The best of Rome for first timers

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Rome needs no introduction but if you're visiting for the first time, it can be daunting deciding where to start in a place so full of life, past and present. Rome casts a spell over all who visit; people love its history, iconic sights, impressive attractions and all-around charm.

Part of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome © Kirsten Henton
Part of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome © Kirsten Henton

Check out our guide to handpicked Rome showcasing some of the best places to visit, eat, drink and sleep in the Eternal City.

Getting around

True of most cities, Rome is best seen by foot and public transport. Taxis can be expensive, and given its compact nature, getting lost among the narrow, cobbled streets is far more rewarding.

A Roman tram © DaniloRusso - Fotolia.com
A Roman tram © DaniloRusso - Fotolia.com

You'll discover hidden piazzas, quaint boutiques and secluded cafes offering chilled Peroni in isolated sun traps - it's a great way to get a feel for the city.

Top sights for first timers

Rome is bursting with things to see and do, and the following doesn't even scratch the surface, but they're good places to start if you haven't visited the city before.

The Colosseum & The Forum

It's an obvious choice - but for good reason. Whether or not you've a particular interest in the details, the Colosseum and its neighbouring Roman ruins at The Forum are must-visits. Wander around at your own pace and be prepared to wait for the best photo opps.

Interior of the Colosseum in Rome © Karel Jakubec - Wikimedia Commons
Interior of the Colosseum in Rome © Karel Jakubec - Wikimedia Commons

Top tip: avoid the queue at the Colosseum by purchasing your combined entry ticket at the entrance to the Forum, allowing you to explore the ruins before walking straight into the Colosseum.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

A relative newbie having been completed in the early 20th century, this monument celebrates the unification of Italy and is a fantastic place to take in the city.

View from Altare della Patria, Rome © Kirsten Henton
View from Altare della Patria, Rome © Kirsten Henton

Whether you walk up the steps to the terrace or pay a small fee to access the rooftop platform, you'll enjoy a view from the distant Alban Hills to St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, and far beyond.

Villa Borghese

The third largest park in Rome, Villa Borghese's a welcome oasis, home to various museums and landscaped gardens. Some areas could use a little TLC, but it's definitely worth a visit on a warm and sunny day.

The Villa Borghese, Rome © Goran Bogicevic - Fotolia.com
The Villa Borghese, Rome © Goran Bogicevic - Fotolia.com

Hire yourself some wheels - you'll find everything from pedal cars to electric golf buggies - and don't miss the view over the River Tiber towards the Vatican City from the terrace above Piazza del Popolo.

Where to eat

Rome is mobbed with delicious places to eat and drink, a real foodie's paradise. The following offer old and new, giving a taste of what to expect.

La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

Listed in the book 1,000 Place To See Before You Die, La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali is a Roman institution.

It's delightfully Italian and, although it's welcomed everyone from Al Pacino to Dustin Hoffman, the prices remain affordable, the food is authentic, and the waiter won't hesitate in telling you that no, parmesan is not an acceptable accompaniment to octopus rigatoni (true story). Go for the pasta, and don't miss the enormous caprese salad.

Pigneto Quarantuno, Rome © David Busi - Restaurant 41 Pigneto
Pigneto Quarantuno, Rome © David Busi - Restaurant 41 Pigneto

Pigneto Quarantuno

Cited as a trendy area to the southeast of the city, Pigneto is an easy tram ride from Termini Station. Catch the number 14 and jump off at Prenestina, before crossing Via Prenestina and heading down towards Via del Pigneto where you'll find a collection of chilled out bars, cafes and restaurants.

Pigneto Quarantuno is clearly loved by locals as it's consistently busy with Italians, so if you're thinking of going, book.

The food is full of flavour and reasonably priced, while the atmosphere is really relaxed - so much so that it's perhaps not a place to go if you're in a hurry. Opt for the generous bruschetta, which comes with various toppings, from traditional tomato to pate.

Sleep: Best Bed & Breakfast - Pantheon

This dinky B&B is a comfortable and stylish home-from-home. Operating more like a serviced apartment, it's a good concept and formality-free.

Best Bed & Breakfast Pantheon, Rome - photo courtesy of www.bestbb.it
Best Bed & Breakfast Pantheon, Rome - photo courtesy of www.bestbb.it

Fill out a card each night stating what you'd like for breakfast and when, and it will appear at your requested time the next morning. Great value, modern and perfectly located for seeing the sights on foot.

Top tip: if you're arriving after 1 pm, let the hotel know as they'll need to arrange for someone to meet you and let you in

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Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Article updated on Sunday 3rd October 2021 in: City Culture Europe Food & drink

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