A monument to raw, merciless power, the Colosseum (Colosseo) is the most thrilling of Rome's ancient sights. It's not just the amazing completeness of the place, or its size, but the sense of violent history that resonates: it was here that gladiators met in mortal combat and condemned prisoners fought off wild beasts in front of baying, bloodthirsty crowds. Two thousand years later it's Italy's top tourist attraction, pulling in between 16,000 and 19,000 people on an average day.
Along with the Colosseum, the Pantheon is one of Rome's iconic sights. A striking 2000-year-old temple (now a church), it is the city's best-preserved ancient monument and one of the most influential buildings in the Western world. The greying, pock-marked exterior might look its age, but inside it's a different story and it's an exhilarating experience to pass through its towering bronze doors and have your vision directed upwards to the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.
Today you'll find the tomb of Raphael, alongside those of kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.
However, the real fascination of the Pantheon lies in its massive dimensions and extraordinary dome. Considered the Romans' most important architectural achievement, it was the largest dome in the world until the 15th century and is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built. Its harmonious appearance is due to a precisely calibrated symmetry – its diameter is exactly equal to the Pantheon's interior height of 43.3m. Light enters through the oculus, an 8.7m opening in the dome that also served as a symbolic connection between the temple and the gods. Rainwater enters but drains away through 22 almost-invisible holes in the sloping marble floor.
This fountain almost fills an entire piazza, and is Rome's most famous fountain, its iconic status sealed when Anita Ekberg splashed here in La Dolce Vita. The flamboyant baroque ensemble was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732 and depicts Neptune's chariot being led by Tritons with sea horses – one wild, one docile – representing the moods of the sea. The water comes from the aqua virgo, a 1st-century-BC underground aqueduct, and the name Trevi refers to the tre vie (three roads) that converge at the fountain. It's traditional to throw a coin into the fountain to ensure your return to the Eternal City. It's usually very busy around the fountain during the day, so it's worth trying to visit later in the evening when you can appreciate its foaming majesty without the hordes.
St Peter’s Basilica
In Vatican City, a city of astounding churches, St Peter’s Basilica outdazzles them all. Awe-inspiringly huge, rich and spectacular, it’s a monument to centuries of artistic genius. On a busy day, around 20,000 visitors pass through here. If you want to be one of them, remember to dress appropriately – no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders. If you want to hire an audioguide (€5), they’re available at a desk in the cloakroom to the right of the entrance. Free English-language guided tours of the basilica are run from the Vatican tourist office, the Centro Servizi Pellegrini e Turisti, at 9.45am on Tuesday and Thursday and at 2.15pm every afternoon between Monday and Friday.
Visiting the Vatican Museums is an unforgettable experience that requires strength, stamina and patience. You’ll need to be on top of your game to endure the inevitable queues – if not for a ticket then for the security checks – and enjoy what is undoubtedly one of the world’s great museum complexes.
Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century and enlarged by successive pontiffs, the museums are housed in what is known collectively as the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. This massive 5.5-hectare complex consists of two palaces – the Vatican palace nearest St Peter’s and the Belvedere Palace – joined by two long galleries. On the inside are three courtyards: the Cortile della Pigna, the Cortile della Biblioteca, and, to the south, the Cortile del Belvedere.
You’ll never manage to explore the whole complex in one go – you’d need several hours just for the highlights – so it pays to be selective. There are several suggested itineraries, or you can go it alone and make up your own route.
Each gallery contains priceless treasures, but for a whistlestop tour get to the Pinacoteca, the Museo Pio-Clementino, Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms) and the Sistine Chapel. On the whole exhibits are not well labelled so you might find it useful to hire an audioguide (€7) or buy the Guide to the Vatican Museums and City (€10). There are also authorised guided tours (adult/concession €30/25), bookable on the Vatican’s online ticket office.
Campo de ‘Fiori
Noisy, colourful 'Il Campo' is a major focus of Roman life: by day it hosts a much-loved market, while at night it morphs into a raucous open-air pub. Towering over the square is the Obi-Wan-like form of Giordano Bruno, a monk who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600.
Today an impressive, if rather confusing, sprawl of ruins, the Roman Forum was once a gleaming complex of marble-clad temples, proud basilicas and vibrant public spaces: the gleaming heart of an ancient city.
Originally an Etruscan burial ground, it was first developed in the 7th century BC and expanded over subsequent centuries. Its importance declined after the 4th century until eventually it was used as pasture land. In the Middle Ages it was known as the Campo Vaccino (literally 'Cow Field') and extensively plundered for its stone and marble. The area was systematically excavated in the 18th and 19th centuries, and excavations continue to this day.
Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis
This pint-sized church marks the spot where St Peter, fleeing Rome, met a vision of Jesus going the other way. When Peter asked: ‘Domine, quo vadis?’ (‘Lord, where are you going?’), Jesus replied, ‘Venio Roman iterum crucifigi’ (‘I am coming to Rome to be crucified again’). Reluctantly deciding to join him, Peter tramped back into town where he was arrested and executed. In the aisle are copies of Christ’s footprints; the originals are in the Basilica di San Sebastiano.
Locals, lovers, tourists, joggers – no one can help heeding the call of this ravishing park just north of the historic centre. Originally the grounds of Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s 17th-century residence, the park has various museums and galleries, as well as other attractions such as the 18th-century Giardino del Lago and Piazza di Siena, an amphitheatre used for Rome’s top equestrian event in May. Near the Piazzale San Paolo del Brasile entrance, the Cinema dei Piccoli is the world’s smallest cinema.
Bike hire is available at various points, including Via delle Belle Arti, for about €5/15 per hour/day.
Museo e Galleria Borghese
If you only have time (or inclination) for one art gallery in Rome, make it this one. Not only is it exquisite, but it provides the perfect introduction to Renaissance and baroque art without being overwhelming. To limit numbers, visitors are admitted at two-hourly intervals, so you'll need to call to pre-book, and enter at an allotted entry time – but trust us, it's worth it.
The collection, which includes works by Caravaggio, Bernini, Botticelli, Rubens, Raphael and Titian, was formed by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1579–1633), the most knowledgeable and ruthless art collector of his day. It's housed in the Casino Borghese, whose neoclassical look is the result of a 17th-century revamp of Scipione's original villa.
Day Trip from Rome to Pompeii
Take a break from Rome's big-city bustle to discover the fascinating history of Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius on this full-day guided tour from Rome. Perfect if your time in Italy is limited, this is the only day tour from Rome that visits both Pompeii and Vesuvius on the same day. Numbers are limited to a maximum of 25 people when exploring Pompeii and Vesuvius, ensuring you'll receive personalized attention from your knowledgeable guide.
After your transfer from Rome by air-conditioned coach, your tour into Rome's ancient history begins high above the city and Bay of Naples, on the crater of Mt. Vesuvius. Europe's only active volcano, Vesuvius is infamous for causing the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79AD and has erupted many times since – today it's regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
Lava flows have scarred the sides of Mt. Vesuvius, and are visible on the winding road up to the summit. Hiking the active volcano is the only way to truly experience the magic of Mt. Vesuvius. The 20-minute upward hike to the crater takes you through soft volcanic ash and pumice, and the views from the top are worth the effort! Alternatively, you can stay on the ridge of the volcano and admire the views. After your adventurous morning, it's time to take a break and enjoy a leisurely lunch (included). Relax as you experience the world-famous pizza Naples is so well known for.
Next stop is Pompeii, sitting in the ominous shadow of Vesuvius. During your personalized tour of Pompeii's remarkably well preserved ruins, you'll discover why this UNESCO World Heritage Site continues to shock and fascinate over 2.6 million people who venture here each year.
The now ruined city of Pompeii was once a sprawling metropolis of shops and residences, restaurants, gyms and brothels. You can walk Pompeii’s main streets just as the ancient Romans did – the stones are still worn with tracks from the drawn carriages that used them nearly 2,000 years ago. You'll also visit the forum, the center of Pompeii’s political and social life, and view the startling plaster death casts of the victims of the catastrophic eruption that destroyed the city of Pompeii.
Day Trip from Rome to Tuscany
See the very best of Tuscany on a full-day trip from Rome! Traveling to the stunning Val d'Orcia region, south of Siena, you'll be introduced to a beautiful landscape where medieval towns cling to sunny hills and rustic farms adorn the countryside. With an expert guide, you'll visit Montelpulciano, Montalcino and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Pienza, sampling fine wines and local delicacies as you go!
Heading north out of Rome by luxury coach, your Tuscany day trip first takes you to Montepulciano, famous for its vino and views! Nestled in southern Tuscany, Montelpulciano is a Renaissance hill-town, famed for its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a red wine. With your guide, take a walking tour and see the Florentine-style clock tower, the Etruscan city walls, medieval wine cellars and the interestingly unfinished Duomo.
After a stop for photos, get back on your coach to travel west into the heart of Tuscany, to the area surrounding Montalcino. Here you'll visit the gorgeous Sant' Antimo Abbey, where the stone walls ring with the sound of Gregorian chants, before admiring the views over the town's vineyards.
The rich Brunello di Montepulciano red wine is produced at these vineyards, and you'll sample a glass over a three-course lunch at one of the area's traditional farms! Featuring produce grown on the farm, your lunch allows you to dine in true Tuscan style before enjoying a wine tasting of each of the wines grown on site.
Spend your afternoon in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Pienza, where you'll have approximately two hours to explore at your leisure. The town's layout was designed by Pope Pius II in the 14th century, as he wanted to transform the look of his birthplace. As you explore independently, soak up the serene ambience that stays true to the Pope's vision, and marvel at the town’s beautiful ancient architecture. Be sure to look in the shops for Pienza's most famous product – Pecorino cheese!
As your day comes to an end, meet your guide back at the coach for the relaxing return journey to Rome.
Small Group Cooking Lesson in Rome
Learn how to cook a four-course Italian meal in a private kitchen in the heart of Rome! You know the saying. When in Rome, do as the Romans do – and the Romans do delicious food. Learn how to cook your own so you can continue eating Italian food long after your vacation ends. In a group of no more than eight people, you’ll receive highly personalized cooking instruction from a knowledgeable food expert, and then enjoy your Italian creations paired with local wine.
Whether you're a culinary enthusiast or a cooking novice, this Italian cooking class in central Rome promises to be a fun, entertaining experience you’ll never forget. You’ll start with a trip to Rome’s Central Market, where your guide will help you shop for the best produce. You’ll meet butchers, bakers and farmers selling meat, bread and fresh-picked vegetables, and you’ll learn how to distinguish high-quality ingredients. Plus, learn how to barter for the best price.
Then, head to a private kitchen in Rome, where your exclusive Italian cooking class begins! During this hands-on experience, you will learn how to prepare three different kinds of fresh, homemade pasta and a main course; your dishes will be accompanied with a selection of fine local wines.
Finally, after you’ve picked, prepped and cooked, you’ll dine on the sumptuous Italian meal you’ve created. This small-group Italian cooking class is a great way to make your trip to Rome extra special; it’s a must for foodies and cooking fans.
Wine Tasting Afternoon
Taste the nectar of the gods on a wine-tasting afternoon tour from Rome to beautiful Frascati. On the only wine-tasting tour from Rome available, you'll visit one of the oldest and most beautiful vineyards in the Frascati region. You'll also enjoy a scenic drive through the famed Castelli Romani region surrounding Rome.
On this afternoon tour from Rome you'll visit a tranquil hillside villa encircled by vineyards and olive groves in the Frascati countryside. Your expert guide will tell you about the local wine-producing methods, from antiquity to modern day techniques. You'll learn that Imperial Rome was the cradle of wine culture, where wine drinking was transformed from a status symbol of the elite to a pleasure enjoyed by all.This enticing voyage of the senses concludes with a guided tasting of a special selection of wines and freshly pressed olive oils at the famous Pallavicini estate, owned by one of Italy's oldest and most distinguished noble families. Tastings are led by a professional sommelier.
Shopping in Rome
Shopping in Rome is fantastic, no matter if you are searching for haute couture, antiques, or a bargain. Following are a few ideas on where to shop in Italy's capital.
Shopping for High Fashion in Rome
Some of the biggest names in Italian fashion - Fendi, Valentino, Bulgari - hail from Rome and you will find their flagship stores, as well as boutiques by Prada, Armani, Versace, Ferragamo, Cavalli, Gucci, and many others, along the grid of streets near the Spanish Steps. Via Condotti is Rome's main drag for haute couture and "aspirational" window shopping, though you'll also find high fashion beckoning from the boutiques on Via Borgognona, Via Frattina, Via Sistina, and Via Bocca de Leone.
Chain Stores and Mainstream Shopping in Rome
If you want to shop where regular Romans shop, there are several good places to go.
Via del Corso, and the streets that radiate from it, is the most obvious shopping area. The mile-long street which runs from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo has all manner of shops, including the Ferrari flagship store, numerous shoe stores, popular fashion brands like Diesel and Benetton, and department stores (Rinascente, COIN).
Another area popular with Romans is Via Cola di Rienzo in the Prati neighborhood. This long street north of the Vatican has a similar assortment of stores to those on Via del Corso but has far fewer tourists crowding the sidewalks.
Outdoor Flea Markets and Antiques in Rome
There are several good outdoor markets, flea markets, and places to buy antiques in Rome. Porta Portese, which operates on Sundays from 7am until 1pm, is the most important flea market in Rome and is one of the largest flea markets in Europe. At Porta Portese, you'll find everything from antique housewares to secondhand clothing and music to original art, jewelry, posters, furniture, etc. Porta Portese is located at the south end of the Trastevere neighborhood.
Another flea market to try is the one at Via Sannio located just a few blocks south of theBasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. This market sells mostly clothing and accessories, including designer knock-offs. It operates in the mornings Monday through Saturday.
Tip: It is technically illegal to buy and sell counterfeit items, including designer knock-offs. In fact, the purchase of knock-off wares could mean hefty fines for both the seller and buyer.
While you can find many good antiques in Rome's flea markets, there are several streets and districts that are known for their antiques sellers. Via del Babuino, near the haute couture shops around the Spanish Steps, is renowned for its antiques, particularly antique furniture and paintings. An incredibly picturesque street on which to do your antiques shopping is Via Giulia, a street which runs almost parallel to the Tiber just west of Campo de' Fiori. You will also find a handful of antiques dealers on the warren of streets at the curve of the Tiber between the Via Giulia andVia del Governo Vecchio. One of the easiest ways to approach this antiques district is by starting at Castel Sant'Angelo and walking south on the lovely Ponte Sant'Angelo (Angels' Bridge).
Discount Designer Shopping in Rome
Within the historic center of Rome, there are several shops that sell extras from designer showrooms or secondhand duds from the city's fashion set. The best place to look is in the section of town west of Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori, particularly around Via del Governo Vecchio and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
On these streets, you will find Vestiti Usati Cinzia (Via del Governo Vecchio, 45), which sells gently worn, designer name fashions and Antonella e Fabrizio (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 247), a boutique with discounted merchandise from major Italian labels.
Another popular place to find a wide selection of designer labels is Gente, a store with several locations throughout the city including on Via del Babuino (Numbers 81 and 185) and Via Frattina, 69. Both streets are near the Spanish Steps. Gente even has its own outlet at Cola di Rienzo, 246 (located on the west bank of the Tiber).
Travel Tip: Rome's fashion boutiques hold huge sales twice a year – in January and July. Shoppers can expect to find items discounted up to 70 percent.
Outlet Shopping Beyond the Walls of Rome
Rome's suburbs have several outlets worth visiting. South of the EUR district are the outlets at Castel Romano, part of the McArthurGlen chain of outlet centers. Castel Romano has 110 outlet boutiques, including Dolce e Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, La Perla, Ermenegildo Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo, Calvin Klein, Valentino, and more.
Also south of Rome, on the freeway towards Naples, is the Valmontone Fashion Outlet, part of the Fashion District chain of outlets. Valmontone boasts approximately 200 designer outlets including Bottega Veneta, Adidas, Byblos, Frette, Valleverde, and dozens of other boutiques by Italian and international designers. If you're in Rome without a car, Valmontone offers a shuttle bus to its outlets on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Pick up the shuttle near the Termini train station at Via Marsala, 29. Tickets are available in the Terracafé for 5 euro.