The Top 25 Tourist Attractions You Must See in Rome


Rome’s Most Iconic Landmarks for Visitors

As the capital of Italy, Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Known as the Eternal City, Rome offers visitors over 2,500 years of history seen through itsarchitecture, art, and iconic landmarks.

With so much to see and do, planning your visit can feel overwhelming. To help make your trip easier, here is my list of the 25 top attractions you absolutely must visit when you travel to Rome.

1. The Colosseum

No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the iconic Colosseum, the largest amphitheater built during the Roman Empire. Located in the heart of the city, this massive stone structure was commissioned around 70-80 AD by Emperor Vespasian and was where gladiators once fought to entertain the crowds.

Walking inside the Colosseum, you can imagine what it would have been like in its heyday, with over 50,000 spectators cheering. Today visitors can explore the main arena floor, passageways, and chambers that were once underneath the seating. Don’t forget to take in the views of the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill from the top tier.

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2. The Roman Forum

Once the center of daily life in ancient Rome, the Roman Forum was for centuries the site of markets, trials, festival celebrations, and gladiator matches. Today it is an evocative archaeological site with fascinating ruins showcasing the grandeur of Roman architecture.

Some key highlights you’ll see include the Curia Julia which housed the Roman Senate, the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the House of the Vestal Virgins. With over five centuries of history on display, exploring the Roman Forum offers an authentic glimpse into ancient Roman civilization.

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3. The Pantheon

The Pantheon is considered one of the most remarkably preserved buildings from ancient Rome. Originally built as a temple, this iconic 2,000-year-old architectural wonder features a magnificent concrete dome that is still the world’s largest unreinforced dome. What makes the Pantheon so unique is how the entire building is designed around a central rotunda flooded with light from its oculus, creating striking interplay between light and geometry.

In addition to its architectural details, visitors also come to see the tombs of the Renaissance painter Raphael and several Italian monarchs located inside. The Pantheon perfectly captures the history, innovation, and design legacy of the Roman Empire.

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4. Vatican City

The seat of the Catholic Church, Vatican City attracts millions of pilgrims and art lovers every year eager to see St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. As its own independent city-state ruled by the Pope located within Rome, visiting Vatican City feels like stepping into a whole different world of art, history, and culture.

Some key highlights include St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, Raphael’s Rooms decorated by the Renaissance master painter, the spiral staircase in the Vatican Museum, and Michelangelo’s breathtaking ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. With opulent palaces, gardens, chapels and internationally renowned artworks, The Vatican offers a memorable experience for visitors of any background.

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5. Trevi Fountain

No first-time visit to Rome is complete without tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the city. The iconic monument features a stunning 85-foot-wide sculpture of the sea god Oceanus riding a chariot pulled by seahorses. Surrounding the central figures are many niches with statues symbolizing the different moods of the sea. At night, the fountain is beautifully illuminated, making it even more striking.

Legend holds if you toss a coin in the fountain (using your right hand), you’ll be certain to return to Rome one day. It’s estimated that visitors throw in between €3000 to €4000 worth of coins into the fountain each day! The Trevi Fountain is constantly crowded, but most visitors agree it is one of the not-to-be-missed highlights when exploring Rome.

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6. The Piazzas of Rome

One of the best ways to experience the energy and charm of Rome is by visiting its lively piazzas. These open-air public squares can be found throughout the city and function as popular gathering places for tourists and locals alike.

Some of top piazzas in Rome include:

  • Piazza Navona: Defined by three lavish fountains and elegant Baroque architecture, Piazza Navona has a vibrant, carnival-like atmosphere with street performers and artists.
  • Piazza del Popolo: This grand square features an Egyptian obelisk, twin churches, and beautiful landscaping, offering iconic views of Rome.
  • Piazza di Spagna: Famously home to the Spanish Steps, this piazza links up to ritzy shopping streets, attracting both tourists and high-end fashionistas.
  • Campo de’ Fiori: As a bustling open-air food market by day and lively nightlife spot by evening, Campo de’ Fiori captures the true spirit of Rome.

People watching from sidewalk cafes while soaking up over 2,500 years of history makes exploring Rome’s piazzas an essential experience.

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7. The Spanish Steps

Made famous in films like Roman Holiday, the iconic Spanish Steps, or Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti, have long been one of Rome’s most popular sightseeing spots. The photogenic 135-step staircase links the lively Piazza di Spagna with the hilltop Church of Trinità dei Monti above. Not only are the Spanish Steps a beautiful place to take a break while exploring Rome, but the area is also home to high-end boutiques and 5-star hotels catering to wealthy travellers. It is definitely one of the top attractions to check out when visiting Rome.

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8. Galleria Borghese

Home to one of Italy’s finest art collections, the Galleria Borghese displays masterpieces by artistic heavyweights like Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Bernini, and Canova. Exhibited in the lavish Baroquesetting of Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s former Villa, wandering these spectacular rooms feels like stepping back in time.

Some of Galleria Borghese’s highlights include Bernini’s swirling marble sculptures depicting mythological epics, Caravaggio’s intensely realistic canvases, and Raphael’s portrait of his lover La Fornarina. Due to the fragile artworks, reservations are essential to avoid disappointment. For art lovers, an unforgettable experience!

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9. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

With its intricate 5th-century mosaics, soaring coffered ceiling, and beautiful bell tower, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore stands out as one Rome’s most magnificent churches. As one of the four papal major basilicas of the city, this architectural jewel was originally built in the 4th century AD but renovated over centuries. When you step inside, some highlights include the intricate medieval mosaics lining the nave, the sculpted Sistine Chapel choir screen, and the ornately gilded Baroque ceiling. Santa Maria Maggiore offers visitors an authentic glimpse into ecclesiastical grandeur through the ages.

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10. Trastevere

Once gritty working-class district, the vibrant Trastevere neighborhood offers charming cobbled alleyways lined with cafes, boutiques, and trattorias perfect for some Roman charm away from the tourist crowds. As one of Rome’s oldest neighborhoods tracing back to antiquity, Trastevere, translates to “across the Tiber”. Wandering the atmospheric lanes, especially at night reveals why locals love Trastevere so much. From the bacterial fountain on Piazza di Santa Maria to ivy-draped buildings and artisan shops, Trastevere casts an irresistible spell. Stop at a café for an espresso or sample house wine at a cozy osteria to experience Trastevere’s enchanting appeal.

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11. The Baths of Caracalla

Once the second largest public baths in ancient Rome, the towering ruins of the Baths of Caracalla provide a glimpse into the grandiosity of bathing complexes under the Roman Empire. Today visitors can explore a range of ruins like mosaic floors, huge vaulted halls, and the intricate hypocaust heating system that kept the water hot.

But more than just public baths, sites like Caracalla functioned like an ancient recreational center open to all with facilities for sports, libraries, gardens, art displays alongside bathing areas. With the capacity for 1,600 bathers daily, the sheer scale of the Baths of Caracalla is sure to impress any history buff.

12. St. Peter’s Basilica

Designed by leading Renaissance architects like Bramante and Michelangelo, jaw-dropping St. Peter’s Basilica stands as one of Rome’s most iconic monuments. As the world’s largest church, highlights include Michelangelo’s moving Pietà statue, Bernini’s towering bronze canopy over St. Peter’s tomb, the gilded papal altar, and views from the basilica’s dome.

St. Peter’s Square itself is equally impressive with its curving rows of columns designed by Bernini to resemble arms welcoming the faithful. Both architecturally harmonious and symbolically meaningful, St. Peter’s Basilica is a must-see for all travelers.

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13. Park of the Aqueducts

Offering great views of ancient engineering, the Park of the Aqueducts (Parco degli Acquedotti) surrounds the towering ruins of several Roman aqueducts. As the source of water for over a million people, aqueducts like Aqua Claudia were marvels of Roman infrastructure traversing over 30 miles to supply the city’s countless fountains, baths, and villas. Today the giant brick arches rising from the green park make for great photo opportunities and nice views of Rome in the distance beyond. It’s an ideal spot for a quick day trip just outside Rome’s city center.

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14. Palatine Hill

Rising above the Roman Forum lies Palatine Hill, an atmospheric area dense with ruins framing sweeping views of Rome’s ancient sites. As legend holds, Palatine Hill is actually where Romulus and Remus were saved by a she-wolf, eventually founding the city of Rome. Beyond myth though, the Palatine was Rome’s most exclusive neighborhood under the emperors dotted with imperial palaces and temples.

Today visitors can climb the hill to discover remnants of these lavish compounds, including the palace of Emperor Augustus with its vibrant fresco fragments and the gigantic substructure supporting the Temple of Magna Mater. Exploring these atmospheric ruins really emphasizes the city’s mythic origins.

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15. Day Trip to Ostia Antica

To dig deeper into ancient Rome, consider a day trip out to the incredibly well-preserved ruins of Ostia Antica. Once a thriving port town feeding imperial Rome, Ostia Antica makes it easy to envision life under the Roman Empire with highlights like mosaic-floored houses, cafes, temples, and a 15,000 plus seat theater. As a major commercial hub, walking the excavated streets lined with brick warehouses transports visitors back to antiquity. Beyond the Forum and Colosseum, Ostia Antica provides an immersive window into daily Roman life.

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16. National Museum of Rome

For those fascinated by ancient Rome, the acclaimed National Museum of Rome (Museo Nazionale Romano) offers a world-class collection of art and artifacts documenting Rome’s evolution from village to empire and beyond. Its four distinct locations around the city feature highlights like the engraved Column of Trajan depicting military conquests, vivid Pompeiian wall frescoes, medieval goldsmith objects found beneath Rome’s streets, and marble statuary from imperial palaces and villas. A tremendous resource to better understand the legacy of art spanning over 1,500 years of Roman history.

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17. Basilica of St. John Lateran

Known as Rome’s cathedral, the awe-inspiring Basilica of St. John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano) ranks highest among Rome’s four major papal basilicas. Commissioned by Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century, this historic church features resplendent marble, soaring colonnades, vibrant mosaics, and masterful sculptures. Located across from the Scala Sancta holy steps said to be from Pontius Pilate’s palace, be sure to also see the tranquil cloistered courtyard with twisted baroque columns. For anyone interested in ecclesial architecture or simply admiring artistic beauty, St. John Lateran is a moving spiritual highlight.

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18. The Roman Catacombs

As one of the Eternal City’s more macabre attractions, exploring Rome’s vast underground burial catacombs offers a darker glimpse into antiquity. With hundreds of miles of tunnels stacked with ancient tombs, the catacombs were where early Christians buried members of their community. Eerie yet fascinating to walk through, notable sites include the Catacombs of Domitilla, Catacombs of San Callisto, and the Capuchin Crypt lined with skeleton-adorned chapels. An intriguing option for travelers looking to peel back another layer of Rome’s history.

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19. Borghese Gardens

Spread across close to 200 acres, the scenic Borghese Gardens (Giardino Borghese) present a gorgeous green refuge to relax among Rome’s bustling city streets. Originally the grounds of Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s estate, highlights include landscaped English gardens, temples, fountains, a pretty boating lake, and the Galleria Borghese art museum. Renting bikes or sitting for gelato are favorite pastimes for both locals and visitors. On the edge lies the Pincio Terrace overlooking the Piazza del Popolo, providing picturesque views and sunsets.

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20.The Mouth of Truth

Tucked in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church lies the Mouth of Truth or “Bocca della Verita”, one of Rome’s more eccentric attractions. According to time-honored legend, the Mouth of Truth is a stone disc carved into a human face that bites off the hands of anyone telling a lie.

The medieval manhole cover has become an offbeat photo stop for visitors eager to test the legend and pose with their hand in its carved mouth. Even if the truth-telling properties are mythical, it’s still a fun selfie to take back home. Who knows, it could inspire more honesty!

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21. MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts

Devoted entirely to modern creativity, Rome’s MAXXI National Museum provides an inspiring showcase of innovation in contemporary art and architecture. Designed by famed architect Zaha Hadid, the museum building itself featuring curved white walls, glass walkways, and futuristic lines feels like a work of art. Inside, the ever-changing exhibitions highlight provocative mediums like videos, digital media, site-specific installations alongside stunning building designs and models. For an appreciation of Rome extending into the 21st century, MAXXI’s creativity will excite art lovers’ imaginations.

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22. Day Trip to Tivoli

Under an hour’s drive outside Rome, lies Tivoli, once the retreat of ancient Roman aristocrats seeking fresh air and relaxation. Today Tivoli makes for an excellent day trip to discover two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the sprawling ruins of Emperor Hadrian’s villa and the lavish gardens of Villa D’Este.

At Hadrian’s Villa, explore the fragmented ruins like temples, libraries, baths, and theaters that once made up this prestigious imperial palace compound nearly the size of Pompeii. Meanwhile Villa D’Este dazzles visitors with Renaissance architecture and spectacular landscaped gardens adorned with hundreds of

fountains cascading down the hillside. With its rich mix of nature, history, and aristocratic extravagance, Tivoli offers a perfect glimpse into the appeal surrounding Rome for centuries.

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23. Capitoline Museums

Housed within two gorgeous Renaissance palaces on Capitoline Hill are the Capitoline Museums, considered the oldest public museums in the world. Their origins reach back to 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated ancient bronzes to the people of Rome, gradually expanding over centuries through the papal collections. Wandering these stately halls, highlights include the iconic Capitoline She-Wolf bronze thought to represent Rome’s founders, the ancient colossal Statue of Constantine I, and views of the Roman Forum from the Tabularium. For art history buffs and devotedItaly travelers, the Capitoline Museums’ stunning classical statues and antiquities embody much of what visitors come to experience in Rome.

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24. Day Trip to Pompeii

While farther afield from Rome, don’t miss the opportunity to visit one of Italy’s most moving archaeological treasures, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pompeii. Located a 1.5-hour drive south near Naples, Pompeii offers the world’s best preserved ruins of an ancient Roman city, left eerily frozen in time after Mount Vesuvius’ AD 79 volcanic eruption buried everything under 30 feet of ash. Wandering the intact streets lined with intact villas, temples, baths, amphitheaters and even ancient artifacts means you’ll leave with an unforgettable window into daily Roman life during the empire’s heyday.

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25. Walking Tours Around Rome

One of the best ways to fully appreciate the rich layers of history and culture woven throughout Rome is to take walking tours led by expert local guides. Offering detailed explanations of the architecture, art, scandals, and legends behind Rome’s iconic sites, walking tours cater to a variety of interests like food tours, Vatican tours, archaeology tours etc.

Expert local guides really immerse visitors within each attraction’s significance, bringing static ruins and museum displays to life. Tours can range from private small group tours to regular large group tours at set times daily, with prices scaling accordingly. For deeper insight from those that know Rome’s streets best, walking tours are an invaluable experience.

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Final Thoughts

From ancient ruins and stately piazzas to historic churches and lively neighborhoods, Rome truly offers endless options to discover both in the city and on quick day trips nearby.

I hope you enjoyed my list of must-see attractions for first-time visitors. With so many places to experience though, it is impossible for one trip to cover everything. The good news is Rome has been inviting repeat visits since antiquity, so you’ll likely want to return to keep exploring deeper through its many vibrant layers of intrigue, beauty and history.

There are few cities like Rome that so fully transport you across millennia with around every cobblestoned turn, where even casual neighborhood wanders connect you back to antiquity. Follow along Roman emperors’ footsteps inside imperial palaces, witness engineering marvels supplying ornate baths and towering monuments, and immerse yourself within the masterpieces orating lavish basilicas and palazzos. Rome offers history that surrounds you viscerally as much as visually.

Beyond outstanding sightseeing, Rome’s lively piazzas, tempting food scene, and spirited locals further that distinctive Italian dolce vita lifestyle. So when you visit the Eternal City, take time to sip an Aperol spritz at a tucked-away trattoria, linger over leisurely dinners basking in golden Roman sunsets, and mingle among the night crowds between lively bars and cafes. Embrace Rome not just for its outstanding attractions, but for the joie de vivre atmosphere felt in its monuments to living well for thousands of years.

With so much magic, majesty and passion for life throughout Rome’s ages, there are adventures waiting here for every traveler whether on your first or fifteenth visit. The hardest part is simply deciding where to start uncovering Rome’s enduring allure that keeps generations returning to indulge in la bella vita Roma!

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