The Colosseum is a shell of an ancient stadium -- first inaugurated in 80 A.D. -- where gladiators engaged in bloodbaths. The Pantheon dates back to 27 B.C. and is considered the ancient world's most complete monument. Even better, the Pantheon is more than a museum; it still holds concerts and other special events.
In the Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, the earthly locus of the Roman Catholic Church, and the extensive Vatican Museums (where you'll find the Sistine Chapel) are grouped together just across the Tiber River from central Rome. Visitors to St. Peter's have to clear a security line, which can be found to the right of the main entrance. Be aware that tank tops and shorts are not acceptable attire within the basilica. At the Vatican Museums, the lines can get very long if you're not with a group; to save time, purchase tickets online ahead of time at the museums' Web site, mv.Vatican.va.
Not far from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, the oldest part of the city. Here you'll find ruined temples, arches and other dramatic structures from the ancient world. To get the most from your visit, buy a detailed map of the site at the gate when you enter.
Near the Colosseum, we always drop our jaws at the sight of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, an extravagant white marble monument (its nickname is "the wedding cake") with giant horse sculptures, constructed in the 1800s to honor Italy's first king. You can't go inside, but it's a great photo opp.
The Trevi Fountain was made famous by the classic flick "Three Coins in a Fountain"; legend has it if you want to come back to Rome, you must throw in a coin. Within walking distance are the Spanish Steps, which draw quite a crowd when the late afternoon sun begins to create a warm, golden hue over the 154 steps leading to the Trinita dei Monti. (If you can make the climb, a rooftop cafe awaits, offering wonderful views of the Roman skyline.)
One of Rome's most exuberant piazzas (public squares) is Piazza Navona, which is virtually a carnival -- you can have your portrait drawn, sit by the fountain and enjoy a gelato cone, drink wine at a sidewalk cafe, or dance to live music. Also fun is Campo dei Fiori (the only reason it's not called a piazza is that it isn't anchored by a church), particularly if you like flea markets in the morning and fun, informal sidewalk cafes from lunchtime onward.
For art lovers, Galleria Borghese has Rome's premier collection of masterpieces, including works by Titian, Caravaggio and Raphael.
Explore the hip urban neighborhood of Trastevere (just across the Tiber). Among its attractions, beyond tons of charming sidewalk cafes, one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, is the serene and soothing Orto Botanico, comprising 19 different gardens. Also in the neighborhood is the piazza of Santa Maria, one of the city's prettiest piazzas and the site where, according to legend, oil was said to have sprung from the ground on the occasion of Christ's birth. Santa Maria Cathedral, which anchors the square, is a soothing, restful stop.
Ostia Antica, Rome's version of Pompeii, is about 45 minutes outside the city, but worth the trek. It was founded in the fourth century B.C. and was a bustling port city until a couple of factors -- outbreaks of malaria and the river's changing course -- led to its abandonment. Ultimately it was covered in silt, and the site has gradually been excavated over the past century.
- Rent a Villa in Tuscany
- Learn to Pole a Gondola in Venice
- Stay in a Cave in Matera
- Immerse Yourself in Art in Florence
- Trek Cinque Terre
- Learn to Make Pizza in Sorrento
- Ride a Bike in Lucca
- Live Like George Clooney on Lake Como
- Drive a Ferrari Along the Amalfi Coast
- Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic in Perugia
- Train Like a Gladiator in Rome
Italy Accommodations: Hotels, Villas & Farms
Getting Around Italy: Transportation Tips
Rome Travel Guide
Venice Travel Guide
Florence Travel Guide
5 Less Visited Churches in Rome
Mediterranean Art: Following the Masters