It would be easy to spend several weeks in the Eternal City and still not experience all of the history, culture, and food this balmy capital city has to offer. With so much to see (and so few vacation days!), planning a trip can quickly become overwhelming. Here’s how to see the wonders of Rome in 3 days!
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You can also check out my list of essential items for backpackers!
Rome is a city like no other. I’ve visited my share of European cities and had the chance to explore places like London, Paris, Barcelona, Athens, and Istanbul (half of which is technically in Asia!).
While there’s plenty to see and do in each of those places, you truly can’t beat the rich history and friendly culture you find in the Eternal City.
You could easily spend much more than 3 days in Rome, but if you’re tight on time, it helps to have a plan in place before you go.
I’ve split up the sights into three-day itinerary.
Day one is spent on the West side of the river, exploring Vatican City and the Trastevere neighborhood.
Day two is for seeing the ruins at the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum.
Day three is a day-long stroll through the heart of Rome, visiting sights such as the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Largo di Torre Argentina, and the Trevi Fountain.
There are an almost overwhelming number of places to stay in Rome, but if you’re looking for somewhere clean, comfortable, and central, I can highly recommend Rome Armony Suites.
Luca, the owner, was an invaluable resource for getting us tables at restaurants, helping us with directions, and even sorting out an issue we had with train travel to Civitavecchia.
Alright, without further adieu, here’s your city guide to Rome!
A Religious Experience
(St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museum & Trastevere)
For years, travel guides have been directing tourists to visit the Vatican in the morning in order to beat the crowds. Now, lots of people go in the morning to “beat the crowds,” but the afternoons aren’t any better and at least the mornings are cool.
Spend some time in the morning just walking around inside the city-state. Things to do: keep an eye out for the Swiss Guard, mail a letter from the Vatican post office, listen for people speaking Latin, and check any change you receive from merchants to see if they are minted by the Vatican; they’re the rarest Euros in circulation!
Other fun facts: Vatican City has the lowest birthrate of any state in the world (for obvious reasons), yet has the highest crime rate per capita. Very few people actually live there, but plenty of purses and wallets are stolen every day!
Next, head on over to St. Peter’s Basilica, located in St. Peter’s Square (Piazza san Pietro). If you have time, plan to climb to the top to witness the spectacular views of the city. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead by ensuring there aren’t any special events happening the day you wish to visit. You do not need a ticket to go inside, but be prepared for a security check. If you’re planning to climb to the top, you can purchase tickets to ride an elevator part way up (leaving you with just 320 steps instead of 551). There are also several tour companies which offer “fast track” access and guided tours.
Don’t forget to dress modestly; there’s a strict dress code in place so no miniskirts, shorts, or bare shoulders (for men, too).
At this point in the day, you’ll likely be getting pretty hungry (especially since the typical Italian breakfast of espresso and *maybe* a pastry is not very filling).
As you make the 10-15 minute walk between St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museums, you’ll pass a few restaurants and merchants on your right. Take a right down Via delle Grazie and grab yourself a few slices from Alice Pizza.
Now that you’re all full and sleepy, load yourself up on espresso and get ready to brave the crowds in the Vatican Museums.
Do yourself a favor and buy your tickets ahead of time. I read that you should purchase tickets before actually going, and that saved me so much waiting time! You can use a separate line to gain access to the museums; once you’re inside, head over to the reception desks to collect your tickets.
Hopefully you won’t have the same misfortune that I did, which was visiting the museums on a Saturday. It might have been the tightest crowd I’ve ever been a part of – that picture above doesn’t do the situation justice!
It took me about 45 minutes to get from the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. You could easily spend hours in the museums, especially if you’re interested in art history.
Be warned that the museums are not air conditioned, so I’d avoid trying to visit in the hotter months of the year.
The food is fantastic, the ambiance is quaint, and the prices are completely reasonable. The Cacio e Pepe (pasta with cheese and black pepper, shown below) was worth the entire trip to Italy.
After dinner, snag a seat at an outdoor cafe and sip a glass of sambuca while you people-watch.
(Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum)
Today is going to be another long one!
Take the subway (Metropolitana) to the Colosseo station and the second you step aside you’re at the base of the Colosseum. Take a sharp right from the station and walk over to the ticket counter at the base of Palatine Hill. The line is always much shorter, and you only need one ticket to access the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum.
Once you have your ticket, get in line to enter the Colosseum. There will be one line for people who need to buy a ticket (which was wrapped halfway around the whole thing the day I was there) and a separate line for those who already have a ticket (that’s you!).
If you’re unsure which line to stand in, find an *official* person working there (usually has a lanyard and is standing behind the gated off sections), show your ticket, make an apologetic face, and ask which line you’re supposed to be in.
Entrance is free to all three attractions on the first Sunday of the month. AVOID THIS DAY AT ALL COSTS. I made the mistake of showing up there on the first Sunday without knowing this, and it was a total zoo!
Spend a good hour or so exploring the interior – an audio guide might be helpful if you’re rusty on your Colosseum knowledge.
Make sure to spend some time peeking through the arches on the second floor; there are some spectacular views from up there!
Before you leave, fill up your water bottle at the spigot near the exit. There are numerous fountains all over the city which provide clean drinking water, but you’re about to hike up a hill so you should make sure you have a full bottle with you!
You’ll need to go through security (again) to gain access to Palatine Hill and the Forum – once you’re in, head left to go up towards Palatine Hill.
It’s a beautiful area to explore and it’s FULL of rich history. I loathe large tour groups, but I love booking private tours for things like this. Many times they aren’t *that* much more expensive.
The views from the hill are absolutely astounding.
When you’re done exploring the hill, keep left on your walk back down and you’ll see a little path which leads to a series of staircases. You’ll find the best views of the Forum below, perfect for really capturing the scene.
Finally, walk back down to the Roman Forum and spend some time walking among the ruins. There’s really nothing like it!
At this point you’ll be ready for some serious carb-loading, so it’s time to seek out some dinner.
I swooned over this creamy lemon and cheese ravioli at Ponte Vittorio. It’s right on the River Tiber, so you can take a nice stroll after dinner towards Castel Sant’Angelo.
Call it an early night and get yourself to bed.
Explore the City
(Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Largo di Torre Argentina)
Drink an espresso at the counter, Italian-style, then take a walk over to the Spanish Steps. It’s a great place to perch and do some quality people-watching.
Walk down the winding streets and you’ll easily find yourself at the Trevi Fountain. Don’t forget to throw a coin! Spoil your lunch with some gelato while you’re at it.
Next, head on over to see the Pantheon. As a “church,” it’s free to enter. Remember to keep your voice down while visiting.
Find a restaurant filled with locals and load up on a quality lunch.
Now that you’re nice and full, stroll over towards Largo di Torre Argentina.
Word on the street is that Julius Caesar was killed here, but even more interesting is the fact that it’s now been overtaken by CATS!
Awwww, aren’t they so precious? They are taken care of by a volunteer society, so please don’t try to feed them anything.
Last we have Piazza Navona. If you can time it right, it’s great to go at sunset so you can watch as the square comes alive at night – there’s lots of activity and everything is beautifully lit.
Enjoy some pizza to-go, or walk a few blocks out of the square to find a restaurant that isn’t swamped with tourists.
Make sure to enjoy some wine with dinner – it’s hard to find a bad glass in Rome.
When you’re finally tuckered out, head back to your hotel and dream about your wonderful time in the Eternal City!
Alright, that wraps up my guide to seeing Rome in 3 days! Until next time – Ciao!