Essential Rome: The Best Spots for a Historic Visit to the Eternal City


Rome –  city of history, romance, and food.  Rome is quite possibly one of the most sought after cities in Europe where locals, tourists, and even religious pilgrims fill the streets and piazzas.  I visited this city as a teenager many years ago (20 to be exact) and was in awe of all there was to see and do here.  As all roads lead to Rome, and because I threw a coin in Trevi Fountain 20 years ago, it is only natural that my path would take me back here one day.  Returning to the eternal city gave me new perspective on how amazing Rome really is.  While there is so much to see and do here, it is possible to take in the major attractions in a matter of a week, and learn a ton in the process.

If you are planning a trip to Rome, you won’t want to miss these amazing places!

Etruscan Museum

This museum is home to a huge collection of the ancient Etruscan civilization.  Here you can see relics from one of the oldest civilizations including vases and cookware, sculptures, weapons, and more.  The location is also great for a post-museum stroll through the Borghese Gardens back to Piazza del Popolo.

 

 

Pantheon

Built by Emperor Hadrian and dedicated to the worship of the gods (Pan = every, Theon = divinity), this large imposing structure is famous for its combination of Greek and Roman architecture, round dome roof, and oculus.  The inside of the Pantheon is much prettier and impressive than its exterior.  It’s hard to imagine how they came up with all the colors of marble, interior design, and unsupported dome.  Even the floors are slightly sloped to properly manage any rain that comes in.

 

 

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Here, Galileo admitted to heretical beliefs.  Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is also the only Gothic church in Rome and houses Michelangelo’s Cristo dell Minerva, as well as plaques and paintings indicating high water levels from the great floods of Rome’s past.

 

Four Rivers Fountain at Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona may be one of the best areas to spend time in Rome!  The Four Rivers Fountain, which depicts river gods of the Ganges, the Rio de la Plata, the Danube, and the Nile, was the place for locals to get water.  The river gods represent the major rivers of the four recognized continents at that time.  This was also a monument to the Pope.  This area is alive with people, music, and food.

 

Statue of Bruno

Located near the markets at Campo de Fiori is the dark sculpture of the scientist and philosopher Bruno.  Sentenced to death by the Inquisition for his beliefs, it was here the Bruno was burned alive.  His books were burned in St. Peter’s Square.  Aside from this dark happening, the Campo de Fiori is a wonderful market for shopping!

Piazza della Repubblica

This piazza is busy with traffic, but is a great place to see the Fountain of the Naiads.  It is located near the Baths of Diocletian, which are the remains of a 4th century bath house.  We found the baths themselves to be more of a museum with vases and sculptures and quickly returned to the bustling piazza.

 

 

Santa Maria degli Angeli

Off Piazza della Repubblica is the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, aka Michelangelo’s Church.  This church has a unique component you will not find in any other church in Rome – La Meridiana!  A stream of light enters from a tiny hole in the corner of the church and shines onto the meridian line on the floor which acts as a sundial.  The characters of the zodiac are also on the floor.  All of this allowed the Pope to predict when it was Easter.

Santa Maria Vittoria

This is a grand, golden church which contains the beautiful Bernini sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.  I find the radiant beams of light showcased throughout this church to be very opulent, as only the High Roman Baroque style would allow!  It is gorgeous!!

Capuchin Crypt

The crypts were a place that really piqued my interests.  The bones of thousands of Capuchin monks are assembled in intricate designs.  Of the few full-body displays here, it is very interesting to see how small these monks were.  I was also surprised that the crypt was not located underground.  Absolutely no photography is allowed inside the crypt!

Piazza Espana

Here, you can enjoy the Fontana della Barcaccia at the bottom of the steps, as well as the beautiful church at the top.  People watching on the Spanish Steps, the widest staircase in Europe, is great and catching the sunset is even better!  This is a great place to rest after doing some shopping and is adjacent to Babbington’s Tea Room.

Capitoline Museum

Split into two separate buildings, the works on display at the Capitoline Museum include items from ancient civilizations and items close to the city of Rome.  Most notable is the bronze of the She Wolf with Romulus and Remus.  From here you can wander down the grande staircase and even make your way toward the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II.

 

Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum

Between the Capitoline Museum and Colosseum is the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  This was the site of Rome’s most important public buildings and was filled with beautiful sculptures and architecture.  Palatine Hill is the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is where the She Wolf found Romulus and Remus in a cave.

 

 

The Colosseum

Its seems everyone is familiar with the iconic Colosseum, which is famous for its shows of gladiators and wild animal fights.  There really is no way to express in words how impressive this structure is.  Purchase your tickets in advance to help reduce wait times and just go.  You won’t be disappointed!  I do need to say that it made me really sad to see how many people have carved their names into the walls.

 

 

San Pietro in Vincoli

This church received its name because it houses the chains that held St. Peter in Rome and Jerusalem.  This important holy relic is display below the alter.  This church is also the home of Michelangelo’s Moses, a notable sculpture.  The horns often depicted on Moses’s head are the result of an incorrect translation of the Old Testament where the text actually said that his face “radiated”.

Vatican

Let me start by saying this – the Vatican Museum is crazy!  Buy your tickets early, get in line early, practice your patience, and allow yourself ample time.  It is worth it once you get inside.  The collection here is too huge to detail in this post.  All the collections are beautiful and impressive, but do not miss the Hall of Maps and, of course, the Sistine Chapel.  We had the opportunity to listen to a priest offer a prayer for everyone while we were here and it was so cool.  I cannot profess my love of the Sistine Chapel enough (says the art history major).  After leaving the Vatican Museum, head to St. Peter’s Square.  Here, you will be able to see the window from which the Pope addresses the crowds below.  Next, head into the Basilica and prepare for your jaw to drop.  This is the most impressive display of artistry, architecture, opulence, and even greed.  Taking it all in will overwhelm your senses.  I recommend you spend a few minutes with your eyes shut listening to the sounds of the choir echoing off the marble.  Here you will also see Michelangelo’s Pieta.

If you want the opportunity of a lifetime, consider touring the Necropolis below St. Peter’s.  To tour this exclusive area, applications must be submitted months in advance and only 250 people per day are allowed access.  We’re not Catholic, but this tour was incredibly educational and moving.

 

Fontana Di Trevi

For me, the Trevi Fountain is the epitome of Rome.  It is so grand, so beautiful, so extravagant, and so romantic.  Tossing a coin in Trevi Fountain means that one day you will return to Rome.  And, thanks to my coin toss here in 1997, I was able to return in 2017.  I threw in another coin during this visit, so I’m sure at some point in my life I will be back in Rome again.  Tossing coins here also helps to give back to those in need as all coins are donated, so be sure to stop by this beautiful location!

 

Be sure to bring some Euro coins with you to light up the displays at the various churches too.  This list is not exhaustive, seeing the items mentioned here will take you to the majority of the most historically significant places in Rome.  You’ll learn a lot, walk a ton, and continually be surprised at how amazing this city is!

Have you seen these essential spots in Rome? Share your experiences in the comments below!

If you’re looking for easy day trips out of Rome, there are plenty of options available.  For a day in Florence CLICK HERE!  For a day in Pompeii CLICK HERE!

Curious where to stay while in Rome? CLICK HERE for a super-affordable and non-conventional accommodation option!  We loved it!!

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