The ultimate guide to Rome, Italy

Colosseum in Rome Italy

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted May 26, 2023

It’s no surprise that a trip to Rome, the Eternal City, is on most travel wish lists. A charismatic city filled with ancient monuments, cultural gems and delectable cuisine, Rome is an experience that stimulates all the senses.

As an open-air museum, Rome offers countless attractions that capture the imagination. Here’s what you need to know to have an unforgettable Roman holiday.

Rome’s unmissable ancient wonders

While Rome is full of ancient monuments and landmarks, four of these historical attractions top any ‘must-see’ travel lists.

The iconic symbol of Rome, the renowned Colosseum, is perhaps the most recognisable of the seven wonders of the world. The Colosseum remains the world’s largest amphitheatre, and it’s easy to imagine the gladiators, lions, and crowds that once filled the amphitheatre's 50,000 seats when exploring its intricate interior.

Close to the Colosseum, the ruins of the once-impressive district of temples, basilicas, and churches at the Roman Forum await. From the 7th century onwards, the Roman Forum grew as the Roman Empire’s commercial, political, and social hub. Today, it’s best explored with a human or audio guide to bring these vast (and sometimes disorientating) ruins to life.

To experience one of the most intact ancient Rome structures, the atmospheric Palatine Hill is a must. Considered the birthplace of the Roman Empire, the Palatino offers fascinating insights into the rise and fall of the empire. Overlooking the Colosseum, these complex ruins reveal the palaces, theatres, palatial homes, and monuments that once depicted the power of Rome and its trusted emperors.

A visit to the Pantheon, one of ancient Rome’s best-preserved monuments, is highly recommended - and free to enter. This impressive structure is considered the archetype of modern architecture, featuring the world’s largest unsupported dome.


The Pantheon was built between 25 and 27 BC. Image: Shutterstock.
Many of Rome's unforgettable landmarks are in Centro Storico, like the Trevi Fountain. Image: Shutterstock.

The best of Rome on foot

Wear comfy shoes in Rome, as so many of the city’s unforgettable landmarks are in Centro Storico, the historic district, and best explored on foot.

This includes the 174 stairs that make up the Spanish Steps, the historic Piazza Navona and Piazza Venezia, and the beloved Trevi Fountain.

Ditch the map and wander freely through Centro Storico’s chaotic-yet-fun narrow streets. As you explore, make time for coffee, pizza, and gelato stops, along with visits to the art galleries and boutiques that fill the neighbourhood.

For a scenic vantage point over Rome, walk 30 minutes to the summit of Gianicolo.

While the city is fondly known as the City of Seven Hills, Gianicolo, or Janiculum Hill, is not one of those seven hills, despite being Rome’s highest point. That said, it’s the best place for stunning views and equally spectacular baroque fountain, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola.



See Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling with your own eyes. Image: Shutterstock.
The stunning streets of Rome are just waiting to be explored. Image: Shutterstock.

Visit the Vatican

The walled enclave of the Vatican is the world’s smallest state, and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican Obelisk is the square’s centrepiece, with the world’s largest church, the resplendent St Peter’s Basilica, only steps away. St Peter’s Square is the symbol of the Vatican, thanks to its stunning architecture. 

Exploring the labyrinth of the Vatican’s 54 museums is a highlight. Here, thousands of pieces of artwork and sculptures fill the halls, with revered masterpieces seemingly at every turn. This includes Michelangelo’s frescoed ceiling artwork in the iconic Sistine Chapel.

While you can explore the Vatican Museums on your own, you’ll need to book a tour to walk the expansive Vatican Gardens, where enchanting fountains, streams, grottoes, and temples fill the lush grounds.

When in Rome, eat as the Romans do

As much as ancient monuments, cultural masterpieces, and esteemed landmarks are part of your Rome itinerary, so too are the city’s culinary delights. From first light to way past dark, Rome has a glut of cafes, restaurants, gelaterias, and bars to entice. Simplicity is key in many of Rome’s regional dishes, though that does not mean flavourless, quite the opposite!

Start the day with a famous espresso o cornetto – a coffee and a croissant. Pick a café with outdoor seating to people-watch as the caffeine energises you. For a quintessentially Rome lunch break, pick up a hearty, doughy square of pizza al taglio – pizza by the slice.

If you’d like to picnic at the famed Villa Borghese grounds (after exploring the mesmerising Borghese Museum and Gallery), collect supplies from Rome’s ancient fornai (bakeries) and botteghe (delis). Enjoy your simple feast amid the garden’s landscaped beauty.

For your evening meal, sample cacio e pepe, one of the region’s oldest meals. This black pepper and sheep cheese pasta dish is delicious for its simplicity. Pasta carbonara is another Rome staple, as is coda alla vaccinara (ox-tail stew) and trippa alla Romana (Roman tripe, it’s surprisingly delicious).

While you may not need an excuse to visit the Eternal City’s countless gelato shops, “when in Rome” is a handy phrase for taste-testing the countless flavours available. Opened in 1880, Fassi Gelateria is Rome, and possibly Italy’s, oldest known gelato store. 


Spanish Steps

Close to the Trevi Fountain are the famed Spanish Steps, leading from the Piazza di Spagna. Image: Getty.

All about the arts in Rome

Immersing yourself in Rome doesn’t stop with its ancient monuments. Theatre was an important facet of culture in Ancient Rome, and it remains so today. A visit to Teatro Dell 'Opera di Romi is a must. Built in 1880, it regularly hosts operas, ballet, and dance performances, along with popular open-air opera concerts.

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Teatro Olimpico is an intimate space offering spring and autumn performances. If you’re visiting in summer, the opera performances at the Caracalla Thermal are spellbinding.

If you prefer spellbinding music as opposed to a theatrical performance, Rome’s burgeoning jazz scene is a must for any music lover. With over 350 jazz concerts per month and annual jazz festivals throughout the year, attending a concert is a great addition to any Rome itinerary.

While Rome is a work of art itself, and filled with thousands of prized paintings and sculptures, modern Italian art is worthy of your time, too. Stop by the National Gallery of Modern Art to view Italy’s largest modern art collection with over 4,000 pieces.   


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