Brimming with history and artistic charm, Rome is a city like no other. Its well-preserved ancient sites, striking Baroque monuments and rich cultural heritage make Rome one of the most visited cities in the world. This also means that planning an all-encompassing trip to Rome is a must, especially if you’re only going to be there for a short time.
Cherry picking the main highlights of Rome and trying to fit them all in a 3-day itinerary can be challenging, but here’s a short guide to help you make the most of your time in the Eternal City.
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Day 1: Vatican City & The Tiber
The heart of the Catholic Church, the Vatican City is home to an extensive collection of Greek and Roman artefacts and other masterpieces collected by popes throughout the centuries. You’ll need at least half a day to see the Vatican Museums so I highly recommend getting there as early as possible and booking your tickets online to avoid queuing. Besides the museums, you’ll also have the opportunity to marvel at the Sistine Chapel, which is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces in the world.
Once you’re done exploring the museums, head down to St. Peter’s Square to absorb the architectural grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica. Entrance to the basilica is free, so expect to find a long, slow-moving queue to get inside.
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums can be overwhelming, but a genteel stroll along the Tiber River will help you freshen up. The river banks are generally quiet, and each bridge is a work of art. You might find it difficult to decide which side to walk on, or which way to go, but I suggest sticking to the same side of the river as you come out of the Vatican City and heading south towards Lungotevere Gianicolense.
If you didn’t have to time to grab something to eat in the Vatican City, now’s the time to have a quick bite for lunch. Your body could do with a bit of energy before going to the next place on the list.
When you get to Ponte Mazzini, take out your map and follow the roads that lead up to Gianicolo Hill. One of the few green and peaceful areas in the city centre, the brow of Gianicolo Hill offers stupendous views of Rome. Spend a few minutes taking in the timeless panorama and recharging your batteries, then slowly start walking back down the hill.
Trace your way back along the Tiber towards Castel Sant’Angelo. Romans enjoy going for an evening passeggiata along the river and it’s easy to see why. The city’s peach and honey-coloured buildings take on a glorious glow at sunset, and Castel Sant’Angelo is one place that you should definitely see before night sets in.
Before going out for dinner, you might want to return to your hotel to put your feet up for a couple of hours. The following two days will entail more walking, and Rome’s cobbled streets will eventually take their toll on your feet.
Day 2: Colosseum, Palatine Hill & The Roman Forum
This is the day that you get to explore the hub of the great Roman Empire, but you won’t be alone. Being the most popular sites in Rome, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum tend to be busy throughout the year. You’ll still need to queue if you buy your tickets online, so make sure you’re there by 8am – 30 minutes before opening time.
The Colosseum is bigger than it looks from the outside, so you’ll be there for at least an hour (excluding queuing time), but don’t rush! While it is possible to get around the site on your own, you’ll need to join a guided tour to be allowed access to the underground rooms.
It is believed that Rome was founded on the Palatine Hill. According to legend, this was the birthplace of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a wolf and later became the founders of Rome. The Palatine Hill is one of the oldest parts of the city, where ruins of its once imperial palaces stand as tall and proud as they did many centuries ago
After making sure you’ve been to every part of the Palatine Hill, including the viewpoint, start making your way down to the Roman Forum. One of the most important archaeological sites in the world, the Roman Forum is studded with architectural jewels and magnificent monuments, which include the ancient temples of Saturn, Julius Caesar and Romulus. Most of these temples were converted into churches during the Christianisation of Rome.
The Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum are all accessed using the same entrance ticket. If you get up early enough, you will manage to see all three by lunchtime.
The queue to get into the Colosseum can get very long, so I highly recommend buying a skip-the-line entrance ticket
, which also gives you access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
Day 3: Piazzas & Fountains
Your third and last day in Rome is all about wandering through the streets of Rome and visiting the city’s free attractions. Rome might be an expensive city, but there are plenty of historic areas and famous monuments that are completely free.
The first one on the list is Piazza Navona, known for its Baroque splendour and annual Christmas market. It is arguably the most beautiful square in Rome, adorned with three Renaissance fountains and the stunning church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.
Your next stop is at the Pantheon, which is only a short walk away from Piazza Navona. Dating from 125AD, this well-preserved temple was originally dedicated to the pagan gods of ancient Rome until it was converted into a church by Pope Boniface IV in 609. During the Renaissance, the Pantheon was used as tomb, and among those buried here are the great Renaissance painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, and the Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.
The most striking feature of the Pantheon is its giant dome, with a hole in the centre. Getting inside the Pantheon won’t cost a cent, but its beauty and grandeur will leave you breathless.
This world-famous fountain doesn’t need an introduction. Fontana di Trevi is within walking distance from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, and you’ll probably hear it before you see it. Legend has it that tossing coins into the fountain guarantees a repeat visit to Rome, but you can just be a bit of a non-tourist and simply stand there admiring this amazing work of art by Nicola Salvi.
From Trevi Fountain, walk towards Piazza di Spagna, where you’ll get a splendid view of the iconic Spanish Steps. This is a popular hangout spot for locals, and you might just want to sit down for a few moments and watch the world go by.
After your short break at Piazza di Spagna, walk up to the top of the stairs and turn to your left. This road leads to Pincian Hill and Piazza del Popolo, and you’ll get some panoramic vistas of Rome’s rooftops and domes on your way there.
A large, oval square, Piazza del Popolo is located at the main northern entrance to the city and hosts a wealth of historic monuments from different periods, including an Egyptian obelisk and the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto.
If you manage to do all of the above without stopping for a cappuccino every two hours and getting lost at every turn, you will have enough time to add more places to the list.
Located in the southern part of the city centre, Tiber Island is worth a visit if you have an hour to kill. This tiny yet charming island has been associated with medicine and healing since the early Roman period. The most important buildings found on the island date back to medieval times, and include the Fatebenefratelli Hospital, which was built in 1584 to house patients recovering from the plague, and the Basilica of St. Bartholomew.
If you want to get away from the touristy parts of the city and rub shoulders with the locals, head to the Jewish Ghetto once you leave the Tiber Island. Thought to be the oldest surviving Jewish Quarter in Europe, this neighbourhood is popular among locals for its bakeries and Roman Jewish cuisine.
Immerse yourself in Rome’s food scene by taking a food tour
through the city’s bohemian Trastevere neighbourhood and the Jewish Ghetto.
The imposing Victor Emmanuel II Monument is a bit of an eyesore, but its roof offers staggering views of Rome. Locally referred to as ‘the giant typewriter,’ this white marble monument was built as a tribute to the first Italian King, and the building now houses a museum dedicated to the history of the Italian unification. Entrance to the monument is free of charge.
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