Rome's Top 10 Attractions

Visit Rome's Ruins and Cultural Hot Spots

Video: Andrew's Top 5 for Rome

Andrew 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.

Colosseum 

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.

Roman Forum 

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.

Pantheon 

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.

Vatican City 

Elevated View Of St. Peters Square in Rome, Italy

Jemina Virtanen / EyeEm / Getty Images

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.

Piazza Navona 

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.

Trevi Fountain 

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.

Galleria Borghese

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.

Capuchin Crypt 

Capuchin Crypt in Rome, Italy

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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.

Castel Sant'Angelo 

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.

Spanish Steps 

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.

Italy Travel Inspiration

Caffè Greco
Caffè Greco

Caffè Greco

A day in Italy isn’t complete without a stop (or 2 or 3) for a caffè of some sort. Fuel up for sightseeing with a world-class cappuccino at Rome's famous Caffè Greco on Via Condotti. 960 1280

Franco Origlia, Getty Images  

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Transport 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

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Campo de' Fiori

Campo de' Fiori

While 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

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Colosseum

Colosseum

A 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

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Pantheon

Pantheon

The 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

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Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

Nothing can prepare you for the wonder that is the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's painted ceiling, with the Last Judgment fresco, at the Vatican Museums is well worth the long lines and crowds of photo-snapping tourists bumping into you. 960 1280

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Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Piazza 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

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St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

Located 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

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Tour Trastevere

Tour Trastevere

Once 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

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Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Rome's Trevi Fountain, by Nicola Salvi is a popular site for visitors to the city. 960 1280

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Vatican Museums

Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums hold classical and Renaissance masterpieces, including one of the greatest artistic feats in the world, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Just as awe-inspiring as the artwork is the double-helix spiral staircase. 960 1280

marcovarro, Shutterstock.com  

Via del Corso

Via del Corso

Enjoy 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

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Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese

Near 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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Biscotti

Whether you're drinking a cappuccino, an espresso, a latte or a macchiato -- biscotti are the perfect complement. 960 1280

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Start your Italian feast off right with a plate of bruschetta -- crostini topped with fresh tomatoes and basil, then drizzled with olive oil. 960 1280

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Gnocchi, soft (but dense) Italian dumplings, are often made with potato -- and are sure to fill you up. 960 1280

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If you’re craving dessert -- or even just a snack -- you can’t go wrong with a cannoli. The Sicilian pastry is often made with ricotta cheese, and is best washed down with a “digestivo” such as sambuca or grappa. 960 1280

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No Italian meal is complete without a bottle of red wine. 960 1280

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It may be simple, but few things are more delicious than a traditional Neapolitan margherita pizza, named after Queen Margherita when she was served a pizza made with the Italian flag’s colors on a visit to Naples in 1889. 960 1280

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Tiramisu, which appropriately translates as “pick me up,” is made of layers of ladyfingers soaked in espresso, mascarpone cheese, cocoa powder and liqueur. 960 1280

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Salami, prosciutto, pepperoni, capicola, soppressata … oh my! Italians love their cured meats, and they make for a great antipasto. 960 1280

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Nothing beats homemade, fresh pasta.  960 1280

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The Italians love their olives, whether they are served as an antipasto or used to make olive oil. 960 1280

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A northern Italian specialty, pesto is made from garlic, plenty of fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil and parmigiano-reggiano. 960 1280

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A popular “aperitivo” in Italy, a negroni is made of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Many restaurants and bars in Italy serve a buffet of free food to snack on while you enjoy a predinner cocktail. 960 1280

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A bowl of silky-creamy risotto. Typically served as a “primo,” or first course, risotto preparation is an art: al dente, but cooked enough that the starch from the rice creates a smooth and creamy consistency. 960 1280

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A caprese salad in the U.S. can hardly compare with the same simple dish in Italy: the red, juicy and ripe Roma tomatoes layered with thick slices of bufala mozzarella will put all other caprese salads you’ve had to shame. 960 1280

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Who could forget spaghetti? The iconic, long, round noodles are just one variety of over 300 different types of Italian pasta. 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

Mychko Alezander, Getty Images  

Polenta, made from maize meal, is a typical northern Italian dish. Once cooked into a creamy, thick paste, it can be served with vegetables, fish or meat, or shaped into patties and then fried, baked or grilled. 960 1280

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Taste of Italy  17 Photos

Lake Como
Lake Como

Lake Como

When 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

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Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna

The 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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The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal

It's featured in every postcard, painting and film for a reason -- you can't visit Venice without taking a gondola ride on the watery boulevard beneath the arches of the Rialto Bridge and centuries-old buildings. 960 1280

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The Arena and Old City

The Arena and Old City

Fair Verona is home to one of the best-preserved first-century Roman arenas, which was built beyond the city walls in AD 30. Today, over 500,000 people see its world-famous opera performances each year. 960 1280

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The Scrovini Chapel

The Scrovini Chapel

Giotto completed one of the most imported masterpieces in Western art around the year 1305 in Padua. The fresco cycle covers the entire interior of the chapel in 3 panels and tells the story of Christ and the Virgin Mary. 960 1280

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St. Mark's Square and Basilica

St. Mark's Square and Basilica

Napoleon was said to call the Piazza San Marco "the drawing room of Europe." This principal public square in Venice, anchored by Doge's Palace, reflects the height of the Venetian Republic. 960 1280

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Strada della Dolomiti

Strada della Dolomiti

For some of the finest alpine scenery in Europe, travel along the Great Dolomite Road from Bolzano to Cortina d'Ampezzo (pictured here). Cable cars, hiking trails and winding roads lead to even higher views over the mountain passes. 960 1280

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Villa Rotunda

Villa Rotunda

The inspiration for Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the Villa Rotunda exemplifies Andrea Palladio's revolutionary style of architecture along with the Palazzo della Ragione and Laggia del Captianiato in his hometown of Vicenza. 960 1280

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The Savoy Residences

The Savoy Residences

In the 1560s, Savoy rulers moved their capital to Turin and began building palaces in addition to the 17th-century Royal Palace. Several more ring the city -- all declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1997. 960 1280

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The Duomo

The Duomo

The fourth largest cathedral in the world, Milan centers around its gothic cathedral, with all the streets radiating from or circling it. Construction started in 1386, but the Duomo took nearly 6 centuries to complete. 960 1280

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Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore

From Stresa you can take a water taxi and tour the 3 small Borromean Islands (and 2 islets) known for their picturesque villas, palaces and gardens. 960 1280

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