The City of Rome is one of the world’s most impressive tourist destinations, with attractions that span thousands of years of history. The fantastic array of historic sites, architectural marvels, museums, public parks and cultural experiences will easily fill your schedule, but don’t forget to stop and enjoy the city’s amazing restaurants! In this guide, you’ll find helpful information about the accessibility of the most popular attractions and sights in Rome.
Explore the Colosseum, one of the 7 Wonders of the World
The Colosseum, completed in 80 AD under Roman emperor Titus, is one of the most recognizable historical sites in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, millions of people from around the world visit each year and you can be one of them: The Colosseum is wheelchair accessible!
Disabled visitors to the Colosseum are admitted free of charge, along with one companion. Additional visitors in your party will be subject to the standard admission rates — Tickets can be purchased on site. No reservation or advance notice is required and disabled people are directed to the front of the line.
For more information to plan your accessible visit, read my detailed guide to wheelchair accessibility at the Colosseum. The article contains additional photos, descriptions and information on transportation to the historic attraction.
Opened in the year 125 AD and located on the Piazza della Rotonda, The Pantheon was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to replace an earlier temple that had burned down. Its translation literally means “temple of all the gods,” but since 609 AD, it has functioned as a Catholic church, specifically the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs.
The building’s cylindrical design with towering columns at the front portico is iconic and the structure has been incredibly well preserved.
The interior design and architectural elements are awe-inspiring. The dome features an oculus at its apex, allowing natural light to illuminate the Pantheon’s interior. A Catholic high altar, commissioned by Pope Clement XI in the 18th century, draws the attention of visitors. Catholic Masses are still held inside the Pantheon on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
Admission is free and wheelchair access is provided via a metal ramp located on the left side of the portico. Visitors are advised to approach the Pantheon quietly and respectfully as it is still used as a house of worship and place of prayer.
Toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is the largest fountain in Rome and one of the most recognizable in the world. Designed by renowned Italian architect Nicola Salvi in the 18th century, the fountain’s iconography depicts the “taming of the waters,” with the Greek god Oceanus upon a shell and flanked by Tritons.
According to a myth popularized in the 1954 movie “Three Coins in the Fountain,” visitors to Rome who toss coins in the Trevi Fountain will be granted rewards depending on the number of coins they deposit. During my first trip to Rome in 2012, I tossed oner coin, which is said to guarantee that one will return to Rome. In my case, it proved true!
The myth makes grander promises for tossing two and three points: that you will fall in love with an attractive Italian, and that you will marry the person that you met. I’ve not tossed those coins yet, so cannot confirm whether they work.
Castel Sant’Angelo, which translates to Castle of the Holy Angel, was erected along the River Tiber during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. The structure was intended to serve as a mausoleum and did house Hadrian’s remains following his death in 138 AD. Those remains were lost in the 5th century during Visigoth King Alaric’s sacking of Rome.
In the centuries that followed, Castel Sant’Angelo came under the control of the Catholic Church and it was transformed into a fortress, castle and later a prison. Today, it serves as a museum that is open to the public. Wheelchair access is provided by an elevator and disabled visitors are admitted free. Although access is limited, it is possible to reach the upper level and look through portals that offer exceptional views of the city at St. Peter’s Basilica. A cafe operates there and I have stopped there for food and drink on numerous occasions. When the weather is nice, it’s a fantastic place to relax!
For more information on Castel Sant’Angelo, visit the museum website.
See Bernini’s iconic Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi at Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona, located only a few blocks from the Pantheon, is a center of life and activity in Rome. Each year, the piazza hosts a Christmas market. With countless cafes and restaurants, it is an excellent place to enjoy a meal overlooking the square. Although cobblestone pavers cover Piazza Navona, I was able to navigate the sidewalks in my wheelchair to explore the full square.
The iconic Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers is located at the center of the piazza, directly in front of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The fountain was designed in 1651 by acclaimed Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The fountain features four river gods representing four of the world’s most consequential rivers: the Nile, Danube, Ganges and Río de la Plata.An Egyptian obelisk rises from the center of the fountain.
Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major
The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, located just a few blocks from Rome’s Termini train station, is one of only four major basilicas in the Catholic Church. The other three are also located in Rome — St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John in Lateran, and St. Paul Outside the Walls. The church is also one of the popular 7 Pilgrim Churches of Rome, which attract the Catholic faithful from around the world.
Wheelchair access to the basilica is provided via a ramp to the right of the main entrance. Inside, the primary sanctuary is accessible, however some side chapels can only be accessed via a large step of 6 inches or greater. I was unable to locate a member of the clergy to inquire about the availability of a portable ramp for use inside the basilica — in the future I will come prepared with my own.
The Spanish Steps, 135 in number and opened in 1725, ascend a steep slope that connects the Piazza di Spagna with the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. Although the church itself is not wheelchair accessible, it is possible to reach the summit of the steps albeit via a steep and winding roadway. I managed the route with my power wheelchair, though manual wheelchair users will almost certainly require a taxi. Once at the top, you’ll have a tremendous view of the piazza and you’ll be very close to the entrance to Villa Borghese.
Visit the Villa Borghese Gardens & Galleries
Villa Borghese is a public park and garden of nearly 200 acres overlooking the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo. The park is a place of discovery, with wheelchair accessible pathways (asphalt, dirt and fine gravel) throughout.
Visitors will find fountains, sculptures, busts and a unique water clock inside the gardens. A cafe with a wheelchair accessible bathroom is a great place to enjoy lunch or a drink, and there are multiple concession stands to grab a snack.
The Galleria Borghese is an art gallery with an impressive collection, including sculptures by Bernini and paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael and others. Admission is free of charge for disabled visitors and one companion and I highly recommend adding it to your itinerary.
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo or People’s Square is a large urban square within walking or rolling distance from the base of the Spanish Steps. An aerial view like the one pictured here can be seen from the Villa Borghese gardens. From this viewpoint, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen far in the distance. The square is home to the wheelchair accessible Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, which was restored by Bernini in the 1600s and contains important works by Caravaggio and Raphael.
Wheelchair Accessible Things to Do in Vatican City
On February 11, 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed by Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III and by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri for Pope Pius XI. The treaty established the independent state of Vatican City, guaranteeing the absolute sovereignty of the Holy See under the Catholic Pontiff and his successors.
Although the Vatican lies within and is surrounded by the City of Rome, it is very much its own country. Due to its open border, Vatican City is an associate member of the European Union’s Schengen Area, meaning visitors to Rome can easily enter and there are no passport checks. Sadly, this also means that there is no passport stamp to collect!
St. Peter’s Basilica (and St. Peter’s Square)
St. Peter’s Basilica is the most recognizable Catholic Church in the world. Construction of the basilica commenced in 1506 and was completed in 1626. Contrary to popular belief, St. Peter’s Basilica is not a cathedral — the seat of the Bishop of Rome, the Catholic Pope, is actually located at the Archbasilica of St. John in Lateran.
Visitors to St. Peter’s Square and the basilica must pass through a security screening — bags are scanned by an x-ray machine and metal detectors are used. Wheelchair users may be subject to a pat down, though I have never experienced one.
Wheelchair access to the basilica is possible via an elevator located in the lobby to the right of the building. Accessible bathroom facilities are located near the elevator, though the toilets have no seats (common in the case of public toilets in Rome).
Each time I visit St. Peter’s Basilica, I am drawn to two sculptures: Michelangelo’s marble Madonna della Pietà, an image of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus Christ; and a bronze statue of St. Peter seated on a marble throne, holding the keys of Heaven in his left hand and raising his right hand to offer a blessing.
There is too much to see in St. Peter’s Basilica to describe here, but for a more complete accounting of its religious icons, sculptures, tombs, altars and more, I recommend reviewing the St. Peter’s Basilica information website.
Meet Pope Francis at a General Audience
During a recent trip to Rome, I was grateful to (briefly) meet the Holy Father, Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church. This unique opportunity is open to all disabled people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Pope Francis holds a papal general audience in St. Peter’s Square at 9:00 a.m. local time on Wednesdays. At each general audience, the pope illuminates a teaching of the Catholic faith through catechesis and offers an apostolic blessing to those in attendance. Following the audience, he greets invited guests as well as people with disabilities and recently married couples.
To learn more about how you can secure a ticket to the general audience, read my detailed article on how disabled people can meet Pope Francis in Rome.
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
The Roman Catholic Church maintains one of the largest collections of art in the world, with more than 20,000 pieces on display in the Vatican Museums. The museum galleries are wheelchair accessible and disabled visitors are granted free admission.
With 24 total galleries and thousands of works on display, it is easy to get lost in the Vatican Museums. Depending on your level of interest, your visit could take a couple of hours or a couple of days. In this guide, I will highlight only one work — my favorite in the collection.
Raphael’s The Transfiguration (1516-1520) was the master’s final work. It was top of mind the first time I visited the museum’s Pinacoteca gallery in 2012 and it was again the highlight of my most recent visit. In my view, it’s the most impressive oil painting in the world, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Tours of the Vatican Museums end at the Sistine Chapel, which is what the majority of visitors come to see. The chapel is a special place for a number of reasons, but two come immediately to mind: first, it is the place where the College of Cardinals meet to elect the Roman Pontiff; second, it is home to Michelangelo’s iconic frescoes: The Last Judgment and The Creation of Adam. Photography is not permitted in the Sistine Chapel and I respected mandate, but there are plenty of photos online.
Access to the Sistine Chapel is possible for wheelchair users, but it requires the use of a stair lift. The weight limit is 230 kilograms (507 pounds). If the combined weight of a power wheelchair and its user exceeds this limit, the individual is offered a manual wheelchair instead. Surprisingly, although my wheelchair and I exceeded this combined weight limit by more than 100 pounds, I was allowed to take my power wheelchair on the lift and into the Sistine Chapel. Your experience may vary, so be prepared to use a museum wheelchair if necessary.
While there are many incredible things to in Rome, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of the world’s premier museums, its impressive collection of artworks and the Sistine Chapel.