The time has almost come where we can travel internationally again which excites any travel enthusiast. If your first post-covid trip is Rome, thene here are the top things you should do in Rome in 2021 and beyond!
Pro Tip: If you are planning a trip to Rome, bookmark this page in your browser and our dedicated page on Rome. This way you can easily circle back to them while planning.
Top 22 Things to do in Rome for 2021
As we approach what feels like a possible return of travel it is exciting to start to dream and plan our next trips. Rome is an incredible destination due to its long history and the fact that there are TONS of things to do in the Eternal City. This list features the best things to do in Rome in order of importance. Everything from museums to visit, restaurants to eat at, tours to take, and generally things to do.
22. Visit View Points
As you may already know, Rome was built on seven hills. That said, today the city has expanded from its original boundaries and you will find many opportunities to see the skyline from above. Here are some of the cities best viewpoints. My favorite, il Pincio, is part of Villa Borghese and can be seen in the above photo.
- Belvedere Gianicolo
- Giardino degli Arance
- Villa Borghese
- Villa Doria Pamphili
- Park of the Aqueducts
21. Row Boats in Villa Borghese
Villa Borghese was the literal residence of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. He developed it into a sort of secret garden with peacocks and exotic animals running around.
It is home to the Borghese Galleria, the cardinal’s former residence, and other points of interest you’ll want to check out. You can walk around the park and soak in the sites but I definitely recommend renting a rowboat in Laghetto di Villa Borghese on a nice day. Check out the article below to find out how.
- Il Pincio (mentioned above)
- Museo e Galleria Borghese
- Laghetto di Villa Borghese & Temple of Asclepius
- Bioparco di Roma (Zoo – great for kids)
- Casina Valadier – great to see from outside or dinner
- Valle dei Cani (Dog Valley for dog lovers – I used to take my dog here daily)
Some great reads for more things to do in Villa Borghese
Address: Villa Borghese
20. Palazzo Altemps (Museo Nationale Romano)
Address: Piazza di Sant’Apollinare, 46
Entrance Cost: 7€ + cost of the exhibition if one exists (normally 3€ extra)
It’s true that most Rome experts wouldn’t credit this museum so high on the list. I try to enter this museum as often as possible and it is really all about two statues. The first is the Galata Ludovisi. In English, it’s named the Ludovisi Gaul or also the Galatian Suicide. An amazing story that you’ll have to read about below.
The second is the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus which is an absolutely breathtaking relief. Words really can’t describe it.
This, like most museums in Rome, is a private collection that was eventually handed over to the state. This would either be by gifting it or lack of heirs. Some important works are:
- Throne with the Birth of Venus
- Ludovisi Dionysus
- Ludovisi Throne
- The Suicidal Gual
- Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus
- The Courtyard
You’ll undoubtedly gain by taking a tour of this particular museum but also could make a list of the top things to see and do some phone research. The Suicidal Gaul is my favorite ancient statue in Rome and the story is extremely romantic in a twisted way.
Top Colosseum Tours
19. Eat Gnocchi con Sugo di Carne on Thursday (Only Thursday)
Potato Pasta | Lunch or Dinner | Meat Sauce | Only Thursday
One of the most wonderful and beautiful things about Rome and Italy as a whole is the tradition. Imagine there were rules for everything you eat and drank but they were wonderful rules that everyone loved and adored. Rules based on tradition and culture. That is how Rome works and Gnocchi are no different – they are only served on Thursdays at traditional trattoria in Rome. Why?
Gnocchi are prepared from potato and other heavy ingredients. A big plate of gnocchi with sugo di carne (tomato meat sauce) is more than filling. Thursday can be an exciting day for this reason. You can probably get a plate of gnocchi at a tavola calda or pizza place that serves daily dishes for 5€ or so on a paper plate or in a to go container. Boy are they delicious too. Wait, why only on Thursday?
In Rome, Friday was a day to eat fish. This was because meat was prohibited on Fridays as penance on the day of Christ’s death. Not just during lent but all year around. Fish can be delicious but often light and digested quickly. Romans figured they’d eat Gnocchi on Thursday to fill up in preparation of Friday’s lighter meal. Then, they’d eat la Trippa on Saturday to balance the scales since it is also a heavier meal.
Regardless, if you want to be traditional in a good way, order Gnocchi con Sugo di Carne while in Rome on a Thursday.
Where to get the best Gnocchi in Rome:
- Osteria di Monteverde (Take a taxi – super local)
- Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto (If you feel like you’re at the wrong place, you’re in the right place)
18. 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 St. 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 in Piazza Navona
Address: Piazza Navona
17. Join a Food Tour
Food tours are all the craze in Europe because they are the best way to sample a variety of local dishes with a local. We entered the food tour arena in 2013 and have focused much of our efforts on the ever-changing and evolving Trastevere neighborhood. Our tour starts in Campo de Fiori and migrates across the Ponte Sisto into Trastevere which is the perfect mixture of walking and eating.
You visit many stops, up to 6, and at and drink along the way. Doing a food tour is a MUST for anyone visiting Rome, Florence, or Venice. See our Trastevere “Locals” Food Tour in Rome and also take a peek at our other food tours across Europe.
16. Check out the Capitoline Museum
The Capitoline Museum or Musei Capitolini is definitely the full package. The theme of the museum is more ancient history which is befitting as it sits on the outer edge of the Roman Forum with one of the best views.
The Capitoline Museum is a three building complex comprised of:
- Palazzo Senatorio – built in the 12th century and updated by Michelangelo himself. Overlooks the forum.
- Palazzo dei Conservatori – built in the 16th century and also redesigned by Michelangelo
- Palazzo Nuovo – built in the 17th century directly across from Palazzo Conservatori with identical exterior design
Michelangelo had a massive effect on the exterior appeal of this museum complex. He is responsible for the layout of these museums and also the stairs leading up to Piazza Campidoglio which are named la Cordonata.
Address: Piazza del Campidoglio, 1
Admission Cost: 11.50€ + Exhibition fee (3€ to 4€ extra which varies)
15. Eat L’Amatriciana
Pasta | Pork Based | Slightly Spicy | Primo
Like any good rivalry, Rome is split between l’amatriciana and la carbonara. Both plates are delicious and it would be impossible to decide which one is actually better. I can’t take sides but I do tend to make l’amatriciana more – so it is my #1 favorite dish in Rome.
Like many of the best Italian dishes, this Roman favorite is made with simple ingredients. It is often made at home with la passata which is a quick tomato sauce base but you couldn’t do that in a restaurant without Italians noticing. In reality, you should use cherry tomatoes (pomodori ciliegini), fresh chilli peppers (peperoncino), pork cheek (gaunciale), and most importantly pecorino cheese (pecorino romano).
For the pasta, you should use a spaghetti or bucatini (spaghetti in the form of a straw). This is yet another rivalry between Amatriciana purists – spaghetti or bucatini? Bucatini is arguably the original recipe which I prefer as well but in Rome this dish could be served with spaghetti or even maniche corte which are about half as long as rigatoni and use more commonly in Rome.
This is a 100% must eat plate.
Where to get the best Amatriciana in Rome:
14. Visit the Orange Groves & The Keyhole
This is one of those magical little places in Rome and a total treat. You’ll also find this on the free things to do in Rome as it is less a full park and more of a viewpoint.
The park, which is pretty small at 24000 sq ft or 7800 meters, sits on top of Rome’s famed Aventine Hill and is just a few steps from Rome’s Keyhole. It was designed in 1932 and is attached to the Basilica of Santa Sabina.
It is a very peaceful viewpoint and you won’t find many visitors. You’ll have to rent some sort of transport like bikes or take a taxi. It sits high atop the Aventine hill which puts some strain on your legs. Don’t forget to walk over to the keyhole!
Address: Piazza Pietro D’Illiria
13. Walk Across 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
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
11. 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
10. Shop Near the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna are synonimous with high-end shopping due the high concentration of luxury stores nearby. 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.
Why do we call them 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
9. Head Down to Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast
Getting to Pompeii from Rome, takes just over 2.5 hours by car about 3.5 hours by train which makes it an accessibly day trip from Rome.
If you take the train you’ll spend approximately 65€ round trip on trains + transportation two and from the train stations. Then there is your admission ticket to enter Pompeii which will run you about 10€. You’re at about 75€ per person and you are going to walk into Pompeii, which is literally a city, without a guide.
For as low as 145€ per person you can join a Pompeii from Rome day trip that includes a stop in Sorrento which is basically the Amalfi Coast. That includes transportation to and from Pompeii, a guided tour of Pompeii (2 hrs), and a stop in Sorrento. All of this is done by bus (coach) and there is an attendant the entire time.
I highly recommend heading to Pompeii while in Rome and our day trip is of great value! Check out our Rome to Pompeii Day Trip with Sorrento!
8. Throw Some Coins in 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
Address: Piazza di Trevi
7. Try a Jewish Artichoke in the Jewish Ghetto
Artichoke | Antipasto | Vegetarian
Carciofi alla Giudia
Carcioffi alla Giudia translates to Jewish Artichokes. Artichokes thrive in Rome’s climate so they are very popular in the city with two main recipes. Alla Giudia (above) and alla Romana (Jewish style and Roman style). Don’t worry, you are aloud to prefer either without fear of reprisal but the Jewish ones are almost always chosen as the victor.
Jewish artichokes are seasoned with salt and pepper and then fried twice in olive oil. Yes, twice – which is how they get their super crispy (crocante in Italian) texture. They are also fried in olive oil which is a high quality oil. Different oils have different boiling points so they really aren’t Jewish artichokes unless they are fried in olive oil twice.
Carciofi alla Romana
Roman style artichokes are a world of difference. The only thing that is the same is that they are artichokes. They preparation and cook time is more intensive and the outcome is different. These artichokes are most often served cold but cooked for up to 30 minutes.They are seasoned with lemon, mint, garlic, olive oil and black pepper.
This may sound a bit eccentric and possibly politically incorrect but I would stick to religion on this one. If the restaurant is run by catholics, I would order Roman style artichokes. If it is Jewish run, I would order the Jewish style artichokes without question. How do you know who runs the restaurant without asking an awkward question? Well, the Jewish Ghetto is still occupied mostly by Jews.
Where to get the best Jewish Artichoke in Rome: The Jewish Ghetto.
6. 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
5. Visit the Exclusive Vatican Gardens
This is a super cool experience that is very exclusive. The Vatican Gardens are a beautiful and well-manicured set of gardens and fountains inside the Vatican City. You’d never know you were in the bustling city of Rome or the crowded Vatican Museums.
Getting into these gardens is more difficult than you’d think. Luckily, we offer tours and other ways to visit them! It’s a 57 acres complex complete with its own train station.
Address: Vatican Gardens
4. See 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
- Top 13 Things to See and Do Near the Pantheon
Address: Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6
3. Visit The Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese)
Address: Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5
Admission Cost: 15€ (can fluctuate based on exhibitions)
The Borghese Gallery is a small, unassuming museum that is Rome’s most enjoyable museum in my humble opinion for a few reasons.
First, they limit the number of visitors who can enter at a time to 360 visitors. Second, they limit the time you can stay inside to 2 hours which is the perfect amount of time to visit this gallery. For a detailed list of art and descriptions, read our article on the top 15 things to see at the Borghese Gallery.
Lastly, and definitely not least, they have arguably one of the greatest collections of Baroque artwork per square foot on Earth. The Borghese Gallery is home to at least ten high-profile works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
You will also find paintings by masters such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, and more. The Borghese Gallery is my absolute favorite tour to lead myself because I really enjoy a good story or fable. Baroque art itself is passionate and you can see that in the sharp movements.
Also, each painting or sculpture tells a story and like I said, I like a good story.
Check out our Private Borghese “Story Tellers” Tour. It is a shorter tour and reasonably priced for a private experience. Just your group and the guide will make this the highlight of your art experience in Rome.
- Visiting the Borghese Gallery: Everything You Need to Know
- Top 15 Things to See at the Borghese Gallery with Full Descriptions
Popular Tours from Rome
2. Explore the Colosseum Undergrounds
The Colosseum is the modern-day symbol of Rome and one of the most long-for attractions in all of the world. It is utterly incredible that the monument is still standing almost 2000 years after construction.
The city of Rome takes great pride in the Colosseum and that shows in how much access is available to restricted areas. General admission to the Colosseum may get you past the line, but you’ll only have access to the 1st and 2nd levels not including the arena floor.
We have tours and experiences that visit the Underground tunnels below the Colosseum which were used by Gladiators and showmen of sorts. There are a variety of tours that visit different areas of the Colosseum and include restricted access to the Undergrounds.
1. Visit the Vatican Before it Opens
The Vatican Museums is a bucket-list item for Rome and the world. It is an amazing collection of Renaissance artwork culminating in the Sistine Chapel. Actually, it culminates with the larger-than-life St. Peter’s Basilica which would mean the Sistine Chapel is a stop on the way to the Basilica?
Yes, it is that incredible that one of the world’s most sought after works of art is a stop on the way to the world’s greatest church.
Needless to say, the Vatican Museum gets crowded and while admission will be limited during covid, it will ultimately fill back up once things normalize.
We highly recommend joining our Privileged Entrance Vatican tour or Pre-Opening Vatican tour which enter the Vatican 60 minutes and 90 minutes early respectively. You can see our full list of Vatican tours here to compare.