Rome has been my favorite city in the world from the second I stepped off my Alitalia flight for my study abroad semester back in 2017. Since then, I have lived in Florence for 18 months and traveled to 21 European countries…and Rome still remains my favorite. Although when I first arrived I was technically there to “study,” I had only class twice a week. This gave me plenty of free time to explore the city! Over those four months, my friends and I compiled a long list of our favorite restaurants, bars, museums, attractions and adventures in Rome. Keep reading and enjoy my guide to the best sights in Rome!
Italy’s currency is the euro. When getting out cash, make sure to avoid currency conversion shops at all cost. They’ll give you the worst rates in the city and you’ll more often than not leave with half the cash you were owed. The best way to take out euros is to bring your American debit card (don’t forget to let your bank know you’ll be using it in Europe), and take out cash from a bank ATM, NOT a Euronet ATM. Euronet ATMs are notorious for giving horrendous conversion rates and I only ever used them if I had no other choice.
It’s also a good idea to use a bank ATM for security reasons! If the ATM eats your card or charges you and doesn’t dispense the cash, you can just walk into the bank for assistance.
Some Basic Italian
No matter where you’re traveling, it’s always a good idea to know some useful phrases in that country’s language. Especially Italy since, let’s be honest, Italian is the prettiest language in the world.
Greetings & Pleasantries
Hello/goodbye (casual): Ciao
Goodbye (formal): Arrivederci
*Good morning: Buongiorno
*Good afternoon: Buona sera
Thank you: Grazie (Make sure to pronounce the “e,” Italians always judge Americans for saying “Grazi”)
Please: Per favore
Have a good day: Buona serata
I don’t speak Italian: Non parlo Italiano
Where is the bathroom?: Dov’è il bagno?
Sono…(for introductions): I am…
Come ti chiami?: What is your name?
Can I have…(when ordering): Posso avere…
Red wine/white wine: Vino rosso/vino bianco
Sparkling water/still water: Acqua frizzante/acqua naturale
Check, please?: Il conto, per favore?
American coffee: Caffè americano
*Ciao is a very informal greeting in Italian (one used between friends), but it’s common for tourists to use it as well. Buongiorno (good morning) and buona sera (good afternoon) are the more formal greetings used among strangers.
Where to Stay
Like most European cities, Rome has its fair share of hostels. Unfortunately, most of them are located near the central train station, Roma Termini, which is definitely not the best area of Rome. However, since it’s near the station, you can easily take buses or trams wherever you’re going!
Alessandro Palace & Bar is my favorite hostel in Rome and my first choice for budget-accommodation whenever I visit the city. Pub crawls are “technically” illegal in Italy, but Alessandro Palace offers their “Night Out Party” every day of the week (which is essentially the same thing). In the off-season, their prices are incredible! We rented our own mini-Suite in January with three beds and a private bathroom for only €70/night.
If hotels are more your speed, I would highly recommend Hotel Campo de’ Fiori. It’s the perfect location in the Campo de’ Fiori neighborhood, across the Tiber from scenic Trastevere! They best part is their hotel rooftop with amazing views of Rome.
The Colosseum & The Roman Forum
The Colosseum is the most famous monument in Rome and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, which means it’s always packed with tourists. I would suggest buying tickets online ahead-of-time so you don’t end up waiting in line all day!
Touring the inside of the Colosseum was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve had abroad. The sheer size of the amphitheater will amaze you, along with its overwhelming sense of history. Even if you are planning a short stop in Rome, I would highly suggest making time to tour the inside of the Colosseum.
Photo tip: the best photos with the Colosseum are from inside the Roman Forum!
The Forum can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers, especially since many of the ruins are barely standing. If you’re a history buff, I would highly suggest spending a little more on a guided tour. You can usually find a good price and it’s definitely worth a little extra to learn Roman history from an expert in the site of the ancient Roman Empire.
Even if you decide not to book a tour, make sure to book entrance tickets online ahead-of-time. The Forum is another tourist hot-spot and full days can book up quickly!
The Vatican & St. Peter’s Basilica
Vatican City and its world-renowned museums are a must-see on any trip to Rome! Since all the attractions are right next to each other in Vatican City, it’s best to just make a day out of it and see everything at once. Since these attractions are so popular it’s much easier to buy tickets ahead of time.*
The Vatican is the world’s smallest country and the home of the Holy See of the Catholic Church. Nowadays, millions of tourists travel to Rome every year to tour the Vatican Museum’s 70,000 exhibit and marvel at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo gathered inspiration from Brunelleschi’s cupola in Florence when building the dome for St. Peter’s Basilica. When visiting the Basilica, you can buy tickets to climb to the top for awe-inspiring views of Rome.
*In the on-season, if you don’t buy them ahead of time you might not be able to buy them at all.
Located in Piazza della Rotonda, the Pantheon is another of Rome’s oldest and most famous structures. Built in 27 BC, the Pantheon is the best -preserved building from ancient Rome. Inside, you’ll marvel at its gorgeous inner dome and centuries-old masterpieces.
Ladies – make sure to cover your shoulders if you plan to go inside the Pantheon. They may turn you away if you don’t!
Altare della Patria
The Altare della Patria, commonly known among American students as “The Wedding Cake Building,” is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. The monument contains a museum and an elevator that will take you all the way to the top, where you can find some of the most stunning views of Rome. Located in Piazza Venezia, the Altare della Patria marks the beginning of the Roman Forum (although the building itself was finished in 1925).
For only €7 and a short wait, you can take in the stunning view for yourself.
The Spanish Steps
Since their construction in the 18th century, the Spanish Steps have been one of Rome’s top attractions. They were originally built to link the Trinità dei Monti church to the Spanish square below. Nowadays, the Spanish Steps are a symbol of Rome’s history and are usually packed with tourists shopping for souvenirs on the surrounding streets.
Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain
There are many superstitions revolving throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, the most popular being the belief that throwing a coin in the fountain will bring you back to Rome someday. A short walk from Via del Corso and the Pantheon, throwing one coin in the fountain is said to ensure a return to Rome, two coins will supposedly ensure romance with a Roman and three coins means you will marry said Roman. I can’t speak to the superstitions, but throwing a coin in the fountain makes for one cute boomerang!
Tip: don’t stop to eat or shop anywhere around the Trevi Fountain. The area is so touristy that shops charge a premium just for being in the area. And make sure to keep an eye on your belongings, this is a hotspot for pickpockets!
The Capuchin Crypt
The Capuchin Crypt, or the Museum and Crypt of the Capuchin Friars, resides below the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. The five underground chambers of the crypt are decorated completely with skulls and bones. It’s estimated that the rooms hold the corpses of around 3,700 Capuchin friars! Entrance is only €8.50, but if you’re creeped out by mummified remains it might not be the museum for you.
Warning: they are very strict about photography, so I wouldn’t suggest trying to sneak any pictures.
Campo de’ Fiori Market
Campo de’ Fiori is one of my favorite places in Rome! At night, the whole square is filled with delicious restaurants and music from surrounding bars. During the day, it’s filled with street vendors selling fresh produce, Italian leather, souvenirs and homemade pasta. It’s a great place to wander around on a Saturday morning, but not all of the vendors take cards so make sure you have cash!
If you plan to eat or go out in this area at night, be aware that the restaurants can be very pushy when trying to get you through their door.
Explore Scenic Trastevere
John Cabot University (my school in Rome) was located in the middle of scenic Trastevere. The neighborhood is filled with delicious restaurants, cafes, bars and adorable shops selling art, books and clothing. Trastevere is widely regarded as one of Rome’s trendiest neighborhoods and is my favorite part of the city!
Shopping on Via del Corso
If you’re looking to do some serious shopping, look no further than Via del Corso. Via del Corso is an ancient road, one of the largest during the time of the Roman Empire. Today, it’s home to hundreds of Rome’s best shops.
Giardino degli Aranci
I visited the Giardino deli Aranci on my very last day in Rome. The garden is named for its famous orange trees (the name translates to Orange Garden) and it’s situated high on a hill overlooking spectacular views of the city. Sometimes the best sights in Rome are off the beaten path!
Take the train to Anzio for a Beach Day
I always pounce on any opportunity to go to the beach! Anzio is a small beach town located south of Rome and only an hour away by train. On my days off from class, I would purchase a round-trip ticket for €7 from Roma Termini to Anzio. The beaches are gorgeous and, because I was going in late April/early May, I had them almost entirely to myself. When I think about my time during study abroad, the days I spent on Anzio’s deserted beaches were some of my favorites.
Where to eat
For a list of my favorite restaurants in Rome, check out my post When in Rome…EAT as the Romans Do!
Bars & Nightclubs
We lived in Rome during our study abroad semester, so we were no stranger to the nightlife scene. However, we were American college students and our nightlife choices reflected it. With the exception of Akab, all these bars and clubs are very Americanized, but still super fun!
My personal favorite club in Rome, it was a rare night out if it didn’t end with someone leading the pack to Shari Vari. The club is ridiculously overpriced (€10 for a Heineken and €9 for shots), but we made some great memories on that sweaty, overpacked dance floor. Usually starting somewhere else for a cheaper pregame, it was not uncommon for us to close down the Shari dance floor at 5:00 AM.
Scholars Irish Pub
Another one on our list of favorite Roman bars, Scholars was the place to be every Tuesday night for Karaoke. Always completely packed with American students, its not the place to go for an “authentic” Italian night out. However, the drinks are affordable (liters of Peroni for €4) and Scholars always ended up being a great time!
Although I didn’t frequent G Bar as much as the others, the staff was fun and friendly and they had great deals for study abroad students. The interior was tiny and crowded but if it was a nice night it was a great place to hang out outside to chat, have a few drinks and enjoy Italy’s lack of open-container laws.
Another bar frequented by JCU students, Drunken Ship was a favorite among my friends. Located across the river in Campo de’ Fiori and the perfect spot for some pregame drinks, it was often the first stop of the night.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Akab is where to go if you’re looking for a local Italian nightclub. Testaccio is filled with some of the city’s most popular clubs and bars and is located across the Tiber from lower Trastevere. A stroll down Via di Monte Testaccio will give you all the options you could ever want for a wild night out!
Warning: expect most places in Testaccio to charge a cover fee.
Hopefully you enjoyed my guide to the best sights in Rome and you’ll use some of these tips if you’re lucky enough to visit. If you’re planning on seeing more of Italy, don’t forget to check out my related guides The Best of Florence, The Ultimate Guide to Dining in Florence, A Beginner’s Guide to the Amalfi Coast, 24 Hours in Milan and When in Rome…EAT as the Romans Do.
As always, thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow my adventures on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps!
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