Can you do Rome in 3 days?
‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ they say, but armed with this guide you will be able to see the best of it in just 3 days! There is so much to see that it is impossible to discover the city’s magic without spending a few days in Rome. So, what do you do if you don’t have much time, and what are the highlights you should not miss? There are countless museums, archaeological sites, piazzas, fountains, and churches. It can be overwhelming when planning your vacation in Rome but fear not, we’ve got you covered! Keep reading to discover how to make the most out of Rome in 3 days.
- Day 1: Ancient Rome and the historical center
- Day 2: Vatican City and Trastevere
- Day 3: Castel De Sant’Angelo and Villa Borghese
- Less or more time in Rome?
Day 1: Ancient Rome and the historical center
Day 1 begins with a visit to the Ancient City of Rome; including its flagship stadium the Colosseum. Here you will discover what life was really like for Roman citizens over 2000 years ago! The afternoon involves an enchanting walk through the city center to visit the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon & much more!
Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum
Could you think of a better way to start your first day in Rome than visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World? The most famous of Rome’s many ancient sights, the Colosseum is an imposing, incredible structure that transports you back in time to the Roman Empire’s powerful past.
Astonishingly this megastructure took just 8 years to construct and was completed in the year 80 and making it nearly 2000 years old! The venue was used to entertain the Roman citizens with bloodthirsty battles between Gladiators and wild animals.
Today the Colosseum is the most visited attraction in the world according to TripAdvisor. Millions of people come here annually to discover the exciting history that took place within its ancient walls. It is important to make sure that you book your tickets well in advance to avoid disappointment, or even worse, having to wait in the notoriously long lines of people who didn’t buy online.
Remember that tickets to the Colosseum also include access to the Palatine Hill, the hill on which Rome was founded 2700 years ago, and the Roman Forum, essentially downtown Ancient Rome.
Typically a visit to these 3 archaeological sites takes about 3 hours. You can purchase tickets directly from the Co-op culture website for 16 euros. The entrance for the Colosseum is always timed but you can visit the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum at a time of your choice either on the same day or the next day.
Given the importance of these archaeological sites, we highly recommend taking a guided tour. There are signs insides but the information is limited and without a guide to bring the ruins back to life your Ancient Rome experience won’t quite be the same.
Other benefits of taking a guided tour include using priority entrances to save hours of queuing in line and also the option to take restricted area tours that visit the Colosseum Underground and the arena floor.
Lunch in Monti
After discovering the glory of ancient Rome and visiting Palatine Hill, it’s time to take care of your appetite. Just a stone’s throw from the Colosseum is the hip and trendy neighborhood of Monti, home to some of Rome’s finest eateries, cobblestone streets, and thrift shops. If it’s pizza you’re after then you have to try Trattoria il Tettarello but if you want pasta then try PastaChef, either way, we strongly advise that you end up eating gelato at Fatamorgana.
All of the gelatos are fresh and delicious and made in their secret laboratory in Rome. We recommend the Vegan Pistachio and the Blueberry Cheesecake, they’re our favorites!
Rome Walking Tour
The afternoon comprises a walking tour visiting the main fountains, squares, and churches in the historical center. Most of the main sights in the center are free and easily accessible on foot. Our route takes about 90 minutes and is about 2 kilometers of walking.
Start by making your way to the Spanish Steps either by foot or by taking the metro. In Monti there is a Metro/Underground station which can take you the Spagna/Spanish Steps for just €1.50 in under 15 minutes, or to walk will take you around 20 minutes. Rome is a city of unparalleled beauty that is best experienced on foot so we advise that you walk if you can.
There are few places in the world that express romance the way that the Spanish Steps in Rome do. This masterpiece is considered to be a highlight of the Baroque era in Rome and it was built to connect the Spanish Steps with the church at the top Trinita di Monti. In total there are 138 steps spanning across a large area located in the heart of Rome’s shopping district.
For centuries the marble steps have been some sort of idyllic fairytale meeting point for artists, poets, and lovers since it’s inauguration around the early 18th Century.
These days it attracts flocks of tourists who want to snap a selfie or relax in the beauty of the area that surrounds it. At the base of the steps is a baroque fountain of a boat made by the one and only Gian Lorenzo Bernini called La Barciacca. Near the fountain is the column of Immaculate Conception depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary. Make sure to climb all the way up the steps to admire unforgettable views over the Eternal City – watching the sunset here is a spectacular thing.
A short walk through alleys of Rome’s fashion district will take you to the Trevi Fountain. Rome is a city of water with fountains on almost every street corner but the Trevi Fountain is definitively the pinnacle of them all. Today it attracts millions of tourists a year and pockets a grand total of €3000 a day!
Urban Legend says that if you throw in one coin then you’re destined to return to Rome, two coins means you are destined to fall in love, three coins that you are destined to fall in love and get married. There’s only one way to find out… try it for yourself!
Chiesa Di San Ignazio
Next up is one of the most impressive churches in Rome, which is saying something considering there are over 900! Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola was supposed to have a glorious dome, but when the money ran out in 1642, the plans were scrapped.
Instead of forgoing the dome entirely, painter and Jesuit brother Andrea Pozzo proposed that he paint a life-sized illusion of a dome that would fool the eyes of visitors. His masterpiece, painted between 1685 and 1694, still deceives the eye today. Find the mirror beneath the main ceiling to take an incredible selfie.
The Pantheon is a building like no other which still holds the record for the largest unreinforced dome today.
Remarkably it’s the most intact of the ancient buildings. The exterior is impressive, the interior even more so. Astonishingly we see the inside of the incredible structure today in almost the exact same state as Romans did 2000 years ago. The most impressive feature of the building is the 9-meter wide Oculus at the peak of the dome. This means that when it rains, it rains inside the Pantheon too! Carefully disguised drains in the elaborate flooring mean there are no puddles.
The last stop on Day 1s itinerary is Piazza Navona. Piazza Navona is considered one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, having three fountains, one of which is considered to be Bernini’s greatest work – La Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi. Or, the Fountain of the Four Rivers, with a Roman obelisk in the middle. This elaborate square was constructed originally as part of the Papal residence for the Pamphili family. Next to the fountain looms the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.
An interesting fact is that Piazza Navona actually used to be home to Ancient Roman stadium where Gladiatorial combat and chariot racing took place. If you head to the northern corner of the square you can pay €5 to visit the area of the stadium which has been excavated and opened to the public.
Day 2: Vatican City and Trastevere
Day 2 involves visiting 2 countries in 1 day, don’t worry you won’t be needing your passport! During the morning you will discover the glory of the Vatican City, the heart of the Catholic Church. The afternoon comprises people watching, window shopping, and eating in Rome’s coolest neighborhood: Trastevere.
The Vatican City
The Vatican City is the smallest fully independent nation-state and it is the heart of the Catholic Church. Inside the walls of Vatican City are the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peters Basilica. We recommend an early start for Vatican City because the early bird always catches the worm! An insider tip would be to take tours that enter the Vatican before the doors officially open to the general public, allowing you to explore it in its best light without the crowds.
The Vatican is nearly as popular as the Colosseum. In fact, Tripadvisor states that the Vatican is the third most visited monument in the world, and one of the main reasons for that is because many Roman Catholics undertake the pilgrimage to Rome at least once in their lives to be close to the center of their faith and to the Pope.
During the peak seasons, it is known for tickets to sell out days in advance! We strongly recommend that you purchase your tickets in advance. Tickets cost around €20 from the official website.
Tours of the Vatican guarantee that you enrich your experience by skipping the lines using priority entrances for groups. The Vatican is a maze even to those who think they are familiar with it! The best pieces are spread amongst thousands of rooms and corridors with barely any signs to explain what’s on display let alone its story. Selected tours also allow visitors to visit secret rooms, enter the museum before opening hours, and even after hours on selected summer nights.
Your experience begins with a security check as you cross the border into the Vatican City to the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Museum is the primary archive of the world’s largest religion – it is a bit like a city, within a city, within a city. It has over 1000 rooms covering four millennia, meaning those without visiting unaided often find it a tad confusing.
Inside are some of the world’s most famous artworks by the world’s most famous artists such as Bernini, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and many more! Make sure that you don’t miss the popular rooms frescoed by Raphael, the gallery of maps and a lesser-known room called the Papal Zoo full of statues of every animal imaginable.
Once finished with the museums you can pass through the Sistine Chapel towards St. Peter’s Basilica. The most famous part of the city has to be the Sistine Chapel. It’s from this fabled building that the mysterious white smoke rises upon the selection of a new pope. The chapel is also decorated by Michelangelo’s masterpiece ‘The Last Judgement’.
Walking through here – in silence as the law states – is a truly magical experience. There is a priest who gives blessings in the corner of the chapel to those who ask. Make sure that your knees and shoulders are covered when visiting the Sistine Chapel.
St Peter’s Basilica
Our final destination in Vatican City is St. Peter’s Basilica. Lauded as the pinnacle of Renaissance architecture, this breath-taking structure towers above the city and is the most recognized dome in Italy. It is optional to visit St Peters and it is counted as a separate attraction within the city. This means those that wish to visit must queue to enter which can take a long time. If you opt for a guided tour then you can take advantage of a privileged speedy entrance that skips the line to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Take time to explore the Basilica because there is so much inside! If you still have energy and want to explore the basilica further then check out Pieta by Michelangelo, which some consider being the start of the Baroque movement, the sculpture depicts a dead Jesus on his mother’s lap. Under the center of the dome is the Altar of St peters which is covered by a giant bronze structure called the ‘Baldachin’ which was built by Bernini. Those who dare brave the 551 steps to the top of the dome can feast their eyes upon splendid views from the highest point in both cities!
Caffè e Cornetto
Time for a well-deserved coffee and cornetto (Italian Pastry). The exit to Vatican City leads you to St Peter’s Square and just outside are countless cafés, bars, and souvenir shops. You can also find lots of restaurants here but save your hunger because the best Roman cuisine is food in Trastevere and that’s where you’re headed next.
To get to Trastevere from St Peters square you can walk 20 minutes down the river or catch a taxi to Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere. Trastevere is a huge neighborhood with a beautiful old town and a modern but run-down residential area. Make sure you’re headed to the old town.
Trastevere is arguably the coolest area of Rome.
It stretches 2.5km on the west bank of the river to the Vatican. The name comes from the Latin trans-Tiberium and literally means ‘across the River Tiber’. This was the first inhabited area on the western side of the river. In Roman times it is where the first Jews, Syrians, and Christians settled, the foreigners who came to the city to ply their trades.
The streets were full of small shops where tradesmen and artisans were based. Trastevere is still known for foreigners today as it hosts three American universities and still has small shops selling artisan products and independent boutiques.
Trastevere Food Tour
No trip to Rome would be complete without tasting the Roman classics in Trastevere. Without an expert by your side who knows the specialties, and where to try them, it can be tricky and expensive. Therefore we suggest enriching your roman experience and taking the best Rome Food Tour. Steer clear of the tourist traps for an affordable price.
Spend the afternoon sampling the best of Roman cuisine in establishments that have been passing recipes down through generations, what makes this experience stand out is that you won’t just get to taste the food you’ll meet the people who make it!
Things to do in Trastevere
Alternative activities in Trastevere include having a drink on the steps by the fountain in Piazza Trilussa. This lively spot is popular for Romans, tourists, and the best street performers in the city. One of the oldest churches in Rome is located just around the corner called Santa Maria, amazingly it dates back to the 3rd Century and still incorporates some of the original structure. Check it out.
Trastevere is made for shopping and people watching. The fantastic array of boutique shops, bars, and cafés make it the perfect place to let the day while away.
Day 3: Castel De Sant’Angelo and Villa Borghese
Now you’ve visited the Colosseum and the Vatican, what’s next? There’s so much more to Rome than these attractions which is what day 3 is about. It begins with visiting the only proper Castel in Rome and its dark history.
The afternoon is to visit one of the world’s most famous art galleries and drinking wine in the park that surrounds it.
Castel De Sant’Angelo
For the last day of our 3 day Rome itinerary head to Castel De Sant’Angelo. Like most ancient buildings in Rome, the Castle has had many uses over the years including being a hideaway for Popes in times of war. Originally this massive building was actually built by Emperor Hadrian to be his Mausoleum! Inside you can explore the dungeons in the basement, lavishly beautiful rooms of art, and take in the 360 views of the city from the top.
You won’t need more than 1.5 hours here and you can purchase tickets online. Spice your visit up by asking a member of staff to point you in the direction of the ‘Passetto di Borgo’ – this secret tunnel leads all the way to the Vatican and it was used by Popes who were seeking refuge from danger in the city.
The passage was featured in the popular hit ‘Angels and Demons’ and was opened to the public a few years back. Today you can walk along it until you reach the Vatican City walls where two guards can be found night and day guarding the secret tunnel.
Piazza Del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo is one of the largest and most ornate piazzas. In medieval times it was a prolific execution space in the city. This was once the Northern gate into Rome and had welcomed visitors and their carts for thousands of years. With its grand central fountain and obelisk, it is hard to imagine stakes and hangman scaffolding amid the picturesque statues.
There are two churches of importance on the square that house artworks by the scandalously fantastic Caravaggio. The churches are called the Church of Saint Mary in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli.
A Bite To Eat – La Vita e Un Mozzico
Just around the corner from the Pizza lies a traditional Italian deli called ‘La Vita e un Mozzico’. It is perfect for a quick but delicious pit stop. They stock some of the finest Roman pork, mortadella, mozzarella, roasted pork and turkey, various hams, cheeses, bread, and pizza. You can find many ‘unheard of’ Italian specialties here.
Above Piazza Del Popolo are the gardens of Villa Borghese and one of the best terraces in the city ‘Terrazza Pincio’. To get from Popolo to the balcony there are a few steps, but they are totally worth it. From the Terrace, it is possible to see the Colosseum and also the Vatican amongst the beautiful domes that make up Rome’s skyline.
This spot has a romantic atmosphere and is perfect for taking a bottle of wine and watching the sunset behind the Dome of the Vatican on a clear night.
Adjoining the terrace are the Borghese gardens and villa. Inside the 17th century villa, you can explore one of the most beautiful galleries in Rome covered in dazzling art. The Borghese Gallery is named after Scipione Borghese, an extremely wealthy cardinal who had a passion for art. Nephew to the Pope, he was an avid collector and talent spotter who was ruthless when it came to getting his hands on the masterpieces that had taken his fancy.
The result is a unique collection of the renaissance heavyweights like Caravaggio, Bernini, Raphael, Titian, and other famous Italian artists.
The gallery is privately owned and only permits 800 visitors a day. Due to this, it is highly recommended that you book your tickets to avoid disappointment. Guided tours can be arranged which give you skip the line access and an insight into the artwork and the eccentric who begged, borrowed, and stole to make the Borghese Gallery.
After a long day exploring the Eternal City, what better way is there to wind down than relaxing in the park, sipping some vino, and listening to the birds whittle away. Around the park, there are vans serving refreshments including alcohol.
Remember to head back over to the Terrace to watch the sunset behind the Vatican – every night there is an exceptional pianist which adds to the romantic ambiance.
Less or more time in Rome?
Should you had to cut your trip short, here’s a comprehensive itinerary to sort out 48 hours in Rome. Now, if you have some extra time and want to check something else before leaving Rome, here are a couple of other interesting spots:
Museo Nazionale Delle Arti del XXI Secolo: MAXXI
Designed by the latter Iranian female architect Zaha Hadid, the Museum of 21st-century art will delight design-oriented people.
Although it looks classic, this area was conceived less than 100 years ago to host the 1930 Universal Expo under Mussolini’s mandate. A typical example of fascist architecture (and urban planning) with simple but monumental lines.
What would you add to this ‘3 days in Rome’ itinerary? Let us know.
- 10 brilliant ways to travel to Italy without leaving home
- Best Italian food in every region
- On a budget? Here are Italy’s top places to visit
- A raw guide to the city of Naples