What Rome ‘must see attractions’ are really a must see? In this article, I share the places I love the most in Rome, those I highly recommend you include into your itinerary and those I believe you can skip if short on time.
If you are planning a trip to the Eternal city as a first time visitor, I am sure you encountered many articles listing out the places you ‘must see’ in Rome.
I also believe that the vast majority of these articles agree about what the Rome main attractions are but do not address the main concern of the time-poor visitor: are these Rome must see places really so unmissable?
There is no definite answer to this and if you are curious about a specific place, I invite you to go and check it out yourself and disregard this article completely.
However, as a proud Roman I feel it is worth it to share my two cents about what is actually worth seeing in my beautiful home town and what sites can be postponed to a later visit.
More precisely, I will give you tops on how to visit Rome must see sites to make the most of your time and money.
Which are Rome must see sites?
Rome is exceptionally rich of attractions and, to an extent, the list of must see sites can only be a very personal one.
An art lover will shiver at the idea of not visiting the Sistine chapel while other visitors may prefer immersing themselves in the atmosphere of the city wandering along its famous cobbled streets and watching local life go by.
However, there are a few sites that regularly feature on all guidebooks as the main ones to see and these are the ones I address below. They are the Colosseum, the Roman forum, the Spanish steps, the Trevi Fountains, the Pantheon, the Vatican and Trastevere.
In this article, I talk about all of them and add in a couple I think you should include in your Rome itinerary, no matter how long or short time you have in town.
If you have any site you are unsure is worthy of your time, please feel free to ask: if I have been recently enough, I will be happy to give the info I have to help make your mind up.
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I open with the obvious: the Colosseum. Probably the most imposing of all the monuments in Rome, the Colosseum is also one of the busiest in terms of visitors and one that regularly elicits the question ‘is a visit to the Colosseum worth it’.
My answer is: a visit to the Colosseum site is a must have experience in Rome but you don’t necessarily have to visit the inside of the amphitheatre to make your visit worth it.
The Colosseum rises in a vast expanse in Rome city centre and it is a sight to behold. It is immense, stunning and so imposing you will want to take a minute to take it all in.
The best way to see the theater and how it blends in to the surrounding area is to climb to the small hill just in front and take in the beautiful view. This will also allow you to see the Forum from above and the stunning Arch of Constantine, just beside it.
If you are a history lover then indeed a visit inside can be worth it.
I believe the best way, in that case, is to get a local guide that can uncover some of the monument’s hidden secrets.
The Colosseum, like the roman forum, is not generous of information panels and I do believe relying on them only will not allow you to learn as much about it.
If visiting Rome with kids I highly recommend you look into tours and activities catering specifically for families. You have a good selection of tours for all ages here.
The Roman forum and Palatine hill
The Forum and the Colosseum are usually presented as one attraction with combined tickets. However, they are not.
The two sites date back to different times (the forum is much more ancient in origin), they highlight different aspects of ancient Roman history and they can be easily visited independently one form the other.
In my option, the Roman forum is a true Rome must see, especially its highest part, the Palatine where you have the ancient emperor’s palace.
The best way is to get a local guide: the forum is not equipped with sufficient (or any!) information panels and while you will enjoy a walk along its ancient ruins you will not understand much without either an excellent guidebook or a person unveiling its secret.
The must see part of the site, in my opinion, are the incredible temple of Antonino and Faustina and the area on top of the forum which is the Palatine hill.
If you don’t have the time or the budget to join a tour, then you can get an idea of the Forum walking along its perimeter from the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia along Via dei fori imperiali. This is one of my favourite free things to do in Rome!
One of the best places to visit in Rome is the Capitoline hill, the hill overlooking the Roman Forum. The hill is accessible by a large staircase but the climb up is worth every single one of those tiring steps.
From the bottom, you are first faces by the imposing ‘Ara Coeli’ to your left (accessible by a much steeper staircase), then you pass the two statues of Castore and Polluce and finally get to the main square, towered by the statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Here is where the true gem lies: walk beyond the building at the far end of the square and take in the view over ancient Rome. It is breathtaking.
Another Rome must see is the Pantheon, the temple to ‘all gods’, now a Christian church.
The Pantheon sits in a square in the centre of Rome surrounded by the cobbled streets many associate with the eternal city.
I love Piazza del Pantheon, I go back every time I am back home in Rome. However, when it comes to visiting inside the Pantheon, my advice is similar to the one about the Colosseum: do visit the square but don’t waste time queuing up should it take longer than a few minutes.
The inside has illustrious graves and the peculiar ‘oculos’, the opening on the ceiling, but the visit won’t take you long and I believe if you have to wait for over 30 minutes (like during my last visit) to get in, the overwhelming feeling will be of disappointment.
The good news is that the Pantheon is in a very central location and you are likely to pass it often: in case of long lines, consider coming back at a different time.
Two stunning squares in Rome regularly featuring among Rome must see attractions and two I very much advocate including in your itinerary are Piazza Navona and Piazza Campo de’ fiori.
Piazza Navona is the most imposing of the two in terms of architecture but also the most touristy. The site worth seeing here is the amazing Fontana dei 4 fiumi and the church in front, Santa Agnese in agone. What is not worth doing, however, is to sit at one of the overpriced restaurants in the piazza!
Piazza Campo de’ fiori is on the other side of Corso Vittorio and while itself touristy it is a place locals still go to for aperitivo.
The best time to visit Campo de fiori is in the morning, when the market is on (it is note very atmospheric but still nice), or in the evening for a drink.
Whatever time you do go, make sure you look at the statue in the centre: it is of Giordano Bruno, who lost his life on the stake in this very square for challenging the belief that the Earth was at the centre of what we now call the Solar system.
Arguably not a Rome attraction but very much in Rome in terms of geographical location, St Peter’s square is one of those places you cannot miss when spending time in the ‘city of living history’.
A state in its own right, the Vatican is made of several buildings and spaces and how worth it is visiting one or the other largely depends on your personal interests and taste.
St Peter’s square and basilica
St Peter’s square is stunning and very easy to enjoy. Make sure you stand on the relevant markings on the ground to see the optical illusion that makes the several rows of the colonnade disappear! The square is free to access and worth a stroll around its perimeter.
St Peter’s basilica is imposing and worth visiting inside.
It is crowned by the massive St Peter’s dome, which the brave can climb! Climbing to the top is worth it for the stunning views over the Vatican gardens but it is not for the claustrophobic or the afraid of heights.
The Vatican museums and the Sistine chapel
The Vatican museums and the Sistine chapels are beside St Peter’s square and basilica and take alone a full half day, if not more, to visit.
They are both worth a visit if you love art but they are crowded to such an extent to make the most motivated of art lovers crumble.
The Sistine chapel in particular has set visit times and gets jam packed: you enter with a large number of other visitors, stand like sardines with your eyes glued to the indeed mind-blowing ceiling and then you are asked to leave.
Is the Sistine chapel worth a visit? Yes, but it comes at a high price in terms of tiredness and crowd induced stress so my advice is to consider your interest and energy level carefully.
To make the visit pleasant, try avoid holidays, peak times and by all means, get a skip a line tour! if you are travelling with children, you should also consider a family tour such as the one we review here
The Spanish steps aka Piazza di Spagna
The Spanish steps are in the centre of Rome and climb up form Piazza di Spagna, below. The steps are as beautiful and the view from the top worth the climb.
The Spanish steps are worth a visit but seeing them won’t take long. They are in the centre of the city if you plan to take a stroll in the area, you will stumble upon them.
More than a must see site to visit, I consider them one of those special corners of Rome where the city presents you with a gift of a fabulous backdrop.
The Trevi Fountain
THE Rome must see, the place whose pictures dominate brochures and postcards: is it as beautiful as it seems?
Indeed, it is, but its popularity comes at a high price: the crowds here are unbelievable, to the extent that as a local, I try avoid the square unless it is pretty late at night (don’t let the photo fool you, it it taken with a very long selfie stick above a sea of people)!
Rome is said to have over 900 churches. I am not sure this staggering number is accurate but there is no doubt Rome has many and you encounter one, small or big, every few steps, at least in the city centre.
Many are worth visiting and if you have the time I invite you to always at least peak into one, but some are Rome must see for a reason, from hosting masterpieces to being an architectural wonder.
I am also overly fond of San Clemente: while considered a hidden gem more than a Rome must see, it is a short stroll from the Colosseum and a wonderful cultural experience.
A controversial statement maybe but I find Trastevere overrated. The area is lovely and a stroll here during summer nights is a delight but the area is also hugely touristy and I am sorry to say no more the ‘real Rome’ than other parts of the city.
My advice to visit Trastevere is to go in the late afternoon and allow yourself to get lost in its less crowded lanes. Then, reward your walking with a drink in a local bar or a cheap pizza in one of the many ‘pizzerie’.
As an alternative, you can choose Trastevere as your base for visiting Rome: this way, you can see it also outside the most popular hours and get a glimpse of the local life that still exists in this part of town.
If you do not want to take the trek to this part of town, I believe you will find lovely atmosphere and somewhat comparable ones in the area around Campo de’ fiori and in Rione Monti, both in Rome city centre.
I hope you enjoyed my selection of Rome must sees and this article helps you plan your time in the city!