What To Do In Rome: Your Travel Guide To This Historical City

This is it, the Active Backpacker guide about what to do in Rome. We explored the city and this is our list of things to do, from the big name stuff to the smaller gems we unearthed during our time amongst this epically historical place.

No matter where you walk in Rome, you’re roaming in the footsteps of grand history. Ancient Roman stories and culture permeate so many facets of our lives that it’s incredible really, we’re taught about them in school and we watch movies and TV shows about them (I still love watching Gladiator, and you can’t go past the tacky awesomeness of Spartacus: Blood & Sand). I mean, the dudes invented concrete, roads, they came up with the aqueducts and we won’t even get into the literature, theatre, art and of course the latin language!

what to do in rome

So is Rome a city worth seeing on your European backpacking adventure? You bet your sweet bitty it is!

The Colosseum (or Coliseum) – get your gladiator on

Photo of the Collosseum in Rome.

EVERYONE knows about the Colosseum… it’s epic, it’s huge, it’s colossal and it was the sports stadium to the ancient Romans, where captured slaves slaughtering each other on the sands and African animals tearing each other apart was commonplace. Sounds pretty nasty hey? Oh well, that’s history for you.

I’ve always wanted to see it and when we were in Rome I finally got the chance!

It was fantastic to see – sure it was touristy (that was expected) but it was still cool. Let your imagination bring some battles to life on the sands below you as you gaze out upon this incredible amphitheatre. Don’t worry, if you’re wandering around in Rome – you won’t miss it.

The huge rocks of travertine that make up the outer wall tower above you and it’s truly a wonder how they were set into place. Chunks of rock appear to be “missing”, but in fact the stones were set without mortar and the missing sections indicate where over 300 tons of iron clamps were in place to help hold the structure together.

Inside the Collosseum

Five awesome & fun facts about the Colosseum:

Fact #1: It was built in 9 years. Whaaaat? (60,000 Jewish slaves may have helped here).

Fact #2: Sometimes they would FLOOD the Colosseum to turn it into a little lake where miniature naval battles could take place.

Fact #3: The Colosseum could seat over 50,000 people – that’s still bigger than a lot of stadiums to this day!

Fact #4: They believe the games held here amounted to the loss of over 500,000 human lives and over a million wild animals.

Fact #5: The battles on the sands of the Colosseum ended around 432AD, not because it was the right thing to do but because obtaining the amount of gladiators and wild animals needed was becoming increasingly difficult.

The Pantheon – the old gods and the new

We actually left this wonderful monument to the last day. And you know what? It was fantastic! Definitely in the top 3 sights to see in Rome in my ‘ole backpacker opinion.

The Pantheon in Rome.

What I find so interesting about these structures is how the catholic church simply took over the religious sites of the older Roman gods and made it their own. Marks of the older gods are clearly visible in the Roman build of the structure and it’s a weird mishmash of the two.

Jumping in front of the Pantheon in Rome.
Gratuitous jumping “I believe I can fly” photo.

The huge columns rise up from the ground, ever so Roman, and at first sight you simply stare at them, camera dangling loosely as you stand in the Piazza della Rotonda. As you walk under the towering columns and into the Pantheon you gaze up at the oculus, a circular opening allowing in sunlight. The building is smoothly domed and plays host to the tomes of the artist Raphael and several Italian kings.

The smooth dome of inside the Panethon

Vatican City – The Sistine Chapel and the world’s smallest state

This is the official home of the Pope. It’s located right near the heart of Rome and it’s incredible to think that it is considered it’s own state and almost an independent country in it’s own right.

Square of Vatican City in Rome

The wealth that oozes from this 110 acre place (with a population of only 1000 people) is incredible. This is Roman Catholicism whether you love it or hate it. It’s also a UNESCO heritage listed site to boot.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Vatican City has it’s own Postal Service? Many Italian prefer to use the Vatican’s post office as it tends to be much quicker than Italian mail.

So what is there to do in the Vatican city?

Vatican City

Well – just entering the main square (you know where the Pope comes out and stands on the balcony) is impressive and picture-worthy in itself, with St. Peter’s Basilica looming in the background (go in and have a look). There’s also The Vatican Museum which houses the world famous Sistine Chapel, the fresco painted by Michelangelo himself!

Sistine Chapel Fresco by Michaelangelo

There’s also an absolute treasure trove of other priceless artefacts (those crusades must have paid off nicely) to investigate in the pristine halls.

Statue inside the vatican museum.

There’s lots of other fun things to do, nab a picture of the infamous Swiss Guards (they have pretty funny costumes) or do a tour of Castel Sant’ Angelo which “guards” Vatican City.

Swiss Guard at Vatican City

Whilst not religious myself I appreciated seeing all the sights at the Vatican city and the educational merits they present. Although I do wonder if so much of the wealth accumulated could be put to better use.

Sant’Ignazio (St. Ingatius) Church – gaze up at heaven

Located a short stroll from The Pantheon, this church is definitely worth seeing. It sports a wondrously detailed fresco (painting) across it’s roof – one which, dare I say it, is even better than the one at the Sistine Chapel! Andrea Pozzo (the Italian artist) really went out guns-a-blazing for this fresco!

Hot Tip: Find a yellow spot on the floor and look up – heaven? Maybe not, but it’s a beautiful sight and a glorious gaze back at some Italian artistic history. From the same yellow spot you can look ahead and the painting forms a “fake” dome – a great example of some old school painting illusion!

St Ignatius Fresco in Rome

If you’re interested in more history on this building and what I’m talking about, read it here.

Thanks to my Dutch mate Kevin Oxter for this one! He provided us a with a bunch of personal and useful Rome tips, including the fact that we must visit Sant’Ignazio!

Eat cool, scrumptious Gelati in the Italian heat

No visit to Rome is complete without sampling the delectable range of dairy and fruit gelati. In the smouldering heat of the Italian summer, nothing is better than a gelato a day (it keeps the doctor away!).

Tom eating Gelato in Rome.

It’s not hard to find, there is one on almost every corner! Everyone, after visiting Rome, claims to have found the “best” gelati place there is. Take recommendations onboard, but what you can really do is find your own special spot. Try at least 4 different gelati shops whilst in Rome and then make an executive decision on which is the best! It’ll be a fun experiment at least!

Trudy eating Gelati

One of our favourites was near The Pantheon, I can’t even remember the place. It doesn’t matter though, don’t choose the gelati, let the gelati choose you, Padawan. 😀

Roman Forum

Located just next to the Colosseum, this place – the Roman Forum, was the heart of Ancient Rome. This is where it all went down.

roman forum

As we walked through the crumbling ruins, it was easy to tell this place was once truly amazing, especially considering the year in which it was built. I felt a little let down in the sense that I really wanted to see it how it once was, not how it is (who wouldn’t?). But that’s just day-dreaming – your brain has to do a bit of work here to fill in the gaps and give you a breathtaking idea of just how epic this place was in its heyday.

The Roman Forum from above.

All the marble that is ever-so-Roman has long since been stripped away by the Catholics to grace the halls of their Churches and all that remains is brick. A couple of huge columns remain and other semblances that give you a flash back to the former glory of Ancient Rome. Look through the Arch of Septimius Severus (and see the Arch of Titus in the distance). Anyway – it’s definitely worth a visit!

roman forum arch

Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain)

This huge Baroque fountain gushes in soft lighting, tourists may mill about with cameras hanging from their necks but it does not detract from the sculpted beauty that is Fontana di Trevi.

Trevi Fountain at night in Rome

The sea god, Neptune, rides proudly in the fountain, mounted on his shell shaped chariot drawn by seahorses. It’s certainly a fountain worthy of a grand city.

Fun Fact: Enjoying your time in Rome? Tradition states that if you sit on the Trevi Fountain and throw a coin over your shoulder, this ensures a return to the city of Rome in the future. A gobsmacking $3,500 is launched over shoulders every day.

Trudy throwing a coin over her shoulder into the Trevi Fountain.

The Spanish Steps

These ancient steps, built around 1723 has a history of attracting artists, poets and lovers as its patronage. A fun turn of events inspired this spot as the meeting place it is today. The artists attracted the models, the models brought the richer Romans and travellers, which ended up making the steps a meeting spot for people of all different backgrounds.

The Spanish Steps at night in Rome

At the end of the stairs, discover the Fontana della Barcaccia, or in English, “Fountain of the Old Boat”. It resembles a sinking ship that is apparently based on Folk Legend – that a similar fishing boat was carried all the way here by the Tiber River flood in the 16th century.

Travelling couples & lovers come here to sit on the steps and breathe in Rome.

No “to-do” list can really give Rome the justice it deserves. Turning every corner you run into another ancient Roman ruin, historical church, grand bubbling fountain or buzzing restaurant. Welcome to Rome.

Scooters in Rome

Buildings in the alleyway streets of Rome.

7 Responses to “What To Do In Rome: Your Travel Guide To This Historical City”

  1. Stephen S. says:

    Rome is hands down my favorite European city. Maybe because it is the first placed I traveled solo. So it was like a new world opened up to me in Rome.

    Anyway you the post and pictures restarted my Rome withdraws. Can’t wait to get back there this summer.

    • Tom says:

      Haha, that’s great! Cool to hear Rome was your first solo travel spot. So much history and monuments at every turn, you must have been blown away 😀

  2. Kevin says:

    Hey Tom!

    Great article! cool that u putted the Ignazio also in it! 🙂 Was nice giving you the tips, alway’s like to advice or talk about travelling! How are you 2 doing? Asia it is?



    • Tom says:

      Heya Kev! We are going great. Currently in an internet cafe in Myanmar, internet here is pretty shocking haha 😀 Myanmar is awesome though, the people are so nice and friendly 🙂 After Myanmar we’re going back to Thailand for awhile. I bet you’re looking forward to your Japan trip! Wish I could grab a beer with you guys, say hi to everyone for me!

  3. Ahh Im so desperate to goto Rome!! Your photos are beautiful.

  4. Greg says:

    Wonderful Article!! Are you all aware of any other sites in Rome that are nice to visit? And what about the night life?

  5. Paul says:

    Yeah awesome pics and great article. I’m in Barcelona now and have a flight booked to Rome on Wednesday. Really looking forward to it. Is levitation one of your Xman powers? :o) Rock on Tomo…..

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