With two trips to Rome under my belt in the last year I’ve done many of the main sights two or three times, maybe more. The main differences between my trips have been from travelling solo to with my boyfriend, and visiting in the 40C heat of August to the more reasonable 20-25C in February.
So, what are the ultimate things to see in Rome when visiting any time of year? Here’s my top ten sights and why I think you’d love them too.
- The Pantheon
- The Colosseum and Forum
- The Vatican and St. Peter’s Square
- Vittorio Emmanuel II
- Castle D’Angelo
- Trevi Fountain
- The Jewish District
- Tiber Island
- The Mouth of Truth
- Piazza Novona
Piazza della Rotonda is the square in front of the Pantheon and the best place to get a great view of the structure. As a complete building, it isn’t a ruin and was the largest free standing dome for over a century. Take yourself on a 360 degree tour and walk around the structure before passing through the huge pillars of the entrance – all sounds from the street instantly disappear.
Originally built as a temple to the Gods around 2000 years ago it’s now a place of Christian worship and the best preserved Roman building anywhere in the world. Look up into the oculus or ‘eye’ of the dome and see the only available natural light source cascading rays into the central hub. It’s exquisite, breathtaking and after maybe being inside six times (question mark) it’s still a wonder and the sight I’d be most excited about visiting again.
No one really knows how it’s survived all this time and the skill that went into building it is still being studied. Famously, when the great artist Michelangelo went inside he said it had been built by angels, not man. Quite the sentiment!
2.The Colosseum and Forum
The Colosseum is iconic and one of the 7 Wonders of the World. You can buy a ticket online here and skip the queues, however you will still need to line up for the security check. The ticket includes entrance into the ancient stadium and also throughout the magnificent Forum – the old centre of Ancient Rome – and Palatine Hill.
Inside the Colosseum there’s a small museum and exhibition but the main action is on level two where you enter the stadium and get a true grasp of it’s scale. The seating area for spectators is all around you and in the centre you can see where gladiators fell in combat. Part of the ‘stage’ has been reconstructed to help with your imagination but for the most part you view the underbelly where animals and performers would wait before making their entrance.
After perhaps 90 minutes, the Forum awaits just opposite including highlights such as The Senate House, the Arch of Septimius Severus and the Arch of Titus. The site isn’t well signposted but it’s clear enough to wander through and marvel at all the grand sites as a number of temple ruins are located here. The best view of the Forum is of course from Palatine Hill, accessed directly from the main square. Seeing the panorama makes a lasting impression on the scale and quality of the site.
3.The Vatican and St. Peter’s Square
A whole other country found in the heart of Italy? It cannot be missed. Even if you don’t want to take a tour of the museums and grounds inside, St. Peter’s Square and the formidable St. Peter’s Basilica are available for free with a security check of your bags as you enter.
St. Peter’s Square is very opulent and and the giant pillars may make you dizzy as you look up. Depending on when you go, you’re either able to walk around freely among the fountains, or have to stick to the sides when the seats and stage are set for a ceremony or Pope service.
Inside the basilica, again it’s height is very impressive and it’s immaculately decorated and cared for. You can venture into the tombs of previous Pope’s and light candles in the main hall.
4.Vittorio Emmanuel II
A lofty feat of architecture, Vittorio Emmanuel II rarely escapes your eye line as you tour the city. Stunning at night and of course in the day, it now functions as a museum.
Built by the first King of Italy and named after him, it is the starting point of the main Ancient Roman sites. Walking passed it’s westerly side you’re in front of the Forum and Colosseum and it’s also visible from Palatine Hill.
Opposite the beautiful Ponte Sisto bridge, the castle is a breathtaking building that offers perfect views of the river Tiber and the Vatican. Inside it holds a medieval museum and coffee shop, with a large viewing platform at the top of the structure. Unlike most views in old cities you don’t have to earn in with nauseating and narrow spiral steps, which is a huge plus point.
6.The Trevi Fountain
A romantic spot and structure, The Trevi Fountain is surely on everyone’s sightseeing checklist. Busy with tourists day and night, it underwent extensive cleaning in 2015 and is now back to looking it’s best.
A photogenic fountain, it’s a place to relax with a gelato and pay close attention to the horses facial expressions. A great stop en route to the Spanish Steps, it’s worth noting these didn’t make it onto my list; the view is pretty good from the top but at the end of the day it is just an outside staircase.
7.The Jewish District
The Jewish District, Jewish Ghetto, Jewish Quarter is known my many names and sits to the east of the river. The area has existed since ancient times but became a Jewish area during difficult times of segregation and anti-semitism throughout Europe.
You can see here several synagogues, old ghetto buildings and in recent years it’s become a sought after place for dining, with many quality kosher restaurants in the area. I’d recommend listening to the Rick Steve audio guide as you explore as there are a number of hidden treasures in this district.
Tiber Island is part of the Jewish District and is home to historic mills and a modern working hospital for the city. The tiny island is a quiet sanctuary within the city and provides a pleasant walkway over the river.
Small in size, there are a number of eateries on the island and you can of course find gelato. As you cross the Ponte Fabricio bridge from the south-east of the river, you’re actually walking on the only original bridge to survive in Rome.
9.The Mouth of Truth
I actually missed this historical curiosity on my first visit and had no idea it was even in Italy. Otherwise known as la Bocca della Verità it’s a fascinating face that was carved into marble sometime in the first century AD. Legend has it that anyone who put their hand in his mouth whilst telling a lie would have their hand bitten off; old records even suggest it was used in a martial legal case, however there are no recorded incidents of anyone losing a hand. My assumption is that no one would dare tell a lie with that potential consequence on their mind.
You can find the mouth of truth in Piazza della Bocca della Verità where it’s positioned in a narrow passageway at the entrance of the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The queue can get long and once at the front you’re able to place your hand in it’s mouth and have one photo taken.
Rome is of course dotted with many wonderful Piazzas and beautiful meeting points but Piazza Navona is the one I’d list as a destination. Lined with ancient buildings, it offers a lot of public seating for you to soak up the atmosphere. The main fountain is the highlight of this location and also a great place to cool off.
On the north corner, there’s a Grom. This chain is one of the best places to get Gelato in the whole of Italy so if you deserve a treat, be sure to head here for a couple of scoops.
Top 10 Summary
The main benefit of these sights is that they’re beautiful and interesting any time of year. Part of me has a craving to see the Colosseum in the rain, so I really think that if you can get a cheap travel deal you shouldn’t be put off even in the winter months.
Now, with so much to do in Rome, you can click here (coming soon!) to find out my recommendations for food and drink in the Italian capital. You’ll certainly need some fuel for all of the walking involved!