10 Things to do in Rome this Summer

Few cities have a history as dramatic as that of Rome. Centuries have marched on, civilizations have risen and fallen, the city has been sacked and rebuilt, its people have been divided and reconciled, and yet it still stands!  This fabulous, historic metropolis, is a cultural capital in so many ways. There’s always something to do but no one ever seems like they’re in a rush to do anything. The people who live here invariably manage to be effortlessly fabulous, warm, and welcoming. Check out some of these great activities during your summer in Rome, learning about the world and discovering yourself.

1. Coliseum and the Roman Forum

The Coliseum, alternatively called the Flavian Amphitheatre, is one of Rome’s most spectacular and iconic monuments. Imagine yourself as a spectator in antiquity. The arena would be transformed into all sorts of landscapes by importing exotic plants and, occasionally, pumping in water to create artificial lakes for certain performances. People came to the theatre for a variety of brutal and sensational entertainment, including executions, beast fights, and gladiatorial tournaments. For a slightly higher admission price you can explore the many corridors under the ancient arena floor where slaves, performers, and beasts would wait to emerge through trap doors for dramatic effect. Exploring the building itself is a remarkable experience but there’s more to see, including a museum on the upper level.

Right next door to the Coliseum is the Roman Forum where you could wander for days. Many buildings and triumphal arches remain intact, and informative signs throughout will help you learn about these ruins. Even if you aren’t terribly interested in the history of specific structures, there’s a feeling of deep, awe-inspiring significance that comes with walking through this place. These buildings were the heart of an Empire, they were built by men dedicated to staunch, seemingly unshakeable Republican ideals, and were abandoned because in the end, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

You can get an audio-guide that will take you through both the Coliseum and the Forum.

2. Museums

You could spend your whole trip in Museums and never run out of things to see. I don’t recommend devoting your whole trip to trying to see every collection but you can’t go to Rome without visiting at least one! Here are a few:

The National Roman Museum is spread over several locations and houses most of the Roman artifacts that have been turned up in the city. The Museum’s collections are spread over several locations, the most impressive of which is the Baths of Diocletian.

The Capitoline Museums are located right in the heart of the city and house some of the most interesting sculptures from the Roman period. After you have spent some time inside you can sit out front in the square where cultural events are often held.

The Galleria Borghese has indoor collections but if you just want to have lunch in a beautiful park (for free!) this is a great place to come for picnic. Located on the grounds of the Villa Borghese Park, there are plenty of impressive pieces scattered throughout the grounds.

The Maxxi (the National Museum of Art from the 21st century) is a modern museum with some very interesting contemporary art housed in a unique structure. The building harnesses the power of juxtaposition by combining curves and sharp lines, glass, steel, and concrete. Visitors must navigate a series of ramps and bridges to see the collections. Architect Zaha Hadid has managed something that few designers can anymore, and made a building that is consistently unexpected.

3. Churches

Rome is full of unbelievable churches!  Even if you’re not religious Churches are great attractions because they are usually free to enter and have/are amazing pieces of art.  I won’t give you a giant list of must-see churches but I will recommend one very special, and often overlooked little gem. The Church of Cappuccini, the Convento dei Cappuccini, is a smaller church with a tiny little museum, but it is also the location of one of my favourite sites in Rome. I won’t give it away (it’s best experienced a surprise), but I will give you a few hints. It’s very artistic, a little bit creepy, it’s at the end of the museum, and you aren’t allowed to take pictures.

4. Pantheon (free!)

Technically this I both an ancient building (museum of sorts) and a church, but the Pantheon is so spectacular is really deserves its own category. Even if you only have an hour in Rome, this is the place to visit! The many colored marbles used the build the interior are from all corners of the Roman Empire and were meant to give visitors the impression of traversing the Roman Empire. Completed in 126 CE, the Pantheon was the largest dome ever built until the Florence Cathedral of 1420-36. The recently developed technologies of concrete and coffering allowed the Romans to build a beautiful dome that was light enough to cover such a wide open space without collapsing. In the center there is an open circle, called an oculus, which creates an incredible atmosphere inside. The effects of natural light at various times of day create an experience that really feels religious. This building exists solemnly and beautifully at the meeting point of nature and humanity.

5. Loitering, Cafés and Gelato Gelato Gelato!

Usually loitering isn’t really considered an activity, but in Rome, it counts. There are so many amazing places to just sit and hang out that it would be a terrible waste not to devote at least a few hours to aimlessly taking in all that this city has to offer. Sit, have a coffee or an ice cream, and look at the fashionable people – the effortlessly fabulous Italian women who manage the cobblestone streets in stylish, impossibly tall stilettos, and the suave Italian men who manage to make everything look much cooler than it really should. 

The Spanish Steps and the many piazza’s including the Piazza Navona, the Piazza di Spagna, and the Piazza Trinita dei Monti are particularly great places for loitering. There are often musicians and artists here for added ambiance. Maybe you will even find a painting during your essential loitering!

Usually gelato (delicious!), pastries, and coffee, cost much less if you take them to go so there’s really no reason not to spend some time hanging out in the streets, doing as the Romans do….Did I mention the gelato?

6. Porta Portese Sunday Market

Do you love random old trinkets? Legitimate antiques? Cheap (but expensive looking) handbags? CDs of Italian music (yes, that’s right hipsters, CDs!)? Vintage clothing? Tasty street food? Welllll then, the Sunday market at Porta Portese is for you! It’s like going to 1000 foreign garage sales all once. There are plenty of fabulous (and very expensive) boutique shops in Rome but for the thrifty, adventurous shopper, there’s nothing like a bustling bazar! This is also a great place to practice your Italian since haggling is all part of the experience. The market runs every Sunday from right after dawn to late lunchtime (usually this mean 1pm, but this is Italy, so schedules are much more fluid that you might be used to!) Note: Make sure to keep your wallet close.

7. Visit the Vatican, maybe see the Pope!

Vatican City is stunning. It’s so full of Churches and Museums that you could spend your whole life there and never see everything. Make sure that you visit here and at least see the highlights – St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Augustus Prima Porta. You need tickets to get into the museums but it’s well worth the trip and you can skip the (massive) line if you buy them online before you go (or on your smart phone/tablet). Even if you’re not Catholic you may get a kick out of seeing the Pope in person. In the summer you can see the Pope at his window overlooking St. Peter’s square on Sunday at noon when he delivers the Angelus prayer. You could also see him Wednesday mornings at 9am in either the Square or the Pope Paul VI auditorium. You need tickets for the auditorium speeches but the Swiss Guard at the Bronze door will usually slide you a ticket if you ask inconspicuously. Note: Bring Binoculars

8. Trevi Fountain and Bocca della Verità (they have something in common)

The Trevi Fountain, designed by Nicola Salvi in 1762, is one of the most magnificent and iconic structures in Rome. The Bocca della Verità, which means ‘Mouth of Truth’, is an ancient stone mask of a river god with an open mouth. These monuments were built centuries apart and are nowhere near each other but they do have something in common. Both these sites come with little legends and are featured in famous, mid-century films.

The Trevi Fountain is famously featured in the Italian movie La Dolce Vita, and in the 1954 romantic comedy Three Coins in the Fountain (remade in 1964 as The Pleasure Seekers and in 1990 as Coins in the Fountain). Frank Sinatra’s song by the same name plays in the intro. According to that film, if you throw three coins in the fountain, the first one will mean you come back to Rome in a year, the second means you will have a new romance, and the third will make sure you get married. For those of you (most of you) not looking to get married anytime soon, go with the more conventional legend and throw one coin in over your right shoulder. This will make sure that you come back to Rome one day. You can also feel good about throwing change here since it is collected daily and helps fund a supermarket for the poor in conjunction with the Italian Red Cross.

The Bocca della Verità is featured in the classic film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn. It is said that if you put your hand in the stone mouth and tell a lie then it will bite you! Come here to make sure you’re getting the facts!

9. See a Live Show at the Baths of Caracalla

The Baths of Caracalla, Terme di Caracalla in Italian, was the second largest Roman bath complex build in the 3rd century CE during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla. While a visit to these vast ruins is a great experience on its own there`s something even more special in the summer! In the summer there are live performances put on here, most commonly ballets and operas. The staging area is so large that at one time they used to include elephants in performances.

10. Ice Club Rome

The furniture is made of ice, the cups are made of ice, and there are ice sculptures of famous Roman emperors and other figures throughout! Your entrance fee includes a warm poncho coat and a free drink. This is a great bar to go to at night but, if you’re not quite old enough, don’t despair! You can visit during the day just for the experience and great pictures. Don’t let the sub-zero temperatures fool you, this is one of Rome’s hot spots.

(Alternate to Ice Club Rome - love lock bridges – they’re everywhere, they’re tacky, and most of the locals hate them but they’re great!