10 exciting things to do for your first visit to Rome

Rome is both one of the most beautiful and iconic city in the world. It was at the center of the Roman empire which was the most powerful and largest empire in the world. Rome is also known as the Eternal City. Due to its central role in the history, but also in architecture, economics and of course religion. Rome is among the most visited cities in Europe.

First of all, if you have not yet book your ticket for Rome we highly recommend you to stay at least 3 days. The Italian capital has so much to offer that it is impossible to see everything in 48 hours! We visited Rome as part of our first trip together with my boyfriend and we also included Naples and Florence in our itinerary. As a result we only spent 2 days in Rome.

Planning a short break can sometimes be a challenge. The majority of the Europeans fly in Rome just for a week-end. Or if you are flying from another continent, it it is likely that you will stop in Rome just for a few days stop among other European or Italian cities. That’s why you want to make sure you know how best to use your time.

To enjoy it as much as possible this short break, we highly recommend you to prepare your trip. Select in advance what you want to visit and what are the main activities you want to do. As you will notice, the list of Rome’s landmarks is long. In this post we gathered our favourites activities in this city.

The best of Rome – 10 things to do

  • Explore the majestic Colosseum
  • Go back in the Antiquity at the Pantheon
  • Admire the view from Ponte Sant’Angelo
  • Explore the Vatican city
  • Rent a segwae to stroll at the Villa Borghese Gardens
  • Relax at the Spanish steps
  • Stroll in the Roman forum
  • Enjoy a breathtaking view from Altare della Patria
  • Walk through the Teatro di Marcello 
  • Make a wish at the Trevi fountain by throwing a coin

Explore the majestic Colosseum

You can’t go back from Rome without a visit to this monumental building. The Colosseum used to be called by the ancient Romans – Flavian Amphitheatre. It is THE most impressive and famous monument of ancient Rome. It is also the largest amphitheater in the world.

The majestic Colosseum with a rainbow - Rome - masterpiece
The majestic Colosseum with a rainbow

Don’t just take a picture with the Colosseum in the background – it would be such a pity. Plan some time to go inside and visit it :). It is one thing to stare at it. But if you enter in the site, you will discover another perspective and you can submerge yourself in the Ancient Rome. It took approximately 6 to 8 years to build this masterpiece and completed in the year 80 AD by Titus. According to the legend, a festival of games for 100 days was launched to celebrate the inauguration of the Colosseum.

When you visit the place, close your eyes and imagine the gladiators, the animals, the crowd. In total, there was on average 65,000 visitors for each fight. Over 4 centuries, about a million of human were killed. At each season about 11,000 animals were hunted and killed, including lions, elephants, tigers. It is really impressive to visit this spot.

Since 2007, the Colosseum is now part of the New Seven Wonders. It was the last time that a universal survey involving 100 million people from all continents to determine the list of Seven Wonders. In 2018, it was the most popular attraction in the world with more than 7 millions visitors. Be one of them :).

Note – we queued less than 45 minutes to enter but it sounds we were lucky. You can buy your ticket online to save some time.

Go back in the Antiquity at the Pantheon

The Pantheon is another main attraction in Rome. This very well preserved ancient Roman temple was built almost 2,000 years ago by emperor Hadrian. The entrance of the building is supported by Corinthian columns. However, you have to go inside to be even more impressed.

The Pantheon - Rome
The Pantheon

The masterpiece of the pantheon is its magnificent dome. Instead of a window, you will discover an oculus, which means eye at the heart of the Pantheon. In addition to its obvious religious symbol as the “window to the other world”, the opening is also crucial for the stability and the engineering of the building. It is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. How powerful and very clever was the Roman empire.

Masterpiece - this magnificent dome - The Pantheon - Rome
Masterpiece – this magnificent dome

The Pantheon has been transformed into a church during the medieval times. Since the Renaissance, the Pantheon is a burial site for famous artists like Raphael, some Kings and poets.

Inside the Pantheon - Rome
Inside the Pantheon

Good news – this visit is completely free of charge ;).

Admire the view from the Ponte Sant’Angelo (Bridge of Angels)

If exploring the Vatican city is on your list, it is very likely that you will cross the Ponte Sant’Angelo. If you have time don’t use the public transport and cross the bridge by foot. From it, you can admire the bridge and the view on the Castel Sant’Angelo.

View on the Castel Sant’Angelo from the Ponte Sant'Angelo - Instagramable view Rome
View on the Castel Sant’Angelo from the Ponte Sant’Angelo

This bridge was created during the Roman empire by the Emperor Hadrian. It creates a link between the left bank of the Tiber with the Castel Sant’Angelo. The bridge is an impressive piece of architecture with 10 beautiful angel sculptures.

The Ponte Sant'Angelo- Rome
The Ponte Sant’Angelo

We really enjoyed taking our time to cross that bridge. It is one of the best spot to take a photo with a view on the Tiber river.

Explore the Vatican city

The Vatican City is located a few miles from the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Although the Vatican is the smallest country in the world, it is the home of so many stunning art paintings and astonishing architecture buildings. There are 3 main areas in this tiny city-state: Saint Peter’s Square, Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. 

St. Peter’s Square

The first thing you will notice is the St. Peter’s Square, also known locally as Piazza San Pietro. It is an impressive plaza located in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica. It may be hard to believe, but this square is large enough to hold as many as 400,000 people.

Alexis booked our flights to Italy. You will not believe it, but he didn’t realise when he booked them that it meant we will be in Rome THE Saturday, that is to say just one day before Easter ;)… Finally it was less crowded as we could have expected ;). But of course, it was impossible to enter into the Basilica or to visit the famous Sistine Chapel at that time of the year.

St. Peter’s Square - impressive Piazza - Vatican
St. Peter’s Square

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel

Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest and one of the most famous churches in the world. If you plan to enter into the Saint Peter’s Basilica and to visit the The Sistine Chapel – you will need one full day in the Vatican as the queue can be very long.

St. Peter’s Basilica - Vatican
St. Peter’s Basilica

However, to avoid any disappointment make sure you plan ahead your visit in the Vatican and book for a visit to Sistine Chapel as soon as you decide to add this spot in your itinerary. To get access to the Sistine Chapel you need a regular admission ticket to the Vatican Museums. It is of course strictly forbidden to take photo inside the Sistine Chapel, to protect those precious paintings.

St. Peter’s Basilica roof
St. Peter’s Basilica roof

In addition, if you decide to enter into the Basilica, don’t forget to climb all the way to the top of the basilica’s dome. You will be rewarded by a panoramic view of Saint Peter’s Square and the city of Rome. All visitors are welcomed in Saint Peter’s Basilica whatever your faith is. There is no admission fees.

Rent a segwae to stroll at the Villa Borghese Gardens

Villa Borghese compared with Hyde Park for the Londoner or Central Park for the New Yorker ;). This park is huge with so many things to see. You can just stroll and discover everything that the garden can offer. From the little alleyways and centenary trees to viewpoints and fountains.

We didn’t have enough time to explore the immense park by foot so we decided to rent a segwae. As it was our first experience with it, it was a lot of fun. It was partially raining and we laughed a lot. Alexis convinced me to switch our segwae in the middle of our ride. But even with this change, I was still faster than him ;).

If you would like to visit only one thing from the garden, you have to reach the Pincio Terrace viewpoint. From there you get an incredible panoramic view on Rome. You can even easily identify the Vatican and spot the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Viewpoint from the Villa Borghese Gardens
Viewpoint from the Villa Borghese Gardens

The name of the garden may attract your curiosity. The Borghese family who owned the gardens in the past was one of the most famous Italian royal family. Nowadays the government owns this garden. So the entrance is free.

Finally, if you have more time than us, there are a couple of activities inside the park that worth a visit. For example the Deer Park, the Villa Medici, the Borghese Gallery and the Civic Museum of Zoology.

Relax at the Spanish steps

One of the famous staircase in Rome located in the historical centre of the city. Walk up a little more than 150 steps from the Piazza di Spagna to the church Trinita dei Monti. This masterpiece of the Baroque period is quite often crowded between locals and tourists. However it is definitely a nice spot to relax, especially after a shopping session.

The Spanish steps from the Piazza di Spagna
View from the Piazza di Spagna

The Spanish steps

The Spanish steps are located just close to one of the most luxurious street in Europe – the Via Condotti. If you enjoy shopping you can’t miss this street. It is often compared to the Champs Élysées in Paris due to its many Italian and international high-end designer shops. For example Prada, Gucci, Bulgari etc.

This spot attracts Instagram addicts to the romantic couple as it is one of the most beautiful spot to take some photos. But be careful, as the staircases were recently restored, you can’t sit on them any more. Don’t try or you may receive a fine up to 400€.

Before leaving this spot, don’t forget to take a picture of the charming fountain – “Fountain of the Boat” located inside the Piazza.

Fountain of the boat close to the Spanish steps - Rome
Fountain of the boat close to the Spanish steps

Stroll in the Roman forum

The Roman Forum is one of the most visited site in Rome. It was the religious, commercial, social and of course political centre of the Roman Empire. One on the must busiest area in the Ancient Rome. The Roman Forum is now an historic site with ruins.

You will probably need a map to walk through this area if you don’t want to be lost ;). Then you are ready to stroll between the basilicas, the impressive temples celebrating Saturn or Vesta and other key highlights of this site.

Roman Forum is now an historic site with ruins
Roman Forum is now an historic site with ruins

Tip – the first Sunday of the month you can explore all the state-run sites for free. Although it is great because you don’t need to pay to visit the most iconic spots like the Roman forum or the Colosseum, it means that each place will be very crowded. We wish we read this information in advance. We planed to visit the forum on Sunday morning. But the queue to enter the site was too long as we had to catch our train at midday.

Roman Forum

Enjoy a breathtaking view from Altare della Patria

The Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland in English) is one of our favourite landmark that we discovered in Rome without hesitation :). The architecture of this colossal monument is majestic. This Neoclassic style building dominate the Piazza Venezia and is located halfway between the Pantheon and the Colosseum. The first thing you will notice is likely to be the Corinthian columns. And of course the white marble. That’s why the building looks so luxurious.

It is impressive to walk the stairs up to equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel cast in bronze. If you want a panoramic view over Rome, we suggest to reach the top of the monument via the elevator (7€/person- as of September 2020).

Equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel at Altare della Patria - Rome
Equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel at Altare della Patria

At the top, there is a 360-degree view around Rome from the rooftop. This colossal monument was built to celebrate Victor Emmanuel II (the first king of unified Italy). So one part of this building is completely dedicated to the unification of Italy at the museum of the Risorgimento. This spectacular building is also the home to several Italian government offices.

Panoramic view of Rome from Altare della Patria
Panoramic view of Rome from Altare della Patria

Walk through the Teatro di Marcello 

True it is probably the most surprising spot among this top 10, but it is still worth visiting it. Ruins are everywhere in Rome. You really feel that you are visiting a former very powerful city. You will notice a piece of the Roman empire pretty much at each corner in the city.

Teatro di Marcello - Rome
Teatro di Marcello 

If it is your first time in Rome, you may confuse the Teatro di Marcello with the majestic Colosseum. Cesar initiated the building of this theatre. It is a 20,000-seat Roman amphitheater. If you are here for a short break in Rome, you will not have time to book a visit. But it does not matter this spot is very quiet. You can just walk through the ruins. And move from one column to a block next to it for free.

Ruins from Teatro di Marcello - ruins are everywhere in Rome
Ruins from Teatro di Marcello 

Tip – if you are visiting Rome in summer, check out the planning as there are a couple of summer concerts host at the Teatro di Marcello.

Make a wish at the Trevi fountain by throwing a coin

Last but not least, go to the Trevi fountain. If possible, we recommend you to come to the Trevi fountain by night. This fountain is one of the most famous fountain in the world. So as you can imagine, this spot can be quite crowded. If you don’t want to get pushed and take your time to admire the fountain, explore it during the evening. It may not be obvious when you approach this Baroque architecture but it is standing at 26 meters!

Trevi fountain by night - Rome
Trevi fountain by night

The rumour is that if you throw your first coin from your right hand over the left shoulder, it will guarantee you a return to Rome. The second coin will bring you a new romance. If you want to ensure a mariage, throw a third coin. So visiting the fountain at the end of your exploration of Rome is a nice way to conclude your first trip, as you already know you will come back again ;).

Where to eat in Rome? Our recommendations

Who does not like Italian food :)? Even if we are French we have to confess that Italian food is always so tasty and so good;)! There are so many great restaurants in Rome like in every Italian city. But many restaurants are really expensive and just over-priced due to the high number of tourists. Our best advice to eat in Rome – avoid eating near the key landmarks. Instead of queueing to get a table or paying more than 25€ for a basic pizza – try to get out of the crowd in the little alleyways. It is likely that you will find more affordable restaurants or a nice spot to get a small break and rest your legs.

Below are some of the places we loved. We recommend them to you without hesitation:

  • Il Chianti Vineria – cosy wine bar. You will likely have to queue at minimum – 15/30 minutes. The food is really tasty, our favourite address in Rome
  • Ristorante Al Picchio – perfect address for Anti pasti and Mediterranean food
  • Two sizes – best pistachio tiramisu
Best pistachio Tiramisu at Two Sizes

Where NOT to stay?

As you will quickly noticed, there are plenty of options for where to stay in Rome. Unfortunately we don’t have any tips for you as we stayed in an hotel that we absolutely recommend not to book. We had a disappointing experience at the Romanico Palace Hotel & Spa booking. We tried a concept call the secret hotel. But it was a bad idea. The price was really expensive for what we finally got, and the hotel was so old school with tiny rooms and a very bad sound proofing … To sum up, avoid at all cost.

Our room at the Romanico Palace Hotel & Spa