Rome is one of the most iconic and storied cities in the world and is truly a tourists dream come true. With thousands of years of historical significance and influence, the capital city of Italy is just brimming with sights and scenes, art and architecture, and cultural landmarks from days of yore. Visitors could spend weeks in the city and still find plenty to do everyday, but as more and more travelers seek to hit multiple cities on a European vacation, we’ve established the perfect three-day Rome itinerary.
Before we get started on maximizing your three days in The Eternal City, we will impart some wisdom on visiting a top tourist destination such as Rome with somewhat of a tight timeline: plan as much as you possibly can in advance. We’ll help with the itinerary part, but reserving entry in some of the top attractions is a must in order to avoid long lines and wasting valuable time. Also, be sure to research the best methods for transportation around the city.
Day one in Rome begins with the Vatican City, a city-state surrounded by greater Rome, and home to the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Museums. It’s important to get an early start on this day to have plenty of time at these must-visit attractions. As previously mentioned, securing reserve entry to these attractions is very important and this can be done with the Omnia Rome and Vatican Pass. This must-get pass allows you fast-track entry to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, as well as St. Peter’s Basilica. In addition to FREE entry to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel you’ll get FREE entry to two of the top 6 Rome attractions and will also get discounted entry to more than 30 additional sights, attractions and museums in Rome. And perhaps the most important perk of pre-purchasing the Omnia Pass is it allows you to book your time slot in advance.
The Vatican Museums open to the public at 9am and tend to get more and more crowded as the day goes on, so booking your time slot as close to open time is highly recommended. Once you’ve officially entered, it can be a bit overwhelming as you’ll find more than four miles of area to explore with more than 20,000 works on display. The Vatican Museums also house the iconic Sistine Chapel with the famous ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Stanze de Raffaelo decorated by Raphael. As one of the largest museums in the world, you could spend an entire day exploring, but we recommend going in with a plan to visit the Sistine Chapel, checking out the breathtaking, but somewhat dizzying double helix staircase, taking in the amazing Gallery of Maps, and perhaps finishing with the Gallery of Busts. However, by all means do some research into the many galleries and rooms to explore and establish your own route through the museums.
Once you’ve spent a couple of hours in the Vatican Museums, we recommend stepping outside and taking the 10-minute walk to the largest church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica. At this point, crowds will most likely be pretty thick so we must stress once again having advance purchased tickets allowing you to skip lines. If you purchased the full price three-day Omnia pass, you’re all set and you can use one of your two free attraction entries here if you’d like. Entering the Basilica, you’ll still have to go through security, but this won’t take nearly as long as if you have to purchase tickets. Once in, it’s likely you’ll look around the interior of the building slack-jawed and marvel at the beautiful Renaissance-era art and architecture on display throughout. Another great option to consider when visiting the Basilica is to climb the steps to the top of the dome and take in one of the most spectacular views you can get of the city.
At this point, we recommend taking the very short walk to the Castel Sant’Angelo and grabbing some lunch along the way. You’ll find several great restaurants within walking distance of all these attractions. Once the family is fed and full of energy to tackle the rest of the day, make your way to the former tomb of the Emperor Hadrian. Sitting for nearly 2,000 years along the banks of the Tiber River, the structure not only served as a tomb, but has also seen iterations as a fortress and a castle and now serves the masses as a museum. As a building that has stood the test of time, it’s design and architectural detail should not be overlooked. You could use your remaining free entry with the Omnia Pass or save it for another destination such as the Colosseum, which will be a highlight of day two.
Once you’ve spent some time exploring Castel Sant’Angelo, we recommend taking a nice stroll heading north along the Tiber River and crossing over at some point to make your way to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, which are within a 10 minute walk of each other. If walking is an issue for you, don’t fret because you will be able to grab a taxi anywhere you need to go and though Uber is available, you can only request Uber Black cars which are higher end and more costly. The Spanish Steps are an iconic meet up spot that have made it into more than one movie. It’s a great place to take a break, eat some gelato, and people watch. The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque-style fountain in the world and is just a gorgeous work of art dating back to Ancient Roman times. You’ll inevitably see a lot of money settled in the bottom of the fountain so feel free to add your coin to the mix and know that you are contributing to local charity to feed the hungry.
The final stop on our day one itinerary is a short walk from the Trevi Fountain to the best preserved Ancient Roman monument, the Pantheon. As the largest unsupported dome in the world, it stands at 142 feet in diameter (for comparison, the United States Capitol dome is 96 feet in diameter) and is in perfect proportion with the Pantheon by the fact that the distance from the floor to the top of the dome is exactly equal to its diameter. Originally commissioned as a temple to the Roman gods by the aforementioned Emperor Hadrian, the building was eventually converted to a church, which is a big reason why it remained preserved for eons and still stands today.
At this point, it’s been a long and fulfilling first day exploring Rome. Depending on the length of time spent at each stop it might be close to time for dinner or you might have some more time to kill before wrapping up your day. If you’d like to explore some more, there are plenty of piazzas or plazas all around Rome where you’ll find all manner of street performers, beautiful architecture, and countless dining options.
Day two will start with a morning trip to possibly the most famous Roman-era structure known as the Colosseum. As the largest amphitheater in the world, the Colosseum is an impressive structure to behold. Once a venue for the spectacle of gladiators, it was capable of holding up to 80,000 people. Since its construction nearly 2,000 years ago, the Colosseum has suffered some damage, but the core foundation of the structure is still intact and its standing as a key facility for the entertainment of the Roman masses remains. As with the Vatican City attractions, we recommend arriving early and pre-purchasing your entry tickets in order to avoid long wait times.
Directly adjacent to and combined with your ticket to the Colosseum lies a large swath of land known as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. This area served as the central marketplace and business district during Ancient Roman times and features great columns and ruins from the era. It was home to some of the oldest and most important buildings in the ancient city including shrines and temples, such as the House of the Vestal Virgins. The most ancient monuments at the Roman Forum are from the first kings of Rome, dating back to the sixth century BC.
About one mile to the south of the Colosseum and Palatine Hill is another ancient site known as the Baths of Caracalla. This enormous complex covers 62 acres and was built as a public bath house and could accommodate up to 1600 bathers at one time. Today, the baths lie in ruin but remain open to the public. Visitors can wander between the enormous walls of the bath houses and experience the vast scale of the construction with countless bricks and mortar used to construct the series of structures. You’ll also marvel at the ornate marble floors that are mostly still intact. The Baths of Caracalla don’t generally make it to the top of must-do lists in Rome, but they are absolutely worth a visit, particularly with the proximity to the first stops of day two.
From here, we recommend taking a break and grabbing some lunch and maybe a nice gelato. Once everyone in the group has refueled, it’s time to make your way to get a break from the outside heat and check out one of Rome’s amazing museums. You could either walk or opt for a quick taxi ride to the Centrale Montemartini, a museum set in an old power station and full of breathtaking sculptures. The museum also hosts occasional musical events, including jazz concerts among the statues.
After you’ve spent some time enjoying the museum, you can take a taxi to the Orto Botanico, serving as the city’s Botanical Gardens first planted in the 13th century. Originally created by as an order by Pope Nicholas III, the gardens were devoted to simples (medicinal plants) and citrus groves. Now maintained by the University of Rome’s Environmental Biology department as a living museum, visitors will be able to see and learn about exotic plants, flowers, and cacti of all varieties.
Now that you’ve had a long and fulfilling second day exploring Rome, go ahead and treat yourself to a delicious dinner. You’re sure to find spectacular Italian cuisine all around Rome, but if you’re in the mood for another type of cuisine, just do a quick search nearby and you’ll most likely find what you’re craving.
Day three will bring you outside of the city center and onto one of the oldest surviving roads in the world. The Appian Way, built in 312 B.C., was one of Rome’s most important military and economic arteries from ancient times and it’s largely intact today. To get there, you can ride public transport to the beginning of the road or take a taxi. There are several attractions along the road, including monuments, two catacombs, the Church of Domine Quo Vadis dating from the 9th century, and even cafés. The entire park is closed to traffic on Sundays, so if you can plan to make the trip on a Sunday, it will be far less crowded and much more enjoyable. You could spend an entire day here in the park, but we recommend heading back to the city and visiting the Borghese Gallery.
The Borghese Gallery is in the Villa Borghese gardens, and houses the Borghese collection, a collection of art that is one of the most renowned in Rome. You’ll find prize pieces by Raphael, Bernini and Caravaggio, among many others. They only allow 360 people in the building at a time so it will never be too crowded. That being said, reservations are mandatory and entry in the museum is timed. The museum is not very large with only two floors and 20 rooms, but you’ll find great works of art throughout. It should only take about an hour to make your way through the museum. Afterward, make your way outside and explore the Villa Borghese gardens.
The gardens make up the largest park in all of Rome where you’ll find beautifully landscaped terrain, water features, and old temples. The Villa Borghese were originally developed for hosting parties and entertaining and now they are used to serve as a sanctuary for locals and tourists alike. It’s a beautiful piece of land and a great place to spend an afternoon people watching. You could also consider going to a nearby market, grabbing some great cheese, olives, and bread, and having an afternoon picnic in the park. Since it’s been a long couple of days gallivanting around Rome, the rest of the day three itinerary is open to just relax and do as you wish.