Hotel options: My best advice is to get on TripAdvisor and read, read and read some more. You obviously have to balance your desire to be in a certain neighborhood with what you can afford. However, I would suggest that you try to stay within East Rome if you can help it. This would mean you'd be north of "ancient" Rome (i.e. Roman Forum, Colosseum, etc.), east of the Tiber River, west of Termini Station and south of the Borghese Gardens. East Rome may look like a big area on the map, but, as long as you've packed comfy shoes, you should be able to walk or take short, inexpensive taxis to everywhere you'd like to visit. We chose to stay at a fairly reasonably priced 4-star hotel on Via Nazionale, Hotel Artemide. We were quite pleased with it for a number of reasons (e.g., size and cleanliness of the room, quality of the bathroom amenities, good air conditioning, flat screen tv, etc). It also has a lovely rooftop restaurant and bar that overlooks the city.
Must-sees: I can't cover this topic in the detail that it deserves solely in my intro post, but I'll go ahead and tell you in summary form what I wouldn't miss.
- Vatican Museum: How could you pass up the papal palace lined with the masterpieces of Michelangelo and Raphael? The answer is you cant. Buy your ticket in advance online but still be prepared for intense crowds. It is all worth it once you set eyes on the Sistine Chapel.
- St Peter's Basilica: Neighbors with the Vatican Museum, this is the grandest, most significant church in the Christian world. You can visit the chapel and crypt for free, but the view from the top of the dome is worth the EUR5-7 cost.
- Colosseum: Home to the notoriously gruesome gladiator battles, don't miss this truly unbelievable structure. A clear architectural wonder, especially considering it's 80 A.D. construction.
- Roman Forum (& Palantine Hill): Ruins of the center of the ancient city. Imagine the commerce, politics and religion that took center stage in these ruins. Don't miss the Arch of Titus that marked the old entrance to the city on the Via Sacra, as well as the large Senate House. You can also find the ashes of Julius Caesar as well.
- Borghese Gallery & Surrounding Gardens: Former Cardinal Scipione Borghese's villa, used to showcase the fine art of his age. Many precious Bernini sculptures are contained within its walls.
- Pantheon: Dedicated to all gods, it is the most well-preserved monument in the city. Inside you can find the tomb of Raphael as well as the tombs of the country's 1st two kings.
- Spanish Steps: Named for the Spanish Embassy, it is a hangout spot for many (particularly a popular night-time hot spot).
- Trevi Fountain: A Baroque fountain completed in 1762 by Nicola Salvi, which brings an "Ocean" scene to life. Particularly gorgeous at night.
- Night walks through Campo de' Fiori and Piazza Navona: Bustling plazas with outdoor wining & dining ideal for people watching. Bernini fountains to top off the experience.
My last recommendation is a fun, superstitious one: don't forget to throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain! If the legend is true, it will ensure your safe return to Rome.