The capital city of Italy, Rome holds a spot on many European travelers’ itineraries. This ancient city is home to some of the world’s most beautiful architecture and renowned works of art – not to mention, some of the world’s best pizza, pasta, and gelato. With so much to see, do, and eat while you’re there, it can be hard to narrow down your itinerary – especially when you’re planning your first trip to the city. And while you can’t really go wrong when you’re having fun in Rome, there are a handful of things you’ll definitely want to do the first time around.
If you’re making plans to visit Rome for the very first time, make time for these:
Visit the Vatican
The Vatican serves as the base for the Roman Catholic Church. Even though it’s situated in the middle of Rome, it’s actually its own city-state – one of only a few in the world. While you’re here, there are a few things you’ll want to check out:
- St. Peter’s Basilica. The papal enclave was designed by some of the world’s most famous architects of the Renaissance, and it’s truly a sight to behold. For an unforgettable view, tour the cupola – the dome atop the Basilica.
- The Vatican Museums. From the Tapestries Hall to the Gallery of Maps to the famous spiral staircase, there’s more to see in the Vatican Museums than you could hope to take in during one visit. Still, that shouldn’t keep you from trying!
- The Sistine Chapel. Technically part of the Vatican Museum, this popular spot deserves its own mention. Gaze up at the ceiling to witness a Michaelangelo’s incredible frescoes, including a well-known work of art – the Creation of Adam.
Eat Some Gelato
Italy is known as a prime destination for foodies. While many would encourage you to eat plenty of pasta, pizza, or other local favorites, in my opinion, you absolutely have to try authentic Italian gelato the first time you’re in Rome. This delectable dessert is absolutely divine – especially on a warm day – and comes in small servings, making it the perfect sweet indulgence.
Swing By the Trevi Fountain
Rome is home to a number of ornate fountains, but one of the most impressive – and most visited – is the Trevi Fountain. Completed in 1762 and restored only a few years ago, this stunning work of art and popular tourist attraction is a must-see when you’re in Rome. Spend some time admiring the intricate sculptures that make up the fountain, but don’t get too lost in this work of art – pickpockets are common here during the busier hours of the day, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on your belongings.
To experience the fountain without the crowds, set an early morning alarm and head over before the rest of the city wakes up. And if you want to participate in a well-loved tradition, bring a few coins to toss into the fountain. Rumor has it if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, you’re guaranteed to revisit Rome. Two coins mean you’ll find a new love, and three means you’ll marry.
Admire the Colosseum
This well-known architectural site is another easy must-do on your first trip to Rome. Built almost 2000 years ago, the ruins of the Colosseum are in remarkably good shape, a testament to the incredible craftsmanship that the Romans were so renowned for. You’ll have a chance to see many elements of the Colosseum, like the underground tunnels used to house competitors when they weren’t on the arena floor, as well as the arena floor, where those competitions took place.
While you can certainly show up on the day of your visit and stand in line to purchase tickets, it’s not recommended. As one of the most-loved attractions in the city, it’s no surprise to learn that the queues can quickly get out of control, especially during holidays and busy times. Instead, purchase your ticket online – or better yet, sign up for a guided tour. In many cases, tour admission lets you skip the line, and tours can help you make sure you don’t miss any important stuff once you’re inside.
Stroll Through the Roman Forum
Your ticket to enter the Colosseum also includes the price of admission to the Roman Forum, another popular Roman attraction you can’t miss when you’re there. This spot was actually the former hub of the city of Rome, where politics and religion converged until the fall of Rome. The Forum wasn’t rediscovered until the late 1700s, when a slow and careful excavation process began.
While there are lots of interesting things to see here, some of my favorites include:
- The Temple of Antonius Pius, one of the most well-preserved structures in the Forum and an impressive temple to witness.
- The Temple of Saturn, which is represented by the eight Ionic columns still standing today.
- The Curia, where the Roman Senate actually held sessions.
- The House of the Vestals, the impressive structure that housed the chaste priestesses of Vesta.
Like the Colosseum, you can tour the Roman Forum on your own, but a guided tour can be a great way to ensure you don’t miss anything important.
Experience the Pantheon
One of the most well-known and best-preserved ancient Roman buildings, the Pantheon is another top spot to visit in Rome. You’ll have a chance to admire the Pantheon’s classic exterior and the beautiful Fontana del Pantheon, the fountain in front of the church. Head inside to check out the Rotunda, the massive domed ceiling of the Pantheon, and its Oculus, a hole in the center that allows sunlight – and whatever other weather may be at play – to enter. You can also visit several historic tombs and chapels inside.
The Pantheon is free to enter, but as another very popular attraction of Rome, you’ll want to arrive early in the day to beat the crowds.
From indulging in gelato to experiencing some of Rome’s most noteworthy attractions, these are just a few of the things you absolutely must do on your first trip to Rome!