Rome wasn’t built in a day, and one day is nowhere near enough to see everything the city has to offer. Even a year isn’t enough to be totally 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. Here we show you what to not to miss.
With this itinerary you will see (among other things) the unmissable:
- Spanish Steps
- Trevi Fountain
- St Peter’s Basilica
- The Vatican Museums (buy skip the lines tickets here >)
- The Colosseum, Imperial Forum & Trajan Forum (buy skip the lines tickets here >)
What follows is just our opinion, and of course there are many other options available.
We recommend spending the first 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 of the major sites are much better seen first thing in the morning as this avoids the worst of the crowds, which can be offputting.
Both major sites take around 3-4 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 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 more interested in art as well as history), or the Colosseum and Forum (if you’re more 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. If you book a guided tour, the guide can take you straight into the basilica without you having to line up again, which saves time. In this case we also recommend that you take a 20-minute diversion out of the walk above 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)
8.30am enter the Colosseum or the Vatican
1.00pm exit and go for lunch. Maybe try a pasta dish at Trattoria Polese (Piazza Sforza Cesarini, 40) or a pizza at Emma (Monte della Farina, 28)
2.00pm leave the restaurant and walk up to the Pincio balcony to start the self-guided piazzas orientation walk
3.00pm 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)
5.00pm finish the walk in Piazza Navona, and leave Piazza Navona. If you’ve been to the Colosseum in the morning, walk to the river and see Castel Sant’Angelo and St. Peter’s Square. If you chose the Vatican, walk over the top of the Capitoline Hill to see the Forum from above, then down the other side to get to Via Dei Fori Imperiali. Walk to the end of that street to wander round the outside of the Colosseum.
7.00pm Stroll down 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.