One of the biggest challenges I faced before visiting Rome was deciding how I was going to allocate my time.   After all, this was a city I had longed to visit since my primary school days,  when whole afternoons were spent recreating battle scenes in the playground, and when garden steps became makeshift ampitheatres on sunny afternoons.  There was so much I wanted to explore in the Eternal City, and the three days I had set aside were beginning to look increasingly short.  How was I going to get around all the major sights, as well as just getting to kick back and experience the cultural side of the city too?

For once, I decided to do the unthinkable; I planned ahead.  And you know what?  I’m glad I did.

While there was still plenty I wish I could have seen, I was glad that I spent a bit time of time beforehand with a map.  Planning out my trip strategically meant that I could make my most out of the time in the city.  I was able to visit most of the spots I’d hoped to, but also got to explore some of the further-flung and lesser-known neighbourhoods too.  By following a rough, three day plan, I was able to explore the three aspects of the city I most wanted to cover; Ancient Rome, Religious Rome and Modern Rome….although if I’d had a fourth day, it would definitely have been dedicated to Culinary Rome!  Oh well.  I’ll just have to go back again.

I hope you enjoy reading my itinerary as much as I enjoyed creating it!

Day One: Explore the Ancient City 

In the morning….

Visit the Colosseum 

It goes without saying that no trip to Rome would be complete without visiting The Colosseum. Make it your first stop and prepare to have your mind blown as you marvel at what remains of the two thousand year old amphitheatre.   Head there early in the morning when it’s quietest and make sure to prebook your tickets in advance online – you don’t want to spend half of your first day stuck in a queue after all!  Also, be careful when it comes to touts trying to sell you tickets for a guided tour as there plenty of scams going on.  A tour can be really helpful and informative (particularly as there’s a lack of signage inside the colosseum), but it’s best to research those online first, or ask for an audioguide from the ticket desk when you arrive; that’s what I chose to do, and it was pretty neat being able to move around at your own pace.

Climb Palatine Hill 

Once you’ve dodged past the sea of selfie-takers, it’s only a short walk to the entrance of Palatine Hill, once home to the city’s emperors and notable religious figures.  The walk may look intimidating from below, but don’t let that put you off.  There’s a myriad of ancient dwellings and temples to explore, and plenty of beautifully scented gardens to catch your breath in.  Explore the decadence of what was once Rome’s most prestigious post code, marvel over ancient bathing pools and prepare to be bowled over by the view of the city from the summit.

This has to be one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Rome and a great place to get your bearings, so why not take a picnic with you and enjoy lunch with a view?

Explore the Roman Forum

At the foot of Palatine Hill lies the Roman Forum.  Allow yourself a good couple of hours to explore what was once the thriving heart of the city, and you’ll find yourself walking amongst fragments of ancient government buildings, basilicas and fallen pillars.  There’s even an ancient shopping mall to explore!  Those Romans knew how to live…


In the afternoon…

Walk the Appian Way 

After exploring the inner parts of Ancient Rome, it’s time to head out of the city a little with a trip to the Appian Way (or the Via Appia Antica).  The Appian Way was one of the earliest roads to be built in the ancient Republic, and once connected Rome to Brindisi in the South.  As well has having strategic transport uses, the road is known for its bloody history, and was the site of many a battle between the Romans and their enemies, The Samnites.  Today, it makes for a beautiful self-guided walk, and there are several interesting catacombs to explore along the way.

Although it’s a fair distance to the Appian Way, it’s very easy to reach from the Roman Forum; simply take the metro from Colloseo to Piramide or Circo Massimo and then jump on the #118 bus.  There’ll be plenty of people doing the same, so don’t worry too much about getting lost!

In the evening…

Top off the night with dinner and a show 

By this time your feet will be in need of a rest!  Time to head back into town for some evening entertainment.  There are numerous lovely concert venues across Rome, but as opera is such an important part of Italian culture, I’d recommend taking in a show at the stunning Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.  During the summer months, you might even be lucky enough to catch an outdoor performance amidst the ruins of  Terme di Caracalla.  Looking for somewhere to eat before hand? Head along early to bag a table at La Matriciana, a traditional trattoria that was founded in 1870.

Day Two: Visit the Religious Sights

In the morning…. 

Visit Vatican City. 

With its population of just 1000, the walled enclave of Vatican City is officially the world’s smallest state.  Home to the Roman Catholic Church, as well as some of Europe’s most important museums and architecture, it’s the perfect place to start your second day in Rome.

Start the day early by heading over the River Tiber, either on foot or by taking the metro to Cipro.  You’ll find yourself naturally drawn towards the beautiful St. Peters Basilica, and this is perhaps the best place to start, before the crowds get too bad.

Designed by Bramante, Michaelangelo and Bernini, St Peter’s is one of the largest churches in the world, and well regarded as one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture.  Its religious significance is profound, but even if that is not a draw for you, it’s well worth a visit within; admission is free, though certain areas have a charge.  If you’re going to spend your money on anything, make it a trip to the top of the Dome – the views are worth the climb!

After visiting St Peter’s, head straight to the Vatican Museums by making the 15 minute walk around the perimeter walls.  Like the Colosseum, the Vatican queues are pretty epic – save yourself the stress by going along earlier in the day and booking tickets in advance online.

For many people, the Sistine Chapel is the top priority, and it is absolutely worth it, but make sure you give yourself plenty of time to explore other areas too; the Pinacoteca, for example, contains work from Italian masters like Caravaggio and Raphael, while the Vatican Gardens are home to many significant fountains and rare botanical treasures.

With over 70,000 pieces in their collections, it would be very, very easy to spend a whole day exploring the museums without getting bored; even the architecture is stunning!


In the afternoon…

Have lunch in Trastevere

After spending the morning in Vatican City, follow the river down to Trastevere, one of Rome’s oldest and most beautiful neighbourhoods.  Explore the myriad of narrow, cobblestone closes, browse the local markets and take in the serenity from the beautiful 12th Century Basilica di Santa Maria.  The Piazza di Santa Maria, just outside, is the perfect place to stop for lunch.  Grab an outdoor table at one of the trattorias, enjoy the views of the pastel-toned townhouses and watch as the world goes by.

Explore the Centro Storico

From Trastevere, it’s about a 30 minute walk back to the Centro Storico, the heart of inner Rome.  To get there, cross the stunning Ponte Garibaldi bridge and take a straight line up Via Arenula, before following the road on up Via di Torre Argentina.  There, you’ll pass Largo di Torre Argentina, a square that hosts four Republic Roman Temples and the remains of Pompey’s Theatre, rumoured to be the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination.

While many come to the square for its historical significance, there’s something else which has been drawing in visitors over recent years…cats!  That’s right, cats.  Torre Argentina is home to a colony of approximately 150 stray cats, who are looked after by volunteers.  Such is their prominence that it’s nigh on impossible to get a photo of the monuments with a moggy lazing languidly in the foreground…but hey, if I had to choose between a cardboard box and a two-thousand year old palace, I know which way I’d be leaning too.

Once you’ve got your feline fix, it’s just a short walk to the Pantheon, an absolute must, must see.  This former Roman temple – now a church – is the best preserved ancient monument the city has to offer, and is still credited today as one of the most architecturally perfect buildings in the world.  Don’t let the crowds outside put you off.  Stepping inside the building is like stepping into an oasis of calm, as the beauty of the ancient Dome will leave everyone, quite literally, speechless.

Credit: Moya Brenn

Have an espresso in Campo de’ Fiori

Campo de’ Fiori was one of my favourite spots in Rome.  Literally translated as ‘Field of Flowers’, from when it used to be a meadow, today the square is enclaved by traditional Roman townhouses, and hosts a fantastic daily market where you can stock up on just about anything, from locally made crafts, to olive oils, cheeses, and of course, flowers.  Grab a slice of pizza from the family run Forno Campo de’ Fiori, before having an espresso in one of the cafes overlooking the square.  The wonderful Baccanale got my vote!

In the evening…

Take part in one of the city’s food tours

Now comes my favourite part…dinner!  Not sure where to begin?  Fancy learning more about the cultural significance of Italian food?  Then why not try one of the city’s fantastic walking food tours?  It’s a brilliant way to meet people while getting to explore the heart of the city on foot and, of course, getting to sample lots of tasty treats.  I was lucky enough to be invited along on a tour with Secret Food Tours Rome, which began in the stunning Piazza Navona, and I can’t recommend the experience enough.  You can read about my experience here.

Day Three: Get to know Modern Rome

In the morning…

Start the day in Testaccio

Located on the edge on the old city, Testaccio is one of the city’s grittier but increasingly trendy neighbourhoods to explore.  It’s known for its unpretentious character and treasure trove of places to eat, so for brunch, I’d head down to Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio (the New Testaccio Market) and spend the morning leisurely perusing the array of multinational food stalls.  Watching the locals barter with the vendors is just as much fun as sampling the goods, so even if you’re feeling a little full from the night before, it’s sure to be an entertaining experience.

The market is conveniently located across from the MACRO, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is well worth a couple of hours of your time, and also a short walk to the non-catholic cemetery, where the English poet John Keats was buried.

In the afternoon…

Browse the shops on Via del Corso

After taking the metro from Piramide to Colosseo, it’s a short walk across the beautiful Piazza Venezia to the start of Via del Corso, one of Rome’s longest and best-loved shopping streets.  Whether you’re looking to splash the cash or just indulge in a bit of window shopping, it’s well worth taking a wander down the street; there are designer shops galore, but also a network of winding streets leading to smaller piazzas, and a wealth of independent craft and gift stores that are perfect if you’re looking to pick up a few mementos from your trip.

Credit: Moya Brenn

Although it’s a reasonable hike to the end of Via del Corso (I’d allow an hour at least if you’re prone to distraction!), you’ll be well rewarded at the end, as you stumble upon the beautiful Piazza del Popolo.  The piazza is enclaved within the Aurelian Walls, and once marked the starting point of the Via Flaminia, once the most important road in Northern Italy.  It was also an important gathering point in the city, and held many a public execution!  Thankfully, today its purpose is much more peaceful, and it’s a great place to relax with a gelato as you take in the view of the ‘twin’ churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

Credit: Steve Jones

Sunbathe in the Villa Borghese

The Villa Borghese gardens is one of the largest parks in Rome and the perfect place to rest after a busy day on your feet.  Explore the Borghese Gallery (which contains some of the most important artworks from the 15th-18th centuries), hire a bike or simply find a quiet spot to relax as the sun begins to set under the Roman sky.

Credit: Enrico Grilli

In the evening…

Wander down to the Spanish Steps

Connecting the Piazza Trinita dei Monti and the lower Piazza di Spagna are the seemingly out-of-place but stunningly beautiful Spanish Steps.  The curving staircase, made up of 138 steps, along with several vistas and terraces, is a great example of Roman Baroque design, and a major gathering place for locals and tourists alike.  On a sunny day, the steps can get very, very busy indeed, but they’re a great place for people watching and offer plenty of interesting sights to explore, from the gorgeous Fontana della Barcaccia (designed by a member of the Bernini family) to the house where Keats lived and died in 1821…I know, I’m a sucker for a literary connection…

Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain

Rome’s not exactly short on beautiful fountains, but if there was a crown for the most impressive, it’d have to go to the Trevi.  Designed by Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci, the Trevi Fountain is one of the most visited sights in Rome, and one of the most recognisable fountains in the world.  It even had a starring role in Fellini’s classic, La Dolce Vita.

I think the fountain is best visited at night, when the crowds are smaller and everything’s nicely light up.  Don’t forget to throw a coin in; legend has it that doing so guarantees your safe return to the Eternal City.  Throw three and you might even find yourself married within the year!

Head into Monti for dinner and drinks

By now, you’ll be needing a well deserved rest and the chance to reflect upon your time in Rome.  Make your way into the nearby Monti district and you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice with trendy bars and restaurants around every corner.  Don’t set yourself any agenda, just let the prosecco flow and the focaccia keep on a’coming…”When in Rome”, after all…

So there you have it, my guide to making the most of Rome in three days.  While a lot can be achieved in 72 hours, there was plenty I had to omit too.  It would be very easy to spend an extended trip in Rome without getting bored, and the hardest question for me is not if I’m going to return but when.  Do you have any suggestions for ‘must-do’s’ in Rome?  Feel free to leave a comment or a tweet!

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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