Coming for a visit to see Rome in 3 days? Wondering what to do and how to fit it all in? You've come to the right place!
I know one size does not fit all.
But after years of helping thousands of people plan their visit to Rome, I've learned there are some fairly common elements to many visitors' trips to Rome, especially if it's their first time (or their first time after a long time).
Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon
Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel), Saint Peter's Basilica
Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Capitoline Hill
If I moved away from Rome, then came back to visit with a friend who'd never been here before, this is how we'd see Rome in 3 days.
These are some factors I know can make a difference in how people decide what to do in Rome in 3 days. So we'll take them into account when appropriate, in the itinerary below.
Your first day in Rome will affect how you think about Rome when you leave it. On my first visit here as a college backpacker, I did NOT enjoy Rome at all.
I now know why.
My friend and I did it all wrong.
We had no plan, no idea where to go, and just decided last minute to go visit the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel. We went without checking their hours or anything at all about what a visit would be like. We did not get there in time, did not get in, and wasted half the day.
We also TRAVELLED there the wrong way, and only experienced loud busy streets, traffic and tons of tourists. Bad impression. It does NOT have to be this way.
I've put this itinerary for Rome in 3 days in the order I'd do them. Of course you could mix up the days as you prefer.
Let's start our sight-seeing in Rome with a typical Roman breakfast.
We'll do as the Romans do, and just find the nearest bar (café).
A typical Roman breakfast (at a bar) consists of cappuccino (or another hot drink) and cornetto (Italian version of a croissant, and there are many versions of this - plain, filled with cream, jam or chocolate, whole-grain, etc).
You can have your breakfast standing at the counter (which is what the Romans do, and which is what costs the least). Or you can plunk yourself down at a table, preferably outside, and watch the scenery unfold before you.
These sites are all fairly close to each other. You may see some or all of these sites. Just go at your own pace.
As you can see from the below map, you could start where you want.
If you are staying outside of the city center, take a bus or metro into the center to one of the starting points. I suggest starting at Piazza Barberini and walking up via Sistina to the top of the Spanish Steps.
One reason I love to start our intro to Rome in 3 days at the top of the Spanish Steps is that we begin high up, and will slowly make our way down.
The Pincio offers some of the most beautiful, and usually un-crowded, views of Rome's rooftops. It just gets better as we walk along.
When the road forks, we'll take the one going up, so we can get this view. That's Piazza del Popolo down there. After enjoying the views from up here, we'll go down there next.
Walking down from the Pincio, we arrive in Piazza del Popolo. That Egyptian obelisk in the middle, with its original hieroglyphs, is one of the oldest and largest in Rome.
Rome's first emperor, Augustus, brought it back from Egypt in 10 BCE as a sort of war trophy. This obelisk stood in the middle of Circus Maximus in Ancient Rome, and was moved to this piazza in the late 1500's.
Are you an art-lover? Looking to see more stuff on this walk?
Pop into Santa Maria del Popolo, the church at the edge of the piazza.
This Renaissance church is home to a treasure-trove of art, including works by Caravaggio, Bernini, Raphael, Pinturicchio, Carracci, Bramante, and others.
We are going to make our way back towards the bottom of the Spanish Steps. I love cutting back to this sweet little street, via Margutta.
It's mostly an artists' street, filled with art galleries, antique shops, one-off artisan shops, and lots of local ambiance. It also happens to be where Gregory Peck's character lived in the 1960's classic movie "Roman Holiday". Swoon!
Once at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, we can take some nice photos of the whole panorama.
The Spanish Steps neighborhood is Rome's primary shopping zone.
The most famous street in the area, lined with many of the most notable fashion brands in the world, is via Condotti. I prefer to walk down via Frattina, but it's up to you.
The Pantheon is just amazing. Literally. It stops me in my tracks and amazes me. Every single time I see it. And I live here.
Built by the emperor Hadrian around 120 C.E., it has the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome (see, I said it's amazing).
The Pantheon was originally built to worship the Roman gods, but in the 7th century it was turned into a Catholic church. It's also a mausoleum for Italy's kings and queens, and the artist Raphael is buried here too.
Piazza Navona is arguably one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome (and just a 3-minute walk from the Pantheon).
The piazza was built on top of what was originally a stadium in ancient Rome (in use at the same time as the Colosseum).
Today Piazza Navona is home to stunning baroque architecture, in particular the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, and three fountains, two of which were designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Just a short walk from Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori is another beautiful piazza from Renaissance and Baroque times (used as a market, but also for public executions).
Today it's mostly known for its open-air market, and its high concentration of lively bars and pubs and places to eat.
That statue in the middle of the square honors the philosopher Giordano Bruno, burnt at the stake on this spot for heresy in 1600. He was later exonerated for his crime (insisting the earth went around the sun), hence this statue of him. Staring hard, straight across the river at the Vatican.
Largo Argentina is known for two things: It's where Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 B.C.E.
And it's a city-sanctioned cat sanctuary. If you are a cat-lover, you will be pleased to see many cats living among the ruins. You can even go down the stairs on one side and visit them (and you can adopt, even from afar). If you are not a cat-lover, just know the cats are fed, cared for, and living in the ruins and will not bother you.
We'll top off our day with the one, the only, the Trevi Fountain.
Built over 130 years, and with some traces of influence by Bernini, this iconic fountain was completed in the 18th century by Nicola Salvi.
My favorite thing about the Trevi fountain is that you can hear it before you see it. Listen as you get closer and you will hear it too.
And that's a wrap for Day 1 of our Rome in 3 Days visit.
Today we visit the Vatican (unless it's a Sunday, or you had to book a tour or special visit another day).
There are many ways to approach this visit but for our purposes, we are going to take a mid-morning tour.
Most people not staying near the Vatican take the Metro and come out at the Ottaviano stop. This is perfect for us, too.
As you can guess, I want to start the day with a yummy Roman breakfast.
So we'll head to Sciascia Caffè for the perfect coffee and a pastry.
First, it's near the Ottaviano metro stop. Second, it's famous for serving up some of Rome's best coffee. And that's saying a lot!
I opted for a small-group tour, so we can hear the guide up close, and also have a better chance to ask questions.
Every Vatican Museums tour includes the Sistine Chapel. It's the last thing to visit inside the Vatican Museums.
We'll take the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter's basilica. I like getting a tour of the basilica as well as the museums. It IS the largest church in the world and there's just so much history, art, and architecture.
Once our guide leaves us, we'll just sit down in a side-chapel and rest a little. What better place to contemplate our day, and what we've seen and done so far?
Next, we'll make our way back to the entry of the basilica, and turn left towards the ticket office for climbing the dome. What an amazing sight!
Once we come down from the dome, we'll end up back in the basilica. One last long gaze at Michelangelo's Pietà and off we go.
We still have to walk through St. Peter's Square. It's a sight to see all by itself.
It's possible (and a great idea) to visit Castel Sant'Angelo on a visit to Rome in 3 days.
While I think we've done plenty for the day, Castel Sant'Angelo is right on our way back across the river to the center of Rome, and it's convenient to visit it after a Vatican visit. So if on your visit to Rome in 3 days, you want to fit in more stuff, this is a great option.
If you decide to do this, you should go to the roof, where you can enjoy a little refreshment, and one of the best café views in Rome. (There is sometimes a line to get in. If you think you want to do this, you can book ahead here.)
Whether we visit Castel Sant'Angelo or not, we will cross Ponte Sant'Angelo, the Angel Bridge.
The bridge has been there since ancient Roman times, but the angels are from the 1600s.
One of the prettiest streets in Rome, and one of the most fun strolling/shopping/people-watching streets, is via dei Coronari.
We end up right near Piazza Navona.
For the rest of today, we can visit some sites we may not have gotten to on the first day, stroll around or take a nap before dinner.
And that's a wrap for Day 2 of our Rome in 3 Days visit.
On Day 3 of our Rome in 3 Days itinerary, we can spend half or a whole day visiting the sites of Ancient Rome - Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
We'll get a relatively early start. This way, we have the second half of the day free. We may want to see some sites we missed the first day, get in some shopping, relax, or fit in one more site.
Much of what we've seen already on our Rome in 3 Days itinerary has included "ancient Rome". The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, even the Vatican all have history and architecture going back to ancient Roman times.
But on today's schedule, we are going to visit the sites commonly referred to as "Ancient Rome" - the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
By now, you know my drill. I love to start a day of sight-seeing with my Roman cappuccino and cornetto. Any bar will do. Maybe one by our hotel, or one we find along the way.
Let's start day 3 of our Rome in 3 Days itinerary at Piazza Venezia. The most obvious thing to see here is this giant white "wedding cake" (that is one of several not-very-flattering nicknames the Romans have given it).
The building, Complesso Vittoriano, was built in the late 1890s and completed in 1925. It was built as a tribute to Victor Emanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy.
Although not fascist in style, the monument is often associated with Mussolini. If you look up at the building on the right-hand side as you face the monument, you will see the balcony where Mussolini declared war in 1940.
The big white monument is today known for housing the tomb of the unknown soldier (you can see two soldiers there, guarding two "eternal" flames, and you can go inside, for free, to visit the tomb).
We'll head around the wedding cake, and walk up the ramp to Campidoglio, city hall (and where I got married)!
This is Capitoline Hill, where the Ancient Romans had their temple to Jupiter. Later, Michelangelo redesigned the square, as you see it today. The equestrian statue in the middle is of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. It's a copy. The original is inside the Capitoline Museums.
The main reason I want to come here is for this view over Ancient Rome.
We'll walk down the curving slope and end up on the via dei Fori Imperiali, or, the Street of the Imperial Forums. This is where some of Rome's emperors (and also Julius Caesar) built their government centers.
And of course, we are going to take a tour. There is way too much information and history to try to figure it out on our own.
When you buy a ticket to the Colosseum, it includes entry to the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill. I put these two together because they constitute one archeological park. The main thing to know is you cannot leave the Forum/Palatine Hill and come back again.
So if your tour or visit to the Colosseum ends in the Roman Forum, and you want to also see the Palatine Hill, either make sure your tour includes this part, or stay in the park until you've visited all you want to see.
We have one more half day in Rome. What will we do? In this itinerary of Rome in 3 Days, I believe in leaving this last part un-planned.
Perhaps just a meander back to your hotel, stopping for a drink along the way. Or maybe you want to shop. Perhaps go back to one of the sites you saw (or missed) one of the other days.
Want to see something else?
Near the ruins of Ancient Rome, try Trajan's Market, another incredible set of ruins from Ancient Rome, and nearly always uncrowded. Or, visit the Capitoline Museums, or the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. If you want to make sure you have this second half day planned, I suggest trying to book in advance the Galleria Borghese.
No, you can't actually see it "all" in Rome in 3 days. But you can see a lot. And that's a great start. Next time, you'll see more!
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