Our cruise left from Rome, so we decided to spend 3 days exploring the city before we got on the ship. The goal was to see as much as possible, so our days were pretty busy. There's so much to see and do that it can be hard to narrow down your list. If you find yourself in Rome for 2 or 3 days, here at the top 9 attractions that you absolutely must see...especially as a first time visitor to the city! And want to know the best part?! 4 of them are FREE!
Originally built as a mausoleum, it was eventually turned into a military fortress and castle that many popes used as a refuge during sieges in the city and to escape disease. It's connected to the Vatican via a secret passage and is most known for the Archangel Michael statue on top. It's a bit confusing to navigate, but since it's a "one way in, one way out" place you don't have to be too worried. It's definitely worth checking out for the amazing panoramic views it offers.
Things to Know: Not necessary to buy tickets beforehand.
This is the largest amphitheater ever built and could hold up to 80,000. And yes, it was where indeed where the infamous gladiator fights took place. It was severely damage by earthquakes and the rubble was stolen and used to construct many of city's other famous attractions.
Things to Know: You definitely should buy tickets in advance for this and I would highly, highly, highly recommend taking a guided tour of this. You will get so much more out of it.
It's the world's largest unenforced concrete dome and the ocular center of the building is what it's famous for. This was originally used as a Pagan temple, but was later turned into a church and is one of the most well preserved ancient buildings because it's been continually used. It used to be covered in bronze, but Pope Urban VIII stole the bronze to use in Castel Sant'Angelo and in St. Peter's Basilica.
Things to Know: You can just go in and walk around, so there's no need for tickets or a tour.
Known for the Fountain of the Four Rivers, this fountain was created by Bernini and represents the 4 major rivers of the major continents that the pope ruled over in 1651. There are two smaller fountains located on either end of the piazza that pay homage to Neptune. Sadly they ran out of money, so one of the fountains wasn't completely finished but it's not easy to tell.
Things to Know: This is in a piazza with lots of little cafes and shops, so I would recommend grabbing lunch at a cafe and taking in the beauty of the fountains. No tickets or tour guide necessary.
This set of 135 stairs was constructed to connected the church at the top to the embassy at the bottom. At the bottom, there is a fountain called "Fountain of the Ugly Boat" based on boat supposed brought to shore on the Tiber River. The movie Roman Holiday made the Spanish Steps famous in America.
Things to Know: The view is very different at the top and bottom, so make sure you climb up and down the steps. There are tons of little cafes on the steps that offer picturesque views of the steps. Just make sure you don't sit and eat on the steps because that is forbidden. You don't need tickets or a guide.
This is the city's largest fountain and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It honors the god of water and marks the location of the ancient aqua ducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. There is a tradition to throw a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand for good luck. And just in case you were wondering, it was estimated that $1.5 million US dollars was thrown into the fountain...and no you can't take the coins because it's illegal.
Things to Know: This is free and best enjoyed first thing in the morning with some gelato before it gets super crowded.
Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica
This is where the Pope resides and governs the Roman Catholic Church. It's the world's smallest country based on population and size, but the Vatican Museum is the world's largest museum. It houses a collection of about 70,000 art pieces although less than half the collection is on display. St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are definitely places you cannot miss!
Things to know: Whether you're in a tour or not, you'll have to wait in line to get in. The difference is that the wait in the tour line is significantly shorter, you can get in before it opens and that there are places you can only see if you're on a tour. There will be a ton of people especially if you visit in the summer and there is a dress code. Also be sure to verify the hours before you book tickets (which if you aren't doing a tour then at least get your tickets before hand) because it does close because of religious events.
Villa Borghese and the Gallery
Cardinal Borghese, an avid art collector, constructed this villa as place to hold his vast (and sometimes stolen) art collection and provide a place to entertain honored guests. It holds the world's largest art collection and an extensive set of gardens, which are open to the public. There is so much art, history and betrayal (literally and figuratively) under this roof it's hard to imagine.
Things to Know: Tickets to the gallery must be purchased in advance for a specific time and there are strict guidelines on what you can bring into the museum. The gardens are free and ready for your enjoyment, so be sure to visit them when you're there.
If you're looking for something a bit off the beaten path, this villa is for you. Commissioned for a banker and treasurer for the pope, this "suburban" villa located just off the Tiber River is best known for the Raphael frescoes. (A suburban style villa is U shaped and not facing directly to the street.) The surrounding area is very charming with lots of vine covered buildings housing cafes and shops.
Things to Know: You don't need to buy tickets in advance or a have guide, but they do have slightly odd hours. Just be sure to check the hours in advance.
Here's a bonus tip: If you're looking for any tour, I would highly recommend checking out Walks of Italy. They offer tours throughout Italy and we had the best experiences. The tour guides were excellent and they were well organized. (No, this wasn't a sponsored post. The tours were so enjoyable that I just wanted to share them with you.)
Have you been to Rome before? What are the things you recommend people do when they visit? Let me know in the comments below.