Rome is the capital of Italy. In a city so filled with icons of antiquity and the Christian faith, it’s hard to know where to go first. Of course, your own interests will govern your choices, but there are certain sites that are almost obligatory landmarks of Italy and of all Europe, such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon. Rome is so big that it can overwhelm, so even the most devoted sightseer should take some time to kick back and enjoy la dolce vita in a park or sidewalk café.
Best Time to Visit
If you are planning a Travel to Italy then the best time to visit Rome is from October to April when most of the tourist crowds have dissipated and room rates are lower. Although you’ll need a warm coat, weather this time of year hardly ever dips below freezing.
Top Places to Visit in Rome
1. The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine
The largest structure left to us by Roman antiquity, the Colosseum still provides the model for sports arenas – present day football stadium design is clearly based on this oval Roman plan. The building was begun by Vespasian in AD 72, and after his son Titus enlarged it by adding the fourth story, it was inaugurated in the year AD 80 with a series of splendid games. The Colosseum was large enough for theatrical performances, festivals, circuses, or games, which the Imperial Court and high officials watched from the lowest level, aristocratic Roman families on the second, the populace on the third and fourth. Beside the Colosseum stands the almost equally familiar Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch erected by the Senate to honor the emperor as “liberator of the city and bringer of peace” after his victory in the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312.
2. Vatican City
The Vatican is the smallest independent state in the world, with an area of less than half a square kilometer, most of it enclosed by the Vatican walls. Inside are the Vatican palace and gardens, St. Peter’s Basilica, and St. Peter’s Square, an area ruled by the Pope, supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church. This compact space offers much for tourists to see, between its museums and the great basilica itself. nside St. Peter’s Basilica is Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Pieta, along with statuary and altars by Bernini and others. The unquestioned highlight of the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel, whose magnificent frescoed ceiling is Michelangelo’s most famous work. Inside the Vatican Palace are the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartments, the Vatican Library, and a number of museums that include the Picture Gallery, Museum of Secular Art, Etruscan Museum, and others. The collections you can see in these cover everything from papal coaches to 20th-century art reflecting religious themes.
3. The Pantheon
The Pantheon – the best preserved monument of Roman antiquity – is remarkably intact for its 2000 years. This is despite the fact that Pope Gregory III removed the gilded bronze roof tiles, and Pope Urban VIII ordered its bronze roof stripped and melted down to cast the canopy over the altar in St. Peter’s and cannons for Castel Sant’Angelo. The Pantheon was rebuilt after damage by fire in AD 80, and the resulting brickwork shows the extraordinarily high technical mastery of Roman builders. Its 43-meter dome, the supreme achievement of Roman interior architecture, hangs suspended without visible supports – these are well hidden inside the walls – and its nine-meter central opening is the building’s only light source. The harmonious effect of the interior is a result of its proportions: the height is the same as the diameter.
4. Roman Forum
Walking through the forum, now in the middle of a throbbing modern city, is like stepping back two millennia into the heart of ancient Rome. Although what survives of this center of Roman life and government shows only a small fraction of its original splendor, the standing and fallen columns, its triumphal arches, and remains of its walls still impress, especially when you consider that for centuries, the history of the Forum was the history of the Roman Empire and of the western world. Roman political and religious life was centered here, along with the courts, markets, and meeting places. After the seventh century, the buildings fell into ruin, and churches and fortresses were built amid the ancient remains. Its stones were quarried for other buildings and it was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that systematic excavations brought the ancient buildings to light from under a 10-meter layer of earth and rubble.
5. Trevi Fountain
One of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, this 17th-century masterpiece has been immortalized in films until it is almost a required visit. Throwing a coin (not three) into the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) is a tradition that is supposed to assure your return to Rome. Rome’s largest fountain, Fontana di Trevi is supplied by an aqueduct originally constructed by Agrippa, the great art patron of the first century BC, to bring water to his baths. The fountain was created for Pope Clement XII between 1732 and 1751 by Nicolò Salvi, and built against the rear wall of the palace of the Dukes of Poli.
6. The Spanish Steps
Ironically, the flight of irregular stairs and landings called the Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) were paid for by the French ambassador and lead up to the French church of Trinità dei Monti. The stairs, however, take their name from Piazza di Spagna, the plaza at their base and one of Rome’s most typical squares. The stairs have been a favorite haunt of tourists, where they can sit and enjoy a gelato in the summer or warm their hands around cones of hot roasted chestnuts in the winter. The boat-shaped fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps is known as the Barcaccia and was created by Pietro Bernini, father of the great Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
7. Baths of Diocletian National Museum
Diocletian’s baths were so enormous that today, they contain two churches, large parts of a Carthusian monastery and a major museum. Michelangelo used the vast tepidarium (hot baths) as the shell for his church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and the Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome’s National Museum, fills another section with treasures of antiquity: Greek and Roman sculpture, pre-Christian and later sarcophagi, and beautiful mosaics and frescoes. The late-16th-century church of San Bernardo alle Terme was built in a rotunda at the corner of the baths; its dome is like that of the Pantheon, but only half its size.
8. Palatine Hill
Strategically set 50 meters above the Tiber, the Palatine Hill shows evidence of Rome’s earliest settlement: rock-cuttings found in front of the Temple of Cybele show human activity as long ago as the ninth century BC. Later, this was the site chosen by the emperors and great aristocratic families for their palaces. The Farnese Gardens were laid out on the hill in the 16th century for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, a pleasure park of terraces, pavilions, lawns, flowerbeds, trees, and fountains designed as a kind of stage-setting for social gatherings.
9. Baths of Caracalla
Completed by Caracalla in 216, these were much more than public baths. They were a complete sports center, with hot and cold baths, a swimming pool, dry and steam saunas, gymnastics and sports facilities, social rooms, gardens, libraries, hairdressers, and shops. The massive and imposing structure covered an area of 300 square meters, a complex of gigantic halls whose domes and vaulting were supported by huge columns and piers. It could accommodate 1,500 people at a time. The floors and walls were covered with marbles, mosaics, and frescoes; even in ruin their splendor is still evident.