Heading to Rome but unsure which museums to visit or what to see beyond the Colosseum? Things guide will detail which historical monuments and attractions are “must-see” and what makes them so famous. It will even lead to more detailed articles on each of Rome’s most famous buildings!
Top 13 Monuments & Attractions
13. Trajan’s Column
Trajan’s column is an incredible monument and surviving piece of propaganda from the 2nd century AD. The column has an incredible history and plays a very important role in in our ability to put together ancient timelines.
The column, built in approximately 113 AD, honors Emperor Trajan for his conquests in Dacia or modern-day Romania. It is located in Trajan’s Forum, also dedicated to the late emperor, and is 114 feet tall (35 meters).
It is an incredible feat of engineering by none other than Apollodorus of Damascus who is one of the most influential architects of all time. He can take credit for two of the best-preserved buildings in Rome. The structure is built of 20 massive Carrara marble cylinders stacked on top of a base.
The column is wrapped with a helical frieze that winds 23 times around the column and features 2662 figures telling 155 stories or scenes. Ok, so a massive column survived this long with some stories on it. What’s the big deal?
The column is hollowed out in the center and there is a staircase winding all the way to the top. On top, you’ll find a statue of St. Peter, but you better believe that the figure of Trajan’s sat on top of it until it was removed by the church and replaced with St. Peter.
The symbolism goes further. Trajan’s Forum is home to Trajan’s market which was a multi-level market that even featured luxury apartments in the center. Yep, Romans wanted the same material stuff we do! Prior to the market being built there was a massive hill here. How high? You guessed right, 114 feet tall. Trajan builds a massive phalic symbol the size of the hill he moved with him on top. Amazing.
Address: Via dei Fori Imperiali
12. The Mouth of Truth
In Italian, the Mouth of Truth is known as la Bocca della Verità and the translation is quite literal. The disc is well over 2000 years old. Its first home was most likely the Temple of Hercules where it probably acted as a drain cover for runoff water.
Now it exists in the Santa Maria Cosmedian Church which is across the street from the Temple of Hercules. The figure of Oceanus is on the front of this 3000 lb (1300kg) disc. Oceanus was/is a sea titan god. You can also find him acting as the centerpiece of the Trevi Fountain.
Today, visitors pay 2€ to put their hand in the mouth of truth and take a picture. There is a bit of a queue but it lasts only moments. The legend is that if you put your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, the mouth will bite your handoff.
The legend was immortalized in the film Roman Holiday in 1953 when Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s characters visited this monument.
While there, make sure you step into the Church of Santa Maria Comedian. The word Cosmedian derives from a Greek word which means pure. Inside the church, you will find an important Christian relic; the skull of St. Valentine.
Address: Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18
Top Colosseum Tours
11. The Tiber Island
Tiber Island is an amazing modern-day site. two bridges connect either bank of Rome to this small island which is home to one of Rome’s primary hospitals. Locals say that if you are not born on Tiber Island you are not truly Roman.
It is common to hear locals use being born on this island to add credibility to an argument. Maybe two Romans are debating about a historical or traditional cuisine and one says, “Listen, I was born on Tiber Island.” That can often be enough to end the argument.
Legend has it that the body of Rome’s last king prior to the republic, Tarquinius Superbus, was thrown into the Tiber river in 510 BC and eventually sentiment built up around him to form the island. This is almost definitely not true but I love a good legend.
In the summer you will see bars open on Tiber Island and even a mini-movie theatre. It is one of my favorite places to sit down and have a drink with friends and loved ones in the hot summer. Often the cool water flowing around the island can drop the temperatures a degree or two.
Address: Tiber Island
10. Belvedere of Gianicolo Hill
The word Belvedere (Bell – vey – dare – ā) literally translates to a beautiful view and that is exactly what you’ll get. There are many amazing natural viewpoints in Rome but Gianicolo hill beats them all.
Located on the west side of Rome’s center, Gianicolo Hill is a favorite for all Romans. Take a loved one up there for a viewpoint date or go with friends and make good conversation. There is normally a stand that sells crappy sandwiches and overpriced beer you can buy from and enjoy the view over a drink and bite to eat.
If you are visiting Rome, you can take a taxi up here at night and walk back down into the center if you like. It is a really cool and local thing to do when visiting the city.
Address: Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi
9. The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna should be pictured next to the definition of high-end shopping. Italy’s most famous shopping street, via Condotti, is directly opposite of the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna.
The Italian name for these steps is La Scalanita di Trinita di Monti which means the Steps of Three Tiers. A very straightforward name that describes their architectural form. Simply but beautifully, three tiers of steps.
How did they come to be known as the Spanish Steps? The Spanish Embassy is located about a hundred meters south of the steps in Piazza di Spagna or The Square of Spain.
There is a lot to do and see in this area. Be sure to read our other articles with facts, history and what to see in the area:
Address: Piazza di Spagna
8. Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is a very unique piazza and a must-visit site. It is completely pedestrian and lined with restaurants and cafes. You can stroll through on foot to admire its three fountains with its famed central Four River Fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Bernini’s fountain is framed by the breathtaking church of Saint Agnus in Agony which was designed by a father & son Rainaldi team along with Francesco Borromini. There are wife’s tales about the relationship of this church and Bernini’s fountain which were undoubtedly created out of the bitter rivalry between Borromini and Bernini.
Bernini was chosen for a commission of Palazzo Barberini over Borromini which was likely to be where this rivalry derived. The story is that Bernini’s statue representing the Nile river is holding its hand out towards the church as if bracing for its fall due to architectural incompetence.
It is very unlikely that this was the hidden meaning. The fountain was built years before the church was begun.
- Rome in a Day Tour Including Piazza Navona
- 5 of the Best Restaurants Near Piazza Navona: Look No Further!
- How to do a DIY Rome Walking Tour
- Top 12 Things to See and Do in Piazza Navona
Address: Piazza Navona
7. The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is among the world’s most magnificent fountains whose home is in Rome, Italy. The fountain is completely free to visit since it is outdoors. The enormous masterpiece is situated on the back of Palazzo Polli right in the center of Rome.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was originally going to design the fountain in the 17th century, but nothing ever came of it. A hundred years later Nicola Salvi got the job by losing a competition for best drawing. Yes, Salvi lost to a Florentine Alessandro Galli.
Romans were unhappy about a Florentine getting the commission and eventually Salvi was “won” the job out of fear of the mob.
Construction began in 1732 and was completed in 1762 eleven years after Salvi’s death. The job was handed to an architect Giuseppe Pannini who worked with multiple sculptors to finish the project.
The fountain’s facade tells a gripping story of its history. Read more about it and tips on visiting in our related articles:
- Visiting the Trevi Fountain: Facts, History & What Not to Miss
- Why is the Trevi Fountain so Famous?
- Best Restaurants Near the Trevi Fountain (Coming Soon)
Address: Piazza di Trevi
Popular Rome Tours
6. The Palatine Hill
The Palatine Hill is one of the two most important hills of Roman next to the Capitoline Hill. It is the location that the legend of Romulus and Remus derives and the foundation of Rome. If the hill is befitting enough for Romulus, the first King of Rome, it is befitting of the Roman Emporers to follow and Roman elite.
The admission to this famed archeological site is included in your ticket to the Colosseum and is a must-visit site. You can walk on mosaic floors that Augustus himself would have walked on. There are substantial remains to the palatial palaces along with incredible views of the Circus Maximus and Roman Forum. You’ll also see a piece of an aqueduct if you turn left once entering.
Address: Palatine Hill
5. The Pantheon
The Pantheon was one of Rome’s greatest structures and the best-preserved structure from antiquity without argument. The building survives today as a Catholic Church, Santa Maris degli Angeli e dei Martiri, but was originaly a pagan temple.
The name may mean “Of All The Gods” but there is much speculation around that. Construction began at the beginning of the 2nd century under the rule of Emperor Hadrian and inaugurated about ten years after.
The facade reads, “Marcus Agrippa, Son of Lucius, Built This in His 3rd Time Console.” Marcus Agrippa did in fact build the original structure, but it was like comparing a barn to the Eiffel Tower.
The original structure, commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, burnt down twice due to its wood construction. Hadrian commissioned the current structure out of stone which is why it has passed the test of time.
While it is unknown who the original architect is, it is a common belief that the only architect talented enough to construct the interior dome would have been Apollodorus of Damascus.
See our related articles for more information on visiting, getting inside, and other facts and history:
- The Pantheon: History, Facts & Everything You Need to Know
- Best Places to Eat Near the Pantheon
- Rome in a Day Tour Including the Pantheon
Address: Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6
4. The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is the best look into the world of the ancient Romans. A sophisticated and cultured society that brought the world many steps closer to modernization and brought many cultures together.
Yes, Rome was a fighting nation, but the reason they grew as a society was their ability to politic and include conquered nations after defeat. You could join Rome and prosper or continue to rebel and they’d sow salt into your land and pillage your towns.
The Roman Forum was home to many of Rome’s major temples and places of commerce. It was also home to the famed Senate house where politicians would decide the fate of Rome.
Today, its a well preserved archeological site that is down-right cool. You can’t skip it and you’re going to want to see it close up. Here are some things you shouldn’t miss:
- Arch of Titus
- Basilica of Constantine
- Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
- The Curia (Senate House)
- Temple of Saturn
- House of the Vestal Virgins
- Temple of Venus
- The Eternal Flame of Rome
- Arch of Septimius Severus
You can read more about these sites as well as get info on visiting, tickets, opening hours and other content from our related articles
3. The Catacombs of Domitilla
The Ancient Romans were pagans. During different periods there were different customs but the burial was rarely used in Roman times. The pagans burned their dead and it was mostly for sanitation reasons. Christians were more of a crazy cult at the time, 2nd century A.D., and pagans thought it silly they wanted to burry people.
They didn’t think much of it and told them if they wanted to do it, it had to happen outside the walls of Rome. That is how the catacombs came to be used from the 2nd century onward.
Yes, you can visit the catacombs in Rome in almost any month of the year. You can visit by yourself or with a tour of the catacombs. Tours make it a bit easier as they get you to and from the catacombs and also a few other points of interest like the Appian Way and the Capuchin Bone Crypts. Check out our Rome catacomb tours.
For more information on tickets, how to visit, opening hours and more check out our related articles:
Address: Via delle Sette Chiese 282
2. The Basilica of St. Peter
The Basilica of St. Peter, which is part of the Vatican City, and is the most important church ever constructed under Christiandom. When Jesus met Simon according to Matthew he said, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The name Peter actually means stone and the grave of St. Peter, according to Catholic dogma, is underneath the central altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. When Jesus changed Simon’s named and explained that he was the rock that he’d build his church, I don’t think he literally meant using him as part of the foundation of a building.
That said, the Vatican doesn’t like taking chances. When they read that verse they built a church on top of Peter’s grave. It is much more complex of a story than that and definitely something to read more on.
Walking into the St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable moments of any person’s life regardless of religion.
The current church sits on part of the original foundation of the former Basilica of St. Peter built by Constantine in the 4th century. That Basilica lasted over a thousand years. The current structure broke ground in 1506 and was officially completed in 1627 but additions were added later.
You can read more about the history, facts, admissions, and more in our other articles:
- Guided Tour of St Peter’s Basilica and Dome
- St. Peter’s Basilica: Facts, History & What Not to Miss
- Michelangelo Does It Again: La Pietà
Address: Piazza San Pietro
Entrance Cost: Free to Enter. Climbing the dome of St. Peter costs 10€ with an elevator which is highly recommended.
1. The Colosseum
The Flavian Amphitheater, commonly known as the Colosseum, is one of the greatest achievements of antiquity. A stadium in the center of Rome that could seat between 45k – 80k spectators and feed their thirst for blood. The Colosseum was used to entertain the inhabitants of Rome. Sometimes games were state-sponsored or privately sponsored as a political or power play.
The Colosseum is in incredible shape for being an almost 2000-year-old building that has been pillaged and stripped for parts. Visiting the Colosseum is easy under normal circumstances with the exception of long lines. Your admission ticket also includes the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum which we have featured on this list.
There are different levels of access for the Colosseum from general admission to Underground and other restricted area access like the Arena Floor and Top Tiers. We definitely recommend a guided tour of the Colosseum and have options for any price-range. If you travel across the world to visit Rome, this is the epicenter of your trip!
For info on tickets, hours, tours, or historical facts on the Colosseum see our other articles on this amazing structure:
- The Best Colosseum Tours to Take and Why + Map
- Why Was the Colosseum Built?
- The Colosseum Games: What were Colosseum Gladiator Fights?
- Who Fought in the Colosseum?
- The Flooding of the Colosseum: Guide to Colosseum Naval Battles
Address: Piazza del Colosseum 1
Rome Geography & Facts
If you are headed to the Eternal City, you might as well know more about where it is.
- Rome is the Capital of Italy and the President normally takes resident in the city on the Palazzo Quirinale.
- History ties Rome being founded in 753 BC but this is a loose estimation
- Rome is 496 sq miles and home to between 3 and 4.3 million people making it the 93 largest city on our little planet.
- The Tiber River runs through Rome and has one island named the Tiber Island. The river empties into the Mediterranean Sea which is 21 miles (34 km) away.
- Rome is located in the region of Lazio which borders Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, and Campania.
I Want More Italy!
- If you want us to arrange the entertainment in Rome (and beyond!), contact our Trip Planning Team to coordinate an unforgettable Italian experience.
- Check out our YouTube video and step-by-step guide about how to do Rome in a Day. If you’d rather let us guide you, check out our Rome tours.
- Not sure where to stay in Rome? Read this guide!
- Follow our adventures in Italy on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Then, comment and tell us what you want us to cover next.