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Rome tourist attractions

Must-visit Rome sights

When most people think of Rome they imagine sights and monuments: the Colosseum, Roman Forum, the Vatican and St Peter’s – see-before-you-die sights that are reason enough for a visit; yet among Rome’s tourist attractions, the city is much more than an open-air museum.

  1. Roman Forum
  2. Piazza Navona
  3. Villa Borghese
  4. Castel Sant’Angelo
  5. The Colosseum
  6. St Peter’s
  7. Vatican Museums
  8. The Pantheon

There’s no more monumental city in the world than Rome and it is simply the most fascinating city in Italy – and arguably the world. With its vibrant street life, culture and food, the city has a modern and irresistible edge. As a historic place, Rome is special enough, but as a contemporary European capital, it is unique.

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1. Roman Forum

Once the heart of the Mediterranean world, the Roman Forum is still an alluring place to wander or tour through today, even if the glories of ancient Rome are a little harder to glimpse. Across the site, which stretches two hectares, include the three remaining Corinthian columns to the Temple of Castor and Pollux (484BC), and the courtyard with its centred fountain for the House of the Vestal Virgins. You’ll need a little imagination to appreciate the place, but amidst the ruins and rubble, a guided tour of the Forum is simply one of the best things to do in Rome.

Best for: Ancient Rome

While you’re there: A €12 joint ticket with Colosseum and Palatine is valid for two days.

2. Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is the city’s most famous square as far as Rome’s attractions go. Lined with cafes and restaurants, street artists and pigeons, the best time to really appreciate the square is at night, when it’s at its most vibrant: hang around the fountains to watch the buskers or enjoy the scene with a pricey drink at one of the bars.

Best for: Watching the world go by.

While you’re there: Visit the Sant’Agnese in Agone church on the piazza’s western side.

3. Villa Borghese

During the Renaissance era, the market gardens and olive groves north of the city walls were the summer estates of Rome’s wealthy elite. Villa Borghese was the summer playground of the Borghese family and today is a public park and home to two of Rome’s best museums: the Galleria Borghese and the Villa Giulia. With its vast green expanses, this is about as near you can get to peace in the city centre - for Rome holidayswhere you can take a slower pace, a visit to the Villa Borghese should make the list.

Best for: Seeing a greener side to Rome.

While you’re there: Rent a bike or opt for a two- or four-person chariot ride.

4. Castel Sant’Angelo

As Rome tourist attractions go, the Castel Sant’Angelo sure covers a lot of ground, its great circular hulk marking the edge of the Vatican. Originally built by Emperor Hadrian to serve as his own mausoleum, different parts of the building has certainly been put to good use over the centuries: a refuge from the Vatican, a small palace and, as per the Pope Paul III’s instructions, renovated rooms with gilded ceilings. Elsewhere, rooms hold swords, armour, guns and the like, while below are dungeons and storerooms which can be glimpsed from the spiralling ramp, testament to the castle’s grisly past as the city’s most notorious Renaissance prison. And if that wasn’t enough, you can view a wad of Rome attractions from its high-and-mighty terrace.

Best for:Seeing Rome’s tumultuous history.

While you’re there: Have lunch at the bar for a drink and a sandwich.

5. The Colosseum

This is Rome sightseeing at its finest: and no wonder. Rome’s most awe-inspiring ancient monument is an enormous amphitheatre that still stands relatively intact - pretty good going for a 2000-year-old building. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, it could seat 60,000 and have 10,000 standing spectators, who all came along to watch the savage games take place in the arena. Take a guided tour and visit early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the crowds.

Best for:Seeing one of the great ancient wonders of the world.

While you’re there: Head to nearby Monti or San Giovanni areas for places to eat.

6. St Peter’s

The Basilica di San Pietro, better known to many as St Peter’s, is the principal shrine of the Catholic Church, built on the site of St Peter’s tomb, and worked on by the greatest Italian architects of the 16th and 17th centuries. Inside the basilica are graceful pieces by Michelangelo, a breathtaking (and ginormous) dome and striking sculptures. Take an entrance off the south aisle and view the treasury, Grottoes (where the majority of Popes are buried) and the underground necropolis, which contains a row of Roman tombs.

Best for:Somewhere to spend the best part of a day.

While you’re there: Take the lift (or climb the 551 steps) to the rooftop.

7. Vatican Museums

If you’ve found any of Rome’s other museums disappointing, the Vatican is probably the reason why: so much booty from the city’s history has ended up here. The complex holds a number of museums on very diverse subjects – displays of classical statuary, Renaissance painting, Etruscan relics and Egyptian artefacts, not to mention the furnishings and decoration of the building itself. There’s no point in trying to see everything, at least not on one visit, and the only features you really shouldn’t miss are the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.

Best for:Possibly the world’s best set of museums.

While you’re there: Try to avoid Mondays, Saturdays and around Catholic holidays; or buy your ticket in advance online and go to the front of the queue.

8. The Pantheon

One of the Centro Storico’s busiest sights, the Pantheon is the most complete ancient Roman structure in the city. Originally built as a temple around 27BC and then rebuilt in 125AD, it went onto become a church. Apart from the sheer size of the place (its diameter is equal to its height, at 43m, the main object to see here is the tomb of Raphael, between the second and third chapels on the left.

Best for: Things to do in Rome on a budget - it’s free to enter.

While you’re there:Stop off for a scoop of gelato, Rome’s favourite traditional snack.

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