The city of Rome is filled with world-famous historic sites. One could spend a week in this ancient city and still not see everything it has to offer.
However, there are a few places in Rome that are considered “must-see” attractions due to their high-profile artistic, historical, and cultural values. They are some of the world’s ultimate sites to be seen and are on every world traveler’s checklist.
Ideally, you should plan to spend at least two days in Rome in order to see all of its main sites properly. Unfortunately, sometimes circumstances allow a tourist a limited amount of time to enjoy the city. Given Rome’s historical significance in world history, though, it is important to make the most of the time you have there. With careful planning, though, Rome’s biggest attractions can be seen in only one day and one night.
8:30 AM: The Roman Forum
Arrive at the Roman Forum entrance on Via dei Fori Imperiali as it opens and buy your combined ticket for the Forum and the Colosseum and wander around the Roman Forum for a while. The ticket line at the Forum entrance is always much shorter than the one at the Colosseum, so it saves a lot of time to purchase tickets there.
Many people opt to skip seeing the Forum in favor of heading directly to the Colosseum, but the Forum is full of history and is awe-inspiring in its own right. However, the Forum is, at first glance, a jumble of rocks and columns, and there are no museum-like plaques to speak of, so take a decent guide-book with you to make sure you leave with a decent understanding of what you have seen. You also might consider picking up some pastries from an Italian café on the way there and having breakfast while sitting on top of the remains of a 2,000 year old building.
9:30 AM: The Colosseum
Leave the Roman Forum from the exit closest to the Colosseum on the East side of the Forum. On your way between the Forum and the Colosseum, make sure you note the The Arch of Constantine to your right. Built in the early 300s, it is well-preserved for its age, and its size is nothing short of impressive. Like the Forum, it is often underappreciated due to its proximity to the Colosseum.
Now onto the main attraction: The Colosseum. Go to the entrance, and make sure not to get into the line to purchase tickets; you already have yours from the Forum. Go inside the Colosseum and wander around a bit.
10:30 AM: Getting to the Vatican
Leave the Colosseum and head across the street to either get a taxi, or if you would like to save some money, go to the Metro stop. The Roman metro system is reliable, clean, and easy to use. In this case, taking a taxi will not get you to the Vatican much faster than the metro will.
When you arrive to the Vatican area, head to the Vatican walls by Piazza del Risorgimento. There, you will find about a dozen people selling guided tours to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica on behalf of several fly-by-night tour companies. While they have unorthodox advertising methods, these tour companies are generally a good value for the amount of knowledge they impart, and most importantly, will allow you to skip the line to get into the Vatican Museums, which can be hours long at the high point of tourist season. The price will be about 40 euros per person. Ask when their tours are, and choose a company that has a tour in the early afternoon (usually around noon or 1 PM). Be sure to double-check as to whether the tour company has permission to skip the Vatican Museum lines.
While you are waiting for your tour to start, poke around the tourist shops in the area and go eat some lunch at one of the nearby restaurants. If you are really pressed for time before the tour, most Roman cafes have sandwhiches to go. Your tour should start at 1:00 PM at the latest, since the Vatican Museums close at 4:00 PM.
4:00 PM: View of Castle San Angelo
You should be done with your tour around 4:00 PM, if not earlier. It all depends on which company you used and what time you started your tour.
Walk directly East from St. Peter’s Square up the Via della Conciliazione. As you are walking, be sure to turn around every now and then for the picture-perfect view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Veer off to the right onto Via San Pio X and go onto Ponte Vittorio Emanuele, one of Rome’s many bridges over the Tiber River. This particular bridge is a work of art in its own right, and almost everyone that crosses it overlooks the statues that decorate it. However, the real goal here is to see the impressive view of Castle San Angelo, the ancient fortress that has also served as a tomb, dungeons, and papal refuge throughout its long history. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to go inside, so the view from the outside will have to suffice.
5:00 PM: The Pantheon
Hail a taxi and direct the driver to go to the Pantheon. While there are bus routes that could get your there, I do not recommend using the Roman bus system if you have a limited amount of time in the city. The buses are notorious for never being on schedule, and it is often difficult to know at which stop you should get off. A taxi ride should set you back no more than 10 euros.
After you see the Pantheon, you can do the rest of the itinerary at your own pace, since the rest of the attractions do not have closing times you have to worry about.
6:00 PM: The Trevi Fountain
Make your way from the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain (the street you want to take is to your left when you are facing the front of the Pantheon). It is about a ten minute walk, although you might want to poke around the souvenir stands that line the pedestrian street leading up to the Trevi Fountain.
Once you get to the fountain, spend some time looking at it. You might consider getting some pre-dinner gelato from one of the nearby gelaterias to eat while you sit on the steps of the fountain.
7:00 PM: Piazza Navona and Dinner
From the Trevi Fountain, walk the 20 minutes to Piazza Navona. Wander around the piazza a bit and perhaps buy some art from one of the many artists who sell their wares there. Find a place to have dinner. There are dozens of little restaurants to choose from in the area.
9:00 PM: The Spanish Steps
When you are finished with dinner, find your way to any of the main roads near Piazza Navona and hail a taxi. Direct the driver to go to the Spanish Steps. When you arrive, find yourself a seat on the steps and absorb the lively atmosphere around you. Bring a bottle of wine or a few beers with you and drink at your leisure- sitting and drinking (in moderation) on the Steps is a fairly popular nighttime activity during the summer.
When you have finished your drinks and seen your fill of the nightlife at the Spanish Steps, you can head back to your hotel room to collapse after your busy day.
Top Rome Hotels near the Spanish Steps
Photo of the Spanish Steps, Rome, at night by fspugna