There are many incredible landmarks in Rome, and a lifetime and multiple trips won’t be enough to discover all that the Eternal City has to offer. This is a city with an incredibly long history; a millenary culture; a multitude of beautifully kept archeological sites; museums and art galleries; churches and so much more.
What if you have limited time in the city then? In that case, you will need to carefully select what you are going to see, and plan your trip accordingly in order to make sure that you waste no time in line to buy tickets to whichever attraction you are hoping to see (though many places are actually free to visit!).
Curious to know where to start exploring Rome? The continue reading, because I have selected the most famous landmarks in Rome for you – the ones you absolutely should not miss.
17 Unmissable Landmarks In Rome
Think of Rome, and the first place that will come to your mind is likely the Colosseum. This is one of the most famous landmarks in Rome – and for a good reason: it’s an impressive building.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the historic center of Rome, the Colosseum was built around 70-80 AD and when the city was at its peak splendor, it could hold up to 80000 people. A remarkable sight during the day, it’s simply marvelous at night, when it’s illuminated.
GOOD TO KNOW: If your flight lands in Ciampino Airport, grab a window seat and keep your eyes glued to the window as landing approaches as you may get to see the Colosseum from above!
Tickets to the Colosseum cost €16 + €2 for online bookings. Keep in mind that this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, and only a limited number of visitors is allowed each hour, so you are better off getting tickets in advance. In fact, I actually recommend doing a guided tour to make the most of it – just look for tours that also go to the arena floor, third tier and for a more in depth visit even the underground.
These are the best guided tours of the Colosseum:
- Colosseum and Forum Walking Tour – by far the most popular tour, it will also take you to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.
- Guided tour of the Colosseum – a fantastic in depth private tour.
- Skip The Line Colosseum Guided Tour – an in depth visit of the Colosseum.
- Skip The Line 3.5 Hours Colosseum And Rome Walking Tour – this is an expensive tour, but the most in depth one.
- Colosseum underground by night – night tours of the Colosseum are more of a private affair and highly recommended.
- Colosseum underground guided tour – this tour covers the same places inside the Colosseum as the above mentioned tour, but runs during the day.
Arch of Constantine
Right next to the Colosseum you will find one of the best known landmarks in Rome: The Arch of Constantine. This 21 meters structure with carvings representing the history of the city was built in 315 AD to celebrate Constantine’s victory during the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
A few steps away from the Arch of Constantine, the Roman Forum is one of the places to visit in Rome that you really can’t skip. At the time of the Republic, this was a place thriving with life – there was a market with food stalls, temples (still visible today) and the seat of the Senate. Once the Republic was replaced by the empire, food stalls were replaced with offices, a law court was created, and temples started being used for ceremonial purposes.
According to legend, the nearby Palatine Hill is the place where twins Romulus (the founder of the village which then became Rome) and Remus were brought up by a wolf. More accurately, the Palatine Hill is the area where the emperors and aristocrats of Rome used to live.
Tickets to visit the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill are included in the admission fee for the Colosseum, and literally all tours that go to one place also go to the others.
Baths of Caracalla
If you are looking to escape the crowds of tourists of the Colosseum, head to the Baths of Caracalla, a massive bathing complex built between AD 212 and 216/217, under emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla.
TIP: You may also want to visit the Terme di Diocleziano, Diocletian’s baths. It’s a massive site at the corner of which you’ll find the 16th century church of San Bernardo alle Terme, and Rome’s National Museum.
The Mouth of Truth
Not far from the Baths of Caracalla, La Bocca della Verità, or Mouth of Truth right by the entrance of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, is an interesting place to visit, made famous by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in the movie Roman Holiday. It actually is a 1st century manhole but in 1632 it was placed by the side of the church.
Legend says that if the mouth will bite off the hand of liars!
St. Peter’s Basilica
Though technically part of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica is typically mentioned among the landmarks in Rome. A place of undeniable beauty, the church is the most famous in Christendom and a masterpiece of Renaissance and Baroque art, with works of prominent Italian artists Bernini, Michelangelo (whose statue of Pietà you can see inside) and Vignola (who designed the cupola).
The Basilica – like all other churches in Italy – is free to visit. Yet, lines to walk in are so long that you may want to join a tour that will help you to skip the line and which will share interesting information about the church.
The following guided tours will take you to the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica.
- Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and Basilica – by far the most popular tour, it’s great value for money and an all-inclusive option.
- Skip The Line Vatican, Basilica and Chapel Small Group Tour – similar to the tour above, it’s more expensive because the group will be smaller.
- Best of Rome: Vatican and Colosseum pass – not a guided tour but an attraction pass to visit many attractions in town.
GOOD TO KNOW: You will need a separate ticket or tour to access St. Peter’s Basilica Dome.
TIP: Remember that you need to be dressed modestly to get inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Make sure your chest, shoulders and knees are covered.
Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel – close to St. Peter’s Basilica, and inside the Vatican – is named after Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1473 and 1481 and one of the many masterpieces of Michelangelo. The Vatican Museums have one of the most impressive art galleries in the world.
Visiting them is easier said than done as the lines to get in are the longest. I wholeheartedly recommend getting tickets in advance and in fact to join a guided tour to make the most of your visit. There are many options available online – these are some of the best:
- Skip The Line Tickets for Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s – one of the most inclusive options, and best reviewed ones.
- Vatican, St. Peter’s and Sistine Small Group Tour – slightly more expensive than the option above, for a smaller group.
Not far from St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the most iconic landmarks in Rome, Castel Sant’Angelo is a fortress that was built from 139 AD, initially meant to be Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum and eventually covering various uses – citadel, prison and shelter for popes (who could get there via the secret channels from the Vatican) in times of political unrest. The site was made even more popular when Dan Brown used it as one of the settings of his novel Angels and Demons.
The good news is that lines to get inside Castel Sant’Angelo aren’t nearly as bad as those for the Vatican or the Colosseum, but you may still want to optimize your time by getting a fast track ticket in advance. You can get Castel Sant’Angelo skip the line ticket here.
The Pantheon really is one of the things to see in Rome. Its construction was ordered by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD, and back then it was meant to be used as a temple, but in 609 AD it became a Catholic church. Famous for its Dome – thought to be one of the best preserved ancient buildings – the Pantheon houses the tombs of some notable Italians such as artist Raphael and King Victor Emmanuel II.
There is no admission fee, but you may want to get an audioguide to make the most of the building. It costs €7 and the visit lasts about 35 minutes. You can get yours here.
For more information about the Pantheon, make sure to read “A Guide To Visiting The Pantheon, Rome.”
Galleria Borghese and Borghese Gardens
If you only visit one museum in Rome, then it will have to be Borghese Gallery. There, you will find paintings and sculptures by artists such as Bernini, Canova, Titian and Caravaggio. Its gardens are impressive too – especially the Pincio Terrace, from where you can see Piazza del Popolo.
Galleria Borghese has a system of time slots for visits, so you will have to book yours in advance. In fact, I recommend joining a guided tour to make the most of all the art on sight. These are the best guided tours:
- Borghese Gallery With Optional Guided Tour – one of the best reviewed options.
- Borghese Gallery small group guided tour – a bit more expensive, but it’s in a small group.
- Private tour of Borghese Gallery – the best option if you want to be in a small group.
Among the bucket list places to visit in Rome there definitely is Trevi Fountain – made incredibly iconic by Federico Fellini’s movie La Dolce Vita. The fountain, which was brought back to its splendor after years of renovation work, is a fantastic example of Bernini and Salvi baroque art. It takes back to 1726.
Make sure to read my post The Most Beautiful Fountains In Rome.
The Spanish Steps
Called Piazza di Spagna in Italian, the Spanish Steps are definitely one of the things to see in Rome. You can walk the 185 steps that lead to the Trinità dei Monti church (from where you can see luxury shopping street Via dei Condotti) but sitting on the steps is prohibited, as well as putting your feet in the fountain.
This is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome, paved over the 1st century Stadio di Domiziano and home of a lovely local market. Its main highlights are the 1651 Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by Bernini, and the 17th century Baroque Sant’Agnese church.
Altare della Patria
On the way to the Colosseum and just behind the Roman Forum, in Piazza Venezia, the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II is known as Altare della Patria and is an imposing, beautiful building dating back to 1911, when it was inaugurated to celebrate the first king of unified Italy. It’s also where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located, which is why there is an eternal flame burning.
The views from its terrace are actually impressive – you can opt to walk up the stairs for free, or take the elevator for just €7.
St John in the Lateran
If you only opt to visit one church other than St. Peter’s Basilica when in Rome, it will have to be this one. San Giovanni in Laterano, as it is called in Italian, it located in the Esquilino neighborhood. It’s the oldest basilica in town and the seat of the Pope in the city of Rome.
The main thing to see in the church is the Scala Sancta – the 28 steps that Jesus climbed on his way to trial in Jerusalem. Make sure to also spot the Lateran Obelisk right outside the church, the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world.
For a guided tour of St John in the Lateran, click here.
Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica
Another nice Baroque church to visit in Rome is Santa Maria Maggiore basilica, built in 435 AD over Cybele goddess temples upon orders of Pope Liberius. Legend says that the Virgin Mary, to which the church is dedicates, appeared before the Pope to ask that a church was built in her honor.
The Catacombs and the Appian Way
If you are spending enough time in the Italian capital, head out to visit the Appian Way, one of the oldest surviving roads built in 312 BC to connect Rome to Naples and Brindisi and serving commercial as well as strategic military purposes. Along the Appian way you will find the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, built in the 9th century.
The most popular landmark in the area, however, remains the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, the burial ground of 16 popes, and those of St. Sebastian. You may want to join a guided tour to make the most of the attraction:
- Crypts and Catacomb tour with Bone Chapel visit – it includes a visit to San Clemente Basilica, one of the most unique in town.
- Catacombs and the Appian Way tour – another excellent tour that also goes to the aqueduct.
- Appian Way, Aqueducts and Catacomb bike tour – a highly rated tour and a great way of exploring the area.
GOOD TO KNOW: Keep in mind that scattered under Rome there are various catacombs. Domitilla Catacombs, Priscilla Catacombs and Sant’Agnese Catacombs are worth seeing too.
Further readings about Rome
Are you traveling to Rome? Make sure to check out my other posts:
- Where Is Rome?
- The Most Beautiful Piazzas In Rome
- The Most Famous Buildings In Rome
- The Most Beautiful Churches In Rome
- The Nicest Markets In Rome
- The Best Museums In Rome
- Where To Stay In Rome
- The Nicest Parks In Rome
- The Best Airbnbs In Rome
- The Best Tips For Visiting Rome
- Which Are The Seven Hills Of Rome?
- The Most Famous Statues In Rome
- The Best Beaches Near Rome
- The Most Famous Rome Myths And Legends
- Where To See The Lovely Cats Of Rome
- The Best Quotes About Rome
- The Most Interesting Facts About Rome
- The Best Virtual Tours Of Rome
- How To Make Supplì Al Telefono