Rome: The Eternal City.
It isn’t hard to understand why the capital city of Italy has developed this nickname. It’s existed since at least 753 BC and has been at the center of world culture ever since. Its almost three millennia of history, culture, and architecture make it one of the most exciting cities to visit in Europe and the world.
Rome is famous for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and a sprawling metropolis of Classical architecture. But the city is known for more than its ancient history: it is home to the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, incredible food, gardens and art, and a world-famous film industry.
With four UNESCO World Heritage Sites (tied for the most of any city) and an array of things to see and do, Rome is perfect for a trip of any length.
Quindi, let’s see what Roma has to offer on this list of 19 things Rome is known and famous for!
Rome is perhaps most famous for its Colosseum, which is also Italy’s most recognizable landmark.
Located in the center of the city, the Colosseo (as the Italians know it) remains the world’s largest standing amphitheater, even despite its age. It is a symbol of both modern and ancient Rome, and the important relationship between the two.
Construction began on the Colosseum in 72 AD, making it nearly 2000 years old. With a peak audience of 80,000 spectators, it was used for gladiatorial contests, executions, theatre, and even re-enactments of sea battles, where the Colosseum would be filled with water. The events were free so that Emperors could gain popularity with the people.
Though partly destroyed due to earthquakes and stone-robbers, this contributes to part of the Colosseum’s charm.
Seating in the Colosseum was determined by the social status of spectators. The Emperor had the best view of the arena, at the North Entrance. At the same level were also the senators.
As the seats got further away from the arena action, so did the spectators’ social class, until right at the top were the common poor and slaves, who had to stand.
2. Roman Forum
Just to the west of the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, or the Forum Romanum in Latin. It was a site inhabited since around 500 BC, when the Roman Republic was founded. As the center of Roman society, many political, religious and social activities were carried out here.
For years after the fall of the Roman Empire it was left in ruins, and only began to be excavated from the 19th century. Now it is one of Rome’s main tourist attractions.
The Temple of Saturn is perhaps the most famous and important of the structures that remain in the Forum. It is understood to have been built in 42 BC, making it one of the Forum’s oldest structures. Only eight columns remain of the temple today.
The Arch of Titus is found next to the Colosseum, and was built to honor emperor Titus after his siege of Jerusalem. It inspired the Arc de Triomphe in modern Paris.
Rome is very popular amongst tourists, and has been for millennia! Tourism provides large revenue and business for the city. In 2019, Rome was the EU’s second-most visited city, and Italy’s first.
Its most popular tourist attractions include the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain.
4. Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is one of Italy’s most famous attractions. You will be sure to find a large crowd around the fountain if you visit during the day, and sometimes even at night.
A popular activity is to throw coins into the fountain, traditionally using your right hand over your left shoulder. It is said that all who throw a coin into the fountain are destined to return to Rome.
An estimated 3000 Euros is thrown into the fountain each day and 1.4 million Euros was collected in 2016. The money collected from the fountain goes to charity, funding the city’s poor and refugee communities.
The fountain has appeared in a variety of movies, most famously in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life).
5. Ancient Rome
Rome is unsurprisingly famous for its ancient period, which includes both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Evidence of ancient Rome is clear throughout the city, with many of its original structures still standing, or providing a key influence for other non-ancient architecture.
Originally established in the city of Rome, the Roman Empire spread to control wide areas of Europe and the Mediterranean, from modern-day England to the Middle East. It was one of the largest empires of the ancient world, with up to an estimated 90 million inhabitants and 20% of the world’s population.
The significance of Ancient Roman civilization on world history, culture, language, politics, religion (among many other fields) cannot be overstated.
The political systems of countries such as the USA and France were inspired by the Roman Republic. The spread of Christianity is also due to Roman influence. Many modern European cities were founded by the Romans, from London to Paris, and the continent’s interconnected roads are a legacy of the Romans.
Ancient Rome has made the city central to European and world history for centuries. But Rome’s history is not solely confined to the years of its ancient period.
Though the city experienced significant ruin following the fall of the Roman Empire, being considerably depopulated and sacked several times, the city re-emerged in the Middle Ages.
The Papal States were founded in the city in the 8th century, under the rule of the Pope. During the 15th century, the city experienced the Roman Renaissance, replacing Florence as the center of Italian culture.
By 1861, the Papal States had lost significant territory to a newly independent and unified Italy. In 1870, Rome was declared the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy, and remained as its political and cultural capital.
Though the city experienced a number of dark decades during the Fascist period, the city grew substantially after the war. It was one of the centers of Italy’s “economic miracle”, and also produced significant cultural contributions, especially in its film and literature industries.
Much of Roman history can be traced through its architecture. The city’s buildings and roads act as visual evidence and artifacts of a variety of periods in Roman history.
A combination of Roman buildings, classical inspiration and Italian charm has produced one of the most architecturally beautiful cities in not just Italy, but also the world.
8. Street art
One of the first things I noticed when I first moved to Rome was its magnificent street art, which lines its streets and neighborhoods! Though not to the taste of some, I think the city is sure to have street art for everyone.
Personal favorites include the quarters of Pigneto or San Lorenzo, which are both popular amongst young locals. San Lorenzo is home to the Murale contro il femminicidio, which sadly depicts the 240 women killed in Italy between 2012 and 2013.
Rome is well known for its cinema. It is considered the center of Italian cinema and is home to Europe’s largest film studio, Cinecittà (literally ‘cine-city’ in English), second only to Hollywood.
More than 3000 films have been filmed at Cinecittà, from Ben-Hur (1959) to La Dolce Vita (1960). 90 of these have been nominated for an Oscar, while 51 have been winners.
Cinecittà is open to visitors from the general public, and is located a bus ride away from the center. If you are a film buff, be sure to visit this magical location!
Many films have also been filmed along the city’s streets themselves, from Eat Pray Love (2010) to Roma Città Aperta (1945). In fact, the city was a famous location for Italy’s film movement, Italian Neorealism, which aimed to show the realism of a recovering country after the Second World War. Its most famous product is Ladri di biciclette (1948, Bicycle Thieves), which is rated one of the best films ever made and one of my personal favorites.
10. Italian food
Italy is famed across the globe for its food and has some of the most recognized and popular dishes, from pasta to pizza. But Italy is also known for its wide regional varieties, and each part of the country has its own specialties.
Rome is well known for its ‘Spaghetti alla carbonara’, simply known as carbonara to many non-Italians. Its creamy sauce is made using just egg, cheese, pancetta and pepper, and should traditionally contain no cream at all! Rome is also famous for ‘cacio e pepe’, which is simply cheese and pepper.
Be sure to check these out if you pop into a Roman ristorante or trattoria, which is an Italian eating venue less formal than a restaurant.
And if you’re looking for something sweet, head to the local gelateria for some gelato! Stracciatella, which is milky with chocolate shavings in, is my personal choice.
11. Roman pizza
Of course, we need a separate category just for pizza! Roman pizza may not be as famous as pizza from Naples, but it sure is good.
Rome is home to pizza al taglio. Unlike elsewhere in Italy, the pizza is cooked in long rectangular pans and then ordered by slice and paid by weight. It is a great option for a quick lunch or a snack on the go. (I ate too many of these while living in Rome!)
The Roman pizza base is different from the Neapolitan version. It is thin and crispy, rather than being thicker and softer. Both are great, but maybe I’m a little too biased towards pizza romana.
12. The Vatican
Rome is famous for being home to the Vatican, the world’s smallest country and an example of a country that exists completely within the borders of another country (Italy has two, the other being San Marino).
After Italian unification, the Vatican City remained independent, meaning that the Kingdom of Italy formed around it. This is how it remains to this day, as a modern enclave and independent city-state. The Pope remains its Head of State.
The influence of the Vatican on Italy remains strong even today. Large numbers of Italians remain Catholic at a time when rates of religion across Europe are falling. According to the most recent statistics, up to as many as 80% of Italians are Catholic.
The Vatican City is home to St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, which are all open to the public and hold some of Rome’s most beautiful architecture and artwork. The Vatican Museums were the 4th most visited art museum in the world in 2020.
Though famed for its architecture, Rome is also home to a wide variety of green spaces for you to relax with an afternoon aperol or to take a morning walk.
My personal favorite is the Villa Borghese gardens, located just off the Piazza del Popolo. It is Rome’s third-biggest park and is also home to the Galleria Borghese.
The Piazza di Sienna is located in the middle of the Villa Borghese, and hosted the equestrian events of the 1960 Rome Olympics. The park is also home to a replica of the Globe Theatre, where open-air Shakespeare plays are performed in Italian and occasionally English throughout the year.
Other gardens to visit include the Villa Doria Pamphili, which is Rome’s largest public park, or the Roseto Comunale, a public garden home to over 1100 varieties of rose.
14. Crazy driving
If you’re coming from some other countries, you may find Rome’s roads crazy!
Many Romans have told me that road laws are only a ‘suggestion’, leading to obvious chaos amongst the city’s road users. Honking is a common form of communication, rather than a rude gesture, so busy intersections are sure to prick up your ears.
Being thousands of years old, the city was clearly not built for cars. For this reason, traffic jams are common and your best bet is to hop on the metro or one of the city’s trams.
You are also sure to see a lot of the classic Roman moped, which will weave in and out of cars at speed.
15. Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are among Rome’s most famous landmarks. Built between 1723 and 1725, the 135 steps linked the Spanish Embassy at the bottom to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. The bottom piazza is now called the Piazza di Spagna for this reason.
On the piazza is also a museum dedicated to English poet John Keats. He lived in this house for many years, and it is where he then died in 1821.
The Spanish Steps made news in 2019, when city authorities banned sitting on them. The steps are now patrolled by staff that will loudly blow their whistle if you sit down. Ignoring their orders could make you liable to a €400 fine!
Be sure to pop into some of the luxury fashion shops that now line the Piazza di Spagna and its surrounding streets for some shopping and browsing. Heavyweights of Italian fashion such as Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana will be keen to impress you with their expensive trends!
Though Italy’s true art capital is in many ways Florence, the home of the Renaissance and Italy’s most visited gallery (the Uffizi), Rome has a lot of art to offer!
The Vatican Museums has extensive collections of art from the past 2000 years. Michelangelo’s instantly recognizable The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgment can be found in the depths of the Vatican, in its Sistine Chapel. But the museum is home to much more art than this, and you will be walking for around an hour before you even reach the Sistine Chapel!
Outside the Sistine Chapel, the Galleria Borghese is perhaps your first destination for Roman art. Located in Rome’s beautiful Villa Borghese, the Galleria shows collections of ancient art and artwork from the 15th to 18th century, when Rome became predominant in Italian art again.
Rome is also home to excellent modern art. If this is your thing, be sure to check out MAXXI or MACRO, my personal favorite.
17. The Metro
Though other cities such as London or Paris are well-known for the extensiveness of their metro systems, this is the complete opposite in Rome. The metro comprises only three lines, and with just two stations at which to switch lines. The good news is that trains are often on time.
Though classic Roman bureaucracy may have something to do with the city’s chaotic metro line, this is also due to the large difficulties encountered in building more lines under the ancient city.
Plans to extend the Metro C line have been in place for decades, but are constantly scuppered by the discovery of Roman ruins. Because of the extent of ruins in the city, and the fact that every discovery must be archeologically studied and processed, the building of the metro has become incredibly slow and chaotic.
Who knew such fantastic history could be the reason for the city’s modern transport problems?
Though the Colosseum is famed for its hosting of ancient sports, modern Rome is also home to a variety of sports and sporting venues.
The city is football mad, like the rest of the country. It is home to long-standing rival teams AS Roma and SS Lazio. Both teams compete in the country’s highest league and share a stadium, the Stadio Olimpico.
Shops across the city are lined with the two shirts of these two teams, where the red and yellow of Roma contrast the blue and white of Lazio.
Other popular sports in the city include basketball, volleyball and golf. Rome will host the famous Ryder Cup golf tournament in 2022, only the third city out of the UK and Ireland to do so.
19. And some hidden gems!
The Pyramid Cestia is the only ancient pyramid in Europe, being 2000 years old. Even weirder, it is located on a busy road junction southwest of the centre, surprising many non-locals. Visitors can enter the pyramid on specific days of the week.
For amazing views of St Peter’s Basilica, visit the Aventine keyhole. When looking through the keyhole of this specific door, your view aligns perfectly with a row of hedges and the Basilica’s dome, producing a unique image.
Gianicolo Hill is a great spot from which to see Rome’s skyline, towering over the city from the West. It is one of the city’s famous Seven Hills, but is not as well known by tourists. This makes it a great place for a relaxed and private viewing experience.
And if you want to come back to Rome, (of course you will want to!) be sure to go and throw your penny in the Trevi Fountain!