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Rome: Top 10 Attractions Tips & Tricks

st-peters-basilica, rome, italy

Deciding on what to see and do – and what must wait for another visit – consumes the thoughts of any prospective visitor. To help you make up your mind and save time whenever possible, here’s what you must know before heading to the Top 10 Attractions in Rome, in order of popularity.

#1 Colosseum / Colosseo

The symbol of the Eternal City, you absolutely must visit it inside too. It’s located right in the center of Rome, with super easy access by a subway station right next to it, aptly named Colosseo (Line B).

Most importantly, be warned that lines are huge, so unless you want to spend hours waiting, buy your ticket online! (here)

However, if for any reason you cannot do that, buy your ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance, because the booth at the Colosseum itself has the longest queues by far.

Take note:
  • Although each one has separate entrances and ticket checks, this is, in reality, a Colosseum + Roman Forum + Palatine combo ticket and it is valid for one entrance in each site, over 2 consecutive days from first use.
  • All visitors and bags are screened (x-ray) for security reasons. Backpacks, bulky bags, and luggage/trolleys are strictly forbidden.
  • Every first Sunday of the month, entrance is free (no reservation possible).
  • Free admission to under-18s (EU and non-EU).
  • Opening times: 8:30 to one hour before sunset (see details here).
  • Closed on Jan 1st, May 1st and Dec 25th. Open on Dec 24th and 31st.

#2 Pantheon

One of the best-preserved of the Ancient Roman buildings, it is absolutely unbelievable that the Pantheon has been standing for two millennia ― probably dedicated about 126 AD ― and it still boasts the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Its good preservation is largely due to its continuous use as a church since the 7th century.

You won’t find a subway station nearby but it is among many points of interest in the same vicinity, so it will fit seamlessly in your city walk.

Take note:
  • Free admission.
  • Opening times: weekdays 09:00-19:15 / sundays 09:00-17:45 / public holidays 09:00-12:45.
  • Visits are not allowed during Masses: holidays 10:30 / saturdays 17:00.
  • Closed on Jan 1st, May 1st and Dec 25th.

#3 Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

This is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, built under Pope Sixtus III (432-440). It features early Christian mosaics from the 5th century, the Salus Populi Romani (a much venerated early icon of the Virgin and Child), relics of Saint Jerome, the resting place of Bernini and several Popes. You can reach it easily, 500m away from Termini station, on Piazza dell’Esquilino.

Take note:
  • Free admission.
  • Opening times: weekdays 07:00-19:00 (18:00 in winter) / sundays and holidays 09:30-12:00.

#4 Roman Forum + Palatine Hill

Il Foro Romano was the center of day-to-day life in Ancient Rome, a piazza surrounded by several government buildings. It was the place of triumphal processions and elections, public speeches, criminal trials and the center of commercial dealings. Nowadays, you will only see the ruins but it’s still very impressive.

Il Palatino is the centermost of the seven hills of Rome and a good starting point to your visit of this archaeological area. Rising 40m above the Roman Forum, it allows panoramic views over the ruins, the Colosseum and Circus Massimus.

Absolutelty worth visiting on their own, but with the Colosseum + Roman Forum + Palatine combo ticket, there’s really no reason to skip it.

Take note:
  • Every first Sunday of the month, entrance is free (no reservation possible).
  • Free admission to under-18s (EU and non-EU).
  • Opening times: daily 8:30 to one hour before sunset (see details here).

#5 Galleria Borghese

An art gallery housing a substantial part of the Borghese collection of paintings, sculptures, and antiquities, sprawled over 20 rooms across two floors. Visits take place over shifts of 2hs each and exit is mandatory after your shift ends. Be sure to check the Villa Borghese Gardens as well (free of charge).

Take note:
  • Every first Sunday of the month, entrance is free, limited to a certain number of visitors.
  • Reservation is required for all visits. Book here.
  • Free admission to under-18s (EU).
  • All bags, backpacks, cameras, umbrellas, and strollers must be stored. It’s not possible to store bulky suitcases or baggage. Phones must be switched off. Photographs are forbidden (with or without flash).
  • Opening times: tuesdays to sundays 08:30-19:30.
  • Official website for exhibitions and events (here).

#6 Trevi Fountain

La Fontana di Trevi is probably the most beautiful fountain in the world. You will be walking the little streets and when you least expect, you will be staring in awe at it. There are two versions of the legend about throwing coins for luck: the first is that by using your right hand over your left shoulder your return to Rome in the future is guaranteed; the second says you should throw 3 coins, for your return to Rome, for a new romance and the last for a marriage.

Take note:
  • The fountain is located in an open area, so no admission fees.
  • It’s incredibly busy at all hours of the day, so if you want a picture with fewer people in it, aim for the really early hours.

#7 Trastevere

This rione takes its name from the Latin trans Tiberim (beyond the Tiber) and Emperor Augustus started to consider it a part of Rome. With a multicultural population and its partial isolation, the Trasteverini have developed their own culture. You will still find the narrow cobbled streets lined by ancient houses, so despite all the tourists, much of its original character is still there.

A nice way to reach it is by coming from the Jewish Ghetto ― a must-see area on its own ― and crossing the Isola Tiberina.

Take note:
  • Just get lost in the neighborhood.
  • Visit Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, another ancient church, dating back to the 340s (although much of the current structure to 1140-43), with 12th and 13th century mosaics.

#8 Piazza Navona

One of the most popular and beautiful squares in Rome, it was originally the site of the ancient Stadium of Domitian. Nowadays the square itself corresponds to the Stadium’s interior arena, while the buildings around it incorporate its original lower arcades.

Don’t miss:
  • Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, by Bernini, in the center of the square.
  • Fontana del Moro, at the southern end.
  • Fontana del Nettuno, at the northern end.
  • Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.

#9 Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, the real name of Castel Sant’Angelo, sits on the right bank of the Tiber. Originally built for Emperor Hadrian and his family, between 134-139 AD, it was heavily damaged after being converted into a military fortress in 401. Later, at the beginning of the 14th century, the structure was again converted, this time into a castle for the Popes, who also added a corridor that connects it directly to St. Peter’s Basilica.

Don’t miss:
  • Amazing view onto Saint Peter’s Basilica from the top of the castle.
  • Sant’Angelo Bridge (or “Bridge of Angels”): also built by Emperor Hadrian, it’s located directly in front of the castle and you have great views from the first level of the castle; don’t forget to head to it on your way out too!
Take note:
  • Every first Sunday of the month, entrance is free (no reservation possible).
  • Free admission to under-18s.
  • Opening times: daily 9:00-19:30.
  • Closed on Jan 1st, May 1st and Dec 25th.
  • Reservation for individuals is optional but always advisable in busy attractions like this. Buy here.

#10 The Vatican

Center of the Roman Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Basilica is famous as a place of pilgrimage and has many historical treasures, beyond the imposing architecture of the church and square. Don’t miss these spots:

Saint Peter’s Square
  • There may be security checks to access the square.
  • Surrounded by colonnades that represents an embrace of the “maternal arms of Mother Church”.
  • Statues of 140 saints addorn the top of the collonades.
  • Ancient Egyptian obelisk in the center: brought to Rome by Caligula in 37 AD and erected at current site in 1586.
Saint Peter’s Basilica
  • Free admission to the main area.
  • Lines in the square are for the security check with x-rays.
  • You can skip the queues by acquiring the audio guide by Vox Mundi.
  • Strictly enforced dress codes: long pants for men and long pants or skirts longer than knee-level for women; knees and shoulders must be covered.
  • Open daily 7:00-19:00 (Apr-Sep) and 07:00-18:00 (Oct-Mar).
  • You can also visit the Treasury and the Dome upon a fee.
  • The Vatican Grottoes, a vast crypt that houses the tombs of 91 Popes, as well as some kings and queens from the 10th century on, are also free and open daily 7:00-18:00 (Apr-Sep) and 07:00-17:00 (Oct-Mar). No photography allowed. Make this your last stop, since you will exit onto the outside of the basilica.
Musei Vaticani / Vatican Museums
  • Here is where the Sistine Chapel is!
  • Every last Sunday of the month, visit is free from 09:00-13:45.
  • Open weekdays 10:00-16:45 and Saturdays 10:00-14:45 (Mar-Oct); weekdays 10:00-13:45 (Nov-Feb), except for Christmas period, when it’s open 08:45-16:45.
  • Lines are even longer here than for the basilica, early- to mid-morning being peak times, so plan wisely and be patient.
  • You can skip the queues by buying your standard ticket online here. Musei Vaticani offers many other tours, find a list here.

Here’s hoping you make the best use of these tips on your (next) visit to Rome!

See also:

Rome 101: Arriving & Getting Around

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