It's no surprise that many consider Rome, the capital of the ancient world, a country in and of itself. Indeed, the city houses the Vatican, which by international standards is its own country. So when I tell people I've been to Italy, I always falter and say, "Well, I've been to Rome."
Rome alone is so large and chock full of history and sights and monuments that it begs to stand alone among the diversity that is Italy. So when we planned our first trip to Italy and started spinning at the selection of sights to see just in Rome, and in such a short time, it was easy to decide to focus on the Vatican and surrounding city for our first experience.
And what an experience it was! While it may take a day or two to adjust to the crowds, choking pollution, and traffic of this majorly congested Italian city, the beauty, the history, and the many secrets of this amazing place could never disappoint. The sights and monuments, listed below, will leave you speechless at the awe and wonder of such architectural marvels. The Italian culture, in its coffee and pastry shops on the morning, its street markets in the afternoon, and its wine and restaurants at night, is ever present. And don't forget the imposing Vatican, which is another big draw of crowds to Rome!
So here's my list of essential Roman sights to see while on your first trip to Rome. If you're short on time, doing it all in one day is entirely possible. Although I do recommend more time than that, to slow it down and enjoy each spot for more than an hour or so (also it would be much easier on your feet if you spread them out!) If you have several days like we did, do #1-3 on on your first day, and #4-6 on your second day. Spend the last two days just getting lost, eating gelato, and ROME-ing (ha, ha) the city! Enjoy!
1. Spanish Steps
Since our apartment was nearby, the Spanish Steps above the Piazza di Spagna were a natural starting place for us. You can also use the metro to drop you off in front of this picturesque plaza to start as well. It helps to visit in the morning, as it won't be completely swarming with people. Grab your morning cafe and people watch from the steps as you begin your Roman journey! Don't forget to ascend the steps and take a look at the Egyptian Obelisk at the top of the steps.
2. Trevi Fountain
Next head on over to the Trevi Fountain. Yes, it's crowded. Yes, to some it's overrated. But to me, it's ESSENTIAL when visiting Rome. And it is truly stunning! Luckily, even with the hordes of tourists, you can always get an amazing shot of the fountain sans people, like the picture above!
*BONUS* On your way to the next sight, whether walking or driving, stop by the prodigious Alter of the Fatherland, an immense monument made for Italy's first king, whose grand staircase entrance is worth a photo op.
3. The Colosseum
Introducing the sixth wonder of the world, and an obvious draw to Rome for centuries! We spent several hours at the end of our day touring the Colosseum inside and out. But if you're short on time, you might just have time for a stroll around the outside. It would be a shame, however, to miss the details of this ancient monument, and not give it the time it deserves! I didn't include the Roman Forum on this list, but it can be seen from the Colosseum and is an obvious next sight nearby.
4. The Pantheon
This was actually my favorite historical sight. The Pantheon* is just so impressive and ethereal. It was built just under 2,000 years ago, and the incredible large dome ceiling still remains the largest unsupported dome ceiling in the world! The large opening at the center allows for a surreal stream of light into the center during the daytime. You absolutely cannot go to Rome without visiting the Pantheon!
*(not the Parthenon, that one's in Greece!)
5. The Piazza Navona
There are many piazzas in Rome, but the largest, most impressive, and most visited is the Piazza Navona. It is THE place to stroll, people watch, and shop for paintings and other handmade goods, get a caricature drawing, or watch street performers. Snap some photos of the incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers and continue your Rome tour to our last stop.
6. St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican
If you're short on time, visit St. Peter's Square and the church later in the day, when the tour groups have started to subside. (Avoid it in the morning and Wednesday evenings at all costs, see the crowds in the picture below! On Wednesday the Pope holds an audience.)
Standing in St. Peter's square is a surreal feeling, and the grandeur and magnificence of the Roman Catholic legacy continues into the church, St. Peter's Basilica. If you have another day, dedicate this third day to the incomprehensible Museum of the Vatican, home to the Sistine Chapel and some other thousands of works of art and sculpture. Just thinking of the sheer immensity of the museum within the Vatican and all of the artwork we saw in one day make my head spin!
Visiting the Vatican is a holy pilgrimage for Catholics. But everyone of every religion should visit this incredible place at least once in his/her life to witness the history and art that call the Vatican its home!