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  1. Woman in Rome
    Photograph: Shutterstock
  2. Rome‘s Colosseum
    Photograph: Shutterstock
  3. Vatican Museum, Rome
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11 unmissable attractions in Rome

Take a look at the best of the best attractions in Rome, from magnificent churches and ancient ruins to world-famous artworks

Written by
Time Out contributors
Contributors
Alex Floyd-Douglass
&
Jennifer Banful
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Rome sells itself; we all know that. An unmissable attraction in Rome is about as unmissable as you are going to find, and this famous old city is packed with iconic spots that most cities would give their right arm for. Okay, cities don’t have arms, but you get the point. The Eternal City stands head and shoulders above most for historical and cultural might, and the best attractions in Rome are seriously impressive.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Rome can’t possibly deliver on all its hype. Well, prepare yourself because it hits all the notes and then some. It has world-beating restaurants, fabulous bars, genre-defining galleries and all the history you could hope for. These are the most essential attractions in Rome, your ultimate Eternal City bucket list.

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Best Rome attractions

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

The Colosseum is a monument of epic proportions dating from AD 72. Stories of gory battles between gladiators, slaves, prisoners and wild animals have emerged from this Flavian amphitheatre with a seating capacity of over 50,000 people; nowhere in the world was there a larger or more glorious setting for mass slaughter. This is a necessary pilgrimage for history buffs and the ideal starting point to take in the Roman remains of the city: the jaw-dropping Forum, the Domus Aurea and the Pantheon.

Where? Piazza del Colosseo. 

Time Out tip: The best time to visit the Colosseum is early in the morning, or if you prefer, in the late afternoon before closing to avoid the sun. 

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

The oldest of Rome’s fora, the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), was once the centre of state ceremony, commerce, law and bureaucracy. Above the Colosseum to the west (and visited on a cumulative ticket with the Foro Romano and the Colosseum) is Rome’s birthplace, the Palatine. Later, the Palatine became the home of the movers and shakers of both the Republic and the Empire as sumptuous palaces were built. The choice of location was understandable: the Palatine overlooks the Foro Romano yet is a comfortable distance from the disturbances and riff-raff down in the valley.

Where is it? Via della Salara Vecchia.

Time Out tip? Since there are no gift shops or cafes on the grounds, it's the perfect excuse to pay a visit to the vegan-friendly Grezzo Raw Chocolate serving a delectable range of chocolate desserts. 

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  • Museums
  • Art and design

If you met the Pope, what would you say? Well, you probably won't, but you can join an audience with him on Wednesday mornings. If the weather is fine, he'll hold this general audience in St Peter's Square; otherwise, it takes place in the Sala Nervi audience hall. Expect to join clusters of Catholic devotees and flocks of camera-waving tourists. Afterwards, you can take the opportunity to wander through St Peter's Basilica, admire Michelangelo's stunning frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and visit the famous 'Belvedere Apollo' and 'Laocoön' at the Museo Pio-Clementino among the Vatican Museums.

Where is it? Vatican City - close to San Pietro Metro. 

Time Out tip: Look out for the moving tapestry Supper at  Emmaus. 

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

The Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient building in Rome. Hadrian built it in AD 119-128 as a temple to the 12 most critical classical deities. The simplicity of the building’s exterior remains largely unchanged, and it retains its original Roman bronze doors. Inside, the Pantheon’s glory lies in the dimensions, which follow the rules written by the top Roman architect Vitruvius. The diameter of the hemispherical dome is equal to the height of the whole building; it could potentially accommodate a perfect sphere. At the centre of the dome is the oculus, a circular hole 9 metres (30 feet) in diameter, the only light source and a symbolic link between the temple and the heavens. 

Where is it? Piazza della Rotonda.

Time Out tip: When in Rome, avoid queues by arriving early. On the way, you can stop for a traditional breakfast at the very classic and quaint Caffe Novecento.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design

Even from a distance, it’s pretty clear that the Museum of the Arts of the 21st Century (or MAXXI, for short) is a celebration of all things modern. Designed by cutting-edge architecture firm Zaha Hadid and opened in 2009, the MAXXI is a dramatic, impression-leaving work of art. Not forgetting, of course, that it houses the works of some of Italy’s most exciting and boundary-pushing contemporary artists.

Where is it? Via Guido Reni.

Time Out tip: If you have a bit of an eye for architecture, don't miss out on Environments by Women Artists, running until October. 

  • Museums
  • History

This is the city that has nurtured the art of Michelangelo. Housed in twin palaces on opposite sides of his piazza del Campidoglio are the Capitoline Museums, the oldest public gallery in the world, having opened their collection to the public in 1734. Once inside, you can admire breathtaking paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Caravaggio and beautifully crafted statues by the Baroque genius Bernini. While on the art trail, don't miss the Borghese Gallery and the Palazzo Barberini Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica.

Time Out tip: If required, remember to print out your tickets ready for entry.

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  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites

Perk yourself up with a cupful of miraculous water in the church of Santa Maria in Via. In 1286 a stone bearing an image of the Virgin’s face floated to the surface of a well, over which this church was later built, and locals and visitors alike are still going crazy for the water.

Where is it? Largo Chigi. 

Time Out tip: Just moments away from Fontana de Trevi, we recommend visiting both sites before rounding off the afternoon with a woodfire pizza at Piccolo Buco.

  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials

Worm your way through the heaving crowds of its tiny piazza, and you’ll see why everyone makes such a fuss about the Fontana di Trevi. Basking in the glow of constant camera flashes, Trevi’s gleaming travertine looks stark beneath the roaring washes of water. The sculpture itself is a fantastical scene of conch-blowing tritons, sharp rocks and flimsy trees, all bursting from in front of the wall of the Palazzo Poli. No one knows why people started chucking coins in the water, but you probably should – it gets drained once a week, with all the money going to the Italian Red Cross. Our top tip? Avoid the crowds by going as late or early in the day as possible.

Where is it? Piazza di Trevi.

Time Out tip: With such a high footfall, the fountain can be a hotspot for pickpockets, so take extra care when requesting a photo from a fellow tourist. To be on the safe side, we'd recommend investing in a selfie stick.

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  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials

Piazza di Spagna takes its name from the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican but is chiefly celebrated for the elegant cascade of stairs down from the church of Trinità dei Monti. Known in Italian as the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, the English Grand Tourists referred to them as the Spanish Steps. At the foot of the stairs is a delightful boat-shaped fountain, the Barcaccia; it’s ingeniously sunk below ground level to compensate for the low pressure of the delicious Acqua Vergine that feeds it. The steps are best seen first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive.

Where is it? Piazza di Spagna.

Time Out tip: After climbing all those steps a scoop of gelato from Venchi is a must.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

Overlooking Piazza del Popolo, and now an integral part of the Villa Borghese, is one of the oldest gardens in Rome: the Pincio. The Pinci family commissioned the first gardens here in the fourth century. Pincio is best known for its view of the Vatican at sunset, with the dome of St Peter’s silhouetted in gold. The paved area behind the viewpoint is popular with cyclists (bikes can be hired nearby) and skaters. To the southeast of the Pincio is the Casina Valadier, now a pricey restaurant with a to-die-for view.

Where is it? Viale Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Time Out tip: Once you're at the top, don't rush off after your snaps, instead take in the gorgeous views – you could even set up a picnic spot in the gardens of Villa Borghese for a relaxing afternoon. Just make sure it's a shaded area and always have an umbrella to hand. Trust us. 

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As Rome is one of the best cities to get lost in, I took a little detour on my way to Euroma 2, swapping the swarms of busy shoppers for the tranquil footpaths, sweeping views and manicured hedgerows of  Central Lake Park. Situated in the EUR neighbourhood in southern Rome EUR neighbourhood, the lake is a great place to come if you want to avoid the overcrowded centre, relax, and bask in the gorgeous summer sun for a few hours. Originally designed by Marcello Piacentini and completed in 1959 ahead of the 1960 Rome Olympics, this manmade lake is a prime spot for cycling, canoeing, and, of course, a picnic. 

Where is it? Laghetto dell’E.U.R

Time Out tip: Find a place to perch under the cherry blossoms facing the water, grab a frisbee, and you're all set.

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Jennifer Banful
Affiliate Content Writer

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