Rome is an open-air museum perfect for anyone who longs to submerse themselves in rich art and history. Every street running through the 2,500 year old city brims with historical landmarks and architecture, from the bustling piazzas and magnificent churches to the famous Colosseum and Pantheon. Meanwhile, those same streets feature many museums that house masterpieces as ancient as Rome itself, as well as those from the Middle Ages, the Baroque period, and even today. In order to fully enjoy the best of the art Rome has to offer, we believe you need to spend at least three days enjoying this beautiful city.
To discover the best of modern and Baroque art in Rome, begin your journey by visiting the northern area of classic downtown – the elegant Parioli district and the green Villa Borghese. The perfect starting point is undoubtedly the Borghese Gallery, a great museum full of invaluable works kept together inside a sumptuous residence surrounded by the Borghese gardens. It is one of the most beautiful art galleries in Italy and hosts the greatest number of works by Bernini and Caravaggio. It includes Bernini’s famous Apollo and Daphne statue, Caravaggio’s David and Goliath, and Raphael’s The Deposition, among furnishings and frescoes whose beauty will take your breath away.
The Borghese organizes annual exhibitions spotlighting one particular theme. Book your entry in the morning (a reservation is mandatory for this museum) to start your day in a perfect way. Take a stroll and breathe the sweet air of the gardens as you admire beautiful fountains, such as the Fontana del Peschiera, or the Aesculapius Temple. Or wander the grounds and discover rare varieties of plants as you head to the Aviary. If you prefer, you can have your own private guide through the Gallery to learn more about the various masterpieces, lesser-known works, and the park that ends at the Pincio Terrace (don't miss this panorama over Rome!).
From there, head to the National Gallery of Modern Art located just above the Villa Borghese. The chronological trail through the history of painting and sculpture through the 19th and 20th centuries is the best way to enjoy your visit. Move from Canova's Neoclassicism, represented by the sculpture of Hercules and Lica, to the Romantic period, represented by Hayez's The Sicilian Vespers, as well as the works of Carlo d'Azeglio and Caffi. The National Gallery of Modern Art also has a rich collection of works from the Macchiaioli group, including Giovanni Fattori, and paintings by Monet, van Gogh, Cézanne, Klimt, Kandinsky, and De Chirico.
Complete your day with a guided tour through the Baroque center to discover beautiful churches decorated by magnificent frescoes. Your private guide is an art expert who will lead you through the Baroque District from the imperious Spanish Steps through churches and palaces, making sure to touch upon all the icons of the city center, such as Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona. After you have seen the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the Fountain of the Four Rivers, hop on over to the legendary Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa for a tasty and special lunch! If you'd like to interrupt you day devoted to art by devoting yourself to the art of cooking – this restaurant features a course called "The Original Fettuccine Alfredo: Cooking Lesson and Lunch," a fun way to learn how to make the classic pasta dish, followed by a lunch with many surprises!
After your meal, take 15 minute walk on the elegant Via dei Due Macelli and Via del Tritone (or take the subway to the Barberini stop) from Piazza di Spagna to Palazzo Barberini, home of the National Gallery of Ancient Art. Walk through its 20 rooms, which display masterpieces such as Judith and Holofernes by Caravaggio among many other works by Bernini, Van Dyck, Fra Angelico, El Greco, Raphael, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Rubens, Murillo and Titian.
We also suggest a tour of the National Roman Museum, a complex of four buildings that house the best of ancient Roman art and archaeology. Your private guide will lead you through Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, the Diocletian Baths and the Balbi Crypt.
If you prefer exploring this museum in your own rhythm, book your ticket and enjoy . Either way, don’t miss this opportunity! If at the end of the first day your feet hurt and you think a trip to another museum just sounds exhausting, simply move your National Roman Museum visit to the next morning. You can just as easily move on from the museum to the nearby Ancient Roman ruins to discover the wonders of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
For dinner we recommend the Ristorante Alessio (Via del Viminale 2, close to Piazza della Repubblica) for its refined ambience and traditional cuisine.
The masterpieces of Michelangelo are certainly some of the most important and spectacular in Rome, whether we look at the works he created as sculptor, painter or architect. Therefore, why not spend a full day admiring the works of the greatest artist of the Italian Renaissance? One piece of advice ‑ the main sights are not close to each other, so make sure you plan your day and travels in advance.
That said, you could actually combine practicality and fun with either of the two following options: City Sightseeing offers a modern double-decker open bus, which travels two routes, both of which visit the most important destinations in Rome all day long. The bus allows you to hop on and off as you please – perfect for pictures of views and monuments too! Even more special is the Bus 'n Boat Service, which offers a 48 hour ticket to ride on both a hop-on, hop-off open bus that visits all the main attractions of Rome, as well as on a boat navigating the Tiber River – a truly unique view of Rome!
Not to be missed are Michelangelo’s masterpieces in the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica of Saint Peter crowned by his Dome, its interior enriched by the famous Pietà. In fact, you should start at the Vatican Museums – and remember to book your ticket ahead of time to avoid wasting your day waiting in line. You can get there following this itinerary from the city center.
Depart from the elegant Piazza del Campidoglio, where you can admire the architectural genius of Michelangelo. This piazza is full of details such as the Cordonata stairway. Move then to Piazza della Repubblica to visit the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a massive project that converted part of the Diocletian Baths into a Basilica, restoring the tepidarium (warm water basin) with a modern and non-destructive approach to archaeological remains. Cross the Baroque center on Via Cavour and head up to the Basilica of San Piero in Vincoli – here you will find the statue of Moses, featured upon the tomb of Pope Julius II. This special statue displays an unusual pose that gives solemnity to the biblical character, together with a look often described as the expression of the Michelangelo's character – short-tempered, proud and stern.
The most famous of Michelangelo's works are at the Vatican. In order to fully appreciate the vast importance of these masterpieces, and to satisfy your artistic passion, we strongly suggest you accompanied by a guide. With an expert at your side, you can learn about both the technical details of the artist’s works as well as the extraordinary richness of the Basilica – its art, history, and religion. Your guide can also accompany you through the historic district of Rione Borgo to visit Castel Sant'Angelo and learn about its history. Once at Piazza San Pietro, admire the Dome, stunning example of Michelangelo’s architectonic excellence. When you enter the Basilica, locate the Pietà to the right. Sculpted in marble from Carrara, it is an unrivaled masterpiece of sculptural technique full of profound symbolism and intricate anatomical detail.
Feeling hungry? You can have a light lunch or breakfast before your visit in the nearby sandwich shop Duecentogradi (located in Piazza Risorgimento). This is a pleasant eatery, where any kind of sandwich is sure to have fanciful and high quality ingredients.
Next, it’s time to make your way inside the Vatican Museums. Be mindful of your energy level, as the museums are among the richest in the world, with many statues, tapestries, paintings, and frescoes – and the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo frescoed the Last Judgment, one of the most majestic works ever conceived, lies at the end of your visit.
The last of Michelangelo's treasures on your itinerary for today lies slightly southeast of the Vatican on the opposite bank of the Tiber River – Palazzo Farnese, the seat of the Embassy of France since 1874. This majestic building was designed by Michelangelo's good friend and famous architect Antonio da Sangallo. Sangallo died before the building was finished, and Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to complete it.
And for an extra special treat, live the magic of Rome under the stars with the Illuminated Rome Tour! You will never forget the magical glow of the Trevi Fountain and other attractions at night – it’s an entirely different experience!
Rome is such a large city that there is no doubt that you could spend days and days viewing all the architectural wonders spanning the millennia – and still not see them all. Save a day to discover some of the lesser known, but still surprising areas of the city:
Taking a tour through the city chronologically is a great idea. Start with the ruins and excavations of the Roman Empire. No art and history lover can miss the Colosseum that dominates the Roman Forum with its mass. Over 150,000 people attended violent shows, which included fights between gladiators and wild animals as well as demonstrations of the power of the Empire through the use of futuristic machines. In addition to visiting the amphitheater (as always, book ahead of time to avoid the eternal queue!), we suggest a visit to the Third Level, which offers unparalleled scenic views. And don’t forget the Undergrounds of the Colosseum, where you can find out how the theater worked behind the scenes. Catch a glimpse of the incredible hydraulic section that allowed the ancient Romans to flood the arena for actual naval battles. The ticket for the Colosseum also allows you one entry to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Museum, home of some of the most unique archaeological remains in the world.
After the Colosseum, visit another pearl of Ancient Rome: the Caracalla Baths. These baths were the second largest Roman public baths, capable of holding up to 1,500 people. This large and magnificent complex, together with the dense network of pipes that carried the water for the baths, was an impressive architectural and engineering achievement.
If you are in the mood for some authentic Roman cuisine, an excellent and affordable place to stop for a bite to eat is the Grottino da Rino (Viale Aventino 40). The charming atmosphere and quick service is ideal, and they have an extensive Roman menu as well as delicious fresh fish.
Feeling refreshed after your meal? Then take a guided tour hosted by an architectural expert – for example the Christian Rome Tour, which explores such spectacular churches as San Giovanni in Laterano and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, along with the catacombs where the first Christian met in secret. The Christian Rome Tour also visits such historical areas as the location of the former Jewish Ghetto, Tiberine Island, Ottavia's Portico, and the Church of Santa Maria in Campitelli, as well as various other buildings and monuments, such as the palazzi Albertoni Spinola and Capizucchi. This tour makes sure to visit streets that are off the beaten path, all of which are very picturesque – gems that you might miss if you weren’t sure where to look!
At this point, stop by Castel Sant'Angelo, the ancient fortress that became a prison, located next to the Vatican. This towering building hosts both a museum and temporary exhibitions, and its complex defensive structure is truly a sight to be seen. From Castel Sant'Angelo you can walk along the river for about 10 minutes, cross the Cavour bridge and visit the Ara Pacis, a well preserved altar to the Roman goddess of Peace. This intricately detailed altar, which lies directly next to the Augustus mausoleum, was dedicated to the victorious emperor Augustus in the year 9 BC.
If you weren’t able to visit the Baroque area earlier, take the Baroque District Tour at this point. If you don’t have time for the full tour, you can take Via Ripetta north to get to Piazza del Popolo for a quick visit. Admire the Piazza’s elliptic form adorned by both the Ramses II obelisk, which was brought here by Augustus, and the Marian twin churches.
If you already visited the Baroque center, or if you simply wish to try a short ride out of town, take the Ancient Ostia excursion to see the harbor city of the Roman Empire, just 32 kilometers (22 miles) away. A trip to this area adds great artistic and cultural value to your stay in Rome. Ostia has outstandingly well preserved ancient structures, including factories, boathouses for merchant ships, amphitheaters, arcades, and temples.
Finally, to discover a different Rome, visit the Foro Italico, built in 1932 by Mussolini, a giant sport complex decorated with astonishing marble statues. Or you can take in the futuristic Auditorium of the Park of Music, which was designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2002 in the Flaminio area.