20 Best Things to Do in Rome, According to Locals

From picnicking in the shadow of ancient aqueducts to sipping cocktails at the hottest new rooftop bar, these are the best things to do in Rome.

<p>© Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images</p>

© Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images

When planning a trip to Rome, first-time visitors usually want to check the Colosseum and the Vatican off their lists, throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and indulge in heaping plates of pasta, pizza, and gelato. And while those things are all worth doing, there’s so much more to do in the Eternal City.

Just consider that aside from the Vatican, Rome is home to more than 900 churches — and many of them contain precious works of art. And the Colosseum is just one of many archeological sites where you can learn more about the Roman Empire. But Rome is far from stuck in the past, and some of the best things to do include seeing modern and contemporary art exhibitions, admiring 1930s architecture, spotting street art, and checking out the city’s swanky new hotels.

Of course, Romans are passionate about food and wine, and everyone has their favorite places for pizza, pasta, gelato, coffee, wine, and cocktails. In fact, it would be easy to plan a whole trip to Rome around meals and aperitivos. You could start your day with a cappuccino at an old-school café, twirl spaghetti carbonara, sip an Aperol spritz at a rooftop bar, eat award-winning pizza, and sample some of the city’s most unusual gelato flavors all in a day.

Having lived in Rome for nearly five years and having visited many times before that, I’ve tried to take advantage of every chance I can get to visit the best museums and archeological sites, explore under-the-radar neighborhoods, peek inside aristocratic palaces, see masterpieces inside churches, and eat my way across the city. But don’t take it from me — I’ve also tapped a couple of in-the-know locals who run some of Rome’s best tour companies for their recommendations. Read on for the 20 best things to do in Rome.

Related: How to Plan an Unforgettable Trip to Rome, According to Local Experts

Visit archeological sites beyond the Colosseum.

<p>Tomás Guardia Bencomo/Getty Images</p>

Tomás Guardia Bencomo/Getty Images

As an archeologist and CEO of the luxury tour company Roma Experience, Elisa Valeria Bove knows all the best archeological sites in and around Rome. Her personal favorite? The Appia Antica and Quintili’s Villa, which is found along the ancient Roman road. “Once called the 'road of fire', for me it is the road of wonders,” she says, calling it “the most romantic and imposing archeological site of Rome.” About a half-hour drive outside the center of Rome, these sites draw only a tiny fraction of the amount of people that crowd the Colosseum, so visiting them is a much more relaxed experience.

Embrace the coffee culture.

<p>piola666/Getty Images</p>

piola666/Getty Images

“Every Italian has their neighborhood bar, and Retrobottega is mine,” says Annie Ojile, who runs the Vespa tour company Scooteroma and has been living in Rome for more than 15 years. “I like to have a cold coffee, especially in the summer months, so I’ve fallen in love with espresso tonic, which is espresso on ice with tonic water. It’s fabulous and refreshing.”

For an old-school Italian coffee bar, Bove recommends La Tazza d’Oro near the Pantheon, which opened in 1944 and still roasts its own beans. “In the summer you can have an amazing coffee granita with whipped cream — exactly what’s needed during a tour,” she says.

See artistic treasures at the world’s oldest museum.

<p>Christopher Larson/Travel + Leisure</p>

Christopher Larson/Travel + Leisure

While the Vatican Museums may be more famous, the Capitoline Museums atop the Capitoline Hill are actually the oldest museum in the world. “Crossing each room, you have a clear idea of the grandiosity of the Roman civilization, from the monarchy, passing through the republic and imperial eras,” says Bove, calling it “the evolution of Rome in one museum — a trip within a trip.” Don’t miss the incredible panoramas of the Roman Forum.

Try the quartet of Roman pastas.

<p>Photo by Rafa Elias/Getty Images</p>

Photo by Rafa Elias/Getty Images

The most classic Roman pastas are essentially variations of the same recipe. Cacio e pepe is made with just pecorino and pepper. Add guanciale (pork cheek) and you’ve got la gricia. Add an egg to la gricia and you’ve got carbonara. Substitute tomato sauce for the egg and you’ve got amatriciana. Try them all at a quintessentially Roman restaurant like Da Enzo al 29, Checco Er Carettiere, or Salumeria Roscioli and decide which one is your favorite.

Picnic in the shadow of ancient aqueducts.

<p>TFILM/Getty Images</p>

TFILM/Getty Images

On sunny days — especially weekends and public holidays — locals love to pack a picnic or pop into a deli to grab a sandwich and head out to one of the city’s green, leafy parks. While the most famous and centrally located park is the Villa Borghese, the Parco degli Acquedotti is a local favorite — and you can reach it on the metro. “A stroll here is stepping into the past, a perfect place for a picnic, to run or cycle,” says Bove. “The owners of this spot are the aqueducts: six of the 11 of the ancient city of Rome can be admired in this charming location.”

Shop for local souvenirs.

<p>Courtesy of Booktique</p>

Courtesy of Booktique

Skip the ubiquitous shops selling cheap souvenirs made elsewhere and support small local businesses instead. “What I love about Booktique is that the owners’ history is with books and museum shops and they have a way to present all their treasures in a very interesting, cheeky, chic way,” says Ojile. “I buy every single gift there, and I’m not exaggerating at all. I also buy myself many gifts there — candles, hand soap, art for my house, canvas bags.” Booktique has two locations near the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.

Find all the Caravaggios in Rome.

<p>Christopher Larson/Travel + Leisure</p>

Christopher Larson/Travel + Leisure

Michelangelo Merisi (better known as Caravaggio) was one of the masters of Baroque painting. He was particularly known for using a technique called chiaroscuro, which is essentially the dramatic contrast between light and dark. There are about 25 of his works in Rome, many of which can be seen in museums such as Galleria Borghese, Palazzo Barberini, and the aforementioned Capitoline Museums, as well as churches like San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria del Popolo, and Sant’Agostino. You could go on a treasure hunt looking for them all.

Stroll down Via Margutta, the artists’ street.

<p>adisa/Getty Images</p>

adisa/Getty Images

Tucked away between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo, the charming, cobblestoned Via Margutta is known as the artists’ street because historically, it was a hub for artists, including Picasso, and there are still many art galleries there today. Bove calls it, “A peaceful place in the heart of Rome, just a few minutes from the crowded Spanish Steps, to get lost in the magnificent art galleries and discover the painters of Via Margutta.”

Via Margutta also has some fascinating cinematic history. Famed filmmaker Federico Fellini lived on this street (there’s a plaque on his building) and part of "Roman Holiday" starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck was filmed in the same apartment complex where Picasso lived. For a unique souvenir, stop by La Bottega del Marmoraro, where artisan Sandro Fiorentino still carves marble plaques by hand — many with witty phrases.

Visit a winery on the outskirts of the city.

<p>Courtesy of Tenuta di Fiorano</p>

Courtesy of Tenuta di Fiorano

Did you know there are vineyards and wineries on the edges of Rome? Bove’s favorite, Tenuta di Fiorano, is owned by Prince Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi. “It doesn’t happen every day that a prince welcomes you in his estate like an old friend,” she remarks. “I always admired the will he has to respect the history of his family and the territory where he decided to plant his vineyard, creating one of the excellences of Italy.”

Try unusual gelato flavors.

<p>krblokhin/Getty Images</p>

krblokhin/Getty Images

There are plenty of excellent gelaterias all over the city, but to taste some unusual flavors, you have to go to Torcè. “They have these unusual flavors like black sesame. I tried their tomato gelato, which is excellent with mozzarella. Torcè has done phenomenal things,” says Bove. In addition to their award-winning Majani chocolate gelato, they make savory flavors like gorgonzola, carbonara, and cacio e pepe.

Related: 29 Most Beautiful Places in Italy

Go street art hunting.

<p>Marilla Sicilia/Archivio Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images</p>

Marilla Sicilia/Archivio Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

“Street art has an expiration date — you never know how long the piece is going to last — so it’s always fun to go find new pieces,” says Ojile. “I just love gliding over the cobblestones on my cherry red wheels and making random stops when I find new or revisit old pieces of street art.” Ojile recommends exploring neighborhoods like Testaccio, Ostiense, and Garbatella, where there’s a proliferation of murals and paste art. You can also see some cool street art in San Lorenzo and Pigneto, which are two of the city’s most up-and-coming neighborhoods.

See an ancient monument and modern art at the Ara Pacis.

<p>Photo Beto/Getty Images</p>

Photo Beto/Getty Images

“The year after I moved to Rome, they started building the Ara Pacis and I will always remember that there was this big scandal because it was the first new piece of architecture to be built in the historic center since Mussolini’s era,” Ojile recalls. The sleek, white building was designed by Richard Meier to house the ancient Altar of Peace built for Emperor Augustus. Upstairs you can see the ancient altar, while the lower level shows rotating exhibitions dedicated to modern art, design, cinema, or photography. “Now I live five minutes from it and they have really stellar photography shows and exhibitions and I absolutely love it. I go to every show,” Ojile says.

Peek inside aristocratic palaces.

<p>sndr/Getty Images</p>

sndr/Getty Images

Want to see how Roman nobility lived? A handful of aristocratic palaces have been opened up as museums, allowing visitors to glimpse at their incredible art collections and opulent décor. Palazzo Colonna, which was a filming location for "Roman Holiday," is open on Friday and Saturday mornings. Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, meanwhile, has a gorgeous hall of mirrors inspired by the one at Versailles. Villa Farnesina in Trastevere contains breathtaking frescoes by Raphael.

Have an aperitivo at a rooftop bar.

<p>TFILM/Getty Images</p>

TFILM/Getty Images

At the end of the day, there are few experiences as magical as sipping a drink while watching the sunset over the city’s terracotta rooftops. Luckily Rome has plenty of rooftop bars to choose from. Bove’s pick is Otivm Roof Bar overlooking the Capitoline Hill, while Ojile raves about Terrazza Flores above El Porteño, a chic Argentinian restaurant. “This is where you’ll find me this summer soaking in the gorgeous views and sipping on my Porteño cocktail,” she says.

Try one of the city’s new wave of pizzerias.

<p>Courtesy of Seu Pizza Illuminati</p>

Courtesy of Seu Pizza Illuminati

Pizza never went out of style, but lately there are more and more pizzerias upping the ante with creative offerings and top-notch quality. Rome has 10 pizzerias ranked among the best in Italy by the judges at Top 50 Pizza. Among the top are Seu Pizza Illuminati in Trastevere, which serves gourmet Neapolitan-style pizza by Pier Daniele Seu; 180 Grammi in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Centocelle, where pizzaiolo Jacopo Mercuro makes thin-crust Roman pizza with all kinds of creative toppings; and Sbanco, where the dough is somewhere in between Neapolitan and Roman style and the fritti (fried appetizers) are divine.

Sip cutting-edge cocktails at Drink Kong.

<p>Courtesy of Drink Kong</p>

Courtesy of Drink Kong

For Ojile, a perfect night out starts with dinner in Monti at a restaurant like Rocco or La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali and ends at Drink Kong, which is ranked as one of the world’s 50 best bars. “It’s like an ‘80s dreamland with amazing cocktails,” she notes. The aesthetic is inspired by Japanese film noir and the wildly creative drinks are dreamt up by Irish-Italian bartender Patrick Pistolesi, who has been a fixture on the city’s nightlife scene for decades.

Book a stay at a luxury hotel.

<p>Courtesy of Bulgari Hotel Roma</p>

Courtesy of Bulgari Hotel Roma

Rome is having a hospitality renaissance, with one luxe five-star hotel opening after the next. Some of the buzziest recent openings include It List hotel the Six Senses Rome, a sleek, modern hotel for wellness and sustainability-minded travelers; the Bulgari Hotel Rome, known for its gorgeous design and restaurant by Michelin-starred chef Niko Romito; the Rome Edition, which occupies a Rationalist building near Via Veneto and has a restaurant by the team behind cult-favorite spot Pianostrada (also on the It List); and Anantara Palazzo Naiadi, which has a cool rooftop restaurant and a gourmet restaurant on the ground floor.

Venture out to EUR.

<p>Pino Pacifico/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Pino Pacifico/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The neighborhood known as EUR on the southern edge of Rome is a must-see destination for fans of 1930s and ‘40s Rationalist architecture. Mussolini built the neighborhood for the Esposizione Universale Romana of 1942, which never took place because of the Second World War. The most alluring building, architecturally speaking, is the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana (better known as the Colosseo Quadrato, or Square Colosseum), which now houses Fendi’s headquarters. EUR is also home to an amusement park called Luneur Park, the Nuvola Convention Center, and a location of Torcè.

See the Cinecittà Film Studios.

<p>Gianmarco Dettori/Getty Images</p>

Gianmarco Dettori/Getty Images

Rome was once known as “Hollywood on the Tiber” because so many movies were filmed here. While some were filmed on location, many were shot at Cinecittà Studios, which is still an active filming studio. Part of it is open to visitors, including several exhibitions dedicated to film history (there’s one all about Fellini). You can visit the exhibitions on your own or sign up for a guided tour to learn more about the studio’s history and see the set of HBO’s Rome.

Sample wine at an enoteca.

<p>Cavan Images/Getty Images</p>

Cavan Images/Getty Images

An enoteca is essentially just a wine bar, but they can range from simple and spartan to classy, elegant affairs. They usually have a wide selection of bottles and often a good variety of wines by the glass. Some just have small bites like meat and cheese boards, while others have full menus. For the best enoteca in Rome, Bove recommends Achilli al Parlamento, saying they have “an incredible selection of wine labels at cost price. If you are a lover of great wines, you can’t skip this place.”

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