Whenever I visit the Eternal City of Rome and ponder the top 5 best things to see in Rome, I always find myself coming back to the old adage of: “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, this is where ‘la dolce vita’ originated, after all! Now bearing in mind this beautiful city has been around for over 2,000 years, there are more than enough places to visit including architectural, artistic and cultural highlights to keep you busy all-day-long, every-day of the year, but I have tried to pick my top 5 must-sees.
1) The Pantheon
This is the burial place of Rome’s Kings and other prominent figures, including Raphael, and it has to be one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in this ancient city that is quite honestly filled with important historic buildings, monuments and architecture. Unlike the Forum and the Colosseum which require a guide and a little creative thought to imagine them in their heyday, the Pantheon truly looks today much the way it has done for nearly 2,000 years, both inside and out, with stunning domed interiors, impressive pillars, gleaming marble floors and numerous sculptures and paintings. A visit to Rome wouldn’t be complete without a few hours here.
2) The Roman Forum
After visiting the almost wholly intact Pantheon, it’s quite a contrast to visit the ancient ruins and walk on the cobbled streets of the Roman Forum. Here you can envisage the likes of Julius Caesar, amongst others, striding through the streets in togas and the like. Tip: to allow you to get a real feel of what it looked like long ago, make sure to pick up a copy of “Rome: Past & Present,” with its plastic overlays of what the Forum looked like before you visit. I would also recommend a good tour guide to tell you all about this epicenter of the massive Roman Empire as it’s all too easy to mistake Livia’s house for Augustus’ and so on, especially as there are no signs. Finally, if you want to admire the whole Forum in all its glory, take the Rome from the Sky elevator to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument next door.
3) The Colosseum
Inaugurated in 80 A.D. with 100 days of games including Gladiatorial combat and animal fighting, this is the largest remaining Roman-era amphitheatre anywhere in the world (originally believed to be able to host as many as 50,000 spectators). This is a true Roman must-see, however it’s not for the fainthearted with the throngs of crowds all year round and numerous actors in plastic gladiator outfits keen for you to pay for a photo with them. Having said all that though, a trip to Rome wouldn’t be complete without a visit here as it gives you a fascinating glance into a very important, all be it a little gruesome, aspect of life in the ancient capital. Tip: I would advise a good guide book, audio-guide, or actual tour guide to tell you all about this amazing sight and to avoid long queues, you should buy a combined ticket for the Forum, Palatine Hill and The Colosseum at one of the other sights in advance of visiting here.
4) Vatican City
The Vatican City is technically known as its own independent city-state, and in fact the smallest country in the world. This intricate city and array of museums, including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and home to the Pope. It is also a treasure-trove of iconic art and architecture and includes sculptures like the famed “Laocoön and His Sons” and the Renaissance frescoes in the Raphael Rooms. Tip: It’s hard to explore in anything under a day and a good tour guide is a must to help you navigate the maze of Vatican Museums, important sights, stunning sculptures and painted old masters, not forgetting of course the famous St. Peter’s Basilica.
After all the big-name sightseeing, it can be nice to escape into authentic Rome and embrace Italian culture and day-to-day life like a native. For this I think there’s nowhere better than the pretty cobbled streets of the Trastevere neighbourhood. Situated on the west bank of the Tiber, south of Vatican City, Trastevere is mainly car-free and offers you a whole host of authentic restaurants, bars and hidden cafes as well as little boutiques and shops that avoid the usual tourist tat. You can sit back in the sunshine in the piazza adjacent to the beautiful Santa Maria in Trastevere Church, one of the oldest churches in Rome, which has a gleaming interior painted with all manner of scenes. In the evening this little Italian escape gets a bit more popular as young locals and tourists descend, but somehow this adds to the charm and enjoyment and it’s as good for people-watching at the infamous Trevi Fountain or Spanish Steps. Tip: While immersing yourself in this beautiful hideaway in Rome, I recommend you hunt down a little restaurant within these beautiful cobbled streets to try one of the dishes that’s a favourite with locals: Cacio e Pepe, a simple pasta dish with lots of Pecorino Romano, one of the most popular cheeses in Rome, and plenty of good ol’ black pepper – delicious!
There is so much to see in this amazing city and whatever you choose, I believe one of the easiest and most convenient ways to travel, especially if you’re short on time, is to take a tour with a local Limousine or Taxi firm. A great little find is: Rome Limousine Taxi, an authentically Italian based company with brand new cars and multilingual drivers that care for your comfort and privacy. They offer a wide range of tours around Rome; shopping in Castel Romano; trips to Tivoli Gardens and the beautiful Bracciano Ceri Anguillara; as well as private airport transfers to and from the airports of Rome, Fiumicino, Ciampino and Civitavecchia Port. Available to hire all year round and ready to collect you from your cruise ship, Rome airport or hotel with an English-speaking driver, this really takes the hassle out of sight-seeing. Their tours don’t include an official private guide, lunch or tickets (to the Vatican Museum, Colosseum etc.), however they are more than happy to arrange all of these things for an additional fee. This really is a great company with excellent private service to whisk you around this somewhat overwhelming city!
No matter how long you’re staying and how many sights you’re seeing, the Eternal City of Rome will enchant you and entice you back time and time again.
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