Italy is surely one of Europe’s most thrilling countries, filled with everything from ancient ruins to incredible cathedrals, chic cafes to designer clothing stores and – of course — fabulous food. And Rome, Italy’s capital city, is on just about everyone’s ‘bucket list’ of travel destinations, a must see for seasoned and newbie travelers alike. The weather is beautiful almost year round, and the people are so warm and friendly you feel welcomed in every place you visit. All in all, there is just about nowhere else in Europe you’ll get as big a bang for your tourism buck as in Rome, which is open again for visitors now that the coronavirus is, mostly, in the city’s rear view mirror. (Still, be sure to check all travel guidelines, in your home country as well as Italy, before booking a ticket.)
Whether you’re an avid or amateur history buff, few places are as important to Italy’s past as Rome. This city of about three million is home to some of the continent’s most incredible ancient ruins and museums, and should not be missed when you’re planning your itinerary. Here’s a look at 11 fabulous ancient sights to tour in Rome, but be sure to check ahead to find out about ticket prices (if any) line ups, and other important info before you head out from your hotel.
The Roman Forum
So much of this ancient remains standing that you are immediately struck by how clear a picture it gives of what life was like during the Roman Empire. It was where so much of life back then took place – political meetings, a marketplace and social gatherings all took place here from about 500 B.C. onward. Many temples were built at the Forum, and evidence of them exist even today, columns and almost complete buildings have been preserved. The Forum is one of the world’s most visited ancient sites because of its importance in not only a political context, but societal, religious and legal contexts, too.
According to official websites, the Pantheon is the city’s most well preserved ancient site. Originally a temple, (the word Pantheon means “all gods”) it is now a Catholic church and is used for mass services. Its architecture is stunning, its ceiling a stupendous sight to behold, particularly the dome in the centre and the hole that allows visitors to see the sky, and is the sole source of light that cascades into the structure. The Pantheon is truly an architectural marvel.
The Palatine Hill
Quite literally next door to the Colosseum, this early example of ancient Rome is not to be missed. It is not only central to the city’s history, it is a welcome break from the busy streets and tourist sights in Rome. Palatine is the ideal spot for an outdoor lunch on the grassy fields, surrounded by wildflowers and a breathtaking view. This is the most renowned of all Rome’s seven hills, and at one time was thought to be the finest neighborhood for Roman citizens to live in.
Domus Aurea (The Domus of Nero)
This palace complex was perhaps the most elaborate – and indulgent – place ever built to satisfy an emperor, and it hosted many parties and other events for the bigwigs of Nero’s time. It was made of Rome’s finest marble, and many technical innovations were implemented here, like revolving ceilings and ornate fountains and waterfalls. It was so big, guests easily got lost; one courtyard had 50 dining halls around it! The ruins are in central Rome, and easy to access by foot, taxi or metro.
This is where those famous fights between gladiators took place, like the ones depicted in the Hollywood blockbuster, Gladiator, starring Russel Crowe. These massive ruins take about two hours to tour fully, so be sure to block off a morning and head there after breakfast at an outdoor cafe. There is even a metro stop for it, so getting to the site from almost any hotel is a breeze.
Baths of Caracalla
These ancient ruins are close to the Colosseum, so head here after a morning spent at that site, perhaps after a light lunch on a sunny patio. The Baths are, in essence, three massive chambers, but they are some of Rome’s most elaborate and luxurious public bath houses ever built. Their design influenced buildings around the world, including the first Penn Station in New York City, torn down in 1964. Extensive renovations have occurred at this important site, and now there are gardens and other buildings to tour as well. The Baths are not to be missed!
The Theater of Marcello (Teatro Marcello)
This open air theatre is where Roman citizens went to get their fill of the best in opera and drama. Although it was built toward the end of the Roman Empire, it was architecturally unique because of the fired brick used to construct it. It is a bit like the coliseum in appearance, though much, much smaller. Still, it’s an important ancient site of Rome, and is close to the Capitoline Museum, which is only a few short minutes’ walk away.
The Capitoline Museum
This complex is actually a series of museums, considered the very first public museums in the world. Located at the Piazza del Campidoglio, these structures house examples of medieval art, Renaissance art and many statues, and unexpected objects such as fine gems. One building is dedicated to archaeological finds, while others are home to other samples of fine art. Touring this site takes several hours, so plan to stay a while.
The Arc of Titus
This breathtaking, decorative arch is close to the Roman Forum, and is open and free to tour 24/7. Some hours are less busy than others, of course, so it’s best to check once you’re ready to visit both places. The Arch was built in approximately 81 A.D., and is one of Rome’s most popular tourist destinations. It sits like a massive, elaborate observer over the Forum, and is beloved by Roman citizens as a favorite spot and point of pride.
These are some of Rome’s most spectacular – and historic – places to visit when you go, but there are lots of others, too. Once you’ve had enough of la dolce vita, and wonderful cafes and designer shops, bulk up your knowledge of Italy’s past by visiting these ancient sites the country is so famous for. Rome is a city of culture, history, and respect for the nation’s past glories. Visiting these places gives you a peek into not just Italy’s past, but all of Europe’s. The Roman Empire may be gone, but its breathtaking architecture, importance and inspiration live on!