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Things to Do in Rome

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Parco del Colle Oppio
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With its prime location overlooking the mighty Colosseum, the Parco del Colle Oppio (Colle Oppio Park) is often seen as a mere walkway to Rome’s star attraction, but the hillside park is also a fascinating archeological site in its own right. Famously one of the seven hills of ancient Rome, Colle Oppio was once the site of the Baths of Trajan and Titus, as well as the Domus Aurea, (Nero’s Villa) and is dotted with intriguing ruins.

Laid out by Raffaele De Vico in 1928, the 11-hectare park was once embellished with marble statues, grand fountains and rose gardens, but today maintains a somewhat unkept façade. It’s none-the-less a popular lookout point, offering great views of the Colosseum and the Palatine, and hosts live music, entertainment and art exhibitions during the summer months.

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Basilica di Santa Maria in Via Lata
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According to locals, the Biblical icon Saint Paul spent two years on house arrest living in the darkened crypt beneath Santa Maria in via Lata. While some claim it was Saint Peter or Luke or even Saint John who once called this church home, it’s clear that no matter who lived in the shadows of this stunning building’s lower levels, Santa Maria is a seriously holy structure.

Religion pilgrims make their way each year to the statue of the Virgin Advocate, which is said to have performed many miracles. Travelers can wander the nave and explore the chapels of Santa Maria, where alabaster, marble and lapis relief work, as well as stunning frescos and old canvas painting decorate the walls.

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Villa Medici
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The Medici family is most closely associated with Florence, but this Villa Medici (not far from the Villa Borghese) has been in Rome since 1576.

The villa was purchased by Cardinal Ferdinando I de’ Medici before it was finished, making it the first Medici property in Rome. The property had been a vineyard for quite awhile before construction began, and the villa eventually was surrounded by more manicured gardens and groves of trees.

The Villa Medici is the home of the French Academy in Rome since 1803, when Napoleon had obtained the villa. To this day, the villa is still an art academy to which artists are invited to live and work for a period of a year. There are regular art exhibitions and shows, as well as music performances and open-air cinema events. The events schedule changes regularly.

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Rome Opera House (Teatro dell'Opera di Roma)
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Rome’s opera house, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, is a 19th-century theater in the city center and the Italian capital’s main opera house.

The original theater opened in 1880 with the name Teatro Costanzi. It was later renamed the Teatro Reale dell’Opera and underwent some minor structural changes in the 1920s, and renamed again in 1946 as the Teatro dell’Opera. The theater was largely remodeled in the late 1950s to the structure that stands today.

The theater has five tiers of seating in a semicircle around the floor seating and facing the stage. Three of the tiers have theater boxes, while the uppermost two tiers have several graduated rows of seating. Like many great theaters, it is bedecked in red velvet and accented with gold. The current seating capacity is 1,600 people.

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More Things to Do in Rome

Domus Romane of Palazzo Valentini (Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini)

Domus Romane of Palazzo Valentini (Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini)

Palazzo Valentini, built in the 16th century, is the seat of Rome's Provincial Administration. When archaeologists were renovating the building in 2005, they discovered ruins of ancient villas underneath the building. What they uncovered was the Domus Romane, a 20,000 square foot complex with two 4th century AD patrician villas and the remains of a private thermal bath situated next to Trajan's Forum in the heart of Imperial Rome. The 16th-century builders filled in the site and unwittingly preserved the ruins. After years of excavations, the site is now open to the public.

The site is well-preserved, and visitors can still see staircases, frescoes, beautiful mosaics, and inlaid marble floors. Using multimedia, the ruins come alive with sophisticated light shows that recreate what the villas would have looked like. Visitors can get a glimpse into ancient Roman life by touring the Domus Romane.

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Rome Olympic Stadium (Stadio Olimpico)

Rome Olympic Stadium (Stadio Olimpico)

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Home to two of Rome’s world-famous soccer (calcio) clubs, Stadio Olimpico is located in the Foro Italico to the north of the city center. The teams that play here are AS Roma and SS Lazio, renowned for their intense rivalry as they both play in the Serie A top division of Italian football. Internationally capped players and household names currently playing for these teams include defender Ashley Cole for Roma and midfielder Lucas Biglia for Lazio. Football is a national obsession in Italy and home matches between these two teams are the greatest highlights of the Roman soccer year; tickets sell out quickly and emotions run high at their derbies. Generally, however, Italian football fans behave pretty well at most soccer matches, with a background of good-natured bantering and chanting. Matches last 90 minutes in two halves, with the season running from August to May. Lazio players dress in sky blue and white, the Roma boys play in a gold and dark red strip with white shorts.

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Basilica di Santa Francesca Romana

Basilica di Santa Francesca Romana

Built in the second half of the 10th century, this impressive church that was once known as Santa Maria Nova and later reconstructed with the help of Pope Honorius III after it fell to near ruins. The impressive interior was designed in classic style, with a single nave and several side chapels. Decorative mosaics cover the rectangular nave and the private confessional is decked out in stunning marble.

In addition to offering a quiet place for prayer and contemplation (as well as some remarkable ancient architecture), travelers can find the famed historic icon, Madonna Glycophilousa, which dates back to the 5th century, as well as the Tomb of Pope Gregory XI in the stunning halls of this famous Roman church.

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Porta Maggiore

Porta Maggiore

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Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani)

Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani)

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The popes were among the very first royalty to open their vast art collections to public viewing. Pope Julius II (1443 - 1513) began collecting sculpture during the Renaissance and, ever since, most popes have taken an active interest in art and in commissioning the best artists of their time.

Today you can view the Vatican's incredible collection while touring the so-called 'Vatican Museums', a huge complex of galleries and museums showcasing painting, sculpture, frescoes, tapestries and classical antiquities including Roman, Greek and Egyptian. There are, of course, also collections of religious art, papal portraits and, less obviously, carriages and automobiles.

Any visit to the Vatican should also include the famous Sistine Chapel and Raphael's Rooms. Leave plenty of time for winding your way through the museums and the narrow connecting corridors and staircases.

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Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina)

Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina)

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Part of its fame is directly related to the papacy: The Sistine Chapel is where cardinals gather to elect a new pope (known as the Papal Conclave).

The primary reason for its fame is pure art: the ceiling fresco painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. The huge fresco depicts the creation of the world and - despite the often shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in the Sistine Chapel - packs a powerful artistic punch (heightened by a recent renovation here that brought back the true color and depth of the original work).

Michelangelo returned to the Sistine Chapel between 1537 & 1541 to paint the magnificent 'Last Judgment' fresco on the altar wall. Few people leave a Sistine Chapel tour without feeling moved by Michelangelo's work.

The chapel itself is named after Pope Sixtus IV), who renovated an old chapel and commissioned the first artworks here. The chapel contains important works by Renaissance heavyweights such as Raphael, Bernini, and Botticelli.

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St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro)

St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro)

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St Peter's Basilica was built between 1506 and 1590, when the dome was finally completed. It is on the site of the tomb of St. Peter; his relics were finally found and authenticated in the middle of the 20th century. Before the current grand basilica, a 4th-century church built by Emperor Constantine stood here.

This is a church like no other. It is huge and full of significant artworks and tombs, including that of Pope John Paul II. One of the most beautiful pieces is the marble Pieta by Michelangelo just inside the door on the right. It is now behind bullet proof glass after being attacked by an art-hating lunatic in 1972.

If you can time your visit with a Mass, you will see the most important hierarchy of the Catholic Church come to worship in their red robes and hats. Climbing to the top of the dome gives a wonderful view over the piazza and Bernini's enclosing colonnade below, and across Rome.

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Vatican City (Citta del Vaticano)

Vatican City (Citta del Vaticano)

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Vatican City was created in 1929 and run by the Pope (who is the supreme monarch!). The official population is a little over 800 and it covers an area of 110 acres (44 hectares). Within the walls of the city are St Peter's Basilica, St Peter's Square, the Vatican Museums, the residence of the Pope and offices of the Catholic Church.

Being a separate state, the Vatican has its own postage stamps, and the official language is Latin (as well as Italian). It has its own bank and the world's only ATM with instructions in Latin! Although it uses the euro, the Vatican does issue its own coins.

The economy revolves around tourism, printing, mosaics and manufacturing uniforms (who knew!). There are two forces for law and order; one is the Gendarmerie, who keep order, the other is the Swiss Guard (notable for their crazy yellow, blue and red uniforms) the Pope's personal bodyguard since 1506. All 134 members are indeed from Switzerland.

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Hadrian's Villa (Villa Adriana) and Villa d'Este in Tivoli

Hadrian's Villa (Villa Adriana) and Villa d'Este in Tivoli

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Villa d'Este, in the town of Tivoli east of Rome, is a beautiful garden and palace complex that's listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The villa was built in 1560 and was the vision of Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (who narrowly failed to become a pope). The villa is famous for its magnificent garden of grottoes, fountains, nymphs and water sculpture. Cardinal d'Este died in 1572. By then the work on the garden and the interior painting of the villa was mostly complete.

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Raphael's Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello)

Raphael's Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello)

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Raphael's Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) are four interconnected rooms in the Vatican which have frescoes painted by the renowned Renaissance artist Raphael (1483 - 1520). These late Renaissance frescoes are the second-most famous in the Vatican's collection, only behind the fresco adorning the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

Raphael's themes for his frescoes were religion and politics; he often swapped portraits of the incumbent pope for the faces of important figures. Originally commissioned by Pope Julius II in the early 1500s, the frescoes were patronized by Pope Leo X after Julius died in 1513. When Raphael also died in 1520, artists from his studio finished the paintings.

The 'Segnatura' room was the first to be decorated and contains Raphael's most famous painting, The School of Athens. The other rooms are known as 'Constantine', 'Heliodorus' and 'Fire in the Borgo'.

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St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro)

St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro)

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St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro) is the grand colonnaded area in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. A visually imposing entry to this great church, the semi-circular colonnades on either side designed by the Roman Baroque sculptor Bernini, seem to reach out and enfold you in their arms. Within the colonnade lies the security-check for entry to St. Peter's and, on the other side, the Vatican post office, because the Vatican is its own municipality with its own stamps.

During times such as the death of a pope or election of a new one, and at Easter and Christmas, the piazza is jammed with pilgrims from all over the world.

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Rome Civitavecchia Cruise Port (Civitavecchia Terminal Crociere)

Rome Civitavecchia Cruise Port (Civitavecchia Terminal Crociere)

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If your Mediterranean cruise stops off in Rome, Civitavecchia will be your port of call. Only 80km (50 miles) north-west of Rome, this busy cruise port is geared to ship travel and is your gateway to many historic sights of the Eternal City, where most shore visitors grab the opportunity to take a Rome excursion.

Getting to Rome from Civitavecchia requires about an hour's journey by train. The train station is a 10-minute walk from the port, or a short shuttle ride (alight at the Michelangelo Fort). Trains run half-hourly to Rome’s Termini station, taking around 75 minutes or under an hour if you catch an express. You could also organize a private transfer or shore excursion tour including return transport to Civitavecchia.

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Herculaneum Archaeological Park (Parco Archeologico di Ercolano)

Herculaneum Archaeological Park (Parco Archeologico di Ercolano)

293 Tours and Activities

Most visitors to Italy have Pompeii on their must-see list, and with good reason. But Pompeii isn’t the only important archaeological site in the area outside of Naples - and some consider the smaller excavation at Herculaneum to be more interesting and a better visitor experience. Luckily, you don’t have to choose - you can visit both easily in a day.

Herculaneum, like Pompeii, was buried by the 79 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Unlike Pompeii, however, Herculaneum was actually more preserved than destroyed by the blast. This means the buildings are better preserved, including many that still have a second storey you can see, giving visitors a more accurate feel for what the city looked like before the eruption. The hot ash that covered Herculaneum and killed the people who couldn’t escape was deep enough that it covered two-storey buildings, sealed frescoes and mosaics on their walls, and even encased food supplies in household kitchens.

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Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino International Airport (FCO)

Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino International Airport (FCO)

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Fiumicino International Airport is the largest and busiest in Italy, serving nearly 40 million passengers a year. Situated in Fiumicino just outside of Rome, it is the major airport serving the Rome area. It is also known as Leonardo da Vinci airport, the inventor behind some of the earliest helicopters and aircraft.

Fiumicino airport opened in 1961 to replace the smaller Ciampino airport for most major international flights. Today more than 160 airlines serving 150 destinations depart from the air travel hub. Domestic flights to other parts of Italy do depart from here, though the majority of shorter flights still leave from Ciampino. Terminals were upgraded in the 1990s and 2000s and the airport continues to grow and expand. It serves as the hub for Alitalia, Italy’s biggest airline, and is the eighth busiest airport in Europe.

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