Rome bucket list: 16 experiences you should have on your trip
If your trip to Rome is about to happen, have a look at my Rome bucket list of the 16 experiences you shouldn’t miss out! It also includes the best things to do in Rome from a local’s perspective. These is where we go during our free time.
ROME BUCKET LIST: locals’ picks
Rome’s historical center stretches out for 20 sm, it’s huge! Don’t be hard with yourself if you won’t have enough time to go through all the things I’ve included in the list. Just try to tick off as many as you can. If you’ll only stay 24 hours in Rome, plan your itinerary strategically with this Rome in a day itinerary.
1. Marvel at the ruins of ancient Rome from Via Dei Fori Imperiali
While you walk along the Fori Imperiali Street you will acknowledge the reason why you were so eager to travel to Rome and why everyone else is as well. The street overlooks the èlaces where the headquarters of the imperial Rome were settled. To the left and to the right, you’ll see the remains of the temples of the major Roman divinities, the markets, and the Fori where politic and legal debates took place. In front of you, now closer than ever, the silhouette of the Colosseum. With the same €16 ticket you’ll be able to visit both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum on the same day. If you visit independently, I strongly recommend you book your ticket in advance on the Colosseum online ticket office. Before you start your visit, consider carefully a few facts; the Colosseum is magnificently preserved but this isn’t the case for the Roman Forum, instead. To understand the complexity of the architecture of the forum, you would need to hire a guide or book a guided toor. Locals would do the same! I recommend you to walk inside the Colosseum because it’s spectacular, however, speaking about the Roman Forum, if you are convinced of not hiring a guide, you could simply admire it from the terraces built on Via Dei Fori Imperiali Street. My advice aims at saving you time and the frustration of not knowing what the apparently disorganized ruins you’re walking through corresponded to. If you’d love to explore both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum with a guided tour, look into these suggestions:
The Spanish Steps
2. Climb the Spanish Steps.
Once you get here, spend few moments admiring the Bernini fountain called “Barcaccia”, at the bottom of the stairs. The fountain was partially built underground to remedy to the low pressure of the aqueduct in that point. The sinking boat commemorates the impressive flood happened on the Tevere River in the 16th Century. The Spanish Steps were conceived to connect the bottom square with the small and cozy church of Trinità Dei Monti, which awaits you at the top of the hill. Climb the 132 steps that have repeatedly hosted high fashion shows and, from the top, enjoy the view on Rome’s top fashion street, Via Frattina. When you’re back to the bottom, consider paying a visit to the Keats-Shelley House, where the poet John Keats spent the last months of his life, and the Babington’s Tea House which, founded in 1893, introduced the custom of drinking tea in Rome.
3. Feast on Roman Street Food
Rome locals are proud and slave of the local street treats. Affordable, easy to eat on the go, available at every corner, and delicious: how can you resist Rome’s street food? I’m talking first and foremost about gelato and pizza. The locals eat gelato at any time of the year… it must be really cold for the gelato shops to be shut down, and this in Rome can happen only for a few days during the winter. Learn here where you can get the best gelato in Rome. Rome’s sliced pizza which we call “pizza al taglio”, is slightly different from common Italian pizza: it’s not rounded, but baked on long, rectangular trays, cut as demanded by the customer, and folded as a sandwich so you can also eat it on the go. Moreover, it’s thinner than the pizza at the restaurant and crunchier. You can find delicious sliced pizza at the Gianfornaio. Be careful, as it creates addiction. For trying different Roman street foods, hit the Mercato Testaccio (opening hours: 7-15).
4. Mesmerize inside the Pantheon: likely the locals’ favorite from this Rome bucket list
It’s hard to tell which place is the dearest to the locals’ hearts, the Pantheon or the Colosseum? One sure thing is that the entrance to the Pantheon is free of toll, since it’s been considered a Christian church from the 7th Century. The line at the gate is quick: let yourself inside this magic, spiritual place that the Romans dedicated to all the deities of the universe (12 plus the Emperor, precisely). The feature that stands out is the ceiling, with its coffers and the perfectly round hole. This is without doubts the best kept example of Roman architecture. It was completed in the year 25 b. C. and received consistent adds during the centuries that never altered its initial structure. Several royal figures of the Kingdom of Italy are buried inside the Pantheon, together with the Renaissance artist Raffaello.
The Trevi Fountain at night
5. Feel like 60’s actress Anita Eckberg at the Trevi Fountain
Well, don’t take me literally… If you walk inside the water like in the scene of the movie La Dolce Vita, which has contributed immensely to spread the popularity of Rome’s biggest fountain, you’ll likely be fined. But you can join hundreds of other visitors in feeling emotional for finding yourself in front of such spectacular sculptures in travertine marble. The ideal would be to visit the fountain during the evening or at night, when it’s lit up and the statues come alive with the reflection of the water on the smooth surfaces. The sculpted scene occupies one of the sides of the Barberini Palace. Commissioned by the Clergy in the 16th Century in order to beautifully collect the water at the end of the Acqua Virgo Acqueduct, the Trevi Fountain acquired the look it’s got today during the 18th Century, under the works of architect Nicola Pannini.
6. Shop on Via del Corso Street
Via del Corso is one of the main shopping streets in Rome. It’s hit by both locals and travelers each day of the week but particularly during the weekends and Christmas holidays. You can’t miss it if you love shopping, and especially if you love haute couture boutiques. You’ll find in here high level and medium brands, and certainly all the made in Italy you might be looking for, Gucci, Prada and the like. The street connects two amazing squares of the historical center, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Venezia, and crosses via Frattina, which brings you to the Spanish Steps and hides more Italian fashion boutiques. Some shopping to add to your Rome bucket list.
View on Piazza del Popolo from the Pincio Terrace
7. Gaze at Piazza del Popolo from the Pincio Terrace
This is one of the most enchanting terraces in Rome. It’s on the edge of the Pincio Gardens and overlooks the most gourgeous access to Rome’s hjistorical center, which is the Piazza del Popolo Square. From the terrace you can admire the disposition of the main elements in the square: the fountain, the Egyprian obelisque, the two twin churches, the ancient Aurelian walls interrupted by the impressive Flaminia Gate from sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The square was conceived and carried out over the course of three centuries; it introduces the visitor to the “trident”, the three streets that let you delve into Rome’s historical center and its countless attractions.
8. Lunch with one of Rome’s traditional pastas
Pasta is still the preferred meal of the majority of Rome citizens. We tend to consume it at lunch time, and you can find it in every restaurant of the city. I’ll try to make this wide choice easier for you. First, have your pasta at a trusted place, like “Le Mani in Pasta” in the Trastevere neighborhood or “Dino Express” near the Vatican. Go for a home made variety of pasta, like fettuccine, spaghetti alla chitarra, lombrichelli, strozzapreti, tagliolini, or gnocchi (ok, this is not really “pasta”, but it’s considered equivalent by the locals, and it’s delicious anyway). The ingredients in the sauce give the name to the dish. The typical Roman pasta dishes are: carbonara, cacio e pepe, amatriciana. Tip for the vegans out there: inform the staff in advance, and they will propose a vegan pasta dish like arrabbiata or aglio e oio.
9. Relax and people watch on a bench in Piazza Navona
This square will always hold a special place in my heart. As a child, my grandparents used to bring me here to have fun on the carousel and to get sweets at the Christmas Market, therefore each time meant happy times to me! The square is beautiful at any time of the year though, since it shows some excellent examples of Baroque architecture in Rome. I’m talking about the facade of the church of Sant’Agnese and the three fountains that stand at the center of what at the time of the Roman Empire was the Stadium of Domiziano. It’s nice just to sit here and observe the architecture and the people passing by. There are often street artists and music. It would be such a shame if you missed this place!
10. Cross the Sant’Angelo Bridge
There are several fine bridges connecting the two banks of the Tevere River. Ponte Sant’ Angelo (also called Ponte Elio) is one of them. It deserves a visit because the atmosphere there is truly unique. It’s located in front of the Sant’ Angelo Castle, which was once the tomb of Emperor Adriano and later became a Medieval fortress. The perspective on the Castle is fantastic, while the bridge has a fascinating view also on the Saint Peter’s Dome which becomes a triumph of pink and orange at sunset time. The bridge is decorated with the statues of ten angels representing the symbols of the passion of Christ and the apostles Peter and Paul, all realized by the students of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
11. Gather with thousands of pilgrims in Piazza San Pietro
There are so many beautiful squares in Rome and Piazza San Pietro, which belongs to the Vatican State, isn’t the most exceptional of them from my point of view. However, it’s considered by thousands of devotees the center of Catholicism, and you will see it with your own eyes when you visit on Sunday morning at 12, just in time to look at and hear the Pope celebrating the Angelus. There’s always an endless queue to enter the cathedral and climb the dome, which bestows unique views on the city. If you want to exercise your legs with the 550 or so steps, be prepared to face a slow line, or either book a skip-the-line ticket.
12. Drop your jaw under the Sistine Chapel’s vault inside The Vatican Museum
Together with the Louvre in Paris, Rome’s Vatican Museum is the most popular museum in the world. The Popes have collected there their arts collection for more the 5 centuries, but what each traveler can’t wait to see is first and foremost Michelangelo’s frescoes on the vault of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo Buonarruoti is busy painting the vault for 4 years, and completes his work in 1511. He didn’t accept any help, so he did it all by himself, with the help of wooden scaffoldings. It is a tremendous work, as he got to paint a curved surface of 40×13 mt. The paintings represent scenes and figures from the Genesis, like the Creation of Adam and Eve, Noè’s sacrifice, The Creation of the Sun and the Moon, prophets and sybils. Main feature of Michelangelo’s work is the human body, with its shapes, tensions, and twisting. The Last Judgement, at the center of the vault, was painted from the same artist just a few years later. If you want to visit the Vatican Museums, book your ticket in advance on the official Vatican online ticket website in order to skip the incredible line you would find there at any time of the year. Consider also some guided tour to get the most out of your visit.
13. Unwind in Villa Pamphili Park
Rome isn’t just monuments, ruins, and museums. It is actually one of the greenest cities in the world, featuring numerous public park and gardens. And when I say public parks, I mean the lands of aristocrat families of the past who once owned villas and fields, and that werelater transformed in public parks. This is the case of the Pamphili Villa, for instance. The park is huge (183 hectars) and it is a pleasure to visit, due to its pinewoods and architecture: during your walk, you will pass by a sumptuous mansion, fountains, a chapel, and a nymphaeum from the 17th Century. In the park, which is great to run and exercise, you’ll also find a cafeteria that serves coffee, teas, and dishes made of organic products suitable for everyone, included vegans.
14. Spend the evening in the Monti neighborhood
The Monti neighborhood has become very popular in the last two decades among Rome’s citizens and tourists alike. In there, you won’t find the crowds and the hustle of Trastevere, but only charming and casual restaurants, vintage shops, coffee bars, and wineries. It is nice to walk in this neighborhood because it’s partially closed to the traffic (Via Urbana). Since it’s just a few minutes away from the Colosseum, consider coming here to recover from a tiring day of sightseeing with a dine in a quiet, trendy area. Read my complete guide on the Monti neighborhood.
An Aperol drink with some bruschettas
15. Enjoy the buffet aperitivo in the Italian style
The custom of having an aperitivo after getting off from work was imported to Rome by other cities in the north of Italy. Each coffee shop and even some restaurants are prepared to serve aperitivo at the right time, usually from 18:30 to 20:30. Aperitivo consists of a drink (traditionally Prosecco or Aperol, but it can be non-alcoholic as well) with a few starters on the side. The best aperitivo places are the ones that offer an abundant buffet dinner with the drink, like the Momart near the Bologna metro station. Try to join all the locals for the aperitivo ritual at least once on your trip to Rome!
16. Have a drink in the Pigneto district
Thanks to the creation of the pedestrian street (half of the Pigneto Street), which now gathers all kinds of pub, wineries, and eateries, this area is the hipsters’ top choice for meeting people and spending the night. There are cute cafes like the Necci dal 1926, vinyl and used books shops, casual clubs with great live gigs like the ‘Na Cosetta and the Fanfulla 5/a. This is just a short introduction, but gives you a taste of the general vibes of the Pigneto neighborhood. Explore the area yourself, it’s perfect for you if you love good Italian food and wine and meeting new people. Nearest metro station: Pigneto.
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Let me know in the comments how many things you’ve managed to tick off from my Rome bucket list!