Rome is one of the most epic cities in the world. Truthfully, it is one of my favorite cities on the planet. The city has a blend of old and new that is hard to match, and the Italian way of life is just so appealing. Rome is one of the most historic cities on Earth, and it makes sense that it is on so many peoples’ bucket list. I initially planned to include these things in my Rome travel guide, but there is just so much to see in Rome that the sightseeing deserved its own post.
I took this same approach with Paris when I wrote my Paris travel guide and my post on the best sightseeing in Paris. This post is going to give you the inside scoop on the 10 things you need to see in Rome to make sure that you don’t leave any stones unturned on your first trip to Italy’s capital.
1. The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is my favorite place in Rome, and you can’t visit Rome without going to see it. The Sistine Chapel is located in the Vatican City, and it is most famously known for the paintings on its ceiling, all done by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. The paintings are breathtaking, and thinking about how he painted them is even crazier.
To visit the Sistine Chapel, you will need to buy tickets. While you can buy tickets upon arrival, the line can be hours long. For that reason, I highly recommend getting your tickets online in advance to jump a significant portion of the line. There are endless websites online that will sell you tickets to the Sistine Chapel, but the best link to use is the one here as it leads to the official website of the museums of the Vatican City.
2. Saint Peter’s Basilica
Saint Peter’s Basilica is quite the place. It is absolutely massive, so much so that it is the largest Catholic church in the entire world. This place also has extra meaning to us, as (until Covid-19 hit) it was going to be the place where we got married. I absolutely love this church, and there are so many artworks and relics to see inside of it. You can also climb all the way to the top to visit the cupola for sweeping views of all of Rome.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is the center of the Roman Catholic Church, making it possibly the most important standing building in all of Catholicism. Saint Peter’s Basilica is completely free to visit, too, making it unmissable. Even if you aren’t Catholic or religious, this church is mesmerizing.
3. The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is one of the most popular tourist sights in Rome, and you will probably need to fight through some crowds if you want to get up close. As a beautiful piece of Baroque architecture completed in the 1700s, the Trevi Fountain is one of the newest attractions on this list. It appears in just about every movie that takes place in Rome, and is found on every list of the best things to see in Rome. There is a Roman legend that if you throw a few coins over your left shoulder using your right hand, you will inevitably return to Rome, meet a beautiful or handsome Roman, and marry them.
4. The Coliseum
As the only Wonder of the World in Europe, the Coliseum is one of the most recognized Italian structures around the world. Just about everyone in the western world has heard of it or seen pictures of it, and many even know the good and bad stories about events within its walls. The Coliseum is an ancient Roman entertainment venue – a stadium of sorts – where sporting events took place.
The tragic thing is that it wasn’t just sporting events taking place here. Countless people were executed here in many graphic ways. These people were Christians, criminals, army deserters, slaves, and more. Basically, whenever the emperor wanted some live entertainment, people were chosen to be slaughtered in front of crowds of thousands. While the history of the Coliseum is tragic, the structure is still worth visiting and is an architectural marvel.
5. The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum isn’t just one place; it’s kind of a conglomeration of several different monuments and structures that are all worth visiting. Some of these are the Curia, the Temple of the Deified Caesar, and the Arch of Titus. This was the hub of social and political life in Ancient Rome, and the ruins that are found here are some of the most historically significant buildings in all of Italy. The Roman Forum is very affordable to visit, with tickets costing just about €12 for adults. This ticket includes entrance into the Palatine Hill and the Coliseum, too.
That is an unbeatable price. It is highly recommended that you either hire a guide or download an audio tour before visiting, as the Roman Forum consists of a lot of ruins and very little writing describing each one. To really get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want someone telling you the history behind each structure.
6. The Pantheon
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple that has since been converted into a Catholic church. It has been standing since 120 AD, making it extremely old and one of the best preserved buildings of its age in the world. Its high-degree of preservation is due largely to the fact that the building has been continually in use since it was constructed almost 2000 years ago. It is now known also as the Church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs. The Pantheon sits right behind its own massive, open square, and is very accessible to walkers. As the Pantheon is a church, it is free to enter and tickets are not required!
- DID YOU KNOW? - The Pantheon was converted into a Catholic Church hundreds of years ago.
7. The Appian Way
The Appian Way is one of the oldest preserved Roman Roads that you can visit. It is infamously the site of the defeat of Spartacus’ army in the first century B.C., and its importance doesn’t end there. The Appian Way was the first long road built specifically for the purpose of transporting military supplies and troops, and it linked Rome to Brindisi on Italy’s east coast. The Appian Way is very long and you will only be able to visit a short portion of it extending out of Rome, but it is still a historic place you don’t want to miss.
8. Santa Maria della Vittoria Church
The Santa Maria della Vittoria Church is a beautiful basilica located in the heart of Rome. Its name translates to “Saint Mary of Victory” which comes from the belief that the Virgin Mary helped the Christian troops in their battles against the Turks. It has been standing since 1620 and is most famously known for the sculptures in its Cornaro Chapel which go by the name of “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” and were sculpted by Bernini.
The sculptures depict St. Teresa of Avila being pierced by a Seraphim with a golden rod, as she saw in a vision. The artist’s interpretation of this scene from her autobiography has been highly criticized for crossing the lines into the risqué, but nonetheless it is one of the most visited artworks in all of Rome. The rest of the church is also nothing short of stunning, making it a must-visit while in Rome.
9. The Basilica di San Clemente
This church is beautiful to visit, but travelers go for more than just the pretty decor. This church has an extremely unique backstory, as the ground it is built on has been the host of several different structures over the past several millennia. The church that stands now has been there since just before the year 1100, and before that it was the sight of the home of a Roman aristocrat. There are a lot of churches on this list, as you can expect in the capital city of the Catholic Church, but this one is certainly unique.
10. The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are a set of 135 steps linking the Piazza di Spagna to the Piazza Trinità dei Monti up top. The steps get their name from the Piazza di Spagna, or the Square of Spain, at the bottom, which is where the Spanish Embassy is located. The church at the top of the steps took generations to complete, as it is built into a very steep slope that took some real architectural skill to offset. The steps aren’t my favorite thing to see in Rome, but they are indisputably one of the favorites among first-time visitors.
Thanks for reading my post on the 10 things you need to see in Rome! Hopefully this list helps you to plan out your time while in Rome. No trip should be all about sightseeing, but Rome has plenty of things to at least fill a couple of days. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out – we’ve got you covered. Also, if you plan on visiting the Vatican City, be sure to check out my post on the best things to do in the Vatican.