10 Best Things to do in Rome For First-Time Visitors
Oh, Rome, the city that stole my heart the first time I saw it.
I can’t think of any other city which has such a special place in my heart as Rome since it was the first destination I’ve ever visited completely alone. I can’t really remember why I chose the Italian capital, but it was a good decision.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Rome was never on my bucket list. It’s actually quite the reverse!
I’ve always wanted to go there one day, mainly because of the city’s important part in history.
You need to know that I’m a total history freak and if time travel would be a real thing, you’d probably see me travel through different periods of time for the rest of my life!
But that’s another story.
Best Things to See & Do in Rome
Besides the question of how the hell I should survive my first trip alone, I asked myself what to see and do in the so-called ‘Eternal City’.
As usual, I sat down, scrolled through hundreds of different websites and even bought a guidebook to make sure I won’t miss anything.
Going somewhere for the first time and finding the perfect itinerary is always very challenging, at least in my case. Time is limited and it usually requires hours of planning and preparing to fit everything into your schedule.
So, to help you save some time, I compiled this list of the 10 best things to do in Rome for first-time visitors.
It includes all the hot spots you really don’t want to miss during your first visit to one of the prettiest European cities.
Oh and if you also plan to go there alone, you may want to learn more about the benefits of solo traveling + get some useful tips!
(This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a certain percentage of a sale if you purchase after clicking.)
1. Visit One of The 7 Wonders of The World
It’s pretty obvious that one thing you absolutely can’t skip on your trip is a visit to the Colosseum, especially if you have only a day in Rome.
The majestic ancient amphitheater is not only one of the most famous landmarks in Italy but is even among the seven world wonders! This fact alone makes a visit to the Colosseum more than worth it.
The amphitheater was constructed between 70 and 80 AD and is the largest of its kind ever built.
It was mainly used for gladiatorial contests, theater plays, and other types of entertainment in the early middle age.
Until today, the remains of the stunning structure symbolize Ancient Rome’s wealth, might, and power.
No wonder travelers from all around the globe come to admire this impressive amphitheater and learn more about the history of the Roman Empire.
As the number one tourist attraction in the city, the Colosseum is usually very crowded.
Make sure to get there early in the morning to get the most authentic experience.
If you’re not a fan of queuing, you can buy tickets online. The costs are around €16 for a standard entry to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
If you want, you can also book one of the many special skip-the-line tours.
2. Wander Along The Ruins of The Roman Forum
Just a stone’s throw away from the Colosseum is another popular and important historic site: The Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum was a social and political hub in ancient Rome. It was the place for all public gatherings, elections and even gladiator fights took place there.
Nowadays, all that’s left of the once very lively plaza is a wide sprawl of ruins.
Some of the most iconic sights include the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Titus and the Curia Julia. Latter was the seat of the Roman senate.
Unfortunately, the one you see today is only a reconstruction because the original one got destroyed by a fire.
As already mentioned above, entry to the Roman Forum is covered by a single Colosseum ticket. If you decide to see the forum first, you’ll get the same combined ticket that grants you access to the Colosseum later.
Make sure to plan enough time for your visit to the Roman Forum. The area is huge and there’s so much to see!
I spent more than two hours wandering around the ruins, including a short visit to Palatine Hill from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the entire place.
Tours you might find interesting:
3. Spend Some Time at The Spanish Steps
The next stop you shouldn’t miss adding to your Rome itinerary joins the list of the most visited and photographed attractions in the city.
The Spanish Steps were built between 1723 and 1725 and can be found right beneath the Trinità dei Monti church.
You may now think that they’re just steps, but the Spanish Steps were so beautifully designed they became an inspirational location for artists, painters and poets.
Today, the steps are the perfect place where you can just sit, relax and take in the breathtaking view of Rome from the top.
Since they’re open to the public with no entrance fee, it can get very crowded in the afternoon. Visit there early in the morning if you want to take photos with fewer people.
Even though it’s an inviting place for a short picnic break, be careful as it’s not allowed to eat there. The ban started in 2017 and should help to protect and maintain the stairs.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the ban back then and cluelessly unpacked my cereal bar. Now imagine how embarrassed I was when the security guard saw it and started yelling at me in front of everyone else.
Of course, he only spoke Italian so it took me quite a while until I understood what he meant.
Trust me, you don’t want to get into such an awkward situation. 😀
4. Throw a Coin Into Trevi Fountain
Not only the stairs are special, but also the numerous fountains in Rome are truly gorgeous to see. And the number one is without any doubt Trevi Fountain.
Trevi Fountain is one of Italy’s most famous landmarks and even the most famous fountain throughout Europe.
The amazing Baroque fountain was created by Nicola Salvi whose dream was to build a dramatic fountain at the junction of three streets. The name of the fountain comes from the Italian wording tre vie which means ‘three streets’.
The fountain is free to visit and thanks to its central location, you’ll most likely pass by it many times just to discover something new every single time.
It looks beautiful early in the morning when the chance is high to be alone there and also during sunset or at night when the entire fountain is illuminated.
People say if you throw a coin over your left shoulder into Trevi Fountain you’ll return to the Eternal City one day.
So in my opinion, one of the best things to do in Rome is exactly this because you just can’t visit this city often enough!
5. Take a Stroll in Villa Borghese Gardens
As much as I love wandering around in cities all over the world to see all the sights and find some hidden gems, sometimes I just need a small break from the hectic life.
Usually, there are always enough green areas to escape the busy life. In Rome, one of the best places for that is Villa Borghese.
Villa Borghese is one of the most popular landscape gardens in Rome, located on Pincian Hill close to the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo.
On more than 80 hectares you can find a small lake with temple ruins, museums (for example the Galleria Borghese) and numerous other buildings and attractions.
The scenic, lush park is just perfect for a long walk, or if you prefer, you can also rent a bike or do some inline skating.
It’s also possible to row a boat on the lake if you’re looking for another fun and unforgettable experience. Nearby you’ll find many cute cafés and a playground for kids.
The park is open every day from dawn to dusk and access is free of charge.
6. Watch The Sunset From Pincian Hill
If you visit Villa Borghese in the evening, make sure to head to the observation deck on Pincian Hill afterward.
It offers one of the most stunning views of Rome and is a great place to experience an epic sunset over the Eternal City.
Unfortunately, it’s very well-known for its amazing sunset panorama so make sure to go there early enough to secure a space in the first row.
Trust me, the stunning birds-eye perspective of Piazza del Popolo immersed in golden light and all the domes, roofs and spires in the background make you never want to leave again.
It’s truly a moment you won’t soon forget.
7. Visit Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Is there any city in the world with more churches than Rome? I really doubt it.
Well ok, maybe there are but in Europe, Rome is definitely in the first place.
So during your time in the Italian capital city, you’ll most likely stumble across numerous churches in various shapes and sizes.
One of the most stunning churches in Rome that you shouldn’t miss is the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It’s considered to be the largest ancient Catholic basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome.
Although it may not look very spectacular from the outside, once you’re inside you know why I put it on this list of the best things to do in Rome.
Inside, you can find various architectural styles, from early Christian to Baroque.
Even though the basilica was restored and renovated in the 18th century, it retained the original bell tower, breathtaking fifth-century mosaics and marble floors from the medieval periods.
The ceiling decoration is even from the Renaissance era.
Until almost two years ago, a small underground chamber under the altar was home to Jesus’ manger – one of the most important Catholic relics.
But then at the end of November 2019 and after more than 2,000 years, Pope Francis decided to permanently relocate it to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.
8. Enjoy The Lively Ambience at Piazza Navona
Welcome to Piazza Navona, Rome’s most characteristic and beautiful piazza square.
It’s a lively open space with numerous restaurants, street artists, musicians and painters surrounding the square.
If you take a look at a map of Rome, you’ll probably see that the shape of Piazza Navona resembles a large stadium.
That’s because the square was once the Stadium of Domitian where sports events and festivals took place in Ancient Rome. In 1500 tho, the stadium was paved over to create what is now the bustling Piazza Navona.
Piazza Navona features three impressive fountains, including the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) with a tall Roman obelisk designed by Bernini.
It’s without any doubt the most photographed item on the square.
Another popular fountain is the Fountain of Neptune having the statue of the Roman god of the sea in its center. It’s one of the most famous statues in Italy and also a must-see during your first time in Rome!
Despite the interesting history and the architectural gems, people normally come here to hang out, enjoy a drink or meal and people-watch. And I tell you, you can easily spend hours just doing that.
9. Admire The Impressive Pantheon
If you haven’t seen enough historic sites yet, another one of the best things to do in Rome is to make a short visit to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is among the buildings in Rome which remind you how ancient the city actually is.
It’s located in a small, unassuming square called Piazza della Rotonda which is lined with cafés and bars like so many other Roman squares.
The only difference is that this one has a 2,000-year-old monument in it!
Apparently, it wasn’t just any random location they chose to build the Pantheon. No, legends say it’s the exact same place where the founder of Rome, Romulus, died and was brought into the skies by an eagle.
The Pantheon was initially built around 126AD as a Roman temple and was turned into a Roman Catholic Church a few hundred years later.
Because it’s so well preserved, it’s hard to believe that the building has been in continuous use for nearly two millennia!
A great bonus is that the Pantheon is open to the public with no entrance fees. However, if you want to have an audio guide you’ll have to pay a few euros.
The opening times are from 9:00 am to 7:15 pm from Monday-Saturday and from 9:00 am to 5:45 pm on Sundays.
Tours you might find interesting:
10. Explore The Historic Castel Sant’Angelo
On the right side of the Tiber River and just a short distance from the Vatican, you can find Castel Sant’Angelo – also called The Mausoleum of Hadrian or Hadrian’s Tomb.
The castle’s initial purpose was to serve as the mausoleum of the Roman emperor Hadrian and his family. It was then later used as a fortress with prison and is now a museum.
Apparently, the urns containing the ashes were placed in what is nowadays known as the Treasury Room deep inside Castel Sant’Angelo.
It’s easily reachable within a 10-minute walk from both Piazza Navona and the Vatican.
The most scenic way to approach the castle is by crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo where you can admire marble angel statues created by the famous Italian sculptor Bernini.
The castle and the museum are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 7:30 pm. On Friday it’s open until 10:00 pm.
Regular tickets cost €20.50 per person, whereas people from 18-25 years only pay €9.50. Everyone younger than that only pays €5.50. It’s possible to buy them online or at the cash desk.
If you have enough spare time, plan on visiting the Vatican Museums to admire the famous painting of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Check out other posts about Italy:
– 30 Most Famous Landmarks in Italy
– 10 Best Things to do in Venice For First-Timers
– Bucket List Experience: Gondola Ride in Venice
– A Perfect Day Trip to Burano & Murano From Venice
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Do you want to travel like me?
Here are some of my favorite travel tips and resources:
Flights: I prefer using CheapOair or Skyscanner to book flights. The destination everywhere feature is perfect for finding some cheap deals!
Accommodation: Booking.com is my favorite site to find some great hotel deals. I do love staying at a local place as well, thus I book an Airbnb every now and then.
Travel Insurance: There are many reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having one. I use the simple and flexible one from World Nomads to be protected against unforeseen events.
Tours: I love taking tours to explore destinations like a local. My favorite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.
Camera Gear: I use a Nikon D5300 camera with an 18-105 mm and a 10-20 mm wide-angle lens to take my photos.
I haven’t had the chance to visit Rome yet, so this post is going to be really helpful for me! I can’t wait to see al of the ancient sites around the city, and I appreciate that you’ve put the opening times for them as well!
I’m happy to hear it will be useful for you! Rome is an amazing city 🙂
i haven’t been to rome in over a decade, so these first timer tips will certainly come in handy for me on my next visit ?? (hopefully soon, fingers crossed)
Happy to hear this Shelley!
Possibly going to Rome this year so this is super handy! Pinning it for future reference!
Oh have a fun trip, you’ll love it!
I loved Rome! This is such a great list for first-time visitors. I loved visiting the Colosseum & Roman Forum and checking out Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain at night. I love your photos! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Me too! Such a fascinating city and I’m planning to go back soon. Thanks! 🙂
This is such a great list of things to do in Rome! I missed some of these on my visit so it’s a great excuse to go back! I’d especially love to see Castel Sant’Angelo. Thanks for the great guide!
It’s a really nice place to visit! 🙂
Squeee this brings back such good memories! Rome was one of the first places I visited as well – it is such a perfect spot to find your travel style. I would love to go back and visit all your suggestions all over again… but the thing I’d most like to go back for is foooood! 😉
Omg yes! Italian food is just the best!
We loved Rome and think you have created a fantastic list – we missed the Borghese Gardens and really wish we hadn’t
It’s a great park, maybe next time you’re in Rome you can go there 🙂
Great post, Lina! I lived in Rome for a while and you covered all the bases for a first-timer. It’s making me a little homesick and nostalgic haha, thanks for sharing!
Oh I’m so jealous! Rome must be such a wonderful city to live in 🙂
So many gems to see in Rome, I’ve always wanted to go back!
I hope you will soon!
Oh Rome? I have never fallen so deeply in love with a city before? your post makes me want to go back immediately!
I know how you feel, it’s a wonderful city 🙂