The Best Things To Do In Rome
by Daniel | Last Updated October 25th, 2019
Giotto di Bondone, the Renaissance painter, once said: "Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning." And you need to see it to believe it.
Try as you might you haven't been to Italy unless you spend a few days in its capital. And once those few days are up, you'll realize that you need a lifetime to get to know even one of the ancient city's neighborhoods.
But let's start with the here and now and your upcoming trip. Here's what to include in your Rome itinerary.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Rome?
The eternal question: how many days should you add to your Rome itinerary?
In our opinion, you should dedicate at least three to four days in the Eternal City. Over those four days, you have time to check out the city's famous historic sites, museums, and shopping.
If you are planning an extended visit to Italy then Rome has so much history and culture that a few weeks would give you the time to see the sights in more depth as well as experiencing the city as a Roman.
Where to Stay in Rome
Rome is full of holiday lets, boutique hotels, and of course, some of the grandest luxury properties in the world. And if you want to stay in the heart of Trastevere, or on top of the Spanish Steps, you're going to pay good money for it.
With a vast metro system and an abundance of taxis, you can stay pretty much anywhere in the city and remain connected. With that kind of flexibility, you should choose a neighborhood based on your interests.
Do you want to go out at night? Stay next to all the best cafes? Enjoy some of the local vibes? Here are a few places for each kind of traveler.
Best Place for After-Hours Rome: Trastevere
Trastevere is the place to be when the sun goes down. Locals and tourists alike frequent the neighborhood's bars and clubs, and there's something for everyone. There are side hangouts, trendy bars, and the kind of venues that cater to Hollywood stars and billionaires.
The neighborhood also happens to be lovely during the day, too. Some of the most picturesque streets in the city are on its doorstep.
Starting your search for a hotel in the heart of the city? Consider options like:
Relais Le Clarisse
You'll enjoy plenty of atmosphere with all of these options. While there’s no metro stop here it's a short walk from the rest of the city.
Best Place for a Local Vibe: Prati
If you are on your second trip to Rome or if you intend to spend the first two nights somewhere central and want a local vibe later, make it Prati.
Prati is almost exclusively residential. It's close to Castle Sant'Angelo and the Vatican, and it's a world away from the bustling historic and ancient areas.
There are wide avenues lined with trees just begging to appreciated over a long stroll.
Setting up camp in Prati is an excellent opportunity to book an Airbnb, but a hotel will also do.
Some of the more traversed hotels in the area include:
The Boutique Hotel
Hotel Dei Mellini
Many of the local hotels are under 15 minutes from the Vatican by foot.
Best Place for a Short Trip: Centro Storico (Historic Center)
If you're short on time, why not book a hotel in the historic heart of Rome? It's home to the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain and isn't too far from the ancient sites.
We have to admit: the hotels here aren't always the best value. The rooms are small and often booked to capacity, and it's always loud. But staying here means you can walk all day, make it back to your hotel, and still have plenty of food options at your disposal.
Casa Fabbrini is one of the better budget options here. It's five-minutes from the Spanish Steps and has classy, modern country decor. However, there are only four-rooms, so you'll need to book early to get a place. It's worth planning around, though: it feels less like a hotel and more like your own pied-a-terre in the heart of Rome.
If you're of the type that wants a luxurious experience, you will find that here. Design and luxury hotels in the area include:
Hotel De Russie
J.K Place Roma
Gran Melia Rome
It's up to you!
Where to Eat and Drink in Rome
There's no shortage of dining and drinking options in Rome. Because the city is so busy and so attractive to creatives, the best spots are always changing.
When looking for places to eat and drink, be wary of any place that shows pictures of food on the menu. You should also consider venturing further from popular points of interest.
To get you started, we listed a few of the spots we like to hit whenever we're in the Eternal City.
La Buvette is an excellent place for breakfast or a late afternoon drink. It opens at 8 AM and serves delicious coffee and pastries. The staff here also make a killer Negroni. The food here is also excellent and vegetarian-friendly. It's even budget-friendly, which is a surprise given its location practically next to the Spanish Steps.
Minerva Roof Garden
If you brought your glad rags or you did some designer shopping in Rome, Minerva Roof Garden is the place to show them off.
Located next to the Pantheon, it's the most romantic spot in the city. The terrace is incredible, and there's a Bernini downstairs at the entrance.
Minerva is famous for its martinis, and there's a long list of options available. Be aware that a drink here will set you back 20 per glass. But that's to be expected in a setting like this.
(Dinner is between 35 and 40 for a fish or meat course, so it's not a place to come night-after-night).
If you speak a little Italian and want to save some money, visit one of the local spots like the Marco Martini Cocktail Bar or Angelina.
Roscioli is a deli-restaurant combo that is a classic haunt. It's the kind of place that old Roman women and Conde Naste writers flock to in equal parts.
Everything on the menu is good - and exceptionally fresh. If you are wine drinkers, make this your spot for a wine tasting, too. Roscioli has 2,800 labels on the menu.
Book a reservation in advance. Don't worry. The website is in English.
A Rome Itinerary
You could live in Rome for the rest of your life and never run out of exhibitions to wander, ruins to marvel at, or food to eat. When you Google "things to do in Rome," you'll quickly find that the lists of "must-do" attractions include dozen of places to choose from.
We think its easier to break Rome attractions down into two categories: the must-see postcard sites and the quieter places that let you in on the secrets hiding in the city.
The Must-See Highlights
Here's what all first-time visitors need to know about Rome. You won't hit all the highlights in a single trip. You will either run out of time or energy - or both.
We recommend picking one big highlight for each day in the city. Then, you can enjoy your time there without feeling rushed, and you still have time during the rest of the day to recover.
(You'll see what we mean after your trip to the Colleseum.)
The must-see highlights to include on your trip include:
St. Peter's Basilica
The Roman Forum
Castle Saint Angelo
Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore
Villa Borghese Gardens
Terme di Caracalla
Trastevere, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the famous piazzas are other essential sites. But unlike those listed above, they are small places that require no tickets or lines. You can visit them at your leisure- morning, noon, or night.
When visiting famous tourist sites, remember two things. The first thing to keep in mind is that 9.7 million visitors went to Rome in 2018. That's a staggering number of people, even for a large city. So when you think about doing something that you wouldn't do at home, consider that there are 9.7 million other people who are thinking the same thing and act accordingly.
To that end, remember that Rome's city authority has started cracking down on bad behavior. Sitting on the Spanish Steps comes with a $250 fine. And littering is 400 euros. Police officers will come move you along quickly.
Second, book in advance when you can. Buying tickets online might not only save you money, but also a ton of time waiting in the ticket lines. There will still be a line, but it moves much faster.
Should I Buy the Roma Pass?
You should also consider buying the Roma Pass if you want to spend most of your time in Rome's museums The Roma pass is worth it if you don't fall within one of the categories who receive discounts.
Most of these are Europeans who are:
Under 18 (Europeans and non-Europeans)
You can buy a 48- or 72-hour Roma Pass (28 and 38,50 Euro per person, respectively). The 72-hour Romas Pass is the best deal because it allows you to make the most of the available properties. All your public transport is also included. However, it isn't the money saved that makes the Roma Pass worth it for most people.
It's the line jumping. Roma Cardholders skip the lines at both Castel Sant' Angelo and Musei Capitolini.
If you do buy the Roma Pass, use it strategically. The first two museums you visit are free, but you'll pay a reduced price after.
Keep in mind that the Roma Pass doesn't include hot spots like the Vatican Museums (and Sistine Chapel).
You can use it at the Coliseum, the Borghese Gallery, and the Palazzo Valentini. There's a charge for booking at the Coliseum.
Check out the full list of museums here.
Off-the-Beaten Track Highlights
The heat, the crowds, and the size of the major attractions will leave you ready for a mid-afternoon siesta and perhaps (definitely) an Aperol spritz. Once you feel refreshed, you have two options: wander the city aimlessly or check out Rome's less-visited highlights.
You don't need to go far to escape the crowds. In some cases, a left turn off a famous piazza does the trick.
We recommend visiting places like:
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
Santo Stefano Rotondo
The Keats-Shelley Memorial house
Largo di Torre Argentina
The list is the perfect mix of historical sites, homes, museums, and viewpoints that you'll mostly have to yourself.
For a story to write home about, visit the Largo di Torre Argentina. There's plenty of excellent shopping on your way here, and once you arrive, the visitor's plaque may shock you. These unassuming ruins are the site where Julius Caesar was murdered. Today, it's a cat sanctuary.
Are you looking for more ideas? Atlas Obscura has 71 entries for Rome, so get planning!
Make Your Roman Holiday a Dream
Visiting Rome is like a dream. During the peak summer season, it feels more like a fever dream but a dream nonetheless.
A well-planned Rome itinerary will help you make the most of your days in the city and show off not only the jawdroppingly famous sites but show off what makes the city so unique.
Are you packing for your trip to Rome? Don't sacrifice comfort for style. Read my luggage buyers' guide here and bring it all - with the right suitcase.
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My name is Daniel and I am a full-time world traveler and constantly on the move.