Rome City Guide

Deemed the eternal city, Rome’s Ancient past is alive and well today. Stand where gladiators once fought to the death inside the Colosseum, make a wish in the Trevi Fountain and catch a glimpse of the Pope in Vatican City. 

Colosseum & Roman Forum

A trip to Rome is not complete without visiting the Colosseum & Roman Forum. All ticket options include entrance to both sites but I would recommend purchasing the more inclusive one. Not only do you get to see more areas of the Colosseum, but it’s valid for two days! I recommend visiting the Roman Forum on day 1 of your ticket (be sure to climb to Palatine Hill for the best view of the Colosseum). On day 2 of your ticket, arrive to the Colosseum shortly before it opens (8:30am). There is a line for people who are already ticket holders so you can be one of the first people into the arena. My first trip to Rome I was able to sneak into the Colosseum before everyone else (since I already had my ticket) and was able to experience it with hardly any people. It was both an incredible and eerie experience.

St. Peter’s Basilica

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St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the holiest places a Catholic can visit. It is also the largest church in the world and can accommodate up to 20,000 people inside its walls. It’s free to enter St. Peter’s Basilica but plan ahead since you will have to wait in long security lines to get in. (Independent companies offer guided tours of the Basilica if you’re interested in learning more, but we did not go this route). I recommend climbing to the top of the dome for a birds eye view of both inside the Basilica and outside of the Square. You cannot pre-purchase your tickets for this and I advise having cash handy, as they do not accept cards. (If you purchase the less expensive tickets it’s 520 stairs to the top, but if you pay a few more euros you can take the elevator part of the way up and only have to climb the remaining 320 steps. I’ve done it both ways and highly recommend the elevator!)

  • Cost: Free (Basilica) / €8 – €10 (Dome)
  • Estimated time needed: 1-2 hours

The Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel

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View from St. Peter’s Basilica

In the same day that you tour St. Peter’s Basilica, I also recommend making time to do the Vatican Museum. Many people believe the Sistine Chapel is something you can see while touring the Basilica – but it is actually only accessible through the Vatican Museums. You can also visit the Papal Gardens, depending on the type of ticket or tour you choose.

  • Cost: €17 – €21
  • Reserve spots online here: Vatican Museum
  • Estimated time needed: 2-3 hours

The Spanish Steps

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Trinita dei Monti Church at top of Spanish Steps

The Spanish steps date from 1723 and connect Piazza di Spagna at the bottom with Trinita dei Monti Church at the top. Today, they are a spot for artists and tourists to hang out. I set the expectation that these steps are always crowded, but if you can catch it early in the morning, it will feel more relaxed.

  • Cost: Free
  • Estimated time needed: 15 minutes

Trevi Fountain

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In almost every movie you see set in Rome, the main characters always make their way to this iconic fountain! In my opinion, what I had seen prior in movies felt deceiving. The Trevi Fountain is in the middle of a small plaza, surrounded by buildings and shops. A crowd forms around the fountain, with everyone holding a coin in their hand waiting to make a wish! Similar to the Spanish Steps – go to the Trevi Fountain early in the morning to avoid the crowds. I also recommend a trip back at night to see it lit up. Legend has it, throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain will bring you back to Rome someday (to find love). Fun Fact: More than 1.7 million is collected from the fountain each year and given to Catholic charities to help the poor and homeless.

  • Cost: A coin for wishing (and charity)
  • Estimated time needed: 15 minutes

Altar of the Fatherland

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Opened in 1911 to pay respects to Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of Italy, this massive building stands in Piazza Venezia. It’s home to Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well. Inside, there is a museum dedicated to the reunification of Italy under Victor Emmanuel II. You can also take an elevator to the top of the terrace for some stunning 360 views of the City. It is free to enter the Altar of the Fatherland but you will have to pay to enter the museum portion and to take the elevator to the viewing platform.

  • Cost: Free / €7
  • Estimated time needed: 1 hour

Castel San’Angelo

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Emperor Hadrian began building Castel San’Angelo in 135 as a mausoleum for his family but it later turned into a military building. In 1277 an underground corridor was built as an escape route for the Pope from the Vatican to it. Today you can go inside to view some Renaissance frescos and old Papal rooms. At the top, you can get a view of Rome and Vatican City as well. (If you are limited for time in Rome, I recommend the view from St. Peter’s Basilica or Palatine Hill in the Roman Forum instead).

  • Cost: €15
  • Estimated time needed: 1 -2 hours

Pantheon

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Not to be confused with the Parthenon in Athens, the Pantheon is an incredible architectural feat located in the heart of Rome. To this day it is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in the city. Built in the year 125, visitors can step back in time 2,000 years to marvel at the skill of the Romans. Historians believe it may have been intended to be a temple but was eventually used as a location for the Emperor to speak. It is one of the few buildings where the inside is actually more stunning than the outside. The domed cieling is a perfect hemisphere, meaning the diameter is the same as the height. For anyone interested in architecture, this is a must-see.

  • Cost: Free
  • Estimated time needed: 30 minutes – 1 hour

Take a Day Trip

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Piazza Michelangelo in Florence

If you’re only planning on staying in Rome, it’s worth taking a day trip to some nearby places. A few common ones from Rome include, Naples, Pompeii, Orvieto and Florence. I highly recommend taking the two hour train ride North to the heart of Tuscany and check out the red roofs of Florence. Admire the work of Michelangelo, marvel at the magnificent duomo and drink some chianti wine while watching the sunset in Piazza Michelangelo. For more information about what to do in Florence, check out our previous post here: Florence City Guide.

  • Cost: €60 – €80 for high-speed train
  • Reserve spots online here: Eurorail 
  • Estimated time needed: All day

Gelato

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Lastly – you can’t visit Rome without eating some gelato (it’s a right of passage on any trip to Italy). Our favorite gelato spot in the city was near the Pantheon called Giolitti. Here’s a tip for when it comes to gelato: while it may look enticing when the gelato is stacked high, don’t purchase your ice cream from those shops. That is old gelato piled on top. You’ll want to get gelato in shops where the container is full, but flat (meaning it’s fresh). After a long day of sightseeing – you’ve certainly earned a treat!

  • Cost: €4-6
  • Estimated time needed: 30 minutes

Accommodation

We shared a hotel suite in Rome with our Mom’s who were visiting us. Hotel Homs is near the Spanish Steps and walking distance to a lot of wonderful sights and restaurants.

Rome Travel Tips

  • Transportation
    • Rome is surprisingly walkable for a capital city
    • If you’re not up for a lot of walking, the bus or metro system is also a great way to get around
    • We really only needed public transportation to get out towards Vatican City
  • Tipping
    • Tipping is not as prominent in Italy as it is in the US because servers are paid a livable wage
    • Some spare coins or 5-10% is a nice gesture if you enjoyed the meal or service
  • Weather
    • Rome has incredibly hot summers so it’s not an ideal time to be outside exploring the Roman Forum. If you want to visit Italy in the summer, plan a trip to the coast so you can cool off in the sea
      • Winter: 35-55 F
      • Summer: 66-90 F
  • General
    • Beware of pickpockets when in crowded areas
    • Always book your ticket in advance when possible
      • This is especially important for the Vatican Museums, Colosseum & Roman Forum
    • Wear comfortable shoes since the cobblestone causes a lot of uneven terrain
    • Visit the sights by day and night
      • If you can wake up early to see the Spanish Steps & Trevi Fountain to avoid the crowds, we recommend it
      • A lot of the major sights also look different during the night, so be able to take an evening stroll after dinner as well

Rome is one of those cities you can visit time and time again. It’s every historian or food lovers dream.

Ciao, Amanda

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Florence (City Guide)

Last edited: April 2020


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