Rome’s ancient monuments are a constant reminder that this was one of the greatest centers of Western civilization. In the heyday of the Empire, all roads led to Rome, with good reason. It was one of the first cosmopolitan cities, importing food, textiles, slaves, gladiators, great art, and even citizens from the far corners of the world. Despite its brutality and corruption, Rome left a legacy of law, a heritage of art, architecture, and engineering, and a canny lesson in how to conquer enemies by absorbing their cultures.

But ancient Rome is only part of the spectacle. The Vatican has had a tremendous influence on making the city a tourism center. Although Vatican architects stripped down much of the city’s ancient glory during the Renaissance, looting ruins (the Forum especially) for their precious marble, they created more treasures and occasionally incorporated the old into the new—as Michelangelo did when turning Diocletian’s Baths complex into a church. And in the years that followed, Bernini adorned the city with baroque wonders, especially his glorious fountains.

Bypassing the Lines 

If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll be dealing with interminable lines at three big attractions: the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. Reservation services can help you avoid the wait, at least for two out of the three. 

At press time, Coopculture has initiated a time entry system for the Colosseum. Ostensibly, this should all but eliminate the long lines to buy tickets, though everyone still has to go through a long, slow security line. Tickets should be purchased at least weeks in advance at the Coopculture site. Roma Pass holders also need to book a timed entry in advance and pay a 2€ booking fee. 

For the Vatican Museums, buy an advance ticket; you’ll pay an extra 4€ but you’ll skip the line at the entrance (which can be very, very long). From late April to late October, the museum offers special access every Friday night from 7pm to 11pm, with the last entry at 9:30pm. Tickets cost the same as regular daytime admission, but given the greatly reduced crowds, you’ll feel like you have the galleries to yourself.

St. Peter’s is not included in any skip the line perk: There is no way to jump the line there, unless you book a private or group tour.

Three FREE VIEWS to Savor for a Lifetime

The Forum from the Campidoglio—Standing on Piazza del Campidoglio, outside the Musei Capitolini, walk around the right or left side of the Palazzo Senatorio to terraces overlooking the best panoramas of the Roman Forum, with the Palatine Hill and Colosseum as a backdrop. At night, the ruins look even more haunting when the Forum is dramatically floodlit.

The Whole City from the Janiculum Hill—From many vantage points in the Eternal City, the views are panoramic. But one of the best spots for a memorable vista is the Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo), above Trastevere. Laid out before you are Rome’s rooftops, peppered with domes ancient and modern. From up here, you will understand why Romans complain about the materials used to build the 19th-century Vittoriano—it’s a white shock in a sea of rose- and honey-colored stone. Walk 50 yards north of the famous balcony (favored by tour buses) for a slightly better angle, from the Belvedere 9 Febbraio 1849. Views from the 1612 Fontana dell’Acqua Paola are also splendid, especially at night.

The Aventine Hill & the Priori dei Cavalieri di Malta—The mythical site of Remus’s original settlement, the Aventine (Aventino) is now a leafy, upscale residential neighborhood—but also blessed with some magical views. From Via del Circo Massimo walk through the gardens along Via di Valle Murcia, and keep walking in a straight line. Along your right side, gardens offer views over the dome of St. Peter’s. When you reach Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, look through the keyhole of the Priory gate (on the right) for a “secret” view of the Vatican.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.