Journeys, Travel Guides

21 things to see and do in Rome (and a Visual Tour)

(Last Updated On: March 20, 2018)

Rome Unexpected

With everybody posting pictures of the Colosseum, Fontana di Trevi, the Vatican and Piazza San Pietro, a traveler might think there’s nothing more to Rome than that.

So I was surprised to discover la città eterna in a whole different way than I envisioned when planning for the trip.

This goes to show how biased we are by all the standard tourist pictures we see on social media. Although they’re very good for creating that sweet anticipation of a journey, they mostly describe the attractions and rarely tell the story of a place.

And with Rome, I have never been more astonished by the flashing contrast between projected reality and the actual journey.

The real experience of Rome gave me a deepened understanding of the whole concept of traveling: to leave a mark in a way that enriches us spiritually and to attach a soulful piece to our personal life journey.

And Rome did it in one unforgettable way! It did not include many Vespas and Fiat 500 cars parked at every street corner, nor many other Roman clichés.

Instead, it made me marvel at the street art scene, the bold nature of the locals, the amazing old facades, and the sense of community in Tor Marancia and Trastevere.

Seeing laundry hung out to dry and eating a gelato in mid-January while getting a real grasp of the “warm sun” concept are some of the delightful little things Rome can reveal to you.

Also, it’s the first time I felt that traveling off season is truly rewarding. It was relaxed and authentic, with Romans filling the streets more than tourists (except for the main attractions areas).

The first things I noticed when getting out of the metro in Piazza di Spagna were not the Spanish Stairs, but the glowing windows making the facades all shiny and bright.

And that was the moment I understood that Rome’s architecture is more than the Pantheon or the Colosseum.

Pastel tones & colorful wood panel windows with sunlight constantly reflecting in them give you the sense of walking on the Mediterranean Riviera.

Here and there, nature takeovers or religious icons disrupt the minimalism of Roman facades, the latter reminding us we’re also in the heart of the Catholic Church.

Every Roman door seems cherished and embellished, inviting the curious traveler to intimate courtyards, where wrinkled walls are either covered in plants or showing their tubular guts.

Walking aimlessly is something I’m keen on doing in every new place, so imagine my surprise when stumbling upon Piazza Navona, as well as other interesting piazzas just by strolling up and down the streets.

With so much to visit, to taste and experience, Rome also gave me the chance to see a museum after dark for the very first time, mainly because the good weather kept us outside all day long and we had to postpone the visit.

The light in Palazzo Altemps was dim, creating a serene atmosphere, with pages of poetry decorating one of the rooms in a romantic note. There were only four or five other tourists inside, as the closing time was approaching, so we mainly walked alone in the sumptuous rooms, slowly and silently, like we were the early guests to a private party at the palace.

Eating with the locals in a small pizza shop in Trastevere, relishing over the best Pollo alla Romana at the Armando by Pantheon or getting a lesson from an Italian woman on the right time to drink cappuccino are some of the most memorable food experiences we had in Rome.

The people are pretty interesting, and I found them to be somehow different from Italians living in Sicily – in their habits, their openness, and their interactions with tourists.

While Sicilians are more distant, but also a more prone to “la dolce vita”, Romans are more cordial, bold, joyful and helpful. For instance, a shop keeper offered me one of her own bus tickets because the office was closed for the night, a restaurant manager held me an extensive and passionate lesson in cappuccino and, funny enough, an old Italian waiter tried to pick me up, not noticing my partner was standing a few meters away from me.

Here are just a few snaps that will show you a different side of Rome

Of course, the Roman clichés were honored, mainly because I’m an art lover who can’t stay away from a good museum or an architectural landmark, but they weren’t the highlight of the trip.

So we walked past the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo and Piazza San Pietro, marveled at the Vatican art collection, and took a moment in front of The Rape sculpture at the Villa Borghese.

We also visited Fontana di Trevi, even if I don’t enjoy the crowds, and this one was bustling with people from around the world gathered in front to grasp its fading magic. But our trip here was still rewarded with an architectural gem find – the embellished gallery of the Anti-Corruption department.

Being my first trip to Rome, it only seemed fair to give the main attractions a try, despite my constant déjà vu feelings about them. So instead of telling you about all the wonders of the world gathered in Rome, let me take you in a visual tour.

Rome Attractions – A Visual Tour

Piazza Navona


San Pietro Basilica and Piazza



Forum Traiani


The Palatine Hill


Fontana di Trevi



Villa Borghese / Galleria Borghese


Vatican Museums


Castel Sant’Angelo



Piazza di Spagna and The Spanish Steps


The Pantheon



Campo dei Fiori

The Jewish Ghetto – Teatro Marcello, Bocca della Verita – The Great Synagogue, Fontana dei Tritoni

Piazza Venezia, Capitoliu, Altare della Patria


Palazzo di Giustizia


To adventure in the unknown, following a cobblestone street or going on an architectural treasure hunt, was the most delightful part of my city break in Rome. So maybe you’ll give it a try and find some unique places that will personalize your trip.

Here are some of the hidden places I found on the glowing streets of Rome:

  • Tor Marancia – a street art project aimed at bettering the life of its inhabitants
  • The gallery at the Anti-Corruption Department, near Fontana di Trevi
  • The neighborhood above the Spanish Steps with beautiful streets and architecture, also hiding the most beautiful door in Rome
  • Palazzo Altemps – after dark, when it’s quiet and atmospheric
  • La Renella, a small pizza shop in Trastevere, where you can eat with the locals

Tor Marancia – Read about it in my previous article >

The Gallery at the Anti-Corruption Department


Palazzo Altemps

Travel tips for visiting Rome’s attractions

  • Get your ticket for the Vatican Museums online, in advance, to avoid long lines;
  • Get a single ticket for the Colosseum, Forum Traiani and the Palatine Hill from the Palatine ticket office, but visit Colosseum first, Forum Traiani – second and Palatine Hill – third;
  • Visit Villa Borghese’s Gardens – they’re wonderful, even if most of them can only be seen from the park;
  • Spend most of your time strolling the streets of Rome – it’s where you’ll find the best architecture;
  • Try carciofo di Giudia in the Jewish Getto, Pollo alla Romana at Armando Al Pantheon and eat a pizza with the locals at La Renella in Trastevere.
  • See Rome from above at: Palatine Hill, Vatican Museum, and the famous San Pietro Basilica.

I loved Rome and its decorative corners, the history-rich cobblestone streets, its glowing facades and its dreamy atmosphere, so I’m sure I’ll revisit it soon because much more is yet to be discovered.

If you’re planning to visit Rome soon, maybe it’s better to leave your map at the hotel and adventure into the unknown, even if it’s just for one day. That’s where you’ll find the essence of this beloved city under the sun!

Rome Postcard

Rome, Italy | January 2016 | My Mobile Pictures Only > Copyright: © Ana Matei

Read about other Italian Destinations: Cinque Terre, Florence >

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