Things to Do in Rome
Ponte Sant'Angelo is the bridge across the Tiber River leading from the centre of Rome to the Castel Sant'Angelo, once Hadrian's tomb, then home to the popes, now a museum. The bridge dates from 134 AD when Hadrian built it to lead to his mausoleum, calling it Pons Aelius or Bridge of Hadrian. But when word got out that the Archangel Michael landed on top of the mausoleum to end the plague in Rome in 590, the bridge and castle both changed their name to Sant'Angelo.
The most striking feature of the now pedestrian-only bridge are the ten statues of angels which line it. These were commissioned by Pope Clement IX in 1669 from the famous artist Bernini. Unfortunately Bernini only finished two himself and these were taken into the pope's own collection. Those on the bridge were actually made by other sculptors to Bernini's scheme.
The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine mountains and ending at the sea at Ostia, once the port of Ancient Rome. It is 252 miles (406 km) long. The story goes that the infants Romulus and Remus were abandoned on the waters of the Tiber, were rescued by a she-wolf, and founded Rome 15 mi (25 km) from the sea in 753 BC.
The Tiber River has also been heavy with sediment and although Romans throughout history have dredged it, the river is now navigable only to Rome and not beyond. The port of Ostia was abandoned to mud as far back as 1 AD.
The name “San Luigi dei Francesi” means Saint Louis of the French, and this church is France's national church in Rome. It was built in the 1500s at the instruction of a Cardinal in the Medici family who would later become Pope Clement VII. Catherine de Medici had married the French king, contributed to the church's construction, and donated the land on which the church was built – further cementing the French connection. The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi occupies the site of a former church, Santa Maria, which was owned by the Medici family. It was begun in 1518 and consecrated in 1589. The interior is all Baroque ornamentation, so there's no shortage of stuff to see, but the biggest attraction inside is the series of three St. Matthew paintings by Caravaggio. These paintings were commissioned for the church, so it's a great chance to see artwork in its original home rather than an art museum.
Sitting in the heart of atmospheric Trastevere, Piazza Santa Maria is the focal point of the district and has several different faces. By day it is the haunt of young families and tourists, by night clubbers and students come out of the woodwork to party in the surrounding bars.
The piazza’s western flank is dominated by the ornate Romanesque church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is one of the oldest in Rome, founded around 350 AD as Christianity was becoming prevalent. Several extensions and improvements ensued down the centuries, and now the church has a 16th-century portico and glittering medieval frescoes and mosaics in the apse as well as on its exterior, which glint when floodlit at night. The octagonal raised fountain in the center of the piazza has its origins in Ancient Roman times and was restored and added to by Baroque master architect Carlo Fontana in 1692.
By Rome's standards, the Church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola seems like it isn't very old at all – only consecrated in 1722 – but that's because prior to 1650, it was a private church.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus – better known as Jesuits – and the original church on this site was built entirely by Jesuit labor in the 1560s on the foundation of an earlier building. That church, built as the private chapel for the Collegio Romano (the first Jesuit university), was expanded slightly in 1580, but by the early 1600s it was already too small for the number of students at the college. Construction on the current church was started in 1626, a mere four years after Saint Ignatius of Loyola was canonized, and it opened to the public in 1650. The interior reflects the church's Baroque style with heavy ornamentation. There is gold decoration everywhere, enormous frescoes, and Jesuit iconography and stories depicted throughout.
Many visitors to Rome see the enormous Vittorio Emanuele II monument from the outside only, snapping a photo of the landmark locals often derisively call “the typewriter” before moving on. But if you climb the steps, you'll find there are sights to see inside, too.
The monument was completed in 1910 as a memorial to the first king of a united Italy. Italy's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of the monument, added in 1921, and the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento – Museum of Italian Unification – is inside the monument itself. The museum entry can be difficult to find, with unmarked doors on the main steps, but you can also enter from via San Pietro in Carcere. Also inside the monument is the Complesso del Vittoriano, an art gallery with rotating exhibits, and the Sagrario delle Bandiere, a gallery of Italian naval flags and some other historical naval displays.
Anyone who watched “Roman Holiday” was no doubt charmed by Audrey Hepburn’s reaction when Gregory Peck feigned having his hand cut off in the Mouth of Truth. You might not believe that you’re in any danger of losing a limb if you tell a lie, but your heart rate might increase when you pop your hand in that mouth anyway.
The Mouth of Truth - or Bocca della Verita in Italian - is located in one wall of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin at the base of the Aventine Hill. The circular face with an open mouth resembles many of the Roman fountains around the city, but this one doesn’t spout water. For centuries, the legend has been that if you insert your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, your hand will be chopped off. Other attractions around the Piazza della Bocca della Verita are two small Ancient Roman temples. The piazza is almost directly across from the Ponte Palatino bridge over the Tiber River, which leads to the Trastevere neighborhood.
More Things to Do in Rome
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is one of four major basilicas in Rome and was once the largest basilica in the world. It held that title until St. Peter's Basilica was completed in 1626. The original church was built in the 4th century but burned down in 1823. It was replaced with the one that stands today. It is where St. Paul is presumed to be buried, which is why it is named after him. His burial site was located outside of the Aurelian Walls that surrounded Rome at the time.The basilica's art gallery has paintings from the original church, some dating back as far as the 13th century. There are also some rare documents and engravings that were saved from the fire. The outside of the church has 150 columns and a huge statue of St. Paul. The facade is decorated with mosaics designed from 1854 to 1874.
One of the liveliest squares in the Rome’s ancient heart, pedestrianized Piazza della Rotonda is lined with endlessly crowded bars, cafés and restaurants and is the perfect spot for all-day people watching. The rectangular space is also home to the Pantheon, dating from 27 BC but entirely reconstructed by Emperor Hadrian in the early second century AD. It is remarkably intact and its simple but exquisite interior is softly illuminated from the shafts of light peeping through the hole in its round dome. The church is also the resting place of Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as the artist Raphael.
Piazza della Rotonda was formed in the mid 15th century to the orders of Pope Eugenius IV, who wanted to clear the stalls, hovels and stores that were spoiling the view of the Pantheon. A fanciful marble fountain was built in 1575 by Giacomo della Porta, to which a Baroque Egyptian-style obelisk was added in 1711.
The Church of St Peter in Chains, also known as San Pietro in Vicoli, is a basilica for both art lovers and pilgrims. The church was originally built in the fifth century to house the chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned by the Romans in Jerusalem, which eventually made their way to Rome, where they arrived in two parts. One part of the chain was sent to Eudoxia, the wife of emperor Valentinian III, and when compared to shackles held by Pope Leo I, legend says they miraculously fused together to form a single chain, which is now kept in a big bronze and crystal urn under the main altar.
The church is maybe best known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, a part of a never completed funeral monument for Pope Julius II. Forty statues were planned, but Julius’ constant efforts to immortalize himself with giant projects soon had Michelangelo’s attentions diverted to the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Before the Roman Empire rose to power, before a city called Rome even existed, the area had already been occupied for many years. The marshy valleys and steep hills offered natural protection, and while it is thought that individual communities developed on the different hills in the area, they eventually grew together as population increased.
In the 4th century B.C., what are known as the seven hills were joined together by the Servian walls—the ancient walls of Rome—and while modern Rome has far outgrown its original limits, the area around these seven hills still forms the geographical heart of the city. According to the legend, the central hill of Palatine was where Rome was founded by Romulus on the site of older settlements. Today, the whole ridge is an archaeological site that houses the residence of Augustus, the Temple of Apollo and the Great Mother. The biggest of the seven hills is Esquiline Hill.
The ancient basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati is dedicated to four unnamed saints, all martyred. The name means “four crowned saints,” meaning they were martyrs.
The church was first built in the 6th century, but mostly destroyed in the 11th century. The rebuilt church was much smaller, preserving the original apse. In the 13th century, the Chapel of San Silvestro and a cloister were added – the former decorated with frescoes, and the latter with intricate inlaid stonework designs. The four saints to whom the church is dedicated are buried in tombs in the crypt.
As a 17th century Baroque church facing Piazza Navona, the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone stands in one of the busiest areas of the in Rome’s historic city center — yet it remains a peaceful sanctuary and renowned Roman church. History tells us that the Early Christian Saint Agnes was martyred on site here in the ancient stadium built by Emperor Domitian. The structure itself was built in 1652 and meant to act as a personal chapel for the family of Pope Innocent X, who lived in the palazzo just beside it. Today it remains a beautiful chapel, known for its frescoed ceilings, many fine sculptures and altars, and impressive marble work. It is also a shrine to Saint Agnes, with her skull still on display to visitors and her body buried in the catacombs. The church’s architecture is characterized by its massive dome, Corinthian columns, and Greek cross plan.
Like most of the many churches throughout Rome, Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin has an ancient past and a fascinating story. Built on an ancient worship site that was once a great temple of Hercules, it became under care of the Byzantine Papacy. Its name “Cosmedin” is the Greek word for “beautiful decoration.”
The beautiful decorations remain — with its unique characteristics including a pre-Roman crypt, a massive bell tower, marble inlaid floors, architecture and designed by the Cosmati brothers, a beautiful altar with a rare 8th century mosaic, and frescoed walls.
The famous ‘Mouth of Truth’ or Bocca della Verità can be found in the portico of the church. The face of an unknown man or god is believed to be part of an ancient Roman temple, and is said to have once functioned as a lie detector — as it would bite off the hand of a man who did not speak the truth.
The Palazzo di Montecitorio is the seat of the Chamber of Deputies, the house of Italy’s parliament. It was completed under Pope Innocent X in 1650, designed by Bernini and afterwards expanded by Carlo Fontana. It was the pope's vision to house the Pontifical Curia here, but the building ended up serving a variety of functions over the years until it became the seat of the Chamber of Deputies later on. Although the look of the building has changed over the years and it got a makeover in the Art Nouveau style in the early 20th century, the clock tower, column, window sills and the baroque Bernini façade remain the same.
A newer addition is the long salon, where informal political discussions and agreements take place, leading to it being referred to as the informal center of Italian politics. The salon’s name, Transatlantico, refers to a construction company from Palermo.
This stunning basilica is dedicated the Christian martyrs and has been a staple in this Italian community since the late 1500s. Visitors who journey to the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli will find a remarkable interior designed by Michelangelo and a near perfect example of Roman architecture. The church is also home to a historic sun dial that predicted the exact date of Easter each year and compete with the meridian built by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in Bologna.
This popular religious journey into Assisi is the perfect way for travelers to escape the city of Rome and explore outside the urban center. The two-hour drive is scenic and takes travelers through the rolling hills of Umbria.
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