With over 2000-years of historical legacy, Rome is brimming with historical sites in every nook and corner. Every brick that builds up Rome is tinged with the blood of the mightiest men that once ruled over it.
From Julius Caesar to Augustus to Constantine, they all have had footsteps etched on this reservoir of relics: Rome.
There are over a thousand historical sites that are a must-visit here. Rome is a hub of eternal archaeological findings from Palatine Hill, Piazza de Spagna, and the Spanish steps to Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Piazza Venezia.
Among them, I have narrowed a list to ten of the best historical sites in Rome to visit.
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Good to Know: This guide to the best Rome historic sites comes to us from Richard Marrison. Richard is from Budapest, Hungary.
He holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology from Eötvös Loránd University. He believes education to be one of the essential parts of a human being. Be it acquiring knowledge from the formal setting of education such as schools or universities or be it through articles, books, or any forms of informative materials.
However, his interest inclines more towards education and acquiring knowledge about history. Any topic that has a depth relating to history, it could be monumental, critical, or antiquarian motivates him to know more.
His interest began from the first time he read about the history of Genghis Khan and has not stopped learning about any forms of history until today. He has been creating content about ancient, medieval, and modern history at historyten.com and providing relevant information and data to his readers.
Where to Stay in Rome
There are tons of hotels in Rome, but it can get confusing comparing value when thinking about all the different locations you can pick during your time here. I’m including recommendations for hotels and hostels in these three budget categories:
- Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $25-35 USD per night for a dorm bed or under $70 for a double.
- Mid-range: Around $75-125 USD per night
- Luxury: Around $150 per night or more
Budget: Rome has a ton of hostels to choose from, but most of them are blessed with pretty bad reviews (even for hostels). For an affordable hostel dorm that people actually love staying in, pick New Generation Hostel Santa Maria Maggiore.
Just a ten or fifteen-minute walk to the Coliseum and Termini Station, the hostel has a great location that will make your time in Rome easy. Complete with free wifi and shared kitchens, it will also help keep your overall costs down.
Mid-Range: For modern rooms and a fabulous location at a mid-range price, check out The Wesley Rome. Hotels in the city have gotten so much better since my first trip to Rome, and The Wesley is a great example.
While the rooms are smaller than at some other hotels, the location can’t be beaten! It sells out very fast, so book your room here early.
Luxury: For a complete Roman luxury vacation, stay at the five-star Sina Bernini Bristol which is the iconic Roman hotel located behind the Bernini Triton fountain on Piazza Barberini.
With a great location that’s walkable to most of Rome’s best sites, you’ll feel at home right in the heart of the city. After long days of exploring the city, you can retreat to the hotel’s sauna and Turkish bath.
The Best Historical Sites in Rome
While there are hundreds of historical sites in Rome, here are the top ten!
The Baths of Caracalla
A splendid monument from history, Thermae Antoninianae, or as we call it, the Baths of Caracalla, was built between 212 AD and 216 AD during the reign of the emperor Septimius Severus and his son and successor, Caracalla.
It was the city’s second-largest thermae or the public baths and the most famous of them all.
Septimius Severus had collected prisoners of war from his Scottish campaign, used to build the baths. The site was leveled by about thirteen thousand men, with about six thousand people layering twenty-one million bricks to create the baths.
Elaborately designed with marble, it required six hundred men and 6300m2 of marbles to complete it.
It was one of the most loved Roman recreations to indulge in baths during antiquity. Bathing in Roman times was much more than merely cleansing the body; it was a time of social engagement among the Romans. It was altogether a social experience and a ritual to bathe in the Caracalla.
The bath contained water from the branch of Aqua Marcia aqueduct, known as Aqua Antoniniana.
One of the arches survives to this day and is incorrectly called as Arch of Drusus.
About sixteen hundred people could enjoy the baths at a time in the enormous water body with three different water temperatures: the frigidarium, the coldest, the tepidarium, medium, and the caldarium, the hottest temperature.
The fountain located in Trevi of Rome or the Fontana di Trevi is the most beautiful one in Rome. The Baroque-style fountain is situated in the heart of the romantic city, perched among various narrow streets.
The statue of Hippocamps, Abundance, Tritons, and Salubrity surround the figure of Oceanus, the God of water, in this 26 feet tall and 49 feet wide fountain. Recently renovated in 2015, it is a work of art sculpted from a Travertine stone, also used while making the Colosseum in 1762.
To add more theatrics and drama to the fountain, the Baroque era pope, Pope Clement XII, opened an architecture contest to redesign the fountain. Nicola Salvi won the game, and it began taking its shape and intricate design. It took four sculptors and architects to complete the work in 30 years.
Marking the end for Acque Vergine, the revived Acqua Virgin of ancient Rome lies at the three streets’ junction. For the same reason, it acquired its name, deriving from the Latin Trivium or intersection of three streets.
The Vatican Museums
The Musei Vaticani or the Vatican Museums are renowned for their massive and exquisite arts and sculptors chronicling centuries. The Roman masterpieces of sculpture and the brilliant Renaissance paintings are all housed under one roof in the public museum of Vatican City.
Although it is the smallest city globally, it is practically an enormous gallery of marvelous public arts. Containing about 70,000 works, it has put up about 20,000 works in glorious display in 54 galleries called the Vatican Museums. The galleries together comprise 14000 rooms with ample lighting and optimum conditions to preserves and display the artworks.
If that isn’t enough, it also features the Sistine Chapel, whose elaborate ceiling was made by Michelangelo, and the largest Catholic church globally, St. Peter’s Basilica. The Gallery of Maps and Stanza di Raffaello are its other attractions.
It was made in the 16th century by Pope Julius II when he purchased a single piece of art called ‘Laocoon and his sons’ for the Vatican. What started as a marble sculpture of three figurines is now a hub for thousands of such pieces assembled by the Catholic church and the papacy.
The Spanish Steps
Although the name goads one to believe that the Spanish made it somehow, the Spanish Steps were built by a French diplomat, Etienne Gueffier, to link the Spanish square or Piazza di Spagna below with Piazza Trinita dei Monti Church.
The steps, which were renovated several times in history, were built in 1723 by a lesser-known Italian architect, Francesco De Sanctis. The stairs, called scaling in Italian, comprise 135 steps that are curvy, straight, vistas and terraces mixed.
Below the end of the steps is a fountain called La Barcaccia, literally meaning Ugly Boat, far from the truth of how it looks. The boat was made by the famous Bernini family father-son duo, who filled it with the water from Acqua Vergine, the ancient aqueduct of Rome.
The Spanish Steps are one of the most visited sites by snap-happy tourists, made a commercial favorite by movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn in her movie, Roman Holiday. During the summers, pink azaleas are places over the steps, further beautifying the already magnificent antique steps.
Capitoline Hill or the Capitol is the highest hill among the seven hills of Rome, boasting historical and religious significance. The headquarter of the Italian government was once a site for praising the Roman deities.
The hill was formerly dedicated to the God Saturn and named Mons Saturn is. Later, temples of Jupiter were built, covering the entire hill. Thus, it was renamed Mons Capitolinus, the temple of Jupiter. Another legend is that a caput or head was found while the foundation was laid for the temple.
Michelangelo created the design and surrounding palazzi of the Capitol from the Renaissance era in 1536-1546 to visit Charles V in 1538. A majestic flight of stairs takes us to the Piazza, which contains three buildings: Palazzo Senatorial, Palazzo dei Conservatori, and Palazzo Nuovo, comprising the Capitoline Museum.
Both houses have an exotic collection of antiquities in the present time, each of which was built by skilled architects following the drawings of Michelangelo. In the middle of it stands the bronze equestrian statue of the former emperor, Marcus Aurelius, much to Michelangelo’s dislike.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Traditionally, in Catholic belief, St. Peter’s Basilica is the burial site of Jesus’s chief apostle, Saint Peter, who served as the first Bishop of Rome itself. Hence, it holds an important place in Christendom worldwide, attracting 10 million tourists annually.
The present Basilica was rebuilt atop an older one, first commissioned in 349 by Constantine’s first Christian emperor. The site was where Saint Peter had been buried between 64-67 CE. The medieval church collapsed, and a new one was built during the mid-15th century.
Under the endeavors of Pope Nicholas V, it was attempted for restoration and was made successful by Julius II. Similarly, the design of the building was taken over by the master of Renaissance architecture, Michelangelo, who made a milestone with his idea of the dome. Originally, Donato Bramante planned the design, but his untimely demise had shelved the project.
The site’s architecture is such that one has to pass through many colonnades before entering the elliptical-shaped Piazza into the Basilica. It is heralded as one of the four major basilicas of the world and contains masterful works of Renaissance and Baroque art. Michelangelo’s famous Pieta is also housed on this site.
St. Peter’s Basilica is a pilgrimage to many and draws thousands of people for its liturgies, commenced with the pope’s presence.
Among the seven hills that form the heart of Rome, the central and significant is the Palatine Hill. It was the home of all the emperors of Rome but, more importantly, the ground found by Romulus as Rome. Imbued with Roman history is this hill, one of the oldest areas and, presently, a historic site in the Italian capital.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the city had been occupied first in 800 BC, making this area the most ancient one in this part of Rome. Legend says that Romulus first settled down on this hill after discovering it.
Romulus and various other Roman emperors lived here, including Nero, Cicero, and Mark Antony. The birth of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, was here.
Until the Roman republic, society of all levels inhabited this hill and lived together. After the reign of Augustus, he transformed it into a VIP-only residence by only allowing emperors to reside.
Domus Augusti, his house on the hill was a modest one in comparison with other villas. However, he soon acquired other manors and made it a luxurious home.
No sooner had the Empire fallen than the Palatine hills were abandoned. By the 11th century, it was a sprawling archeological ruin.
Today, the oldest part of Rome is converted into a museum where people flock by to see the Domus Flavia, Villa di Livia, Farnese Gardens, and Stadium of Domitian, among other attractions.
The Pantheon, or the temple of gods, was built by emperor Hadrian before converting into a catholic church in 609. Agrippa, between 27BC, first commissioned it to 14 AD to build a temple dedicated to gods, burned down. Then, emperor Hadrian had it rebuilt over the remnants of its predecessor in 126 AD.
Known as one of Rome’s most well-preserved ancient buildings, it was initially built as a temple of gods. Hence, it derived from the Greek words’ pan’ meaning all and ‘those, meaning gods. It is a two-time burned-down site restored by Hadrian, a vibrant art and architecture lover.
It had three sections: a porch lined with granite columns, a dome, and a rectangular area intersecting both teams.
Primarily, it was built with bricks and cement. The Pantheon was such that it was roofed with a giant dome of 142 feet diameter. It was considered the largest dome ever built in those times. Moreover, it was perforated in the middle from where the light and rain graced the Pantheon.
It was a building reflecting exquisite architecture and design that has inspired and continued to inspire the architecture of several buildings worldwide. Many universities and the homes of some eminent personalities have drawn inspiration from this pagan temple-turned Christian church that Michelangelo himself admired.
The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is a rectangular plaza was located in ancient Rome, where many religious, social, cultural, and political activities met. Moreover, this Forum was the site for many governmental buildings, which can still be seen in ruins.
The Forum was a marketplace for the people of the ancient city, who gathered out in the open space during 500 BC Rome. It used to be occupied with pompous processions, elections, public speeches, gladiator matches, and even criminal trials. It offered the regular din and cacophony of current affairs during those times.
According to a legend, the founder of Rome, Romulus, marked the Forum’s site for a neutral meeting with his alliance-cum-enemy, Titus Tatius. Later, the reign of Julius Caesar saw an additional building at the Forum, and so did another one add up during the reign of Augustus.
It is altogether an assemblage of monuments, temples, and basilicas, a sprawling nucleus of architectural ramshackle and dotted with archeological excavations. Many fragments of shrines and busts that were once dedicated to eminent personalities lie scattered in the Forum. Similarly, other important sites are Senate House, Arch of Titus, Temple of Saturn, and Vestia.
East from the Roman Forum is the massive theater that is the Colosseum. Also known as Flavian Amphitheatre, it was built as early as 70-72 CE, during the reign of the Flavian emperors. Emperor Vespasian made it to the east of the Palatine Hill on the Golden House of Nero.
It was a gift to the Romans that underwent several modifications after a decade of its establishment. The four-storied gigantic building was 620 by 513 feet in size with eighty entrance doors. With the capacity to accommodate 50,000 people inside, the number of entrances seems justified.
The gates for the Colosseum flung open with 100-day gladiatorial games, celebrated by emperor Titus. Besides the bloody contest in gladiator games, where even emperor Commodus performed frequently, the arena was the stage for dramas, combats, and even criminal trials to public execution.
Frangipane and Annibaldi used it as a church and a tower before earthquakes and lightning ruined it in medieval times. It was further aggravated by pollution and vandalism until the 19th century, when Pius VIII undertook a restorative program. By then, it had lost its marble seatings and the overall luster. Yet, it is synonymous with Rome itself, with about seven million people visiting the site annually.
Which Roman Historic Sties will You Visit?
Home of the icons of Antiquity, Rome is one of the most famous and sought-after cities in the world, popular for many historical landmarks.
Walking down the lanes of these sites seems like walking in a throbbing ancient city of Rome, for there are exceptionally well-preserved monumental buildings that are centuries-old.
A slice of ancient Roman life can be experienced on every street and corner in Rome. Thus, it is not merely a city but an experience itself.
5 Things to Bring with You to Italy
I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use an Italian sim card while here to help navigate the trains.
Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS system, and general travel genie.
A Great Day Bag so you can carry what you need with you (like your camera, snacks, water, sunscreen, cash, etc).
My current favorite is the Pacsafe Citysafe, which is especially great for Italy because it has many anti-theft features.
Italy is the only country in the world where I’ve almost been the victim of a pickpocket!
The Pacsafe Citysafe also transitions to a night bag more easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
More Italy Travel Resources
I love Italy! Here are all my Italy resources to help you plan your trip, organized by destination.
Italy Country Guides
I adore Milan! I’m *this close* to calling it my favorite city in Italy.
Only plan on being here for a few days? Check out my three-day Milan itinerary.
Once you’re here, use these quotes about Milan for your Instagram captions!
Finally, before you arrive, check to see if there’s a special Milan festival happening while you’ll be in the city!
Rome was the first European city I ever visited, and it stole my heart! While here, make sure to see the Roman Forum.
Venice is absolutely beautiful. Use these beautiful quotes about Venice for your picture captions.
Naples & the Amalfi Coast
Headed to Naples? Here’s the perfect one-day-in-Naples itinerary.
You can enjoy these beautiful quotes about the Amalfi coast to inspire your trip!