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Rome: Must-See Places

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Nearly three millennia of Rome means you have a lot of history, culture, art and architecture to catch up on, not to mention the amazing food. The Eternal City is the perfect place to get lost in because every corner turns up something amazing. For the full experience, especially for first-timers, check out our top 6 not-to-miss sites.

Piazza Navona. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino from Unsplash.

1. Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona, Roma, Lazio 00186

If there was a best-loved piazza in Rome, it would be Piazza Navona . The historic “square” is a beautiful example of Baroque architecture and highlights the life of Rome with its cafes and restaurants lining the long rectangle. The locals love it for the morning and evening walk around its central oval shape “track” which follows the contours of the old ruined Roman Stadium of Domitian. It is that cool--historically as well as visually. In the daytime, tourists flock to the square to take selfies in front of the twin-towered, 17th-century church Sant'Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini whose rival Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) directly in front. It makes for a gorgeous backdrop and a great story. Go in the early morning when the crowds are non-existent, and then grab a coffee at Chiostro del Bramante , a gorgeous Renaissance cloister attached to the Church of Santa Maria della Pace where you can take a sneak peek at Raphael’s Sibyls fresco.

Terrazza delle Quadrighe. Photo by JoeyBoy_2003 licensed under CC2.0.

2. Terrazza delle Quadrighe

1 Piazza dell'Ara Coeli, Roma, Lazio 00186

For a 360 degree view of Rome from its ancient past to its contemporary life, all you have to do is go up. The Terrazza delle Quadrighe is an incredible scenic terrace atop the Altare della Patria , the early 20th century white mega-monument in the very center of Rome’s centro storico. Known as the Vittoriano, or the Wedding Cake, the Altare (Altar of the Fatherland) is the largest national monument in Italy. Originally designed to commemorate King Vittorio Emmaule II (first king of Italy), the monument was inaugurated on June 4th, 1911. The monument itself is awesome, by the very definition of the word, with incredible art work and lavish marble, but the key is to go the second floor for entrance to the glass elevator that will take you to the Terrazza delle Quadrighe, the panoramic terrace which overlooks the entire city. From here you have a birds-eye view of Piazza Venezia and Via del Corso , and can take in the century-sweeping landscape of antiquity from the Capitoline and Palatine Hills to the Celio, Esquiline and Viminale which includes the Roman Forum , Imperial Fora , Trajan's Column and the Colosseum .

Pantheon. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino from Unsplash.

3. Pantheon

Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

There is nothing like the Pantheon, a two-thousand-year-old temple with monstrous marble columns and a massive domed rotunda casually hanging out in the very center of the city. Over the centuries, a neighborhood grew up around what was once the Campus Martius, an open green field, and now Piazza della Rotonda is a busy thoroughfare with apartments, boutiques, eateries and even an elementary school. And it's important to grab a granita di caffè con panna (shaved frozen espresso with a dollop of whipped cream) at Tazza D'oro , the neighborhood’s historic coffee shop, or enjoy a truly Roman cacio e pepe pasta at Armando al Pantheon (Pro tip: book in advance and ask for an outdoor table). Of course, you have to go inside antiquity’s best dome to fully appreciate its awesomeness. Now a church, the Pantheon retains its original architectural integrity including the mind-blowing dome with its open-air oculus.

Piazza del Popolo. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino from Unsplash.

4. Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo, Roma, Lazio 00187

Piazza del Popolo is one of Italy’s biggest squares and the gateway to Rome. A wide-open traffic-free piazza, Piazza del Popolo was designed by Giuseppe Valadier with twin churches at the southern end, entryway Porta del Popolo at the northern end, and is surrounded by sculptures and centered with a 36-meter-high original Egyptian obelisk. Take a moment to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo , built into the gate. Inside is a treasure trove of beautiful artwork including two Caravaggio paintings and the Chigi Chapel, designed by Raphael. From here you can walk the Tridente , a trio of fun shopping streets: posh Via del Babuino, teen dream Via del Corso and artsy Via di Ripetta. Or else you can go green by heading up to the adjacent Villa Borghese , Rome’s fabulous urban oasis, a gorgeous greenery with outdoor and cultural activities including a charming pond, theatres and museums.

Testaccio. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino from Unsplash.

5. Testaccio

Lungotevere Testaccio, Roma, Lazio

To get a true taste of Rome today, you must visit the Testaccio neighborhood. Testaccio itself was originally Rome’s port, and overtime became the butchery hub of the Eternal City, as well as home of AS Roma, the city’s beloved football team. Its true grit vibe remains, thanks to its locally-owned shops and passionate residents, but Mercato di Testaccio , the local market, was transformed in the early 2010s to a gorgeous, open-air lineup of stands for traditional products like produce, meats and fish, as well as kitchen wares centered around an open archaeological excavation site. What’s even more innovative are the delicious and innovative foodie spots like Casa Manco , artisanal pizza al taglio and Mordi e Vai , Roman-recipe sandwiches. Nearby is the street food pioneer Trapizzino , pizza triangles filled with hot Roman recipes.

Trevi Fountain. Photo by Michele Bitetto from Unsplash.

6. Trevi Fountain and Città dell’Acqua

One of the best things to do in Rome is to discover its underground. The contemporary city is built atop thousands of years of (somewhat) explorable layers. Walking around the Trevi Fountain , Rome’s most emblematic piazza is beautiful, no doubt (Pro tip: The best hours to avoid crowds are late evening or early morning). Off the epic piazza on vicolo delle Bollette is Trattoria al Moro , a yesteryear eatery with one of the best customized carbonara in Rome. And nearby on Vicolo del Puttarello is Città dell’Acqua (Vicus Caprarius), an underground ancient domus and museum.