Looking for what to do in Rome Italy? After many visits we know all the best spots: Colosseum and Pantheon, where to eat, and the best area to stay in Rome.
Eleven years ago, Alex and I honeymooned in Italy. And we fell head over heels over the country: its charm, natural beauty, the people, and the food—oh, the food. Back then, we were two wide-eyed 20-somethings with a point-and-shoot and a guide book. Now, after eleven years of marriage, five camera upgrades, and hundreds of recipes cooked together, we returned to our favorite spots in Rome…three times! Here’s what to do in Rome Italy, including the Colosseum and Pantheon in Rome, where to eat and the best area to stay in Rome…and of course, the best gelato! (See our post specifically about the best gelato in Rome.)
Best area to stay in Rome Italy: The Piazza Navona
Of the three times we’ve been to Rome, we’ve found the best area to stay is near the Piazza Navona. We love walking everywhere, and this area provides a perfect starting point for walking to all sorts of sights. It’s within walking distance of the Vatican, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Roman Forum. Even the Colosseum isn’t that far of a walk! On each of our trips, we’ve stayed in Airbnbs that have been fantastic. Our favorite airbnb apartment was this one. We can’t say enough good things about this place: centrally-located, comfortable, immaculate, and beautifully decorated with a mix of ultra-modern and historic open wood beams.
Things to do around the Piazza Navona
Do you love history but hate spending vacation time in crowded museums? Us too! We recommend taking a few hours in Rome to spend time exploring the area around the Piazza Navona. When people ask us what to do in Rome, this is where we like to start.
First of all: where to eat in Rome near the Piazza Navona? The best coffee nearby the Piazza Navona was a 50 cent espresso from Emporio alla Pace. For gelato, head to Gelateria del Teatro, and for a simple lunch get pizza at Da Baffeto (where we first fell in love with Italy!) or a sandwich from Baguetteria del Fico.
The amazing thing about historic central Rome is that every building, every door, and every street corner is jam-packed with history. You don’t have to go into one of the many museums in Rome to find world class art. In the churches around the Piazza Navona you can find (among dozens of other artworks):
- A trio of Caravaggio paintings of St. Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi
- Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto in Sant’Agostino in Campo Marzio
- A Raphael fresco in Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace
Also make sure to really look at the details of the Piazza Navona itself! The piazza still retains the horseshoe shape of the ancient Roman stadium that it is built atop. Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers is a masterpiece; make sure to check out the details of the sculpture and the obelisk which is a 2000 year old copy of an Egyptian obelisk!
One final thing to do before you leave the Piazza Navona area is to take a few minutes and quietly slip into the Biblioteca Angelica. This public library is one of the oldest in the world, having opened in 1604. You’ll be amazed by the beautiful architecture and massive leather-bound books.
Rome walks: Piazza Navona, Pantheon & Trevi Fountain
What to do in Rome? Walk the streets! The street scenes are what we love the most about Rome. Rather than try to hit all the museums, we spend hours getting intentionally lost in side streets, trying to capture the natural beauty of the city with our camera. Our favorite places to walk are the Piazza Navona and Pantheon areas. And we typically walk everywhere we go when we’re in Rome!
Here’s a perfect Rome walk if you have time one evening:
- At sunset, start at Castel Sant’Angelo with views of St. Peter’s Basilica and then cross the river on the Pont Sant’Angelo with the wonderful Bernini angel sculptures.
- Wander your way towards the Piazza Navona (stopping by Teatro for gelato!) and linger in the Piazza Navona and people watch.
- Slip down alleyways towards the Pantheon and stand underneath the columns of this masterpiece.
- Finally, work your way into the throngs around Trevi fountain and throw in a coin! Legend has it that if you throw a coin in the Trevi fountain, you’ll return to Rome. It’s worked for us so far!
Here’s a map of this walk for reference! Though of course we recommend you wander a bit, too.
The Pantheon in Rome
Our favorite building in Rome: the Pantheon. The Pantheon is the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome; it’s a pagan Roman temple. Alex and I can’t help but take a hundred different photographs of it; we also like to just sit in the piazza and people watch. You can go inside the Pantheon during the day: it’s free and open to the public. We always try to wander past the Pantheon in many different lights to capture its mystery.
Where to eat in Rome
If you’re in Rome, you must go to Roscioli! It is so, so good in so many ways. It’s part bakery, part fancy deli, and they have the best pizza and cacio e pepe in Rome. This pizza reminded us of the style of the most famous pizza maker in Rome, Gabriele Bonci: a fluffy crust, crispy on the bottom and cut into thick squares. The toppings were incredibly flavorful: like burrata and tomato with bright green pesto, or roasted eggplant with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, and a spicy tomato sauce. Everything at Roscioli is executed to perfection. The cacio e pepe was also best in its class: the classic cheese and pepper pasta was perfectly savory, cheesy, warm, and comforting. It’s a must visit!
Related: Make it at home: Our cacio e pepe recipe!
Another favorite of where to eat in Rome is a trendy brew pub called L’Osteria di Birra del Borgo. A brew pub in Rome Italy, you say? Hear us out. This brew pub was started by that famous pizza maker, Gabriele Bonci, and it was the most inventive food we had in Rome. There was pizza, yes, but also small bites, pasta, and really trendy drinks. For example, we started with some incredible house made potato chips and a “Veggie garden” with soil made of olives and several dipping sauces. One of the pizzas, the Diavola Pizza, was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in Rome. And our favorite ended up being a tonnarelli pasta with garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, smoked tomato, and Parmesan. This was a fantastic restaurant we’d highly recommend.
Related: Make it at home: Our spicy vegetarian diavola pizza!
Rounding out our where to eat in Rome is a classic Italian restaurant: La Tavernaccia. This place serves classic Roman dishes in a sophisticated atmosphere. The Pasta amatriciana, rigatoni in a spicy red sauce, was to die for. Though we prefer more creative than straightforward takes on Roman cuisine, this is a nice traditional option. It’s a bit of a hike from the Piazza Navona area, so Uber is a good option.
The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Capitoline Museum
Of course no visit is complete without the seeing the Colosseum in Rome! We always take a walk to go see it in all its glory. If it’s your first visit, definitely book a guided tour in advance! Check out Tripadvisor for private guided tours of the Colosseum and forum. They’ll take care of the tickets and be able to explain the thousands of years of history you’re taking in.
One Alex and my our favorite places on Earth is the Roman Forum. Layers upon layers of history are packed into this place, making your head spin. On our honeymoon, we spent hours in the evening when all the tourists were gone just gazing into the ruins and pondering what it might have been like in Caesar’s day.
The Capitoline Museum sits at the opposite end of the forum as the Colosseum. It has great galleries full of ancient Roman history. If you have plenty of time in Rome, it’s worth a visit. However, we won’t blame you if you decide to ditch the museums and try the best gelato in Rome instead! The ruins of a statue of Constantine in the Capitoline Museum are a must see if you do go!
The Vatican, The Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica
The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica are absolutely worth a visit. If you have time, we’d also recommend The Vatican Museum which houses a massive collection of art and the famous Sistine Chapel. The most important thing to know is that you can buy your “skip the line” tickets ahead of time online. This will save you a couple hours of waiting in line. There are also lots of guided tour options for the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s. Again, it you can swing it financially, it’s worth every penny to have a real person describe the art and the history to you! At the very least, bring a good guidebook.
(The Gallery of Maps in The Vatican Musuem, on the way to the Sistene Chapel!)
Walking the streets near the The Vatican
While you’re over by the Vatican, walk the streets in the Borgo neighborhood, which is very picturesque. Make sure to stop by Hedera for gelato! The Vatican neighborhood is also perfect for night walks. We love walking across the river at dusk with the lights of St. Peter’s Basilica reflecting in the river.
And that’s it! What to do in Rome Italy
As you can see, we’re pretty into Italy. Are you looking for things to do in Rome? Let us know if this post was helpful in the comments below!
Related: All our Italian recipes!
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About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.