The best things to do in Rome

These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writers visited pre-pandemic.

More insider guides for planning a trip to Rome

The challenge when visiting Rome is deciding what not to do: there are so many churches, archaeological sites, piazzas and paintings to see that a lifetime is hardly enough. Don’t try to cram too much in; Rome moves at a slower pace than many northern Italian cities, and to enjoy it you should take time out in pavement cafés as well as shuffle round the Sistine Chapel.


Zip through secret alleys on a Vespa

What could be more Roman than zipping around the Colosseum on the back of a Vespa? A great way to see sights away from the centre of town, which can be tricky to get to otherwise. In a half-day private tour you’ll see a great deal with the friendly folk at A Friend in Rome. The more adventurous can opt to drive themselves (a driving licence is required, and scooter experience is recommended).

Insider’s tip: Save yourself the stress of Roman traffic and be driven in convoy by the experts; this option means you can also arrange to be picked up wherever suits you.

Contact: 00 39 340 50 19 201;
Price: £££

Tour Rome, Italy, on a scooter

Pound the pavements as the Romans do with A Friend in Rome tours: on the two wheels of a Vespa


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Roam the ruins with an expert historian

Taking a tour with a private guide can bring ruins to life or help you to skilfully negotiate intriguing backstreets, nipping into bucolic courtyards and pretty churches you wouldn’t know were there. Even a visit to the notoriously crowded Vatican Museums can become an entertaining breeze. Agnes Crawford, a transplanted Brit with an master’s degree from Edinburgh in architectural history, has been leading tours in Rome since 2001. She and her expert archaeologist colleagues specialise in personalised tours.

Insider’s tip: Mention any special interests when booking and your itinerary will be tailored to suit. A trip to Ostia Antica is always a hit with children.

Contact: 00 39 338 19 84 375;
Price: £££

Ruins of Ancient Rome that you can see during a tour with Understanding Rome

Understanding Rome specialise in creating bespoke tours across the city, whatever your interests

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North Centro

Admire the city’s ‘altar of peace’

Augustus marched home from three years of subjugating his formerly fractious empire in 13BC, and the Senate promptly commissioned a monument. Four years later the Ara Pacis was inaugurated: an ‘altar of peace’ within marble walls gloriously carved with friezes hailing the emperor, his family, and general prosperity. Pieced together during the 20th century, it is now housed in a Richard Meier-designed museum.

Insider’s tip: Look out for the Res Gestae – Augustus’ “missions accomplished” – carved into the side of the building which faces his mausoleum. It’s in Latin but a quick online search will give you a translation.

Contact: 00 39 06 0608;
Opening times: Daily, 9.30am-7.30pm
Nearest metro: Flaminio
Price: £££

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Marvel at the artwork in a lavish family home

The art collection of the Doria-Pamphilj family is truly magnificent, as is the family’s palazzo, where works are displayed according to a 1760 inventory. Artistic highlights include a striking portraits of the Pamphilj pontiff Innocent X by both Velazquez and Bernini, as well as masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael. The chatty audio guide narrated by half-British Prince Jonathan Doria-Pamphilj is included in the ticket price

Insider’s tip: For a multi-sensorial experience, join the 11am Saturday ‘Sounds and Visions of Caravaggio’ tour accompanied by an art historian and a live early music ensemble; booking is essential.

Contact: 00 39 06 679 7323;
Opening times: Daily, 9am-7pm
Nearest metro: Spagna
Price: £££

The Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, Italy

Artistic highlights of include a striking portrait by Velázquez of the Pamphili pontiff Innocent X

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Immerse yourself in ancient Roman sculpture

Powerful Roman families in the 16th and 17th centuries prided themselves on their collections of classical statuary, and they had no qualms about bringing in a sculptor of their own to replace missing arms and noses. Hence many of the remarkable ancient statues displayed in this gallery of collections from four dynasties look surprisingly intact. There’s an Ares patched up by Bernini, and an Athena returned to her full glory by Alessandro Algardi.

Insider’s tip: The building itself is also splendid; look out for the cherubs in the Chapel. Entrance to Crypta Balbi, Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian is included.

Contact: 00 39 06 3996 7700;
Opening times: 9am-7.45pm; closed Mondays
Nearest metro: Flaminio
Price: ££

Palazzo Altemps in Rome, Italy

Palazzo Altemps pride themselves on their collections of classical statuary

South Centro

Get lost in the Colosseum

Half circus, half sports arena, Rome’s most famous classical ruin is unmissable – especially now that they have extended the visitor route to the underfloor passageways through which gladiators and wild beasts made their entrances. The massive arena – officially called the Amphiteatrum Flavium – was inaugurated in 80 AD, and seated well over 50,000 people.

Insider’s tip: The audio guides are worth investing in but check yours functions before straying far from the rental kiosks; not all of them work.

Opening times: Daily 8.30am-7pm
Nearest metro: Colosseo
Price: ££

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

The Colosseum is an icon of Rome, and an unmissable attraction

robin-angelo fuso/Robin-Angelo Photography

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Relax in a Roman bath house

Head for this urban spa in an unassuming street in the former Jewish Ghetto for a (literal) dive into the past. The brick-vaulted rooms chart the same journey from tepidarium, to calidarium, to steam rooms and back again that the ancients were following two millennia ago, making this the closest thing in the city to a truly Roman thermal experience.

Insider’s tip: On Wednesdays and Fridays the baths are women only, while other days are mixed. A wide range of massage options are available, some of which use fanghi (mineral-rich mud) and salts from the Dead Sea.

Contact: 00 39 06 686 4272;
Opening times: Wed-Sun, 11am-9pm; Tue, 2pm-9pm (last entry at 7pm)
Nearest metro: Colosseo
Price: ££

AcquaMadre hammam in Rome, Italy

Mirror the ancient Romans with a thermal experience at AcquaMadre hammam

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Visit the Capitoline Museums

This is the world’s oldest public museum, dating back to a 1471 donation to the people of Rome by Pope Sixtus IV. Its gems, now spread through two palazzi on Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio, include Rome’s emblem (the bronze she-wolf), Bernini’s remarkable statue of Pope Urban VIII, a picture gallery with paintings by Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Titian and others, and the second century AD equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (the one in the piazza outside is a copy).

Insider’s tip:  The museum café in Palazzo Caffarelli has a terrace with a splendid view. For only €1 (88p) more, a joint ticket includes access to the wonderful Centrale Montemartini.

Contact: 00 39 06 0608;
Opening times: Daily, 9.30am-7.30pm
Nearest metro: Colosseo
Price: ££

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Enjoy one of the city’s smaller museums

In the 1980s, archeologists got to work digging down through Renaissance and medieval layers to the courtyard and lobby of a theatre built by the wealthy Spaniard Cornelius Balbus in 13BC. The result is Crypta Balbi. a fascinating small museum showing a vertical timeline of Roman life. Ask at the ticket office when tours of the excavations start. Upstairs, intelligently presented displays show how street levels rose though centuries of building, scavenging and restoring.

Insider’s tip: There’s a wonderful view across Rome’s rooftops from the top floor. The ticket is also valid for Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian.

Contact: 00 39 06 3996 7700;
Opening times: 9am-7.45pm; closed Mondays
Nearest metro: Colosseo
Price: £

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Explore the remains of an ancient home

Beneath the council offices of the Province of Rome lies a treat for anyone frustrated by the uncommunicative nature of many of the city’s ruins. The remains of a swanky home of a well-heeled Roman has been brought to life with a multimedia experience, transforming gloomy excavations into bright reproductions of a frescoed, peopled Roman dwelling, complete with indoor water features. The visit lasts 75 minutes, with a thorough but entertaining narration.

Insider’s tip: There are four visits in English daily (check website for times), and booking recommended. Refuel at in-house wine bar Terre e Domus, which specialises in wine and food from the Roman countryside.

Contact: 00 39 06 2276 1280;
Opening times: Daily, 9.30am-6.30pm
Nearest metro: Colosseo
Price: ££

Domus Romane in Rome, Italy

Domus Romane is an excavated swanky home of a well-heeled late Roman brought to life

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Stroll through the Forum and Palatine Hill

The heart of the ancient city occupied the valley of the Forum, which hosted both the Ancient Roman seat of government and the conurbation’s law courts, temples, monuments of triumph, and shops. Above the Forum, the pretty Palatine Hill is where Romulus legendarily founded Rome, and where emperors such as Augustus built their palaces.

Insider’s tip: Entrance to the Forum and Palatine also includes entrance to the Colosseum, valid over two days with one entrance to each site. Book online to minimise queuing, and try to go at either end of the day for fewer people.

Contact: 00 39 06 3996 7700;
Opening times: 8.30am until one hour before sunset
Nearest metro: Colosseo
Price: ££

The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

Jump back into ancient life surrounded by the ruins of the Roman Forum


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Vatican & Prati

Tackle the Vatican

This artistic treasure trove – one of the biggest museums in the world – can be rather overwhelming. The trick is to pick areas to visit and stick to them. As well as the holy grail of the Sistine Chapel, there’s plenty to enjoy along the way, from striking classical statues such as the Laocoon, to Pinturicchio’s delightful Borgia Room frescoes, from magnificent decorations by Raphael to an Egyptian museum complete with mummies.

Insider’s tip: It’s well worth booking a timed slot online. Midweek late afternoons are the best times to go to minimise crowds. The museum is open and free for all visitors on last Sunday of every month.

Contact: 00 39 06 6988 3145;
Opening times: 9am-6pm (last entry 4pm); closed Sundays except last Sunday of month when opening hours are 9am-2pm (last entry 12.30pm)
Nearest metro: Ottaviano
Price: ££

Sistene Chapel in the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, Rome

The Sistene Chapel is the holy grail of the Vatican museums but there’s plenty more to enjoy along the way

This content is subject to copyright./Andrew Nguyen / EyeEm

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Go underground

The creepy crypt beneath the Capuchin church has been spun into a Franciscan monk ‘experience’, complete with displays of the knotted whips of flagellating friars and cases of artefacts seized by missionaries. There’s also a St Francis canvas supposedly by Caravaggio, though it’s usually thought to be a copy.

Insider’s tip: Head straight for the main draw: the crypt where generations of monks’ bones, are arranged artfully in patterns on walls and ceilings, and fashioned into macabre chandeliers. A jolly sign at the entrance reads ‘You will be what we now are’.

Contact: 00 39 06 8880 3695
Opening times: Daily, 9am-7pm
Nearest metro: Barberini
Price: ££

Museum and Crypt of the Capuchins

The biggest lure is this eerie crypt of the Capuchins, where previous monks are artfully laid to rest

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Wander through an opulent pleasure villa

Agostino Chigi, banker to Pope Julius II, threw the wildest parties of the early 16th century in this pleasure villa on the banks of the Tiber. He commissioned Raphael to fresco the place with classical scenes. The artist and his students carried out his designs to the letter, most impressively in the Loggia of Psyche, where the garlands of fruit and flowers include species that had only recently arrived from the New World.

Insider’s tip: In the upstairs salon look out for graffiti left by soldiers during the Sack of Rome on the painted view of 16th-century Trastevere.

Contact: 00 39 06 6802 7268;
Opening times: 9am-2pm; closed Sundays, except for the second Sunday of the month.
Nearest metro: Colosseo
Price: £

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Visit one of the world’s finest art galleries

The Galleria Borghese was built in the early 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to house his collection of art, both ancient and modern. Downstairs sees sculpture jostle alongside some of Bernini’s greatest works (don’t miss Apollo and Daphne), and there is a gaggle of Caravaggios in Room VIII. The picture gallery upstairs is crammed with a veritable catalogue of Italian painting: Raphael, Titian, and much more.

Insider’s tip: Visits have to be booked in advance via the website or phone, and run on two hour timeslots – though if you turn up at a quiet time of year, there may be still be spaces that same day.

Contact: 00 39 06 328 10;
Opening times: 9am-7pm; closed Mondays
Nearest metro: Spagna
Price: £££

Borghese Gallery in Italy, Rome

The Borghese Gallery is home to one of the world’s great art collections (don’t miss Apollo and Daphne)


Browse a lesser known palazzo museum

The Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is a 19th-century palazzo that houses another of Rome’s superlative collections of classical art. Masterpieces on the ground and first floors include Augustus as High Priest, a Discus Thrower and a Greek bronze boxer, and a super collection of Imperial portraits. But it is the second-floor reconstructions of rooms from luxurious ancient houses, complete with brightly-coloured wall decoration, that is this museum’s real high point.

Insider’s tip: Make a beeline for the painted leafy, plant-and-bird-filled triclinium (dining room) from Livia’s villa north of Rome. The ticket includes entrance to Crypta Balbi, Palazzo Altemps and the Baths of Diocletian.

Contact: 00 39 06 3996 7700;
Opening times: 9am-7.45pm; closed Mondays
Nearest metro: Termini or Repubblica
Price: ££

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome, Italy

A mosiac in Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, where the reconstructed ancient rooms are a highlight

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Tour an ancient thermal bath complex

It took rampaging Goths to close down the Baths of Caracalla, a massive thermal bath complex founded in AD 217 (they severed the water supply in AD 537). As well as two huge gyms, an open-air pool, and rooms of varying temperatures, up to 1,500 ancient clients at a time could enjoy a library, shops and landscaped gardens. Still today, the towering ruins are extremely impressive, though the sculptures that littered the place are now largely in Naples’ archaeological museum.

Insider’s tip: The summer season of the Rome Opera House is held here; it’s spectacularly floodlit on balmy evenings (see for programme).

Contact: 00 39 06 3996 7700;
Opening times: Mon, 9am-2pm; Tue-Sun, 9am- one hour before sunset
Nearest metro: Circo Massimo
Price: ££

Baths of Caracalla, Rome, Italy

Up to 1,500 ancient Romans used to use the thermal bath complex at the Baths of Caracalla

This content is subject to copyright./Martina Birnbaum / EyeEm

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Southern Suburbs

Tread the path of Roman soldiers

The Appian Way, since in 312 BC, was the chosen way to move troops southwards. It was also the well-off ancient Roman’s burial venue of choice. Few of the impressive mausoleums survive above ground but make sure you see that of Cecilia Metella. Early Christians had less grand tombs, buried underground in many miles of catacombs. The largest complex is San Callisto, where nine popes and dozens of martyrs were among those laid to rest in 12 miles of tunnels.

Insider’s tip: Back above ground the Appia Antica beyond Cecilia Metella is bucolic, and there’s a pleasant cafe at via Appia Antica 175 ( which rents out bikes.

Opening times: 9am-noon, 2-5pm; closed Wednesdays
Nearest metro: Circo Massimo
Price: ££

Appain Way Rome Italy

Tread the path of thousands of Roman soldiers on the 1,700-year-old Appian Way

This content is subject to copyright./Glowimages

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Immerse yourself in the city’s edgiest modern art

MAAXI is contained in a daring piece of contemporary architecture in the hip Flaminio district was designed by archistar Zaha Hadid. The contents of the Museum of 21st Century Arts (MAXXI) don’t always live up to its eye-catching exterior, but although the permanent art collection (now visitable for free Tuesday-Friday) is not the world’s most exciting, MAXXI stages very good exhibitions and retrospectives, especially on architectural themes.

Insider’s tip: The piazza outside is well-used by locals, and a jolly spot for a coffee. Right behind the museum, you’ll find Neve di Latte, one of Rome’s truly great new-generation ice-cream shops.

Contact: 00 39 06 320 1954;
Opening times: Tue-Fri, Sun, 11am-7pm; Sat, 11am-10pm
Nearest metro: Flaminio
Price: ££

MAXXI museum

Renowned architect Zaha Hadid designed the very cool MAXXI museum in trendy Flaminio


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Discover the lost secrets of Etruscan history

When the Romans vanquished the cultivated Etruscans of central Italy, they worked hard to expunge their memory. This intriguing culture finds an eloquent voice via the glorious artefacts of the National Etruscan Museum. The life-sized husband and wife reclining on the lid of their sarcophagus look distinctly clubbable, and the statue of Apollo from the temple at Portonaccio is a movingly lifelike masterpiece.

Insider’s tip: The museum is housed in a beautiful 16th-century villa built for Pope Julius III, partly by Michelangelo. Look out for the pretty sunken nympheum at the end of the courtyard.

Contact: 00 39 06 322 6571;
Opening times: 8.30am-7.30pm; closed Mondays
Nearest metro: Circo Massimo
Price: ££

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Browse ancient art in an erstwhile power station

One of the most unlikely – and arguably more satisfying – venues in Rome’s panoply of ancient offerings, this decommissioned power station has had its huge turbines, boilers and cogs polished up to provide a dramatic backdrop for choice pieces from the Capitoline Museums’ storerooms. What counts as a ‘minor’ ancient artwork or architectural decoration in Rome, of course, would be a major centrepiece elsewhere; the dreamy muse Polymnia and a towering statue of the goddess Fortuna are cases in point.

Insider’s tip:The Centrale is visitable on a joint ticket with the Capitoline Museums. Go to the museum’s website for updates on kids’ activities and the occasional jazz concert.

Contact: 00 39 06 0609;
Opening times: 9am-7pm; closed Mondays
Nearest metro: Circo Massimo
Price: £

Centrale Montemartini

A clash of ages at Centrale Montemartini, where ancient art sits against a power station backdrop

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Day Trips

Escape to an Italian garden

One of Italy’s most beautiful gardens, Giardino di Ninfa was laid out between the Twenties and the Sixties by the Anglo-Italian Caetani family on the site of an abandoned medieval village 37 miles south of Rome. The name comes from the nymphaeum on the site, referred to by Pliny the Younger.

Insider’s tip: If you don’t have a car, take the train to Latina (on the main Naples line) and then a taxi. It is only open about 30 days a year, mostly over weekends and public holidays, check website for details. Booking is essential.

Contact: 00 39 0773 354 242;
Opening times: Most Sundays and public holidays between April and October.
Price: ££

Giardino di Ninfa, Italy

Giardino di Ninfa remains one of Italy’s most beautiful gardens

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Enjoy ruins without the crowds

Often deserted, Ostia Antica is Ancient Rome’s impressively preserved port, once a buzzing town in its own right. The Med is two miles away and the river has now changed its course, but for well over 600 years Ostia buzzed with maritime trade from the far reaches of the empire. Look out for the ancient bar-restaurant, with the day’s menu still frescoed on the walls.

Insider’s tip: Get there via a 30-minute, €1.50 (£1.30) hop on a commuter train from Piramide (it’s a short walk from Ostia Antica station). The ancient theatre is still used for plays and concerts during the summer: see for details.

Contact: 00 39 06 5635 2830
Opening times: 8.30am-one hour before sunset; closed Mondays
Price: ££

Ostia Antica, Italy

It’s no longer the bustling port it once was but Ostia Antica is well worth a visit


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