Traveling to Italy and wondering what to see in Rome, Italy? Here are the top 10 sites to add to your Rome Itinerary. This is a great start for first-time visitors traveling to Rome.
What pops into your head when you think of Italy? Besides the pasta and some of the most incredible food in the world? Anytime we think of Italy, the city of Rome sets itself front and center of my mind.
Rome is the capital of Italy. It’s the Eternal City. It is the oldest and one of the most visited cities in the world… two of the best reasons to visit Rome, Italy.
The Historic Centre of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rome is one of the cornerstones of civilizations. It’s rich in historical cultures and religious histories.
As you explore the city and its history surrounding you, you’ll wish that every stone could talk. As another traveler simply -and smartly- put it to me once, “Rome is an open-air museum.”
From the moment you enter the city of Rome, the history is palpable. The magnitude of the sites, some recognizable from history books and TV, leave you speechless. No matter how many photographs and videos you may have seen, nothing compares to being there in person and seeing it in living color.
That is how we felt during our first trip to Italy… our first stop in Rome. It’s when we first fell in love with Italy. Since then, we’ve been back a few times to Rome and other parts of Italy.
If you read any of our Italy articles, you have an idea of how much we love Italy. While Florence is one of our favorite cities, we always suggest Rome as one of the first stops. In our humble opinion, a short visit to Rome is a must when traveling to Italy for the first time.
Most of these attractions are full of tourists, so you will experience crowds. The only way to get away from this is by visiting in the off-season: fall and winter. Our favorite time of year to visit is the fall season.
When we travel for the first time, we try to take the route less taken. However, sometimes, to understand a city’s history, we must refer to the standard tour book.
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Take the journey through these sites and let your imagination travel back in time. These sites are part of Rome’s history and what makes it one of the most amazing cities in the world.
One of my biggest tips is that in between it all is to set out to discover the less explored, whether it’s between seeing these sites or after getting through your must-do list.
These sites are undoubtedly a major part of Rome but by getting lost in the city of Rome. Finding piazzas and charming neighborhoods like Trastevere. You’ll truly discover what makes Rome even more special. This city is super walkable.
Rome is also a fantastic city to call home base, so you can explore outside of Rome.
Cruisers: One Day in Rome From Cruise Ship
Not a cruiser? Skip to the meat of What to See in Rome list by clicking on the link.
If your cruise itinerary docks in Civitavecchia for the day, Rome is only a 1-hour drive from the Civitavecchia Port.
How to get from Civitavecchia cruise port to Rome?
Option 1: The easiest and most reliable option is to book transportation to and from Rome with your cruise ship excursions. They have a transport-only option.
It’s a minimal cost per person. They transport you shortly after the ship has docked. Drop you off at your meeting point and then pick you up towards the end of your day.
The best part is that all shore excursions booked with the cruise ship are guaranteed to bring you back to the ship. The cruise ship is NOT allowed to leave any of its cruise-sponsored tour groups behind due to lateness. So if by any chance your transport is late picking up or they get stuck in traffic making it out of Rome, you don’t have to worry because the ship will not leave you.
Option 2: Take the train into Rome and be in charge of your own schedule. This is the cheapest route. Also, for those that love an adventure.
You can take the Civitavecchia Express train that goes non-stop to Rome from the Civitavecchia Port for Cruise travelers. Read info on how to get to the Civitavecchia Express and the timetables so you can plan your Rome itinerary.
Option 3: Hire a private car to drive your group to and from the cruise port.
- Private Transfer: Civitavecchia Cruise Port to Central Rome [book here]
- Private Transfer: Central Rome to Civitavecchia Cruise Port [book here]
Can you rent a car? You can, but honestly, I wouldn’t rent one to go to the city of Rome. It’s a hassle to park. You’re not allowed to take the car into certain parts of the city without certain permits. Once you’re in the Metropolitan area of Rome, it is all very walkable or easy to get around by train.
What to see in Rome on a cruise day?
This is really up to what is important to you. It’s impossible to see everything on this in less than 8-10 hours. We suggest picking 1-2 sites to focus on and spending the remaining time exploring the city on foot. The Vatican alone takes up most of the day.
Also, make time for a delicious Italian lunch.
Alternative day trip from Civitavecchia Cruise Port? Rent a car and explore the charming city on a hilltop, Civita di Bagnoregio.
What to See in Rome, Italy
Use this Google Map to help you plan your Rome Itinerary.
1. Go Back in Time at The Colosseum
Entering the city of Rome, the sight of this ancient ruin is powerful. The Colosseum is an impressive masterpiece that greets and welcomes you to its city.
Just then, the realization that you finally made it to Rome will hit you.
The Colosseum, the Flavian Amphitheater, is the largest amphitheater ever built. It’s an ancient Roman structure and is considered one of the greatest architectural feats of engineering.
The Colosseum was built of concrete and sand. Construction started in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD. It was the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire. Today, it is considered one of the World’s New Seven Wonders.
Back in ancient times, this is where people were entertained by gladiator shows, mock sea battles, animal hunts, and executions. Nowadays, it stands as a symbol of Rome.
Our favorite time to see the Colosseum is at night in Rome. There are fewer people outside of it. The way it’s lit up, standing mysterious and yet powerful, holding so much history, it’s amazing.
We hope to be able to do a night tour of the Colosseum in the future, it’s one of those experiences in Italy we’ve added to our bucket list.
Entrance: Purchase admission tickets here. Note that there are different ticket types.
Is the Colosseum ever FREE? Yes. The Colosseum is free for all on the first Sunday of every month.
Colosseum | Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma | Google Map It
Semi-Private Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum & Gladiator Arena [book here]
Rome by Night Walking Tour [book here]
2. Explore Palatine Hill & The Roman Forum
When you visit the Colosseum, your entrance ticket includes Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. It is a short walk nearby and a must-see.
Palatine Hill is one of the most famous hills where emperors and aristocrats used to reside. Walking through this archeological site and between the ruins, you get a sense of the grandeur of what Imperial Rome used to be like. The ruins of the House of Augustus still stands, and it is one of the ruin you’ll see upon entering Palatine. You’ll get a sense of how the wealthy used to live.
Anything social or political in Roman’s everyday life took place in the Roman Forum. Parades and events were celebrated here. Government buildings surrounded the Roman Forum’s rectangular plaza and housed marketplaces where goods were sold. All events and celebrations happened here.
It’s a leisurely walk through these ruins, and we highly recommend seeing them.
Palatine Hill | Via di San Gregorio, 30, 00186 Roma | Google Map It
Roman Forum | Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6, 00186 Roma | Google Map It
Guided Walking Tour Outside of the Colosseum [book here]
Colosseum Tour with Roman Forum and Palatine Hill [book here]
Day Trip from Rome to Florence
Planning a trip north to Florence? Read how to plan a fantastic one to three days in the city of the Renaissance.
3. Spend the Day in Vatican City
Rome is the center of the Catholic church. One of the many reasons why taking time to visit Vatican City should be part of your Rome itinerary.
The Vatican City is a walled enclave within Rome, the smallest country in the world. It is also the home of the Catholic Church and St. Peter’s Basilica.
It’s the base of operations for the Roman Catholic Church and where the Pope resides.
The basilica is one of the world’s largest churches and is an architectural masterpiece. It was designed by many great Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo.
You can visit Vatican City (the circular area) and St. Peter’s Basilica for free without visiting the Vatican Museum.
If you plan to see these sites, which we include in this list, plan a full day to explore the Vatican City, starting with St. Peter’s Basilica. Expect long queues if you haven’t purchased, skip the line privileges.
Città del Vaticano | Google Map It
4. See the Sistine Chapel at The Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum is one of the most popular museums in the world, and for a good reason. It houses some of the most amazing art in the world. Rome wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Vatican museum, which houses an immense art collection.
The museum is home to the Sistine Chapel, which Michelangelo painted. It’s also home to other Renaissance art, including works by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.
Entrance Fee: See the cost and purchase tickets here at their official website.
The additional cost for skip-the-line would be wise for the Vatican Museum. As the line can take hours to get in.
When is the entrance fee free for the Vatican Museum? Once a month, every last Sunday of the month.
Musei Vaticani | Google Map It
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Experience [book here]
5. Don’t Miss St. Peter’s Basilica
Saint Peter’s Basilica is a large Renaissance church located within Vatican City. It is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and has been called “the greatest structure of the Renaissance.” The basilica is also home to Michelangelo’s famed Pietà sculpture.
No matter your religion, the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica will leave you speechless. It’s quite jaw-dropping; marble and gold everywhere.
Entrance fee: FREE
The church is FREE to enter, but you must go through security first. If you would like to climb up to The Cupola (Dome), it’s a small fee.
Tip: If you only plan to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, try visiting towards the end of the day. Fewer crowds.
Basilica di San Pietro | Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano | Google Map It
6. Toss a Coin at Trevi Fountain
The famous Trevi Fountain is located in the Trevi district of Rome, one of the oldest water sources in Rome. It used to supply water for the Roman baths in ancient times – that’s just one small part of its history. The extraordinary work of art tells a story.
If you observe the statues, you will see Oceanus, the God of Water, in the center, under the arch, with his chariot pulling him. The statue of Abundance to his left and the study of Health to his right.
It’s a beautiful sight and free to see and enjoy.
When you’re there, you must take part in the tradition of tossing a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand into the fountain. This ritual is a wish set out into the universe so that you return to Rome in the future. It’s worked for is already a few times.
No matter what time a day, there will be a crowd. The afternoons are probably the worst. I like to visit this fountain at least twice, once in the daytime and then again at night.
Fontana di Trevi | Piazza di Trevi, 00187 Roma | Google Map It
Naples to Capri Day Trip
If you visit Naples, you must plan a day in Capri. Hop on a ferry in the morning and spend the day exploring what this beautiful island has to offer.
7. Stop by The Pantheon
What to see in Rome? The Pantheon.
This Ancient Roman monument is a fascinating wonder. The Roman Pantheon has the largest dome in the world, and the dome is shockingly unsupported. When you are standing in the middle of it, looking up in wonder, you start to have many questions.
We are not architects by any means. Our appreciation for architecture is based mostly on artistic style. We do greatly admire the science behind the structure and the engineers behind it. The hole in the center of the dome is the only light that streams through like a spotlight.
Entrance Fee: FREE
Rumors started long ago that the city would start charging an entry fee sometime in 2018, but up to today, it is still FREE. We would check Pantheon’s website before you leave on your trip to verify. You always have a choice to hire a tour guide for a fee to guide you and explain the history in further depth.
The Pantheon | Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Roma RM | Google Map It
Pantheon and Santa Maria Guided Tour in Rome [book here]
Tasty Itinerary Gelato Break: After you’re done inside the Pantheon, we suggest heading west and around the corner for some yummy gelato at Cremeria Monteforte. Take it away, return to the Fontana del Pantheon, find a spot, and enjoy your gelato.
Tasty Itinerary Coffee Break: Not far from Piazza Navona is also Taza de Oro, an authentic Italian coffee bar that’s been a part of Rome since 1944.
8. Admire the Famous Spanish Steps at Piazza Di Spagna
Piazza di Spagna is a famous square at the Spanish Steps’ base that leads up to the Trinità dei Monti church. You will find the 17th-century Fontana Della Barcaccia, which translates into Fountain of the Old Boat.
The staircase, aka… the Spanish Steps, is Europe’s largest set of steps. Used to be occupied daily by visitors watching the world go by. In August 2019, sitting on the Spanish steps was no longer allowed. If you do, you may be fined.
Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti | Piazza di Spagna, 00187 Roma | Google Map It
9. Visit Castel Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant’Angelo is a towering fortress on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome. It was originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD and later used as a fortress and papal residence.
The Castle was named after archangel Michael, the statue standing atop the mausoleum, in 590.
In the past, the castle has been used as a refuge, prison, palace, and military. Today can visit the castle and enjoy the views from the top. It’s a great spot to get away from all the hustle and bustle of Rome for a little while.
Entrance Fee: Tickets are sold at the entrance. Lines are usually short.
You can also reserve tickets in advance here.
Castel Sant’Angelo | Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma | Google Map It
10. See the Panoramic Views at the Altar of the Fatherland
Looking for beautiful views of the city of Rome? There’s no better place to go than the Altar of the Fatherland. Located on top of the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument, this spot offers panoramic views and is worth adding to your Rome itinerary.
This grand monument is located in the city center, and you’ll probably pass it during your entry into the city or during your walks. The white building made of marble, extravagant columns, and staircases is exceptional. Just seeing it from afar. What most don’t know is that atop the monument are incredible views.
Entrance fee: Tickets to enter that panoramic terrace can be purchased here.
Altar of the Fatherland | Piazza Venezia, 00186 Roma | Google Map It
Looking to plan a day trip from Rome? Rent a car and explore Civita di Bagnoregio.
Where to Stay in Rome, Italy: Book a Hotel on Booking.com
Quick Travel Tips for Your Rome Trip
1. Wear comfortable shoes. You don’t want to be walking around in heels… trust me. These cobblestone streets can be hazardous.
2. Walk everywhere, if possible. You’ll see so much more on foot.
3. Be careful crossing the street. Drivers in Rome go a little fast.
4. Sometimes, we can’t avoid public transportation. Don’t be afraid of taking the Metro – it’s easy and convenient! And cheaper than a taxi ride. You can also use Uber and FreeNow to book cheaper car transportation to get around the city.
5. Watch out for pick-pocketers. Rome is a large city with millions of tourists that visit every year, which is a magnet for pick-pocketers. Be cautious.
6. Eat plenty of Roman pizza and try one or all of the four Roman plates of pasta: Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara, Amatriciana, and Gricia.
7. Have a proper espresso or cappuccino every morning.
8. Take a collapsible water bottle with you. There are nasoni, drinking fountains, around the city of Rome with perfectly good drinking water.
9. Last and not least, take moments to take it all in. Don’t rush.
Need more reasons to visit Italy? Read our 10 Alluring Reasons to Visit Italy.
Rome is one of those cities that you could visit time and again and always find something new to see. If it’s on your bucket list, start planning your trip – there’s a lot to take in!
Of course, what to see in Rome in this post is a starting point. We would love to hear about your favorite spots or what you’re looking forward to in the Eternal City.
Is Rome on your bucket list? What are you looking forward to experiencing the most while you’re there?
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Meet Kathy – a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she’s become a pro at crafting unforgettable travel itineraries. She’s always looking for delicious, fun cruise itineraries and travel destinations and is slightly obsessed with Italy. Her passion and curiosity for travel started in childhood on her yearly and sometimes bi-yearly trips to PR. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it – so let’s explore the world and make some incredible memories.
Life Travel Soul
Tuesday 1st of January 2019
Rome is one of the places we'd like to visit someday. I would love to see all the sites you've mentioned. Most of all, I'd like to have my photo taken sitting on the Spanish Steps, eating a gelato (just like Audrey Hepburn). LOL:)
Tuesday 1st of January 2019
That is great bucket list shot to have! I don't have any good photos of the steps because it was always saturated with so many people. I suggest trying to go early or find a little corner that works. In all, Rome is a wonderful place to visit! It's rich in history and I seriously walk around in amazement when I'm there. I always look forward to returning. Hope you get to visit Rome soon! Thank you for stopping by and commenting! Means so much!
Monday 13th of August 2018
Love your post! I really want to visit Rome in the future so this is very helpful
Tuesday 16th of April 2019
I'm so happy you found this helpful! Thanks so much for the comment.
Tuesday 3rd of July 2018
Nice! I adore Rome, we went to many of the same spots. I love the fact that you can just stroll around in Rome and suddenly see ancient buildings amongst the more modern one. It’s history as you write, and an opportunity to go back in time. Even though some of my favourites where not as famous as the Trevi Fountain and the Vativcan, I’m glad I got to experience that as well!
Thursday 5th of July 2018
Yes, it's great to balance the touristy stuff with the non-so touristy stuff. I personally found the Vatican overwhelming, and chose to skip it after my first visit to Rome. However, it was an educational experience I will never forget and I'm glad I went. Thanks so much for commenting.
Saturday 23rd of June 2018
Italy (and Rome within) are near the top of my travel bucket list! Thanks so much for the gorgeous pics and great tips!
Lauren // bustinoutbeauty.com
Wednesday 27th of June 2018
It's such a wonderful city. Hope you get to travel there soon.
Saturday 23rd of June 2018
Rome is an essential visit for any traveller and I can't believe that I have still never been there! Your post gives a great oversight into the essential places to visit. It's really got me thinking I must move Rome right up to the top of my list! Love your photos too.
Wednesday 27th of June 2018
Thank you so much! I hope you're able to go soon. I can't wait to see your pictures and read your point of view.