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Rome wasn’t built in a day, and one day is nowhere near enough to see everything the city has to offer. Even a month isn’t enough to be honest. That said, there may be circumstances –  a cruise, a multi-city tour of Italy, a layover – in which you really only have one day to spare in the city. We tell you what to not to miss.

With this itinerary you will see (among other things) the unmissable:

  • Spanish Steps
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Pantheon
  • St Peter’s Basilica
  • Vatican Museums (optional)
  • Colosseum
  • Imperial Forum & Trajan Forum

What follows is just our opinion, and of course there are many other options available.

We recommend spending half of the day in one of the two major ticketed attractions (the Colosseum & Forum or the Vatican Museums), and the other half of it strolling around the city, with a delicious plate of Roman pasta for lunch in between.

Both major sites take around 4 hours to visit reasonably thoroughly, which leaves the other half of the day to explore the city’s historic quarter.

The stroll that we recommend, which can be done in the morning or the afternoon depending on when you want to visit your chosen major site – though note that they both close before 5pm, – is our self-guided gentle introductory walk to the baroque city. This takes in many of the other famous sights in the city that can be accessed for free by just walking to them.

When choosing which ‘big’ site to see, ask yourself the question: “do I prefer art or archaeology?”

Based on the answer to that question, either book a ticket to the Vatican Museums (if you’re interested in art as well as history), or the Colosseum and Forum (if you’re interested in archaeology). You can book tickets to both online. When you book the former you need to choose a date and time to visit, but tickets the latter can be used at any time.

If you decide to go to the Vatican, you should also plan to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, which is a separate site but easily accessible.  We also recommend that you take a 20-minute diversion out of the walk above – starting at the Trevi Fountain – to walk down the street that runs alongside the Forum (Via dei Fori Imperiali) so that you can also see into the Forum and view the Colosseum from the outside.

If you opt to go into the Colosseum and Forum, we recommend spending a few euro extra for a ticket with an audio-guide. If you do this, then when you finish the self-guided walk, we recommend that you walk north-west from Piazza Navona for ten minutes to Ponte Sant’Angelo where you can see Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican. An extra 10 minutes’ walk will take you to St Peter’s Square where you can at least say you’ve set foot inside the border of Vatican City.

So here’s a sample  itinerary for you if you’re visiting the Colosseum:

8.00am Breakfast (caffè e cornetto of course)
9.00 Walk up to the Pincio to start the self-guided piazzas orientation walk
1.00 break in the walk for a snack – maybe try a gelato at San Crispin al Pantheon (Piazza della Maddalena, 3) or a coffee at Sant’Eustachio il Caffè (Piazza di S. Eustachio, 82)
12.00 leave Piazza Navona to walk to the river and see St. Peter’s Square
1.00pm lunch on your way to the forum. Maybe try a pasta dish at Trattoria Polese (Piazza Sforza Cesarini, 40) or a pizza at Emma (Monte della Farina, 28)
2.30 have an after-lunch stroll, walking over the top of the Capitoline Hill and down the other side to get to Via Dei Fori Imperiali. Walk to the end of that street to the Colosseum entrance – walk past the line and enter on the right of the door with the ticket you’ve already bought in advance. Note that the Colosseum lets the last visitors in at 3.30pm so don’t be late.
4.00 leave the Colosseum and walk back up Via Dei Fori Imperiali to the ticket office at the end of Via della Salara Vecchia, where your ticket allows you to enter the Forum straight away. Last  entrance here is 5pm.
5.30-6 Keep exploring the Forum and Palatine Hill until you get kicked out.
6.00 Stroll across the river via Isola Tiberina to Trastevere, where you can enjoy great food and drinks at a huge number of good quality bars and restaurants.