Europe Travel, Featured, Italy

11 Best Things to Do in Rome (For First-Time Visitors)

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Rome. The Eternal City. The capital of Italy. A city that has stolen the hearts of millions, as it has stolen mine! After visiting for the first time, my husband and I can’t wait to go back. It was absolutely one of the best places we’ve ever been.

With iconic landmarks mixed in with architectural artistry, show stopping fountains and intricate details woven throughout the city… there’s always something to find around every corner in Rome. It makes for the most amazing scavenger hunt!

If you’re planning your first visit to Rome, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled the 11 best things to do in Rome for first-time visitors, so you can make sure you don’t miss a single sight or beautiful hidden corner of the city!

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11 Best Things to Do When in Rome For the First Time

Now, if you’re like me, you like to plan your trip a bit and then give yourself time to wander. Especially if you only have a short time in Rome, you’re going to want to be on the move for most of it – there’s so much to see!

Going somewhere for the first time and trying to see it all, and create the perfect itinerary for your visit can be challenging. It usually requires a certain degree of planning if you’re not taking a big guided tour where they’ve mapped it out for you! If that’s more your speed (and we don’t blame you, Rome is so amazing, you really don’t want to miss a thing), we recommend this guided tour to see the Eternal City’s biggest highlights.

To save you time when planning your Rome adventure, I’ve compiled this list of the 11 best things to do in Rome for fist-time visitors. It includes all of the legendary landmarks and hot spots you won’t want to miss on your first visit to one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

1. Toss a Coin in the Trevi Fountain

Always first on my Rome lists, is the Trevi Fountain. When we were going to Rome, I knew this was the site I was most excited to see and it did not disappoint – I made my husband walk by it with me 4 times during our 3 day trip! Being there was magical.

Toss a coin into this Baroque masterpiece to, as legend has it, make a wish to return to return to Rome or to find love in the Eternal City. Or just to get a cute video!

On our last night, we came to see the fountain gorgeously lit up at night. We grabbed some gelato from a shop close by and sat on one of the benches listening to the sounds of the fountain (and the crowd of people, of course – this is Rome!), and admiring the fountain. It was so special and I’ll always cherish that memory. 

I highly recommend seeing the Trevi Fountain both during the day and lit up at night if you can make it work on your itinerary! There are also loads of great restaurants and shops near here so you could easily grab lunch or dinner when you’re over here.

Most travel “gurus” will say these restaurants are tourist traps, but we found them to be the best ones we tried in Rome. We especially liked Il Chianti Vineria!

Steal this photo spot: From the east entrance of the Colosseum, take a left and head toward the park sitting at the top of the hill. You’ll find the Oppio Caffè, and right across the street is where we had this prime photo spot!

2. Visit the Colosseum: One of the 7 Wonders of the World

Seeing the Colosseum in Rome is a no-brainer! It’s such an iconic landmark in Italy and this ancient amphitheater is even one of the seven wonders of the world. How often are you going to get the chance to see one of those seven? Not very often!

Constructed between 70 and 80 AD, the Colosseum was mainly used for gladiator fights, theatrical performances, and other entertainment during this time. As the number one tourist attraction in the city, it really can’t be missed and it understandably gets really crowded.

Get there early in the morning if you want a photo without people in it, and take a guided tour to really understand everything there is to know about the Colosseum. 

Like with all of Rome’s biggest attractions, buying your tickets online ahead of time is an absolute must as lines can be hundreds of people long and tickets can sell out! Check out this guided tour of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill or get an even more unique perspective with the exclusive Colosseum Underground tour (this part of the Colosseum can only be seen on a guided tour!)

3. Climb the Spanish Steps

Another famous spot in Rome, the Spanish Steps are not to be missed. Not only are they a fabulous photo opp near the bottom at the Piazza di Spagno, there is also a beautiful view from the top!

The steps can get very crowded, so you’ll want to get there bright and early if you want less people in your photos. And keep in mind that eating on the steps is banned, you could get yelled at by a security guard, or worse, receive a hefty fine!

4. Visit Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

As one of Rome’s four major basilicas, and one of Rome’s seven pilgrim churches, this is one stop in Rome that shouldn’t be missed. Be wowed by its beautiful interior, renaissance-era ceilings, and colorful mosaics as you take a stroll through it. And as a bonus, it’s free to enter the cathedral!

5. Sistine Chapel

This ceiling masterpiece by Michelangelo in the holy Sistine Chapel is an experience unlike any other. The ceiling painting is said to depict God’s creation of the world and of man, humanity’s subsequent fall from grace and then the birth of Jesus, the savior of humankind. 

6. Stroll through Vatican City

As the home of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world and renowned for its stunning architecture, Vatican City is the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church. Here you’ll also find the Vatican Museums, which house an extensive collection of art and historical artifacts that have been collected by the Catholic Church over centuries. 

Even if you don’t make a trip inside the Vatican buildings (which will require a ticket), strolling through Vatican City and admiring St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding buildings and fountains is an absolute must when visiting Rome.

If you do want to go into the Sistine Chapel or Vatican Museums, definitely plan ahead and book tickets! When we went, we waited too long (two weeks before arriving) to get tickets and they were completely sold out. It was surprising since it was off-season (November) and so disappointing!

When we visited Vatican City, we could easily see why the tickets were sold out – there was a line several hundred people long, wrapped around the square, waiting to go inside!

Skip the line with these Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel tickets or take an official guided tour here.

7. Explore the Ruins of the Roman Forum

Right by the Colosseum, you’ll find another important historic site: The Roman Forum. The forum served as a place for all public gatherings, elections and even gladiator fights, when it was originally built. Now, it’s a beautiful sprawling area of ruins for you to explore!

Here you’ll find the Arch of Titus, the Curia Julia, the Temple of Saturn, and the Temple of Caesar, among others. 

Colosseum tickets include entry into the Roman Forum, so make sure you give yourself enough time to explore both while you’re on that part of town!

8. Visit the Villa Borghese Gardens

Take a break from the hectic, business of the city with a visit to the nearby Villa Borghese Gardens. With plenty of green space, a small, relaxing lake, and trees casting shade, it’s the perfect place to take a walk, or relax on the grass. You can even row a boat on the lake if you want!

9. Enjoy the Piazza Navona

As one of Rome’s most popular and beautiful squares, the Piazza Navona is a beautiful open space filled with restaurants, street artists, musicians, and fountains!

Once the Stadium of Domitian, where sporting events took place in Ancient Rome. The stadium could even fit 20,000 spectators! It was then paved over in 1500 AD to become what you see now as the Piazza Navona.

Here you will also find three impressive fountains: the Fontana den Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers), the Fountain of Neptune, and the Fontana del Moro.

When you’re done enjoying the fountains, grab an end table at one of the square’s many restaurants for a drink and a little people watching!

10. Visit the Pantheon

Located close by to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon is an incredible historic site you’ll want to put on your list. This ancient building was built between 25 and 27 BC, making it about 2,000 years old and the oldest building in the world that is still in use today.

Admire the massive pillars and quintessential Roman architecture from outside, or take a tour inside to view the famous dome. This dome is the oldest unreinforced dome in the world, and has served as architectural inspiration for buildings across the globe.

The Pantheon is free to enter, but you can buy guided tour, skip-the-line and special fast-track entrance tickets to beat the crowds.

11. Stand at the Top of the Altare della Patria

While you won’t find this stop on a lot of the Rome lists out there, I really recommend it! This is one sight we didn’t set out to find but were blown away by it when we came across it. 

At the Piazza Venezia, you can visit the Italian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and enjoy the huge and truly show-stopping monument to the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, known as the Altare della Patria. 

Walk up to the very top of the steps of the Complesso del Vittoriano for beautiful views of the city and Basilica San Marco, and even the Colosseum when you go around to the back side! We saw it all at night, with everything lit up. It was truly special and one of our favorite memories in Rome!

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