Things to see and do
Rome is a bustling city with lots of monuments and landmarks. As you wander around the city no matter the path you take, you’ll find ancient structures nestled in the narrow streets and as centre pieces in its vibrant squares. With so many things to take in, I’ve narrowed down my top 7 things to see and do while in Rome.
The Vatican Museums
No trip to Rome is complete without visiting the Vatican Museums. The museum boasts works of art and archaeological artefacts gathered by the Popes over centuries, housed in the likes of Raphael’s Rooms, the Gregorian Egyptian, Gregorian Etruscan, Ethnological and Jewish Museums.
It also features the world-renowned Michelangelo-painted Sistine Chapel. Many from around the world flock to see the most treasured pieces, and once you’re inside you’ll understand why.
Being high on my list and with a lot of things to do, I wasn’t taking any chances. I booked before I left and I definitely suggest you do the same. If you want to book tickets online in advance, visit the Vatican Museum ticket website here. You’ll need to pick a day and time slot.
It’s closed on Sundays, except the last one of each month, where it’s open from 9 am-2 pm. Entry is then free. Visit the Vatican website for more information on opening times and ticket prices.
St Peter’s Basilica
Oh, St Peter’s Basilica! I have to say that I fell in love with this building. I couldn’t stop looking or taking pictures of it. Whether I was at Castel Sant’Angelo looking across at it, on one of the bridges that crossed the river Tiber, or from St Peter’s Square looking up – I was in awe of it.
Built in the 4th century and reconstructed in the 16th, St Peter’s Basilica stands tall at over 130 meters high and is the largest church in the world. In its nave, the gold trim and ornamental features are spectacular! If you get a chance, go up to the cupola and the viewing platform to see panoramic views of Rome. On the way up, you’ll see the intricate gold and blue detail that graces the huge dome, which was designed by none other than Michelangelo.
Getting up to go the viewing platform is an experience in itself! The narrow (seriously, very narrow!) staircases can make you feel slightly claustrophobic.
Walking up in the summer months with a lot of other people would definitely be stuffy! Even if you’re not into architecture or don’t enjoy visiting cathedrals, St Peter’s could be the one to blow your mind especially if you make it to the very top!
It’s free to enter St Peter’s Basilica but if you want to go up to the cupola, you’ll need to pay an entry fee which differs depending on whether you take the lift or the stairs. Although even if you take the lift it actually only covers the first 320 steps. You’ll still need to climb a further 231 to get to the top!
Visit the St Peter’s Basilica website for more information on opening times and ticket prices.
- If you enjoy a good sunrise, get to the Cupola early. The earlier you go the better as you’ll have less people walking up with you
- It’s very narrow, so if you’re slightly claustrophobic you may want to have a think before going up. There are parts which are really narrow and winding especially the further up you go.
- Dress appropriately or you won’t be allowed to enter. No shorts or short skirts above the knee, and no sleeveless tops. If it’s too hot for a jacket, just carry a shawl or cardigan.
Fact – did you know that St Peter’s Basilica’s dome was used as a model for other domes in the western world? They include the likes of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, Les Invalides in Paris and the Capitol building in Washington – although they were built using slightly different techniques.
Castel Sant’Angelo was on my list to visit not only because of its history, but for the views it offered of the city. Its name dates back to a medieval legend: the Archangel Michael appeared there before Pope Gregory the great, to announce the end of the plague.
Even with this legend, the history of the Castel dates back much further. Hadrian, the Roman Emperor, commissioned its construction as a Mausoleum in order to house his remains and those of his descendants. This is the reason why the Castel is also known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum. It’s an amazing circular structure that went from being a tomb to a fortress, from prison to a magnificent Renaissance dwelling, and from a barracks to a national museum. It’s definitely worth a visit even if you only see it from the outside – it’s impressive. If you get the chance to visit, do – it’s full of the history of Rome.
Walking around Marcia Ronda – the walkway of the patrolling guards – you’ll come to the higher floors after passing the prison floor and the various bastions. As you continue to make your way round and the further up you go, the grander the views. You pass what once the Papal residence before reaching the terrace.
You’ll come across arched lookouts – great places to get photographs of the city of Rome, Vatican, St Peter’s Basilica and the river Tiber.
For more information on tickets and opening times visit Castel Sant’Angelo.
Knights of Malta Keyhole
If you want a peek at St Peter’s Basilica from a new vantage point, the Knights of Malta Keyhole is a must! The keyhole is part of a huge wooden door that leads to the Magistral Villa – one of the two institutional seats of the government of the Sovereign Order of Malta.
In the small Piazza dei Cavallieri di Malta, a look through this keyhole will give you an amazing shot of St Peter’s Basilica at the end of a hedged garden path. Was this keyhole purposely positioned with this view in mind? It’s a question that still makes people wonder to this day.
The view through the keyhole is in an open area of the piazza and accessible all year round. If you want to visit the garden you can only do so by making an appointment.
I’m very pleased with my shot!
Terme di Caracalla
If you’re looking for Roman baths, look no further than Terme di Caracalla or Thermae Antoniniance. With a swimming pool, baths (both hot and cold), gyms, libraries and shops, the baths were a key meeting point. The baths, which are a 20 – 25-minute walk past the Colosseum and Circus Maximus, are now red and brown brick ruins.
The baths walls tower overhead as you walk through on the carefully laid wooden paths. Still visible are the beautifully crafted floors with pretty mosaic patterns laid in parts of the ruins.
Famous mosaics of athletes found during the excavations in 1824, are now preserved in the Vatican Museums. The baths allow you to imagine where people mingled in the vast spaces and how lively the baths once were.
Pincio Terrace in Pincian Hill, looks over Piazza del Popolo. The terrace is accessible via a pedestrian bridge which connects it to the Borghese gardens. Pincio Terrace is the perfect place to capture Rome’s city skyline no matter what time of day. It has a beautiful view of St Peter’s Basilica and into the square below.
I went there twice – during the day and once for sunset. The sunset was amazing! It was like a multi-coloured rainbow which I definitely didn’t expect so I’m glad I went back. You can get to Pincio from the Spagna or Flaminio metro stops. It’s also close to Piazza di Spagna.
Giardino degli Aranci
Known as the ‘Garden of Oranges’ and Parco Savello, Giardino degli Aranci is to me, off the tourist track. Although a lot of people know about this place, there’s a lot that don’t. The garden is further away than the more well-known attractions Rome has to offer. This means many people don’t get to see this glorious city from another view.
With views over the river Tiber and St Peter’s Basilica, the almost hidden garden is on Aventine Hill. It’s not too hard to find once you pass the Colosseum and Circus Maximus. Visiting will be a nice experience and a break away from the crowds in the city centre.
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Book your Vatican Museums Tickets – Italy’s most popular attraction with Weekend In Italy. I used this website to book my Uffizi tickets when I was in Florence.