Travel Guide Visiting Rome
Rome. Considered the center of the world for centuries, it’s the birthplace of Caesar, home to the Catholic Church, full of ruins, history, and some delicious food!
Rome is like no place else on earth. You’ll walk down the street and see modern buildings next to ruins dating back thousands of years.
Visiting Rome is like stepping back in time and it’s a wonderful experience that will show you the history of the modern world while giving you some of the best food you’ve ever had in your life (I particularly love Trastevere for food).
Everyone comes through Rome! Backpacking here is popular with travelers on Eurotrips; budget travelers make it their base; history buffs come here to explore the ruins, couples visit Rome on honeymoons, and the glam set take part in the high life here!
Rome is a city filled with life, beauty, and charm.
This budget travel guide to Rome can help you plan your trip, navigate the endless amount of sites and attractions, learn how to get around in the chaos, and save money in one of the more expensive cities in Italy!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Rome
1. Wander the Colosseum
2. The Forum and Palatine Hill
3. See Vatican City
4. See the Trevi Fountain
5. Explore Trastevere
Other Things to See and Do in Rome
1. Overload on churches
Rome has a ton of churches. Wander into each as you pass by and take in the great art, sculptures, decorations, and stained glass. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, dating back to 440, is one of the most impressive. It’s covered in 5th-century mosaics which display 36 scenes from the Old Testament. Other noteworthy churches include the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, one of the few Gothic churches in Rome and well known for its deep blue vaulted ceiling, and San Giovanni in Laterano, the official cathedral of Rome which apparently is home to the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul.
2. Explore Ostia Antica
The ruins of the ancient Rome port of Ostia Antica are well worth a visit. About 2,000 years ago, this place was a bustling commercial center and home for 60,000 people. Now you can wander the ruins of the docks, apartments, mansions, baths, and even warehouses. You should plan at least a half day for this trip. To get there, take the Metro Line B to Magliana, and take the Ostia Lido train from there.
3. Enter the Pantheon
The Pantheon looks today much like it did nearly 2,000 years ago when it was first a temple before it became a church. Hadrian built it over Agrippa’s earlier temple, and it has been around since AD 125. As soon as you walk through the heavy bronze doors and across the marble floors, you’ll get an appreciation for the largest unreinforced dome ever built. It’s by far one of the best-preserved buildings in the world. Better yet, entry is free.
4. Hang out on the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are a long and grand staircase in Rome to the Piazza di Spagna at the base, with Trinità dei Monti looming at the top. The stairway was built in the 1720s. The Spanish steps have become a social hub for both tourists and locals to hang out and people watch. This place is also a popular place for pub crawls too, so watch your step. Really, it’s just a place to hang out and soak up the Rome experience!
5. Check out the art museums
If you enjoy art museums, you are in for a treat. There are a ton of great ones here, several of which are some of the highest ranking in the world. The Galleria Naionale d’Arte Moderna is a good starting point as it is home to several Italian masterpieces. The Galleria Borghese is also excellent and is a garden villa filled with Bernini sculptures and artwork from Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, and more. This collection was originally commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. For something different, check out MAXXI, Rome’s first national museum devoted entirely to contemporary art.
6. Partake in La Settimana dei Beni Culturali
This is a 10-day event that occurs every May. During this time, all governmentally owned and operated landmarks, museums, and archeological sites offer free admission. There aren’t any other deals better than this! (Be forewarned, these sites can get really crowded!)
7. See a show
Aside from beautiful auditorium complexes, Rome often hosts world-class operas and concerts performed by international musicians. The Olympic Stadium is a hotspot for summer concerts and the Auditorium in Viale Pietro de Coubertin and at Parco della Musica holds events year round.
8. Visit Castel Sant’Angelo
This structure was built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian at the end of the 1st-century, C.E. During the course of history, it has also served as a papal residence and a prison. As you may know from The Da Vinci Code, there’s a passageway here that runs into the Vatican. It was designed as an escape passage for the Pope in case of an emergency, and it was actually used in 1527 by Pope Clement VII as a refuge from sieges in the city. You can visit the castle and look around the exhibits. There are seven levels in total, and the Terrace of the Angel has some amazing city views. Admission is €7 ($7.85 USD) and it’s open daily (except Mondays) from 9am-7:30pm.
9. Explore the Catacombs
Rome has three major sets of catacombs that are open to the public – the Catacombs of Praetextatus, the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, and the Catacombs of San Callisto. Some of the underground crypts are adorned with sculptures and frescoes. San Callisto is the most popular, with a labyrinth of galleries extending about 12 miles (19 kilometers) long and 20 meters deep. Check out the crypt of nine popes and some of the early Christian paintings.
10. Take a cooking class or food tour
If you’re a foodie, take a cooking class or food walk. I mean the food in Italy is amazing. Food tours are a great way to eat and learn about something about what is central to Italian culture: food. I like Take Walks as the offer some my favorite cooking classes. They also do excellent food tours. Their tours/classes are about 3.5 hours each for a maximum number of 14 people. Prices will vary depending on what you want to cook and how many meals, but expect to spend at least €80 ($88 USD).
Eating Europe’s Rome tours are also excellent. Try their Trastevere Street Eats tour.
11. Take a walking tour
Walking tours are a wonderful way to learn about a city. There are lot of free tours, but I recommend Rome’s Ultimate Free Walking Tour or New Rome Free Tours. If you’re looking for a paid guided tour, again use Take Walks. They have specific tours in the city that focus on art, food, and history and they are pretty affordable too.
12. See the Roman Appian Way
This ancient road connects Rome all the way to Brindisi. It was finished in 312 BC, and it’s so well preserved you can see the ruts in the stones left by chariots. There are lots of interesting highlights along the way, including the Catacombs of San Callisto and a huge mausoleum for Cecilia Metell, a Roman noblewoman. You can take the 118 bus from the Piramide metro station all the way to the Catacombs of San Callisto stop, and you’ll already be on the road. A lot of people hire a bike to pedal the path, but I think walking is the best way to go. You’ll be following in the footsteps of the ancient Romans!
13. Hang out in the Park of the Aqueducts
This large, green park is home to some ancient aqueducts that once carried millions of tons of water into the city from the mountains. Although the park is located on the outskirts of the city, it’s a really great place to go and just hang out with the locals. Pack a lunch and a bottle of wine, and enjoy a lazy afternoon in the shade of some 2,000-year-old monuments.
14. Visit Piazza Navona
This is one of the most beautiful public spaces in Rome, and is home to Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi with its stunning statues representing the great rivers of the world. The entire oval-shaped piazza is lined with restaurants, gelaterias, shops, and the Museo di Roma. Nearby Via della Pace is one of the city’s most photogenic streets. Pull up a chair at a sidewalk cafe, and take it all in.
15. Wander around Centro Storico
Spending an afternoon getting lost in the maze of cobblestone streets in Centro Storico is one of the best free things you can do in Rome. Wind your way through the narrow alleyways and streets, check out the churches filled with Baroque art, pause for a coffee, and do some shopping at the many boutiques.
16. Climb Gianicolo
Gianicolo (or Janiculum) hill has the best viewpoint over all of Rome. It’s a famous spot for young lovers and tourists, but that doesn’t disrupt the panoramic views over the city. From here you can see some of the city’s best attractions, including Palazzo Venezia and the Spanish Steps. It’s beautiful at dusk, but if you come in the morning, prepare for the cannon firing at noon! It has been happening daily since 1904.
When to Go to Rome
Winter is from October to March, and this is the off-season in Rome. But the city is never quiet. Ever. Although there will be fewer travelers around, you can still expect a bustle of activity everywhere you go. Temperatures rarely drop below 39°F (4°C).
Peak season is during the summer, from June to September. You’ll be constantly competing for views at Rome’s main tourist attractions, but the weather is also fantastic during these months (although sometimes unbearably hot). In August, temperatures can be as high as 89°F (32°C) per day.
I recommend visiting during the shoulder season, which is from April to May. It’s slightly less chaotic than the summer months, and the temperature is a pleasant 64°F (18°C) most days.
How to Stay Safe in Rome
Rome is a very safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo or even as a solo female traveler. But petty theft is most definitely a problem here. Pickpockets are very active around Rome’s main attractions such as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Square.
It’s also not uncommon to get ripped off in this city. You should never buy tickets from unofficial ticket offices. If you are approached by someone selling skip-the-line tickets, ignore them. If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones, so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Rome!