Photograph by Bob Krist
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A tour boat floats along the Tiber River, with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

Photograph by Bob Krist

Rome Must-Dos

Our experts recommend the top attractions in and around Rome—with advice on how to get the most out of your visit.

"A magical space, expansive, evocative, and peaceful."—Ann Wise, Rome-based journalist. Rome's most intact ancient monument; a massive sphere designed as a pagan temple by Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 125; remained the world's largest concrete dome until the 1990s; houses the tombs of painter Raphael and 19th-century Italian king Vittorio Emanuele II. Go when it's raining to watch the drops shower through the oculus, the hole in the dome's top. Piazza della Rotonda.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj
"Private Roman art gallery; works displayed in an informal way, as the Pamphilj family would have exhibited them."—Ann Natanson, Rome-based journalist and critic. Often overlooked and very quiet museum housed in a palazzo still owned by the aristocratic Pamphilj family, which collected artworks. Well-stocked with masterpieces by Caravaggio, Velàzquez, Raphael, and other Renaissance masters. Piazza del Collegio Romano 2. 39 06 679 7323; fee.

Galleria Borghese
"A must-see for lovers of baroque art; recently renovated."—Ann Wise. One of the city's most impressive collections of art; housed in a villa in middle of the estate of the Borghese family, now Rome's main urban park. Highlights include works by Bernini, Canova, and Caravaggio. Reservations required. Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5; 39 06 328 10; fee.

Roman Forum
"One of the few ancient Roman sites visitors can tour for free. Start at the Capitoline Hill, for its great introductory view of this nexus of imperial Roman life."—Ann Wise. Center of imperial Rome; remains of temples to Roman gods, public baths, imperial arches, basilicas, and Roman senate.

"A major concentration of world art in one of the world's smallest sovereign states; don't miss the tomb of St. Peter, under the Basilica."—Ann Natanson. Seat of the Catholic religion. Highlights include St. Peter's Basilica, with its "Pietà" by Michelangelo; a lifetime's worth of masterpieces in the Vatican Museums, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel to Raphael's masterpiece The School of Athens; and papal tombs. Piazza San Pietro; 39 06 6988 5100; fee to visit museums.

Ancient Rome's civic open-air theater, site of gladiator fights and other competitions. Massive structure, now a symbol of Rome.

Piazza Navona
Elliptically-shaped piazza on the site of an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium; one of modern Rome's premier gathering points; famous baroque fountain, Fountain of the Four Rivers, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; notable baroque church, Sant'Agnese in Agone, designed by Francesco Borromini and Girolamo Rainaldi. Worth a stop: the legendary chocolate tartufo—little bomb of chocolate-truffle ice cream—at Bar Tre Scalini, a local institution. 39 06 687 9148.

Basilica San Clemente
"A layering of many centuries in one small church; mystical in feeling; beautiful mosaics."—Ann Wise. Perhaps Rome's most unusual church, near the Colosseum. Place of worship for more than 2,000 years, first as a pagan temple and, since the fourth century, a Christian church that was rebuilt in the 12th century; each structure still visible; frescoes and mosaics date to the first millennium. Via di San Giovanni in Laterano 108; 39 06 774 0021; fee.

Ara Pacis
Altar of Peace; ancient marble altar table surrounded by carved-marble walls; site of sacrificial offerings to Roman gods; built during the rule of Emperor Augustus. New museum-gallery designed by award-winning architect Richard Meier (L.A.'s Getty Center, Atlanta's High Museum of Art) now encloses and protects the altar. Lungotevere in Augusta; 39 06 5725 0410; fee.

Piazza del Campidoglio
"Rome's capitol complex, with lovely view of the city. Check out the new display space for the oldest extant Roman equestrian statue, of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback. Great terrace bar and restaurant."—Ann Natanson. On top of the Capitoline Hill, one of Rome's seven hills; piazza designed by Michelangelo; includes the Capitoline Museums; encompassing view of the Roman Forum, which lies behind the piazza.

Isola Tiberina
"Real hotspot in summer, for open-air movies and perfect-for-dallying cafés along the Tiber River."—Ann Wise. Rome's only island, in the Tiber River, currently site of a maternity hospital; offers fine views of Trastevere; mellow spot for a picnic.

Trevi Fountain
Largest baroque fountain in Rome; terminal point of one of Rome's ancient aqueducts; designed in the 18th century by Nicola Salvi, with influences from Bernini; depicts the Roman God of the Sea, Neptune, being guided by Tritons; coins in the fountain tossed by visitors heeding a maxim that throwing in a coin ensures a return to Rome; famously appears in the films Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita, and more recent When in Rome.

MAXXI Museum
Eagerly anticipated new National Museum of the Arts of the 21st Century (Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo); exhibits on contemporary international arts and architecture; designed by Iraqi Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid. Via Guido Reni 2F; 39 06 321 0181.