Top sights in Rome

Best Sights in Rome

These are our recommendations for the top sights in Rome.  Please also see our pages about Rome's Piazzas and the Vatican.


Colosseo (Coliseum)- Probably Rome’s most recognizable sight, its official name is the Amphiteatrium Flavium, named for the emperor who started the construction, completed in A.D. 80.  The name Colosseo came from the colossal statue of Nero that once stood just outside. 


The venue held up to 50,000 spectators at once for gladiator fights, battles with wild animals, and (though some historians dispute it) naval battles when the arena was flooded .  Overhead was a canvas cover raised like sails.  Below, what was once a wooden floor covered with sand, is a labyrinth of tunnels and elevator shafts used to house the slaves, animals and other participants.  


Eventually the Coliseum was abandoned, fell into disrepair and was used as a marble quarry for some of the Christian monuments of Rome.


Next to the Coliseum is the Arch of Constantine, built in 315 to honor the emperor’s victory over the pagan Maxentius.


Foro Romano (Roman Forum)- The Roman Forum (one of many in Rome) is just a short walk from the Coliseum and down the hill from Circus Maximus (an Ancient Chariot Race Track).  It has many ruins but only a few standing buildings.  This area was the heart of ancient Rome for thousands of years.  Today you can wander through the forum and imagine what life was like in ancient Rome’s heyday.


Detailed maps of the forum are often confusing and the sights not as exciting as the maps portray.  An interesting way to see the forum is on one of the free guided tours that you will see advertised.  These tours are offered by companies hoping that you will take later paid tours in other parts of Rome.  A small tip to your free guide, often young students, is appropriate if you thought they did a good job.


Palatino (Palatine Hill)- The Palatine is another forum on the hill above the Roman Forum.  This area is believed to be the original foundation of Rome including the first piazza, dating back to the 8th century B.C.  The highlight is the huge palace that was the home to emperors for centuries and the view of the Circus Maximus.


Santa Maria in Cosmedin- Although this is Rome’s most famous Greek church, the real attraction is the famous Bocca della Verita or Mouth of Truth.  This marble relief of a head with an open mouth sits against the wall under the porch of the church.  A legend has it that if you place your hand in the mouth while telling a lie, it will bite your hand off.  It became a popular attraction after the movie “Roman Holiday” featured it in a scene with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.


Campidoglio (Capital Hill)- This area was the political and religious center of ancient Rome and today is the seat of the local government.  Michelangelo designed the present square containing an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (a copy, the original is in the museum).  When he designed the square and some of the buildings in it, he had them face away from the Roman Forum.   A small detail symbolizing Rome’s movement from the ancient to the modern during the Renaissance.


Capital Hill Museums- This museum is actually made up of two buildings (Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo) that are connected by an underground tunnel.  The museums are a collection of classical busts and Renaissance paintings.


More interesting than the inside of the museums is the free artwork you can view in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.  Here you can see the remains (head, hand and foot) of a 40 foot statue of Constantine that once stood in the Forum.  Also in the courtyard is the 5th century bronze statue Lupa Capitolina, the she wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.  What could be better than a statue that symbolizes that beginning of Rome and body parts larger than you are, that were once in the Forum?


Victor Emmanuel Monument- This monument was built to honor Italy’s first king who united the city states into the country of Italy.   Many Romans do not like the look of the monument and refer to it as the “birthday cake,” the “typewriter” or “dentures.”  The monument is made of white marble and is very large in proportion to the other monuments in Rome.  On the monument is the tomb of the unknown soldier and the eternal flame.  The climb to the top is a workout, but you can enjoy an excellent view.  The monument is heavily guarded and any form of horseplay is not tolerated.  You may even be asked not to drink from your water bottle on a scorching summer day.


Pantheon- This is Rome’s best preserved monument of antiquity, built in 27 B.C..  Built as a temple to the gods (Greek pan-theon, means all gods), this building was saved from destruction by being turned into a Christian church.


The building is exactly 142 feet tall and 142 feet wide.  The front portico is supported by huge monolithic granite columns that were brought from Egypt, all but three of them are originals.  The bronze doors weigh 20 tons each.  The walls of the building get thinner as they reach the top and the building materials used get lighter in weight.  The stone dome is made of volcanic rock.  The dome has an 18 foot hole (oculus) that is the only source of light (and rain) inside.


Inside are several tombs including the painter Raphael and two of the kings of Italy.


After this dome was built the engineering “know how” for building domes was lost for hundreds of years.  There was not another dome of this size built until the Duomo in Florence, during the Renaissance.  

Outside the Piazza della Rotunda is a very popular spot, especially in the evening when the Pantheon is flooded with lights.


Trevi Fountain- This fountain and small piazza is a Rome favorite and therefore a mob scene.  Anytime you visit you will be in the company of hundreds of other tourist but still it is a must see.  It is the termination point of the aqueduct that brought water to Rome.  Begun by Bernini, it took over one hundred years to complete.  It was finally finished in 1751 by Nicola Salva.  The central figure is Neptune, whose chariot is guided by seahorses.  The tradition is that if you put a coin in your right hand and toss it over your shoulder into the fountain, you will return to Rome again.


Santa Maria della Concezione- If you are up for a gruesome attraction, this is the top sight to see.  In the crypt of the Capuchin Monks, beneath the church, you will find the skeletal remains of 4000 monks affixed to the walls and arranged into chandeliers or other decorations.  A plaque at the end of the crypt reminds you that someday, you too, “will be what we are now.”


Galleria Borghese (Villa Borghese)- After 14 years of restoration, the Galleria Borghese has been defined by many as “the most beautiful museum in Italy and the world,” hosting one of the richest art collections on the planet. The Villa was designed by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 17th century, as a museum ahead of its time.  It is located in the Borghese Park.  Thanks to the cardinal’s wide ranging tastes, the Gallery contains the most significant trends and works by some of the best Italian and foreign artists of the 16th and 17th centuries.  Included are Titian, Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens and Raphael.  In the early nineteenth century, Camillo Borghese, the brother-in-law of Napoleon, sought to compensate the museum for the loss of part of its collection to the Louvre.  He commissioned to Antonio Canova the portrait of his wife Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix. This statue became the symbol of Galleria Borghese and it is visible on the first floor of the museum.


Reservations are required to visit this museum and can be made at    Make your reservations in advance.  Only 360 people are allowed into the museum at one time, and only at 2 hour intervals. Note- No cameras, coats, handbags or umbrellas are allowed and you will be asked to check all such items.  You can take a tour of the museum during your 2 hour visit, but English tours are only available during the first 2 time slots.   


Castel Sant’ Angelo Once a mausoleum to house the remains of Emperor Hadrian, this castle later became a fortress and hideout for the pope.  It was connected to the Vatican by an elevated walkway to allow an escape during attacks.  The castle is now a museum of arms and armor.  You can also visit prison cells from Renaissance times and the papal apartments.


Rome deserves a minimum stay of 3 nights.  But we realize that many people visit Rome as a day trip from cruise ships, so we offer Private Tours from Civitavecchia to make the best of limited time.


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