Rome's Top 10 Attractions
Visit Rome's Ruins and Cultural Hot Spots
Video: Andrew's Top 5 for RomeAndrew Zimmern counts down his favorite moments from Rome.
VIDEO: Andrew Zimmern's Top 5 Moments in Rome
The Eternal City celebrates its long history with monuments, churches and restored ruins that offer a glimpse into life during the days of the great Roman Empire. Here are our picks for the 10 essential attractions to round out your visit to Rome.
The Roman Colosseum is a testament to the architectural skills of the ancient Roman people and offers insight into the culture that celebrated the gladiator games at this huge entertainment arena. The first bloody fight ensued in A.D. 82, starting a tradition of battles between men and beasts in a public forum with crowds reaching 50,000. Outside of the Colosseum, look out for the photo opportunity beneath the Arch of Constantine, which was built in 315 to commemorate the victory of Constantine over Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius. To avoid lengthy lines, order tickets online ahead of time -- they're good for 2 consecutive days and include admission to the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.
In ancient Rome, the Forum was the center of city life, playing host to festivals, celebrations, funerals and rituals. The city grew around this grassy area that was empty marshland until the 7th century B.C. The area lost its luster and fell to waste around the 8th century and remained that way until excavations in the early 20th century. Today, you can pick up a map for a self-guided tour of the structures and arches or join a tour group for a more detailed history of the area. Then climb to the top of Palatine Hill for sweeping views of the city.
Rome's temple to the gods is remarkably intact, a great feat considering that it was originally constructed in 27 B.C. and was later rebuilt in the early 2nd century A.D. after fire damage. An altar was later added for Christian worship after the country abandoned its pagan gods. After the Renaissance, the Pantheon took on yet another role as a designated tomb for some of the city's artists and elite including the painter Raphael and former kings of Italy. The Pantheon's architecture has inspired copycats around the globe with its tall columns reaching toward the sky, expansive interior and impressive dome with the sun shining through the oculus, a 27-foot hole in the center of the rotunda.
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Even though it's located in Rome, Vatican City has been an independent state since 1929 with its own flag, coins and stamps. It even has its own militia, the Swiss Guard, which protects this state, the Pope and the 800 full-time citizens and visiting residents. The first impressive site is St. Peter's Square itself designed by Bernini in the late 17th century. As long as you're dressed appropriately (no bare shoulders or shorts or skirts above the knee), you may enter St. Peter's Basilica and see Michelangelo's Pietá, a stunningly beautiful and sad sculpture. Continue up to the roof where you can take in the view of the large square and city beyond. Also contained in the Vatican's walls, the Vatican Museums hold Italian masterpieces, including Michelangelo's painted ceiling at the Sistine Chapel.
Rome is known for beautiful and charming squares lined with restaurants and open-air cafes. The loveliest of them all is the large public square at Piazza Navona, once the site of sporting events at Domitian's stadium in A.D. 89. The square contains 3 fountains, and the largest and most memorable is Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers with each of the 4 statues representing a river from different continents.
Travelers' lore lists various reasons for throwing 3 coins in the fountain at the marvelous Trevi, with benefits ranging from finding love to returning to the city. Once you've mastered your art of coin-throwing and wished for the appropriate outcome, take some time to explore this Baroque masterpiece showing the god Neptune riding in a shell-shaped chariot led by seahorses. And you can feel good about your charitable donation as the money (nearly $3,500 each day) collected from the fountain is used to support food programs for the city's poor.
The Galleria Borghese is just as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside, boasting a prime location in the sprawling gardens at Villa Borghese. Inside the museum, you'll find Bernini sculptures including Apollo and Daphne and his take on young David preparing to take on Goliath. The impressive collection also includes works by master artists Correggio, Raphael, Rubens and Caravaggio. Acquiring tickets will be your biggest challenge -- the museum admits only 360 visitors every 2 hours so you'll need to make reservations far in advance.
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While some may find the displays of bones and skulls a bit on the morbid side, the Capuchin Crypt located under Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins celebrates the life of the religious order of the Capuchin friars. The friars arranged the bones of the deceased into displays and frames for Christian artwork in various spots throughout the crypt including the Crypt of the Skulls and the Crypt of the Resurrection. Not merely a macabre display, these creations tell the story of life, death and resurrection and show a unique interpretation of the church's teachings of good, evil and eternity.
This fortress on the Tiber River was originally designed by the Emperor Hadrian to be used as a mausoleum for his own family. And it was certainly a resting place fit for royalty, rising above the city with glorious views. Over the centuries, it moved beyond its original purpose and served as a military fortress in 401 and later a papal residence and even a prison. It's now a museum where you may tour the apartments and see the statue of the archangel Michael rising above the terrace.
The Spanish Steps may be the longest and widest staircase in all of Europe, but that's not what draws visitors to this popular tourist spot. A Barcaccia fountain bubbles at the foot of the steps while the Trinità dei Monti church rises above the crowds at the top of the steps. But the best spot is somewhere in between the 2: take a seat in the middle of the wide staircase and watch the city go by as beautiful people hurry into the nearby high-end shops, designer boutiques and restaurants.
Roman ForumTransport yourself back to an era of kings and emperors with a visit to these seventh-century B.C. archeological ruins. Imagine all the history that has happened at the Roman Forum — from the first government meetings and trials to the epic gladiator matches. 960 1280
Campo de' FioriWhile Rome’s oldest outdoor market, Campo de' Fiori (literally “field of flowers”), south of Piazza Navona, has catered more to tourists over the years by offering kitchen accoutrement souvenirs, it still has the freshest produce in the city, sold by the same families for generations. 960 1280
ColosseumA visit to the Eternal City isn’t complete without visiting the ancient Roman Empire ruins of the Colosseum, which was built more than 2,000 years ago. Our favorite time to see the elliptical amphitheater is sunrise, when artificial and natural light illuminates it and the crowds of tourists are sparse. 960 1280
PantheonThe Pantheon is an ancient architectural masterpiece built in 27 B.C. as a tribute to the gods and then, after the Renaissance, used as a designated tomb for some of the city's artists and elite, including the painter Raphael. Inspiring copycat versions of its tall, sky-reaching columns throughout the world, the Pantheon will take your breath away as you lean back to take it all in. 960 1280
Spanish StepsPiazza di Spagna is one of the most iconic city squares in the world, and its Spanish Steps create one of the longest and widest staircases in all of Europe. It’s also a very popular spot to visit in Italy, and for good reason, as this is where you see Roman life unfold around you — both locals and tourists use it as a favorite meeting place. 960 1280
St. Peter's SquareLocated in Vatican City, St. Peter's Square is an expansive site designed by Bernini in the 17th century. After snapping obligatory photos in the iconic square, enter St. Peter's Basilica to see Michelangelo's Pietà, one of the most highly regarded Renaissance sculptures. 960 1280
Tour TrastevereOnce slightly off the trodden tourist path, this charming neighborhood is full of underground art (literally underneath the church of San Crisogono lie the remains of eighth-century frescoes), lively local restaurants and over-the-top sunset views (check out Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi at dusk). More tourists know about Trastevere now, but it’s still worth a visit. 960 1280
Via del CorsoEnjoy la passeggiata, Italy’s evening promenade ritual, on Rome’s liveliest thoroughfare, Via del Corso. At dusk, the street is closed to traffic as it fills with window-shoppers and pedestrians meandering through the restaurants, cafés and stores. Italians dress to impress for la passeggiata, which makes for an even better evening show. 960 1280
Villa BorgheseNear the Spanish Steps is one of Rome’s best-known parks, Villa Borghese, where you’ll find beautiful art and manicured gardens. Walk to the Pincio, an overlook with views of the Piazza del Popolo, Roman rooftops and the dome of St. Peter’s, or tour the small Galleria Borghese museum, which is filled with 15th- to 18th-century art, including works by Bernini and Caravaggio. 960 1280
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A classic Sicilian pasta dish, pasta alla norma is made with eggplant in a tomato sauce and ricotta salata. Southern Italian cuisine relies heavily on tomatoes, peppers, olives, artichokes, eggplants, fish and capers, while northern Italian cuisine uses less tomato sauce and more herbs and white sauce. 960 1280
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Lake ComoWhen you first think of Bellagio and Lake Como, you probably think of the Vegas casino and George Clooney, respectively. The actual town of Bellagio, jetting out into this beautiful Italian lake with the Alps in the distance, is what has inspired the rich and famous to erect hillside villas there. 960 1280
Emilia-RomagnaThe Northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna is known for its gastronomy, and it's no surprise with towns like Parma and the capital, Bologna, which are almost synonymous with the foods that are produced there: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Bolognese sauce and half of all pastas worth eating. 960 1280
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