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Top Things to Do in Rome

The Pantheon

Constructed to honor all pagan gods, this best preserved temple of ancient Rome was rebuilt in the 2nd century AD by Emperor Hadrian, and to him much of the credit is due for the perfect dimensions: 141 feet high by 141 feet wide, with a vast dome that was the largest ever designed until the 20th century.

The Vatican

Though its population numbers only in the few hundreds, the Vatican—home base for the Catholic Church and the pope—makes up for them with the millions who visit each year. Embraced by the arms of the colonnades of St. Peter's Square, they attend Papal Mass, marvel at St. Peter's Basilica, and savor Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Colosseum

Legend has it that as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand; and when Rome falls, so will the world. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the mammoth amphitheater was begun by Emperor Vespasian and inaugurated by Titus in the year 80. For "the grandeur that was Rome," this obstinate oval can't be topped.

Piazza Navona

You couldn't concoct a more Roman street scene: caffè and crowded tables at street level, coral- and rust-color houses above, most lined with wrought-iron balconies, street performers and artists and, at the center of this urban "living room," Bernini's spectacular Fountain of the Four Rivers and Borromini's super-theatrical Sant'Agnese.

Roman Forum

This fabled labyrinth of ruins variously served as a political playground, a commerce mart, and a place where justice was dispensed during the days of the emperors (500 BC to AD 400). Today, the Forum is a silent ruin—sic transit gloria mundi (so passes away the glory of the world).

The Campidoglio

Catch a bird's-eye view of the Roman Forum from Michelangelo's piazza, atop one of the highest spots in Rome, the Capitoline Hill. Here you'll find the Capitoline Museums and beloved Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

Trevi Fountain

One of the few fountains in Rome that's actually more absorbing than the people crowding around it, the Fontana di Trevi was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732. Immortalized in Three Coins in the Fountain and La Dolce Vita, this granddaddy of all fountains may be your ticket back to Rome—that is, if you throw a coin into it.

The Spanish Steps

Byron, Shelley, and Keats all drew inspiration from this magnificent "Scalinata," constructed in 1723. Connecting the ritzy shops at the bottom with the ritzy hotels at the top, this is the place for prime people-watching. The steps face west, so sunsets offer great photo ops.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Originally constructed as a mausoleum for Roman emperor Hadrian, this cylindrical fortress, which towers over the city's skyline, has great views and opulent Renaissance-era salons.

Trastevere

Located just across the Tiber River, this time-stained, charming villagelike neighborhood is a maze of jumbled alleyways, traditional Roman trattorias, cobblestone streets, and medieval houses. Some call it the third smallest country in the world (after the Vatican and Monaco), others dub it Rome's "Greenwich Village." Whatever, it has staunchly resisted the tides of change for centuries. The area also boasts the oldest church of Rome—Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Updated: 2013-10-17

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