Rome wasn’t built in a day, and one day is nowhere near enough to see everything this city has to offer. Even a decade 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 definitely see (among other things) the unmissable:
- Spanish Steps
- Trevi Fountain
- St Peter’s Basilica
But you will need to choose between:
- The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel (buy skip the lines tickets here >)
- The Colosseum, Imperial Forum & Palatine Hill (buy skip the lines tickets here >)
We recommend spending the first half of the day in one of the two major ticketed attractions (the Colosseum & Forum or the Vatican Museums). Both of these major sites take around 3-4 hours to visit reasonably thoroughly so you can only choose one. This leaves the other half of the day to explore the city’s historic quarter.
If you choose the Vatican, a particularly good ticket is the VIP early entry ticket that gets you in at 7.30am, way before the hordes arrive at 9. Unfortunately no such ticket exists for the Colosseum, but you can get a regular entry ticket for when it opens at 8.30. If you think you’ve left it too late to get a Colosseum ticket, don’t despair: try buying a last-minute ticket.
Wherever you end up, check our neighborhood guide to find a good spot for lunch. We strongly recommend eating one of the classic Roman pastas with a delicious glass or two of the local vino (pecorino is highly recommended if on the menu).
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.
Finish your walk by seeing the monument you didn’t go inside – both the Colosseum and the Vatican are rewarding places to visit from outside.
Then head off to Trastevere to enjoy a gorgeous evening stroll and another sumptuous Roman feast.
How to decide which monument to see
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 of the Vatican, 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 an example itinerary for you if you’re visiting the Colosseum:
8.00 am Breakfast (caffè e cornetto of course)
8.30 am enter the Colosseum
1.00 pm 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)
2.00 pm leave the restaurant and walk up to the Pincio balcony to start the self-guided piazzas orientation walk
3.00 pm 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)
5.00 pm finish the walk in Piazza Navona. Stroll up via dei Coronari (the “most beautiful street in the world” to the river and walk over the bridge to Castel Sant’Angelo and then St. Peter’s Square.
7.00 pm Stroll down the riverside via Isola Tiberina to Trastevere, where you can enjoy great food and drinks at a huge number of good quality bars and restaurants. Perhaps seafood at La Gensola, pizza at Dar Poeta, or cheap and cheerful pasta alongside strangers at Carlo Menta.
By the time your head hits the pillow you will be utterly exhausted but you will really have seen the highlights of this incredible city.