In March 2016, almost a year ago to the day, my boyfriend and I went on our first holiday abroad together. We had both wanted to visit Rome for a long time and we decided, in celebration of his birthday, that now was the time to go. We spent a week there and we managed to pack a lot of sightseeing into that time, including a day trip to Pompeii. We absolutely loved the city and had the best time. Rome, for us, certainly lived up to the hype and I wanted to share what I enjoyed about it for anyone considering it as a holiday destination.
So, here goes. My Top 5 places to visit in Rome:
C’mon, everybody knows about the Colosseum. The ancient amphitheatre, used famously for gladiator fights, animal hunts and other public events, is nearly 2,000 years old and as the largest amphitheatre ever built, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It stands at around 157 ft tall and is imposing and demanding of your attention as you enter the area. It is a very impressive building, in spite of its state of disrepair, due to earthquakes and the reuse of its materials elsewhere in Rome.
We weren’t sure about the best place to buy tickets online for the Colosseum before we left the UK so we made our way there for around 9am and thankfully arriving early paid off as we didn’t face too much queuing for tickets. By the time we left, the queues were huge so either buy your ticket in advance or arrive early to avoid huge queues. Also, be aware that you will have to go through security so make sure you allow time for that when visiting.
We chose not to go on the guided tour which we enjoyed as it meant we could explore at our own pace, reading the various information boards, however, it did mean missing out on visiting the underground chambers which were exclusive to the tours. Thankfully, since we had arrived early, the majority of the visit wasn’t too hindered by large crowds, however, as it got closer to lunchtime, the pathways across the various accessible levels were packed with other tourists, largely in tour groups, which made it difficult to navigate at times.
Despite the slight downside of it being so busy (which was to be expected), it was still our favourite place in Rome and we returned to the area multiple times throughout our trip, including a morning spent in Parco Del Colle Oppio, opposite the amphitheatre, which hosts other ancient monuments including the remains on Nero’s house. Definitely allow for a few hours, if this kind of thing takes your fancy. We would happily visit again and stay for longer.
Why is this a must-see? The history of the Colosseum alone is enough to ensure a visit to this impressive structure. The atmosphere and the architecture also make it a worthwhile visit – being able to imagine the 65,000 plus attendees filling the seats and everything they saw – it’s hard to explain how it feels to be there, not to mention the excellent value of the entry tickets is an added bonus too.
Opening times for the Colosseum vary; opening at 8.30am and closing anytime between 4.30pm and 7pm, depending on the season (one hour before sunset).
Tickets cost approximately €12 for an adult and this 2 day combined ticket allows one-time entry to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. It is free for under 18s.
For further information and tickets, check out the Coop Culture website.
2. Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill is one of the Seven Hills of Rome, standing in the centre of the other six within the main archaeological area. From one side of the hill, you look down over the Roman Forum and at the opposite end, you can see Circus Maximus, the former chariot racing stadium. The hill hosts many archaeological finds including the residences of emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian, apt as the etymology of the word Palatine means palace. There are also gardens, ruins of aqueducts, temples and churches, as well as a museum.
We found the area of the former Barberini Vineyard early on in our exploration and enjoyed a peaceful lunch overlooking the Colosseum in this secluded and quiet space before discovering the rest of what Palatine Hill had to offer.
After we had exhausted our options, we made our way down to the Roman Forum and appreciated the ruins of what was once the heart of public life in Rome. This included shrines, temples, the ancient royal residence, and the assembly area which housed the Roman Senate, to name a few.
Please note that Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum can only be accessed together, not independently. It is not possible to visit the Roman Forum on one day and Palatine Hill the next with the 2 day combined ticket. We didn’t know this at the time and ended up visiting all three sites in one day which wasn’t enough time, in our opinions, and was quite exhausting by the end of it. I would advise using the ticket to spend one day wandering Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum and the other to visit the Colosseum to fully appreciate all these sights have to offer.
Why is this a must-see? The striking views afforded from various points on this hill – overlooking Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the other hills making up the Seven Hills of Rome – are absolutely worth seeing in person, along with the other remains on the hill itself. The opportunity to then be in the centre of the Roman Forum, easily transports you back to a time when it was a thriving space. We weren’t really aware of Palatine Hill prior to visiting so we were really pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed it.
Opening times are the same as the Colosseum.
Ticket prices – See Colosseum entry above and link below.
For further information and tickets, check out the Coop Culture website
3. Trevi Fountain
Built in 1762, the Trevi Fountain is just 255 years old but its youth does not make it any less impressive than its older counterparts around the city. This famous Baroque fountain stands at 86 ft high and 161.3 ft wide and its imposing nature is quite a sight to see. The name comes from the fact that the fountain sits at the junction of three roads – tre vie. It is the end of the Acqua Vergine, the modern revival of one of the aqueducts of ancient Rome.
Prior to visiting Rome, the Trevi Fountain was a must for me and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Arriving at the fountain from the north, it can seem to come out of nowhere as you wander up one of the roads alongside it and suddenly stumble upon a type of square with the fountain as its centerpiece. This was even with us navigating to it specifically. It’s really quite amazing.
Despite the fact that the area was heavily populated with other tourists (it is impossible to take a picture without other people being in it), the fountain can still be appreciated in all its glory and I was very happy to have been able to visit it. We visited the fountain multiple times throughout our week there, during the day, and at night too, partaking in an ice cream or two from the many ice cream shops dotted around the area.
On one of our visits, we were able to sit on the steps leading down to the water and appreciate it up close and personal. We even managed to take part in the legendary ‘coin throwing’ which, if done right (using the right hand, thrown over the left shoulder), will ensure a return trip to Rome in the future. The money collected from the fountain is used to subsidise a supermarket for Rome’s needy, which is pretty great.
Another positive of visiting the fountain was that we found our favourite restaurant of the trip – Pizza in Trevi. It’s a small restaurant and having since looked it up, it has mixed reviews but we really enjoyed it both times we ate there.
Why is this a must-see? This imposing structure is impressive and beautiful, hidden away from sight until you round the corner, serving as an incredible monument for such a practical purpose. Perfect for those who have an appreciation for architecture and it doesn’t require a lot of time to be spent there to enjoy it. The fountain was also featured in La Dolce Vita and other movies, so if you’re a film buff, this is a good place to visit.
There are no opening times for the Trevi Fountain. It is accessible at any time of any day.
Ticket prices – There is no cost to visit the Trevi Foutain.
4. Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona was actually recommended to us by the receptionist at our hotel who circled a few sights on a map for us when we were checking in, to help us get the most out of our trip – it was greatly appreciated! This became another place that we visited a few times throughout the week.
Navona Square is quite a touristy stop with many restaurants lining the square and enthusiastic waiters encouraging you to eat at their establishment. This frustration aside, it was a good place to relax and enjoy your surroundings and maybe another ice cream.
In the centre of the square is the ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’ with an Egyptian obelisk rising from it and at either end of the square are two smaller fountains – Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuna. The square also holds the church of Sant’Agnese and the Pamphili Palace. The square was formerly a competition arena where the ancient Romans attended the games.
Why is this a must-see? With so many aspects to it, there is plenty to see and appreciate in this square. Again, it is perfect for those who appreciate architecture and sculptures. Spend as little or as much time as you want here, enjoying the restaurants or ice cream on offer. Perhaps even stop to look at the work artists have on display. This piazza has also featured in multiple films, including Angels & Demons and Catch-22.
There are no opening times for Piazza Navona. It is accessible at any time of any day.
Ticket prices – The Piazza Navona is a public space so there is no cost to visit.
5. Vatican City
It might be cheating putting the Vatican City in as ‘one’ entry given that it includes the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, but I’m going with it. The Vatican City was the one ‘sight’ we bought tickets for before we arrived in Rome. We bought them through the Vatican Museums Online Ticket Office for around €20 each and we had to pick the day and time that we would be going.
This turned out to be a great decision as the queues for tickets at the Vatican City were absolutely huge. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait for too long in the queues for security and then we were in! It was a very strange sensation to know that just from being on the other side of the barriers, we were in a different country.
We decided to visit St Peter’s Basilica (a Renaissance church, notably designed largely by Michelango) first since we had booked our museum tickets for the afternoon to allow us plenty of time to wander the area. It is quite an amazing building and the artistry inside is just beautiful. We didn’t stay too long due to how busy it was but we still enjoyed it. You can also go up to the dome of the Basilica but we chose not to on this occasion.
After the basilica, we went for a walk along the River Tiber to have a look at the Castel Sant’Angelo and enjoy lunch below it in Parco Adriano. We returned to the Vatican museums in the afternoon and collected our tickets from the “Cassa Online e gruppi” ticket office after going through security again.
The museums are vast, with something for everyone, and we enjoyed taking in everything from sculptures to paintings and all things in between from all over the world (my boyfriend particularly liked the Egyptian parts) and all eras of history. The Sistine Chapel can only be accessed through one section of the museum which then leads to the exit so plan your trip accordingly. Again, we weren’t quite prepared so we could have and would have spent more time wandering the museums before visiting the chapel if we had known in advance.
It is worth pointing out that there are a few things to know before you go including that you must wear appropriate clothing in the museums (this applies to men and women), Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica and that photos or videos of the Sistine Chapel are strictly forbidden. Silence is also required in the Sistine Chapel as a mark of respect so it may not be the most suitable place for children. Check out this link for other important and useful information about your visit.
Why is this a must-see? Whether you are religious or not, the Vatican City is an impressive and enjoyable visit. The museums have such a variety that you are bound to find something that interests you and the Sistine Chapel is incredible and beautiful. It is worthwhile taking time to visit St Peter’s Basilica and there is also plenty to see in the surrounding area, outwith the Vatican City.
Opening times – The Vatican Museums are open Monday to Saturday, 9am to 6pm. The Basilica is open 7am to 6/7pm daily.
Ticket prices – €16 for an adult ‘open tour’ ticket (plus booking fee online) of the Vatican Museums. The audio guide is an extra €7. St Peter’s Basilica is free to enter but access to the dome is around €15 for a fast-track ticket with audio guide.
Have you been to Rome before? Agree or disagree with my choices? Think I’ve missed out something? Or maybe you’re planning a trip to Rome and found this useful. Tell me in the comments below!