Actually, your superlatives are too short to describe Rome. What a great city with all its cosy squares, the most beautiful churches, the large number of museums and the fantastic atmosphere. A visit for a few days is certainly not enough to see all the highlights of Rome. That is why you should come back at least once. This is easy to arrange: toss a coin in the world-famous Trevi Fountain and, according to tradition, you will definitely come back to this fantastic city one more time.
A spot of Rome’s history
It is believed that Rome was founded around 750 BC. The legend tells the story of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus. They were under threat of murder, but someone put them in a wicker basket in the river Tiber. A wolf was supposed to have nourished them. When they decided to found a city on the hills around the Tiber, they got into an argument and Romulus killed his brother and he became the first ruler of the city named after him. Whether this legend is true, no one knows. But the story has inspired countless artists to create works of art.
In Roman times, Rome was the centre of the world. The city had an enormous blossoming period. Numerous monumental buildings embellished Rome, which by now had more than a million inhabitants. After the heyday of the Roman Empire was over, around the 3rd century AD, the influence of Rome declined sharply. The city fell into disrepair and the number of inhabitants fell sharply.
From that period on, the popes had a great influence on Rome. Besides Rome, the pope ruled a large area around Rome. For centuries Rome remained the capital of the ecclesiastical state in central Italy. Successive popes have ordered the construction of beautiful religious monuments that still give the city allure. Especially in the Baroque period the popes tried to make the Catholic faith more attractive than Protestantism with numerous churches, monuments and fountains. The popes have provided many highlights of Rome.
Rome’s many highlights
Actually, Rome is a large open-air museum that takes you on a journey through time. You can still see many highlights from the Roman heyday in the Forum. And to see the splendour of the Catholic faith, a visit to the Vatican City and St. Peter’s is a must. Everywhere in Rome you will find numerous statues, monuments, palaces and churches from all eras. Meanwhile, you can enjoy “la dolce vita” on one of the many squares. Nevertheless, we will make a selection of the absolute highlights of Rome that you shouldn’t miss.
Forum Romanum, monuments from the Roman era
The Forum Romanum (Latin for Roman market place) was in the heyday of the Roman Empire the political, legal, religious and commercial centre of the city. If you are interested in this time, then you should definitely not skip this part of Rome. In the Forum there are numerous churches and temples, historic buildings, triumphal arches, columns and museums.
It’s definitely worth a part of the day here. The most important and famous landmark of the Forum is the world-famous Colosseum. This largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire served as free entertainment for the inhabitants.
On the south side of Piazza della Rotonda lies the world-famous Pantheon. It is a magnificent building from Roman times. In addition, it is one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the world. The architects used ground-breaking techniques especially with the construction of the great dome for that time.
When you approach the Pantheon, at first you only see the rectangular colonnade. It is only when you enter the Pantheon that you notice its enormous dome. With a height of 43.3 metres it has been the largest dome in the world for centuries. It is remarkable that the diameter of the dome is exactly the same as the height.
The light in the dome comes through the hole at the top, the so-called oculus. This opening doesn’t seem large at first sight, yet the oculus has a diameter of almost 9 meters. So, during rainy days rainwater enters the dome. The floor is slightly bent to drain off the rainwater.
The dome is the main attraction of the Pantheon. In the dome there is also the tomb of the artist Raphael. The Pantheon is still in astonishingly good condition. Since the 7th century the building has been in use as a church. As it is regularly maintained thoroughly, we can still enjoy this beautiful temple building from Roman times.
In the Capitoline district, on either side of Piazza del Campidoglio, there are two world-famous museums: the Capitoline museums. You can visit both museums with a ticket. In Palazzo Nuovo you can admire an immense collection of classical statues. Palazzo Nuovo is the first public museum in the world. Visitors have been able to enjoy the many statues here since 1734.
In the opposite Palazzo dei Conservatori you can see, among other things, the famous statue of the wolf that nourished the twin brothers Romulus and Remus. In addition to many statues, you can also admire a lot of paintings in this museum. The museum used to be the seat of Rome’s city council. Nowadays several official meetings still take place in this building.
After a visit to the Capitoline museums it is absolutely recommended to walk a little further through the Capitoline district. From Piazza Venezia you have a perfect view of the imposing white marble monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of Italy. Walk via the “Cordonata”, a majestic staircase, to the already mentioned Piazza del Campidoglio. Both the staircase and this square were designed by Michelangelo.
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums
Rome is home to the smallest independent state in the world: Vatican City. The Pope is the head of state of this ministry. His official residence is the Apostolic Palace. Vatican City has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984.
Whether you are Catholic or Protestant, religious or not, a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums simply cannot be left out during your city trip to Rome.
The imposing dome of St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen from afar. Via the beautiful, symmetrical St. Peter’s Square you walk towards the most famous church in the world. Until 1989 this was also the largest basilica in the world, but then an exact copy of St. Peter’s was erected in the capital of Ivory Coast. It seems to be just a fraction bigger.
Near St. Peter’s are the Vatican Museums. In the former papal palaces, there is one of the largest and most important art collections in the world. Over the centuries the popes have purchased or conquered an enormous amount of art that is exhibited here. In addition, the sumptuously decorated rooms in the museums are an attraction in themselves. The visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums is one of Rome’s absolute highlights.
Strolling through the nicest districts of Rome
Every part of Rome has its own charm, atmosphere and character. That is what makes the city so special to us. In the times we visited Rome, we especially enjoyed the following areas:
Trastevere means “across the Tiber”. It is originally a pure Italian working-class district. The inhabitants think they live in the real Rome. Although the district has changed a bit in recent years, here you can enjoy everyday scenes in the streets and on the balconies of the dark orange plastered houses: women hanging the laundry, calling their children on the square or chatting, hanging over the edge of the balcony. In the many trattorias you can enjoy deliciously prepared Italian dishes. And through the maze of narrow streets you’ll find one nice shop after another. On Sundays you can visit a very special flea market, where everything is for sale.
By now tourists have discovered the beauty of Trastevere, but this is not yet the case in the old working-class district of Testaccio. In Roman times there was an inner harbour in this part of Rome. They mainly brought jars of Spanish olive oil ashore here. The oil was poured into barrels in the harbour. The emptied jugs were then smashed. This is how the shrapnel mountain came into being. This mountain can still be visited today (Monte Testaccio).
There used to be a lot of slaughterhouses in this area. These have now been transformed into modern bars and restaurants. A famous restaurant in Testaccio is Il Checchino dal 1887. The wine cellar of the restaurant is definitely worth a visit. Another culinary hot spot in the district is Salumeria Volpetti. Here you can buy and taste the most delicious Italian delicacies. The most beautiful hams, salami and cheeses make your mouth water.
The Jewish quarter in Rome is not very large. When you walk from Campo de’ Fiori to the Forum Romanum, you pass the Jewish quarter. The billboards with kosher dishes indicate that you are in the right place. At first the Jews lived mainly in Trastevere. Pope Paul IV moved them to this part of the city. He had a strict regime to convert the Jews as much as possible to Catholicism. In this way, there were remarkably many new Catholic churches in the Jewish quarter.
The Palazzo Mattei di Giove is a beautiful building with a lovely courtyard. It is decorated with numerous busts, plaques and other fragments from antiquity. Really special to take a look at this courtyard, the entrance is free. On the adjacent square, Piazza Mattei, you can admire a special fountain. That is the Fontana delle Tartarughe (“turtle fountain”).
This neighbourhood used to be notorious as the whorehouse neighbourhood of Rome. Nowadays it is the hippest district of the city. Many artists live in this area. You will find lots of nice boutiques, hip vintage shops and galleries. On Saturdays and Sundays there is a large vintage market called Mercato Mondi. If you are looking for something hip and fashionable, Monti is your district. In the evening Monti is an important nightlife area for locals.
The most beautiful squares, highlights of Rome
Rome is dotted with lots of squares and piazzas. We find watching the people on a square and the hustle and bustle one of the nicest things about a visit to Rome. These are definitely not to be missed when you are in Rome:
Piazza Campo de’ Fiori
There used to be a lot of executions on this square. The large statue in the middle of the square is a famous Italian philosopher, who was burned at the stake here. Now it is a peaceful square with a lively market. A lot of fruit and vegetables, meat and fish can be bought here. In addition, you will find many shops with the most delicious delicacies. If you want to enjoy the market on this square, you should visit Campo de’ Fiori in the morning. There is no market on Sundays.
Once the great stadium of Emperor Domitian stood here. No less than 30,000 spectators visited the athletics competitions that were organised here in ancient times. Now it is one of the most beautiful baroque squares in the city. You can admire many beautiful fountains, such as the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. If you use the terraces on the square for a snack and a drink, don’t be alarmed by the bill. The prices in this piazza are very high.
Piazza di Spagna
This square is the place in Rome for millions of tourists from all over the world to visit. it is the place for the Romans to meet. The square has the shape of a bow tie. From Piazza di Spagna walk the world-famous Spanish Steps. Especially in spring it is a beautiful picture, when the many azaleas are in bloom. At the end of the stairs stands the beautiful church Trinita dei Monti. For the most beautiful design shops walk from Piazza di Spagna into the chic shopping street Via Condotti.
Piazza di Santa Maria
In the Trastevere district you will find this lively square. In the evening it is a good place to be. The district has an informal feel to it. If you want to enjoy authentic Rome, you should visit the square early in the morning. And you can visit one of Rome’s nicest churches in the square.
A walk through Bernini’s Rome
The famous artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini left a great impression on beautiful Rome. As the special master builder of four different popes, many designs of buildings are in his name. Among other things, he was involved in the design of St. Peter’s Basilica. The design of the square bearing his name is entirely his own. Numerous statues and fountains decorate Rome. We have done a walk that takes us past many of Bernini’s highlights. There are numerous routes on the internet.
Rome highlights: practical information
Visiting the highlights of Rome
It will not surprise you that there is a lot of interest in the sights of Rome. Long queues are then very common for the top attractions. You can make it easy on yourself by buying a city pass. This way you don’t have to buy a ticket. In addition, there is often the possibility of “skip the line” access.
There are various types of passes for sale. We have used the Roma Pass ourselves. With this pass you can visit some museums for free for 48 or 72 hours. At the other museums you get a discount. Plus: you can use public transport for free. Transport from the airport to the city centre is not included in this pass.
Transport in the city
The best way to discover the city is on foot or by bike. But the distances in the centre are quite big. Therefore you can use the metro. With two lines, the network is not very extensive, but it saves a lot of walking. Besides that there are a lot of buses. You can buy a public transport card for 1, 2 or 3 days. This is valid in both bus and metro.
Best travel time to visit Rome-s highlights
Rome is best visited in spring or autumn. In that period the weather is good. Keep in mind that around Easter Rome is overrun by pilgrims who want to experience the famous “Urbi et Orbi” on St. Peter’s Square. The Pope’s blessing on the balcony attracts many interested people from all over the world.
Avoid the summer months of July and August. It is far too hot to visit Rome then. In addition, in the month of August the Romans flee the city en masse to cool off by the sea. Many restaurants and shops are therefore closed during this period.
In Rome there are many hotels, guesthouses and apartments for rent. We enjoyed our stay in hotel Amalfi. This hotel is located within walking distance of the Termini train station in a quiet, safe area. Great room with a good breakfast. See the overview of all accommodations in Rome.
Preferably do not choose a hotel in the streets directly near the Termini train station. It can be less safe here in the evenings. Pay attention to your belongings anyhow when you walk from Termini to your hotel in the evening hours.