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Visiting Rome for the First Time? Here's What to See and Do


Central Rome in all its glory at sunset
Hi, I'm Rebecca!

Rebecca’s first visit to Italy was a coup de foudre and her affection for Il Bel Paese has only grown over almost 30 years of living here, during which time she has mastered the art of navigating the sampietrini cobblestones in heels but has yet to come away from a plate of bucatini all’amatriciana with an unsullied blouse. She covers Italy travel, culture, and cuisine for a number of print and online publications.

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Hi, I'm Rebecca!

Rebecca’s first visit to Italy was a coup de foudre and her affection for Il Bel Paese has only grown over almost 30 years of living here, during which time she has mastered the art of navigating the sampietrini cobblestones in heels but has yet to come away from a plate of bucatini all’amatriciana with an unsullied blouse. She covers Italy travel, culture, and cuisine for a number of print and online publications.

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The Eternal City dazzles with ancient ruins, a wealth of art and architecture, and lively historic squares. But Rome can also overwhelm first-time visitors with its vast array of must-see monuments, endless local restaurants, and expanse of atmospheric Italian neighborhoods. If you want to check off as many highlights as possible during your time in Italy’s capital city but aren’t sure where to begin, here are our recommendations for how to make the most of your first trip to Rome.

Start with the city’s blockbusters

Visitors explore the Colosseum. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Plan ahead to bypass the long lines.

Rome is home to two of the most famous and visited monuments in the world: the Colosseum and Vatican Museums. Kick off your visit by crossing these two headliners off your list, but book in advance to avoid wasting hours waiting in long lines to enter.

Depending on your schedule (and stamina), you can opt for a skip-the-line express tour of each site to cover the ancient Roman amphitheater or Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in just a couple of hours. Or, take a deeper dive with more extended tours that include the Colosseum (above and below ground), Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill in Rome’s ancient quarter or the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica and Square.

Skip the line in Rome

Delve into the historic center

Travelers wander through a square in Rome's historic center. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Tour on foot or on wheels.

The heart of Rome is its attraction-dense historic center, where you’ll find A-list sights from the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon to Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori. Toss out the map and guidebook and stroll through the centro storico with a guide who can bring these emblematic monuments and squares to life.

Cover more ground in less time by hopping on board a Vespa, a vintage Fiat 500, an Ape Calessino (tuk-tuk), an e-bike, or even a Segway to zip from square to square around this sprawling district. Otherwise, combine walking with wheels on a classic hop-on, hop-off bus tour.

Admire Rome’s beauty

The Spanish Steps in summer. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Visit the chic Piazza di Spagna shopping district.

Piazza di Spagna beckons with two show-stopping attractions that, together, embody the culture and high life that have earned Rome the name The Great Beauty. The first is the monumental marble staircase known as the Spanish Steps, one of the most photographed landmarks in the city (keep in mind that you can walk and pose on the steps but can’t sit or picnic on them).

The second is the many luxury fashion boutiques that line the square and nearby Via Condotti, sporting iconic names in Italian haute couture like Armani, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, and Prada.

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Explore the neighborhoods

Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Immerse yourself in local Italian life.

Rome offers more than just world-famous landmarks and museums. This historic city is a patchwork of unique neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character, dining options, shopping scenes, and cityscape.

Take a guided walking tour to discover the charms of bohemian Trastevere’s cobbled lanes and squares, browse the vintage shops and independent boutiques in the chic Monti area, or learn about the history that stretches from ancient Rome to WWII in the former Jewish Ghetto. Many of these quarters are ideal for a food tour that encompasses local markets, landmark delis, bakeries, and restaurants.

Related: 8 Must-See Rome Neighborhoods and How to Visit

Browse the markets

Market day in a Roman square. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

When in Rome, shop like the Romans do.

Rome has a proud culinary tradition, and its outdoor food markets are the centers of community life. Rub elbows with the locals and see what’s in season with a morning walk through stalls bursting with fresh produce, artisan cheeses, cold cuts, and other specialties in Campo de’ Fiori or the mercati in Trastevere, Testaccio, or Trionfale.

Foodies can opt for a home cooking experience that begins with a market stroll to select ingredients and ends with a hands-on lesson and informal meal in the kitchen of a passionate local cook and host.

Browse nighttime tours

Venture beneath the city

A tour beneath the ancient city. | Photo Credit: Tara Van Der Linden Photo / Shutterstock

Discover ancient villas, catacombs, and other underground treasures.

Rome is often described as a lasagna, a rich layering of historical eras that still exist beneath the city streets—if you know where to look. Ancient history buffs can explore buried Roman ruins like the Domus Aurea (Nero’s “Golden Palace”), Domus Romana at Palazzo Valentini, or the Stadium of Domitian beneath today’s Piazza Navona.

Other spectacular underground sites include the underground churches beneath San Clemente and Rome’s many crypts and catacombs.

Take a walking tour

See Rome in her best light

Glimpses of Rome's long history can be found around every corner. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Stretch your sightseeing from dawn to dusk.

Most visitors to Rome head to the main sights during the midday hours, but Romans know that their city is at its finest in the soft light of early morning or the golden rays of sunset. If you choose early entry or after-hour tours, not only can you extend your sightseeing day to the max (plus enjoy the added benefits of fewer crowds and cooler temperatures), but you’ll also be able to admire the city when it's most photogenic.

Experience the peaceful atmosphere of the Vatican at dawn, the la dolce vita vibe of the historic center at dusk, and the timeless romance of the Colosseum by moonlight.

Get out of town

Cyclists explore the sights around Rome. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator

Make Rome your jumping-off point to travel the region.

Rome’s delights aren’t confined to its urban center. Just outside the city walls, you can bike along the ancient Appian Way in the Parco dell’Appia Antica, head to the Frascati wine country in Castelli Romani for a winery tour and tasting, see where popes have summered for centuries at Castel Gandolfo, or visit the garden at Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este in Tivoli.

And transportation doesn’t have to be complicated when heading outside of Rome. Hop on a train and meet your guide directly at your destination for a tour, or opt for a day trip that includes transportation from central Rome.

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See all Rome tours
6,788 tours & tickets
Things to do in Rome
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Things to Do in Rome This Fall
Things to Do in Rome This Fall