You Only Have A Day In Rome…
Is it possible : Can you see it all with only one day in Rome? Absolutely! I mean, there will have to be compromises – Rome didn’t become the best city in Europe (in my opinion) by having so few highlights you could write them on a post-it-note with a chunky crayon. However, being the great open-air museum Rome is, you can certainly tick off plenty of Rome’s highlights in a day trip. It’s relatively small and compact and the magic and buzz of this ancient Italian city seems to somehow give you an energy that makes it hard to stop.
So you’re in Rome for a day and we don’t want you to miss the best bits : follow our 1 day Rome itinerary to make the most of your short trip to the Eternal City.
A Rome One Day Itinerary
Thankfully Rome is so compact you could easily cover it all in one day. Our itinerary doesn’t include any time to go inside the Colosseum, Roman Forum or St Peter’s Basilica as all of these stop-offs could add at least an hour but depending on how much time you have, you could add them to your day’s plans if you wish. We will include tips on how to avoid the queues at these 3 places in case you did want to squeeze them in. The route we have put together though certainly incorporates a fly-by of these three tourist attractions and an opportunity to see them from the outside and admire them close up.
Rome gets very busy as the cruise ship visitors burst out of the coaches around 10.30am so if there is a special place you would like to see without the crowds then an early morning visit would be best. We have started our itinerary at the Colosseum but you could easily do our route in reverse if you prefer. Now put on your walking shoes and let’s see Rome!
Incidentally, if you do have more time it may be worth having a read of our Hidden Gems Of Rome post to see if you could incorporate a few more secret spots and wonderful sights into your visit to Rome.
1. The Colosseum
Rome is famous for its Colosseum so you must absolutely not leave without seeing it! We’ve started the itinerary here because if you do have a long day in Rome then it may be possible to find the time to visit inside too (more details on the best way to visit the Colosseum in the TIPS below).
Interesting Facts About Rome’s Colosseum
The Rome Colosseum was the largest ever built, was completed in AD80 and still stands proud nearly 2,000 years later. It’s impressive now so you can only imagine the grandeur of this great amphitheatre all those years ago. It was built to appease an unruly society, keeping the masses happy with regular entertainment and even free food. Goodness knows how they found the stomach to eat at these gruesome events though! It is, however, a shadow of its former self – the Colosseum you see today is just a third of the building material which would originally have stood. The Romans invented concrete and built some fabulous buildings with this new design method, but originally the Colosseum would have been clad in ornate Travertine from the local hills. You can still make out the pockmarks all over exterior – holes which would have once held iron clamps to hold on the beautiful facade but which were looted by resourceful medieval robbers. Most of the beautiful stone was taken by the Popes to build their churches – was it revenge for the stories they were told about the Christian martyrs and their brutal endings? Or was that just an excuse, seeing as these rumours were later disputed!
There are all sorts of guesses as to how many spectators the Colosseum could hold but between 50,000 and 80,000 is the general thought. Seats as narrow as 40cm, with only a little more leg room, were predominantly filled by Roman men. The women and children needed better eyesight for their seats in the highest tiers – a 100-metre distance away from the fighting gladiators. For more fun facts about the Colosseum, I enjoyed this article.
TOP TIPS :
The queue’s for the Colosseum can get colossal. The way to avoid them is to arrive early – doors open at 8.30am. However, the queue for the ticket office is the longest so here’s our top tip to avoiding the biggest wait; Buy your combined Colosseum and Roman Forum ticket at the Roman Forum ticket office at the Palatine Hill entrance on Via di San Gregorio. It’s the quietest of all the ticket booths and you should get straight in. You get a time slot for you to arrive at the Colosseum by but this timed ticket allows you to skip all but the security queue. The time they allow you to see the Forum first is more than ample. There you go – you have just skipped the queues at the Colosseum!
2. The Roman Forum From Via dei Fori Imperiali
From Rome’s Colosseum, as you walk towards central Rome, you naturally pass the Roman Forum on your left-hand side, walking along Via dei Fori Imperiali. It’s obvious from where you stand that this small area of Rome is pretty ancient but what was the Roman Forum used for?
The area known as the Roman Forum (and part of the Colosseum ticket – read above ↑) was once the dead centre of town. The forum, or plaza, is a rectangular piece of land (which you can’t really appreciate properly from the Via dei Fori Imperiali) but people refer to the whole area of crumbling buildings as the Forum. Those remaining antiquities that you can see were once very important governmental buildings, temples and monuments which were once a backdrop of every-day-life in ancient Rome : elections, public speeches, criminal trials and anything commercial went on here.
There is nowhere more important than the Forum to catch a glance of how Rome looked when it was a world power. Several arches were erected (you may have heard of the Arch of Titus or Arch of Septimius) to celebrate the triumphal victories in war over other nations, including the capture of the Jews in Jerusalem. Rome was capital of the world at one point and this was its centre – stand and marvel for a while. The rest of your tour of Rome will comprise predominantly of places built in Medieval times and are no less impressive, but the area around the Colosseum and the Roman Forum commemorate a time period that modern Rome has to be thankful for.
3. Altar Of The Fatherland (Altare del Patria)/
Vittorio Emmanuel Monument
Once upon a time, not that long ago (1871 to be precise) Italy was not a country. Well not officially anyway. It was a collection of States which were sometimes very divided (fancy that – Italians arguing!). Until, da da daa, they got their act together and appointed a king, Victor Emmanuel II, who united everyone. He was a bit of a douche who lied through his back teeth, made a mess of politics and eventually retreated back to his homeland, Sardinia, to sire 16 children to a variety of lovers. Nevertheless, Italy felt it was only right to build him a monument and venerate him as the father of the fatherland.
The Altare del Patria is a bit of a controversial subject with Romans though. I personally quite like the building myself, with its statues and fountains and a staircase even my family would struggle to fill with tat supposedly bound for upstairs, but I do understand their point. You see, a large portion of ancient Rome had to be demolished in order to build the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument and this angered plenty. They find it annoying that tourists flock in their thousands every day to see the monument sometimes known as The Wedding Cake or The Typewriter but ignore the old ruins behind it that mean so much more to Romans. But don’t worry – you can’t be accused of that, you gave 5 minutes to the Roman Forum before you arrived at the Altar of the Fatherland – that’s Brownie points to you.
For one of best free views of the Roman Forum, climb to the back of the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument (bypassing the main museum entrance and the toilets) and follow signs for the Sky Elevator. Pass the Sky Elevator and veer around to the right. Et Voila! A secret spot no one seems to have cottoned onto yet and you won’t have to pay a cent for it.
4. The Trevi Fountain
From the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, cross the impressive Piazza Venezia which is bordered by some lovely palaces including Palazzo Bonaparte where Napoleon’s mother died. Keep heading straight, following signs for the Trevi Fountain.
Hopefully, if you are doing this itinerary in order, you will find the Trevi Fountain relatively quiet for the first half of the day. I say relatively because even if you were here at 5am you’d be competing with photographers and their models. But, if you arrive at the Trevi Fountain any later than 11am you’d better hope those cruise ships were handing out free deodorant this morning because it’s nose-in-armpit from here on in.
What Is So Special About The Trevi Fountain?
Legend has it that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain you will ensure a return to Rome, so people are falling over themselves to get to the front with their Euro’s. I find it easier just to check Skyscanner every few months. Still, there is no surprise why the Trevi Fountain is one of the top tourist attractions in Rome – it is absolutely incredible! I could spend a whole day in Rome just staring at this one piece of art as the sunlight hits the gleaming white Travertine in all the right places and throws shadows where it should do too.
A fountain has stood here since 19 B.C. when Rome showed the rest of the world how to do running water, although the Trevi Fountain wasn’t built until the 17th century. The Aqua Virgo Aqueduct brought clean water to the central baths and fountains of Rome and specifically to this point where 3 main roads converged (tre vie – three streets). Supposedly a young virgin lead some soldiers to the source of the water that they eventually redirected to rehydrate Rome and this story is captured in one of the marble bas-reliefs at the top. The rest of the sculptures depict the sea god Oceanus being pulled on a chariot by two sea horses – one docile, one wild which depicts the conflicting moods of the sea.
Each year €1.5 million is collected from the Trevi Fountain and nowadays that money goes towards the potholes and uncollected rubbish in the city. Clearly, Rome’s visitors need to dig deeper!
- Keep hold of your belongings near the Trevi Fountain, due to the crowds this is a prime spot for pick-pocketers.
- If you have time to return later in the day, the Trevi Fountain looks wonderful at night.
- Restaurants around the Trevi Fountain are a poor reflection of the food on offer in Rome and quite expensive too but if you are feeling a little peckish there are two famous gelateria’s within a short distance which are well worth your euro’s; Gelateria Della Palma on Via delle Coppelle/Via della Maddalena which has over 150 flavours, and the oldest ice cream parlour in Rome – Giolitti’s on Via degli Uffici del Vicario. We have marked both of these gelaterias on the Rome Map below.
5. The Spanish Steps
A 5 minute walk north of the Trevi Fountain brings you to one of Rome’s busiest area’s, the Spanish Steps. This grand staircase borders the Piazza di Spagna which is home to the Spanish Embassy (it’s a former palace).
The square is famous for a number of reasons, obviously the beautiful Spanish Steps, but also worth noting is the Fontana Della Barcaccia sculpted by Bernini, and the Keats and Shelley Museum. Keats lived in this square for many years until his death, and in fact it was an area represented often in paintings and literature of the Romanticists period.
The 174 steps link this lower part of Rome with the area above which hosts the Borghese Gardens and the Rome Zoo. It’s quite a walk to the entrance of the Borghese Gardens from the Spanish Steps but the gardens and Villa Borghese are well worth a half-day of your time if you’re in Rome for a little longer than a day.
6. The Pantheon
Ten minutes walk from Piazza di Spagna is the Pantheon. This is one of my favourite places in Rome – the approach to Piazza Della Rotonda, from any direction, is most beautiful. And it’s such an interesting spot with some compelling history. In the 1800’s it gathered quite an ungainly reputation for being a filthy area of peasantry with a smelly market and muddy floors, and no doubt noisy too with stalls of bird-sellers and their owls, parrots and nightingales.
But the star of the show in this piazza is the church known as the Pantheon. It’s the 3rd version of a church here and originally started life as a pagan temple. Whatever the size of the queue to get in here, it’s worth your wait (and you shouldn’t be waiting long anyway – the queue moves quickly).
What’s So Good About The Pantheon?
- The domed roof is a perfect hemisphere and was the worlds largest dome for over 1000 years and is still the largest unreinforced dome – that’s some engineering! Many places around the world have copied the design including the US Capitol and the Pantheon in Paris.
- There are several tombs around the rotunda, so who is buried in the Pantheon? For starters, the 2 Kings of Italy and one of their wives, an architect and a musician and the tomb people perhaps visit most to see is that of Raphael the Renaissance artist. However, sitting quietly next to her betrothed is the long-suffering fiancee of Raphael too – Maria Bibbiena.
- The light from the Oculus moves around the dome throughout the day like a giant sundial and on April 21st (the date Rome was born) something special happens. At midday, the light perfectly hits the metal grill above the front doors and throws light all over the entrance, in its day it would have illuminated the emperor too. Being open the elements, there is a clever drainage system on the floor of the Pantheon, a collection of holes to clear the rainwater and also a well-designed gradient to help it on its way.
- The 16 massive columns in the inner portico were quarried in Egypt and each weigh 60 tonnes – can you just imagine the transport system need to get them to their final home in Rome!?
TOP TIPS :
- If you have any time to spare and are interested in seeing famous works of art for free in Rome we have marked two Carravagio paintings and one sculpture by Michelangelo in three churches not too far from the Pantheon. These are relatively unknown gems and it’s quite incredible that you can see such amazing art just hiding away in secret corners of churches.
The Best Rooftop Bar In Rome
You might be hankering for a cool beverage and a sit down around now – Rome can be tiring! There are several rooftop bars around Rome with some epic views but after some skilled research, we found one which didn’t require you to sell a lung for a bottle of beer. I would actually consider the Martis Palace Hotel as a base if I was here for a few days in Rome as its perfectly central and stunningly beautiful, plus the staff are so helpful and friendly too. However, we have stopped here for just a drink and that’s also fine with the proprietors.
Unlike other rooftop bars, where the hotels are cashing in on their amazing views and opportunity to sell a lunch or dinner in style, the Martis Palace Hotel rooftop is just a small terrace with a few tables and sofas. There is no bar so the concierge who takes you up in the lift will no doubt take your drinks order too and bring it back up from the bar downstairs. It’s a quite simple affair but you may possibly have the whole terrace to yourself with these views…
7. Campo De Fiori
On your way to Campo de Fiori, stick your head into the church Sant’ Andrea Della Valle for 5 minutes (we’ve marked it on the map). This place looks nothing from the outside but you won’t regret this little detour for one of the most stunning and impressive churches in Rome – oh the gold!
Campo de Fiori, or field of flowers, may have got its title from bygone days as a meadow but dressed as a market 6 days a week it still deserves the colourful label it has grown up with. It has been a market place for hundreds of years and still churns out some pretty impressive produce. Grab a punnet of fat juicy strawberries or a container of mixed fruit to tide you buy, or collect some Rome souvenirs from the pasta stalls and t-shirt stands. It may be busy with shoppers and half of them tourists but there are still plenty of locals about shouting greetings and orders at each other above the throngs. Campo de Fiori still hangs on to its local feel in a city that is fast becoming spoilt by over-tourism and hasn’t changed much since my first time in Rome over 20 years ago. It’s one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Rome I think and lovely for a half hour wander.
The bronze statue in the centre, often draped in teenagers waiting for their pals, was erected to commemorate the death of the philosopher Giordano Bruno. He was executed here in 1600 for his unwelcomed ideas about the universe and ever since 1869 when the statue was made, the square has had an affinity with free thought. On the anniversary of his execution, several philosophical denominations attend the statue to pay their respects and honour the idea of liberty in opinions.
TOP TIPS :
- The market finishes at 2pm every day.
- It’s a great place for dinner but can get a little bit too rowdy with drinkers after that.
- The narrow cobbled streets around Fiori and the nearby Jewish Quarter make for a pleasant place to get lost. Quaint little fountains, the occasional Palazzo and traditional Roman family businesses make this the most authentic historical area of Rome where locals still go about their business.
8. Piazza Navona
Once an athletics stadium in Rome’s heyday, Piazza Navona is now one of the most impressive squares in the city. It is surrounded by Baroque and Renaissance architecture and was built to impress. The Pamphili Palace, facing the middle of the square, was home to one of Rome’s wealthiest and influential Papal families. They were so intent on demonstrating their prestige the Pamphili’s flooded the square several times a year to become a lake and a festival was held.
Today you can see the 3 famous fountains of Borromini, Bernini and Giacomo Della Porta. But it’s also a hive of activity with many pavement cafes and street performers. It’s a lovely place to sit for a while and watch the entertainment unfold of musicians, dancers and artists. There are several strategically placed stone benches perfect for a front row view.
9. Walk Along Via Dei Coronari Towards The Castle
Before you say goodbye to Italy and enter a new State, perhaps the most fitting thing to do is to wander the most Italian road in Rome. The Via dei Coronari has to be one of the prettiest streets in the whole city. It probably doesn’t come up much on Top Things To Do In Rome lists as it isn’t officially seen as a tourist attraction but to miss this beautiful old road is to miss the most photographic opportunities.
Art galleries, antique shops and exclusive boutiques line this almost pedestrianised route that leads you towards Castel Sant Angelo. Locals on bicycles and old men taking a breather from their afternoon stroll by the side of a fountain set the scene to this pretty Rome street. The shops are dressed with charm and all of the cafe’s, bars and restaurants look appealing, you will struggle to keep on walking down this attractive street. Gelateria del Teatro has one of the best reputations in town and I can attest to how good it is – how many ice-creams can you fit in in one day?
Via dei Coronari comes alive at night too so if you are in this area at the end of your day in Rome, find yourself a table outside on the pavement and watch the world and all its street performers go by as you sip on your glass of Prosecco.
10. Ponte Sant Angelo
The Most Attractive Bridge In Rome award definitely has to go to the Ponte Sant Angelo. Sculptured angels lead the way across the Tiber towards the impressive Castel Sant Angelo (housing The National Museum). It’s an old Roman bridge completed in 134 AD by Emperor Hadrian and is today a hive of activity. Hang on to your belongings as you will no doubt find yourselves distracted by multiple photo-opportunities and African refugees selling their fake Gucci handbags and amusing kids gifts – all as you approach two of Romes most impressive landmarks : alongside the Castle, now is where you will catch your first glimpses of St Peters Basillica and Vatican City.
11. Vatican City And St Peter’s Basilica
Not surprisingly, many trips to Rome are booked with one thing in mind – to visit Vatican City, the smallest yet most impressive State in the world. A full day could easily be spent seeing the main Rome attractions, like the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Gardens and St Peter’s Basilica and there’d still be plenty left over to discover.
So if you only have a short while in Rome, what is the best way to visit The Vatican?
The best way to see the Vatican is to approach it from the front of St Peter’s Square from Castel Sant Angelo, along Via Della Conciliazione. This has to be one of the most impressive views in Rome. Bernini’s masterpiece, St Peter’s Square, lies before you in all its glory as a prelude to the largest Christian Church in the world – Michelangelo’s Dome, St Peter’s Basilica. It will take you a while to just grasp the sheer size of the place and then a little time to take in all of the details. See the curved collonades and the statues of 140 Saints which overlook the podium where the Pope addresses his disciples. Make your way to the left-hand side of St Peter’s Basilica and here you will catch your first glimpse of the Papal Swiss Guard in their magnificent striped uniforms designed by Michelangelo himself.
I would say that visiting the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel) is out of the question if you are only in Rome for one day – you would need a full day to do it justice. However, if you have followed our itinerary in the suggested order, we may have a little tip for you regarding visiting St Peter’s Basilica. St Peter’s Basilica is free to visit, like all churches in Rome, however, it receives up to 20,000 visitors every day and as you can imagine the queues can be lengthy. So how do you avoid the queue for St Peter’s? On several occasions, we have arrived late afternoon, just one hour before closing (Closing time is 6.30/7pm) and found that we have only waited for 20 minutes to gain entry. This strategy only allows you 30 minutes to see inside but this might be a better option for you than to not see St Peter’s at all. Queues can take 2 hours or more during peak times and if you only have a day to visit Rome this might not be your priority.
Top Things To See Inside St Peter’s
- Michelangelo’s sculpture The Pieta (on the right as you enter)
- Bernini’s canopy – the baldachin which marks St Peter’s tomb below.
- Michelangelo’s Dome. To put into context the size of the dome – the tiny black letters you see right at the top are actually 2 metre’s high!
By completing our days’ tour in the order we suggest you can naturally end your trip to Rome in one of the most unique area’s of the city. The Trastevere neighbourhood has a village feel and whilst half a dozen tourists roam the cobbled streets during the day, snapping photo’s of hanging laundry between the narrow houses and pretty window boxes against old doors, the area really comes alive at night!
Trastevere is where Romans come to eat and drink. Whilst plenty of tourists can be found falling for the contrived TripAdvisor reviews of several cunning restaurant owners there are still dozens of genuine places where locals eat.
Some of the little squares have live bands and its easy to find a bar that won’t rip you off. Trastevere is known as an area for good food and great bars, hence why we think you should finish your day in this ambient neighbourhood shoulder to shoulder with Italians soaking up the last remnants of your epic day trip to Rome!
TOP TIPS :
- Bar San Calisto serves you Italian wine in a plastic cup for €2 but you cannot beat this atmospheric Italian bar.
- Ivo a Trastevere makes a mean pizza and you won’t have to wait for a reservation.
- Via della Scala has plenty of great eating options and bars too.
One Night In Rome
Presumably, you have booked yourself 1 night in Rome and you want to find yourself some central accommodation so that you can make the most of you 24 hours – where to stay?
Like I said earlier, Rome is compact so from a location perspective the options are endless. However, a lot of hotels can be quite expensive right in the centre and several areas can be very noisy at night. Trastevere, in particular, can be very noisy until 2am on a weekend as we learnt the hard way. However, it’s also probably the area you will want to spend your evening in, therefore our suggestion is to find a hotel just over the other side of the river to Trastevere, it will only take you 5 minutes to reach on foot. The area of Campo de Fiore is nice to eat an evening meal at too which also ties in with this suggestion. Here are some of our top hotel choices in that area…
- Trastevere Bridge Apartment sleeps up to 5 people and would be the perfect apartment for a family or 2 couples. A great location, immaculately clean and modern with a small terrace and well-equipped kitchen.
- If you would prefer a hotel rather than an apartment we cannot recommend Hotel Ponte Sisto enough. We couldn’t believe the price for how beautiful the hotel turned out to be. There is also the option of adjoining rooms if you’re travelling as a family and the breakfast is great too. Please, read the reviews and check out the photo’s – this place is a real find for Rome. And, to top it off, it has a roof terrace for guests!
So there you have it – our guide to seeing the best of Rome when you’re only here for a short time. It is possible to see Rome in one day! If you do have a little bit of extra time though, make sure you check out some of the hidden gems we have discovered over the years – they will enhance your trip and show you a secret side to Rome not everyone gets to see…
pin for later…