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Rome Sightseeing Guide to Highlights

Rome sightseeing could certainly last a lifetime. Whether you have 36 hours in Rome or even 2 weeks in Rome, the best way to enjoy Rome’s sightseeing highlights is to take a nice long stroll through the “Eternal City’s” neighborhoods. The stroll is so much part of the Italian culture it has its own name known as the “passeggiatta.” As you stroll Rome’s neighborhoods you can visit the important sightseeing highlights.

Rome Neighborhoods

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The primary neighborhoods in the centro storico – the historic center – are the following:

  • Spanish Steps
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Pantheon
  • Piazza Navona
  • Campo de Fiori
  • Forum & Colosseum
  • Trastevere

These neighborhoods may be considered Baroque Rome. It is where you’ll find the popular piazzas adorned with fountains funded by the church and designed by history’s great artists.

Ancient Rome was built on seven hills surrounded by the 4th century BC Servian Wall:

  • Aventine
  • Caelian
  • Esquiline
  • Quirinal
  • Viminal
  • Capitoline – Rome’s city hall and museum
  • Palatine – Main ancient Rome archaeological area around the Roman Forum and Colosseum

The Vatican Hill, Janiculum Hill, and Pincian Hill where you’ll find the Via Veneto and Borghese neighborhoods, were not part of the original seven hills. Given enough time, each hill is a neighborhood to be explored. But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

If you’d like ItalianTourism.us to arrange guided tours of Rome’s sightseeing highlights click here. Rome day tours are available daily and may be scheduled to fit into your independent Rome vacation itinerary.

For affordable Rome hotels click here. ItalianTourism.us Rome tours include 4-star and 5-star centrally located hotels. These hotels are highlighted because of their central Rome location. Rome’s historic center (centro storico), including around Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and Campo de Fiori, Via Veneto, Trastevere, and the Vatican area are all perfect central Rome hotel locations.

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Rome’s Historic Center Walking Map


View Rome Walking Map – Piazzas of Rome in a larger map

The most popular area of Rome to explore is the historic center – Rome’s centro storico. As you wander the little streets and alleys you’ll find architectural treasures. The beauty of Rome’s centro storico combined with its historical significance makes it the most spectacular city in the world for tourists.  The Piazzas of Rome make strolling from one to the next a fun way to enjoy Rome.

Below is the guide to the ItalianTourism.us Rome Map to must see sightseeing highlights:

Rome’s Historic Center Guide to Sightseeing Highlights – Rome’s Centro Storico

A. Piazza del Popolo

The piazza’s name has two meanings. Literally it means “People’s Square.” It also refers to the poplars. The big stone gate known as the Porta del Popolo was originally the Porta Flaminia, which was the starting point for the Via Flaminia, the ancient Roman road to the north. The main points of interest in the square are the Egyptian obelisk in the middle, steps up to the Pincio, and two churches in the square, church of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

B. Piazza Augusto Imperatore

The Mausoleum of Augustus (Italian: Mausoleo di Augusto) is a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC. Located on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, corner with Via di Ripetta that runs along the Tiber here. The grounds cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks, and nestle between the church of San Carlo al Corso and that Museum of the Ara Pacis.

The interior of the Mausoleum is no longer open to tourists, and looting, time, and carelessness have stripped the ruins of marbled elegance. The Mausoleum was one of the first projects initiated by Augustus in the city of Rome following his victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The mausoleum was circular in plan, consisting of several concentric rings of earth and brick, planted with cypresses on top of the building and capped (possibly, as reconstructions are unsure at best) by a conical roof and a statue of Augustus. Vaults held up the roof and opened up the burial spaces below. Twin pink granite obelisks flanked the arched entryway; these now stand, one at the Piazza dell’Esquilino (on the northwest side of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore) and other at the Quirinal fountain.

C. Capitoline Museums

The Capitoline Museums are a group of art and archeological museums in Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of the Capitoline Hill. The historic seats of the museums are Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, facing on the central trapezoidal piazza in a plan conceived by Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1536 and executed over a period of more than 400 years. The history of the museums can be traced to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection of important ancient bronzes to the people of Rome and located them on Capitoline Hill. Since then, the museums’ collection has grown to include a large number of ancient Roman statues, inscriptions, and other artifacts; a collection of medieval and Renaissance art; and collections of jewels, coins, and other items. The museums are owned and operated by the municipality of Rome. One very important and famous piece is the Capitoline Wolf, which every visitor to Rome should check out to understand the story of the founding of Rome.

Piazza di Spagna

The Spanish Steps climb a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. The Scalinata is the widest staircase in Europe. The monumental stairway of 138 steps was built in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, both located above — to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi located below. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi.

D. Piazza Barberini

Piazza Barberini is a large piazza situated on the Quirinal Hill. It was created in the 16th century but many of the surrounding buildings have subsequently been rebuilt. The current appellation was given in 1625 when it was named after the Palazzo Barberini, the substantial Baroque palace built in an elevated position on the south side of the piazza for the Barberini. Originally, there was a large entrance gateway to the palace designed by the Baroque painter and architect Pietro da Cortona on the south east corner of the piazza but this was demolished to make way for the construction of a new road in the nineteenth century. However, its appearance is known from engravings and early photographs of the piazza.  At the centerof the piazza is the Fontana del Tritone or Triton Fountain (1642–3) sculpted by Bernini. Another fountain, the Fontana delle Api (1627–1629), also by Bernini is in the nearby Via Vittorio Veneto but it has been reconstructed somewhat arbitrarily following its removal from its previous position on the corner of a palace where the Piazza Barberini meets the Via Sistina.

E. Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is a fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy. Standing 26.3 meters (86 ft) high and 49.15 meters (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Competitions had become the rage during the Baroque era to design buildings, fountains, and even the Spanish Steps. In 1730 Pope Clement XII organized a contest in which Nicola Salvi initially lost to Alessandro Galilei – but due to the outcry in Rome over the fact that a Florentine won, Salvi was awarded the commission anyway. Work began in 1732, and the fountain was completed in 1762, long after Salvi’s death, when Pietro Bracci’s Oceanus (god of all water) was set in the central niche. The fountain is located at the junction of three roads (tre vie) marks the terminal point of the “modern” Acqua Vergine, the revived Aqua Virgo, one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. In 19 BC, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman technicians located a source of pure water some 13 km (8.1 mi) from the city. (This scene is presented on the present fountain’s façade.) However, the eventual indirect route of the aqueduct made its length some 22 km (14 mi). This Aqua Virgo led the water into the Baths of Agrippa. It served Rome for more than four hundred years. A traditional legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. This was the theme of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain and the Academy Award-winning song by that name which introduced the picture. An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy.

F. Piazza Colonna

Piazza Colonna is a piazza at the center of the Rione of Colonna in the historic heart of Rome. It is named for the marble Column of Marcus Aurelius which has stood there since 193 CE. The bronze statue of Saint Paul that crowns the column was placed in 1589, by order of Pope Sixtus V. The Roman Via Lata (now the Via del Corso) runs through the piazza’s eastern end, from south to north. The piazza is rectangular. Its north side is taken up by Palazzo Chigi, formerly the Austro-Hungarian empire’s embassy, but is now a seat of the Italian government. The east side is taken up by the 19th century public shopping arcade Galleria Colonna (still 2003 Galleria Alberto Sordi), the south side is taken up by the flank of Palazzo Ferraioli, formerly the Papal post office, and the little Church of Santi Bartolomeo ed Alessandro dei Bergamaschi (1731-35). The west side is taken up by Palazzo Wedekind (1838) with a colonnade of Roman columns taken from Veii.

The piazza has been a monumental open space since Antiquity; the temple of Marcus Aurelius stood on the site of Palazzo Wedekind. The fountain in the Piazza (1577) was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII from Giacomo Della Porta who was assisted by Rocco De Rossi. In 1830 it was restored, and had two sets of dolphins, with tails entwined, sculpted by Achille Stocchi, set at either end of the long basin. The central sculpture was then substituted with a smaller sculpture and spray.

G. Temple of Hadrian

The Temple of Hadrian is a temple to the deified Hadrian on the Campus Martius in Rome, built by his adoptive son and successor Antoninus Pius in 145 and now incorporated into a later building in the Piazza di Pietra (Piazza of Stone – derived from use of the temple’s stones to build the piazza). It was once erroneously known as the Temple of Neptune.

H. Piazza di Monte Citorio

Piazza di Monte Citorio or Piazza Montecitorio is a piazza in Rome. It is named after the Monte Citorio, one of the minor hills of Rome. The piazza contains the Obelisk of Montecitorio and the Palazzo Montecitorio.

I. Pantheon & Piazza della Rotonda

The Pantheon is a building in Rome commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 C.E.  The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres (142 ft). It is one of the best-preserved of all Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” but informally known as “Santa Maria della Rotonda. The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda.

J. Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is a city square in Rome, Italy. It is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. The ancient Romans came there to watch the agones (“games”), and hence it was known as ‘Circus Agonalis’ (competition arena). It is believed that over time the name changed to ‘in avone’ to ‘navone’ and eventually to ‘navona’. Defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century, when the city market was transferred to it from the Campidoglio, the Piazza Navona was transformed into a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture and art during the pontificate of Innocent X, who reigned in 1644-1655 and whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced onto the piazza. It features important sculptural and architectural creations: in the center stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) “Fountain of the Four Rivers”, i.e. the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rio de la Plata by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, brought here in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius; the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini, Girolamo Rainaldi, Carlo Rainaldi and others; and the aforementioned Pamphili palace, also by Girolamo Rainaldi, that accommodates the long gallery designed by Borromini and frescoed by Pietro da Cortona. Piazza Navona has two additional fountains: at the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575) to which, in 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor, or African, wrestling with a dolphin, and at the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) created by Giacomo della Porta. The statue of Neptune in the northern fountain, the work of Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to make that fountain more symmetrical with La Fontana del Moro in the south. At the southwest end of the piazza is the ancient ‘speaking’ statue of Pasquino. Erected in 1501, Romans could leave lampoons or derogatory social commentary attached to the statue. During its history, the piazza has hosted theatrical events and other ephemeral activities. From 1652 until 1866, when the festival was suppressed, it was flooded on every Saturday and Sunday in August in elaborate celebrations of the Pamphilj family. The pavement level was raised in the 19th century and the market was moved again in 1869 to the nearby Campo de’ Fiori. A Christmas market is held in the piazza.

K. Santa Maria della Pace

Santa Maria della Pace is a church in Rome not far from Piazza Navona. The interior, which can be reached from the original fifteenth-century door, has a short nave with cruciform vaulting and a tribune surmounted by a cupola. Cortona articulated the interior of the dome with octagonal coffering and a series of ribs radiating from the lantern. This is an early example of combining these two forms of dome decoration and was employed by Gianlorenzo Bernini in his later churches at Ariccia and Castelgandolfo. Carlo Maderno designed the high altar (1614) to enframe the venerable icon of the Madonna and Child. Raphael began to fresco the Four Sibyls receiving angelic instruction (1514) above the arch of the Chigi Chapel, commissioned by Agostino Chigi, the papal banker. The Deposition over the altar is by Cosimo Fancelli. The second chapel on the right, the Cesi Chapel, was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, and has a very fine Renaissance decoration on the external arch by Simone Mosca, as well as two small frescoes, the Creation of Eve and the Original Sin by Rosso Fiorentino. The first chapel on the left (Ponzetti Chapel) has noteworthy Renaissance frescoes by Baldassarre Peruzzi, who is better known as an architect. The second chapel has marble taken from the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. The tribune has paintings by Carlo Maratta, Peruzzi, Orazio Gentileschi, Francesco Albani and others. A main feature of the church and monastery complex is the Bramante cloister. Built in 1500-1504 for Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, it was the first work of Donato Bramante in the city. It has two levels: the first is articulated by shallow pilasters set against an arcade; the second also has pilasters set against an arcade which is vertically continuous with the lower floor, but with columns located in between each arch span.

M. Piazza Campo Dè Fiori

Campo de’ Fiori is a rectangular square south of Piazza Navona, at the border between rione Parione and rione Regola. It is just diagonally southeast of the Palazzo della Cancelleria and one block northeast of the Palazzo Farnese. Campo de’ Fiori, translated literally from Italian, means “field of flowers”. The name was first given during the Middle Ages when the area was actually a meadow. Campo de’ Fiori has never been architecturally formalized. The square has always remained a focus for commercial and street culture: the surrounding streets are named for trades—Via dei Balestrari (crossbow-makers), Via dei Baullari (coffer-makers), Via dei Cappellari (hat-makers), Via dei Chiavari (key-makers) and Via dei Giubbonari (tailors). With new access streets installed by Sixtus IV— Via Florea and Via Pellegrino— the square became a a part of the Via papale (“Pope’s road”), the street linking Basilica of St. John Lateran and the Vatican and run through by the Pope after his election during the so called “Cavalcata del possesso”, when he reached the lateran from the Vatican to take possession of the city. This brought wealth to the area: A flourishing horse market took place twice a week (Monday and Saturday) and a lot of inns, hotels and shops came to be situated in Campo de’ Fiori. The most famous of them, the “Taverna della Vacca” (“cow’s Inn”) still stands at the south west corner of the square, at the begin of Via de’ Cappellari, and belonged to Vannozza dei Cattanei, the most famous lover of Alexander VI Borgia, whose family seal is still on display on the house facade. Executions used to be held publicly in Campo de’ Fiori. Here, on 17 February 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt alive for heresy, and all of his works were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Holy Office. In 1887 Ettore Ferrari dedicated a monument to him on the exact spot of his death: He stands defiantly facing the Vatican, reinterpreted in the first days of a reunited Italy as a martyr to freedom of thought. The inscription on the base recites: A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE (English: To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned). The body of theologian and scientist Marco Antonio de Dominis was also burned in this square, in 1624. Since 1869 a daily vegetable and fish market has been held there, which before took place every morning in piazza Navona. The ancient fountain known as la Terrina (the “soupbowl”) that once watered cattle, was resited in 1889, and replaced with a copy: This now keeps flowers fresh. Its inscription: FA DEL BEN E LASSA DIRE (“Do the good and let them talk”) suits the gossipy nature of the marketplace. In the afternoons, local games of football give way to set-ups for outdoor cafés. At night, Campo de’ Fiori is a meeting place for tourists and young people coming from the whole city.

N. Piazza Farnese

Palazzo Farnese is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome. Owned by the Italian state, it was given to the French Government in 1936 for a period of 99 years, and currently serves as the French embassy in Italy. First designed in 1517 for the Farnese family, the building expanded in size and conception when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534, to designs by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. Its building history involved some of the most prominent Italian architects of the 16th century, including Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta. At the end of the 16th century, the important fresco cycle of The Loves of the Gods in the Farnese Gallery was carried out by the Bolognese painter Annibale Carracci, marking the beginning of two divergent trends in painting during the 17th century, the Roman High Baroque and Classicism. The famous Farnese sculpture collection, now in the National Archeological Museum of Naples, as well as other Farnese collections, now mostly in Capodimonte Museum in Naples, were accommodated in the palace.

O. Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere

The Fountain in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is a fountain located in the square in front of the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, Italy. It is believed to be the oldest fountain in Rome, dating back, according to some sources, to the 8th century. The present fountain is the work of Donato Bramante, with later additions by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Carlo Fontana.  A fountain is believed to have stood in this square since the 8th century, but the exact date it was built is unknown. The fountain is first mentioned in documents dating to the second half of the 15th century. A drawing of the fountain appears on the map of Rome made by Pietro del Massaio in 1471, along with a description of the legend of the fountain’s origin. According to the legend, which appears in the Chronicle of Eusebius, translated and finished by Saint Jerome in the fifth century, on the night of the birth of Christ a fountain of oil appeared miraculously in front of the church, which as a result was given the name “Santa Maria in fontibus.” The original fountain was supplied with water by a Roman aqueduct, the Aqua Traiana. When the aqueduct was ruined during the invasions of Rome, water came from underground sources below the Janiculum hill. The old fountain illustrated in the drawing of del Massaio had two vasques, one above the other, pouring water into the basin below. The fountain was reconstructed between 1499 and 1500 on the command of Giovanni Lopez, the bishop of Perouse and Bishop of the parish of Santa Maria in Trastevere, who gave the commission to Donato Bramante, the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. Bramante removed the upper vasque and added four carved stone wolf heads, the emblem of the Lopez family. The fountain was reconstructed again in 1604 by the architect Girolamo Rainaldi, the father of Carlo Rainaldi,the architect of the two churches of Piazza del Popolo. At that time the fountain was connected to the newly-restored Acqua Felice aqueduct. In 1659 the fountain was connected to the Acqua Paola aqueduct and remodeled again by Bernini. Bernini replaced the octagonal basin, moved the fountain from its original place in front of the church to a new location in the center of the square, and added sculpted seashells around the basin. At the end of the 17th century, the architect Carlo Fontana replaced Bernini’s seashells with his own sculpted seashells. The fountain was completely rebuilt in 1873, following the design of Bernini and Fontana, but using less expensive materials. It was rebuilt once again in 1930.

Vatican Museum

Vatican City is a sovereign nation located inside Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum are among the most popular Italy sightseeing highlights in Rome.  Many people want to visit the Sistine Chapel, which is accessible via the Vatican Museum.


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There is so much to see in Rome’s maze of ancient streets that spending your days poking around will provide plenty of opportunities to experience Rome like a Roman.

Along your Rome sightseeing  journey be sure to enjoy the perfect espresso, pizza slice, or a scoop of gelato among longer stays in the trattorie all while marveling the amazing architecture.

Rome is built upon layers from the ancient Romans, to the Baroque Rome of Bernini, to modern Rome, it is a a city of treasures. Enjoy your Rome sightseeing.  Buon viaggio!

Day Trips From Rome

Viterbo

Ostia Antica

Riding the subway from Rome’s Termini station, Ostia Antica was founded in 4th Century BC. The ruins rival those of Pompeii and is only 30 minutes from Rome. 2000 years ago 60,000 people lived in this bustling ancient Roman port city. Eventually the people left and mud buried the city. That mud preserved the city and the artifacts.

Fiuggi

 

Gaeta

 

Tivoli