As the saying goes, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ so we recommend taking at least 3 to discover the best that the Eternal City has to offer.
They say the best place to start is at the beginning, so day 1 of your trip is all about discovering Ancient Rome. First stop of the morning is the Palatine Hill and as the site where Rome was first founded over 2700 years ago, this spot is surrounded by mystical legends and heaps of fascinating ancient history. The hill also affords a fantastic panorama over the entire city as well as impressive views over the Roman Forum and Circus Maximus below.
Next, it’s time to enter the city’s awe-inspiring amphitheatre: the Colosseum. Built almost 2000 years ago, this long-standing symbol of Rome played host to chariot races, gladiator fights, exotic animals and more throughout the Roman Empire’s glory days. Walking through this arena, the history of Rome seems to come alive and you can almost feel the intense terror, triumph, and excitement that was felt here.
As the most visited monument in Italy, the Colosseum tends to get overly crowded, especially during the summer months so it’s worth buying skip-the-line tickets beforehand. Package guided tours are also a great option as these give you queue jump entry to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum with the added insight of an expert guide.
Beware of people offering tickets and tours around this area as many tend not to be professional guides and charge exorbitant prices.
Afterwards, walk the short distance to the ruins of the Roman Forum, the main hub of social and political activity where everyone from ordinary Romans to Julius Caesar passed through.
If you still have time, we recommend a visit to the Basilica San Clemente, a multi-layered church opposite the Colosseum whose 12th century basilica sits atop a 4th century church and further below lies a 1st century Roman house. The ‘Bocca della Verita’ (the Mouth of Truth) is also worth a visit where legend has it, if you put your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, the Bocca will suddenly shut and bite your hand off!
For the evening, take a trip across the Tiber river to the bohemian neighbourhood of Trastevere. This maze of winding cobbled streets and charming architecture feels like a village within a city and is bursting with authentic Roman character. Full of cosy cafes and delicious, traditional trattorias, it’s a great place to relax with a glass of wine and partake in the great Italian pastime: people-watching.
After touring Ancient Rome, your second day is all about discovering Christian Rome so it’s an early start as you head towards the sacred heart of Christendom: the Vatican City. Once inside, spend some time strolling through the picturesque gardens and Belvedere Courtyard where you can enjoy an Italian breakfast, i.e. a scolding hot cappuccino and cornetto (the Italian take on a croissant, not an ice-cream) to fortify yourself before embarking on the 7km-long galleries! Due to the sheer size of the Vatican’s art collection it’s best to leave plenty of time to explore it’s contents at your own pace.
As an independent city state, the Vatican mints it’s own euros and prints it’s own stamps so keep an eye out for them and the Latin-speaking Swiss Guard. Some of the highlights here include the immense Maps Hall, the Bramante staircase, Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’ and of course the utterly astonishing Sistine Chapel, whose floor to ceiling frescoes featuring a cast of larger-than-life Biblical characters are guaranteed to take your breath away.
In a city famed for it’s beautiful churches, St Peter’s Basilica remains the richest and most magnificent not just in Rome, but in the whole of Italy. Behind the grand facade is a lavish interior housing two of Italy’s most celebrated works of art: Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ and Bernini’s Baldachin. For a fantastic view over the rooftops of Rome, put your fitness to the test and climb the 551 steps (a lift will save you 320) to the top of the dome.
Be aware that all churches in Rome observe a strict dress code: no exposed shoulders, upper arms, or midriff and nothing above the knees so be mindful of your clothing. If you’re visiting in the warmer season, we recommend keeping a shawl or cardigan with you to cover up when visiting churches.
As Italy’s pick-pocket capital, remember to keep a keen eye on your belongings especially in popular and congested tourist areas like St Peter’s Square.
‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’, so for the evening time take a passeggiata (evening stroll) and enjoy the magical experience of seeing Rome by night. Begin at the Capitoline Hill and watch the sunset over the city, then pass the Circus Marcellus (this will remind you of a mini Colosseum) and through to the vibrant Piazza Navona. Carry on strolling towards the Tiber where you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the illuminated Castel Sant’ Angelo.
Piazza Navona is a great area for restaurants but avoid the touristy establishments on the square itself by exploring the side streets for more authentic and less expensive trattorias. A top tip is to look for places that don’t display menus in many different languages, these are usually more local spots.
For your third day it’s time to relax and explore the city at your own pace. Although this day needs no itinerary, here’s some must-see highlights all a short walk from eachother:
- The Spanish Steps: Drawing visitors since the 18th Century, these gleaming stairs are an impressive example of Roman Baroque style and provide a great place to sit down and people watch for a few minutes. Forming the backdrop to Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s famous scene, you can have a go at re-creating your own ‘Roman Holiday’ moment here. The area at the bottom of the steps, the Piazza di Spagna, is also an excellent shopping area offering everything from designer stores to small souvenir shops.
- The Trevi Fountain: An opulent assembly of mythical gods and wild horses, be sure to toss a coin into the fountain to guarantee your return to the Eternal City! To enjoy this site without crowds of tourists we recommend returning later during the evening for a quieter atmosphere and an illuminated view.
- The Pantheon: You’ll be amazed by the grandeur and breath-taking interior of this ancient construction which is preserved as it would have looked 2000 years ago! Free to enter, the Pantheon feels like an oasis of calm amidst the bustling Roman streets.
The area surrounding the Pantheon is famous for it’s gelaterias and espresso bars so be sure to savour the city’s many treats!
Whilst gazing into the waters of the fountain, it’s natural to recall the iconic scene of Anita Ekburg glamorously wading through the Trevi’s waters in ‘La Dolce Vita’. However, please resist the urge of re-creating it or in any other fountain in Rome (you’d be surprised how many tourists attempt this!) Anything from wading or feet-dipping into fountains is not only seen as disrespectful but also forbidden.
If you’re lucky enough to have more time in Rome, we recommend spending a day outside of the city visiting some of the fascinating sites in the surrounding area such as the old harbour of Ancient Rome, Ostia Antica, the UNESCO-listed ruins of Pompeii or even spend a day in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence!