Few places can boast of even a fraction of the history that permeates Rome. As the cradle of Western civilization, the city teems with world-famous monuments. Meanwhile, cozy trattorias seem to beckon from every cobblestone street. The best thing to do is to follow the locals’ lead. After all, when in Rome…
Explore like a local with an insider guide to Rome. We’ve pared Rome down to the essentials—the top places to see, eat, and explore—so that you arrive equipped with a primer of the city and never at a loss for what to do next.
Rome's Must-See Sights
The half-crumbled silhouette of this 2,000-year-old amphitheater has become the symbol of Rome and, accordingly, one of its most-photographed sites. A visit during the day is a must but be sure to drop by in the evening as well: you won’t need to re-enter the grounds to appreciate the magnificent nighttime illuminations. Nearby is the Roman Forum, which, while just as popular, covers a greater surface area, if you need an escape when the crowds at the Colosseum begin to peak. Save yourself the frustration of an hour-long queue by buying tickets well in advance.
Once a temple to the gods, the Pantheon is now one of Rome’s most celebrated monuments, as well as a popular gathering point for locals and visitors alike. Its most distinctive feature is the oculus at the center of the dome, which opens to the skies. The Pantheon is one destination that’s particularly worth visiting on rainy days; the experience of watching rain fall through the roof is surreal.
Vatican City may be the smallest independent state in the world, but it packs some universally acclaimed monuments, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Marvel at the genius of Michelangelo but beware that a dress code is strictly enforced: shorts, miniskirts, and sleeveless clothing are prohibited.
You might recognize this Baroque fountain from La Dolce Vita or Roman Holiday, or for simply being among the best-known fountains on the planet. Tossing a coin into the fountain has become a ritual among visitors, so much so that it’s illegal to steal money from the water. The Trevi Fountain is a ten-minute walk to the Spanish Steps and the luxury flagships that run along Via dei Condotti, so squeeze in another landmark and some window-browsing while you’re in the neighborhood.
The lavishly designed gardens of the Villa Borghese are a treat to walk through, and the old master’s paintings of the Galleria Borghese a feast for the eyes. Tourists may flock to Florence for its legendary art museums, but iconic works by Titian, Caravaggio, Bernini, and others can be found here in Rome. While you’re free to roam through the villa at your own leisure, a visit to the gallery requires you to book a time slot in advance.
Rome's Must-Eat Food And Drink
Locals regularly have this family-run restaurant fully booked up, so be sure to secure a reservation in advance. Colline Emiliane features homemade desserts and hearty mains like milk-braised veal or fried veal cutlet, but the main attraction is the pasta—you can see it being made by hand in the kitchen.
This establishment places you in the heart of one of Rome’s best delis—if the mounds of cured meats and freshly baked goods don’t get you salivating, nothing will. All the Roman classics are available here, as well as a good selection of seafood and meat. After your meal, pick up one of the hundreds of varieties of cheese and cold cuts for a sumptuous picnic later in your stay.
Rome’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant is situated in the stately Waldorf Astoria hotel, and the food and decor are fittingly impressive. Sweeping views of the city make for one of the most romantic dinners to be had in town. Heinz Beck's cuisine is imaginative and creative based on a Mediterranean menu. The full ten-course degustation will set you back Euro 320 per person—not a cheap meal, but certainly one to remember. It is useful to know that the restaurant will be closed for renovations from November 21 to April 30, 2024.
Get your gelato fix at one of the half-dozens Fatamorgana shops in the city. Flavors range from the classic to the fanciful; opt for a scoop of stracciatella (cream with chocolate flakes) or gianduia (hazelnut chocolate) with something more adventurous, like wasabi chocolate or basil, walnut, and honey.
Rome's Must-Visit Neighborhoods
Sometimes the best gems are hiding right under your nose. In spite of its central location—the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Trevi Fountain sit just at its edges—Monti retains an authentic, unpretentious feel that draws locals looking for a casual meet-up or a carefree afternoon. Before visiting the monumental Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, stop in cute and quirky cafe La Casetta a Monti. Vintage-store lovers will feel right at home browsing the goods at the weekend market or in one of the many boutiques along Via del Boschetto. Afterward, enjoy dinner at wine bar Ai Tre Scalini - Bottiglieria dal 1895, which is always bustling in the evenings.
Located just west of the river (and most of Rome’s crowded landmarks), Trastevere is one of the city’s bohemian centers and a lively place to explore at all times of the day. On Sunday mornings, you should drop by Porta Portese, the neighborhood’s famous flea market. If you’re hungry, grab an unfussy but oh-so-satisfying plate of pasta at Enzo al 29 or snack on arancini (stuffed rice balls) at Supplì Roma. Trastevere offers plenty of nightlife options, but we recommend slotting in Freni e Frizoni for an aperitivo on the sun-drenched terrace.
Romans are known for their impeccable sartorial style, but when they want to let their hair down, they head to Testaccio. If you’re looking for no-frills local atmosphere, you should follow suit. While you’re admiring the laidback vibes, check out MACRO, a modern art museum housed in a former brewery. You should also swing by the Cimitero Acattolico (literally, “non-Catholic cemetery”), where luminaries like John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley are buried. Some of the city’s best food can be had in Testaccio, so be sure to budget time for a meal; the carbonara at Flavio al Velavevodetto is incredible.
It’s been dubbed the “Brooklyn of Rome” in the past—and those who’ve given Pigneto that moniker are referring to Bushwick, not Williamsburg. Though the graffiti and murals that cover many of its walls may seem intimidating at first, Pigneto offers one of Rome’s most vibrant artistic scenes. Dine at Necci dal 1924 before jumping right into the neighborhood’s nightlife, which features moody wine bars and plenty of live shows. Birra +, a popular pub, offers beer to go or served in—fittingly—plastic cups. Best of all, Pigneto is far enough away from the city’s landmarks that you’ll avoid all but the most in-the-know travelers.
More of Nancy Aiello's top Rome recommendations:
The 15 Best Hotels In Rome to Stay In 2024
13 Of The Best Rome Traditional Restaurants According to Locals
The 180+ Best Things to See in Rome in 2024
The Best Rome Tours for Seniors in 2024
Off the Beaten Path Experiences in Rome
How to Visit Borghese Gallery in Rome
Best of Rome Hidden Wonders
The Romance of Rome: Things to See & Do in 2024