9 Rome Highlights: Top Attractions You Cannot Miss + Map
Rome has many amazing attractions throughout the city, but there are a good handful of highlights. Here are the very best and most popular attractions you must see in Rome. You can view the video below to get an overview of them. More information about each of the highlights can be found below the video.
This list does not only feature paid attractions, but also includes several important landmarks that are free to visit. All these sites genuinely deserve to be included in any top list of Rome’s attractions. You will find a map showing the locations of all the attractions at the bottom of this feature.
If you are travelling with young kids, you may want to check out the article on Is Rome Child Friendly. It contains guides, tips and things that you should be aware of before you visit some attractions. The article on Is Rome Expensive will give you a full breakdown of the costs involved for a Rome holiday.
1. Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum
The Colosseum is by far the most iconic landmark that tops the list of attractions that are a must see in Rome. There are not many structures in the world today from 2000 years ago that are still standing like this.
Additionally it is phenomenal that back so long ago, the Romans had the technology to build architectural structures of this size. The Colosseum is the size of a modern football stadium that can accommodate 50,000 people in the stands.
The Romans even used cement apart from other materials to build. It is proof of how technologically advanced and powerful the Roman empire really was. Also why they built the Colosseum in the first place – to host gruesome games for the entertainment of the Romans. The games involved all sorts of exotic animals and gladiators that battle to the death.
You could view the Colosseum from the outside, but it is worthwhile to see the inside once you are there. I happened to purchase tickets to go visit the inside and also included the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum in the same complex.
You can pre purchase tickets to visit the complex to reserve your spot. I highly recommend you do this during warmer months, weekends or holidays when many people visit.
The Palatine Hill is definitely worth visiting, the place is full of historical remains and beautiful. The view from the Terrazza Belvedere located here on Google Maps is spectacular and one of the best views I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately my mobile lens distorted the image, but this is what it looks like:
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple and another 2000 year old building. You can tell from the outside its had better days, but it is still in a good state especially on the inside which is still in pristine condition. In fact this building not only welcomes visitors, but it is still in use as a Christian church and a mass is held on a weekly bases.
The nice thing about the Pantheon is that it is free to enter, but you can opt to get an audio guide at the entrance for a few euro. Alternatively you could opt for a 45 minute guided tour with a professional guide, who will give you more interesting information than the audio guide.
The queue to get inside is usually long and you could get discouraged to enter as soon as you see it, but people quickly shuffle inside within several minutes.
Once you get inside you will get to see the beautiful marble works. Moreover you get to check out one of its unique features – the circular hole at the centre of dome on top.
3. Fontana di Trevi
The Trevi fountain is a definite must see in Rome! It is the most famous fountain in the world, and a perfect example of grandiose Baroque art at its finest with its gorgeous intricate sculptures.
Apart from the most iconic fountain in Rome it also happens to be the largest, it measures just over 26 meters in height and just over 49 meters wide.
The legend of throwing a coin into Trevi Fountain also adds to its mystique and stunning heritage. It has been the set of countless films and tv shows and leaves many wondering how beautiful it must look up close – believe me it is!
You could of course go and view the Trevi Fountain alone for free or you could opt for a guided tour. Here is a 40 minute tour of the Trevi Fountain and the underground. The guide will provide a good outline of the history of the Trevi Fountain and take you to visit the 2000 year old aqueduct below ground which is still in use. It’s fascinating stuff!
4. The Vatican
The Vatican is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church that is governed by the Pope, and it has a long history. Over time this tiny city state amassed a huge amount of stunning and historically significant works of art. The Vatican did this by commissioning artists to decorate their ornate buildings and also actively purchased artworks to add to the collection.
Hence the Vatican ended up having one of the best museums in the world of ancient and antique works of art. The highlights are the Sistine chapel with frescos by Michelangelo and 3 rooms in the museum painted by Raphael. That includes one of Raphael’s most famous artwork – The School of Athens.
When I was in Rome I just managed to get tickets for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Not on my preferred day, but I’m not going to complain because I got to see it. You can prebook your entry tickets to guarantee yourself a spot and it also comes with added benefit that you skip the line. Alternatively you have the option of a 2 hour official guided tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel.
You should also know there are some hours on certain days that the Vatican museums are free to enter. The days marked in green here.
One thing you can do for free is St Peter’s Basilica, which is a must. Although you can also get a tour of basilica, the dome and the underground crypt area if you prefer. You can even go to the Basilica on Sunday and go inside and listen to the Pope preside over the mass which might make it an extra special experience.
While you are inside you should go and check out Michelangelo’s Pietà which is on the right as you enter. After that, if you are interested, you can see the view from on top of St Peter’s dome. It is a wonderful sight to see, but it will leave you out of breath even if you take the lift. The view on top of the dome is also at an additional payment.
5. Villa Borghese
The Villa Borghese Gardens are free to enter, but you will need to pay for activities and attractions inside. It is the most popular park for Rome’s residents for good reason. It is a beautiful garden that was owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese who developed Villa Borghese and the gardens in 1606.
You can walk around and admire the gardens and stop to grab a bite to eat at the café’s or restaurants there. Alternatively you can bring food with you and have a picnic on the grounds. There are many statues, fountains and other things to admire including the artificial lake.
The highlight of the gardens is the Borghese Gallery with many important artworks that are a must see in Rome. Unfortunately I was not able to get tickets for the gallery while I was there because it was fully booked. So I suggest you prebook your tickets in advance before you go the gallery so you will not be disappointed.
If you want more information about this vast area and activities, here is an article about Villa Borghese gardens.
6. The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are a great example of Baroque architecture. It took a long time and many heated debates to figure out what should be built here before the steps. Eventually Fancesco de Sanctis was the architect who designed the steps after he won a competition for their design in 1717.
The Spanish Steps are famous worldwide since they were featured in many well-known films and works of art. You cannot miss them because they are the longest and widest steps in Europe. Plus there is the unmistakable church of Trinità dei Monti right at the top.
The area around the Spanish Steps is an upmarket area filled with beautiful buildings and luxury brands. So you may want to do some window shopping or splurge on something nice for yourself.
There aren’t any tours solely for the Spanish steps, but there is one that combines a number of sites. Here is a walking tour of the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Pantheon. In this tour you will get filled in to the history and details of some other sites along the way.
7. Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona as well as any other piazza is free to visit and open to the public. It previously was a stadium that was built during Roman times. By time the stadium fell into ruin, but eventually it was made into another amazing piazza also famous for its baroque architecture.
The highlights of this piazza are the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the 3 fountains in the piazza. Mainly the largest one at the centre which is by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Apart from the piazza you can also see the left over ruins of the stadium. You can get entry tickets to the underground ruins and an audio guide, which will also give you some information about Piazza Navona.
During Christmas time in Rome, a Christmas Market is set up in Piazza Navona. Which is by far the best Christmas market in Rome.
8. Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo, or People’s Square, is another famous square that is a must see in Rome. It is located in the heart of Rome and is the largest city square in the Italian capital. It dates back to ancient times, and has been a gathering place for Romans since antiquity.
The piazza has several attractions, offering visitors a unique glimpse into Rome’s history. They include the Porta del Popolo which is an old city gate into Rome, the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo and 3 fountains. The most notable fountain is the one in the middle with the large obelisk.
You can get a scenic view of the piazza and the Vatican in the background from the terrace in Villa Borghese located here. The piazza is a only a short walk down where you can access it from a staircase and path at the side of the terrace.
9. Castel Sant’ Angelo
Castel Sant’ Angelo is one of the most iconic landmarks of Rome, is an ancient structure that sits majestically on the Tiber River. Originally it was built as a mausoleum by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD.
Later on in history, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church converted it into a castle and made some changes so the popes could call it home. Additionally because it is not far off from the Vatican they connected it to St Peter’s Basilica.
Castel Sant’Angelo opened to the public in 1901 and is used as a museum. For a structure that is 2000 years old it is impressively well preserved. You can purchase tickets to visit Castel Sant’ Angelo here.
Highlight of Rome Map Locations
There are many other things you might want to consider visiting while you are touring in Rome. Here are some noble mentions:
Rome has many catacombs a little bit further out from the centre of Rome. I visited the catacombs of San Sebastiano located here which has 12kms of underground tunnels and also has the tomb of St Sebastian. However in that area there are many other catacombs you can visit including St Callixtus, here is a short 30 minute guided tour of St Callixtus catacombs.
Most catacomb tours are short which will not allow you to see much considering the tunnels are extensive. However if you want to explore for longer, you can opt for this more expensive 4 hour guided e-bike tour of the St Sebastian catacombs.
Campo dei Fiori Market
A lovely market in central Rome set up in a small piazza located here. There are flower vendors, quality fruit and vegetables, accessories like scarves and handbags. Additionally they also sell some delicious Italian products like olive oils, liquors, hams and salamis.
Altare Della Patria
Altare della Patria, or Altar of the Fatherland, is a striking monument located here. This national monument stands more than 70 meters high, and has become one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city. This grand building, completed shortly after WWI, stands in tribute to King Victor Emanuel II and pays homage to soldiers who lost their lives protecting Italy and her people.
Basilica of St Francesca Romana
The Basilica of St Francesca Romana is within walking distance of the Colosseum located here and signposted. It is an old and beautiful church that has been renovated over time. Some parts of the church like the beautiful mosaic of the apse are from the time it was first built in the 9th century.