Europe Travel

Europe Travel, Featured, Italy

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

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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Europe Travel, Featured, Italy

15 Can’t-Miss Tourist Sights in Rome

Planning your trip to Rome, Italy and curious what’s worth your time? While there are many famous places in Rome to visit like the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, or the Colosseum, there are other, lesser-known sights that you won’t want to miss.

Maximizing your time in the Eternal City is a must, but how do you decide what to see and what to skip? It can feel overwhelming! In this guide, we’ll cover the very best experiences and top sights to see in Rome so you can plan an unforgettable trip.

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As the capital of Italy, Rome is a majorly bustling city in addition to being one of the most ancient, fascinating cities in Europe. Along these cobblestone streets, you’ll find history everywhere you look! There is so much to see and do in Rome that it can feel hard to decide what to put on your itinerary. Read on to see our “Must-See” sights in this stunning city – starting with the most popular Rome tourist attractions and ending with a few of our personal favorites that you won’t want to miss.

Jump To:
The Colosseum
The Pantheon
Roman Forum
The Trevi Fountain
Sistine Chapel & Vatican Museums
St. Peter’s Basilica
Piazza Navona
Palatine Hill
St. Angel’s Bridge
Campo de’Fiori Market
Spanish Steps
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza Venezia & Altare della Patria
Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore
Galleria Borghese

1. The Colosseum

When you think of Rome, chances are you think of the Colosseum. This landmark is so iconic and an absolute must-see. Built around 70 AD as an entertainment arena, the Colosseum gives you a unique peak into the ancient past of the Roman Empire.

Whether you want to just admire the Colosseum from the outside, or take a tour of the inside, you won’t want to miss this legendary spot. Join a guided tour to explore the interior, or go for the full Colosseum experience with a tour of the Colosseum Underground and the opportunity to stand on the partially restored Arena Floor.

Good to Know: The Colosseum is unsurprisingly one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome and it’s essential that you book your entrance or tour tickets ahead of time. We recommend getting regular priority tickets so you can visit the Arena Floor or a Rome Tourist Card to make visiting all of the sites easier!

Tour the ancient underground passageways of the Colosseum for a unique perspective. See tickets here.

2. The Pantheon

Located on the Piazza della Rotonda, not far from the Trevi Fountain, is the Pantheon. Originally built as a template to all gods, the Pantheon was built around 125-127 AD and is the world’s oldest building that is still in use today. Best known for its massive dome, it’s one of the most fascinating sights in Rome and served as an inspiration for other buildings throughout the city, and across the world.

At almost 2000 years old, the Pantheon is one visit you won’t want to miss. Book a skip-the-line ticket in advance to avoid crazy long queues and view this stunning, ancient building here.

3. Roman Forum

Situated right by the Colosseum, the Roman Forum is one of those places that you’ll never forget. So rich and full of history, these ruins are something to behold! The Roman Forum is a sprawling former scene of public meetings, law courts, and gladiatorial combats. It was once lined with shops and open-air markets. Today, you’ll see temples still standing and the Arch of Titus and Arch of Septimius Severus, honoring emperors of the time.

Pro Tip: If you don’t want to go into the Roman Forum, or just want an excellent photo op, head up the hill towards Campidogli, a hilltop square designed by Michelangelo and lined with museums. Head around to the backside to a photo spot called Terrazza sul Foro to overlook most of the Roman Forum and snap some amazing pictures!

4. The Trevi Fountain

The most famous fountain in the world, and my absolute favorite sight in Rome: the Trevi Fountain. While it’s a very crowded spot, it cannot be missed. Located close to the Pantheon, these two are great to see back to back. After you toss your coin in the fountain (and of course, snap a few pictures!), you’ll find loads of restaurants, shops and gelato places all a few steps away from the fountain.

The Trevi Fountain was so breathtaking, I made my husband walk by to see it with me 4 times on our short trip – I couldn’t get enough! It was magical, especially at night.

5. Sistine Chapel & Vatican Museums

Even if you’re not Catholic, the Vatican is truly an experience unlike any other and another “Must-Do” on your list. Admire the incredible ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, built at the end of the 15th century and painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. It’s truly a masterpiece that you’ll have to take your time appreciating.

In addition to the Sistine Chapel, you’ll also want to tour the four Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of Maps, the gardens, and the famous Momo Staircase.

Pro Tip: Booking Vatican Museum tickets ahead of time are essential as they are always busy and tickets are usually sold out. Get tickets to explore it on your own here or take a guided tour to fully immerse yourself in the experience!

6. St. Peter’s Basilica

As the largest and most important Catholic Church in the world, you might imagine how massive the building would have to be! The sheer scale of this church is so hard to visualize, even while standing outside. Built at the site of St. Peter’s tomb, this is also the location where many Popes are buried and has underground crypts you can tour. 

While you’re here, climb to the top of St. Peter’s Dome  for an amazing view of the Vatican and the city, as well as enjoy the view of the church below. 

Lines to get into the basilica, as well as anywhere else in Vatican City can be exceptionally long. Save hours of time queuing with skip-the-line tickets to see St. Peter’s Basilica & Dome here!

This stunning Baroque-style square is one of the most charming and popular squares in Rome. Built on the site where the Stadium of Domitian (Circus Agonalis) once stood, this square features three fountains so intricate you won’t believe they’re man-made! There is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) representing the important rivers of continents where Christianity spread. Then there is the Fontana del Moro, originally called the “Seashell Fountain” and lastly, the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune).

In addition to the beautiful fountains you’ll find in this famous square, you’ll also find plenty of cafes and restaurants lining its sides. However, this is one area of Rome that would be considered more of a “tourist trap” with coffee costing 2-3 times more than at other nearby cafes. There are also pretty mixed reviews on the food at these restaurants so we decided to look elsewhere when we were there around lunch time. However, if you wanted a place to eat and people watch, this would probably be one of the best places to do it!

8. Palatine Hill

The most famous of the seven hills of Rome, and one of the oldest parts of the city, Palatine Hill was once a neighborhood in Rome for the rich and famous. Now, it’s an open-air museum and archaeological site. Here you’ll see grand palaces of the Roman Empire, and views of the Roman Forum and Colosseum from a distance. 

Good to Know: An entrance ticket to the Palatine Hill is included with Colosseum and Roman Forum tickets. 

Tip: Get an amazing view from Terrazzo Belvedere del Palatino, overlooking the Roman Forum and city center.

Choose a guided tour to explore Palatine Hill, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum so you can really understand all of the amazing ruins you’re seeing, and the stories of this city. We recommend this tour that also gives you priority entrance!

9. St. Angel’s Bridge

The most photographed bridge in the Eternal city, St. Angel’s Bridge is another spot to put on your itinerary – especially since you can use it to walk towards the Vatican anyway! Admire the angel sculptures on this beautiful bridge, built in 134 AD to connect Castelo Sant’ Angelo to the city of Rome. 

This pedestrian bridge is so unique, lined with the statues of 10 angels, all while being right in front of the massive Castello Sant’Angelo. Staying in Prati, we happened upon this bridge without looking for it and were so surprised at just how beautiful this bridge was!

10. Campo de’Fiori Market

If you’re looking for local flowers, a bottle of fabulous olive oil to take home, unique wine offerings, Italian pasta, or just some delicious local produce, this is the place to do it! As one of the nicest town squares in Rome, it’s a popular gathering and trading place. The market is open between 7 AM and 2 PM daily, except on Sundays. 

We stumbled upon this square in the afternoon and got a bottle of wine at a restaurant right on the square. We enjoyed our Syrah and people-watching at the market!

11. Spanish Steps

Another iconic tourist spot, the Spanish Steps connect the Piazza di Spagna to the Piazza della Trinità dei Monti on the top of the hill. This impressive staircase has been in countless movies, graced the covers of magazines and is often on postcards and travel guides to Rome. 

At the bottom of the stairs, you’ll find the Fountain of the Boat (Fontana della Barcaccia) and the bustling Piazza di Spagna lined with colorful buildings, shopping and restaurants. Love yourself some English tea time? Check out the famous Babington’s tea room to the left of the stairs!

Good to Know: It’s forbidden to sit or eat on the Spanish Steps. 

12. Piazza del Popolo

This town square is so huge and deserves a visit! Located right inside one of the old city gates of Rome, Porta Flaminia, this piazza is where many famous streets meet. One leading in the direction of the Vatican, the other towards the Pantheon, one leading toward the Colosseum, and lastly, one leading toward the Spanish Steps.

You’ll find an Egyptian Obelisk and the Fountain of the Lions in the center of this piazza, as well as two other fountains at the western and eastern sides of the square. Enjoy the view of two stunning churches, Santa Maria die Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto on the edge of the square and the view of the Museo Leonardo da Vinci at the other end.

And if you’re like my husband, you’ll want to check out the absolutely massive doors leading to the square near the Museo Leonardo da Vinci! With a background in construction, that sweet man couldn’t stop looking at the hinges and door construction haha!

13. Piazza Venezia & Altare della Patria

This is one sight we didn’t set out to find but were blown away by 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 first king of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II, known as the Altare della Patria.

You can also walk up to the very top of the steps of the Altare della Patria onto the terrace for beautiful views of 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 moments in Rome!

14. Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore

This basilica is important to the papistry, and is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome and is still used by the pope to this day. It’s also the largest church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features golden ceilings and 5th century mosaics. This beautiful church has such intricate detail and architecture, it’s worth taking a moment to admire it from the piazza out front or enter the Cathedral for free (if it’s open when you’re there)! There’s also a great little corner restaurant across the street that we got lunch and a couple of Aperol Spritzes!

15. Galleria Borghese

The Galleria Borghese is an elegant palace and contains one of the largest private art collections in the world. The museum has over 20 rooms of antiques, sculptures, and paintings, including the statues “Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini and paintings by Caravaggio, Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci and Sanzio Raphael.

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Europe Travel, Featured, Italy

21 Free Things to Do In Rome

Visiting the Eternal City doesn’t have to break the bank. Rome is such a magical city to visit, with many low-cost or free options to experience all of its glory. From beautiful monuments and fabulous fountains sprinkled throughout to city, to seeing most of the sights up close and personal, there’s plenty to do in Rome on a budget.

Compared to most of Europe’s hottest tourist destinations, Rome has a surprising number of famous sites and things to do that are completely free to visit. Read on to see the best free things you can do in Rome!

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Free things to do in Rome

1. Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain

Visit the world’s most famous fountain and iconic Rome tourist attraction: the Trevi Fountain. Toss a coin over your shoulder into the fountain for good luck, or as the legends say, to find love in Roma!

2. View the Colosseum

It’s free to check out the Colosseum from the outside. Take a walk around the perimeter and snap pictures at your favorite spots!

3. Get a bird’s-eye view of the Roman Forum

If you don’t want to spring for a Colosseum or Roman Forum ticket, you can view most of the Roman Forum from Terrazza sul Foro. Here you can overlook most of the Roman Forum and take some amazing pictures!

4. Visit the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore

This incredible basilica is not only beautiful from an architectural stand point (featuring gold ceilings and mosaic windows, and such intricate details!), it’s also an incredibly important Catholic Church. It is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome and is still used by the pope to this day. It’s also the largest church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary

You can enter the Cathedral for free, or admire it from outside like we did. But if you want to climb to the top of the bell tower or the top of the Cupola, there’s a ticket you’ll need to buy.

5. First Sunday of the Month

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on the first Sunday of the month, several of the most popular museums and historic sites open their doors to the public for free. These tourist sights include:

  • The Colosseum
  • Castel Sant’Angelo
  • Roman Forum/Palatine Hill
  • The Borghese Gallery
  • Baths of Caracalla
  • Ostia Antica
  • National Rome Museum
  • Villa Giulia
  • Palazzo Corsini
  • Galleria Spada
  • Palazzo Venezia

And others.

6. Admire St. Peter’s Basilica

Visit the city’s largest, most spectacular basilica for free – though there will probably be a large line to get in. After taking 126 years to build, maybe a little waiting in the line won’t feel so bad! Admire three of Italy’s most stunning masterpieces in the basilica: Michelangelo’s’ Pieta and his soaring dome, and Bernini’s 95 ft baldachin over the papal altar. 

7. Take a stroll through Vatican City

While you can’t go into the Vatican Museum or the Sistine Chapel without a ticket, you can absolutely spend time wandering around Vatican City. Enjoy the beautiful architecture, view the fountains, grab a coffee at one of the city’s cafes, and soak up the Vatican vibes from the outside!

8. Watch the street artists on Piazza Navona

This bustling square is not only full of tourists, but is also full of street performers and artists throughout the day, usually until dusk.

9. Piazza Navona fountains

While you’re there, check out the three beautiful fountains found in the Piazza Navona. There is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) representing the important rivers of continents where Christianity spread. Then there is the Fontana del Moro, originally called the “Seashell Fountain” and lastly, the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune).

10. Visit the Vatican Museums on the Last Sunday

Similarly to how many of Rome’s state-run museum’s offer free admission on the first Sunday of the month, the Vatican opens their doors to the public for free on the last Sunday of every month. Just keep in mind, it can get very crowded!

11. Walk Down Appian Way

As one of the oldest roads in Rome, there are lots of historic sites to see nearby and along the road. While many people opt to bike the road, walking it is free and a great way to see all of its smaller details.

12. Stand (Almost) Beneath the Arch of Constantine

Located between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, you’ll find the Arch of Constantine. This historic and cultural landmark is a well-preserved monument that encompasses the true beauty of Roman architecture. 

13. Walk Up The Spanish Steps

Visit one of the most well-known sites in Rome by taking a walk up the Spanish Steps from the Piazza di Spagna below. In the spring, you’ll find the steps covered in colorful flowers!

14. Visit Campo de’ Fiori

Campo de’ Fiori is the main market in Rome, and here you’ll find everything from Italian pasta and authentic olive oil, to fresh flowers and produce. While making a purchase here isn’t free, you can absolutely wander around and see all the market has to offer for free!

15. Visit where Julius Caesar was killed

Next to the Pantheon, in the center of Rome, there’s a square called Largo di Torre Argentina, that has to be reached by a stairway. The area is also well-known for having been the scene of Julius Caesar’s murder in 44 BC, with a plaque on one of the temple columns designating the place of the alleged murder.

16. Stand Atop Capitoline Hill

Situated in the center of the city, Capitoline Hill is one of Rom’e seven hills and has an excellent view of the city. As the site of various temples, honoring various Roman gods and goddesses, it’s a cool perspective in Rome.

17. Take a walk through Trastevere 

Once a hidden gem in Rome, this neighborhood has become more popular among tourists in recent years. Stroll through the neighborhood, admiring the architecture and piazzas.

18. Wander through Quartiere Coppedè

The Quartiere Coppedè is one of Rome’s smallest and most unique neighborhoods, with nothing like it anywhere else in the city. The neighborhood’s architecture blends Art Deco, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and medieval styles, making it feel like a fairy-tale as you take a stroll through it!

19. Relax in the Gardens of Villa Torlonia

This villa served as Mussolini and his family’s home during World War II, and now houses a museum that can be toured for a price. However, the estate’s gardens are beautiful and can be toured for free.

20. See the Foro Italico

This huge sports complex was built between 1928 and 1938, and originally called the Foro Mussolini. Here, you’ll find two stadiums that host Rome’s soccer teams, and see 60 marble sculptures meant to show power and strength.

21. Visit Villa Borghese Gardens

Similarly visiting the Gardens of Villa Torlonia, you’ll need to buy a ticket to enter the building but enjoying the park and beautiful scenery is free!

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