What to do when in Rome

You know what they say: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you’ve got a day to spare, here’s what to see, do, and eat in the Eternal City.

A view to St. Peter's cathedral. Image credit: neirfy/iStock
A view to St. Peter’s cathedral. Image credit: neirfy/iStock

Italy’s capital is home to 2.8 million people, almost 3000 years of history, and plenty of places old and new to explore. Time spent here is rarely time wasted. Wander the relics of the Roman Empire scattered throughout the city, discover the squares and markets, or simply sip local wine or coffee and take in the buzz.

Explore the must-see monuments

As the center of the once sprawling Roman Empire, Rome has its fair share of historical sites. Take in the main ruins with a loop consisting of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, all a short walk away from each other.

Start with the Colosseum and get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds. Inside, explore the ancient amphitheater where more than 50,000 spectators would gather to watch gladiator games.

View of Colosseum in Rome. Image credit: vwalakte/iStock
View of Colosseum in Rome. Image credit: vwalakte/iStock

With the same entrance ticket, you can access the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill just across the road. The Forum, once the hub of the ancient empire, is now a strip of ruins where arches, columns, and crumbling courtyards make it easy to imagine how the empire once looked. Look out for the Piazza del Foro, the main square, and the Arco di Tito, the inspiration for Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

Next, climb Palatine Hill, to take in the city from above. You’ll find a small museum, ruins such as the Domus Flavia Palace and the Renaissance Farnese Gardens along with views of the entire Forum.

Eat like a Roman

Legend says you can’t have a bad meal in Rome so be sure to get your fill of Roman cuisine while you’re in the city.

Start the morning with a coffee and cornetto, an Italian pastry. Try the specialty coffee at Pergamino Café near the Vatican or the handmade cornetti at Café Barberini.

Come lunchtime, pick up pizza by the slice or focaccia stuffed with vegetables or ham and pair with supplì, a fried bread-crumbed ball of rice with an oozing mozzarella center. Try Antico Forno Roscioli for pizza, Supplizio for supplì or browse the hundreds of food stalls in Testaccio Market.

The fried goodness on offer at Supplizio. Image credit: Supplizio
The fried goodness on offer at Supplizio. Image credit: Supplizio

For dinner, head to the Trastevere neighborhood to snag a table at Ai Marmi for their popular wood-fired pizzas and casual atmosphere. For something more upmarket, try Le Mani in Pasta for handmade tagliolini pasta, fresh seafood, and pairings from their wine cellar.

Finally, don’t forget dessert. Order a scoop or two of gelato from one of the city’s many gelaterias. Gelateria dei Gracchi makes theirs with fresh seasonal ingredients, Gelateria dell’Angeletto has vegan options, and Come Il Latte is known for their “like milk” creamy creations.  

Picnic in Villa Borghese

If the weather is good, there’s no better place to enjoy it than Villa Borghese. Pick up a focaccia sandwich or slice of pizza from a nearby café and head to Rome’s largest public park for a picnic.

The beautiful Villa Borghese. Image credit: frankix/iStock
The beautiful Villa Borghese. Image credit: frankix/iStock

Explore the almost 200-acre park on foot or rent a bicycle to take in the lake, statues, and the terrace for views over the Piazza del Popolo. If you want to spend longer inside the park, check out the art museum Galleria Borghese, Casa del Cinema for classic films with screenings outside in the summer months, or Bioparco di Roma for a day at the zoo.

While you’re in this part of the city, be sure to take a 10-minute walk to the Spanish Steps and soak in the Baroque architecture of this famous square.

Visit the Vatican

While you’re in Rome, check out the smallest country in the world with a visit to the Vatican. Home to the pope, the center of the Catholic church and centuries of history, art, and architecture, this tiny 100-acre sovereign state packs a lot into a small space.

Take in St Peter’s Square with its symmetrical architecture then, once inside, ogle the ornate interior of St Peter’s Basilica and climb the 554 stairs, or take the lift, up into the dome for views across the micro country and out into Rome.

Vatican City. Image credit: Banauke/iStock
Vatican City viewed from above. Image credit: Banauke/iStock

Don’t miss the Vatican Museum for its collection of art and sculptures and the Sistine Chapel for Michelangelo’s famous artwork adorning the ceiling.  

Sip Italian wines

Italy is the largest wine producing country in the world to enjoy an evening sipping local tipples in a wine bar or enoteca. You’ll find plenty around the city ranging from dimly-lit and cozy to bright and modern, with many having views almost as good as the wines.  

Just off the stunning 1st century Piazza Navona you’ll find Cul de Sac with its lengthy wine menu of over 1500 labels to choose from. Heated outside tables make it easy to stay here late into the night.

Take in the Pantheon then walk a few minutes to Enteca Spriti, a wine bar overlooking Piazza di Pietra where, along with a vast selection of wines, you can also order cheese boards and pasta dishes.  

Head to Trimani for wines from Italy and around the world. Before you leave, visit their wine store to pick up a bottle or two to take home.

Finally, try Litro for a range of natural and biodynamic wines. They also make Italian cocktails like a Negroni and Americano.


Vanessa Gibbs

Vanessa Gibbs is a freelance writer covering travel around the world for magazines and brands. Away from her laptop, she likes to explore her hometown of London, scuba dive wherever she can, and collect passport stamps along the way.