From the Colosseum to the famous Sistine Chapel, a visit to Rome feels as if you are stepping into your history books. Well, some of it at least. That history is surrounded by the conveniences of today, creating a complex juxtaposition of historical and modern right in front of your eyes. Honestly, that is one of the things that I love about Rome.
There seems to be an endless number of historical sites in Rome, and more are being discovered every day. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed on my first trip there. I wanted to be sure I saw my fair share of historical sites, but I also wanted time to eat pasta and drink wine. Finding the perfect balance was time consuming and a bit stressful.
So, to help you make the most of your valuable vacation time, I decided to provide you with a list of the amazing historical sites in Rome that I love visiting. After several trips to The Eternal City, I have decided that these ancient sites should be on everyone’s must-see list for Rome.
1. The Colosseum
Piazza Del Colosseo, 1
The Roman Colosseum is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. This incredible piece of Roman architecture still stands as a representation of the power of the ancient Roman Empire.
Built in the 1st century A.D., the Colosseum was considered an architectural masterpiece. The careful design allowed over 50,000 fans to enter and exit the Colosseum in under 15 minutes! Take note of the gorgeous archways and columns that surround you during your visit.
While the structure is a work of art, the Roman Colosseum has a long and bloody history attached to it. This was where brutal combat games were held, pitting gladiators against each other and against wild animals, such as lions and bears. You can view the gladiator tunnels, or the “hypogeum,” from the stands during your visit to the Colosseum. Some tours even take you through them.
Take note that a visit to the Colosseum does require quite a bit of standing and walking up and down ancient stairs. Most of the walkways are uneven due to structural wear and tear over time.
You can find information about operating hours and prices here.
Pro Tip: Purchase your tickets for the Colosseum at the ticket entrance to Palatine Hill. The ticket allows you entry to Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, but by purchasing here, you get to skip the long lines at the Colosseum.
2. The Pantheon
Piazza Della Rotonda
Another fabulous historical site in Rome that should be on everyone’s must-see list is the Pantheon. After the Colosseum, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s best-preserved monuments.
It’s believed that the Pantheon was built as a Pagan temple. Its portico consists of 16 granite columns, and its awe-inspiring domed interior measures 142 feet across and 71 feet high. Another architectural masterpiece, engineers today still marvel at the unsupported dome structure.
Today, the Pantheon is an active church that still holds services. The Pantheon is one of the many free things to do in Rome and is well worth some of your vacation time.
Inside, you will find an incredible stone floor, which is over 80 percent original, surrounded by walls made of granite and stone. The walls are lined with tombs of famous figures, like the Rennaissance artist Raphael and King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia. Of course, the highlight is the incredible, unreinforced dome ceiling with an intriguing hole in the center that allows light (and rain) to enter the Pantheon.
Visit their website for up-to-date operating hours and more information.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself in Rome on April 21, then be sure to visit the Pantheon. It is said that on this date, the sun strikes in such a manner that the courtyard outside is saturated in light.
3. The Roman Forum
Via Della Salara Vecchia, 5/6
The center of the Roman Empire was the Roman Forum. The Forum housed Rome’s political, commercial, and religious entities for years. This incredible history is apparent as you tour the forum, now ruins in various states of preservation, and see firsthand the transformation the area experienced throughout its history.
The streets of the Roman Forum were said to be some of the grandest in history. You can imagine the hustle and bustle of everyday life surrounding you as you walk in the steps of Julius Cesar. Unfortunately, what you see before you today is just a shell of the Forum’s original splendor, as it was pillaged upon the fall of the Roman Empire.
The Via Sacra, the main road leading into the Forum, has significant historical importance as it is the road on which triumphant Roman leaders would ride into town, celebrating their military accomplishments.
Other noteworthy sites in the Roman Forum include the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Basilica of Constantine, the Temple of Vesta, the Curia (Senate House), and the Temple of Divus Romulus. Of course, one of the most noteworthy sites in the Forum is the remains of the Temple of Julius Cesar, the final resting place for the famous Roman ruler.
If you purchased a ticket to the Colosseum, entrance to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are included in that ticket. Do note that visiting the Roman Forum does require quite a bit of walking on natural, uneven surfaces. There are also some stairs to navigate on the tour.
For more information on visiting the Roman Forum, head here.
Pro Tip: Head to the entrance on Via dei Fori Imperiali to see an incredible view of the Roman Forum.
4. Trevi Fountain
Piazza Di Trevi
The iconic 18th-century Trevi Fountain is another must-see historical site in Rome. Arguably the most beautiful fountain in the world, the Trevi has been drawing visitors for years. Originally built at the end of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct as a source of drinking water for the Roman people, the Trevi has quickly become one of the most noteworthy sites in Rome.
The Fontana di Trevi has served as one of the most famous filming locations in Rome. It has been in many movies, like the 1953 film Roman Holiday.
The legend says that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you are guaranteed a return trip to Rome. Now, I’m not saying the legend is true, but every time I visit, I throw a coin into the fountain, and I have returned to Rome several times since.
Note that there is a bit of a walk to the Trevi from the street. The walk is on cobblestone walkways that are uneven at times.
Pro Tip: The Trevi Fountain is always crowded. Plan to arrive early in the morning or late in the evening if you would like to see the beautiful fountain without all of the people surrounding it.
5. The Spanish Steps
Piazza Di Spagna
In the beautiful Piazza di Spagna, you will find 138 stairs that make up the iconic Spanish Steps of Rome. This incredible staircase has been a favorite location of locals and visitors since 1726.
The staircase is separated into three flights, with landings that are said to represent the Trinity. As you ascend the steps, you are rewarded with magnificent views of the piazza and the rooftops of the city around you. Throughout the year, you will find locals meeting at “the steps” to enjoy an evening of conversation in a historical environment.
Pro Tip: Eating on the Spanish Steps has recently been outlawed, and this is enforced by local officials.
6. Vatican Museums And Sistine Chapel
The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel should definitely be on your list of historical sites to visit in Rome. Not only are you getting to visit a world-class museum and a popular religious destination, but you are also visiting one of the smallest countries in the world. Vatican City is a city-state completely surrounded by Rome
The Vatican Museums are a museum complex housing countless ancient artifacts, ranging from works of art to priceless religious relics. Visiting the Vatican Museums allows you to see 54 incredibly decorated rooms as you take in the incredible collection.
Of course, for many people, the crown jewel of the Vatican Museums is the famous Sistine Chapel. The chapel, adorned from floor to ceiling with frescoes by Michelangelo, is definitely a sight to see.
Take note that the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel are spread out over a large complex. There is a lot of walking involved, but the entire complex is wheelchair accessible and has level flooring.
Visit the Vatican’s website for current operating hours and for further information.
Pro Tip: Vatican City is very crowded. The lines to the Sistine Chapel are very long, so be prepared for this or consider taking a private tour to enjoy skip-the-line privileges.
7. Saint Peter’s Basilica
Also in Vatican City, the Saint Peter’s Basilica was commissioned in A.D. 324 as a church dedicated to the Apostle Peter. The land where the church stands is said to be the burial site of Peter after his crucifixion in the nearby Circus of Nero in A.D. 64.
While the original church was destroyed in the 16th century, it was rebuilt into the structure you see today. An opulent structure whose dome, which was designed by Michelangelo, makes it the tallest building in Rome’s historic center.
During your visit, you can see the incredible church on your own using the free audio tour, join a private tour, or take a free guided tour offered daily by the Vatican. Visit the Vatican’s website for more.
Pro Tip: Make sure that you are following the dress code in order to enter the church. You must wear modest clothing, with no bare knees or shoulders. Also, Saint Peter’s is always crowded. In order to avoid some of the crowds, plan to visit before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
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