visiting rome for first timers

Visiting Rome: First-Timer’s Guide to the Eternal City

S2 E6: Visiting Rome for first timers

In this episode, we explore one of our favourite cities: Rome. It’s a city like no other, with loads of history and attractions for all kinds of visitors. With so much to see and do, it can be challenging to plan your visit, especially if you only have a few days to spend here. If you plan on visiting Rome for the first time, this episode is for you. We’re sharing tips for making the most of your visit and helping you plan the best way to see those must-visit attractions.

What makes Rome a great place to visit?

We love Rome and don’t need any reason to visit. The city pulls us every time, but if you’re wondering whether you should visit the Eternal City, here are some reasons we think it’s a great place to explore and one everyone should see at least once in their life.

1. Ancient ruins and the glory of an Empire 

Rome is an open-air museum. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find remnants of the Roman Empire. Here, you can visit the Colosseum, where gladiators battled each other in front of massive crowds. You can also wander through the Roman Forum and imagine how magnificent it must have been in its glory. Here, you are literally walking in the footsteps of history.

2. Art lover’s paradise

From Renaissance masterpieces to magnificent statues with Baqroque sculptures, Rome is a feast for the eyes. Marvel at Michelangelo’s breathtaking Sistine Chapel ceiling and the emotional depth of Raphael’s paintings in the Vatican Museums. Here, you can surround yourself with the works of Italy’s greatest masters. 

museum in rome

3. A journey through time

In many ways, Rome’s architecture is like a layered cake, each layer offering a marvellous surprise. Explore the Pantheon, an ancient temple now a church, with its awe-inspiring dome that has stood for centuries. Walk the same streets as Julius Caesar and feel the weight of history at the Spanish Steps. Each corner whispers stories of emperors, popes, and artists who left their mark on the city.

4. Culinary adventures  

Rome is a paradise for foodies and those who simply love to eat. Indulge in a traditional spaghetti alla carbonara or cacio e pepe for that quintessential Roman flavour. Grab a piece of pizza, born in the bustling pizzerias of the city and don’t miss the chance to try fresh gelato, a delightful way to cool down on a warm Roman day. Looking for a more immersive experience? Consider taking a cooking class in Rome.

architecture in rome

5. An experience for the senses 

Rome is more than just its iconic landmarks. It’s the vibrant energy of the city, the friendly locals, the charming cafes lining cobbled streets. It’s the feeling of being transported back in time while enjoying modern amenities. It’s a place where history, art, food, and culture come together to create an unforgettable experience.

Why is Rome called the Eternal City?

Have you ever wondered why Rome is called the Eternal City (La Città Eterna in Italian)? You’re not alone. The concept of Rome being an eternal city goes back to the ancient Romans, who believed their empire and legacy would last forever. Even poets like Virgil and Tibullus used phrases like Urbs Aeterna (Eternal City) and Imperium Sine Fine (Empire Without End) in their writings, solidifying the ideas.  

Rome Italy in March

Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome continued to be a significant center of power and influence. The rise of the Catholic Church, with the Papacy headquartered in Rome, further solidified the city’s importance. Despite periods of decline and destruction, the city has always managed to reinvent itself and retain its cultural and historical significance. The name Eternal City is a testament to Rome’s ability to stand the test of time and remain a significant cultural center for centuries.

Tips for visiting Rome for the first time

Coming to Rome for the first time can be overwhelming, as there is so much to see and do here. The reality is that you can’t see everything in one go. We’ve been to Rome many times and are still discovering new things. If you come to Rome without a plan and spend your whole time running from place to place, you won’t enjoy it. You’re going to be tired, burnt out, and grumpy. 

We recommend making a list of the must-see things and then creating an efficient plan for seeing them. Now, what is the efficient way, you ask? 

Organized tours: Walking tours are a great way to discover Rome, get priority access to major attractions and skip the lines. Some tours also include transportation between attractions, and all come with a licensed guide to explain what you’re seeing. Here are our recommendations for a fun way to explore Rome:

Hop-on and hop-off buses: Not only do you get to see Rome from a different perspective, but this is the quickest way to get around and see the top attractions. These buses usually have guides (either a person or prerecorded information) to tell you what you’re seeing and offer interesting tidbits you might not get otherwise. Get your ticket today.

Rome city pass: Get a 3, 5 or 7-day pass and take advantage of free admission or discounted entrance to many of Rome’s attractions and free and unlimited access to the city’s public transport system.  PRO TIP: Get the OMNIA Card and Roma Pass combo and make the most out of your stay.

Must-see landmarks for first-timers 

When visiting Rome for the first time, you have to accept that you won’t see everything in one go. While there are so many sites, museums and attractions to explore, you’ll likely not going to see them all in a short few days. Here is a list of the top sites most tourists have on their bucket list when visiting Rome.

The Colosseum

  • Built around 80 AD, the Colosseum was a massive amphitheatre used for gladiatorial contests, public executions, animal hunts, and other spectacles. Imagine the crowd’s roar as gladiators battled or exotic animals were unleashed!
  • Best Time to Visit: Early mornings or later afternoons offer shorter queues.
  • Pre-purchased tickets: Beat the crowds by getting your tickets online before you go. Enhance your experience with an audio guide or guided tour. They’ll bring the Colosseum’s history to life, explaining the different sections, events held there, and the daily lives of gladiators.
the colosseum

Recommended tours:

The Roman Forum

  • This was the beating heart of ancient Rome. Here, senators debated laws, citizens gathered, and triumphal processions were held. 
  • Look out for the well-preserved Temple of Vesta, dedicated to the Roman goddess of the hearth. The Arch of Septimius Severus, a triumphal arch commemorating victories in the East, is another highlight.
  • Get the best of both worlds by taking the combo tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
visiting rome? see the roman forum

The Pantheon

  • The Pantheon’s most awe-inspiring feature is its massive concrete dome. This architectural marvel has spanned centuries and inspired many other buildings.
  • Originally built as a temple to all Roman gods, the Pantheon was surprisingly well-preserved and later converted into a church. This unique transformation allows visitors to experience both its ancient and later history.
  • Learn about the Pantheon, the tribunals against witches and get the scoop on the myths and legends of Rome with this private in-depth tour.
when visiting rome pantheon is a must see

Trevi Fountain

  • Legend has it that tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures your return to Rome. Every year, millions of visitors participate in this tradition, adding to the fountain’s magic.
  • Water source: It wasn’t always just a tourist attraction! The Trevi Fountain was initially built as an endpoint for an ancient Roman aqueduct, providing fresh water to the city.
marvel at the trevi fountain

Vatican City

  • Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state, entirely encased within Rome. It’s the center of the Catholic Church and home to the Pope.
  • Don’t miss St. Peter’s Basilica, a stunning church renowned for its awe-inspiring dome (designed by Michelangelo) and beautiful artwork. Remember to dress modestly (shoulders covered, knees covered) to enter the Basilica.
st peter's square

Recommended tours:

  • Take a private early-bird tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s BasilicaBook now
  • Visit the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s and climb the dome of the BasilicaGet your tickets
  • Explore the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in the eveningBook your tour
  • Tour St Peter’s Basilica with Dome Climb and GrottoesBook today

Piazza Navona

  • Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most famous and vibrant squares, built over the site of an ancient Roman stadium, the Domitian Stadium. The square underwent a transformation in the 17th century with the construction of Bernini’s masterpiece, the Trevi Fountain, and the dramatic Fountain of the Four Rivers.
  • Piazza Navona was once home to a local market, but today, it is surrounded by restaurants, artists, and performers. They even used to flood it during certain times of the year!
  • Explore the ancient site of the Stadium of Domitian under Piazza Navona and the underground passages of the Trevi District with this combo ticket tour.
piazza navona

Spanish Steps

  • This monumental staircase, also known as Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, gracefully connects Piazza di Spagna with the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. With 135 steps cascading down, it’s a beautiful spot for people-watching and capturing scenic photos.
spanish steps

Where to stay in Rome for first timers?

When visiting Rome, especially for the first time, we recommend staying closer to the main sites to make the most of your time in the Eternal City. While you might pay more for your accommodations, you will save on transportation and travel time between sites. Here are some of the hotels we stayed in the past.

Hotel Damaso***: Located in central Rome, close to Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori this is one of our fave stays in Rome. The hotel has a rooftop terrace, a lounge bar, and air-conditioned rooms. The rooms are comfortable and the view from the terrace is amazing. Check availability

9Hotel Cesari****: Located in the historic center of Rome, about 300 meters from the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon. The hotel has a great rooftop terrace and comfortable rooms. We stayed here with our dogs. The hotel is in a fantastic location, perfect for exploring Rome’s historic center. Book your room today

Colosseum Corner: Stay in the heart of ancient Rome near the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Capitoline Museums. The hotel is the perfect choice if you’re looking to stay in a convenient location with great service. Book your stay today!

Visiting Rome soon? Make sure you listen to our podcast episode for tips and advice!

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