cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, local boutiques, and plenty of restaurants.   One of the most famous restaurants is Sabatini, which also has a beautiful outdoor patio directly on Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere. 

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