Rome’s iconic monument is a thrilling site. The 50,000-seater Colosseum was ancient Rome’s most feared arena and is today one of Italy’s top tourist attractions. Queues are inevitable but you can usually avoid them by buying your ticket at the nearby Palatine Hill.
Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
Rome’s most famous ruins are what is left of the Roman Forum, the social, political and commercial hub of the Roman Republic. Highlights include: the Tempio di Antonino e Faustina, built by the senate in AD 141; the Curia, once the meeting place of the Roman senate; and the Arco di Settimo Severo, considered one of Italy’s major triumphal arches
From the Forum, you can climb the Palatine. Ancient Rome’s poshest neighbourhood, this is where Romulus is said to have founded the city in 753 BC. Most of the Palatine is covered by the ruins of Emperor Domitian’s vast 1st-century complex.
The world’s smallest sovereign state, the Vatican is the jealous guardian of one of the world’s greatest artistic and architectural patrimonies. Covering just 0.44 sq km, the Vatican is all that’s left of the Papal States. For more than a thousand years, the Papal States encompassed Rome and much of central Italy, but after Italian unification in 1861 the pope was forced to give up his territorial possessions.
St Peter’s Basilica & Square
Italy’s biggest, richest, and most spectacular church, St Peter’s Basilica towers over the grandiose St Peter’s Sq. Built over the spot where St Peter was buried, the first basilica was consecrated by Constantine in the 4th century. St Peter’s Sq was designed by Bernini and laid out in the 17th century. The vast piazza is bound by two semicircular colonnades, each comprising four rows of Doric columns, and in its centre stands an obelisk brought to Rome by Caligula from Heliopolis (in ancient Egypt). Dress rules and security are stringently enforced at the basilica – no shorts, miniskirts or sleeveless tops.
Boasting one of the world’s great art collections, the Vatican Museums are housed in the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. Every inch of this vast 5.5-hectare complex is crammed with art, and you’ll need several hours just for the highlights. There are four colour-coded itineraries, each of which finishes at the Sistine Chapel, so if you want you can walk straight there, although bear in mind that you can’t backtrack once you’re there. Audioguides are available.
Piazza del Campidoglio & Musei Capitolini
The lowest of Rome’s seven hills, the Campidoglio (Capitoline) was the spiritual heart of the Roman Republic. At its summit were the city’s two most important temples: one dedicated to Juno Moneta and another to Jupiter Capitolinus, where Brutus is said to have hidden after assassinating Caesar.
A striking 2000-year-old temple, now church, the Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda) is the best-preserved of ancient Rome’s great monuments.
A few blocks west of the Pantheon, Piazza Navona (Corso del Rinascimento) is Rome’s great baroque centrepiece. Built over the ruins of the 1st-century Stadio di Domiziano (Domitian’s Stadium), it is focused on Bernini’s 1651 masterpiece, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).
Campo de’ Fiori
Dubbed ‘il Campo’, Campo de’ Fiori (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II), is a major focus of Roman life: by day it hosts a noisy market, and at night it becomes a vast open-air pub. For centuries it was the site of public executions, and it was here that the philosophising monk Giordano Bruno (the hooded figure in Ettore Ferrari’s sinister statue) was burned at the stake in 1600.
Once the estate of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, this park, known as Villa Borghese (Porta Pinciana), is a good spot for a breath of fresh air. Bike hire is available at various points.
Immortalised by Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita, the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi; Piazza di Trevi; Barberini) was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732 and depicts Neptune’s chariot being led by Tritons, with sea horses representing the moods of the sea.
Piazza di Spagna & Spanish Steps
A hang-out for both flirting adolescents and footsore tourists, Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) have been a magnet for foreigners since the 18th century.
Piazza del Popolo & Around
One of Rome’s landmark squares, Piazza del Popolo (Flaminio) was laid out in 1538 at the point of convergence of three roads – Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso and Via del Babuino.