Things to Do in Rome
At the base of Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps, the Barcaccia Fountain is one of the city’s most unique fountains. Designed in a Baroque style, it displays a half-sunken ship with fresh water overflowing its bow. Translated Barcaccia means ‘old boat.’ It dates back to the 17th century when it was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini. The fountain is said to be modeled after the boats left behind after the Tiber River would routinely flood. Sun and bee ornamentation is a symbol taken from the Pope’s family’s coat of arms.
Designed by Pietro Bernini, it features two heads on either end spouting water. Bernini’s son Gian Lorenzo went on to become a prominent Baroque artist with works all over the city. The travertine fountain has recently been restored after having been vandalized by football fans. It is one of the most well-known fountains in Rome.
The Parco degli Acquedotti is one of Rome’s green spaces, and also one with major Ancient Roman structures in it. As the name tells you, a visit to the Parco degli Acquedotti means you get to see a Roman aqueduct - but in this park, you can actually see two.
Located just under five miles from Rome’s city center, the 593-acre Parco degli Acquedotti is criss-crossed by two different aqueducts, both of which were once critical parts of the Ancient Roman infrastructure. The two aqueducts in the park are Aqua Felix and Aqua Claudia. There’s also the ruins of a 2nd century palace in the park.
The Parco degli Acquedotti is largely undeveloped - so much so that livestock can sometimes be found grazing in its fields - but it’s close enough to the city that in nice weather it can be a welcome respite for both Romans and tourists to get away from the hectic city. You can reach the park via the Metro Line A, or by bus to the nearby Piazza Cinecitta.
The Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of Rome’s oldest churches, originally built in the 4th century. While the structure has been renovated and expanded upon since then - most notably in the 12th century, when it was essentially torn to the foundation and rebuilt - the floor plan still reflects its 4th century roots.
Although there is some dispute as to which was the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, there is an inscription in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere that indicates this is the first such church. The original church on this spot was built in 340 under Pope Julius I, and in the 1140s Pope Innocent II tore it down in order to rebuild it completely.
Portico of Octavia was a large courtyard with many columns originally built in the 2nd century BC. It was rebuilt about 100 years later by Emperor Augustus and dedicated to his sister, Octavia. It once covered an area of almost 445 feet long and almost 380 feet wide, larger than a football field, and it had more than 300 Corinthian columns. The Temple of Juno Regina and the Temple of Jupiter Stator stood in the middle. Today not much remains of the structure compared to what it once was. Visitors can still see five columns and the ruins of the entrance gate.
In the Middle Ages, the ruins of the Portico of Octavia became the site of a fish market. A stone to the right of the portico's great arch still marks the location. Nearby you can find the Teatro Marcello, the Tiber River and Tiber Island, the Temple of Apollo Sosiano, and it's not far from the Roman Forum.
Rome is full of fountains, but some are more famous than others. The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona is one of the fountains that, thanks to popular culture and a colorful legend about rival artists, is on many tourist must-see lists.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini is the artist behind the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which depicts four major rivers - the Nile, the Danube, the Rio de la Plata, and the Ganges - each representing a different continent. Sitting atop Bernini’s sculptures is an Egyptian obelisk.
The fountain was built in 1651 and sits at the center of the Piazza Navona, right in front of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The statue representing the Rio de la Plata faces the church, and appears to be cowering away in horror at the design - the church was built by one of Bernini’s rivals. This is a common story, and a fun one, but it can’t be true - the church was built many years after Bernini’s fountain.
One of three churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary that face the large Piazza del Popolo in northern Rome is the church that bears the same name as the piazza - Santa Maria del Popolo. Of the three, this is by far the most popular tourist draw, primarily for the incredible artwork it contains.
The present-day Church of Santa Maria del Popolo was rebuilt in the 1470s from an earlier church built on the site in 1099. Gian Lorenzo Bernini updated the facade to its Baroque style in the 1650s, and also worked on the Chigi Chapel in the church.
Santa Maria del Popolo contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, mosaics by Raphael, chapels designed by Bramante and Raphael, and two fabulous paintings by Caravaggio. Because of this stunning collection of in situ art, the church is as much (if not more) a tourist attraction for art and culture lovers as it is still a house of worship.
Contrary to popular belief, St Peter’s Basilica isn’t the cathedral of Rome. This honor goes to “the Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist at the Lateran.” Quite the mouthful, but the church is more commonly known as the St John Lateran’s Basilica or Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. The basilica is the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome, and on top of that, it’s the seat of the Bishop of Rome—the Pope himself—and considered one of the most important Catholic church in the world.
Although one might think so, St John Lateran isn’t a person. The church is named after its location at the Lateran Palace, ancient seat of the noble Roman Laterni family and later the main papal residence. When the palace came into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, he soon donated the property to the church.
Containing 28 steps in total, the Scala Santa (which translates to Holy Steps) are believed to have been carried from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena in the year 326. Many make religious pilgrimages to this site, as the white marble steps are said to be those walked upon by Jesus Christ during the Passion.
It is believed that the steps of Scala Santa once led to the Praetorium of the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, where Jesus was condemned. St. Helena brought them to Rome to her son, the emperor Constantine, who was building a basilica. The stairs were installed and still lead to the Sancta Sanctorum or Chapel of San Lorenzo, the private chapel of early popes. The interior of the chapel is richly decorated with frescoes depicting both the Old and New Testament.
Today the steps are protected by a wooden boards in the old Lateran palace and by tradition must be ascended on the knees. Over the centuries, several popes have participated in this devotion.
One of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem houses several relics from the Holy Land brought to Rome around 325 AD. The relics are said to be parts of the cross from the Passion of Jesus Christ — carried from Jerusalem by the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I, the St. Empress Helena. The church name comes from the Jerusalem soil that was laid on the floor of the basilica, as a way of moving part of the holy city to Rome. Though it was once the Palazzo Sessoriano, the palace of the St. Empress Helena, it was later converted into a small chapel.
It has since been renovated and restored over the centuries to its Baroque style facade that exists now. Today visitors can see three relics enshrined: pieces of the True Cross, a nail from the crucifixion, thorns from the crown, and small pieces of the tomb of Jesus and the Holy Sepulchre. There is also a full size replica of the Shrine of Turin.
More Things to Do in Rome
Ancient Rome was famously composed of seven hills, but there are even more hills in modern Rome that weren't even included back then. One of them is the Janiculum Hill, or Gianicolo in Italian.
Gianicolo Hill sits on the western side of the Tiber River, near the Trastevere neighborhood, and takes its name from the god Janus – there was once an ancient cult to him located on the hill. Today, attractions on the hill include the San Pietro in Montorio church, a Bramante-designed shrine on the supposed location of St. Peter's crucifixion, and a botanical garden associated with the University of Rome. But the main draw is the view overlooking Rome – it's one of the best in the city.
Aventine Hill is one of Rome’s famous seven hills. It’s the southernmost hill, located on the eastern bank of the Tiber River. This hill is important in the myths involved with the founding of Rome. The brothers, Romulus and Remus, each chose one of the area’s hills on which to found a city. Remus chose the Aventine Hill, but it was his brother Romulus (set up on the nearby Palatine Hill) who saw more signs (supposedly from the gods) and who goes on to found the city of Rome.
Spots worth visiting on the Aventine Hill include the 5th century church of Santa Sabina, the rose garden, the orange garden, and the famous “keyhole” view of St. Peter’s Basilica at the building housing the Knights of Malta. The Circus Maximus is to one side of the Aventine Hill.
Located at the western end of Rome’s prettiest bridge, the Ponte Sisto, the Piazza Trilussa is in bohemian Trastevere, the city’s hard-drinking, clubbing district that comes alive at night when the backstreet bars are packed out. Named after a Roman poet from the 19th century, the cobbled square is home to a monument in his honor as well as the stately Acqua Paola water fountain, carved with the heads of dragons and lions. This travertine fountain was commissioned by Pope Paolo V, a member of the all-powerful Borghese family, and constructed in 1613 by Dutch architect and garden designer Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan van Santen in Dutch); it bears the Borghese family crest. Originally it was located on Via Giulia on the east side of the River Tiber but was reconstructed in its present home in 1898.
Ponte Sisto is a stone pedestrian bridge that crosses the Tiber River in Rome. It connects the historic center of Rome on one side of the river with the Trastevere neighborhood on the other side. The bridge dates back to the late 1400s and uses the foundations of an older Roman bridge that was destroyed in the early Middle Ages. Today the bridge is one of the few bridges crossing the Tiber River that does not allow vehicles. This makes it a pleasant crossing point for visitors exploring the city by foot.
The bridge also provides nice views of the city. From here, you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Ponte Garibaldi, Ponte Mazzini, Tiber Island, and Gianicolo Hill. The bridge connects Via dei Pettinari and Piazza Trilussa. Several boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafes can be found in this area on both sides of the bridge, some offering views of the river and the bridge itself.
The Palazzo Farnese is a 16th century palace originally built for the noble Farnese family. Today, it serves as the French embassy in Italy, given by the Italian state in 1936 to the French for a period of 99 years.
The member of the Farnese family who commissioned the Palazzo Farnese went on to become Pope Paul III not long after, so the building got even more palatial soon after it was done. The Farnese family were well-known sculpture collectors - parts of their collection make up Naples’ archaeological museum and Capodimonte Museum today. Although the Palazzo Farnese is the French embassy in Italy, there are tours available - which is good, given the art that remains in the palace, including frescoes on walls and ceilings. Even if you don’t go inside, you can see some of Michelangelo’s handiwork on the facade. The Renaissance master is responsible for, among other things, the central window that served as a focal point and something of a stage for Pope Paul III.
Standing an impressive 100 feet high, the Column of Marcus Aurelius was built as a Roman victory monument and stands in what is now called the Piazza Colonna, situated in what would have been the northern boundary of Ancient Rome.
The original date of construction is unknown, but there are inscriptions of the column throughout the region that promote the idea that the construction was completed, at the very latest, by 193 AD. Most scholars believe that the construction of the column may have started directly after the Roman victories over a number of their northern rivals. Parallel to this idea are the intricate carvings on the column that work in a spiral fashion and tlel the stories of victories, war and conquest. The details show images of men, horses, women and the destruction of certain villages. By the 15th century, the statue of Marcus Aurelius atop the column had already deteriorated.
The Great Synagogue of Rome has a storied past, with the city housing one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. The first set arrived in the city in the second century BC, and by the mid-16th century, the area of Trastevere on the west banks of the River Tiber became a Jewish ghetto, which lasted for three centuries until it was disbanded by King Victor Emmanuel II. The Great Synagogue was built across the river from Trastevere shortly afterwards in memory of the dark days of the ghetto; the Art Nouveau structure is stopped with a distinctive square dome and ornamented with floral reliefs.
On April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the synagogue, making him the first pope since early Christianity to do so. The synagogue celebrated its centenary in 2004 and serves as a hub for the Jewish community of Rome, as well as housing for the offices of the Chief Rabbi.
Things to do near Rome
- Things to do in Lake Bracciano
- Things to do in Lake Bolsena
- Things to do in Orvieto
- Things to do in Gaeta
- Things to do in Assisi
- Things to do in Perugia
- Things to do in Siena
- Things to do in Naples
- Things to do in Sorrento
- Things to do in Florence
- Things to do in Pisa
- Things to do in Bologna
- Things to do in Lazio
- Things to do in Umbria
- Things to do in Abruzzo